For five years I had been largely isolated from the world, tucked away with my wonderful lover, dealing with a barrage of ailments, my attention largely absorbed in transcendent spirituality. Medicine said I was sick with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, but my inner being told me I was experiencing an Accelerated Individual Discovery of Self. My rebirth at the start of the new millennium was an invitation to step back into life and engage it, a time of EMERGENCE from the transformational cocoon as the newly reborn gay butterfly spirit.
I was excited to share my discoveries, but rather than try to convince people to ‘believe’ in a spiritual reality I had the notion to create spaces in which direct experience of our true multi-dimensional nature could happen. After all it was not only a shift in belief that had occurred for me, it was direct experience of and communication with Spirit that had resulted from opening my mind, from being willing to look at possibilities I had previously discounted. I had spent five years having many new experiences and researching deeply, studying the teachings of religion, philosophy, occult wisdom and modern teachers of consciousness. I now sought to share this ongoing journey with others, and find companions on the road of transformation.
Taking the faerie name Lovestar – the faerie name a symbol of our magical consciousness – I became a regular face at Eurofaerie gatherings in Terschelling every summer and at winter gatherings in Germany or the Netherlands. In faerie space a co-created, colourful and loving community experience is generated through heart circles, rituals, time in nature and good food, taking all present into a nurturing experience of the riches that life can offer. With minimal structure, and no dominating leaders, autonomous zones of compassionate anarchy emerge in Faerie gatherings, where souls can shine through free-form expression. Of course our slice of queer utopia was momentary, but I could see we were acting as ‘scouts of consciousness’ (one of the titles Christian de la Huerta gives gay people in his 1999 book ‘Coming Out Spiritually: The Next Step’), exploring new ways of relating and sharing as a queer tribe, that could ultimately influence the whole of humanity. In two ways I attempted to serve the further spread of faerie energy – by bringing the spirit of love and community back to London with me, and by joining forces with various other Faeries from around Europe to create a permanent land sanctuary for Faerie life, which led to the purchase of land and birth of Folleterre in the Vosges mountains of eastern France .
Radical refers to roots in the earth as well as being a political reference, and Faerie links us to the elemental animistic nature spirits of folklore, also working to redefine ‘fairy’ from an being used as a homophobic insult, as the LGBT community has done with queer. The first faerie gathering took place in a desert ashram in Arizona in 1979 – community was built by passing a talisman to give each person in the circle of 220 men the chance to speak and tell their stories. Common themes of seeking love and connection to nature emerged. In the decades since then Radical Faerie gatherings have spread across the USA and into Europe, Australia, Asia and (with the February 2020 Global Gathering) Africa. Permanent sanctuaries, homes of queer faerie spirit, have developed. The first gathering in Europe – on the Dutch island of Terschelling in the North Sea – took place in the summer of 1995, at the same time as I was deep in my shamanic transformation period. As I was having visions of colourful circles of people drumming and dancing ecstatically, something that had never been a feature of my life to this point, the Faeries were gathering and the template of my future existence was being drawn.
I believe it is natural for most gay people to foster joy, create celebrations and raise good energy: in our scenes we throw great parties, we appreciate the body, we love to look good, to dance and (judging by the spread of gay choirs) to sing; some of us enjoy altering our perception with substances that shift us out of the rational left brain and into heightened sensation, all of us, one way or another, love to let our souls fly. In faerie and queer pagan spaces this spirit of celebration is cultivated to create connections to earth and sky, to elemental forces and to the archetypal inner energy of spirits, archetypes and deities, which takes the experience potentially much deeper than parties on the commercial scene. Some of the hunger and addiction present in parts of our community might come from a natural instinct within us that we are just not getting enough out of our chem fuelled, sexually athletic adventures. A full on trip into ecstasy should be a healing journey of the soul, bringing light, insight, and the chance to grow and evolve into the nobility of humanity’s true spiritual nature – but without a good connection to place and to the people we are tripping with, we might just remain in the shallow end of the ecstatic experience.
In Faerie spaces the magic builds fast and powerfully because connection is where it all starts, and we discover that as queer souls we create magic when we connect from the heart. The great irony is that our city scenes and dating apps seem to encourage so much disconnect and objectification, the opposite of our deep nature. A key Faerie phrase is ‘subject:SUBJECT’ consciousness’, which Harry Hay used to describe the way our queer eye on life inclines gay men to love each other as brothers, recognising that I am another you and you are another me, deserving and desiring the same love and goodness that I do. In the shallow age of dating apps, where our minds get trained to judge people on appearance only, are gay men in danger of losing what Harry considered our natural empathic ability?
At the first Radical Faerie gathering in Arizona 1979, Harry Hay called on the men present to ‘throw off the ugly green frogskin of hetero-imitation to find the Faerie Prince beneath.’ Although many men go to Faerie gatherings to simply find some love and affection, or some brotherhood and community as an alternative to the cold energies of mainstream gay life, amongst the faeries I found many other shaman souls with a sense of coming together to serve spirit’s plan to help humanity evolve to the next level of consciousness. I also get to meet wonderful caring souls – gatherings attract beings of all genders (and none!) now – from all over the world – everyone unique and in their own way magical, using and developing their healing skills, kitchen magic, land skills, drag and make up, ritualistic, musical, creative and performance talents etc.
Faerie space was where I could relax and open up the energy fields I had been discovering in myself during my cocoon time. I needed these times of expansion because for several years after my rebirth moment in 2000 I was journeying almost daily into realms of bliss, and needed something to do with it. I felt the greatest joy when I got the chance to bring joy to others.
I was soon in love again – with Philippe, another Frenchman, who came from Angers in Brittany and had lived for some time in London. We met on a Sunday night at Turnmills nightclub in London towards the end of the year 2000, he invited me back to his place, where, in his bedroom I was greeted by a picture by French artists Pierre et Giles of German punk goddess Nina Hagen dressed as Hindu Goddess Kali – I felt I was in the right place. We were the envy of many men at the first gatherings we went to together as we seemed to be an example of a spiritually informed love affair, something that they longed for. However there were conflicts going on between us, largely around my passion for community life versus his preference for a private existence, and the pull between deep attachment and the need for some independence. We parted after a few, mostly very happy, years, and a creative product of our time together was a website named the QueerLoveCall.net, where I put out ideas around gay spiritual evolution.
Like me, Philippe was HIV+ and recovering from AIDS, and also was open to the idea of a Divine Mother guiding us through the Universe. He and I visited Amma together in Kerala and spent some time in Goa soaking up the Mother’s love through sunshine, sandy beaches and the sea. We took a trip inland to the state of Karnataka while we were there to visit Hampi, a mystical land of temple ruins and deep, ancient magic, where we encountered the Goddess in a very different form. We met Haneli, a Swiss lady in her 60s, former devotee of controversial guru Osho, with her band of followers living in the jungle and holding high vibrational circle spaces of intense transformation. She declared herself to be the Axewoman of Consciousness, to whom people on the spiritual path were drawn when they were ready to have their last vestiges of ego chopped off. Over the course of three days and nights Philippe and I underwent a trial that at first delighted us then challenged us to the core. Two nights in, after I had spent some hours high in a trance while the energy flowed wildly around me, Haneli told me that I was ready to completely walk away from my life until this point and join their band to become a completely empty, unattached, pure vessel of consciousness living entirely in the moment and serving the divine. Philippe did not take this idea well, became angry and afraid, and very vocal about it. My task became to work out what i was supposed to do, which in the end I realised was not to leave him, not to join her, but simply to deliver energy to her circle and to learn from how they lived, the work they were doing. Back in London a clairvoyant at the College of Psychic Studies saw this episode in my energy field and told me that I had been shown an example of the kind of communal, magical, multi-dimensional living coming more in my future.
It was in Hampi that I was first called Shokti – by Haneli herself, who told me that the whole group was shocked by my personal shakti. Shakti is the sanskrit word for the sacred feminine energy of the soul and of God – unlike in the west the Hindu culture retained its veneration of the female spirit and honoured her role in creation, and there is an understanding that it takes both Shiva and Shakti to bring Creation into manifestation. The mystical adventurers were frequently engaging their chakra energies, their Shakti, through opening and playing as the inner child. This I joined in with, but they could see in our auras that Philippe and I also enjoyed opening the chakras sexually, and that we had a lively, comfortable and erotic interplay of femininity and masculinity going on within and between us. Being a group of people of mixed gender, ages and cultures, operating on the fringes but still connected to the conventional realm of spiritual community, sexuality was not on the agenda for this jungle crew, so our arrival was, literally, a shock to them. A couple of years later I changed my faerie name from Lovestar (this name had been whispered in my ear by a disincarnate entity one day in my bedroom in 2001) to Shokti, proud to make the association with the divine feminine spirit and when asked about it I like to say that I am here to deliver the shock of the return of the Goddess into human experience.
In 2003 Philippe and I opened our wings and traveled to Faerie gatherings in Asia and the USA. The first ever Asian gathering took place on the beach of a remote, commercially undeveloped Thai island which we reached by boat from Phuket. A number of faeries from Europe and the USA made the pilgrimage to join local queers in order to birth a faerie circle there. In the Spring we went to the mothership of the global Faerie community – Short Mountain Sanctuary in Tennessee, a home of the tribe since the early 1980s, to attend the Beltane Gathering, which is the largest faerie gathering in the world, attracting 600 people for an ecstatic pagan feast of delights. On May Day we danced around the MayPole in an orgiastic frenzy of flesh, drumbeats and voices, quite a contrasting experience to the May Poles of my primary school days in Suffolk!
As the magic deepened day by day at the Short Mountain Beltane gathering the community entered into ever ‘lighter’ spaces. A medley of sexual, playful, practical (it takes good planning to feed and keep that many people happy) and devotional energies convinced me I was experiencing the future right here and now. Here there was no shame about sex and the body, only celebration and an understanding that the flesh is the vehicle with which we bring the spirit to earth. Here there was no judgement and attitude, instead an openness to and rejoicing in each other. Here were hundreds of people living in an atmosphere of sharing, supporting, encouraging and celebrating, it was incredible, life-changing. The excitement on the faces of the hundreds of queers arriving from their city homes for a festival of freedom, love and transcendental magic in their secret sanctuary home, tucked away in the mountains, was amazing to behold. I became determined to help such spaces manifest in Europe.
QUEER SPIRIT CIRCLE
In London small groups of us, people I had met through Faerie or Queer Pagan events, started to come together to hold circles. One of our first was on Hampstead Heath for 2004 summer solstice – we decided to enjoy some pagan spirit in the cruising woodland of the area by Jack Straws Castle, an ancient queer stomping ground. We put out the word and over 30 people came along for an afternoon of ritual and picnic, followed by a full night around the fire. We were situated at the far end of the cruising area, close to the infamous ‘leather tree’. Some cruisers came to visit us at the fire, one or two looking fabulous in full biker gear. They collected and brought along a firewood offering, enjoyed our sociability. It was a very queer, playful, musical and sexy night.
Early in 2005, with a lesbian friend called Anna, I set up the Queer Spirit Circle and our meetings became more frequent. Often we met in Stockwell at a former maternity hospital, which was at this time a squatted community of artists, where we were able to put on evenings of shamanic journeying, drumming, dancing or simply talking from the heart about our spiritual journeys. The idea was to offer space for queer spiritual beings of any faith or background to come share energy of spirit together and talk about our discoveries on the path.
Tuning into the energy of the moon, plus equinoxes, solstices and cross quarter points of the year is a recipe for bringing balance and health to mind, body and spirit – only by doing it do we find out that it works. With each turning of the wheel of the year I feel myself growing a bit more, knowing when is the time to create, act and manifest… and when the time to turn inwards, explore, reflect and heal. Each of the full moons and of the eight festival points has a different energy – by attuning to them we bring balance, healing, light and growth into our lives, and learn more about who we are. Queer Spirit Circle moved to Old Street when Lambeth Council evicted the squatters and since 2012 it has met in Vauxhall at a large, airy Victorian community hall, where by 2020 each month around 70 people were gathering. Over time these circles have become celebratory, ritual spaces where a diverse group get together to mark full moons and the seasonal turning points of the year through simple ceremony and a few hours of drumming and dancing that take us out of regular mental and emotional patterns and into the rhythm of the ecstatic moment.
I have also focussed over the years on making my home in Stockwell into a Faerie oasis, where the healing love frequencies of Radical Faerie space are always present. This has drawn many people to the flat from around the world, love flows, light enters and many wonderful mystical times have been shared at Chateau Shokti since the turn of the millennium.
A group of Faerie men from Germany, Netherlands and France spent much of their holiday time during a few years searching for a location for our permanent faerie sanctuary. Eventually land was found in the Vosges mountains of north eastern France, close to Switzerland – a farm high on a mountain side above the village of Ternuay. At the autumn equinox in 2005 I attended the Opening Ceremony Weekend of FOLLETERRE and became a steward of the new sanctuary. My contribution to the project was to rally the faeries, spread the word to get people along to the land, and organise gatherings there. There was a predominance of UK queers at some of the early events, largely because there was a more established network of pagan and community-minded folk in the UK, where projects such as Edward Carpenter Community and Queer Pagan Camp had already brought together quite a large number of queers seeking communal experience and a shared home in nature. I loved to bring people together and enjoyed the challenge of bringing us all into an intimate, connected space. Although this was entirely new in my life I felt completely at home in this role. Unlike my early adult life when I had little drive or ambition to achieve anything in the world, I had finally found what brings joy to my heart. Having our own piece of land in the mountains was very exciting, and people were drawn to the land from all over the world to see this queer lighthouse start to shine.
A piece of woodland close to our farmland had been known as ‘Folleterre’ since olden times, and this became the name of the sanctuary. Folle has a double meaning of both ‘queer’ and ‘crazy’, so Folleterre was the perfect name for a permanent faerie home. Conditions were primitive – sleeping in the barn on mattresses, showering outside with water heated over a fire and poured out from a watering can by a friend – and there was much work to do to keep the place running day by day as well as to improve comfort levels and living conditions. Situated in the wettest region of France, and high up a mountain, the weather can be unpredictable, but as well as stormy or cloudy days Folleterre also gets plenty of hot sunshine, and is an ideal hideaway where Faerie folk can be naked and free in nature, reflecting our freedom in sanctuary to express, enjoy and be the fullness of our true selves.
Folleterre was the first European faerie sanctuary, with close connections to sister sanctuaries situated in the United States and Australia. Gatherings take place from spring until late autumn, and a few brave faerie souls have stayed at the place during winter when the snow is piled high and it is impossible to drive up the mountain. We gather to celebrate Beltane in May, enacting a maypole ceremony – this ancient Celtic fertility ritual that has become a central feature of Faerie life internationally; also for a 10 day summer celebration and for themed gatherings, eg around activism, meditation, art, tantra, hair! There are female faeries and trans faeries as well as male-bodied, and how could there not be since we are recognising and honouring the two-spirited nature, the interplay of feminine and masculine energies within each of us. I was struck at my first gatherings by the strong embrace of the inner child and inner feminine amongst the eurofaeries. Our contribution to debates around trans nature should be clear enough – gay faerie men in particular should be owning their inner feminine and their own gender fluidity, proclaiming loudly about the interplay of genders within the self. Those men who think gay is simply about being masculine are entirely missing the point of the magic in their own nature.
“Know the masculine,
but keep to the feminine.
Be a valley under heaven.
If you embrace the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will become as a little child.” Tao Te Ching
In Radical Faerie space we are exploring territories of emotion and spirituality that mainstream gay life struggles to accommodate. Sitting in heart circle can be one of the most revealing ways of discovering the power of the compassion within us and the powerful connected energy of community. I believe that faeries shine a light on the potential of queer people to become guides on how to take life to a heart-centred, exciting, magically connected level, revealing how our relationship with nature can empower and heal us, and that a relationship with the sacred dimension of life does not have to preclude having a good time.
Harry Hay, the first Radical Faerie read the books of Carpenter, met Native American elders, set up the first gay rights organisation in the USA (the Mattachine Society in the 1950s) and went on to be one of the men calling the first Rad Fae gathering into being in the late 1970s .
“We have been a SEPARATE PEOPLE…. Drifting together in a parallel existence, not always conscious of each other.. yet recognising one another by eyelock when we did meet… here and there as outcasts… Spirit people… in service to the Great Mother.. Shamans.. mimes and rhapsodes, poets and playwrights, healers and nurturers… VISIONARIES… REBELS”
“Our beautiful lovely sexuality is the gateway to spirit. Under all organised religions of the past, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, there has been a separation of carnality, or shall we say of flesh or earth or sex, and spirituality. As far as I am concerned they are all the same thing, and what we need to do as faeries is to tie it all back together again.”
“Out of the mists of our long oppression,
We bring love for ourselves and each other,
And love for the gifts we bear,
So heavy and so painful the fashioning of them,
So long the road given us to travel them. A separate people,
We bring a gift to celebrate each other,
‘Tis a gift to be gay!
Feel the pride of it!”
Another group providing holistic spaces for gay men in the UK is the Edward Carpenter Community. Set up in the 1980s and named after the English philosopher and pioneer of gay activism, who lived 1844-1929, much of that time in a stable relationship with his male partner, the ECC has no permanent base but instead hires space within other communities, or at youth hostels, for week long retreats. Some of these retreats are built around themes, and from 2001 I was a regular attendee on spirituality retreats held at Laurieston Hall in south west Scotland, after a couple of years joining the organising team, so getting the chance to develop facilitation skills and to run workshops. Each group that gathered for one of these weeks went on a collective journey into realms of discovery and healing, and while the ECC had a reputation for being more ‘safe’: middle class, middle aged and mellow than anarchic faerie freeflow energy, these weeks were always rewarding as men visibly dropped years of anxiety, fear or emotional wounding and entered into a glowing sense of self and self in community. Themes for the weeks I was part of running included ‘The Wounded Healer’, ‘Healing Spirit’ and ‘The Dance between Power and Intimacy’. Using the facilities of the hall and the stunning woodland and lochs around it, we generated powerful healing journeys for many men which confirmed for me the crucial role of soul healing in gay, in human, life. Once the wounds we inevitably gain in life are soothed and the soul in us given permission to shine, heightened states of love and awareness are waiting for us.
“I say that I think perhaps of all the services the Uranian may render to society it will be found some day that in this direction of solving the problems of affection and of the heart he will do the greatest service. If the day is coming as we have suggested – when Love is at last to take its rightful place as the binding and directing force of society (instead of the Cash-nexus), and society is to be transmuted in consequence to a higher form, then undoubtedly the superior types of Uranians – prepared for this service by long experience and devotion, as well as by much suffering – will have an important part to play in the transformation. For that the Urnings in their own lives put Love before everything else – postponing to it the other motives like money-making, business success, fame, which occupy so much space in most people’s careers – is a fact which is patent to everyone who knows them. This may be saying little or nothing in favour of those of this class whose conception of love is only a poor and frivolous sort; but in the case of those others who see the god in his true light, the fact that they serve him in singleness of heart and so unremittingly raises them at once into the position of the natural leaders of mankind.”Edward Carpenter
‘Uranian’ was first used to refer to same sex love by Karl Ulrichs in mid 19th century Germany – he derived the term from the goddess Aphrodite Urania, the patron of spiritual love, to highlight the spirituality and nobility of same sex love, distinguishing it from reproductive Dionian love, named after Aphrodite Dionea. The term was taken up by English advocates of homosexual emancipation, such as Edward Carpenter and John Addington-Symonds, imagining a comradely love that would bring about true democracy by breaking down class and gender barriers. Oscar Wilde wrote in a letter in 1898, “To have altered my life would have been to have admitted that Uranian love is ignoble. I hold it to be noble—more noble than other forms.”
Carpenter published the results of his anthropological research as ‘Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk’ in 1914, exploring examples from America and feudal Japan, the cross-dressing, sodomising Qedesha goddess priests of the Middle East so hated by the ancient Hebrews, and also same sex Christian unions in the Balkans. Carpenter dared to write about the link between same-sex love and the shamanic practitioners in tribal cultures – in fact this link had not been lost on the European explorers arriving in the New World from the 15th century onwards: discovering that the spiritual power in the tribes was held by gender-bending, same sex loving individuals they set about destroying that power by spreading their Christian judgement of effeminacy and sodomy. They called Native American shamans ‘berdache’, meaning a bottom in gay sex, a term which stuck until the late 20th century.
Carpenter wrote in 1889,-
“The meaning of the old religions will come back to him. On the high tops once more gathering he will celebrate with naked dances the glory of the human form and the great processions of the stars, or greet the bright horn of the young moon which now after a hundred centuries comes back laden with such wondrous associations – all the yearnings and the dreams and the wonderment of the generations of mankind – the worship of Astarte and of Diana, of Isis or the Virgin Mary; once more in sacred groves will he reunite the passion and the delight of human love with his deepest feelings of the sanctity and beauty of Nature; or in the open, standing uncovered to the Sun, will adore the emblem of the everlasting splendour which shines within”Edward Carpenter, Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, 57), 1889
I was in complete agreement with Edward that, –
“we are arriving at one of the most fruitful and important turning points in the history of the race. the Self is entering into relation with the Body. for, that the individual should conceive and know himself, not a toy and a chance-product of his own bodily heredity, but as identified and continuous with the Eternal Self of which his body is a manifestation, is indeed to begin a new life and to enter a hitherto undreamed world of possibilities….this transformation, whilst the greatest and most wonderful, is also of course the most difficult in Man’s evolution, for him to effect. it may roughly be said that the whole of the civilisation-period in Man’s history is the preparation for it.”