Wednesday 17 August 2016

Queer Spirits Gather

This week the first festival celebrating the diversity of lgbt spirituality takes place in the UK – the Queer Spirit Festival.

When people think of “belief” we first tend to think of the “Big 5”, the historically major religions of the modern world – Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. In my lifetime there has been a visible gradual acceptance of other faiths and beliefs that do not identify themselves as religions. Along with modern revivals of old beliefs such as paganism and mother goddess faiths there has been a recognition that the belief in no god or deity is just as important to a lot of people.

Religion has always had an uncomfortable, often abusive, relationship with the lgbt community. Perhaps this is why so many people seek other spiritual paths that give them a sense of their place in the universe. These are the Queer Spiritualities.
Queer spirituality has a long history. Many modern faiths still retain a certain special status for people who in ancient times were considered to have spiritual links with their gods and deities. Many of these have been lgbt in essence and, in turn, their special status has enabled them to develop esoteric practices that were assimilated into their community’s faith. The North American Two Spirit people are an example of this, and many spiritual practices have entered the Native American ethnic culture.

The global pre-modern Queer Spirit community, rather than being specifically persecuted for their sexual activity as demonstrated in the later dominant religions, flourished. In some communities, however, they were never accepted as full members of their community, just special “outsiders” who helped to commune with their deities. Without this persecution many ancient lgbt people accepted their outsider status and this influenced future generations.

George Klawitter, a professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has suggested that this is the reason why there is a disproportionate number of ordained lgbt clergy today in the major religions, about ten times the percentage of those in the community in general.

There seems to be some cultural legacy from those ancient faiths that still attracts lgbt people into religious ordination. As a historian I can see a certain element of truth behind this. All through the history of Christianity, for instance, there has always been a visible lgbt presence among its clergy. The debate on religion’s persecution of gay men seems to be at odds with this, but it shows the misunderstandings that both the lgbt community and the Church have about each others lifestyles. The debate on religious attitudes to homosexuality is a big subject and will be more suitably discussed as part of next year’s main theme – law and justice.

What a contrast there is with the high number of lgbt people who reject religion based on actual and perceived homophobia within various faiths. This has become more evident when the early gay rights movements grew in influence in the 1960s and 1970s. It may be no coincidence (I don’t believe in coincidence) that these decades saw the growth of more spiritual independence – free love, the hippy movement and flower power, gay and civil rights. All are inextricably linked.

In order to find some spiritual heritage the lgbt community looked back to the old beliefs, many of them pre-Christian, and many of them which were in times past the subject of persecution by surviving religions. Paganism, Wicca and Earth Goddess beliefs re-emerged and were embraced by the lgbt community. All of these modern interpretations of ancient beliefs already existed outside the lgbt community and most of them were welcoming to lgbt members.

New spiritualities developed from these modern interpretations. One of the most famous was the Radical Faeries movement which placed spirituality above religion and philosophy above doctrine.

The Queer Spirit festival being held this week has it’s origin in previous spiritual gatherings held by different communities around Europe since the 1990s. Among these were the first Radical Faery gathering in Europe in July 1995 and the first Queer Pagan gathering in the UK in 1998. The 21st century has seen a big increase in gatherings that have embraced many different Queer Spiritualities.

One of the symbols adopted by the Queer Spirit festival is the astrological symbol for the planet Uranus (shown below). This planet has several queer spiritual connections as described in one of my “Star Gayzing” articles.

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