Happy Pride, y’all! I want to get down to how we can adapt Paganism to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s add some Queer Theory to our religious practices. I want to look at lore, phrasing, and especially concepts within Paganism that we should look at with a critical eye.
Queering Pagan Lore
First, I want to talk about why we should accept queering lore as a legitimate way to interpret it. People argue that you can’t find LGBTQ+ themes in the myths of our deities or in the heroic epics and other stories. While it can be hard to find, and while it is rarely explicitly stated, that doesn’t mean we can de-facto rule out potential LGBTQ+ themes as ahistorical.
Scholars will probably argue for several decades about whether there is proof of homosexuality in this or that story. But scholars also argue about every other facet of Paganism that we actively use in our practices. And we are discussing this not as scholars and researchers, but as religious people. And in religion, there is always room to open our arms wider and adapt as needed.
Let’s be clear: the history of humanity is fraught with bigotry. Much of what has been passed down to us hold antiquated beliefs. But that shouldn’t stop us from forming inclusive modern traditions. For the past fifty or so years, Pagans have formed feminist traditions and those beliefs are incorporated into nearly every form of Paganism today.
And I would argue there is certainly evidence of LGBTQ+ themes in the lore. From stories like Loki’s birth of Sleipnir, to the love of Apollo and Hyacinth, to Agni’s two mothers, to the liminality of Cernunnos, LGBTQ+ people can see their own experiences in lore and in the deities themselves. There is an entire Wikipedia page on this subject. We must expand on the experiences of queerness in Paganism, as well as the undeniable sacredness of queerness in Paganism. And we can start with these stories in the lore.
And we can look to more than just the deities. From ancestors like Hadrian and Antinous to the poet Sappho, to heroes like Achilles and Patroclus, as well as Cuchulainn and Ferdia, there are pagan ancestors whose stories LGBTQ+ people can see themselves in.
Queering Pagan Phrasing
Inclusivity in our rites and phrasing is important. Instead of starting off a ritual by addressing the “ladies and gentleman,” you can address people as “folks” or “everyone” or – my favorite – “y’all.” Also actively include pronouns during any sort of introduction for rituals or other group events. This puts everyone on the same playing field. Simple re-phrasing can change people’s experience in Pagan groups.
Perhaps a member is causing issues by asking inappropriate questions or saying inappropriate things. Call them out to call them in. Especially if this is happening at a Pagan public ritual or event, you can find a way to de-escalate the situation and focus on the ritual. However, a longer conversation with this member later and adding values like inclusivity to your group’s by-laws are important steps.
Queering Pagan Concepts
We need to look at larger Pagan themes as well. As Rev. Catherine Clarenbach from Nature’s Sacred Journey has pointed out, Beltaine can be a particularly awkward holiday for queer people. She recalls a conversation with a Pagan leader who said “Beltaine is about men and women fucking.” Which showed, as Rev. Clarenbach put it, “an astonishing lack of imagination.”
Even my simple feminist heart gags at that description of Beltaine. I mean, really, is that what we as Pagans are *truly* concerned with? I’m not against getting some on Beltane, but our beliefs and holidays run deeper than such a vain notion as “fucking” just because it’s summertime.
Rev. Clarenbach created an awe-inspiring ritual for an inclusive Beltaine, and I encourage all my readers to read her article next. In fact, stop right now and go read the article I linked in the beginning of this section.
And your back? Isn’t it such a fun and magical idea – bees and Beltaine? For a Celtic polytheist twist on that, see this ritual announcement from Three Cranes Grove for their Gobnait Beltane ritual.
Rev. Clarenbach is addressing how gender polarity is a pervasive problem in Pagan circles. Really, it stems from the beginnings of Wicca. It’s not impossible to move away from this polarity. Even shifting our mindset from “masculine and feminine” to something like “the energy of the divine self” or “the true expression of ourselves” can beautifully replace phrasing that is so focused on gender. If we write our rituals with this mindset, it shouldn’t be difficult to create inclusive rites.
But why get rid of gender polarity? Ultimately the use of “divine feminine” in ritual was a tool to promote and empower people’s connection to their inner femininity. That’s not a bad thing. But when we think outside of the binary, then we realize there are people who don’t have inner femininity. And that’s ok too.
The larger purpose of the “divine feminine” in Pagan spaces is to reflect the sacredness of all of us in our religion. Wicca and early Neo-Paganism accepted the feminine as divine. Now in the 21st Century, we should accept gender fluidity and other forms of identity as divine, too. We are simply continuing and broadening a tradition as old as Neo-Paganism itself. We aren’t getting rid of the polarity so much as expanding on it.
Another concept that is worth mentioning is the acceptance of queer deities. Again, this is about the divine reflected in ourselves. And after all, do we really think all deities are tied to one particular gender? While “deity” is the term I often use on this blog, it doesn’t really sound good in ritual. “Welcome to all the gods, goddesses, and deities.” Eh. It doesn’t roll off the tongue. It even feels redundant.
There is a nice word for this linguistic conundrum, which Rev. Jan Avende has written more about: godden. It sounds like a plural word, isn’t associated with any gender, and fits nicely into a trio. “Welcome gods, goddesses, and godden!” Just like honey.
A Child of Earth calls out to the Godden,-Rev. Jan Avende, In You I See Me
You who share your love with me.
I see you in the rising sun and in the setting moon.
And in you I see me.
I see you running the forest trails and tending the fields.
And in you I see me.
I see you in the rising surf and in the murmuring stream.
And in you I see me.
I see you flitting on the wind and burning in the flames.
And in you I see me.
I see you singing sweet songs and melting away the dross.
And in you I see me.
I call out, that I might see your bright visage
So clear and bright that I can see my reflection in you.
Shining Godden, hold me in your loving embrace,
And be a perfect mirror of me.
Shining Godden, I call out to you: be with me now!
I’ll admit when I first heard the term godden, I was hesitant. It’s definitely foreign at first. But it is worth getting used to a non-gendered term for the deities, particularly for ritual purposes. And I can’t think of anything that beats that sweet, sweet alliteration.
Last but not least, you can celebrate Pride Month in a Pagan way by honoring LGBTQ+ ancestors. In particular, you can honor the ancestors who took part in the Stonewall Riots and the broader gay liberation movement. The Troth’s North River Kindred does a yearly ancestor blot during Pride Month for the honored dead from the LGBTQ+ community.
Take these ideas and roll with them – how can you phrase things outside of the binary? How can you make your rituals more inclusive? How do we keep central concepts of Paganism alive, but in a way that reflects our modern world?
This article is more of a think piece than a research topic. But in an effort to encourage all of us to learn more about the current queer experience in Paganism, I want to leave my readers with some resources.
Rev. Clarenbach on Beltaine and Bees
Between Two Worlds Blog (a Pagan Trans Experience)
The Wild Hunt:
Liminality, Sex, and the Queer Craft
A Queer Pagan’s Rite for Pride
3 Pagans and a Cat (Ep 25: Liminal)
Pagan Perspective (several videos)
Dowsing for Divinity’s 2021 Book List (with a video!)
Blood Unbound: A Loki Devotional, ed Bat Collazo
The Song of Achilles: A Novel by Madeline Miller
Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works, trans. Diane Rayor