Victor Anderson: An American Shaman is a candid look at the Feri tradition’s most important teacher. The book is loosely arranged into two parts. Part I contains a series of interviews with Victor and Cora Anderson conducted around 1999, about two years before Victor’s death. The interviewer is Cornelia Benavidez, the Andersons’ friend of two decades and an initiate of Victor’s. (Charmingly, the book opens with a copy of a letter of reference for Benavidez from Victor, recommending her as “an honorable person and good witch.”) Victor’s remarks are interspersed with explanatory notes from Benavidez to provide context and additional information. Part II contains supplementary material, including an account of Victor’s last days from Benavidez, an essay by Sara Star that attempts to historically contextualize Victor’s initiation story, comments by Benavidez on the development of Feri after the deaths of the Andersons, and extensive genealogical information on Victor compiled by researcher William Wallworth.
Those who have read earlier interviews that Victor gave over the course of his life will find many of the thoughts recorded here to be familiar. However, in response to Benavidez’s clarifying questions, Victor unpacks many of his views in more detail than was previously available in print and clears up potential areas of ambiguity. Further, since most of the earlier interviews were published in zines or now-out-of-print collections, many readers will be encountering this material for the first time. This factor alone makes An American Shaman an important primary source for the study of Victor and Cora’s lives.
Readers who have primarily encountered Feri witchcraft through websites or in books put out by large publishing houses may be surprised at how little of the material frequently presented as “the Feri tradition” appears in Victor’s final statements of his views. The plain-spoken interviews focus on the Andersons’ core values of love and respect for others and the importance of sexual ethics. Many pages are spent on Victor’s complex ancestry and his relationships with indigenous people. The Andersons’ opposition to American racism and what we would now call cultural appropriation are major emphases, but as a person born during World War I, Victor’s framing of these issues is very different from those of twenty-first century activists. New readers may struggle greatly with his words, finding Victor confusing or downright infuriating.
For the reader who is willing and able to encounter Victor Anderson as a whole human being, however, there is a great deal of insight, humor, and hope recorded in this text. Victor’s Feri tradition is not a set of doctrines or an ideology, nor is it an elite occult club for the sexually alternative. Rather, it is a craft of relationship, devotion, creativity, and joy that the Andersons hoped would help lead humanity away from its most destructive tendencies.
The individual captured in this book’s pages (however incompletely) was a person of striking uniqueness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strain of witchcraft that he helped to create continues to be rich, vital, and extremely contentious. As the years pass and the initiates that knew the Andersons pass away, documents that preserve Victor and Cora’s voices as complex, idiosyncratic human beings become ever more important. Within any group, there is always a temptation to simplify and sanitize the life and views of deceased leaders, lest their inconvenient human realities damage the group’s public face. Yet Feri has a deep commitment to authenticity, and its practice demands great personal intimacy between practitioners. Allowing Victor’s humanness to be forgotten, therefore, would betray our most deeply held values.
As Feri initiates, it is our loving duty to remember Victor honestly and to continue to learn from his teaching. Accordingly, Victor Anderson: An American Shaman is a text recommended for any Feri seeker or student—one that must be read slowly, struggled with, questioned, laid aside and taken up again.
“There are many things I would still want to learn, I’m willing to learn from anybody regardless of their degree of initiation […] I still am anxious to learn anything I can, and apply it and see if it works. If it works I will use it. This is our science and this is how we learn and grow.”
Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic: these are the three adjectives that introduce AndersonFaery.org at the top of every page. All three are commonly used by initiates to describe Anderson Faery witchcraft. What do they mean?
Historically, a bard is a traveling poet who composed and recited epic poetry, usually while playing an instrument. Over time, the term has loosened to include poets in general, with “THE Bard” often referring to William Shakespeare, a word artist of both poetry and prose.
Poetry, song, storytelling, and drama are ways in which a group performs its shared values. Our ancestors both entertained themselves and learned about who they were through group gatherings where stories and songs were shared around a fire. Many of the world’s religions continue these practices of singing and storytelling, though in the West they have become more structured. A visit to nearly any Christian church, for example, includes reading of scripture (much of which is narrative) and singing of hymns; similarly, historical and mythic narratives and traditional songs are key elements of most Jewish holidays.
Poetry and song have always been an important part of Faery Craft. Part of their importance is to retain knowledge of history, myths, and lore, an understanding of which connects Faery witches to the past and ties them together in relationship. Gwydion Pendderwen, one of the Andersons’ first and most influential initiates, recorded two albums of music that celebrated nature spirituality, folk lifeways, and the Gods. He also penned liturgical pieces for use in private rituals. Faery witches continue to sing Gwydion’s songs and recite his poetry, both to connect with the ancestral traditions that Gwydion felt called to, and to connect with the memory of Gwydion himself.
Poetry was also a passion of the Andersons. In 1970, with Gwydion’s logistical support and Cora’s life savings, Victor published Thorns of the Blood Rose, a passionate book of poetry that led many future initiates to seek the Andersons out for teaching. Victor’s poetry celebrates the natural world, the Gods, and sexuality; but like those of Yeats, the great occult poet of the twentieth century, his poems are also densely layered with meaning and can act as keys to occult revelation. Victor’s poetry rewards the patient and careful reader who is willing to read and reread, recite and contemplate again and again.
Victor was adamant that the images in his poems were not intended metaphorically. Poetry is a way of expressing realities that cannot be captured by linear thought and plain speaking; it is a way of gesturing toward mysteries that are beyond our rational understanding, but that we can experience in our bodies as beings of flesh and spirit.
Cora was also a poet. Some of her simple, striking verse is included in her memoir Childhood Memories (now out of print, but a version of the book called Kitchen Witch is still available). When I met Cora near the end of her life, she spoke with great pride of the poetry that she and Victor had written. She clearly considered this creative work to be one of the great achievements of their lives.
Though not every Faery witch need be a poet themselves, Faery witchcraft cannot be worked without poetry. Poetry and song bind us together. Through them, we share our innermost dreams, longings, and desires; we connect to the ancestors and the Gods; and for those with ears to hear, we convey our most precious truths.
A shaman is a healer and spiritworker who is in service to their local community. On behalf of that community, the shaman seeks altered states of consciousness in order to communicate and negotiate with spirits. Shamanic practice may include the use of local plants to heal and work magic, as well as magical practices based on spirit relationships. Although the term “shaman” probably originally came from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia, in Western religious studies it is now used to describe this kind of spiritworking cross-culturally.
Faery witchcraft is worked in a container of beloved relationship. This includes relationship with one’s human community, but even more importantly, it includes the local plants, animals, streams, and hills in all their aspects (physical and spiritual), as well as the Gods who manifest through the land and through our flesh.
Third Road founder Francesca De Grandis wrote, “A healthy priest makes all things sound.” Faery witches seek harmonious relationship with the land and people where they live. We seek to be whole and balanced in ourselves so that our positive influence ripples outward through all we touch. At times, of course, seeking harmony may require conflict, as we are called to defend human or other-than-human beings in our community who are in danger. A witch’s action to restore harmony may take place in the human realm, in the newspapers in the courts; or it may take place in privacy, through magical intervention or one-on-one negotiation with humans or spirits. In any case, right relationship is the source of a witch’s power. A witch’s work involves constantly strengthening ties and setting boundaries—but our responsibilities are not just to the human community.
Serving in a shamanic role is not easy. The conflicting needs of humans and other-than-human beings can lead to difficult decisions, and as a result the witch may not always be appreciated or loved by other humans. When we serve as mediators between humans and spirits, between the wild world and what we speak of as “civilization,” we put ourselves outside of ordinary human society, and we may suffer for it—if not through persecution, then through being treated as an outsider or a fool. To serve as a shaman means having knowledge that others do not, and this state can be uncomfortable and isolating. It is not a glamorous role, though the moments of beauty and connection it brings may be worth the pain.
Like the rest of our society, twenty-first-century Faery witches struggle with environmental damage and community erosion caused by the ways we have chosen to use technology. Some of us were lucky enough to be raised with a spiritual awareness of the land where we live; others, having grown up disconnected and rootless, must work hard to form the relationships that make a powerful witch. But without being integrated into a community of all types of beings—without, in other words, taking on a shamanic role—a Faery witch’s work is not complete.
Ecstasy is a rapturous state of altered consciousness where the usual boundaries of the self are left behind. The original Greek term, ekstasis, translates as something like “standing outside oneself.” Ecstasy is a sensual, embodied, fleshly state; it is not one where we transcend the body. However, it is transcendent because in this state, our awareness of our individuality and our boundedness from other beings falls away. We transcend our everyday selves and experience communion: with other Selves, with the Gods, with God Herself.
Allowing ourselves to experience ecstasy can be a difficult and even frightening process. In order to freely let go of one’s ordinary everyday self, one must be comfortable with that self and know it well. Our society, however, often does not support individuals in forming a healthy, stable self. Mainstream society is full of casual boundary violations, especially of the bodies and selves of marginalized people, as well as complicated social expectations that may encourage inauthenticity or even be actively exploitative and damaging. If a person is struggling to build good boundaries and experience healthy relationships with other human beings, it is natural that they may cling to whatever sense of identity they have already built—in fact, it is probably healthy to do so!
Ecstatic experience loosens and breaks down individual identity. It may change small elements of our personalities, like preferred hobbies or tastes; or it may leave us questioning elements we thought were foundational and defining, like sexual orientation or professional calling. Ecstasy can be a joy so big it bursts the heart open, leaving pieces that no longer seem to fit neatly together. It offers us freedom, but at the cost of structure we may have come to depend on.
Ecstasy is life force itself. If we are willing to let it flow through us undammed and be changed by the flood, our ability to contain that force expands. We become more powerful witches—but “power” rarely looks like what we imagine beforehand. There is no predicting where ecstasy will take you, or how it will leave you when its surging waters recede from the banks. Those who stay out of the way of the flood—either out of fear, or because they genuinely love themselves the way they are—are not unwise. But for Faery witches, there is no life without ecstasy. We embrace its risk, and its freedom.
Among the core principles agreed to by the Anderson Faery initiates represented on this site is this statement:
We prefer to teach individually or in small groups. In all our teaching, direct personal contact between teacher and student is essential.
Witches are above all things practical. My preference for the apprentice method of teaching comes primarily from practical considerations.
In giving my views about this point, I need to underline at the outset that what follows very much reflects my personal experience and the guidelines I follow in my own work. Although we in this group have agreed to stand by these principles, each of us has different ideas about how to teach. Some of the differences are subtle, and others are dramatically different.
Both the apprentice method and the coven model are rooted in strong mythic, archetypal patterns that recur in many streams of magical teaching. For apprenticeship, one of the most familiar examples is the story cycle of Myrddin instructing the young Arthur. Images of the coven seem to echo the somewhat more mysterious circle of the Nine Maidens. (The Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Scottish play may have their origin in the legends of the Sacred Nine.) Madeleine L’Engle played with this latter archetype in her book A Wrinkle in Time and the ways in which the Three interacted with Meg on her journey. In some of the legendry around Myrddin (or Merlin)’s instruction of the boy Arthur, the child experiences shapeshifting into different animal forms. According to some, these experiences represent in symbolic form an apprentice’s journey through different phases–or processes–of Initiation and deepening realization. (A recent exploration of the apprenticeship archetype was offered in episode 3, “The Nightcomers,” of the second season of the series Penny Dreadful, featuring Patti Lupone’s brilliant performance as the Cut Wife.)
Teaching Faery brings with it many challenges. Even in the world of initiatory systems, it must be acknowledged that Faery—Wild Faery, as a dear Sister of the Art has called it—is in its own category. After many years of study, practice, and teaching, I have had to conclude that the Faery current truly has a mind of its own. I have known a number of cases where those who have not gone through the Initiation, or even had any formal training, have been touched with the Faery Gnosis. Some have even manifested the Faery Power. You are truly riding a bucking bronco if this happens to you. But some find great joy, beauty, and clarity in the Mystery of this untrammeled wave.
Each Teacher has to ask hirself the question: what are my goals in taking on the task of teaching an individual the Craft? Another of the shared Principles is that teaching is always with a view toward initiation, although there is no guarantee that every student will be initiated. Many of us say that we will only consider teaching a person who “smells like Faery” or “feels like kin.” In other words, the evaluation process involved in taking on a student is visceral, gut level, heavily involving the Fetch and thus, intensely physical. Witchcraft itself is an intensely physical Art, deeply rooted in the Body and hir Mysteries. So, we take on the teaching with the idea that the goal is Initiation. I would add that there are further goals I look towards beyond the point of Initiation–but this is ultimately a separate topic.
For a student to come through the long, difficult, painstaking journey to stand before the Gate requires shepherding through several phases. In the legends about Myrddin and Arthur, the wizard’s magic catalyzes the child’s experience of taking wing into the element of Air as an eagle. He dives into the Waters of a mighty river as a fish. He roams through the Earthy realm of the Forest as a young buck. And he may even have danced in the mystic Fires as a dazzling salamander.
On a less mythic level, a teacher needs to listen, observe, question, moderate, challenge, push, nurture, and remonstrate with the student at various moments. In some cases their lives will become deeply intertwined; in nearly every instance, there will be spaces, sometimes lengthy ones, where the teacher leaves the student to get on with things and make hir own way with the work in hand.
(My own late Teacher almost invariably spoke of himself as a tour guide. He liked to remind us that the map is not the terrain. And Faery is not “information.”)
Willow Moon provides a nuanced appraisal of the work shared by a teacher and apprentice in his beautiful 2003 essay, “Is Feri an eclectic system or a Tradition?” (originally published in Witch Eye issue 8). Willow thoughtfully observes:
A personal communication or instruction on an ordinary subject would be conveyed by much more than words. There are facial expressions, tones of voice, cadence, gestures, designs, postures, pauses, etc. that make a complete packet of information along with the instructive words. How much more important is this non-verbal part of communication when trying to learn something as unusual as Feri? That is why I think Feri can only be learned by hanging out, sharing food, magics and stories with one’s teachers in a warm, caring manner.
Later in this article, Willow offers a valuable insight into Victor’s teaching methodology:
Even though Victor applied diverse methods to working and describing Feri, he was consistent in his approach and style. After listening to him teach for seven years, I concluded that although he talked about Feri in many different ways, they were congruent. His consistence lay in his emphasis on basic self-respect. Respect for the world, its places and its powers flows naturally from the spring of self-worth.
The magical techniques taught in Faery to bring the Triple Self into alignment (or harmonious convergence) are the foundation for true self respect and self realization. In this work, the true inner Reality of a human–sometimes expressed magically as the true Will–is brought into harmony with the outer lived experience. Cholla Soledad expresses this journey brilliantly and beautifully in her essay “Ecstasy and Transgression in the Faery Tradition” (Witch Eye 7, 2003):
Commonly, the personality clouds the true desires of our souls. … For the most part, people have no idea of what they want. Ecstasy peels off those layers of societal conformity and the need to please others. What is revealed underneath is the soul and divine will. …. Feri witches practice aligning the three souls. In an ecstatic state, with an open heart, the soul is revealed in its true form. … Suddenly, what was hidden by expectations and good manners is revealed to the self, and we can know ourselves in our most innocent state. It is a state of grace in which we can truly be free. In that state, we recover and have compassion for the parts of ourselves we have rejected, and in that moment, all three souls are right within us. We become part of the pattern of God Herself.
In my own experience, it is the teacher’s job to mentor a student as safely and smoothly as possible through this process. Faery by definition isn’t safe. Perhaps no true practice of Witchcraft is. But as a teacher, I have to do what I can to guide the traveller through the most perilous streets and across the most sharply cracking ice. I have to shepherd her towards the next challenge brought by the Work, to the best of my ability. And this requires building relationship with the student in a manner most aptly characterized as the apprenticeship model. The coven model works well too; in some ways, it may be superior, since the tapestry of the student’s experience of the Art is woven by many hands and sung through many voices.
It all begins with what you decide is your goal, or sequence of goals, in teaching. My goals are to mentor the student towards initiation, to offer spiritual direction and what guidance I may have to give, and to witness the student coming into the full awareness of hir own Power, the complete realization of hir fully aligned Self, and the beautiful accomplishment of hir true Will.
Using historical references found within Gardnerian and Wiccan mythology, I will demonstrate how history supports the inclusion of Qwyr folks in Gardnerian and Wiccan circles as working partners. Based on ancient folk customs, I show how transvestites are explicitly connected to fertility rites still performed in our modern world. Finally, I explore how modern Witch mythology informs the intimate connections between ecstasy, fertility and creativity and what that could look like in Qwyr ritual magic. In addition, I explore the benefits to our society of the collusion of Qwyr magic with non-Qwyr magics.
A historical basis for including Qwyrs in Wiccan circles
Despite institutionalized homophobia and the heterocentric notion that the God/Goddess pairing is the only way to operate within a Gardnerian or Wiccan coven, there is a liturgical and historical basis for including Qwyr people in these rites. Wiccans often use a well-known piece of liturgy called the “Charge of the Goddess.” This liturgy is published in the Farrar’s book Eight Sabbats for Witches and starts with the words: “Listen to the words of the Great Mother…” The Farrars write:
In the [what the Farrars describe as an Alexandrian] Book of Shadows, another sentence follows here: “At her altars [of Artemis] the youth of Lacedemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.” The sentence originated from Gardner, not Valiente. (Farrar: 1985, 42)
According to the Farrars, most covens omit this historical reference, considering it to be too “gruesome” for modern Craft practices. Oddly, this same piece of information that points to a historical antecedent of modern Witchcraft is also a precedent for including sexually active Qwyrs as working partners in Wiccan circles. Curiously, in Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance this historical reference is omitted in her version of the Charge. In most Faerie circles the Charge of the Goddess isn’t traditionally used, but it is still loved and preserved by many Witches of different traditions who feel it expresses their concept of the Goddess.
Shedding light on the Charge of the Goddess
The early Dorians in the 12th century BCE established their capital at Sparta. They maintained many of the most ancient traditions of earlier ages, especially with respect toward women. Spartan women wielded the power to compete with, publicly praise, or censor men, and they had greater authority over property than anywhere else in Greece. Elsewhere in Greece, women were only allowed to call their husband “Lord,” were not allowed to eat meals with their husbands and only lived inside the house. In addition, Plutarch wrote in his 1st century CE book Lives that “the unmarried women love beautiful and good women” (Evans: 1978, 34).
Homosexuality had a high status among the Dorians. In fact, homoerotic activity was more highly regarded in Sparta than in Athens during the later classical period. Male homosexuality often took the form of paiderestia – the love of an older experienced man and a younger, more inexperienced man. Paiderestia was a form of religious, military, educational and sexual training. The experienced man initiated the younger man into men’s mysteries. The holy act of transferring semen conveyed an older man’s soul power to the youth and was called “inspiring” the inexperienced man (Evans: 1978, 34). In fact, this is still practiced to this day by some of the Kahunas of Hawai’I as explained to me by Kahunas I met there.
Doric paiderestia is a continuation of familiar shamanic and religious concepts that date back to the Stone Age. The Dorians, though coming later than the Mycenaeans, remained much closer to the earlier sexual traditions. According to the German scholar Bethe, the myth that homosexual men are always contemptuous toward women flounders on the fact that precisely in Sparta and Lesbos, where man-love and woman-love are best documented, the sexes associated more freely and women had more economic and political power than anywhere else in the Greek city-states (Evans: 1978, 33-35).
Historically, social acceptance for homosexuals is associated with a high social status for women. Patriarchal authorities have always oppressed both women and men who “act like women.” Therefore women and homosexuals often have a natural bond born from a personal understanding of the nature of oppression. Witches often tout that the Craft is female affirming; according to this historical reference, the Craft is also homosexual affirmative. Although in Faerie Witchcraft, the Charge of the Goddess is not used much, we do often work with the Divine Twins who are intimately connected to worship in Sparta. The Divine Twins Castor and Polydeuces, the youths of Zeus, are native to Sparta. They grew up with Helen in the house of King Tyndareos, and They fetched Their sister back from Aphidna in Attica.
In the ancient Greek world, these Gods were referred to as Dios Kouroi, Kouretes or Kabeiroi. The worship of heavenly riders of white horses clearly derives from a much older common Indo-European heritage, paralleled in Vedic mythology by the shining horse-owning brothers called Asvin. Twin horsemen who rode white horses were also the legendary founders of ancient Thebes. These divine Twins, found in various cultures, are described as being in the service of the Goddess. The Dioskouroi were called Tyndedaridai in Sparta and had a special relationship to the dual kingship of Sparta. The Spartan cult of the Divine Twin lovers flourished in the context of a warrior society in which initiations included an encounter with death (Burkert: 1985, 212).
In another rite, young Lakedaimonian males, in preparation for combat, flagellated themselves and engaged in same-sex eroticism at a festival honoring Diana (Conner: 1997, 69). [i]
The worship of the Brauronian Artemis by homosexually active men was brought from Tauris (Taurica Chersonnesus or Crimea) to Attica by two male lovers called Orestes and Pylades ”whose romantic attachment to each other has made their names synonymous for devoted self-sacrificing friendship.” Orestes was the son of Agamemnon, who had incurred the wrath of the Furies by avenging his father’s death. The Oracle at Delphi told him the only way to pacify the Furies was to bring the statue of Taurian Artemis from Tauris to Attica. Upon arriving on Tauris, Orestes and his faithful friend Pylades were seized to be sacrificed; however, Orestes’ sister Iphigenia happened to be the officiating Priestess of Artemis there (Berens: 95).
Previously, Iphigenia was to be sacrificed by her step-father Agamemnon prior to the Trojan War, but Artemis transported her to Tauris on the north shore of the Black Sea and left a deer in her place to be sacrificed instead. She became one of the legendary women called aoroi, or those who die before their time. These immortal female attendants of Artemis are often renamed Hekate (Von Rudloff: 1999, 43-70).
With the help of his male lover, Orestes and Iphigenia recognized each other and they all escaped back to their homeland. They stole the statue of Taurian Artemis and carried it with them to Brauron in Attica. Thus She became known as the Brauronian Artemis and human victims were bled to death in both Athens and Sparta (Berens: 96). The sacrifice to Artemis in Sparta at the Ortheia festival was scouring until blood came (Burkart: 1985, 152).
The revolting practice of offering human sacrifices to her continued until the time of Lycurgus, the great Spartan lawgiver, who put an end to it by substituting in its place one which was hardly less barbarous: namely, the scourging of youths, who were whipped on the altars of the Brauronian Artemis in the most cruel manner. Sometimes they expired under the lash, in which case their mothers, far from lamenting their fate, are said to have rejoiced, considering this an honorable death for their sons (Berens: 96).
It is interesting that initiations into the religion of the Divine Lover-Twins were associated with an encounter with death. This is similar to the modern Craft traditions where initiations are also associated with an encounter with death. This may reveal a connection between Spartan traditions and modern Wiccan traditions, referred to by a published Book of Shadows.
According to the Heritage dictionary, “youth” means a young person; especially a young man. So it seems that the “youth of Lacedemon in Sparta” refers to homosexuals and that the “due sacrifice” to the Spartan Artemis was scouring. If this historical reference was meant to include cross-sex flagellation, then surely the word maiden would also have been included to make clear the scourging was only with male and female partners.
The Charge of the Goddess says the youth made due sacrifice, and Berens states that the youth were the sacrifice. So in Sparta, in worship of Artemis “due sacrifice” was young men scourging other young men! Even though scourging was later introduced in Sparta to replace human sacrifice to the Goddess, sometimes the scourging was so severe that the Lacedemonian youth would perish. Presumably, this is what the Fararrs considered to be too gruesome to mention. Later in the Charge, the Goddess says She demands no sacrifice and so it is in modern times – but She will accept a sacrifice given freely with love.
Not only is Artemis mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess, but so are Diana and Aphrodite. Diana was famous for Her loving attachment to Her female attendants. Diana’s religion was organized like a bee hive, Her priestesses were called melissae or “bees” and Her high priestess was the queen of the bees. Diana was also served by a special class of antineirian priestesses. These particular priestesses were women who rejected marriage, loved hunting, were skilled warriors, hated patriarchal values, and enjoyed the company of other women and gender variant men. These priestesses danced around a sacred oak or beech tree at Ephesus in a circle with their shields and swords (Conner: 1997, 69). [ii]
Portraits of the gender variant priests of Diana called the megabyzoi were hung in Diana’s temples and in tombs contrary to the wishes of Quintillian, a Roman rhetorician of the 1st century CE. He insisted that painters and sculptors refrain from depicting any megabyzoi on aesthetic and moral grounds. Apparently, Quintillian thought these priests were ugly and indecent (Conner: 1997, 229). [iii] Unfortunately, Quintillian was not the last, frightened male to object to the flamboyant freedom of Qwyrs.
The megabyzoi wore a mixture of feminine, masculine and priestly articles of clothing. They shaved, powdered and painted their faces. They wore their hair in a feminine style by looping one lock in front of each ear. They also wore long-sleeved murix-purple garments decorated with golden circles, meanders, diamonds, swastikas, flowers and animals which were all sacred to the Goddess. The color of purple they wore was associated in the Greco-Roman empire with both royalty and effeminacy (Conner: 1997, 229). [iv]
The megabyzoi and melissae were not the only gender variant priests and priestesses who honored Diana with cross-dressing. In the kordax, a religious dance-drama, women dressed as men and wore lombai or “enormous artificial phalli” which they used for penetrating the male dancers who were dressed as women. Not only is the Goddess Diana homoerotic friendly, historically She is bisexual. Britomartis, Cyrene, and Anticleia were Diana’s female lovers who were the first to wear Diana’s gallant bow and arrow-holding quivers on their shoulders. So wrote Callimachus, the royal poet and lover of Pharaoh Ptolemy Philadelphus in his hymn to Diana (Conner: 1997, 69).
Aphrodite was above all a Goddess of love in all its forms, so much so that She was nicknamed Philommedes, “genital loving.” In fact, the Greek term aphrodisia, meaning the “things of Aphrodite,” refers to sexual intercourse according to the classical scholar K.J. Dover (Conner: 1997, 64). [v] Aphrodite has Her own bearded gender variant forms and through Her association with the castrated Cronus is linked to gender variant males. It is She who gave birth to Hermaphroditus, the essential divine form of gender variance. Her beloved priest Cinyras, a legendary ruler of Cyprus, was a transvestite and lover of Apollo. Even the apparently heterosexual favorite of Aphrodite and abductor of Helen, Paris was said to be “unwarlike and effeminate.” He was so favored by Aphrodite that She blessed him with a retinue of eunuchs (Conner: 1997, 64). [vi]
Since ancient times, the Goddess of Love — especially in Her form of Aphrodite Urania, or Heavenly Aphrodite — has been known as a patron of men-loving-men. K.J.Dover points out that in the homoerotic verse of Theogenes, his beloved is considered to be a “gift of Aphrodite” (Conner: 1997, 64). [vii] When Aphrodite appears as a hermaphrodite with female breasts and an erect phallus, She was called Aphroditos or Bearded Aphrodite. She was associated by the ancient Greeks not only with the planet Venus but also with the moon (Conner: 1997, 64). [viii]
In ancient times, this Goddess mentioned in the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess was certainly a patron of sex, one who did not discriminate based on who entered whom. Gardner’s fear and the inclusion of the condemnation of homosexuality in the brand of the Craft which bears his name was contrary to the way his own Witch teachers did things. Gardner’s initiator Dorothy Clutterbuck lived with Elizabeth Slatter instead of with her husband. Elizabeth was described by locals as Dorothy’s “companion” and she went by the name of “John.” Dorothy also wrote passionate love poetry to mysterious women (Hesselton: 2000, 126-176). Perhaps Gardner was caught up in the Christian moral of hating homosexuals, or perhaps he found Dorothy’s lesbianism to be sexy and only condemned male homosexuals.
The sexiness of lesbianism (making it tolerable) may be the reason why some Wiccans insist that two men cannot stand next to each other in circle or work together as partners while at the same time allowing women to stand and work together. Conceivably, it is merely practical for women to be together as there aren’t enough men to go around. However, if Wiccans were really serious about the “rule” for alternating men and women, they would only allow equal numbers of both sexes in circle. There have been many times that I have been in Wiccan circles where the women outnumbered the men. There seem to be objections only when two men stand or work together. Like so many other such “rules,” they are only enforced when useful. Regrettably, too many people still think for a man to emulate a woman is unnatural – that it is improper for a man to relinquish his privileged status. Regardless of prejudged attitudes, the Wiccan Goddesses’ all-encompassing, libertine-loving nature is still remembered in Wiccan circles every time She says, “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.”
The ancient association of transvestites with fertility
Perhaps the rule that men and women should stand alternating in a Wiccan circles is a mis-remembering of the tradition of cross-dressing in connection to fertility rites in ancient Britain.[ix] Those individuals who say that there is no place for sexually active homosexual priests or priestesses in a fertility religion should give more thought to the purpose transvestites played in most fertility folk customs throughout Britain. Of course not all transvestites are homosexual, but the language of queerness is applied to both and they both express a non-standard gender.
In Britain, the horse was the most frequent animal disguise used to promote fertility in humans, the earth and in animals. Appearing frequently along with the sexually endowed horse was a man dressed as a woman. In 33 ancient sites in eastern and northern Kent, the transvestite “Mollie” carried a broom and appeared with the “Hooden Horse.” In southern Wales, a black-faced transvestite called “Judy” also with their broom cavorted with “Punch” during the appearance of the Mari Llwyd or “Grey Horse” previously called the Aberyn bee y Llwyd or the “Bird with a grey beak.” In villages around Sheffield, the broom-wielding, black-faced transvestite was called “Our Old Lass.” He took on the role of an old woman appearing in a hero-combat play between the butcher and the sheep-headed horse called “Old Tup.” Even today during the Horn Dance, which still takes place at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire in early September, there is a transvestite called “Maid Marian” who carries a collecting ladle as a token of their sacred office and appears with the “Hobby Horse.”
The sacred transvestite did not only appear with holy horses, they appeared as an important figure in all manner of fertility rites. In Kent, during the Horn Fair at Charlton, any man could appear in public dressed in women’s clothing. On May Day the lucky London sweeps celebrated with “the Lord and the Lady,” who was, of course, a transvestite. In the May Day battle between the Queen of May and the Queen of Winter on the Isle of Man, the Queen of Winter was a man.
“Moggies” together with his husband can still be seen during the fertility rites on May Day at Ickwell in Bedfordshire. In north Wales the principal character of the fertility dances held in May was the transvestite “Cadi.” The transvestite “Bessie” blessed the ceremony of Plough Monday while the transvestite “Betty” carrying a broom sanctified the Goathlan Plough Stots in north Yorkshire the following Saturday. Ritual cross-dressing for the purpose of promoting fertility was a worldwide folk custom of antiquity which was first recorded in Europe around 400 CE by Severian when he wrote about the kalends (Bord: 1982, 201-218).
Cross-dressers appeared at many fertility folk customs throughout ancient Europe. Sometimes the man (like the Cadi) was dressed as a woman only from the waist down. The image of a man dressed as a woman (in part or completely) carrying a broom was an essential ingredient in most rites to invoke fertility. Feasibly, this is in honor of the role that the mythic bisexual progenitor played in the creation of life on earth. Similar to the image of the brush and pole of the broom which they carried, the image of a single person embodying both sexes implies the psychological/physical/energetic/mystic union of male and female. This is not the union which comes after creation, but their union prior to the forming of men and women that is the source of maleness and femaleness. Thus gender variant individuals participate naturally in the source of creation. To honor them is to honor the act of creation itself thus promoting fertility for man and beast.
What could Qywr magic look like in today’s world?
The Holy loves us with the same love with which we love each other, but raised to the level of the Divine.
–Victor H. Anderson
The Minoan Brotherhood and Sisterhood were created in the 1970s by Edie Buczynski and Lady Miw because they were frustrated with the homophobic attitudes enshrined within the Gardnerian tradition. Part of the Minoan tradition’s mission was to do magic to promote the social acceptance and legal equality of GBLTQ folks. In the Minoan Brotherhood, the Great Goddess of our people is the Mother of the Divine male Lover-Gods. This is similar to the Faerie Tradition of Witchcraft which views the Star Goddess as the progenitor of all life in the universe. Her first born are the Divine Twin-Lovers who can be male-male, female-female, or male-female pairs. They switch gender at will to appear to us in the most suitable and helpful form. They also appear in diverse shapes, sometimes terrifyingly awesome or stunningly beautiful. They always appear in the form which has our best intentions at heart.
This mythology is similar to many different cultures throughout time and in diverse places. Many ancient peoples not only recognized the social reality of homosexuals born of heterosexuals but also recognized their value to society as well. In the recent past, Qwyrs had lost all standing in society but were still valued for their entertainment and decorating skills. Now that the will to oppress homosexuals/bisexuals/transsexuals/queers is lessening in society because of the weakening power of religious ideologues, once again gender variant people can be valued for the multi-skilled talents they so often possess, as well as for simply being who they are.
The mythology of a Mother Goddess and Twin-Lovers is ideally suited to informing Qwyr religion, myths, customs and magic, not only because of its venerable history but also because of its simplicity and beauty. The mythos of a primal Goddess giving birth to Divine Twins of indeterminate gender is so powerful because such a mythic arrangement naturally participates in the magical triangle of manifestation. The power of the One becoming Two and the Two becoming One is the power of creation itself!
The fact that Divine transsexuals such as Ymir, Vishnu as Mohini, Shiva Ardhanarishvara, Baphomet, Hermaphroditus, Mollie, Judy or Bessie are associated with creation and fertility is because They can bridge the gap between women and men and directly show us that within every man and woman lies the power of creation. Every man has female hormones, and every woman has male hormones, each person with their own unique balance.
Utilizing the power of creation — which is the power of love and desire — provides the ecstasy that raises power directly from our bodies and feeds our spells and magics. The use of ecstasy as a main path to the Witch Power is a specialty of gender variant covens. Qwyr folks are adept at ecstatic states which bridge the gap and discharge the force needed for spells because we naturally understand in our guts the intimate connection of ecstasy and creation. This may be why even during the worse times of our persecutions, Qwyr folks were often associated with creativity. This would explain the prevalent folk custom of including a transsexual in fertility rites to represent the ecstasy of union that empowers all kinds of fertility and creativity.
Qwyr culture not only has a spiritual role but also has a supporting role for heterosexual culture. Heterosexual pairings can create families based on bonds of love and caring for each other. However, it is the bonds of love and caring between men and other men as well as women with other women that creates community. It is the circle of community that surrounds the family units to protect them and provide services. Perhaps it is the Great Goddess’ design that we help each other. Heterosexual people give birth and nourishment to Qwyr people who in turn provide multiple services that enriches and enlivens society.
In today’s modern times we can forgo human sacrifice. Our Gods no longer demand blood sacrifice, as ancient Pagan societies started changing their beliefs in the need for and efficacy of blood sacrifice, in addition to recognizing its cruelty. Governments are now the arbitrators of human sacrifice, demanding their populace (but not the politicians) sacrifice their lives and livelihood to their gods of war.
We also don’t need paiderestia as an accepted social institution any more. Now we know the damage done to children from abuse by adults in power is counterproductive to healthy minds and normal social relations. In turn, the damage done to pedophiles destroys their sense of compassion, social appropriateness and their ability to relate to others without controlling them. This type of behavior can lead to abuse of power over others because that is what sex with students by their teachers is often based on. Those with smaller, less encumbered egos tend to try to please those they perceive as more powerful. This kind of abuse of power over others is passed by example onto other generations, destroying slowly the social fabric of community. One cannot build community while hiding sexual misconduct; eventually it will destroy any trust upon which a community is built.
Besides a mythology to help build forms of worship, one needs a healthy understanding of the relationship of sex and love. Victor Anderson used to say that if we had a real understanding of sex, we would feel no dichotomy between love and sex. Our sexual sense is one of our natural senses. It is just as natural as seeing something beautiful and feeling pleasure in the sight of it, or hearing a beautiful sound or music and being transported to an ecstatic state. In today’s world most of us are sexual cripples, crippled by religious morals, sexual predation, a lack of sexual education and a true understanding of sexual abuse as a power play. Most people in the societies of today are taught to ignore or be afraid of our sexual urges that separate our bodies from our nature and the nature of the world. It is no wonder why many people feel disassociated from others and the world.
Victor also said that the association of sex with guilt was accomplished by men who wanted all the power they could grab. They betrayed women and girls by enslaving the weaker willed into submission and taught this perversion down through the generations. Because people were not allowed to choose their own sex partner, but were told who they could and couldn’t have sex with by men in authority, sexual predation and abuse has been nourished up till modern times. Masses of people have easily become perverted into hate which has fed racism, intolerance and the belief that greedy men are natural rulers that ought to be emulated. Because love and sex have become separated, the natural urges that drive evolution became separate from natural sexuality. Our sexuality, once separated from our natural urges, became associated with violence and war. This is the force behind the world’s ubiquitous rape culture that blames women for the indiscretions of men.
Sex magic, on the other hand, can change all that because of its marvelous healing and creative power! It is wonderfully healing, self-empowering, and creative, because rites of sex can allow us to remove the fear, confusion, guilt and shame that authorities use to control us. The Divine desire to create the universe is reflected in our own personal desire for sex. When we realize that we as animals have the right to have sex with any consenting adult, we are naturally closer to the Divine power of creation because we are exercising our own choice rather than someone else’s.
In the ancient Pagan cultures, there are many examples of both acceptance and tolerance and in some cases an elevated status for Qwyr people. These attitudes were reflected in the myths of their Gods and in their laws. It isn’t until more modern times that homosexuality was raised from an ordinary Christian sin, like eating shrimp, into a crime that exceeds the prohibitions of even the 10 Christian Commandments. Consider how often some fundamentalist monotheists bear false witness with the lies they spread about Qwyr folk.
Modern Witchcraft culture itself has struggled with acceptance or tolerance of gender variant behavior. On the one hand is the libertine nature of the Goddess accepts all love and pleasure, which translates into a respect for all of human nature. On the other hand are the centuries of accrued prejudice layered onto the psyches of people by authorities. However, even Gardernians who had no problem with Qwyrs would often bend the rules of conduct because they recognized how ridiculous the rules were. It just wasn’t talked about, like so many other Qwyr things. However, not all Traditional Witchcraft traditions view Qwyrs with the same ambivalence. Some still remember the traditional inclusion of the transvestite in fertility rites to invoke the power of creation.[x]
Berens, E.M. Myths and Legends of Greece and Rome. Clark and Maynard: New York, n.d.
Bord, Janet and Colin. Earth Rites: Fertility Practices in Pre-industrial Britain. Granada Publishing: London, 1982.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Trans. John Raffan. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, 1985.
Conner, Randy; David and Mariya Sparks. Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit. Bath Press: Bath, 1997.
Evans, Arthur. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Fag Rag Books: Boston, 1978.