Gay Priests of the Goddess

“Our beautiful lovely sexuality is the gateway to spirit. Under all organised religions of the past, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, there has been a separation of carnality, or shall we say of flesh or earth or sex, and spirituality. As far as I am concerned they are all the same thing, and what we need to do as faeries is to tie it all back together again.” Harry Hay, 1912-2002, gay rights activist and Radical Faerie founder.

As strange as it will seem to most people, 2000 years ago queerness and religion were intimately associated, and had been for millennia.

As historian Will Roscoe has put it:

At the time of the birth of Christ, cults of men devoted to a goddess flourished throughout the broad region extending from the Mediterranean to south Asia. While galli were missionizing the Roman Empire, kalu, kurgarru, and assinnu continued to carry out ancient rites in the temples of Mesopotamia, and the third-gender predecessors of the hijra were clearly evident in lndia. To complete the picture we should also mention the megabyzoi, or eunuch priests of Artemis at Ephesus; the western Semitic qedesha, the male “temple prostitutes” known from the Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic texts of the late second millennium; and the keleb, priests of Astarte at Kition and elsewhere… These roles share the traits of devotion to a goddess, gender transgression and homosexuality, ecstatic ritual techniques (for healing, in the case of galli and Mesopotamian priests, and fertility, in the case of hijra), and actual (or symbolic] castration. Most, at, some point in their history, were based in temples and, therefore, part of the religious-economic administration of their respective city-states.”

In the early 20th century English gay philosopher Edward Carpenter wrote that:

“The Jewish peoples – perhaps by way of protest and reaction against the excesses of the surrounding Syrian tribes – insisted on a complete divorce between sex and religion; and that alienation of the two has lasted on down the Christian centuries. But in much of the old pagan world it was just the contrary. Sexual rituals were an intimate part of religion; and the wonder and glory of sex were a recognised manifestation of divinity.”

Arthur Evans wrote in Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture (1978):

“The old religion was polytheistic. Its most important deity was a goddess who was worshipped as the great mother. Its second major deity was the horned god, associated with animals and sexuality, including homosexuality. These and other deities were worshipped in the countryside at night with feasting, dancing, animal masquerades, transvestism, sex orgies, and the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Sensual acts were at the heart of the old religion, since theirs was a worldly religion of joy and celebration.”

Same sex love was once deeply associated in traditional cultures around the world with philosophy, magic and also, along with gender fluidity, with the spiritual life of the community. In tribal settings queer shamans were highly regarded because their spiritual energy kept the community connected to the spirit of the earth, the ancestors and the Great Mother/Great Spirit. In the pagan civilisations of ancient Europe, queer people had prominent roles in temples, rituals and festivals – and, 1000 years after the Christian Church, hand in hand with armed and brutal political forces, had began its campaign to eradicate queerness from its domains in Europe, when Europeans went out to explore and conquer, they found the same phenomenon going on in every part of the world.

The spiritual role of queer people in past societies has not yet been addressed by the modern gay liberation movement, but European sociologists were studying this phenomenon over a century ago:

Finnish philosopher and sociologist Edward Westermarck (1862-1949) wrote in his study ‘The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas’ that:

“the change of sex was usually accompanied by future shamanship; indeed nearly all the shamans were former delinquents of their sex.”

Historian Antonio Cardonega, writing in the 17th century, mentioned that sodomy was: “rampant among the people of Angola. They pursue their impudent and filthy practices dressed as women,” and stated that the sodomites often served as powerful shamans, were highly esteemed among most Angolan tribes and known as “quimbanda.”

Thomas Falkner, in his ‘Description of Patagonia’ (1775), said that among the south Americans:

“The wizards are of both sexes. The male wizards are obliged (as it were) to leave their sex, and to dress themselves in female apparel, and are not permitted to marry, though the female ones or witches may. They are generally chosen for this office when they are children, and a preference is always shown to those who at that early time of life discover an effeminate disposition. They are clothed very early in female attire, and presented with the drum and rattles belonging to the profession they are to follow.”

In 1724 Jesuit Father Joseph-Francois Lafitau published, in French, a massive work named ‘The Customs of American Savages Compared to the Earliest Times’ in which he drew comparison between the native shamans and the traditions of the ancient world:

“…among the Illinois, among the Sioux, in Louisiana, in Florida, and in Yucatan, there are young men who adopt the garb of women, and keep it all their lives. They believe they are honored by debasing themselves to all of women’s occupations; they never marry, they participate in all religious ceremonies, and this profession of an extraordinary life causes them to be regarded as people of a higher order, and above the common man. Would these not be the same peoples as the Asiatic adorers of Cybele, or the Orientals of whom Julius Fermicus speaks, who consecrated priests dressed as women to the Goddess of Phrygia or to Venus Urania, who had an effeminate appearance, painted their faces, and hid their true sex under garments borrowed from the sex whom they wished to counterfeit?”

In ancient Europe and Asia Minor, worship of the Goddess was led, for thousands of years, by women priestesses and priests who were effeminate male or what we now call ‘transgender’ – life was seen as coming from and held by the Great Mother and spiritual life was associated with the feminine and so led by those who embodied female spirit. Eunuch was a term used in a very broad sense to refer to men who did not procreate, and eunuchs were often looked upon as a third gender. Jesus refers in the Gospel of Matthew to eunuchs saying:

“…there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.

Basilides, a Gnostic Christian in Alexandria living around 125/150 CE, argued Jesus was here referring to three types of male celibates: “those with a natural revulsion to women; those who practice asceticism out of a desire for glory from their peers; and those who remain unmarried to better do the work of the kingdom” (quoted in a work by Clement of Alexandria). Note the first type here – exclusively same sex oriented people have always existed, they did not suddenly find a sense of identity and community in the 19th century, as many today think.

The effeminacy of priests was so deeply embedded in the collective consciousness that Christianity insisted its priests be celibate (and continue to wear frocks), for the public would not readily accept married priests. The Mother of the Gods also admits effeminates, and the Goddess would not judge so, if by nature unmanliness were a trivial thing.” wrote Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus in the 2nd century. Castration was common among the Goddess priesthoods and was popular too among the early Christians. Homosexuality had been part of religious life for so long that some Gnostic Christians favoured it over procreative sex: historian Randy Connor quotes 4th century Cypriot bishop Epiphanus on one of these Gnostic sects – “Those among them who are called Levites… do not have intercourse with women, but with each other. And it is these who are actually distinguished and honoured among them.”

The Roman bishop Hippolytus, writing in the first half of the third century, described at length the cult of the Naasenes in which Christianity and Attis worship appear to have been thoroughly merged. According to Hippolytus, the Naassenes: … “constantly attend the mysteries called those of the “Great Mother,” supposing especially that they behold by means of the ceremonies performed there the entire mystery. For these having nothing more than the ceremonies that are performed there, except that they are not emasculated: they merely complete the work of the emasculated. For with the utmost severity and vigilance they enjoin (on their votaries) to abstain, as if they were emasculated, from intercourse with a woman. The rest, however, of the proceeding (observed in these mysteries), as we have declared at some length, (they follow) just as (if they were) emasculated persons.

The tradition of temple service by gender-variant beings that can be traced back nearly 10,000 years in Mesopotamia and Turkey. Ancient Mesopotamian myths suggest that gay and transgendered people were created to be the holy servants of the gods, and the trans priest/esses of Ishtar, the assinnu and kurgurru, were still serving in the area at the time of Jesus, and, as Will Roscoe’s quotation above strikes home … THEY WEREN’T THE ONLY ONES.

The ancient Goddess was considered by her priests to have power over gender:

To destroy, to create, to tear out, to establish are yours, Inanna.
To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inanna.”

Those are the words of Enheduanna, High Priestess of the Moon in the Sumerian city of Ur. They are part of her poem, Passionate Inanna, which she wrote in the 23rd Century BCE. Enheduanna is the earliest known example of someone signing their name to a literary work.

“The Gala were a class of priests sacred to Inanna. It was said they were initially created by the god Enki to sing “heart-soothing laments,” for the goddess, and they certainly did that. To begin with, one of their primary roles was to sing hymns and laments to the goddess in eme-sal, a Sumerian dialect spoken primarily by women that was used to render the speech of female gods. They presided over religious rites, healed the sick, predicted the future, made music, raised money for the poor, and “dissolved evil” during lunar eclipses. Akkadian omen texts said that having sex with them was lucky. They were well-known and respected members of their communities, and many of them were what we would think of now as transgender.” Transgender Identities in the Ancient Mediterranean › Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex News (

The goddess Ishtar/Inanna ruled over both sexual love and war – her worship dates back around 10000 years in Mesopotamia, and She remained a constant presence while various empires rose and fell. During the Sumerian period her priesthood were known as the Gala – the cuneiform symbol for their name was a combination of the symbols for penis + anus. This is the most ancient priesthood known on the planet. One myth tells of the God Enki creating them to serve the Goddess, and a Sumerian proverb reads, “When the gala wiped off his anus [he said], ‘I must not arouse that which belongs to my mistress [i.e., Inanna]’”. The legend ties together gay sex and the divine feminine, and the myths relating to Inanna’s other holy servants reveal transexual beings the fulfilling the same function.

A legend from the ancient lands of Sumer and Mesopotamia tells us that the Great Goddess was trapped in the Underworld by her dark sister Ereshkigel, and could only be saved by specially created beings who were neither male nor female. In her rage at their success Ereshkigel cursed all such queer beings but Inanna in response appointed them to be her eternal servants, promising that one day the curse would lift and their holiness would be recognised and restored.

“One type of Gala priestess was the Kurgarru, a biological male who wore a robe that was feminine on one side and masculine on the other. The Kurgarru were highly esteemed in Babylonia; in one story of Inanna, the genderless Kurgarru were created in order to save Inanna from the Underworld. However, even more prestigious were the Assinnu, or the transsexual priestesses of Inanna. The Assinnu underwent ritual castration as part of a mes, or a divine calling of the goddess. The Assinnu were believed to have been imbued with great powers of protection and fortune. Warriors of Ancient Mesopotamia would touch the head of an Assinnu before battle, believing just this brief contact would spare them from danger. However, the most important role of the Assinnu was that of a hierodule, or sacred prostitute. The Assinnu were believed to be the physical incarnation of the goddess Inanna, and by sleeping with an Assinnu a follower of Inanna was essentially coupling with the Goddess herself .” Transgender Identities in the Ancient Mediterranean › Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex News (

“A gala-tur was a type of junior priest in a temple of Inanna, a sort of trainee gala or high priest. The original purpose of a gala was to sing laments, a profession traditionally carried out by women. By the time of the Akkadians men were gala and gala-tur as well, though they were feminine, intersex or eunuchs. A modern lgbt interpretation is that they were transgender, though perhaps the best identity to give them is third gender. The gala gained a reputation for same-sex activity, but this may be because the literal translation of the term gala (or ga-la) is “penis-anus”.

‘The kur-garra was another type of priest of Inanna. These were the leaders of religious processions and ceremonies and were usually seen carrying a dagger or sword. In later centuries the kur-garra came to be seen as bestowing luck, or providing charms to ward off evil. Like the gala and gala-tur the kur-garra was a female role that was performed by third gender individuals.”

The Queerstory Files: Springing Out Of Winter

Similarly ancient, the GALLAE eunuch priests served the Goddess Cybele (the ‘Mother of the Gods’ as the Greeks saw her) – with roots in eastern Turkey going back to at least 6000 BCE, Cybele was seen as syncretic with other ancient earth mothers Rhea, Demeter, Gaia, Atargatis (‘the Syrian Goddess’) who also had queer priesthoods. Cybele worship became the official religion of the Roman Empire around 200 BCE, when she was adopted as its Magna Mater, Great Mother. The Romans enlisted her support, on the advice of an oracle, in their campaign to dominate the Meditteranean world. A black meteorite representing her was brought from Anatolia to Rome and a magnificent temple constructed for the Goddess in the city. Her camp, flamboyant, long haired, loud and queer Gallae priests – and her female priestesses, the Melissae (the Bees) – came with her, but the Gallae so shocked the Roman locals that they were forced to live outside the cities. They formed travelling bands, bringing lively, intoxicated, goddess worship to the people and some followed the Roman soldiers wherever they went, bringing the Goddess’ often wild, sexual and ecstatic worship as far east as Britain and Spain.

During the first century of Cybele’s time in Rome, Roman citizens were not allowed to undergo the initiatory act of ritual castration, which was inspired by the story of Attis, lover of Cybele, who castrated himself, while in a frenzy, to avoid marrying a human woman. The Gallae priests mourned for Attis and self-castrated to be better servants to the Goddess. In 101 BCE the law was changed so that certain citizens might become Gallae, and Emperor Claudius (41-53CE) removed the remaining restrictions. This tolerance did not last long. Domitian (81-91CE) once more forbade Roman citizens from becoming Gallae, and although this was reversed again by 239 CE, this last freedom to self-castrate was soon removed for good as Christianity consolidated its power in the Empire.

Encyclopedia Britannica:

“In all of her aspects, Roman, Greek, and Oriental, the Great Mother was characterized by essentially the same qualities. Most prominent among them was her universal motherhood. She was the great parent not only of gods but also of human beings and beasts. She was called the Mountain Mother, and special emphasis was placed on her maternity over wild nature; this was manifested by the orgiastic character of her worship. Her mythical attendants, the Corybantes, were wild, half-demonic beings. Her priests, the Galli, castrated themselves on entering her service. The self-mutilation was justified by the myth that her lover, the fertility god Attis, had emasculated himself under a pine tree, where he bled to death. At Cybele’s annual festival (March 15–27), a pine tree was cut and brought to her shrine, where it was honoured as a god and adorned with violets considered to have sprung from the blood of Attis. On March 24, the “Day of Blood,” her chief priest, the archigallus, drew blood from his arms and offered it to her to the music of cymbals, drums, and flutes, while the lower clergy whirled madly and slashed themselves to bespatter the altar and the sacred pine with their blood. On March 27 the silver statue of the goddess, with the sacred stone set in its head, was borne in procession and bathed in the Almo, a tributary of the Tiber River.

“Cybele’s ecstatic rites were at home and fully comprehensible in Asia, but they were too frenzied for Europeans farther west. Roman citizens were at first forbidden to take part in the ceremonies—a ban that was not removed until the time of the empire. Though her cult sometimes existed by itself, in its fully developed state the worship of the Great Mother was accompanied by that of Attis.”

The Gallae’s most public ritual, the Day of the Blood, when new initiates were welcomed into the priesthood, was described by pagan writer Lucian in the 2nd century:

“As the Gallae sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on many of them and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act. I will narrate what they do. Any young man who has resolved on this action, strips off his clothes, and with a loud shout bursts into the midst of the crowd, and picks up a sword from a number of swords which I suppose have been kept ready for many years for this purpose. He takes it and castrates himself and then runs wild through the city, bearing in his hands what he has cut off. He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women’s raiment and ornaments. Thus they act during their ceremonies of castration.” Lucian, De Dea Syria.

Roman sophist Philostratus (end 2nd century CE), describing Gallae rituals where the priests embodied the deity Attis in order to have sex with worshippers who came to receive the essence and power of the God. He said that:

“The tie between god and man cannot be thought of in closer or stronger terms, and they are joined by a feeling not only of lifelong gratitude but of personal love, which in its expression passes over into sensual terms.”

Some Christians hated the Gallae. Firmicus Maternus, who lived in the reign of Constantine (4th century – the first emperor to convert to Christianity), wrote of the Cybele worshippers:

“They wear effeminately nursed hair, and dress in soft clothes. They can barely hold their heads up on their limp necks. Then, having made themselves alien to masculinity, swept up by playing flutes, they call their Goddess to fill them with an unholy spirit so as to seemingly predict the future to idle men. What sort of monstrous and unnatural thing is this?”

In their very temples can be seen deplorable mockery before a moaning crowd, men taking the part of women, revealing with boastful ostentation this ignominy of impure and unchaste bodies. They broadcast their crimes and confess with superlative delight the stain of their polluted bodies.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) said of the Gallae:

They are the sons of the earth. The Earth is their mother”, but he also complained virulently about their habits, calling them “castrated perverts….. madmen…. foully unmanned and corrupted.”

Greek Goddess Artemis, known in the Roman pantheon as Diana, Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility, and the Moon, was worshipped widely in Europe for many centuries, much revered as a manifestation of the Great Goddess of pre-historical Europe. She had female priestesses who, like their goddess, refused sex with men – their virginity was associated with their sacred power. A male group of warriors called the Kouretes, who left homoerotic inscriptions on the rocks on the isle of Thera, also worshipped Artemis, as did trans male and trans female servants too, one group of whom were the megabyzoi, a Persian term, who were highly respected in Ephesus but mocked by some Greeks and Romans. This priestessly group shaved and painted their faces, wore their hair in feminine styles and were known for their purple garments, tiaras and rosary-style necklaces. Alexander the Great was a worshipper of Artemis and loved to dress as her in parades to honour the Goddess. He also took one of her eunuch priests as his lover – these holy servants, the megazyboi, ran public festivals, cast horoscopes and performed hymns and acts of divination. Rituals celebrating Diana including the kordax, a story told in dance in which the participants cross-dressed – the women wore large artifical phalli called lombai and pretended to penetrate the males.

Considered one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, the temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Asia Minor, was constructed in the 6th century BCE. Taking up the invitation laid down by Paul the Apostle, who said “The temple of the Great Goddess Artemis may count for nothing, and… she… be deposed from her magnificence, she whom Asia and the world worship,” Christians burnt down the great temple of Diana at Ephesus in the 3rd century CE – it was rebuilt then burnt again in 405 CE. Note that in the same city, just a few years later, a Church Synod decided to declare Mary the Mother of God, declaring her as divine in her own right, so that their new congregations would be able to channel their deep and devoted love of the Mother Goddess at shrines built to her.

Worship of Diana continued in western Europe for many centuries to come – she was seen, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and by the Inquisition trials of the Middle Ages, as the God of the witches. St Pauls Cathedral in London was built on the site of a Diana temple, and pagans continued to meet there for worship into early modern times.

The Egyptian Goddess Isis also had a long-standing gender-variant priesthood, known for their distinctive shaven heads and white linen clothes, who were described by 2nd century Roman writer Lucius Apuleius, in his book Metamorphoses: The Golden Ass, where he relates how the Isis priests transformed him into a donkey (and back again). Isis worship spread throughout the Roman Empire, but in the 4th century Emperor Constantine forbade their rites, murdered the priests who disobeyed and destroyed their temples.

The gender-bending priests of the threshold goddess Hecate, who was a patron of marginalised people, were called the semnotatoi:

“…in the case of Artemis, transgender worship simply constituted the adornment of male priests in the clothing of the goddess; this ritualistic crossdressing was done in order to communicate directly with the goddess, who would speak neither to biological females nor males in men’s clothing. However, for Hecate, transgender worship was taken much further. In many temples of Hecate, males would castrate themselves in order to serve as a priestess to the goddess. As patron goddess of witchcraft, castration was oftentimes done during the casting of spells and other magical rituals in honor of Hecate. These MTF priestesses, known as the Semnotatoi, were imbued with rights and privileges that neither men nor women were given in the temples of Hecate (Conner). They served a special function in the worship of the goddess, and as such occupied a safe space within the spiritual institutions of Greek society.” Transgender Identities in the Ancient Mediterranean › Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex News (

Astarte/Aphrodite (Roman Venus), Goddess of Love and Queen of Heaven, was served by the kelabim, loyal ‘dogs’ of the goddess, on the island of Cyprus and other places. 3rd century BCE Greek historian Philochorus wrote that she was served by men “dressed as women, and women dressed as men, because the moon is thought to be both male and female.” Six centuries later, Christian Bishop Eusebius, wrote that in a Lebanese temple of Venus discovered and destroyed by Emperor Constantine, “men undeserving of the name forgot the dignity of their sex and propitiated the demon by their effeminate conduct… The hand of military force was made instrumental in purging the impurities of this place.”

The Christian powers repeated, on a vast scale, the destruction of Goddess worship undertaken in Palestine by Hebrew kings from 1000 to 600 BCE. It had taken four centuries of persecution before those kings could stop Canaanite women setting up phallic poles in praise of the Goddess, known to them as Asherah, and stamp out the tradition of the Qedesha – the sodomizing male or trans priests who served Her. The Old Testament prohibitions against cross dressing and sex between men were designed to stop this ancient religious practice. Qedesha means ‘Holy’ or ‘Anointed Ones’ but was translated into the King James English bible as ‘sodomites’ and in modern bibles is usually rendered ‘male shrine prostitutes’. A medieval English translation, by John Wycliffe of the Lollard heretical movement, translated qedesha as ‘womanish-men.’

Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941, author of The Golden Bough), in his work ‘Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion’ attributed the adoption by south Pacific island priests of female attire to the fact that:

“…it often happens that a goddess chooses a man, not a woman, for her minister and inspired mouthpiece. When that is so, the favoured man is thenceforth regarded and treated as a woman...

“These unsexed creatures often, perhaps generally, profess the arts of sorcery and healing, they communicate with spirits and are regarded sometimes with awe and sometimes with contempt, as beings of a higher or lower order than common folk.”

19th century British explorer Richard Francis Burton found homosexual and cross-dressing practices common around world, and recorded they had “been adopted by the priestly castes from Mesopotamia to Peru.”

The great eastern civilisations in India, China and Japan embraced same sex love and gender variance as part of the divine order, in sharp contrast to what developed in the West. Several Hindu scriptures explicitly describe people with a homosexual nature. Among these, the Narada-smriti (a first-century B.C. text of religious codes attributed to the sage Narada) states that homosexuality is not curable, that homosexuals are exempted from the duty to procreate. The Sushruta Samhita (a 600 B.C. medical text compiled by the sage Sushruta) says that such tendencies are in-born and the Kama Sutra (a third-century A.D. text on the art of lovemaking by the sage Vatsyayana) also refers to homosexual acts and third-gender people – tritiya–prakriti – and describes the svairini (independent woman) who engages in aggressive lovemaking with other women. Other terms for lesbians and women who are either masculine or impotent with men in the Hindu scriptures include nastriya, stripumsa, shandhi. Similarly, bisexuals (kami or paksha), transgenders (shandha) and intersex types (nisarga, vakri, trnaputrika, etc.) are all present in Hindu scriptures.

In Indian culture gay/trans/thirdgender people were (and ARE) considered to have supernatural powers, as had been also the case in pagan Europe. Revered astrological texts such as the Brihat Jataka and Brihat Samhita mention planetary alignments at the time of conception that indicate a third-gender birth. Such births are associated with the three napumsa planets (Mercury, Saturn and Ketu) and indicate intelligence, mastery of the arts and sciences, detachment from family life, and clairvoyant abilities.

Carrying a combination of male and female spirit queer people were seen in India in pre-British times as being closer to the divine ideal, as symbolised by the depiction of Shiva Ardhanisvara, whose name means “The Lord whose half is a woman”. This form of Shiva represents the “totality that lies beyond duality”, and is associated with communication between mortals and gods and between men and women. French historian Alain Danielou said that “The hermaphrodite, the homosexual and the transvestite have a symbolic value and are considered privileged beings, images of the Ardhararishvara.” The Hijra priestesses of India, who still today worship the Goddess as Bahumachara Mata, are a surviving example of ancient queer/transgender priestcraft.

“The Japanese knew no punishment of public opprobrium for the homosexual until the influence of the West was felt, and the Japanese man who loved a man, it is said, was considered more heroic than the woman-lover in the great era of chivalry in Europe. The Chinese were likewise free of any attitude characterizing love of one’s own sex as wrong, until the influence of the Christian world became dominant.” From The homosexual in America; a subjective approach, by Donald Webster Cory 1957, in which he also wrote that homosexuals have been “the priests in some societies, the pariahs in others, and both at the same time in still others…”

When Jesuit missionaries first complained about the homosexuality in Japanese temples, the monks were offended and had the Europeans thrown out. When Chinese people heard of Europeans burning men as a punishment for gay sex, they considered the westerners to be barbaric.

A primary difference between Christianity and the pagan beliefs that preceded it the world over lies in the attitude to the body and sexuality. In the most ancient epic story in the world, the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’, the King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who was 1/3 divine and 2/3 human, praises sex as one of the carnal pleasures humans ought to indulge in during their brief tenure on Earth. The epic poem also describes sexuality as a potent force that distinguishes humans from beasts. Ancient Goddess cultures celebrated this, but, under Christianity, God was taken out of the flesh – and out of the earth – and placed in the sky as an apparently loving but very strict Father. The sensual and promiscuous Mother Goddess, whom people knew intimately through nature and their own bodies, and the priesthoods who had long served her, had to go.

The early Church Fathers applauded virginity and decried all sexuality except that necessary for reproduction. But of course the Church would attract many same-sex attracted people into its service across the centuries, and still does, because many gay people are drawn to that kind of community and spiritual work. Medieval penitentials set punishments for sex between monks, but they were not worse than for heterosexual acts. Although the eastern Roman Empire enacted the death penalty for gay sex in 533 CE, it would be another 600 years before the atmosphere really turned against gay sex in western Europe, and it was exactly one millennium after the Byzantine law, in 1533 CE that the death penalty for sodomy was first enacted in England. Henry VIII’s Buggery Act was itself testament to the association of homosexuality and the spiritual life – Buggery had become an alternative term to sodomy during the Middle Ages, adopted due to the reputation for same sex relationships among adherents of the Bogomil heresy that spread across Europe from Bulgaria. The term bogomil in fact means beloved of god.

Due to the anti-sexual attitude of Christianity the link between sexuality and the spirit was lost. Malidoma Some of the Dagara Tribe of west Africa said in the 1990s:

The modern world was built by Christianity. They have taken the gods out of the earth sent them to heaven, wherever that is. And everyone who aspires to the gods must then negotiate with Christianity, so that the real priests and priestesses are out of a job.”

Those ‘real priests and priestesses’, said Malidoma, manifest with certain ‘queer’ characteristics:

“The gay person is looked at primarily as a “gatekeeper.” The Earth is looked at, from my tribal perspective, as a very, very delicate machine or consciousness, with high vibrational points, which certain people must be guardians of in order for the tribe to keep its continuity with the gods and with the spirits that dwell there. Spirits of this world and spirits of the other worlds. Any person who is at this link between this world and the other world experiences a state of vibrational consciousness which is far higher, and far different, from the one that a normal person would experience. This is what makes a gay person gay…

“If, today, we are suffering from a gradual ecological waste, this is simply because the gatekeepers have been fired from their job. They have been fired! They have nothing to do!”

Arthur Evans, Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture (1978):

“All the evidence indicates that nature people fucked for pleasure. Their purpose was to celebrate sex. Their orgies were acts of sexual worship to the power of sex they felt in themselves and in nature around them. Their religious feasts were characteristically joyous: dancing, feasting, fucking together. The Indians who have been observed in the Americas; the myths that have survived in Europe; the artifacts that exist from all over the world – all attest to the pleasure of what the celebrants were doing. George Scott has rightly observed “that, without exception, the worship of sex by all primitive [sic] races originated in the pleasure associated with coitus, and not in any clearly conceived notion that intercourse would produce children…” Hence it is a misrepresentation for industrialized academics to call such celebrations “fertility rites,” as they usually do. The orgies were not clumsy attempts to increase the gross national product by people who had a very rude understanding of economic laws. Nature people did, indeed, believe that through such acts their bodies would become stronger, the crops would grow taller, the sun would shine brighter, and the rains would come in profusion when needed. But they believed these things because they had a collective tribal feeling of the power of sex throbbing through the whole of nature; their experience of sex was so open, public, communal and intense that they felt it reverberate through the whole cosmos. In this, they were unlike modern industrialized people who practice sex … privately, in the dark, in isolation, and with guilt.”

In the pre-colonial, pre-Christian world gender diversity and same sex relationships were seen very differently to the scientific-biological model most people believe in today. In the Goddess temples of the ancient world and in traditional cultures around the world, many queer people held spiritual roles in service to the community. I suggest the only real solution to the ongoing horror of faith-based homophobia in the world is to reveal and uproot its historical origins – official Christianity, like Judaism before it, wanted to separate itself from the practices of the sex-positive pagan past – and, also, for queer people to reclaim and own the spiritual gifts that our queerness gives us. The Two Spirits of the Native American tribes have begun this process and are setting an example to queer people the world over. They are reclaiming their history. Groups such as the global Radical Faerie movement have been exploring the deep connections between gender-variance, same sex eroticism and the sacred for several decades and at QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL in the UK, August 2023, a few hundred of us will be gathering to celebrate the natural, earth-connecting, ground-breaking, liberating spirit of queer people.

“The meaning of the old religions will come back to him. On the high tops once more gathering he will celebrate with naked dances the glory of the human form and the great processions of the stars, or greet the bright horn of the young moon which now after a hundred centuries comes back laden with such wondrous associations – all the yearnings and the dreams and the wonderment of the generations of mankind – the worship of Astarte and of Diana, of Isis or the Virgin Mary; once more in sacred groves will he reunite the passion and the delight of human love with his deepest feelings of the sanctity and beauty of Nature; or in the open, standing uncovered to the Sun, will adore the emblem of the everlasting splendour which shines within” Edward Carpenter, Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, 1889

The modern LGBTQ+ movement has not yet addressed the religious roots of homophobia, and it won’t until enough of us who are discovering and reclaiming the true spiritual essence of queer nature speak up about it. A century ago this conversation started, but has yet to be properly heard by those it most affects: as Iwan Bloch (1872-1922) co-founder with Magnus Hirschfeld of the Berlin Institute for Sexual Science, said:

“The by no means scanty supply of ethnological facts on this subject which we possess confirms the above view, and shows in what odour of sanctity homosexual individuals have often stood among Nature-folk – for which reason they frequently played an important part in religious rituals and festivals.”

Humanity has lost touch with the erotic presence of spirit pulsing throughout creation because nature’s erotic priest/esses have been denied their roles. BUT, as Malidoma Some of the Dagara Tribe pointed out:

“…the thing about it is that humans are going to be begetting gatekeepers, no matter what. This is the chance that we’ve got. So maybe that means that sooner or later we’re going to wake up to the horror of our own errors, and we’re going to reconsecrate our chosen people so that they can do their priestly work as they should. Otherwise, I just don’t understand. I just don’t understand. My position about it is not so much that gays be just forgiven. That’s just tokenism. But that they serve as an example of the wrong, or the illness, that modernity has brought to us, and that we use that to begin working at healing ourselves and our society from the bottom up. That way, by the time we reach a certain level, all the gatekeepers are going to find their positions again. We cannot tell them where the gates are. They know. If we start to heal ourselves, they will remember. It will kick in. But as long as we continue in arrogance, in egotism, in God-knows-what form of violence on ourselves, no, there’s that veil of confusion that’s going to continue to prevail, and as a result it’s going to prevent great things from happening. That’s all I can say about that.”

Published by shokti

i am shokti, lovestar of the eurofaeries, aka marco queer magician of london town. i explore the links between our sexual-physical nature and our spirits, running gatherings, rituals and Queer Spirit Festival. i woke up to my part in the accelerating awakening of light love and awareness on planet earth during a shamanic death-and-rebirth process lasting from January 1995 to the year 2000, and offer here my insights and observations on the ongoing transformation of human consciousness, how to navigate the waves of change, and especially focusing on the role of queer people at this time.

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