When 2000 arrived, the year I had imagined there would be some kind of conclusion to the inner journey of transformation that had begun for me five years earlier, I prayed fervently for peace in the world and in myself. This was to be the year of LANDING after the flights and dives of shamanic awakening.
In August of 1999 I made my first connection with the Queer Pagan Camp, which was to become a crucial part of my journey over the coming years, and at which I met awesome, talented beings of many genders and outlooks who knew lots about spirit and magic (‘the art of transformation of consciousness at will’ as I now came to understand it), and who taught me the importance of earthing my spirit, grounding my energies and indeed my life goals. They also showed me that it was possible to treat sex, alcohol and drugs as sacramental energies, bringing me closer to spirit rather than cutting me off from it. Through time with the pagans I came to see that I had been opening myself up, up, up… always reaching through my studies and meditations for the highest parts of my being…. but also needed to learn to open downwards – into the earth and the elements, into nature. This realisation would, in the summer of 2000, bring the revelation and confirmation that I had been waiting for – that my five year journey of learning ‘the Way’ – was coming to an end, and the end was in fact a rebirth not a death, it was an empowerment to go out in the world and bring light. Amongst the pagans I met people who showed me that the whole of life is sacred and worth celebrating. Conflicts I held in my mind around ecstatic behaviours and sexual expression had been implanted by too much focus on religious teachings about spiritual growth. The sense that we are here to grow through following our spirits, allowing our spirit its unique self expression, rather than slavishly follow the dictates of a ‘spiritual path’, in order to be ‘good’, took hold in me.
Through classes at the College of Psychic Studies, readings from clairvoyants and trying to deepen my own direct connection to my guides in spirit, I got through the struggles that had overwhelmed me in early 1999. But inner conflict would not leave me, not least because it was becoming clear that after nearly seven years together Pierre and I were reaching the end of the road. It would be while I was in India in the spring of 2000 that we each faced and accepted this reality. We wanted different things in life now, we had to part.
India was a great adventure. I spent three weeks at the Divine Mother’s ashram, Amritapuri in Kerala, and was fortunate to arrive there on the last day that Amma was resident before she left on tour. A darshan ceremony was underway when I arrived, with thousands of people crammed into the ashram space and buildings. Somebody spotted me looking a bit lost, wondering what to do, handed a darshan token to me and sent me into the queue for westerners. So within a very short time of my arrival I was in the queue then kneeling in front of Amma, her arms around me. Time stopped… and so did she, holding me there for a minute or two, which is incredibly unusual as most of her hugs last seconds only, due to there being literally thousands of people to give the blessing to in one day. The swamis around her started to get flustered because the queue had stopped moving, but I relaxed and opened myself to receive the energy she was giving, feeling that Amma was recognising both the distance I had just travelled to be with her and the massive internal journey I had been on for the past five years.
Boosted by this divine moment I soon settled into ashram life, getting up before dawn to chant first the 108 then the 1008 names of the Divine Mother. Yoga class followed on the roof of the pink tower block where ashram visitors lived, with the sun coming up and thousands of big black crows starting their morning prayer/screeching (which went on all day). Many of them would land on the wall around the roof and watch our morning yoga practice with curiosity. Every visitor to the ashram was encouraged to do a few hours per day of ‘seva’, which translates as ‘selfless service’ – I was posted to sweep the temple daily, which I considered a great honour. The rest of the time was one’s own – I spent it in meditation, study and drinking chai on the beach. Every evening the ashramites gathered for an hour and a half of devotional chanting before dinner, an experience I found very moving and uplifting. With Amma away on tour the ashram became quieter and it was possible to slip into a gentle existence despite the non stop noise of building work going on, as more tower blocks went up to provide accommodation for future visitors. While she was not in residence however, male and female devotees were segregated – evening chants happened in two places. Once or twice I decided to slip into the temple where the women were doing their practice, nobody commented on this, and I was pleased to spot one young western woman sometimes coming to chant with the men. I came to understand that Amma was as happy to bless same sex couples as she was heterosexuals, and on a second visit to Amritapuri a few years later with a boyfriend I asked to have our union blessed by her. She threw flower petals over the two of kneeling before her and hugged us together with great joy, although the Indian swamis around her became very unsettled. I understood that this kind of thing (open gay behaviour) was more common when Amma was in America or Europe, not India.
The message came through clearly to me during my stay at the ashram that I was trying too hard to reach a state of ‘perfection’. The fact of the matter was that I was lucky to be alive, to have survived AIDS, so I should relax, focus on healing, light and love, and stop worrying or trying to achieve something ‘great’. Feeling strong and serene when I left Kerala I travelled by train up to Goa, where I rented a room and spent a few days by the sea. Through the embrace of the water, the beach and the hot sun, the spirit of the elements spoke to me and held me – making me feel that here, in nature, I was finding my natural ashram, where I could do my meditations and yoga, commune with the spirit of creation – and smoke some good weed too. Although I enjoyed my time at Amma’s ashram, the fixed routine, rules, and often very serious attitudes of some of the devotees bothered me, and although I would return to Amritapuri to be with Amma again, and became a loyal devotee present and serving during the three days and nights she spends giving darshan in London every year, most of my subsequent trips to India were focussed mainly on the beach, where I could relax, meditate and charge myself up with strong energies of nature during the British winter, getting ready for ever more active summers of spreading the love, attending festivals and gatherings of my queer tribe.
I returned to England to face a double sadness – the end of my seven year journey with Pierre and the death of a close friend, Alex. This cuddly little Scotsman had spent a year or two in a passionate love affair with a German guy who had recently died of an AIDS-related illness. Alex was heartbroken, inconsolable, and one day he suffered a heart attack while at home alone and died. I sat in my Stockwell flat in tearful meditation, this reminder of the trials of the journey bringing much back to me, and soon felt Alex with me – and he looked pissed off. His spirit indicated that he was unhappy because his death meant he had to start the journey of awakening again in another body. This came through so clearly, I knew for sure it was a communication from the spirit world, and it inspired me to write this:
We knew that we could be free, we knew that rules could be broken
embracing, announcing our gaiety, we searched deeply for ourselves.
Unfettered souls in love with life, pursuing it to extremes
but our bodies could not take the strain, and we lost many.
But death can become our friend, fear be overcome by love;
transcendent being, uniting heaven and earth, queer souls can play their part.
Bearers of light, consciousness scouts, through difference we illuminate unity
humility gained through pain and loss, so that we may know ourselves. (spring 2000)
Being back in the UK I felt changed after the time in tropical India, but went through a period of challenging adjustments, felt unbalanced, uncertain and insecure for several months. Gaining in health and strength brought its own set of challenges. Having given up on the idea of having a future, it was now very daunting to face the unknown. But it was the year 2000, I was 35 and still alive, so I kept the faith that I was on a path that led somewhere. I dived into reading the Conversations with God series of books, gaining a huge amount from them – great insights into thought and emotion, into sexual energy and spiritual perspective. The books affirmed the mystical view on life that I had stepped into, and helped me to get used to the profound shift in understanding that I had undergone.
‘What You Are is Love. What Love is, is unlimited, eternal and free. Therefore that is what you are. That is the nature of Who You are. You are unlimited, eternal and free, by nature.’
‘Just as I know My perfection of design through a snowflake, My awesome beauty through a rose, so too, do I know my creative power – through you. To you I have given the ability to consciously create your experience, which is the ability I have. Thus have you been given the greatest gift, for you have been aware of yourself being yourself – which is exactly what I Am.’
‘To decide and to declare, to create and to express, to experience and to fulfil, Who You Really Are. To re-create yourself anew in every moment in the grandest version of the greatest vision ever you had about Who You Really Are. That is the purpose of becoming human, and that is the purpose of all life.’ (Conversations with God Book 3)
I spent a retreat weekend at the Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna centre north of London, enjoying some aspects of the devotional, meditative atmosphere but finding the people defensive and the segregation of the sexes bizarre. I soon got into an argument with the ‘guestmaster’ who was complaining about Sai Baba and his followers. He said Baba was ‘not a real guru’. I thought it strange he should have an opinion on a teacher outside his faith, and commented that perhaps it did not matter because we are ‘all god’ anyway. He shouted angrily at me that we are not god at all, we are god’s servants and we should remember that. I came away thinking the Hare Krishnas were life deniers, running in fear away from the craziness of the world but creating their own lunacy on the way. The mania of morning chanting (people wandering around with their prayer beads in hand, fanatically reciting the holy mantra to themselves at fast speed), the bizarre outbursts of pogo dancing during evening bhajans, and the quiet timidity of the female devotees, freaked me out. I was glad to get home and go for some real life in the form of a night with friends at the local leather bar, The Hoist in Vauxhall. I cycled home from there on the back of a tandem and spent the night making love to a Frenchman. I felt great, but experiences like this brought me inner conflict – was I pursuing a spiritual goal or simply following ego based urges?
I met a psychic advisor, Bet Balcombe, a charming Engilsh woman giving readings at home, whose perspective was that during the recent years I had been gathering information and experience in order to form my own understanding of life, describe life in my own words and help others to find their own truths. She reassured me that to enjoy the pleasures of life is not a bad thing, the outcome of all our actions depending on the motives behind the choices we make. She affirmed me in my critical attitude to the subservient Krishna devotees, seeing humans as incarnations of divine spirit, not needing to bow to or serve anything in order to find ourselves. She saw God as a totally impersonal force, a word for the consciousness of the universe but not a spokesperson for it. More and more I was coming to think that God existed in both personal and impersonal forms, and it matters not one iota to that god which way we choose to know it. Also it does not matter if we choose not to believe in a god at all, though that might slow down our personal evolution (because the notion of an ‘ultimate’ point of unity in consciousness gives us an anchor for our spirit, though that anchor might take another form, eg the planet). Or we might choose to believe that god exists in many forms, and have a great time worshipping them all. Worship is after all a form of celebration.
My yearning to know again the blissful states of spiritual wholeness I had felt at times during my 5 year journey of transformation would not abate.
‘Longing is the core of mystery
Longing itself brings the core
The only rule is, suffer the pain.’ (Rumi)
The yearning led me to read poetry, to study more and to deepen my heart bond with the goddess energy of the universe. I became more gentle with myself as I figured how rare it was for people in the west to be dedicating themselves to spiritual growth in the way I was. I felt I was on track, though I had no clue where that track was going. In the summer of 2000 my mohican haircut returned, as a symbol of my purpose and direction and connection to spirit. My first mohican hair cut had been back in 1989 when I was a barman at the Black Cap, and its reappearance was a sign that I was back in the game of life.
In August 2000 I attended Queer Pagan Camp for the second time. In a field in Dorset, known as Paddocks Wood, about 100 queers shared an incredible space of communal energy and transformational spirit. Many of the attendees were experienced witches, druids and shamans, operating in long standing magical traditions, some very deeply connected to the divine energies of certain god aspects, such as Cernunnos, the horned god of the land. Others of us were new to the whole idea of spirit and energy. But all of us went through awesome and exciting openings in the collectively invoked, psychically well protected multi-dimensional space of the camp. For the experienced pagans the delight lay in finding other queers who worked with the elements and spirits, for the newbies the thrill was to discover just how incredibly life-enhancing this phenomenon called magic could be.
A few days into the camp a connection opened in me that blew away the past year and a half of doubt, fear and inner conflict. Until this point I had been thinking that I would go back to the Indian ashram, renounce western life and put myself on Amma’s mercy, thinking this was the only way I might find some healthy balance in my spirit and mind. But suddenly, in that English field, my spirit connected to earth and sky in a way it had never done before. My heart opened wide and my mind became clear. The love growing at that camp between so many people was a catalyst for major openings and transformations for lots of us. Into the clarity that opened up for me a spirit voice spoke, telling me that my path was here in the UK, I did not need to go to India and become a monk. I spent the rest of that camp running around in sheer delight, learning to drum, taking part in rituals, feeling like a child again, painting my body and hopping around the tribal fire at night like a frog spirit, making wonderful connections with other queers and moving deeply into an awareness that when we engage and open our spirit, we queer folk have awesome life-changing magic in us that can change lives, can change the world around us.
For several years I attended QPC both during the summer and in May for an annual Beltane camp and undertook a year of focussed witchcraft training in a small group led by one of the founders of QPC, Lou Hart. The highs continued, powerful mystical states were always a feature of my time there, though I often experienced nasty comedowns when I got home. Some disappointment crept in as I realised that not many people at camp seemed to share my vision of humanity moving into a new and higher state of consciousness, nor the vision of gay folk having a role to play in that. As practitioners of ancient magical practices I realised many of the pagans were in such a state of acceptance of the eternal cycles of life that they did not necessarily seek to change the world, but were more inclined to be secretive and protect their place within it. Many of them had a deep-felt awareness of the persecution that witches had been subject to during hundreds of years of Christian domination, and preferred to keep their magic to themselves. From the camp, and the training with the phenomenal Lou Hart, I came to understand how living in tune with the seasonal and moon cycles is central to creating a healthy, balanced, happy life. Making ceremony, alone or with others, at full moons and at equinoxes and solstices became central to my existence from that point onwards.
Through people at the camp I got to hear about the Radical Faeries, a branch of gay life that had been developing in the United States since the 1970s, when, already in the early days of gay liberation, there were a number of spiritually inclined queers who were frustrated with the assimilationist, commercially motivated, direction gay life seemed to be taking.
In his 1978 book ‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture’ American Arthur Evans called to gay men to re-establish communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feel an essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together…
‘We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process as coming out — as Gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos.’
Amongst the Queer Pagans and the Faeries I found people who were doing exactly this, and so the long trial of physical and mental challenges that I had been through made a lot of sense. I was arriving in these spaces of queer spirit ready to shine the light I had found and explore the connections within us to the many dimensions of life. I knew that my five year journey of awakening was in a sense complete. I had ‘come home’ to myself, no longer seeing myself as separate and alone in the universe, but as being an embodiment of the universal energy itself experiencing life from one particular perspective. I understood that it is love that connects us to everything and enables us to overcome the illusion of separation. I sought now to be an incarnation of love in every situation and to continue to learn and grow.
I was only 35 and I had survived AIDS. The sense of urgency I had felt during the first years of my transformation was gone, I was here for a longer run, and I knew it would take time for others to wake up. I had taken the accelerated course to evolve my consciousness, I had experienced an Accelerated Individual Discovery of Self. Now I sought to find others who also knew they were on this path of awakening, or who were discovering it, and to fill the whole of life with light, love and joy. Faerie Lovestar had LANDED.