Queer Magic in Theory and Practice

The relationship between magic and queer is something that Steve Dee and I have explored in multiple articles on this blog (do a search for ‘queer’ to find them). Recently I had the opportunity to put some of these ideas into practice during my Queering Magic workshop at Treadwell’s Books, London.

The word queer relates, among other things, to notions of sexuality, gender and identity. More broadly it can be taken to suggest liminality, uncertainty, curiosity and the disruption of (apparently) fixed systems, through to what Freud would call the ‘uncanny’ and others might describe as ‘the weird’ (or wyrd).

With such a broad and morphing constellation of meanings it’s interesting to attempt to articulate these, and at the workshop that’s what we did, both in writing and through colour and form.

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Queer connects us to mythical and historic figures; bisexual deities such as Pan, the Divine Androgyne of Hermetic mysticism, and our queer ancestors from Aleister Crowley to Tove Jansson. Identifying these allies makes a real difference when it comes to claiming our own identity as queer people and especially as queer occultists.

Seeking historical exemplars helps us recognize that we stand in a lineage of queer folk. Knowing this history helps challenge the view that wyrd-kids-today are adopting non-binary identity simply as a fashion statement. That was the kind of thinking behind Clause 28, a bit of British law from the 1980s designed to stop regional governmental bodies “…intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any State funded school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. (Those who find this kind of repressive legislation repulsive should know that they are not alone. This law was repealed by the then new Scottish Parliament in 2000 as one of their first legislative acts, and in England and Wales in 2003.)

Rather than something ‘new’ growth of the queer in Western culture represents a recognition that human identity, social roles, gender and sexuality have actually always been multiple and complex. The queer isn’t something original, as much as a recognition of what has actually always been the case. Supporters of this increasingly visible culture (like me) enjoying pointing out that many other societies (notably those of many Native American nations) include much richer, often more fluid, vocabularies for describing gender and sexual identity. Physical gender is a continuum or field of possibilities, sexual preference or social role even more so. This is why I like queer, it’s a useful umbrella term which reminds us to keep in mind – or in ‘play’ as Jacques Derrida might say – the mutability and flexibility of human nature. This isn’t necessarily a rejection of words like ‘gay’ or ‘male’ but rather queer acts as a reminder that these labels are convenient, contingent fictions and subject, like all things, to flux.

Magic, according to Crowley in 777, is ‘energy tending to change’ and more famously “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. Thus the relationship of magic, change and queer(ing) is apparent at a deep esoteric theoretical level as well as in the actual lives of many occultists.

As we explore the meanings of queer we find it in contact with many other words of magic. Take for example the etymology of the word ‘witch‘. Grimm suggests that *weik- “to curve, bend” and *weg’h- “to move” (in a “mysterious” way) are concepts at the root of ‘witchcraft’. Such an imaged etymology of ‘witch’ contains ideas of bending or twisting both as demonstration of mysterious control (‘the witch bent men to her will’) or a turning away from the right/true/moral (ie socially acceptable) path and instead following of the a ‘road less traveled’ or a ‘crooked way’. ‘Witch’ exhibits Similar negative associations of spoiling or going wrong that have been linked to queer. The potentially transgressive, antinomian and outsider qualities of ‘witch’ are echoed in ‘queer’ in that both words have been reclaimed, recuperated and re-imagined not as epithets of denigration but instead identities of celebration, empowerment, transformation and resistance.

In a mythological context the ‘cut-up’ deities of Baphomet and Abraxas can also be considered pretty queer.  These spirits have obscure backstories and yet, especially in the case of Baphomet, a wild proliferation of forms, imbued with multiple meanings. ‘Baphomet’, like the ‘queer’ is a placeholder for an uncertain, powerful, morphing ‘energy tending to change’. At Treadwell’s we decorated our ritual space with Baphomets generated through the ‘picture consequences’ or ‘exquisite corpse’ method. Here are a few of the chimeric beings we spawned:

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Queer Truth is mutable and multiple.

There are of course those folks who, for whatever reason are unsure of all this queerness around magic. A few esoteric writers, typically of the probably-gay-but-unable-to-admit it type are hostile to queer cultures. Heteronormativity is writ large in the worlds of polarity structured occultures (such as Wicca) and also Medicine Path groups (where the language of familial heteronormativity often appears in ceremonial songs) – but this is changing. (By Medicine Community I mean folk using psychedelics such as ayahuasca, peyote and other sacraments as part of their spiritual process, often in a way informed by ‘native’ practices.)

Wicca has proliferated into many forms where queer identity is welcomed, celebrated and included. There are indications too that in Medicine Community contexts where previously there was only a relative mono-culture of male-female tropes, a richer linguistic ecology is developing. We can see how people wrestle with the boundary crossing experience that ayahuasca and other psychedelic drugs induce, sometimes in cultural settings where diverse sexual identity doesn’t necessarily get acknowledged. For more on this check the work of Clancy Cavnar for instance this article and this presentation.

Back at Treadwell’s, part of our practice was to collectively offer our thanks to the artist, queer icon and Golden Dawn initiate Pamela Coleman Smith. ‘Pixie’, as she was affectionately known to her friends, lived in the Cornish town of Bude where I’d previously done magical work intended to re-ignite interest in her phenomenal oeuvre.  Following recent repairs to her former home Treadwell’s was able to acquire Pixie’s original fireplace. This charming ovoid hearth now stands in the basement of one of the leading bookshops and venues for the sharing of magical practice in Britain. A fitting place of power to house this magical object. Our group took time to appreciate Pamela Coleman Smith, the woman who designed the best-selling classic modern tarot. A woman who lived for many years with her female companion. A person, I’m pleased to report, increasingly recognized and celebrated as a key figure of the Western magical tradition. (Check out this wonderful new collection of writings on, and art by, Pamela Coleman Smith.)

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Fireside conversation with Pamela Coleman Smith

Whether we wish to claim an identity such as ‘queer’ for ourselves or not my feeling is that occultists of all stripes can benefit from an exploration of these ideas. For those who apply the word to themselves and their work, seeking out mythic and historical allies, and recovering, creating and honouring their stories is vital work. For the queer spaces in culture are not themselves inevitable or irrevocable. For this is ‘energy tending to change’ – it is all those ongoing acts of witness, of rebellion, or bravery and of ‘queer truth’ that act together to create and maintain this space. A queer space in culture where the diversity of human experience can be shared and valued rather than repressed and feared.

Thanks to all those that came to the workshop and respect to all those queer wyrd people wherever and whenever they may be!

Julian Vayne

A few more thoughts on ritual process, magic and queer here

 

PS I’m doing another workshop at Treadwells in May on psychogeography, hope you can join me for some magic in the streets of London. 🙂

The Bravery of Taking Our True Form

I was recently chatting with one of my teenage children about how Queer identity is being discussed in Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature. In the course of our conversation we got on to the brilliance of Ursula Le Guin’s work The Left Hand of Darkness and how the people of the planet Gethen were able to change sex as part of their natural life cycle. Ursula was (and is) awesome!

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The ever awesome Ursula Le Guin

I find it hard to convey the richness that I have gained from Le Guin’s work and the way that it has provided inspiration to me as both a human being and a magical practitioner. With her recent death, I was once again impressed by the wide impact that she has had upon my friends and other creative people that I’m connected to. Le Guin brought the keen eye of the anthropologist to her imagined worlds, and used them as powerful vehicles for exploring concepts without doing violence to the narrative. Her engagement with ideas around race, feminism and alternate family structures, helps us challenge and question our reliance on worn-out social norms and stereotypes.

One of the ideas that Le Guin skillfully wove into the magical universe of Earthsea was the power of words and names. To know a thing or a person’s true name was to have power over them, and the act of sharing your true name with another was an act of profound trust. This concept of a true name (usually received during adolescence) also contains within it the idea that we each hold within us the possibility of bringing something unique into the world.

In a recent blog post I made mention of James Hillman’s excellent The Soul’s Code in which he considers how the idea of the daimon can help us discover those passions and vocations that might provide a sense of coherence to our life’s journey. The challenge for Hillman, and for ourselves, is how we tune in to intuition and creativity, to align our lives to this deeper sense of calling and purpose.  When we are able to bring about this sense of greater congruence with our daimonic, deeper selves, so it becomes possible that greater inspiration might flow through us. 

For Hillman a critical part of this experience comes via a positive, mythic use of loneliness and self-isolation. So often the voice of our vocation can be stifled via the constrictions of family or social conditioning.  To recover the “still, small voice” of the daimon, we are often required to walk a path that may be viewed as willful antinomianism by those around us, as we question or reject their perspectives and values.

For some their sense of daimonic purpose feels so clear, that they have little doubt as to the life’s work that they need to pursue, yet for many of us this process takes more time. The work of tuning in to the voice of our deep self is aided by tools and approaches that allow exploration of hidden or “occult” terrain. Ritual practice, dream-work and art can all be highly helpful means of recovering those powerful longings that may have become lost.

In reflecting on this process of discovering our ‘true name’ or ‘diamonic purpose’,  I was once again drawn to the Grail story of Parzival and the way in which his mother attempted to protect him from both the rigours and glamour of Knighthood. While we can sympathize with her aim, having lost her husband to the crusades, such attempts at control were destined to fail once his own vocation is activated.

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Whom does it serve?

As Parzival journeys along the road he finds that his certainties and self-perception are repeatedly challenged as he seeks to find the meaning of true knighthood and what it might mean to be worthy of the Grail. When he begins his quest, the literal and the masculine provide him bench-marks for how he thinks he should be in seeking to make sense of his universe. His first guru Gurnemanz is more than adept in teaching him the use of the lance and shield, but when considering matters of the heart and deep pain he is sadly lacking. It is this “stiff upper-lip”, don’t ask questions attitude that causes his initial failure when confronted by the wound of the Fisher King.

To walk the path of taking our true form demands a form of self-remembering and reflection that asks of us considerable effort, yet to not undertake such work is to stifle the process of initiation unfolding in our lives. Many of us will be all too aware of what it feels like to have our creativity blocked, and the cost this incurs on our sense of psychological and spiritual health, as Hillman puts it:

“Without inspiration, what is left is bare, aimless ferocity.”

The sharp edges of such ferocity often remind me that I’m working too hard on things that don’t really matter or that I’m using such busyness in a desperate attempt to escape the true cost of awakening. To close my ears to this deeper truth, risks denying both myself and the wider world the unique manifestation of who I am and might become.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Urusla Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Steve Dee

 

Steve Dee’s new book A Heretic’s Journey is out now, details here.

Deep Magic retreats – places are still available for our first autumn retreat at St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall, details here.

Divine Androgyne (Part 3): Monstrous Alchemy

The impact of Queer experience on the ideal of androgyny is a truly disruptive one. Gone are our neat Kabbalistic flow charts and clear cut Neoplatonic stages of descent. In contrast to these linear sequences, this Queered Androgyny is an ever oscillating, multi-directional chaos-star whose many rays can be simultaneously moving both outward in expression and engagement, and inward in reflection and self-nurture.

This principle of Androgyny is fed as much by the lived experience of unique, individual Androgynous people as it is by the realm of aspirational metaphysics. It as much as about the creativity of the Radical Faery and Butch Lesbian as it about Adam Kadmon or Ardhanarisvara. For me, to work with this form of Androgyny means to acknowledge both a dialectical process that seeks to capture the world of ideal forms, while at the same time experiencing a dialogical reality in which a multitude of positions need to be held together without a necessary resolution.

Ardhanarishvara

‘Can’t tell if you’re a boy or a girl’

To seek deep benefit in engaging with these ideas and images seems to require that we tolerate a certain degree of uncertainty. So often this form of doubt, confusion and psychological tension is seen as a negative or a hindrance to spiritual development and yet I believe this does not need to be case. For those of us seeking to walk an occult path, we are often called upon to make use of emotions and methods which our exoteric cousins view as dangerous or retrograde. If however we are able to engage consciously with the sense of resistance experienced in grappling with the complexity of such dialogues, then this very tension can bring about alchemical change.

If the stated aim of magical work is to create change, it would seem somewhat odd to then resist the transformation when it comes; and yet in my own life this has so often been the case. Change can happen at many levels and impact both how we experience ourselves and how we engage in relationships with others. Often the routes to change are manifested in dilemmas, loss and conflict, and the keys we need are to be found in attending to the strangeness of our dreams and the currents of the unconscious made manifest in our Art.

This is the unconscious territory that the Surrealists were so adept in exploring in their work, with the strange often jarring images revealing aspects of self that were bizarre, blurred and often monstrous. In alchemical terms this connection to the unconscious and the shadow represent the stage of nigredo or “blackening”. For the surrealists such territory was vital to their artistic inspiration and similarly for our magical work to have any really depth or sustained power, we must tap into this libidinal black flame of inspiration.

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Leonora Carrington Inn of the Dawn Horse

We have already explored something of the fertile intersect that exists between Surrealism and the artistic deployment of occult ideas and images. Themes as diverse the etheric double, the daemonic and the Witches’ sabbat were explored to varying degrees and there seems to be a significant connection between this use of magical themes and the often weird animalistic characters with which they populated their artistic landscapes.

The link between the magical, the animal and the potentially Queer is present in much Surrealist work and for me the most engaging aspects of such exploration, lies in the way in which it seems to capture that zone of liminal strangeness and mystery. The Surrealist imagination was alive to potency to be found in understanding the animal (whether actual or in more mythic forms) as a way of recontacting the sensual and instinctual realms that weave through the body. For me this wilder magic seems to connect to an almost pre-verbal stage of development that resonates with Spare’s idea of “atavistic resurgence”.

The folklore of the Lycan and Vampyre point us towards a magical worldview in which we can explore the vitality gained through a deeper connection to the visceral. Similarly the Witches’ animal familiar the “Fetch”, or the animal-dimension of Norse soul-lore breach our polite attempts to conceive of a humanity devoid of wildness.

In contrast to the clean, vertical fusing of Ardhanrisvara, the truly Queer genius of Levi’s depiction of Baphomet is partly located in the way in which the animal sits alongside the male and female. In trying to work with our own processes of dissolving and coming back together, Baphomet’s animal dimensions remind us of the power, joy and danger that can be accessed when we risk tuning into the whole of ourselves.

My own attempts to access these states has come via bodywork, dance/shaking states and prolonged trance drumming. I have also had a great deal of pleasure revisiting Gordon MacLellan’s excellent book Sacred Animals which provides some excellent practical guidance for exploring these themes. The ability to inhabit these places feels vital for those of us seeking to embody both freethinking and the magic of the Queer. These places beyond binaries and old certainties rarely allow prolonged rest, but they are undoubtedly transformational!

SD

 

 

 

 

 

The Queerness of Gnosis

It’s probably not very surprising that I find myself trying to write a reflection on how Queerness and Gnosis intersect given the importance they both play in my life. My blog posts, and the book A Gnostic’s Progress, bear witness to my attempt to explore the complexity of human life and how we utilize experiences of direct knowing in our attempts to manage the dilemma of existence.

While others may view the conflating of Queer experience and Gnosticism as being a personal eccentricity or indulgence on my part, I would ask for your patience as I try to unpack some of the resonances that I experience. For me the starting point for both the Queer-identified and the Gnostic is a sense of discomfort and dislocation in response to binary attempts at classification.

While the Gnostics are often typified as dualists, for me a large part of what lies at the heart of gnostic exploration is dissatisfaction with attempts to divide our experience of the world along binary lines. An orthodoxy that seeks to classify things in terms of the works of God or those of Satan made little sense to those religious free-thinkers who wanted to embrace complexity more fully. Rather than being satisfied with the simple answers of faith, the Gnostic sets out into deep space in order to explore  the tension, complexity and contradiction that seems to lie at the heart of life’s mystery.

The Gnostic is the sacred scientist in the truest sense in their attempts to openly explore; question and pressure test their findings. Their metaphysical insights may fail to meet the rigour of the strict reductionist, but their attempt to map the weird cosmologies experienced through inner perception still provide us with much of value. These strange inner landscapes had a clear resonance with depth psychologists such as Carl Jung as he felt that they provided insight into the nature of human experience and how we might work with the process of personal transformation.

Somewhere over the Bifrost

Early Gnostic cosmologies such as those mapped out by early groups, for instance the Sethians and Valentinians, contain a wide variety of spiritual couplings (or syzygies) that seek to convey the dynamic dance at work in the process of creation. For the Gnostic, the numinous realm is full of a wide array of beings such as Aeons, Archons, Powers and Principalities, all vying for expression and manifestation into both matter and the realm of human consciousness. While diagrammatic attempts to depict such systems usually come off looking quite linear, in reading the oft-confusing description of them in primary Gnostic texts, the heavenly host often feels far more fluid, over-lapping and multi-directional.

For me the Gnostics embody a type of heretical free-thinking that seeks to challenge a form of certainty that relies on blinkered tunnel-vision.  Neat delineations that require us to ignore the messy complexity of our deepest longings are challenged by the heretics’ brave act of choosing. While the pedlars of certainty proclaim loudly that their polarised, black and white world is either the result of natural order or God’s will, the heretic is listening to a quieter inner voice.

The awakening to Queerness can of course happen in a whole host of ways. It might be an internal awareness of the complexity of desire or (as was in my case) communication from the straight world of the demi-urge that my way of presenting was not working for them! These realisations may happen suddenly or in a more slow-burn fashion in which you become increasingly aware of dissonance. Whichever speed it happens at this is a profound unfolding of who we sense we are and for me it definitely had a Gnostic dimension. If the admonition to “Know Thyself” was to have an authenticity then it needed to account from the outsider experience that I experienced as a Queer person.

Gnostic explorers of most stripes are usually willing to question what we mean by the natural. In trying to grapple with the discomfort associated with our experience of living, they sought to question the narratives about this transmitted by both Church and State. These organs of authority have been keen to get us to believe all sorts of ideas, in the name of their being natural. Whether it’s the inevitability of reproduction, the subjugation of Women or the exclusion of Black people, both Church and State have the potential to become archonic in their restriction of personal expression and liberty. In their attempt to control and contain they seek to minimise the complexity of our life experience and to present a dominant narrative that limits the possibility of a deeper connection based on a truly rich diversity.

The syzygies so loved by the Gnostics often sought to embody a richer story in which the binaries experienced were held together as they moved through a process of reconciliation. Manifestations of this unification often pop-up in androgynous figures such as Adam Kadmon or Abraxas, but I think that we risk losing something crucial if we see them as fixed icons and fail to appreciate the Queer dynamism that they embody. Queerness often presents a disruptive challenge to our attempts at neatness. At best it moves beyond mere hip theorising and compels us to enact, perform and intensify the often blurry reality of who we are.

In this fluid dance, Queerness can be experienced as identity, mood and the dynamic that exists in the interactions between people, objects and organisation. For me it provides a way of knowing that provides not only a space for inhabiting the present, but also a lens for viewing the past.  In asking us to stay awake to sensitivity to context and process, Queerness provides a necessary challenge to the type of brittleness that can come when we get overly invested in fixed identities.  In my view, such a dynamic creates a type of optimism as I see glimpses of the type of human creativity that Jose Esteban Munoz refers to as “Futurity”.

I have already spoke of the inspiration that I have gained via Nema’s description of N’Aton as an embodiment of our future magical selves, and part of my attraction to this figure is in the way it manifests a type of magical optimism and Futurity. Depictions of N’Aton often hold together the individual and collective perspectives and for me such images embody a type of spiritual awakening that allows for a multiplicity of perspective. When we step away from the tunnel-vision of either Christian or Orthodox Thelemic eschatology, we can begin to explore the Queer possibility of our aeonic utopias overlapping, blurring with and potentially strengthening each other as they balance and inform each other’s insights.

This is a tightrope walk in which we try to balance the reality of both our individual and collective struggles with the need to explore the possibility of what hope might mean. When the Archons shout their “truth” so loudly, we must dare to keep the richness of our stories alive! I’ll end with this great quote from Sara Ahmed in which they discuss the possibility of what we might create when we radically reappraise the type of future we might have:

To learn about possibility involves a certain estrangement from the present. Other things can happen when the familiar recedes. This is why affect aliens can be creative: not only do we want the wrong things, not only do we embrace possibilities that we have been asked to give up, but we create life worlds around these wants. When we are estranged from happiness, things happen. Happiness happens.
The Promise of Happiness p.218

SD

Playing with Queer Cut-ups

I’m sitting in Julian’s front room and I’m surrounded by a multitude of artefacts from past rituals and hours spent in meditation. While the wood burner and main altar space provide a natural centre piece, today my eyes are drawn to the array of cut-up collages that deck one of the walls. These are not elaborate or overly wrought attempts at occult art; rather they represent raw, psychic high-dives in order to explore fragments of self and the processes that unfold as we try to explore darker, stranger terrain.

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Cut-up

Having recently read and enjoyed Queer by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele, I started reflecting on the possible connections between how cut-ups and Queer dynamics might interact in our process of exploring Self. I have already written a post reflecting on how cut-ups might interact with aspects of ego psychology, but their book got me to wondering further about how cut-ups might represent a highly queered and magical form of expression. As I observed back then:

“Like collage, cut-ups seek to use existing material in new ways that often involve the combining and juxtaposition of words and images so as to create new insight and meaning.

In tracking the lineage of cut-ups as an approach, from the surrealism of the Dadaists, Brion Gysin, Burroughs and Genesis P-Orridge, we can begin to see the depth of magical thinking embedded in this technique. As we seek to engage with and manipulate reality, the cut-up not only embodies the desired efficacy of our sorcery, but also the fluid shape-shifters that our arte forces us, the magician, to become. If our magic has any real depth, then our ego must undergo a similar process of reassembly.”

Cut-ups for me are a potent means of challenging our attempts at fixed certainty and polarity. Ideas and images that we previously kept apart are cast together in potentially abrupt disruption. These cut-ups don’t allow for tidy answers or for a buttoned-up, linear sense of self, rather they represent a bubbling up from the unconscious that may reveal as much about the dynamic tensions at work as they do potential answers. Apparently unconnected images are juxtaposed with stark headline text and so new meanings and connections are made. To me this dynamic process feels potentially unsettling and hugely creative and thus quite Queer:

“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” David Halperin  Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

The Queer self is one that has a profound connection to the constructed and performed. As an outsider position it has had to survive by being magpie-like in pulling together those jewels and glimmering half-truths that help make sense of what it means to live with a greater sense of magic and power. Others may dismiss its rag-tag approach for its lack of coherence, but like the trickster or the holy fool it holds up a mirror to those parts of culture whose attempts at control appear all too reliant on dusty outdated certainties.

For me the playful complexity of Queer identity is one that disrupts my attempts at locating my sense of self in fixed descriptors and concrete identities. Any attempt to side-step curiosity and open-handed questioning is unlikely to withstand Queer’s rainbow-laser side-eye. This type of awareness asks that we acquire and develop skills that allow us to more effectively tolerate process, journey and uncertainty.

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Wild words

Similarly the process of the cut-up requires vulnerability as we step-back, allowing patterns and (potential) meanings to emerge. Techniques such as cut-ups and automatic writing/drawing are certainly more towards the artistic end of the “Art and Science” dialectic, but such creativity shouldn’t be mistaken for laxity. Ironically it often seems that as we seek to make use of approaches that are less linear and apparently chaotic, that we have to exercise a more focused sense of awareness in gaining benefit from them. It may be that those people who are drawn to more scripted workings do so because it provides them with a greater sense of security and control.

One of the primary reasons that I was drawn to the magical path was its sense of collaboration and play. World views and metaphysics that declared absolute certainty were no longer viable but I was still hungry to explore the mystery of consciousness and the glimpses of awakening that were coming in and out of view. Techniques like cut-ups and collage can provide us with potent and creative means for accessing new insights regarding the paths we are seeking to walk. They are rarely complete answers, more often they are snapshots of a work in progress that we may need to slow down and wait for, rather than rushing to a sensible, adult conclusion.

SD

Queer: A Graphic History reviewed

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele Icon Books 2016

I’m sure that like many a humanities undergraduate out there, I have had my academic bacon saved more than once by the Icon series on contemporary thought. Their pithy illustrated guides on topics and figures as wide ranging as Wagner, Jesus and Lacan, often provided an accessible doorway into some otherwise tricky territory. Histories were condensed and made vivid, and previously mind-bending theories were made moderately less so.

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It was perhaps not surprising then that when I caught wind that one of my favourite authors Meg-John Barker was co-authoring an Icon book on Queer theory with illustrator and zine-smith Julia Scheele, I was more than a tad excited. I have already penned some reviews of Meg-John’s recent books on Relationships and contemporary mindfulness practice:

http://enfolding.org/book-review-rewriting-the-rules-an-integrative-guide-to-love-sex-and-relationships/

http://enfolding.org/book-review-mindful-counselling-and-psychotherapy/

and I find their level of both openness and insight deeply helpful and inspiring.

Writing about Queer theory was never going to be a simple task! Not only does it touch upon some highly complex philosophical ideas and movements, it’s very existence as a concept is reliant upon fluidity and a desire to defy concrete definition. (I recently wrote something about these ideas here, looking at the way in which Queer theory might inform magical practice, and there are considerable overlaps in relation to the subtlety, fuzziness and process dependent sensitivity that both seem to thrive on.)

In the course of the book the authors deftly distill some of the primary concepts of Queer theory as follows:

“Resisting the categorization of people
Challenging the idea of essential identities
Questioning binaries like gay/straight, male/female
Demonstrating how things are contextual, based on geography, history, culture etc.
Examining the power relations underlying certain understandings, categories, identities, etc.”

Meg-John and Julia then spend time exploring what the implications of such ideas might be for topics as diverse as identity politics, contemporary sexology and the shape that relationships and concepts of family might take.

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I’d imagine that writing a book like this might be a bit of a challenge: “How do I make it pacey enough to be engaging and yet detailed enough to capture the complexity of what we are trying to describe?” Frankly I think that the authors have done a great job. Partly this is due to it being a big comic book that Julia has done a great job in illuminating.  Visually Queer is great to look at capturing great portraits, humour, sensuality and struggle.

Conceptually it touches on historical forebears (such as the existentialists) and engages heroically with much of the complex postmodern philosophy that has birthed much of the Queer revolution. The sections dealing with the ideas of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler are especially vivid and helpful, primarily as I have tended to find their work pretty heavy going.

Given that Queer theory seeks to explore the reality of what we do rather than being fixated on fixed identities, it is of little surprise that the authors spend much of this work exploring the ways in which Queer theory has shaped activism on both the societal and personal stages.  Meg-John especially is noted for their excellence in taking complex ideas and challenging us to think about what this means now: how will this promote compassion and a willingness to hear the subtlety of our unique stories?

One of the things that I love about this book is the way in which Meg-John keeps popping up as an illustrated character within the text. Engagement with Queer theory and activism is something that they are deeply involved in, and their presence in the text, dialoguing with us, seems to embody something of the open process that the authors are inviting us to.

Curious readers might wonder why I was so keen to review this book on a blog about Magic.  Apart from wanting to bump up a friend’s book sales, Queer identity is not only vital to me on a personal level, but it also profoundly shapes the way that us Baphomet folks practise our chosen spiritual path. As creative ritual explorers, our magical practice is highly relational (we enjoy working with others), context dependent and focused more on process than some imagined endgame. In short, ours is a profoundly Queer Magic and dynamic works like Queer provide great fuel for this journey.

SD

Smells like Queer Spirit

Being the parent of two teenage humans can often prove to be quite thought provoking in terms of trying to articulate what I actually “believe” in terms of my own metaphysics. My eldest helpful summarised my spiritual path as being “some sort of weird druid, meditation thing”. Credit where credit is due, that’s probably not far off!

While I have had some past attempts at spiritual brand loyalty, they have often ended in consumer dissatisfaction. My path has always been a blurry one, a fuzzy inexact ramble along a path that is much more about exploration and the privilege of travelling with some rather excellent companions. I can understand why others like certainty, and given the current scary state of the UK, I can appreciate why such apparently vague, postmodern and Queer perspectives don’t appear to be muscular enough to confront our current difficulties. But hey! It’s not my fault, I blame Magic.

Queerness and Magic are a bit of a chicken and egg thing. It’s hard to know whether Magic’s strange ways are innately attractive to the fey, liminal shape-shifters within a culture or whether it makes the curious even Queerer; as a lover of strange loops and circularities I’ll take both ☺

rainbow loop

Queer loop

To engage with Magic is to engage with the whole of life. It is art and it is science, it is both acceptance and change. It is many things, but I’m pretty sure that it demands a heroic pursuit of curiosity and a willingness to question almost everything we thought was true of our lives and selves, as I have said elsewhere:

Whatever else Magic may or may not accomplish it aims to transform our own awareness so that we become more effective. By self-willed mimetic infection, the change that we seek becomes more likely as we sensitize our perception to themes and opportunities.” (Deep Chaos part deux)

To enter the circle or to cast a spell means to lift anchor on what we thought we knew about ourselves. Whatever scripts and stories that we may have inherited about what our lives should look like, are called into question as we are sailing more uncertain seas

Many find the descriptor “Queer” problematic because of its historic associations as a homophobic slur or because it is viewed as attempting to summarize the complex terrain of “non-straight” identity (LGBT+) with a single (albeit complex) word. I certainly don’t wish to imply any form of flat-land homogenization of people’s lives and politics. Language and self-identification are important markers and means for both self-understanding and collective response. Part of why I view my own magic as Queer (as well as being that of a Kinky, Bisexual and gender fluid person), is the way in which Queerness for me embodies the role that we as magicians have as edge-dwellers who question oppressive catergorisation and help pull our cultures forward.

Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” David Halperin  Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

michel_foucault_by_ivankorsario-d5qvsbt

Queer discourse

While some may  view the conscious deconstruction of category as being overly hip or laboured, for those of us who find liberty within Queer’s punk rock attitude, Queerness challenges us to experience relationship and uncertainty in new ways. Rule books that rely on clear categorisation and the safe assertion that problems are located in “the other” can longer be as true. While the urge for individual emancipation and freedom seem innate to the human project, a Queer awakening might also attend to the complex tendrils of connectivity between self and other. Indeed our liberty may ultimately be within context as much as it about liberation away from it.

Part of my own current context is as a human who lives in the United Kingdom. Recent weeks have been a bewildering and deeply saddening time for many of us who (despite its many imperfections) view remaining in a larger Europe as being an important factor in seeking to reduce ignorance, hatred and less effective communication. Whatever economic arguments that “exit” advocates might have been able to proffer, for me my identity as a magician and Queer limit my ability to embrace the lax, childish worldview that Britain’s current difficulties can be located in those other people over-there.

Whichever framework one employs in trying to understand how Magic works, most magicians seem to rely on concepts of connection, alliance and symbiosis. Over 20 years of frontline social work may well and truly kicked most naivety out of my system, but I still know that my own Magic seems to be maximised when I have the possibility of exploring creativity from a position of flexibility and relative fearlessness. For me it’s hard to reconcile such freedom and connection with a siege mentality that imagines safety behind a balsa-wood drawbridge.

In recent times I have been working with the Goddess Sophia and the way she is made manifest in Gaia. In offering devotional practice to Gaia-Sophia, my coven-mates and I have been seeking to promote greater connectivity and Wisdom. This prayer is still on my lips:

“Praise to the Wise one,

The Connected One,

The Whole one,

The Holy One!

Gaia-Sophia!”

Sublime Strange Attractor-

Illuminate our intuition and give us neither-neither genius!

Help us to spin our webs of connection with silver and gold

Help us to seek Wisdom and apply its insights with kindness.

We give thanks to you and to each other

For this time of nurture and deep listening!”

SD