You’re planning a ritual or event and want to ensure people of all genders feel welcome. But our understanding of gender is ever-evolving, as is the language surrounding it. How do write your invitation language to be inclusive of nonbinary people, agender people, and people of other gender identities?
Liminal gender as a concept
As pagans and magickal folk, we should be at least somewhat comfortable with liminal concepts, and yet many of us still lean heavily on binaries. This is not a problem unique to magickal communities, however. Language throughout our society tends to be written as “this or that” much more than “this, that, both, neither, or something else entirely.” So before we get into the actual language to use for outreach, I think we need to spend a little time on nonbinary/agender/xenogender identities and what they mean.
Not everybody is interested in becoming a queer studies scholar. But everyone can benefit from having a better understanding of queerness and queer theory.
Queer: A Graphic History was written by Meg-John Barker, illustrated by Jules Scheele, and published in 2016. It is a friendly, heavily-illustrated introduction to queer theory, a branch of study formed in the early 1990s. But even more than that, it’s a handy, easy-to-understand introduction to the complexities of the concept of queerness. I recommend this book for people who are trying to get their heads around queer identities, the word “queer,” and queer vocabulary, and want to dive a bit deeper than an online article.
My therapist once told me, “Anxiety is the flip side of creativity.”
I think about that statement a lot, because it really hit home. My brain is a pinball machine, constantly zooming from one thought to the next, free-associating like wild. It makes me great at brainstorming and planning for worst-case scenarios, but unfortunately it also makes my capacity to worry nigh-incalculable. If there were an Anxiety Olympics, I’d be a gold-medal champion, several times over.
So believe me when I say that distracting my brain from its endless worry cycle, especially in These Times, is extremely difficult.
I’ve gotten pretty good at meditation. I count my breaths. I listen to familiar podcasts and audiobooks. But sometimes, none of that is enough, particularly when I wake up in the middle of the night.
I have recently stumbled upon a technique that has helped, though. (The usual disclaimers apply here, of course: I am not a doctor or a psychologist. The following does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a doctor if you suffer from chronic insomnia.)
Recently, I was honored to assist the Wiccan tradition of which I’m a member, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW), in updating its policies to be more gender-inclusive in coven leadership structures.
Historically, Assembly covens were to have two leaders each: one High Priest and one High Priestess. When I, a feminine-presenting nonbinary person, was called to leadership, to serve in the place of the departing High Priest of my coven, that policy came under scrutiny.
Fair warning: Links and embedded images/videos on this post have a fair bit of swearing. If that’s not your jam, skip on past ’em.
Last week on Zoom, my coven celebrated Lughnasadh (AKA Lammas), a harvest/Thanksgiving ritual. My role for the ritual was to bless the cakes and ale.
I’m pretty good at extemporaneous ritual work, so I didn’t prepare anything specific to say for the blessing. I was ready to do the usual: offer gratitude to the deities, ask for their blessing, ask for the food to nourish us, yada yada.
But when we got to the cakes and ale blessing, I found I suddenly had a LOT to say about the concept of harvest during These Times.
My copy of this book is so marked up with underlines and notes in the margins, it’s become a personal artifact of my own journey as a witch grappling with my gender identity. I had so many “aha” moments reading this book, it helped shape me, my sense of self, and my witchcraft in ways I can’t even quantify.
A collection of essays, interviews, poems, and artwork, Queer Magic is more than just an academic journal on the intersection of queerness and paganism: it’s a crystalized moment in time, an anthology of experiences and feelings of queer magickal practitioners in the late 2010s: one that will be referred to and, I hope, regularly expanded upon with additional volumes in the decades to come, as our cultural understanding deepens.
Among the highlights for me:
Yvonne Aburrow’s “Inclusive Wicca Manifesto.” Wicca should welcome people of all abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, and backgrounds. Aburrow offers practical ways in which to make a welcome environment for all witches and aspiring practitioners within your community.
Maisha Najuma Aza’s “Queering Tantra: A Queer Black Woman’s Perspective.” A queer black lesbian activist shares her experiences with Tantra and celebrates its life-changing power.
Pavini Moray’s “The Glitterheart Path of Connecting with Transcestors.” Connect with the transgender people who came before and those who will come after you in a similar way in which you’d work with your blood ancestors and descendants.
Orion Foxwood’s “Queer-Fire Witchery: The Rainbow Flame That Melts the Soul-Cage, The Emerging Fluidity of Consciousness.” It’s crucial our magickal work and communities be intersectional and affirming for people of all walks of life, because these paths are made by and for those who have been disempowered by society. The cruelest trick would be to welcome in the marginalized and then tell them they can’t do magick unless their work mimics the shapes of the oppressions they are trying to escape from.
Susan Harper’s “For Thou Art Goddess: Creating Affirmative Goddess Community.” Our communities must go beyond welcoming and instead be affirming and co-creating with the marginalized, and this essay outlines specific ways to tweak our language and our rituals to do so.
Ivo Dominguez, Jr.’s “Redefining and Repurposing Polarity.” Too many magickal practices are stuck on binary polarity as a means to generate energy. Polarity is much more nuanced than that, as explained in this essay.
Yin Q’s “Blood, Body, Birth, and Emptiness: Queer Magic in My Life and Work.” BDSM and magickal practice intersect in unexpected ways.
Sam “Eyrie” Ward’s “The Maypole and the Labyrinth: Reimagining the Great Rite.” Rethinking the symbols of the Great Rite in new, nonbinary ways.
Steve Kenson’s “Queer Journey of the Wheel.” Reimagining the Wheel of the Year in a queer context.
(Did I just highlight half the book’s contents? Um, yeah.)
Simply put: This book is a must-read and must-own for queer magickal practitioners, and for those who wish to make their magickal communities more open, inclusive, and affirming to queer people.
I’ve been working my way through T. Thorn Coyle’s book Kissing the Limitless, which is all about cultivating and aligning your life force with your will. This passage came up and punched me in the face:
Everyone struggles to work. Practice requires a continuous sense of coming home to a self we may or may not wish to talk with today. Will development calls for a fine balance between dedicated action and the awareness that a person also needs to have fun and some days off.
Sometimes we find ourselves in patterns of avoidance. We clean the refrigerator or play video games. We are in a state of resistance. The parts of ourselves that fear – change, success, sticking out, finding out something new about ourselves – conspire to resist the activity that will bring about the changes. We don’t meditate. We don’t take that class we’ve been wanting to. Our altars grow dusty and our jogging shoes are buried at the bottom of the closet. So we say we are lazy or procrastinators. What we really are is afraid. Or some parts of ourselves are, the parts that want to keep to the status quo, even if it makes us miserable in it. In these cases, I start by renaming what is happening as resistance and then try to look at the manifestations and what they are trying to tell me.
All practice is the same. Take sitting practice, for example. We can do five minutes if twenty feels like too much. We set our intention, show up, and this develops our will. Sometimes true discipline and compassion is asking ourselves again. “What do I really want?” and listening for the deeper answer. If what I want is spiritual discipline, if what I want is to write a book, if what I want is to be healthy – no matter what the answer is – then I have to make sure i’m making the choices that support that desire.
Discipline is not punitive. It can be the greatest act of self-love there is.
Know thyself. Know thy will, and keep returning. Life is the great return.
T. Thorn Coyle, “Kissing the Limitless”
The concept of “self-care” is one that gets misunderstood a lot in American culture, I think. We mostly see the “relaxating and recharging” aspects, which are super important, but they aren’t the whole picture.
As most pagans practicing with any degree of seriousness will tell you, daily practice is paramount for developing magickal skill and discipline. Even if you start with just 5 minutes of meditation a day, committing to self-work on a regular basis will make your magick stronger and help you deepen your relationship with all your parts of self.
Most of us know this, and yet actually committing to the work and keeping momentum is hard. Habits are tough to build and maintain, especially when there isn’t always an immediate tangible benefit to them.
One thing that helps build habits is tracking your adherence to the routine and rewarding yourself for doing so. I use a lot of trackers in my life, for this reason: I wear a pedometer watch, I put stickers on the calendar for the days when I exercise, and like many people wrestling with chronic illness, I’ve kept a number of food and symptom diaries over the years.
I fell in love with Tarot and Qabala at almost the same time, and by pure coincidence the first Tarot deck I purchased was one with the ten spheres of the Tree of Life embedded in the art of the Major Arcana cards (Ellen Cannon Reed’s “The Witches Tarot,” which I purchased around the same time I read her book “The Witches’ Qabala”). I’ve spent the last several years studying the intersections between Qabala and Tarot, as each can lend insights to the other. Qabala acts as the “operating system” of most modern Tarot decks.
Still, like with Qabala, I have struggled with the heteronormativity, patriarchy, gender binarism, and agrarian-focus depicted on most standard Tarot decks. Where do I see myself, a queer outside the gender binary who has lived their whole life in metropolitan communities, within these cards?
Despite the fact that many of the queer people in my life use Tarot as a personal growth and spiritual tool, and though many top books on Tarot are written by queer authors, and though many queer-centered Tarot decks have been released in recent years, the world was lacking for a book specifically about viewing the Tarot through a queer lens until Cassandra Snow’s 2019 book, “Queering the Tarot.”