My new book – Dark Mirror

Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft

By Yvonne Aburrow

Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft

Available now from Lulu

Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. It can also mean the transformation of the psyche that comes about through engaging in religious ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is about making meaning, weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love. Creating a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity. Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.

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Towards an inclusive Wiccan theology

Wiccans can be polytheist, animist, pantheist, monist, duotheist, atheist/archetypalist, or “all of the above depending on the day”. Most Pagans believe that the divine is, or deities are, immanent in the world; and that includes most Wiccans.

This theological diversity works in ritual settings as long as everyone can “translate in their head” and have a certain amount of flexibility as to practice and the wording of rituals.

The goddess Artemis. Photo by Jason Youngman [Public Domain, CC0]

The goddess Artemis.
Photo by Jason Youngman [Public Domain, CC0]

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Review: Casting a Queer Circle

Thista Minai (2017), Casting a Queer Circle: Non-Binary Witchcraft. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press.

Aimed at everyone who finds that binary and heterocentric approaches to witchcraft do not fit actual lived reality, this book is an outstanding guide to crafting an inclusive, non-binary approach to ritual. It contains a complete system of magic, ritual, symbolism, festivals, and ritual roles, all designed to be inclusive, safe, creative, and genuinely transformative.

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The shifting nature of queer culture

So there’s yet another Generation X person holding forth about the “fragility” of millennials, specifically LGBTQIA millennials.

Argh. I wish my generation (and the Boomers) would stop with constructing millennials as fragile and having a victim mentality.

Yes, sure, college-age kids see everything as black and white. So did we when we were that age. They will grow up and learn some nuance. And as a university professor it’s her job to din some nuance into them, and an understanding of queer history.

Every generation thinks it is the most radical there has ever been, and looks upon its elders with pity. It’s part of being young (at least it is in Anglo-American culture). And every older generation rolls its eyes and points out that we did manage to achieve some liberation from oppression.

There were plenty of rigid assholes in our generation too. How about the fact that when I was at university (1986-1990) there wasn’t an LGBT society: there was a separate lesbian society and gay society. Nothing for bisexuals and transgender people. And the lesbian society was full of people who thought that having sex with men, or looking femme, or even having sex with women, was “selling out to the patriarchy”.

A lot of gay and lesbian culture in the eighties and nineties was very biphobic. Feminists were very transphobic (some still are). And no-one was allowed to enjoy kink, according to some feminists.

It’s true that many younger activists are busy erasing the contribution of drag queens and transvestites to LGBT liberation. But these attitudes are no less obnoxious than some of the ones held by earlier generations of queer people.

Let’s not pretend that everything in the LGBT garden was rosy until the “fragile” millennials “ruined” it with their trigger warnings and their campaign for same-sex marriage and their alphabet soup (not that there’s anything wrong with anything on that list, nor are millennials the only ones campaigning for those things). It really, really, wasn’t.

Like any subculture, there are good bits and bad bits and mediocre bits.

Like any subculture, there is constant dialogue with “mainstream” culture. Sometimes mainstream culture adopts, co-opts, or appropriates things that subcultures have created. Sometimes subcultures get partially assimilated into the mainstream, as their ideas become trendy.

The queer movement is still defining itself and its categories. It may be helpful to compare it to feminism and its “waves”. The first wave was about getting legal rights, the second wave was about changing attitudes to women, and the third wave is about intersections with other rights movements (LGBTQ, Black, disabled). Allegedly there’s a fourth wave but it looks very similar to the third wave. Along the way, we have had to go back to first wave concerns (getting legal rights), and to second wave concerns about changing attitudes. And there are some people who are still stuck in the essentialist attitudes of the second wave; while some elements of the second wave anticipated the ideas of the third wave.

The LGBTQ movement could broadly be said to have gone through a similar process (but complicated by the AIDS crisis). First, we needed to dismantle legal discrimination against LGBTQ people, and get some legal rights. Then we needed to challenge and change homophobic attitudes in society (this is an ongoing effort). And we need to understand how LGBTQIA concerns intersect with those of other groups.

The overculture has a nasty habit of pushing back and undermining rights that have already been gained. It’s our job to keep pushing for legal rights, keep trying to change attitudes, and keep being mindful of other oppressed groups.

What would be really great would be if we didn’t all attack millennials with “activism was more fun in my day”. Plenty of the current generation of activists have a sense of humour. How about having a dialogue with them instead of attacking their concerns in glossy magazines? If we all work together, we might get somewhere.

Millennial guy

Millennial guy is chill.
[Public Domain photo]

Externalising/Internalising: Talking About The Pain

A guest post by the Low Priestess

‘The shooter was gay’. On Tuesday when I arrived at an LGBT community group I was told this and it was as if the bottom dropped out of my head. I think the extremity of my shock and upset was because I had been here before:  with Brian Copeland who murdered 3 people and maimed more at the Admiral Duncan in Soho, who tried to bomb Brick Lane and set a bomb in Brixton Market that put nails into a baby’s head. (Later working with older LGBTs I met someone whose life had fallen apart that night of the Admiral Duncan attack.) I was out in London that night in 1999, and roadblocks made it hard to get home. It was very frightening,  few of us had mobiles then and I couldn’t get any news or ring my partner. I was trying to get to the Glass Bar (a lesbian bar) to get off the street and I even got frightened that fascists were going round planting bombs in all the LGBT bars that night. A week later we marched from Brixton, through Old Compton Street to Brick Lane. Then, a year or so later, when Copeland was sentenced I was by chance in The Naz restaurant in Brick Lane, listening to the radio they had on. I had hoped Copeland’s attacks had at least brought the Brixton, Brick Lane and LGBT communities closer together. The Brick Lane bomb which had not gone off, due to the incredible bravery of a South Asian man, had been close to the Naz. Now on the radio I heard people discussing that Copeland was ‘really gay’ and I imagined the supposed solidarity evaporating as waiters and diners heard it. No, we were not victims, it seemed to say, we were the perpetrators.

So this time I argued about ‘the shooter was gay’. I was upset. I said ‘having same sex attractions doesn’t make you gay. Same sex attraction is a very ordinary human experience for a fairly large proportion of the population if they don’t manage to repress it. What makes you gay or bi is embracing that and identifying as gay or bisexual.’

Later that day, though I stood with that,  and stand with it still, I had to come to terms with the fact Omar Mateen may have been strongly attracted to men. I did more thinking about internalised murderous homophobia and its causes, which I believe lie in the pervasive homophobia and transphobia still rampant in society. It doesn’t really matter what culture someone has in their background, he could have come from one of many that nurture homophobia and push same sex attractions into hate. Same sex marriage doesn’t cut it for me, I don’t experience this as the cherry on the top of a raft of equality protections that have made it safer to be LGBTQIA. Oh no, nothing so good as that. I am not safe till all my LGBTQIA siblings are safe (and especially LGB and trans people of colour, who are disproportionately targeted in hate crime). What matters to me is what people are taught about homosexuality (if it is mentioned at all) and how they are supported, and by whom, if their orientation turns out to be at odds with the views of their family or community.

Mostly I am very concerned that much of straight society may take even less responsibility for the way heterosexism and homophobia led to this horror: as if it were only a psychological problem of people who cannot accept their own sexuality. So it could all be made ‘other’ by the majority white, cisgendered, heterosexual society, the society Mateen grew up in. So much ‘other’.   I can imagine some thinking, generalising, othering: ‘Well he was gay, and he was Muslim and they are so anti gay aren’t they? He must have had mental health problems. Nothing to do with us. Nothing to see here, let’s move on’.

However Mateen’s hatred and anger were part of a widespread problem of bigotry and uncontrolled blame of othered groups which society does too little to address. He was not only homophobic, apparently. As well as being violent and controlling to his first wife, on her evidence, he seems to have been bigoted in many ways: he was reportedly a racist and misogynist too. The fact he targeted the Latin night of Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed Latinx and Black clubbers is part of the toxic mix.      If you have read their names and seen their photos, this becomes clear.  (I read in the Evening Standard that many of the victims were of Latin origin.   ‘Many’ is not enough – all but one or two seem to have been Latinx people or appear to be Black or mixed race).

According to a former colleague in G4S, David Gilroy,  who was quoted in the New York Times on Sunday 12 June :

“I complained multiple times [to G4S] that he was dangerous, that he didn’t like blacks, women, lesbians and Jews,”

Ah, so Mateen might also perhaps, given his apparently constant anger, have targeted any of these groups.

But of course it is still all speculative and everything about motive serves someone’s agenda. Even mine.

Yes, I have an agenda.  I crave a widespread programme in response to this massacre, to all the other massacres of children and teenagers and college students, of women who had not been sexually available to a shooter, of LGB people and of the vast numbers of trans people killed. I would like it to be not only in the USA, not only to be a response to gun availability (crucial as that is) for we have homophobic, transphobic, racist and misogynist murders all over the world. I don’t want to see them happen serially, in  the night, either, in areas where guns are not available.  I would like the programme to look at systemic bigotry in all kinds of services, and in government, and to institute urgently needed educational programmes in schools. There it is, my agenda.

In the meanwhile I would like to see respect for grief and loss and fear, for as long as it takes, in the communities affected by this, those from whence the victims came and those who have something in common with the shooter.  As indeed I have myself. I would have liked minutes of silence in workplaces, few I believe have happened. I have not been calling for the rainbow flag on people’s profiles or cries of ‘Je Suis Pulse!’. But the difference in response from this one to other massacres can be startling for those of us, whatever our orientation, who have continued through the week to grieve and fear and hold each other for comfort, and search, sometimes hopelessly (but never really giving up) for hope.


 

The Low Priestess came out in 1965 and has been a queer activist since 1972, assisted by her animist, pantheist and polytheist beliefs, and a highly skilled series of cats.

After Orlando: “Stay Proud, Stay Visible”

Can love win? Is there any hope?

After a tragedy like the Orlando shooting, it is really hard to believe in love, or hope for a better future. It is all too tempting to despair, to think that after each previous mass shooting, the calls for gun control went unheeded, and to give up on working for change. It is easy to despair when gun sales increase after every mass shooting, and the gun that was used by the shooter is “gun of the week”, and it only takes seven minutes to buy one. It is easy to give up when we know that every shooting done by a person claiming to be a Muslim will result in more anti-Muslim rhetoric, and every shooting done by a person claiming to be a Christian will be regarded as “just a lone nutter”.

We are tired of being vilified, tired of being erased, tired of being targeted, tired of hate preachers. It’s horrible when people who have previously vilified everything about LGBTQ people are suddenly horrified when so many LGBTQ people are murdered – as if their hate-filled rhetoric hadn’t contributed to their deaths.

And we must be clear that this was an attack on Latinx LGBTQ people, and was a product of violent rhetoric, homophobia, and racism. As Black Lives Matter wrote:

Homegrown terror is the product of a long history of colonialism, including state and vigilante violence. It is the product of white supremacy and capitalism, which deforms the spirit and fuels interpersonal violence. We especially hold space for our Latinx family now, knowing that the vast majority of those murdered were Latinx, and many were specifically Puerto Rican. From the forced migration of thousands of young people from the island of Puerto Rico to Orlando, to the deadly forced migration throughout Latin America and the Caribbean — we know this is not the first time in history our families have been mowed down with malice, and we stand with you.

Religious extremism is not new to America and is not unique to Islam. For centuries, religion has been used to subjugate queer people of color and lay the groundwork for our deaths. We live in a society that gasps at mass murder but does little to produce the policies or radical ideological shift needed to keep LGBTQ people and our families alive and safe.

But there is hope. There have been terrible injustices, horrific murders, and all the rest. But when these things happen, there are always people reaching out in love, and trying to help others. In the attack on the World Trade Center, people helped others, went back up the stairs to rescue others, called their loved ones to say goodbye. After the Pulse shooting, when emergency workers went in to retrieve the dead and the wounded, the cell-phones of the victims were ringing as anxious loved ones tried to contact them. The next day, 600 people queued around the block to give blood to help the survivors.

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All around the world, vigils have have taken place in memory of the dead of Orlando. I attended the Oxford (UK) vigil for Orlando last night with two friends. It was beautiful. There were poetry readings, candles, flowers, speeches, and a silence. LGBTQIA people and our allies came together in a shared moment of grieving. Hertford College was flying a rainbow flag at half-mast. The person leading the Oxford vigil for Orlando was Muslim and LGBT. There is a huge number of LGBT Muslims around the world, and they are in mourning too.

It was also noticeable how many of the families of the dead loved them unconditionally, and that the families of one of the couples that were killed – Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen – have arranged a joint funeral for them. They had planned to be married, but now they will be buried side-by-side.

This is in stark contrast to the sad story of the funeral of Tom Bridegroom, which his partner, Shane Bitney Crone, was not allowed by the Bridegroom family to attend – they threatened violence towards him.

In the face of such an appalling tragedy, it is all too easy to assume the world is full of hate. Yet every day, millions of small acts of kindness and love go unnoticed and unreported. People helping refugees, building community, reaching out to each other in friendship and love.

Sadly, as with any social progress, it’s a case of one step forward and two steps backwards. The unsightly rash of ‘bathroom bills’ currently disfiguring the legislatures of America are evidence of that. The horrific murders of 49 people are evidence of that. The fact that demagogues are all too ready to spout anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate is sadly still with us. And we must not forget that being LGBTQ is still illegal and subject to the death penalty in far too many countries around the world.

There is some good news today – that Democrat Senators held the floor of the Senate for nearly 15 hours in a push to get some gun control bills heard. They have put forward bills that would institute universal background checks and bar suspected terrorists from buying guns. Such legislation might have prevented some of the recent spate of mass shootings.

But what this tragedy has done is to show the love that the LGBTQ community has for one another. The solidarity represented by the many vigils around the world is beautiful. We have survived centuries of persecution and hate, and we are still here. As Owen Jones said:

The terrorist who carried out America’s worst ever shooting in Orlando will fail just as a neo-Nazi terrorist did 17 years ago in London when he detonated a nail bomb outside the Admiral Duncan pub. The LGBT community will mourn, will cry and will rage but ultimately we will win and the love of LGBT people all over this planet will burn even brighter because of what he did.

Earlier this month, my husband and I went to Oxford Pride. On our way there, we met a grandma who was also going. She expressed regret that she couldn’t get a rainbow bandanna for her little dog (she had ordered it online but it hadn’t turned up). She was going to Pride (to meet up with her entire family) to support her lesbian grand-daughter. My husband was going to Pride to do some morris-dancing with Oxford City Morris to entertain Pride-goers. Both of these things would have been extremely surprising twenty years ago.

Below are some photos from the Oxford (UK) vigil. The one that really sums things up for me is the placard that reads “Stay Proud. Stay Visible”.

As Pat Mosley wrote in a blogpost, Pride is the Answer:

Pride is the way attitudes change. Refusing to live in the shame assigned to us defuses the power of that myth for others being raised in it.

I have anger. But I also have Pride. As an atheist, as a fat diabetic Queer, as a sex-positive, socialist, gender resisting, sober/recovering addict, and occultnik weirdo. I refuse to let the dominant paradigm’s shame narrative closet me. And I refuse to do their work for them by hating the others who join me in living our Queer utopian consciousness.

The LGBT+ community is one that is born from pride and resistance, but also from love. It is our love that marginalizes us and yet draws us together. It is our love that informs our politics and challenges the world around us.

My heart hurts for the loss of so many beautiful lives. And yet I am aware that there is still beauty and grace in the world. Hope and despair, love and loss, joy and sorrow, live side-by-side in our hearts. Life is always renewing itself in the face of death. And the beauty of love is always present, even in the midst of fear and terror.

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Flowers. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Flowers. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rose petals for the dead. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rose petals for the dead. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rainbow flag. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rainbow flag. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

"Love is not gender, race, or religion: it's just love". Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

“Love is not gender, race, or religion: it’s just love”. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Candles. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Candles. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Sign: "Stay proud. Stay visible". Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Sign: “Stay proud. Stay visible”. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rest in Power: names of the 49 victims of the Orlando Shooting. A placard at the Oxford vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow

Rest in Power: names of the 49 victims of the Orlando Shooting. A placard at the Oxford vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow [CC-BY-SA 4.0]

Further reading

These are all the Orlando-related articles that I linked to in the blogpost.

Philly: I bought a semi-automatic rifle in seven minutes – by Helen Ubinas

http://maddisonwood.com/im-tired/

Elle Dowd: Biphobia and the Pulse Massacre (Medium.com)

Daily Life: What it means to ignore the LGBTQ identity of the victims

9NewsThe chilling sound of victims’ phones ringing

http://www.sabinabecker.com/2016/06/the-predictable-outcome-of-god-guns-and-gays.html

http://blacklivesmatter.com/in-honor-of-our-dead-queer-trans-muslim-black-we-will-be-free/

 

Oxford Mail: Orlando Shooting Vigil (photos)

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2016/06/13/3787881/lgbt-muslims-orlando/

Orlando Shooting Victims (Buzzfeed)

http://time.com/4366957/orlando-shooting-juan-guerrero-christopher-drew-leinonen/

https://patmosley.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/pride-is-the-answer/