It’s no secret that there are a lot of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer Witches and Pagans – most organized religions either condemn or aggressively quiet sexual non-conformity. Earth and Occult traditions have been far more accepting. There are exceptions of course – a few churches that embrace openly gay individuals and even allow them into clergy (hello Episcopalians!) – but for the most part, major religions (both Western and Eastern) are predominantly patriarchal in their hierarchy, silencing the women and LBGT members who remain for reasons of faith or tradition.
Christopher Penczak, a leading figure in contemporary Wicca for a number of years, is the author of one of the first guides written specifically for LGBT practitioners. The following, moving biographical excerpt is from his introduction to Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe, followed by a coming-out ritual:
When I was a child, I never thought I would be writing a book on witchcraft, let alone dedicating my life to it. But life is filled with surprises, and I’ve grown to welcome them by now. I was raised Catholic.Yes, I’m a survivor of 13 years of Catholic school. Nuns didn’t slap my wrist with rulers, but the last four years were in an all-boys high school. While that might sound like a fun fantasy, the reality fell harshly short for a closeted boy desperately trying to figure out where his faith belonged.
Catholic school filled my childhood with ceremony and symbolism. Religion class and frequent liturgies were par for the course. I was surprised to learn that kids in public school didn’t have such things. I took them for granted. Mythic symbolism, statues, crosses, incense, and candles became a part of my life. I had a strong respect for the Catholic faith, but I later realized it was not so much the faith, but the ritual – a time for personal connection.
Not until high school did I consciously acknowledge being gay. I couldn’t understand it myself, but I knew I felt different about the boys in my class. When religion class turned into morality class – where we discussed such topics as suicide, abortion, and homosexuality – in a single moment, the world came crashing down around me, and I confirmed my feelings about not fitting into the whole. I intensely believed in something, but it no longer believed in me, or so I was told. The words “love the sinner, hate the sin” rang hollow for me, since I felt hated, yet had not done anything at all.
That class created a schism between me and the traditional Christian faiths. I went through a period of atheism, which in reality was more like a period of anger with Spirit, for some perceived betrayal from the emissaries of the Church. I later considered myself agnostic, believing in some form of Spirit, but felt that no one could define or interact with. Spirituality was abstract, not anything personal. I drew close to science for answers to my questions, and to art for my personal expression.
Fortunately, science and art could not answer the questions I had about life. I experienced seeing a ghost and I had an out-of-body episode, though I didn’t know what these phenomena were at the time. I didn’t find any answers, so I kept looking, without much luck. I didn’t let go of much of my anger, though. I held on because I didn’t have anything else to take its place.
Then witchcraft opened a new world for me. An old friend of the family slowly introduced me to Wicca, the modern religion of witchcraft. The foundations were in ritual, the cycles of nature, ancient Goddess reverence, psychic awareness, and personal development. Witchcraft embraced ancient philosophies and practices from all around the world. So many beliefs fit my own. I never believed in the Christian devil, the source of evil. Contrary to popular belief, witches do not worship the devil. They believe it to be a construct of various organizations to control other people, a target of blame, anda scapegoat. Witches believe in self-responsibility, since all you do comes back to you. Many authors of the neo-witchcraft movement cite a greater acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people because of our ancient rites. Several ancient cultures honored such people – my people – for their unique energies and perspective. A few modern groups, or covens, are exclusively gay or lesbian, though parts of the Wiccan community are as homophobic as the mainstream is.
The more I read and studied about Wicca, the more I thought I had come home, but I was afraid. I was afraid to trust Spirit again.
As I studied the craft, with my friend and her teacher, I had some amazing personal experiences. My first spell – what others call intentions or prayers – produced remarkable results. Through training, I had experiences with psychic magical abilities. The point of such work is not for the sake of accumulating power, but empowerment. Witchcraft gives a personal experience to what modern science, through quantum physics, is telling us; everything is connected. Everything is one. What one person does affects the whole. An experience with psychic healing opened my eyes to a completely new reality. We are connected.
As my studies deepened, I had to swallow a bitter pill. Magick (modern mystics often spell it with a “k” to differentiate their arts from a stage magician’s sleight of hand) and, in fact, any form of mysticism, requires an inner harmony and unity. An aspiring witch must work to shed fear, anger, guilt, and hate, while gathering the qualities of love, self-esteem, and acceptance. Though I had found witchcraft, I held on to my anger at the world because I was different. To continue, to learn the mysteries of magick, I had to let go of my safety blanket of anger. Through the practice of the craft, deep self-introspection, and some healing counsel, I did, and my life changed completely. I then knew I was in control of my life, and always had been. The anger was no one’s fault but my own – simply my reaction to others. When you honor the sacred within you, when you find the witch’s Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, what others do does not matter. Spirit is not a commodity that others can give or deny you. All things are Spirit. Spirituality is simply acknowledging Spirit in your daily, personal life. Witchcraft is one path of spirituality, the one that brought me home and continues to show me new paths to follow.
Coming Out Ritual
If you gather your friends and “family” with you, or even have them participate in the ritual, so much the better. Or you can do it alone, reminiscent of the lone shaman’s initiation. The choice is up to you.
- You’ll need a mirror that you have consecrated for this ritual.
- Prepare for the ritual by cleansing yourself on all levels. Start with a magical bath or shower. Honor and accept your body. Let all stress and tension wash away. If possible, do some simple breathing exercises and meditation before you do the ritual, either prior to gathering with others, or doing it on your own.
- Cast the circle and call the quarters in the traditional way.
- Invite any particular gods, goddesses, spirit guides, and power animals into the circle.
- LIght any incense or candles you have. Use protection potion (Optional).
- Perform the Great Rite (Optional).
- If you have something that symbolizes your time in the closet – an article of clothing, jewelry, book, magazine, or even an old nickname written on a piece of paper, hold it up. Think about what this symbolizes, and what you are leaving behind. Once you walk out, there really is no going back. You can ritually offer up the item. If it is something small and flammable, you can burn it. Or you can simply cast it on the floor now, and bury it after the ritual. If you don’t have a physical symbol, simply visualize a “shedding of your skin,” of your past identity and self-image, to enter a new freedom to redefine yourself in any way you choose.
- Hold up your ritual mirror, or have a friend or family member hold it up to you. Gaze deeply into the mirror. gaze into your eyes. Look at who you are and love yourself wholly and unconditionally. While looking in the mirror, say this or something similar: I thank the Goddess and God for my unique blessings. I thank them for all the gifts and talents they may have bestowed upon me. I accept my magical heritage fully and completely. I accept myself ad a [use whatever word you may identify with – gay man, lesbian, bisexual, or perhaps gayness or queerness: use whatever you like]. I love myself unconditionally. Blessed Be.
- If gathered with others, pass a pink,purple, or rainbow candle around the circle. Let each person say a blessing, words of encouragement, or anything else that spirit moves him or her to say while holding the candle. If you are alone, say a word of encouragement and blessing to yourself. When you start to pass it around, light it. Let its magical light shine on you.
- Complete the circle, thanking all present, release the quarters, and release the circle.
For more information of Chistopher Penczak, visit his website.
For information on ways to support the LGBT people in your life visit PFLAG