Radical Sex, Radical Transformation

I’ve not long finished reading Ruth Addams excellent devotional work  A Gift of Maggots.  Ruth is the main voice in the work, though there are great contributions from other writers notably Raven Kaldera. A Gift… contains poetic invocations and personal accounts, plus a decent helping of esoteric and exoteric history, about The Big B (as I like to affectionately call Baphomet).

One of the main strands in the book is the exploration of Baphomet as the deity of perverts, monsters and freaks and how in some respects this can be read as hir being the god of transgendered people, transsexuals and the disabled. This is an aspect of Baphomet that gets mentioned in The Book of Baphomet but A Gift…  takes this interpretation of The Big B as its core project.

The position of trans-people in English speaking culture (transvestites, transgendered people, transsexuals) and indeed anyone who falls in some way between the (imagined) binary duality of male and female, is something which many people have worked really hard to change in the last few decades. Along with male homosexuality there have been, and are now, a wide variety of people (some trans, some not) calling for a wider cultural acceptance of the natural fact that sex and gender are fields of action rather than discrete poles.

Anyone who has spent any time exploring the area of gender fluidity, either through academic writing or personal experience, will acknowledge that physical sex (let alone the complexity of behavior) can be a wildly diverse thing. There are all sorts of intersex, hermaphroditic and more beings who are perfectly natural outpourings of the life force on this planet (which I call Baphomet). And of course The Big B hirself is emblematic of this.

Baphometic gender bending

A Gift of Maggots reads very well alongside Raven Kaldera’s book Hermaphrodeities which, as the name suggests, explores the various gender fluid archetypes in mythology. In that book Raven also presents a brilliant range of interviews from all kinds of fascinating people; male to female transsexuals, female to male transsexuals, people who have been born with various intersex bodies at birth, and those who have shape-shifted through surgery and hormone pills, into another form.

Slowly but surely the issue of widening gender away from just male/female is coming to the fore. I recently spoke to a Sister who was telling me about a colleague who had a child that, right from their early years, identified with the ‘opposite’ sex. This young person, blessed with a supportive family, had started their transition to another gender while still in the compulsory school system. What my Sister was amazed by was that, when the child returned to school with a support worker who spoke to the whole school, the child was accepted and there wasn’t any bullying over that issue . More broadly there are various campaigns and organsations active in this work, such as those HERE and HERE.

Such changes in culture are hard won. People have died over this issue in the same way that people died over the legalisation of male homosexuality or women’s enfranchisement as citizens with voting rights.

This is why I find certain aspects of the glamorous ‘outsider’ mindset, that some members of the esoteric community still cling to, so difficult deal with.

There’s a story line which goes something like this; we the <insert name of group> live outside of society, we’re not part of the ‘mainstream’, we revel in our radical rejection of the status quo and (this is the clincher for me) all attempts to integrate our way of being/fucking/dressing/doing magick within wider culture are dispiriting tactics to water-down and recuperate our radicalism into the hum-drum drone of grey-face capitalist TV culture. Of course the details of the story line will vary, but I’m sure you get the idea.

The first thing to say is that the protagonists of such views are often people who are very unlikely, because of the way they appear to others, to really be excluded from very much anything at all. So while this sense of what is, at bottom, a victim self-image may be delighted in by first world, able bodied, white middle class men, it’s unlikely that many black, disabled women in apartheid South Africa were actively happy to be full-paid up members of these ‘outsider’ groups.

An important a priori, within the story of those who delight in their own oppression, is that culture is a monolithic thing. Whereas culture is, as any fule kno, a continuously morphing changing space which is actively being created at all times. Sure they can be dominant discourses (or strands, or whatever metaphor you prefer) at work, and sometimes these need to be opposed quite directly. However by conceptualizing ourselves as ‘the outsider’ in toto we are not fighting but rather withdrawing from the real fray. One must either run to the hills, or go down fighting in a beautiful but untimely pointless blaze of glory while attempting to smash The System.

Such a position is deeply dis-empowering. What if gay men had been unwilling to fight for their rights but instead spent all their time wallowing in their outsider status? Speaking as a bisexual male who enjoys cross-dressing I’m really glad they stood up to be counted, if nothing else so that I can claim that identity without fear of losing my job and indeed in an environment where the law is of the land is on my side.

In the words of Terence McKenna (Peace Be Upon Him): We're not dropping out here, we're infiltrating and taking over.

In the words of Terence McKenna (Peace Be Upon Him): We’re not dropping out here, we’re infiltrating and taking over.

The outsider, the destabiliser of culture is important, and if you read the interviews in Hermaphrodeities, one can see that this role is quintessentially as an agent of transformation, both of the self and of society as a whole.

Sure one might argue that things, for example modern Paganism, may get watered down when absorbed into mainstream (whatever that means these days) culture. But this is also not the whole story. Carving out the freedom to write ‘pagan’ on your hospital admission form is important as much for what it says about our ability to tolerate difference as it does about the perceived nature of Paganism. I pray that in the future claiming the right to use entheogens in ceremony will likewise be accepted, just as in much of the west difference in sexualities and gender forms are increasingly accepted. Social transformations can be radical and deep. Overturning the laws of western culture about sexuality and sexual identity has been an enormous change, likewise reshaping the status of women in those cultures. This is real magic set in the real world, rather than a retreat into ancient beliefs or modern exotica, wrapped up in apocalyptic visions that would make Jehovah proud.

Cultures can certainly be bland-ified, but they can also be radically changed and become more permissive, accepting and tolerant. It’s up to us, especially if we identify as witches, pagans, magicians and the like, to transform society into what we Will, and that only comes with engagement.

Not easy, but no-one said The Great Work would be.

JV

7 thoughts on “Radical Sex, Radical Transformation

  1. Gerry says:

    Brilliant writing, and as a queer pagan exactly what Baphomet means to me, and totally to the point. I was never touched by the romanticism of the outsider, others thought it was a romantic life but I fought hard and strong on all the Gay Pride marches in the 80s/90s for the right to be different, and to move things forward for people to be what they wanted to be, needed to be, and become. Baphomet for me is the diversity in the lifeforce, and an agent of change from the inside out. Love Grayson Perry too! Please more of your wonderful writing JV 🙂

  2. You state on facebook that this is an indirect reply to my blog here: .
    http://scarletimprint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/a-forking-of-paths.html

    You misunderstand my point almost entirely.

    I am simply stating that Witchcraft should not be sacrificed for a one size fits all Paganism.

    I am not withdrawing in any sense, in fact I consitstently confront the issues in culture, something I see few others doing. Often to the criticism of the magical community who would rather play the apolitical card.

    So there are some little personal digs in there that I will respond to. You state:

    …this is real magic rather than a retreat into ancient beliefs or modern exotica, wrapped up in apocalyptic visions that would make Jehovah proud.

    You know that I have little time for the rootless approach of Chaos Magick, and that I have an apocalyptic vision. Too damn right. The world is in the midst of an extinction crisis and ecological collapse. This is an apocalypse with no tech fix.

    I also won’t apologise for being white, male or heterosexual. That doesn’t somehow negate my argument. Neither does being bi or cross-dressing strengthen yours.

    We completely support the existence of an engaging above ground paganism. This can exist without the need for the witchcraft tag.

    I completely support the approach of the gay rights movement and we have indeed published Raven Kaldera.

    The points I raise have received widespread support from many of those in the community who understand the issue I am talking about which is that paganism and witchcraft are distinct entities,

    This has nothing to do with the wider issue of human rights which are beyond the scope of the points I have made.

  3. Great to see the concept expanding, however one must beware of theometric drift, a god form that becomes a god of everything becomes a god of nothing. What doesn’t Baphomet like?

  4. Setken says:

    Another thought provoking post.

    I less and less these days relegate male homosexuality (and bisexuality) to the arena of gender issues though. I think “the system” imposes this upon us. I am experiencing my sexuality as a bisexual man (who is largely gay) as part of the continuum of being a male.

    When I began to let go of what the system dictates a gay man should be, I started finding me. And it has nothing to do with fluid gender, being feminine (although I get interpreting top / bottom as male / female and insertion / penetration comes into play here) or listening to Babs Streisand LOL

    Thanks for your posts – this one in particular is a gem.

  5. Pete C – I really like that idea of trying to zero-in on ‘what Baphomet doesn’t like’, certainly food for thought.
    Peter G – your Scarlet Imprint blog post seems to suggest that you’d like to reclaim the word witch to mean ‘scary, evil sorcerer’ (as it did for most of history). I’m not sure that’s a wise tactic, and in times of persecution (the Ritual Abuse Craze of the late 20th century comes to mind) certainly doesn’t help Pagans or occultists if they want to be members of society (which I do). I’d rather not see the return of laws against malfica myself.
    Sure, I don’t want a disempowered vision of paganism, magick or witchcraft to be the end result of the processes you describe. My point about sexual freedom is that mainstream culture can and does change radically in response to, as well as recuperate, the transgressive.
    So how can we transform mainstream culture away from the earth raping vision you paint? Your writing is rich in polemic and rousing calls to arms – but to do what specific actions or work?
    Gerry – really glad you’re enjoying the blog. The image of Baphomet is from http://thebentpentacle.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/a-picture-of-baphomet/#more-169 which, from what I’ve read, is cool site.
    Setken – glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
    JV

  6. Fantastic article JV. I for one made a point recently too about my true beliefs in a very public setting. Firstly when filling in my hospital admission forms as I was being admitted for a small spinal procedure 3 weeks ago now, I wrote under religion: Witch & Occultist. When I was in recovery a nurse asked me; “Are you a Wiccan Witch”? Then I tried to explain to this nurse that I wasn’t a Wiccan anymore but that I was a Witch amongst other things. LOL It wasn’t easy to do to try and explain to somebody who doesn’t understand anything about it but she was eager to know far more.

    I did my best to explain the differences but it wasn’t easy as I was still under the influence of the anaesthesia. Afterwards she thanked me and told me that she had never met a Witch or an Occultist before and that I seemed “pretty normal” compared to what she thought a Witch/Occultist would be like. What was she expecting I wonder? A stereotypical Witch probably with a pointy hat, warts on her nose and green skin perhaps? LOL Who knows, but by educating this one nurse that day, I know it’s just the beginning of her then telling others about us all too and so on etc.

    She seemed pleasantly surprised that I was a normal sane middle aged woman. LOL I looked like everyone else in my “white hospital robe”. It’s only by using more education and communication with the wider community that things will change. It’s all up to us individually to do our bit to spread the word and thus destroy their prejudice against us.

    The more all of us discuss and declare what we truly are to people in public the better things will be for us all as individuals. Whether it’s about our beliefs or our sexuality then the more the general public will understand and accept us for whom we truly are.
    It’s sad that I know of people that feel they have to hide their faith and/or their sexuality from their employer and sometimes even their own family out of fear. Until we all come “out of the broom closet” etc. the general public are always going to think of us as “different, peculiar, eccentric and strange etc” all because they are just too uneducated to know any different and I find that very, very sad for society at large. As so many in our magickal and transgendered Communities have so much to share and to give to others.

    If only more Xtians and others stopped judging us every time they see someone wearing a pentacle and declare “he and/or she is a Satanist” and loves the devil etc. Sorry wrong Joe Sixpack we are not. We just happen to believe what we do and we do some things differently in our lives than you do, that’s all. Eventually people will understand all of these things one day. I guess it’s just a matter of time. I just hope that it doesn’t take too much longer for all of us.

    Also I thought I might mention my new blog to you JV & to others here which is specifically about “entheogens in both Magickal usage, consciousness, awareness and gnosis etc”. As well as its uses for “chronic pain sufferers” like myself. An entheogen has literally saved my life. It’s far too much to write on here but it’s all in my blog which I think may not only interest you but also your readers. It’s something I am passionate about and want to spread the word.

    My blog is: http://SurvivingChronicPainwithMagickandSpirit.wordpress.com
    If you can’t find it? Please send me a msg and I will send you a link as I’ve just written it on here as I’m not tech savvy enough to know how to post a link using an iPad just yet. Lol

    Thanks again for another enlightening and topical blog.
    Blessed Be,
    CazWytch )O(

  7. Hey I just clicked my own link and it worked! It must be magick!!😺

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