words, politics and lost meanings

For whatever reason, I’ve always cared about the people we used to call “transsexuals”, as in those who deeply feel they are not in the right body, and in contrast need to live as the sex they identify with. Contrary to the ridicule that these people often faced, I felt they exemplified a personal courage and dignity that was really noteworthy.

10 – 15 years ago, on an internet LGBT group that I belonged to, we had a few discussions with one of the transwomen on the group, about how she felt ambivalent about the term “transsexual”, as it could lead to the misunderstanding that it was all about sexuality rather than gender identity. But she was also really ambivalent about the rise of the umbrella term “transgender”, as it included so many different kinds of people, and might suggest they had more in common than they actually did. That seemed quite a valid concern to me, as the issues of someone living 24/7 as the “opposite sex” could be quite different to those of a transvestite, or people who are physically intersex, or feel they are neither exactly men nor women inwardly. A sense of gender is a personal thing that goes very deep, but it makes complete sense to me that a transitioned transwoman would have a lot more in common with other women than with say a transvestite man, or a drag queen. A transwoman or transman could have a quite traditional sense of gender, it just wouldn’t fit their body of birth. Another kind of transgender person might be a living abolition of traditional gender. If the term was meant to be about gender, why does it group diametrically opposite people together? Words are funny things.

We used to think it was important to try and understand the differences between people, especially in this kind of area which was so open to misunderstanding and misrepresentation, that even as a youngster it would have seemed crass to not know that a transvestite was different to a transsexual (as they were called then). But in the meantime it seemed like politics had decided otherwise. For all the people that the term “transgender” is meant to serve, it would be up to them to say if it has worked for them, but I suspect there wouldn’t be just one answer to that.

Now though this use of language affects a small series of minorities primarily, in another sense it involves everyone, because language is how we communicate, and a good deal of how we understand each other. When you are a minority you have to work on language consistently and ultimately consensually, even if with a degree of assertiveness at times. It’s fine to say “the real word for me is ‘gay’, not ‘faggot’ or ‘pervert'”, but it’s up to society at large to make sense of that and accept it. Because, contrary to pseudo-Marxist swagger, minorities don’t “seize power” from majorities, they persuade them, enter dialogue, or take advantage of social shifts and changes that are occurring anyway. Sorry Stonewall Riots, but if American society hadn’t been ready for it, you’d be a stain on the pavement. That’s how life actually is.

gender versus sex

For years we have been trying to clarify a distinction between physical sex and gender,  and this makes a lot of sense to me. Physical sex is a biological quality that your body has. It is overwhelmingly binary, male or female, though there are exceptions, more than we generally imagine, and people with these intersex physical characteristics need representation, acceptance and rights like anybody else. But physical sex, male, female and intersex, are biological characteristics, not matters of identification. No one gets any choice on it, any more than you do on being born with legs or not.

Gender on the other hand is very much a psychological thing (at least this is what we have been saying). Gender is our psychological sense of being a man or a woman (and some would say all manner of other categories)¹. Gender is a matter of identification, because it is a matter of consciousness and self-recognition*, not of physical organs and biology. In the vast majority of cases it overlaps with biological sex, and so in a sense is invisible. We have gained our awareness of gender from the exceptions to this rule, because that is where it become visible, no longer camouflaged by the overlap. It’s a way of looking at sex and gender which takes into account both the general rule and the exceptions, and so has a cognitive elegance and functionality to it, quite aside from issues of compassion and empathy.

This doesn’t mean that all men (by both gender and male sex) are masculine, or happy with being men, or fit the social role of men, or never wanted to dress up as the princess as a kid (or as an adult). When we are talking about gender we are not talking about how masculine or feminine you are, or what clothes you’d like to wear, or how you want to have your hair, or if you want to wear make up or not, or if you are happy with the role society has assigned your physical sex. We are talking about whether you basically feel you are a man or a woman, girl or boy, or (according to some) something else entirely. There are men and women who are really not happy being men or women, because life is pretty shit when it comes down to it, but they are still men and women. They do not have gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a real thing, and only some people who aren’t happy being a man or a woman have it. It’s much, much deeper, and by all accounts more distressing,  than not liking being a boy. I hated being a boy as a child. I really would have rather been a girl. I resented and was disheartened by just about everything associated with being a boy and becoming a man. I was a very shy, dysfunctional sissie that identified with the girls, absolutely no question, but not as a girl. There was never any question that I was a boy, I just didn’t like the fact that I was a boy. I was not transgender. I was just an atypical boy. So you see what I mean, when I say psychological gender is not the same as all those things we associate with boys and girls? It’s an underlying reality for a person, and they don’t have to like it for it to be so. Being transgender isn’t about not liking stuff, or being “masculine” or “feminine”.

the dreaded binary

I personally have little doubt that there are more than two genders in this psychological sense, but to claim that gender is somehow “beyond the binary” of male and female (or men and women) is I think fudging the issue. It’s not for nothing that gender and sex are associated so closely in our language (indeed, they have been historically equated). All of our language around this area is suffused with reference to maleness and femaleness, maybe further abstracted to “masculinity” and “femininity”, but how ever you slice it, the elephant in the room is binary, and it holds with varying degrees of divergence for the majority of human beings, across all cultures. As I heard Christina Hoff Sommers say: if you look at a sample of men and women, probably everyone diverges in this or that way from the stereotype of men and women, and a significant minority diverge to a major extent (she suggested 20%), but the generalized trend holds. And from what I remember of reading of cultures that accepted and valued gender variance (such as some Native American tribes), the terms for 3rd and 4th genders tended to come down to things like “man-woman”. The modern umbrella term of “two spirit”, while it refers to something beyond the binary, itself references the binary of men and women – Two Spirit. Our understanding of gender is founded upon men and women. It might fly far, but its feet are always going to be of clay. Rooted in flesh, one way or another. Why else would people go through such trials to transition physically?

non-binary, and the loss of distinctions

Recently there have been some things in the news about non-binary gender identification. One young person came out as non-binary to President Obama on his latest visit to the UK. There have been a few articles on the subject such as the BBC website’s “I’m non-binary. This is how I feel“. I don’t honestly feel any more enlightened though.

“I was reading an article by [the actor] Richard O’Brien and he spoke about how he identified with both feminine and masculine things. He said it was about 70/30 in his head and that was the first time I’d come across someone identifying as outside of a binary gender term”

Please no. Please don’t tell me that young people imagine that identifying with both masculine and feminine things makes you anything other than an ordinary human being? Is this what gender has come down to now? Has post-modern queer theory finally bamboozled people into imagining that gender is stuff you like and don’t like, girl and boy things you “identify with”, a matter of how you feel? People who just don’t relate to being men or women? The list given on this website isn’t exactly encouraging. It’s as if all pretense at anything that would be rationally and collectively understandable has been foregone in favour of infinite personal reality. This is a child’s idea of sexual politics. I wish these people well, but what is it they want from the world? It already doesn’t really care.

In all honesty, if you’re under 35 and you haven’t had an unusually hard life, you likely don’t yet know what being a man or a woman really means. None of us did, whatever we told ourselves. And no, people don’t relate, they don’t like it, they don’t have any choice. Gender isn’t a matter of choice or preference, and it doesn’t give a shit about how you feel about it. And that is so whether your gender fits your body or not, both situations equally real and unavoidable for the person. Life is fucking hard. I’m just starting to worry that some of these kids are mistaking gender issues for ambivalence at the unpleasant prospect of growing up. Because it really is fine being anything you want to be, providing you take responsibility for yourself, but if it isn’t serious, and it isn’t on for the long haul, then don’t call it a gender identity. That shit is way too serious and weighty, and it does not go away.

What worries me is that in the age of Tumblr and SJW slogans, gender issues are being trivialized, turned into teens and twenty somethings realizing that they aren’t comfortable with being girls or boys, that they’d rather be called “they” or “ze”, a kind of boycott of traditional gender roles, which however understandable, is not even really touching on serious gender identity and gender dysphoria, which is a condition which really does affect people seriously², sometimes with fatal consequences. We went through years of effort to try and make a distinction between gender and physical sex, which would facilitate some understanding of these issues by the public. Just that small thing, to give transfolk  a window into our shared life as a society, from which discriminatory laws could be changed, and needed services provided. And it just feels to me like it’s being undermined, as gender gets collapsed back into masculinity and femininity, stereotypical behaviours and roles, and whatever you feel it is today. Even the person who came out to Obama said she identified “between male and female”. But male and female are conditions of bodies, so unless they meant they should have been born a hermaphrodite, it doesn’t even make any sense. Unless that person really believes that males and females are meant to exemplify traditional “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics, and to be otherwise is to not be a male or female. What would that be saying?

It sometimes seems like the most conformist attitudes are putting themselves forwards again, as progress, deserving of a special hearing, oblivious to the consequences, immune to examination. It’s how they feel. It’s like a vanguard of infants. And meanwhile real life really isn’t changing.

I guess we’ll see, with time.


screen capture of tumblr search on “non-binary gender” – electronically altered to blur out user names etc


¹  I strongly suspect that the individual sense of gender varies in strength though, so some people have a lot of sense of identification, and others have relatively little, whether or not it harmonises or conflicts with their body. I experienced this as changing over the course of my life.

* if we stuck to the assertion that gender and sex are the same, then we would just have to come up with another term for the purely psychological aspect of identifying as a gender.

² including very young people and children – this is a matter of clinical judgement, but I do feel that there is a condition which can be identified very early on with some people. I don’t share the view that all of these children are deluded, or being railroaded by their parents. [Note added 29th April 2016]

gendering the devil

It will soon be New Moon, first since the eclipse, and a New Moon in Libra, just after 1am BST. I am quite relieved, as it feels like something moving, emerging; resolving would be the wrong word for it, but there feels like there is an answer in it. Almost a physical answer.

Venus is still conjunct Mars, which is conjunct Jupiter, all in Virgo. Venus forms a T square with Neptune and Saturn. It’s been quite uncomfortable, but it’s as if it now comes to rest, acceptance, like when the sticky mess turns to risen dough.

This morning I had dreams of a Venusian Middle Eastern goddess which I felt a very physical sense of identification with. Venus is my chart ruler, and it’s not so surprising, certainly not for me. Phil was in there somewhere too, and it was all between sleeping and waking, and Phil had a kind of membraneous “cowl” over his head, like babies with “second sight” are meant to be born with. I felt relief with this dream, for part of me is tired of the struggle, the fight, however necessary I might have learnt that it is. A part of me is at peace today.

One of the real joys of Satanism is its freedom from coercive, consensual politics and mob trending. It is too individual, and too boiled down by nature for that. “Political correctness” can’t survive long, and even an idea like being “on the right side of history” becomes a little wry in the long view. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make our own choices in the things we question and love, and the things we explore. Indeed we are bound to, as the actual people that we are, irrespective of what anyone thinks we should or shouldn’t do. Gender is one of the areas that I personally question a lot, even as I withdraw from political colonization of the subject, and all the unpleasantness and dishonesty that involves. I hate to see people boxed in on gender, told what they are or aren’t, and what it  means, whether they are being whipped for being non-conformist, or “traditional”, or something else. It is I think one of the more insidious assaults on individuality, and I can’t remember a time when that didn’t anger or upset me. It’s also an area which I find commonly confused with sexuality, which isn’t helpful either.

Satanism often has a quite male image (though there are many female Satanists, as well as transgender Satanists), and its iconography tends towards the masculine often. That was helpful to me, coming from the blithely female-centred world of neopaganism. It was refreshing, freeing and affirming. But I don’t actually want a solely masculine sacred universe, nor a solely binary one for that matter. Indeed myself is a mystery, entirely male, yet my very functioning is informed by resonance with intelligences both male and female, when I look into the world of the subconscious, and dream, and poetic communication. And btw I entirely reject the idea that as a gay man I am of an intermediate sex or gender. It’s something different to that, as I am a man without quotation marks. I have an unambiguous relationship to both my gender and to masculinity. Maybe when the fish swims upstream its meaning must take in more than itself, in order to be itself. I don’t know.

So my dream was a relief. And that got me thinking about figures and iconography, and that brought me to the Thelemic figure of Babalon. Babalon is a goddess who was brought to our consciousness by Aleister Crowley, along with The Beast as a god. You can see these two as demonic gods if you like, and I wrote something about Babalon here. Crowley was himself bisexual, yet his iconography is very heterosexual, but I think it is important to understand these figures not as role models of sexuality or gender. They are beyond that. I was disappointed to find male Thelemic magicians often viewing Babalon as a kind of cosmic porn queen, though the place of sexuality in Thelemic magick maybe makes it understandable, and I certainly have nothing against porn, quite the opposite. I on the other hand tend to relate to goddesses as wisdom figures, but there is in Babalon, as in a number of other Venusian goddesses, that fusion of sexual fire, soul and literal physical experience which, as in my dream, irrigates the fields of our inner life and its union with our own bodies. There is no desire for her, but in her there seems to be some of my own nature, or vice versa. As the glass rings to its musical note, I recognize a core part of myself.

I need my gods, my deities, my demons, to be free. That is part of the appeal of my practice. That is why I could not relate to the neopagan worshipping of sacrificial male and procreative female, dragging us back again to a world without choice, a world of loaded, coerced options. That is part of why I answered the Devil’s call, and answered as myself.

And the Devil is many genders.

version of Babalon, rewroked from Virgin Mary by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

version of Babalon, reworked from Virgin Mary by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

13th October 2015: minor edits without change of meaning.

gender, the body and love

I used to read a book on astrology that gave key words for the planets and signs (which is quite common for astrological text books). When it came to the planet Neptune it gave the word illumination. In this context it is quite difficult to define (which itself is quite neptunian), but there are a number of associated experiences which point to it, and they all have a quality of deliverance, relief and redemption or escape to a more blissful, radiant reality. People find it in dreams, mystical visions, or sometimes in drug experiences (though the latter have also come to exemplify the pitfalls of Neptune, sometimes with good reason). The test of it being illumination rather than gross illusion would I say be whether or not the experience leads to greater wholeness and integration. The sense of the glimpse of the divine, the ineffable, with an accompanying sense of peace and healing (even if it is passing) is common, and it throws a doubt over the experience of the more gross, which seems so much less blissful, and so much more fearful by comparison. It is a light which casts a shadow, but also starts to take apart the block (or structure) which throws the shadow itself. In a sense it is all about bliss and form, release and binding, union and separation.

Which is what leads me on to the experience of gender. We understand now that gender is not about the body you have, and whether it is classed as male, female or intersex. But gender has a great deal of connection to our identification, and it does have an unavoidable relationship with our bodies and what is quite beyond the body. All this leads to my own experience of gender, which I do find elucidated by experience near the borderland of sleep, and its luminous quality of release.

My body is male and my gender is male, which is to say it was never definitively anything else (even when I despised the qualities and choices I was told I was meant to have as a boy), and my identifying as a man within my own body has become more and more important and wholesome to me as I have grown older (the turning point was around 40). As a child I didn’t feel that male at all, but that is not the same as being transgender. I identified with girls more on most things, but I didn’t feel like I actually was one. I am perfectly happy to be a man, if not with the way that the world treats men or women, or any other gender category.

But as you go deeper into the psyche, the sense of gender actually becomes diffused, released, un-self-conscious. This is never more so than in love. When I see someone who is deeply attractive to me I feel great desire and longing, but I’m not that aware of my gender. When I am in a relationship of romantic love with a man, I am intensely aware of their sex and gender, but I have completely forgotten my own. What I am flows around what they are, in a deep, instinctive wish to complement, fulfill, surrender. I am what they uncover in me, what they make of me. What they are defines what I am. My spiritual gender is the empty mirror; not unfeeling, not false, because this is where and how I most deeply am, and it is full of the presence of Being. It is a seeming negative, a darkness, a dilation, a yielding darkness, but it is all of the luminous that I inherently feel. It is the same empty fullness that allows me to have congress with my beloved deities. Our ideas of gender are quite intellectual, but there is a soulful quality to gender also, and just as we can talk about soul-making in some kinds of psychological language, there is a sense of the substance of gender being made and unmade, not as some kind of ultimately moldable relativism without inherent qualities, but as a wondrous quality of consciousness, unique to each person but related, layered, shifting in and out of focus, but consistent with its own truth.

So what is my gender? Well I’m a man. But go deeper, and I cannot be expected to remember anything but what I love (but I know I am still a man). It is a quality of my being which is paradoxically empty and full, dark and lustrous. It is a whole-shaped hole where I might be.

"Im Spiel der Wellen" by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

detail from “Im Spiel der Wellen” by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

how much confusion?

When we were at the tat parlour recently me and Phil were having a conversation about gay men and gender. I know that sounds like half an introduction to some god awful seminar, but there’s a question here which I have been asking for sometime.

Basically it goes like this:

Out of the population of gay men, how many are gay, and how many have unacknowledged issues around being transgender?

The reason I ask this is because I have met so many gay men who seem to identify as men only ambivalently, and so many who seem to barely be able to hide what I can only describe as a “revenge against masculinity”. And if you are a man who loves men, that really doesn’t make any sense. If you’re not a man, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you are a gay man, then you are a gay man.

I know it is complicated. People confuse gender and physical sex. People confuse socially conditioned gender characteristics with a more deeply experienced sense of gender. People rebel in the process of finding themselves. No one’s sense of gender is as simple as it looks. But at the middle of it, deep inside there, there is something simple, and it is what makes you the man that you are, and gives you peace with your own manhood.

And I see a lot of gay men who are not at peace with their manhood. I also see a lot of gay men who are deeply emotionally unhappy, and while there are a lot of reason’s for that, being at war with your gender (or not realizing your actual gender) would be a contributing and sabotaging factor if it were present.

Another thing I notice with mainstream gay culture is a tendency to invalidate grounded and emotionally connected masculinity or femininity. We have butch and femme, and both seem to be based upon surface, performance, appearance and pretence. Yet in my experience both are asserted defiantly, as if there were no “real thing”. But the fact is there is, though it may take healing to get to it.

Back at the tat parlour we felt that there were probably quite a lot of gay men who had confusion between sexual orientation and gender. It’s reflected quite strongly also in traditional “gay culture”. Of course, with so many factors at play we really don’t know, but it’s a question, and I think there may be more to it than appears on the surface.

Greek theatre mask by — DerHexer (own source) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

roses for southpaws

I’ve been through what is quite an awesome journey since last Winter, in terms of personal unfoldment, and accepting aspects of my own path and nature. None of this would have been possible without my husband, who is so much the better half of my world that he really is my path. In some sense we always journey together, and his acceptance of me is all the validation I need. Whereas I measure and process and craft and test (and think too much), he seems to just go straight to it and be there already. I’ve learnt to listen to him and his way of being. I used to think I was listening already, but I wasn’t aware of how much of me didn’t, so I’ve learnt to listen more consciously.

I guess I’ve been working on something in myself, back and forth, since the Summer of 2009, when I had a resurgence of appreciation of Thelema and Crowley. Phil was right there, encouraging me, and liking The Beast for his own direct reasons, in his own way. I love Phil, not just ’cause he’s my husband and my life partner, but because I feel so proud of everything he is. He doesn’t care what people think, and he does what he wants, and he knows he’s as good as anyone. I have to learn that lesson, but I’ve really been working on it. The kind of Pagan Phil is, it’s the perfect antidote to all the “court mentality” of some of our imaginary kings and queens and priestesses and politicians. No big deal (kinda the point really), but it’s really good to be free.

Last October something did come home when I wrote this entry to my blog, looking back on the episode of Maat magick which had preceded my breakdown and break through spiritually in 1990. It isn’t quite done to admit any kind of mental instability in magic, and indeed you need to be pretty strong and resilient to go through some processes, but at the same time there is an undoubted kinship between the two areas which may leave some people very uncomfortable. While you do not want people to suffer the awful losses of mental illness (and any responsible person will guard against this for both themselves and others), it remains that there are areas of both which can only be distinguished from each other by where they are going, rather than what they are. “Facing the shadow”, or encountering the “dark night of the soul” are experiences of  failure as profound as anyone could subjectively imagine. They are not symbolic dress rehearsals but, as spiritual experiences, the manifest beneficence which underlies them makes of them a healing and refashioning which defies description. It’s appropriate in some ways that I wrote that blog post after I had completed the elemental reflections that I was engaged with last Summer, ending with fire, as the crisis can be compared to the crowning of elemental existence with spirit (even if the process felt like you were going off the rails and dying!).

The first magical operation I did after my breakthrough (as far as I remember) was a little Hoodoo ritual of Michael Bertiaux’s, which was quite trippy and opened me up dramatically at a certain level, but I had to say a friendly goodbye to the spirits involved after about three nights of strange sleep, crystal clear inner visuals, and the sight of astral black fire which to this day remains one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen, due to its dense blackness and fluid flame motion. Second chakra felt kinda sore by then. It felt entirely benevolent but apparently wasn’t right for me. An intentional and affectionate goodbye, and the spirits were gone on their way.

Both Nema’s Maat Current and Michael Bertiaux had turned up in Kenneth Grant’s “Cults of the Shadow”, a book I had come across while working in a warehouse in Limehouse in 1979 (literally, I was packing the books for mail order). Kenneth Grant had been a deep but mystifying inspiration to me throughout a good deal of my twenties. His exposition of Crowley’s work in “The Magical Revival” was an epiphany for me, and his introduction of Austin Osman Spare through his “Oracles and Images” book was immensely liberating. He also introduced an illuminating exposition of what he termed “the left hand path”¹, a term which was often used elsewhere in a condemnatory sense (an esoteric cross between degenerate, pervert and criminal) but which Grant validated and took back to its Indian tantric roots.

The main reason I bring up Grant is because, along with a renewed affection for the person I was in my early and late twenties, I’ve come to remember how important a vision of the Left Hand Path was for me, and how much it has shaped me spiritually. I had not followed a conventional path by anybody’s criteria, the central part being art with magical intention or inspiration, a very personal practice that sought to both explore the self and its inward worlds, and open doors to other places. Spare was my biggest inspiration, but I also felt a great kinship with the Australian artist Rosaleen Norton. That was buttressed by Crowley and more conventional material from the likes of Israel Regardie.

I was in a position though where I needed to explore conventional (“right hand path”) material to gain psychological strengths that I lacked (to “grow up” basically), but “the way” was clearly left hand path to my view and sensibility. This was further complicated by the fact that, as a gay man, conventional right hand path material could not help me reach psychological strength and maturity, as it did not accept my valid existence. Grant’s presentation of the left hand path, for that matter, seemed to skirt my existence also in his overwhelming focus on heterosexuality and an objectified vision of the magickal power of “woman”. How dated that use of the term “woman” seems now (and it was irksome then), but I believe it can actually be seen to underly quite a few physical gender obsessions within neopaganism, like we never got past 1960 or something. I believe in “Cults of the Shadow” at one point Grant also puts forth a theory to explain homosexual oral and anal acts in terms of chakra imbalances. There was so much fascinating material and inspiration, but nowhere to stand. One of the reasons I felt so close to Spare was that with the ecstatic content of his work, there was no judgement. Also, with both Crowley and Spare the individual was sovereign, and there at least there was sanctuary, and an exultant one.

Of all the gods I saw mentioned in my readings of Thelema, the one that stands out is the Egyptian Set. You couldn’t find a more demonized figure to western esotericism really, as the later myths that came down cast him as a cosmic Cain, and what he does to Osiris there is a kinda Sweeny Todd study in  mythological forensics. But the ambiguous, complex figure of Set is much older than that story, and he was indeed worshipped and accorded great honour in his time. He could never be quite kicked out anyway, as he remains on the solar barque at the crucial moment when Ra is threatened by the serpent monster Apep, and there Set is, the only one capable of defeating the monster and letting the Sun go on to rise again. It looks like later ages couldn’t live with him, but they couldn’t quite live without him either.

My feelings for Set have proved to be deep and abiding, sleeping at the back of my being like the peaceful, low hum of bees at rest, waiting for over twenty years for me to turn around and notice. Words do fail me here, but I can add that this is another place where Phil has just understood immediately and without question. There is a beautiful and tantalising exposition of the nature of Set in Katon Shual’s “Sexual Magick“, as a god of ambiguity and confusion, sexuality (especially non-procreative sexuality) and sexual magick, and the many formed reality (and unreality) of gender, as well as being a god of foreigners and frontiers. This book has some wonderful treasures within it, such as the account of Moses Long’s experiments as a 17th century conjuror in the field of sexual magick in “the conjuration of Angels”. There were things in this, the latest, revised edition of “Sexual Magick” that had me laughing with recognition, and the author treats the subject with great kindness and humanity. I recommend this book very highly.

The chapter dealing with “The Mysteries of Seth” features a section which takes on the form of a communication from the god in response to questions, and I was really struck by how much this reminded me of some of my old inspiration Richard Gardner’s writing in books like “The Tarot Speaks” and “Evolution Through the Tarot”, where he tried to let the images of the cards speak through him. Richard, like Katon Shual, rated Wilhelm Reich, and though the time he was coming from had a strong sense of the gender binary, he would have been the first to throw off anything that he saw as closing people’s minds to the realities of sex, sexuality, love and consciousness. Richard had enough of the benign trickster to him to be a little god of confusion himself, but reading that section of Katon’s book, I almost felt like I was hearing the same voice at times.

Inevitably, if you follow the path of magick, you follow a road to a place which has been culturally outlawed for a very long time. We sometimes persuade ourselves that we have come a long way since the Victorian era, but our collective life still cherishes ignorance and a repression of love and sex under so many of its polished, professional or sentimental surfaces. But still people have the courage to follow that other call. It can be done, and anyone who has the heart and soul for it should follow their heart.

Some of the things I remember from Kenneth Grant’s exposition of the 93 current² and its aquarian implications were the shift in the formula of magic from ritual (Virgo-Pisces) to direct astral magic, and especially the use of sexuality and the sexual current (Leo-Aquarius). The other was the sovereignty of the individual. Grant could sound rather daunting and clinical at times, rather unfeeling, but I’ve come to understand that the actual work is anything but that. I am neither the thelemic hero nor the scarlet woman, and the stereotypes don’t really speak to me or my experience. I am exactly the post-punk hippie tree hugger that I am, with a husband that means the whole world to me, living happily in our home in East London. But I actually now recognise that, as the person I am, I have largely followed this path, through an emerging predisposition rather than conscious design. With my husband, and in completely idiosyncratic ways, I have left behind ritual of all but the simplest form, and focussed on sexuality and eroticism, natural trance states arising from the body and emotions, and congress with our beloved deities and spirits. And that is a very loving, practical, authentic and nourishing experience.

Of course terms like “left hand path” and “right hand path” are categories in our heads, but I’m happy to acknowledge the strange, beautiful and liberating garden I once found under the left hand sign. Though the path has been a long one, I realize I still live in that garden, and you can live in that garden with love.

photo of altar with votive figure of Set animal, hand made by Nicholas from Shadow of the Sphinx (http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/shadowofthesphinx). He now has his own altar :0)

¹ a reasonable jumping off point discussion of the terms “right” and “left hand path” can be found here.

² ie of Thelema

the medicine beast

Here I am writing from a stalled Summer in mid June, grey, damp, cool and humid, moving so slow we may well be going backwards, it’s difficult to tell. A bit like when you’re on a train coasting to stationary, and another train is doing much the same right next to you, with the flicker flicker of windows passing, as if the carriage is being impossibly sucked backwards. It’s a “signal problem on the tracks” Summer, which is quite common for England.

So how to break this spell? Back to writing, and maybe writing backwards the summer will be righted, by the time I’m finished, by sly coincidence.

In May I wrote about a third consciousness, which I termed “mercurial”, which does sound more poetic. It  spans both the lunar and the solar, and transcends them also. But there’s something more.

When we deal with these things that we call “lunar” and “solar” we are engaging with profound states, ways of seeing and ways of being. If they become settled and undisturbed, or closely defended, then they become invisible to us, not “how we are right now”, but “how things are”, how life is. The relation between the lunar and the solar, our relation with the lunar and the solar, is a big question in our lives individually and collectively. The third consciousness, the mercurial, is really of considerable import, because not only can it travel between the two worlds and ways of seeing, but it is something all its own as well. Something in the mercurial is of the nature of individuality itself in a sense.

But here’s the thing. We’re not culturally good at getting beyond basic polarities (actually we’re not that good at getting beyond monoliths). We’re not really that good at honoring real individuality either. Androgynes have their place in style and fashion, in a kinda arrested development, Peter Pan sort of way, but not really beyond that. The tired but endlessly acrimonious “war of the sexes” seems to remain an inherited constant of heterosexual life (as far as I can observe), and however it gets tweaked, we’re all expected to bow to that game when the chips are down, by virtue of having bodies at all, even when we’ve made it plain that we’re not playing. “Choose your side!”, we are admonished, subtly and anything but, from the moment we limp from the womb, and get chosen for. The one glimmer of hope seems to be the painfully slow extension of understanding of gender as something other than biological sex, and lord knows when I say slow, I mean “from my cold, dead hands” slow in terms of a light dawning and being taken seriously. But what the mercurial, androgynous consciousness portends is immense, freeing and blissfully loving. It portends peace.

Let me posit a fourth element though. Something that might bring the angels to earth. Because our androgyne is light, ethereal, quick, youthful, awesomely free and beautiful, somehow aerial even if he, she or it traverses every sphere from the highest to the lowest. And that’s not entirely how our lives are.

We all must come home. We all must grow to maturity, if we are to have any fullness. If we are to transform life, our lives, as a thing of subsisting value, then there needs to be a mortal future for the androgyne, brought back into our bodies. This fourth thing is not spoken of, because it challenges the dogma of what binary gender means to our culture so much. If the androgyne is sylph like, youthful, asexual in characteristic, ethereal, then this fourth state is grown, ripe, full, furry, bisexual if anything (but most essentially just what it is), mature, earthy. If the androgyne is angelic, then this angel is different, a long suffering beast of much enjoyments and many medicines. If the mercurial androgyne is indicative of individuality, then this creature is indicative of the process of individuation.

Peter Pan is easy to put away, and androgynes are gone like the breeze, when they are never allowed to grow up. But the medicine beast is us as we could be in our fullness, Nature given a million crowns, and our earth kissed by the love of heaven. Heaven on earth actually. Everything as it actually is.

This great transformative agent, this magnet of the soul’s libido, it can only make you who you are.

St John the Baptist – Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And the Sun did come out with some blue sky just then, but slyly it’s gone back again.

[14th June 2013 – one word edit done without change of passage meaning.]

the ground is shifting under Pagan gender

You may have heard by now about the continuing, repeating controversy about PantheaCon and rituals excluding transwomen, or more specifically the one led by Z Budapest this year.

I wrote about this subject a year ago, and if you followed the subject then (involving PantheaCon again) you’ll know that it was about a lot more than rituals designed for people with specific bodies. I’m not going to requote the hurtful, insulting, deeply wounding and ideologically driven outburst of Z Budapest, which she posted in response to criticism of women being turned away at the door because they were trans. You can find it quoted on various blogs, and it was, as T Thorn Coyle described it, hate speech, an aggressive and devaluing attack against an entire group of people for what they simply are.

I can’t say that I had high expectations of Budapest, but I now realize that something in me could not quite believe that a year later she would not have retracted, acknowledged or apologized for her public attack on transwomen. Either that, or organizers of events would take on board that we really do have a moral problem here. Instead she apparently returned to PantheaCon and held a ritual for “all women present”, with the appended proviso “genetic women only”. And when you figure in that this was a return to the scene of the first controversy, and that there had been no apology for her written attack on transwomen, that’s pretty much like those charming signs they used to hang in pub windows: “no blacks, no Irish”. Inevitably it would look like: “I can do this, and I don’t even have to explain my previous behaviour”.

Inevitably people would ask: why did PantheaCon let her do this? And while running such an enormous and dynamic festival is a challenge which I’m sure the organizers do incredibly and with amazing hard work, it’s a question they will have to answer. Doing the work of making things happen is never a thankful task, and I think people should hear their story, but the talk is going to have to come and the question is serious. The talk can’t wait another year.

In addition to the questions, anger and scrutiny raised by this, I’ve heard a lot of excusing, wavering, and holding back, a lot of defending Budapest for her “right to express her beliefs”, her “freedom of religion”, the right to exclusive space etc. There were a number who felt the need to “hold neutral space” between Budapest’s ritual and those sitting in silent meditation (not even “protest”) outside, the latter led by T Thorn Coyle. I can’t help feeling that this “holding of space” was misguided. Surely it is injustice that needs healing, not the recognition of it? Inevitably these “holding neutral space” actions would look like attempts at protecting Budapest from the silent meditators, which just appears perverse and bizarre. This also seems confirmed by this account, whatever the intentions or perceptions of the “holders”.

As for the suggested defenses and justifications of Z Budapest holding her ritual in the way she did, where she did, these really miss the point, and buy into the justifications which Budapest blew pretty definitively with her all too revealing outburst last year. This wasn’t about separate space, the sanctity and autonomy of a tradition, or religious freedom. That last one particularly makes me cringe, like where have I heard religious freedom used as a justification for  denying equality before? Too often is the answer. I fear there is just a little muddled thinking and moral cowardice in some of the appeals for peace and healing at the expense of the disempowered and wronged. We need to stand up for transfolk, not attempt to explain how someone with a lot of clout might have their own perspective when they act out their prejudice.

A witness of the meditation outside the ritual can be found here. The accounts of the situation that I personally found most thoughtful and clear were those of Thorn Coyle here, here and here.

I have never been to PantheaCon and am unlikely to go anytime soon, as I am about 5,000 miles away, but these events and issues hit deeper and further than geographical location. I feel a sense of heaviness and sadness from the human failure that has been put in focus by events at PantheaCon two years running, and by Z Budapest’s abusiveness. But the fact that this has raised awareness, and produced shock and response from the international Pagan community also bears hope with it.

I know some people would find this statement melodramatic, but I feel that these events signal the end of an era, one which has dragged on too long. Equally something new has made its presence felt.

These events and personalities will pass, but dreams with a fresher sense of freedom and justice and equality have proven themselves alive.

Rosa Parks isn’t moving from the front of the bus.

Athena. Attic red-figure lekythos: photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen - used under creative commons 2.5 license

[addition 26th February 2012: an open letter to PantheaCon by Jonathan Korman, which you can sign in endorsement if you agree, can be found here]

A free e-book that may be of interest:  Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism