Monday, November 26, 2007

LGBT heritage

It's interesting to see how the existence of LGBT heritage is increasingly being highlighted - mainly by the LGBT community:

Gay History - A Trail Exploring LGBT Heritage In London
The elegantly titled House of Homosexual Culture is another new project allowing Londoners to discover, discuss and enjoy gay cultural heritage.

Intercom: LGBT Heritage Project & LGBT History Month
LGBT Heritage Project. Heritage project across the South West Peninsula.

Manchester Pride LGBT Heritage Trail

LGBT Black History (alas, still suppressed)

Artifacts & Disclosures: Michigan's LGBT Heritage

Ellen Galford on Edinubrgh's LGBT heritage
“The Scottish capital, once a byword for a particularly narrow and hard-hearted Puritanism--has undergone an incredible transformation into a vibrant, diverse and cosmopolitan city.

“Edinburgh's LGBT communities have played a significant part in making this happen. This project is a unique historic record of our lives, our political struggles, and our cultural contributions not just to the city, but to society as a whole.”
The Rainbow Project – Blackpool’s LGBT heritage
Collecting Blackpool’s LGBT Heritage – the Rainbow Project seeks to preserve and safeguard the experiences of Blackpool’s LGBT community

LGBT History Month (February 2008) celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT community.

Queer History Links - a comprehensive listing of links to sites about LGBT history.

LGBT Religious Archives Network
Coordinates identification, collection and preservation of personal papers and organizational records from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender religious archives.

Stonewall LGBT history

Monday, November 05, 2007

BSA study day:

British Sociological Association
Sociology of Religion Study Group

November Study Day 2007
Religion, Spirituality and Gay Sexuality
Saturday 17 November 2007, 10:30am - 4:30pm
University of the West of England
Organiser: Dr Stephen Hunt.

The subject of gay sexuality and religion has become one of the most contentious issues for the contemporary Christian Church. It has also developed as a concern for many of the other major world religions, as well as a number of new expressions of religiosity and spirituality. This study day, to be held at the University of the West of England (UK), seeks to explore a number of themes related to religion, spirituality and non-heterosexuality

Yvonne Aburrow (Bath Spa University)
Is there a distinct queer spirituality? An examination of queer imagery and themes in contemporary Paganism and Christianity

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy National Coming Out Day

Apparently today is National Coming-Out Day in the USA. So happy coming-out day to everyone in the world, whatever your sexual orientation!

To celebrate, Kittredge Cherry has made a coming-out day video.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A heretic and proud of it

Are you a heretic?
created with
You scored as Pelagianism

You are a Pelagian. You reject ideas about man's fallen human nature and believe that as a result we are able to fully obey God. You are the first Briton to contribute significantly to Christian thought, but you're still excommunicated in 417.











Chalcedon compliant

















As a person who doesn't believe in the Trinity, and believes that all human beings are the children of the Divine (which is both one and many) and that we all carry the divine spark within (though I don't reject matter as the Gnostics did), it was very difficult to answer most of the questions.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

a victory for good sense

I am delighted to see that this employment tribunal made the correct decision in upholding the rights of LGBT people against someone distributing hate literature (mistranslated and taken out of context from the Bible) against them:
Sexual orientation and religion or belief cases
A significant Employment Tribunal case on the overlap between religion or belief and sexual orientation discrimination law is Mr T Apelogun-Gabriels v London Borough of Lambeth (2301976/05 (5016/62) Feb 2006): The complainant, a Christian, was dismissed for distributing ‘Biblical extracts’ to members of work-based prayer group and ‘interested parties’. He used a search mechanism on a CD of the Bible to locate, download and printout a range of quotes which his employers, the London Borough of Lambeth, considered homophobic, and distributed the literature across the workplace. The Tribunal said that the “material … on any view was totally hostile to those of a homosexual sexual orientation” and the fact that the employer provided a prayer room showed that it did not seek to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.

The tribunal concluded that a non-Christian who distributed similar literature would have been treated in a similar fashion and that it was the complainant’s conduct in distributing homophobic literature which was the reason for his dismissal, not his religious beliefs.

This is an important case on the dividing line between religion or belief and sexual orientation discrimination. It makes clear that tribunals will be reluctant to give latitude to homophobic actions apparently based on the religious beliefs of the perpetrators. It is an example of the delicate balancing act between religion or belief and sexual orientation discrimination. Equal opportunities policies should take account of both. However, clashes between the two will cause difficulties. Many trade union representatives and employers will be inclined to treat any homophobic behaviour with the utmost seriousness and will examine with scepticism claims that it is protected by the religion or belief Regulations. The outcome of Apelogun-Gabriels should encourage them that that is the right approach, but situations may arise in which the finding the right balance between the two is more difficult.

The full report is available at

~ from UCU Equality and Employment Rights newsletter

Friday, August 31, 2007

Kitt's on the radio

Rev. Kittredge Cherry will be interviewed LIVE ON NATIONAL RADIO tonight about the Senator Larry Craig gay sex scandal!

The Alan Colmes Show: 8 p.m. Pacific (11 p.m. Eastern) Thurs., Aug. 30

You can call in with questions at 1-877-FOR-ALAN (1-877-367-2526).

Colmes contacted Kitt today about her offer to send Senators a free copy of her book "Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide."

You can hear "The Alan Colmes Show" on 80 radio stations nationwide and online at:

Colmes is best known as the moderate liberal half of the Fox News Channel's political debate program "Hannity and Colmes."

For more info, visit Kitt's new blog:

Rev. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who was at the forefront of the international debate on sexuality and spirituality as National Ecumenical Officer for Metropolitan Community Churches. She offers gay-friendly spiritual resources at

Her books include "Equal Rites," "Jesus in Love" and "Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Aspects of the Divine Feminine in Christianity

Robert Graves wrote that there were three aspects of the Goddess (Divine Feminine). Contemporary Wiccans would also add the sexual aspect of the feminine.

They would also criticise the apparent lack of a crone (wisdom) and the sexual aspect in conventional Christianity.

However, in Orthodoxy, they have the festival of the Myrrh-Bearing Women - the women who anointed the body of Christ after his death; and they have the Holy Wisdom herself, Hagia Sophia, an energy of God, I think. They also have Salome (one of the Myrrh-Bearing Women), who I think was a midwife according to tradition. And of course they have a deep reverence for the Theotokos.

One of the functions of the midwife is also as layer-out - the one who tends the body after death. That's the role that the Myrrh-Bearing Women were performing - and is associated with the Crone in Wicca.

Add to that Mary Magdalene as the Bride - the sexual aspect - and you have the full set.

Maiden - young Virgin Mary
Bride - Mary Magdalene
Mother - Mary Theotokos
Midwife - Salome
Layer-out - The Myrrh-Bearing Women
Wisdom - Sophia

Update 5-3-2008: the Pope has just slammed the door in the face of feminist Catholics

Coptic art

Did anyone else see the fabulous Art of Eternity programme with Andrew Graham-Dixon? There was some beautiful Coptic art - very geometric and happy-looking saints. You could see the connection with the art of Celtic Christianity as well (the Coptic Church was allegedly the first to evangelise Britain). Wonderful stuff.

Monday, August 13, 2007

CHAT 2007

Joint paper by me & Nick at CHAT 2007.
Archaeology & Paganisms: a clash of cultures?
Nick Hanks & Yvonne Aburrow, English Heritage & Bath Spa University.

Both science and religion involve a form of faith; the former involves faith in reason and the scientific method; the latter involves faith in the unseen or spiritual realm.
However, the purview of science extends only to the material realm, as science chooses to exclude the spiritual realm from consideration.

Archaeology is sometimes claimed to be a science, sometimes an art, and perhaps even a craft. Its practitioners range from rationalist scientific materialists to postmodern theorists. Both ends of the spectrum look down on the other.

Paganisms are sometimes thought of as religions, sometimes as spirituality, art or craft. Pagans range from counter-cultural festival-goers (the ones most visibly encountered by the heritage sector) to academics and professionals (including archaeologists) attracted by the intellectual and spiritual heritage of ancient paganisms, and the post-modern attitude of contemporary Pagans, who acknowledge
the multivalency of truths. There is sometimes conflict between the two ends of the
spectrum in Paganisms.

Both archaeology and contemporary Paganisms have their origins in the modern and
post-modern discourses of the last three hundred years. Both are misrepresented
by the media (as explored in "Archaeology is a Brand", Holtorf 2007). Despite this,
both are proving to be highly popular. Both Archaeology and Paganisms have an
institutional, organised aspect (IFA and Pagan Federation). Both have an experimental aspect which is often misunderstood (the recent excavation of the Ford Transit, and Chaos Magicians who perform Tellytubbies rituals). Both have a maverick anti-establishment fringe from which they seek to disassociate themselves (metal detectorists and Stonehenge protesters), but which those outside the discourse regard as the same group.

Ironically, the two extremes (hardened rationalists among archaeologists and
counter-cultural holists among Pagans) have more in common with each other than
they do with the rest of their respective discourses, in that they are disinclined to
listen to others’ perspectives. Sadly it is these who generally get the media attention.

The more moderate in both discourses are inclined towards compromise and
dialogue – an example of hope and charity.

There has sometimes been conflict between archaeologists and Pagans (in the areas
of human remains and access to sacred sites), but due to their shared origins, there
has more often been considerable mutual influence between Paganisms and
archaeology; for example landscape archaeology drew on the earth mysteries
tradition for ideas of phenomenology; and contemporary Pagans have revised their
foundational myths in response to developments in archaeological and historical
theories. This paper developed from the research and personal experience of the
two authors in both Paganism and Archaeology. Both practice Wicca and Druidry.

Friday, July 20, 2007

light and water

One of my favourite poems:


If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

From Philip Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings, Faber & Faber Ltd, 1964. Reproduced without permission.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Interesting article in The New York Times about two-spirit people:

The bias that many gay Indians say they have experienced from other Indians is a legacy of the encounter between Indians and white European colonizers, according to Brian J. Gilley, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont, who is the author of “Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country.”

Historically, in many tribes, individuals who entered into same-sex relationships were considered holy and treated with utmost respect and acceptance, said Dr. Gilley. “Prior to European contact, sexuality was not a determining factor in someone’s identity,” he said. “It was the role in the community. Gender was tied to that role. Who you had sex with was not a concern. The Europeans come, Native American societies are thrust in rapid change, and some societies incorporate European ideals quickly.”

The group have their own website/blog: North East Two Spirit Society.

Friday, June 15, 2007

queer Wicca article

My article is now online at the GLBTQ Encyclopedia!
Wicca -
Primarily a nature religion that seeks to commune with the divine through the contemplation and celebration of nature and its mysteries, Wicca and other contemporary pagan traditions celebrate
our existence in this world.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Queer Wicca talk

In other news, I will be giving a talk on Queer Wicca at the Cardiff LGB Mardi Gras on 1st September. They're having a faith tent, and there will be Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Pagans, all showing that you don't have to be homophobic if you are religious or spiritual. In fact, of course, I'd say being a homophobe automatically disqualifies you from the label 'spiritual'.

All acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals

An exploration of Queer themes and traditions in contemporary Paganism: the tribe; gender-bending and androgyny; themes of darkness, nature, and vulnerability; finding the queer in the divine, and the divine in the queer; subject-SUBJECT consciousness.

What do we mean by "respect"?

The text of the talk I gave at the APT conference (26 May 2007: Gods and Sacred Places) is up at my other blog.

What does "respect" mean? A discussion of responses to the reburial question
Yvonne Aburrow

Not all Pagans feel strongly that ancient human remains should be reburied. Yet those who do not feel that way do not lack respect for their ancestors, they just show that respect differently. This paper will examine what different groups mean by respect, and look at the discourses from which these meanings emerge; on the one hand, a 'timeless' and holistic concept of landscape and a view of archaeologists as rationalist scientists, and on the other, a sense of landscape as a historical construct, and of archaeologists as restoring connections with our ancestors, and a range of positions in between. Further, it will suggest a selection of possible compromises on the treatment of human remains.

  • What happens to the body and consciousness after death?
  • What is the ontological status of human remains?
  • How did Ancient Britons treat their dead?
  • Whose ancestors?
  • Respect as reburial - the 'holistic' / animist discourse
  • Respect as remembering - the 'memory' discourse
  • The Hávamál and the Popol Vuh
  • The discourse of scientific materialism
  • Implications for ancient human remains
  • Compromise options

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

pride symbols

Symbols of gay pride such as the lambda, the rainbow flag, the pink triangle and help to make glbtq people more visible and also act as a good substitute if your gaydar is at a low ebb. There are also a couple of monuments in Amsterdam and New York.
Symbols of glbtq pride are diverse in origin and meaning, but they serve the crucial purpose of rendering visible communities that have been erased or marginalized.
glbtq-specific dialect and other folk customs are also a fascinating manifestation of gay culture.
Folklore consists of traditional aspects of culture generally passed on by example or observation rather than in writing--jokes, stories, personal experience narratives, folk speech, songs, customs, various arts and crafts, and numerous other genres.

Within the gay and lesbian subculture, one of the primary functions of folklore is to aid in acculturation. No one is brought up to be homosexual; lesbians and gay men must somehow learn to function successfully with other people of their own kind. Folklore helps them in this learning process, aiding in identifying and communicating with other homosexual people, fostering subcultural cohesion, and helping to cope with conflict.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Many academics are critical of Wikipedia, mainly because students often lift huge chunks from it to put in their essays. Dismissing it entirely, however, is unfair. The editors are striving to improve the quality of articles by adding references and weeding out biased statements and outrageous claims. As the editorial work is done by volunteers, this takes a lot of time. Many articles are written by academics (and are properly sourced) and those that are not properly referenced or are biased have a big warning displayed at the top of the page. People who are critical of Wikipedia should get involved and edit the articles, not moan about it.

I tend to use it as a way of gaining an overview of any particular topic, in much the same way as I use the Introduction to... series of books, or the Beginner's Guide to... books. It is not the done thing to cite those in essays either, but they are very useful.

The root problem with student essays is not that they cite Wikipedia or are guilty of plagiarism; the problem is that they don't know how to write properly, so they turn to these means to get the work done. Do they still teach the arts of précis, rhetoric, logic and grammar in schools? I think not - and that, it seems to me, is the source of the problem.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

gay surreal abstract art

Technophilia by Frank Pietronigro
Frank Pietronigro's paintings are like a surrealist 3D version of Miro's paintings, with a dash of Kandinsky - well, that's the nearest I can get to describing it.

He also does installations, including one he did in free-fall on a NASA flight, and Documents: Deconstructing Homophobic Signifiers, where he stencils homophobic slang on the floor in salt and then people walk on it, literally destroying the homophobic words. What a great idea - kind of a magical act, really.

Another of his projects that was even more of a ritual was Angels of Alcatraz, where a bunch of people dressed as angels visited Alcatraz and filled it with positive energy, embodying a specific positive word and projecting their healing energies into anywhere that felt particularly negative. The aim was to send the energy across time to the prisoners. How beautiful.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lionel Blue on tap

Wow, you can get old Thoughts for the Day and search by author and/or date - which means you can listen to the lovely Lionel Blue whenever you want. It's a pity you can't search by topic and religion, though.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Meet the Sisters

Meet the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Embarrassingly, I almost forgot to include them in my essay! How could I miss out such wonderful people? Not only do they dress in fabulous outfits, they also do wonderful work in raising awareness - of safer sex, LGBT rights, and AIDS. Their spiritual beliefs vary from atheist and agnostic to "a nice mix of Judaeo-Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Wicca-Faerie Traditions. I guess I'm a Sufi of sorts". And they have such wonderful names - Sister Tilly Comes Again, for example. And their motto / mission statement is about spreading love and joy and dispelling guilt. Wonderful!

the art of Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Featured in Kittredge Cherry's latest book, Art that Dares, Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin's work is a series of dramatic (sometimes disturbing, as in the series In Hate We Trust) photos. Her series Ecce Homo (key scenes from the life of Christ with a queer twist) is amazing. It received a very varied reception; some Christians saw it as a sacred expression of Jesus' relationship with outcasts; others saw it as a "satanic trick" and one man attacked two of the pictures with an axe - what a sicko. Ohlson Wallin based the tableaux on classic paintings. The full story appears in Art that Dares (Cherry, 2007). Check out Ohlson Wallin's website; better still, buy the book.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

being 'musical'

Stephen Hough (Summerskill, 2006: 210) suggests a non-essentialist explanation for the association of gay men with the arts:
“To use ‘musical’ as a euphemism for homosexual is rather flattering when you think about it. It suggests a sensitivity, a creativity, an ability to attune to sound and beauty. … It is not an accident that music and the arts were always a tolerant environment for gay men. It was a world where appreciation for the ‘feminine’ was not seen as a weakness, and where strength did not have to manifest itself in violence and coarseness. … It was the perfect place in which to indulge a sense of the extravagant and exuberant, as well as offering ideal camouflage. A mask, a costume, an affecting melody, a graceful leap were all perfect alibis for those whose affections danced to a different tune.”

Queer occultism

Occultism exists at the interface between the Pagan revival and Christianity, and is occasionally relevant to the theme of queer spirituality, since the Pagan revival had its roots in occult traditions and radical counter-cultures of the nineteenth century (Hutton, 1999: 72), and some prominent gay men were involved in occultism (Owen, 2004: 215) and Paganism (Hutton, 1999: 50), and some moved between traditions. Edward Carpenter had been ordained as an Anglican priest in order to take up an Oxford fellowship before turning to Paganism and socialism (Taylor, 1998); Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson wrote books advocating a return to Paganism (Hutton, 1999: 29). Oscar Wilde and some of his family were involved in the Theosophical Movement -- though sadly the movement did not support him after his arrest, trial and conviction (Owen, 2004: 112). Wilde was received into the Catholic church on his deathbed (Holland, 1985 [1948]: 14), and spent a lot of time in Reading prison reading the New Testament in Greek (Wilde, 1996 [1905]: 63).

Friday, May 18, 2007

James Bidgood

Precious few people seem to have heard of the fabulous Pierre et Gilles, so presumably even less have heard of the lovely James Bidgood (who influenced their work).

I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of Corps Divins (P & G's more recent work) off the Marketplace of - and the photos are beautiful. Particularly the Mercury one.

Anyway, I googled for James Bidgood and found more information than I had previously. He made a film called Pink Narcissus in the 60s and you can now get it on DVD.

Here are some of Bidgood's photos:Pan by James Bidgood
Pan by James Bidgood

From the film Pink NarcissusFrom the film Pink Narcissus

Thursday, May 17, 2007


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Yip, A K T (2003). ‘Spirituality and Sexuality: An Exploration of the Religious Beliefs of Non-Heterosexual Christians in Great Britain.’ Theology and Sexuality, 9: 2 pp 137-154. Available from Ebscohost, Academic Search Elite, accessed 30-4-2007

Pierre et Gilles

The French photographers Pierre et Gilles have produced numerous images of Christian saints, Hindu deities, and classical deities (Marcadé and Cameron, 1997: 197-223), and many of them are gay icons in one way or another (Vallet, 2006). The series of photographs of saints begins in 1987 with an image of Saint Sebastian, looking remarkably calm as he is transfixed with arrows, lashed to a tree-stump with garlands of roses. Sebastian has been a symbol of same-sex love at least since the Renaissance (Conner et al, 1997: 297), hence Derek Jarman’s remarkable film of the same name, and Pierre et Gilles created two more images of him in 1994 (Sébastien de la Mer) and 1996 (Le martyre de Saint Sébastien). Sebastian was also painted by numerous Renaissance painters, including Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed ’Il Sodoma’ (Conner et al, 1997: 85). Pierre et Gilles have produced numerous other saints and deities, all depicted in an ornate and beautiful style. These include Joan of Arc, presumably chosen by the artists for her gender-bending activities and possible lesbianism (Conner et al, 1997: 190), whom they depicted in 1988 and 1997, dressed in armour and gazing into the distance. They also produced an image of Sainte Affligée, known in English as Uncumber or Wilgefortis, a legendary figure who grew a beard to avoid marriage (Becker-Huberti, undated). There are numerous other saint pictures, some of which seem to have homoerotic connotations, but mostly seem somewhat randomly selected.

Pagan deities that they have depicted include Adonis (1992), Amphytrite (1989), Bacchus (1991), Medusa (1990), Orpheus (1990), Venus (1991, 1992 and 2000), Adonis (1992 and 1999), Eros (2003), Mercury (2001), Ganymede (2001), and Diana (1997). Medusa is sometimes seen as a lesbian icon (Conner et al, 1997: 229). Orpheus chose male lovers after failing to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld, and it was for this that the Maenads tore him apart; legend has it that his friend Sappho buried his head (Conner et al, 1997: 258). Adonis was the eromenos of Dionysos (Conner et al, 1997: 43). Eros was also a symbol of same-sex love in ancient Greece (Conner et al, 1997: 132), among the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians for example. In alchemical texts, Mercury was frequently depicted as an androgyne; in Pierre et Gilles’ 2001 work, he appears as a graceful and muscular youth. Ganymede is well-known as the eromenos of Zeus, and the term Ganymede (or its Latin equivalent, ‘catamite’) was used as a term for young men who took the receptive role in homoerotic relationships in the medieval period by both pro- and anti-homosexual writers (Conner et al, 1997: 155). According to mythology, Diana shunned the company of men and preferred the company of women. It would seem from this brief survey that the association of the deity or saint with same-sex love or gender-bending may be a factor in their selection by Pierre et Gilles as a subject.

The Divine Feminine

The third wave of feminism was characterised by a decrease in emphasis upon separatist strategies and by an increased awareness of women-loving women and women of colour and the problematisation of the concept of gender (Juschka, 2001: 568). This development was reflected in theology and the study of religions by feminist scholars engaging with queer theory.

The resurgence of interest in goddesses was a significant feature of the resurgence of Paganism (Hutton, 1999) There is also a move among some Christian feminists to refer to ‘Mother God’.

Whilst it seems logical for feminists to honour the divine feminine, a goddess, or goddesses, this can be problematic if there is assumed to be one God and one Goddess (as is often the case with popular books on Wicca). A single divine essence without gender, or including all possible genders and sexualities, or an assumption that there are many deities, some of whom might be queer, is relatively unproblematic from a queer perspective; but the idea that there is one God and one Goddess excludes the possibility of their being queer, can lead to heteronormativity, and is sometimes used to justify homophobia among Pagans.

However, many lesbians find the idea of a single Goddess attractive, sometimes because they have been molested by men (Foltz, 2000), sometimes because they do not feel the need for ‘balance‘ (Rose, undated).

The divine feminine is still not widely accepted in Christianity, although it is widely considered to be a defining feature of Paganism, belief in it being one of Three Principles of the Pagan Federation. It is very important to feminists and lesbians, although some queer-identified people might prefer the androgynous divine.

Foltz, TG (2000). Sober Witches and Goddess Practitioners: Women’s Spirituality and Sobriety. Diskus, 6: 1. [online] Available from: Accessed 3-5-2007

Hutton, Ronald (1999), The Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern Pagan witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Juschka, Darlene M., ed. (2001), Feminism in the Study of Religion: a Reader. London and New York: Continuum.

“Mama Rose” (undated). Why go Dianic? Accessed 3-5-2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

about the project

So far the project is framed around the question, "Is it meaningful to talk about queer spirituality?" (to which my answer is a resounding Yes). The reason I am asking the question is that some LGBT people reject the notion of a queer or LGBT spirituality because it sounds too much like essentialism; but because there is a distinctive queer experience, there is a distinctive queer theology and spirituality - not because LGBT people are inherently more spiritual, or only in the sense that people who occupy the role of outsider often have a shamanic quality about them (but the "outsideness" could be due to any aspect of the self, not just sexuality). As a bisexual, I do believe that spiritual androgyny is a desirable quality, as people who are stuck in one gender role are trying too hard to be normal, and it would be good if we all started just being ourselves and not worrying about conforming to gender roles; but then not everyone sees it that way.

Anyway, I am trying to identify distinct themes in queer spirituality, looking at Christianity, Paganism and some occultism. So far I have identified an interest in darkness (especially among LGBT Christians), receptivity and nature; justice and liberation; heroes and martyrs; finding the Queer in the Divine; finding the Divine in the Queer; the spiritual benefits of coming out. I am looking at LGBT art and writing, including blogs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the damage caused by homophobia

Just found this leaflet, "If I told you" via QuakerPagan. It's a collection of essays by LGBT college students. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy.
to all you gays and lesbians here at Gordon, who I’m sure will pick up this collection of essays as eagerly as I will, and will probably try to read it as nonchalantly, hi. I wish we knew each other, because we would probably all be a lot happier and healthier if we had a support system. Hopefully someday, even here at Gordon, we will.
The contributor goes on to suggest an experiment for straight people to help them understand what it's like being in the closet:
So here’s my experiment for you: Spend a day, in your head, imagining that people look on straight people the way they look on gay people, and adjust your behavior accordingly, to keep anyone from finding out where your desires lie.

Stop yourself every time you are going to comment aloud on the merits of the opposite sex. And when you are only thinking it to yourself, imagine that your whole life people have told you that the thoughts you are thinking are evil and hellbound. If you have a significant other, spend a day without them. Don’t contact them in public, or let anyone know how much you love them. Don’t let anyone know if you are thinking of entering into a committed, monogamous relationship with them (being gay means having to specify up front that your relationship will be committed and monogamous), and don’t let anyone know how safe and accepted and loved—how whole—their presence makes you feel. Because if people knew, who knows what they would say or how they would treat you from then on.

But don’t try this experiment for more than a day, because you will probably start to feel lonely, depressed and isolated, and there’s no need for that. You’re straight.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

the other Jesus

Black Jesus by Frank Hazen(a bit like the Black Madonna)

Well, obviously Jesus wasn't blond, or auburn-haired, but must have looked Jewish - "a brotha of colour" as the expressions website puts it. But there is a time-honoured tradition of portraying deities and holy people to look like oneself, so why not a Black Jesus? If you can have a white Jesus (and he obviously wasn't white), then why not a Black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Queer Jesus, even a female Jesus?

I have a black Tammuz and Ishtar that I made years ago. I made them because Tammuz and Ishtar were brown-skinned, and to honour all people of colour.

hard-boiled rationalists and woolly holists

Those hard-boiled rationalists who assume that all Pagans must be nutters (like the tiny handful of reburial extremists who want to rebury all human remains) are themselves being irrational by assuming this. A moment's thought (or even Googling) would reveal that there is a broad spectrum of Pagan views on this issue, as on many other issues. Most religions have a broad spectrum of views, in fact, so why should Pagans be any different? I agree that reburial extremists are nutters (why aren't they putting the same amount of energy into campaigning against climate change, for gods' sake?) but that's no reason to tar all Pagans with the same brush.

  • Dieneke's Anthropology Blog - "Let's hope that scientists and politicians around the world stand firm against this kind of muddle-headedness." (and take a look at some of the comments)
  • Fat man on a keyboard - "More madness"
  • Green Bamboo - "Never let it be said that rationality ever had anything to do with religion" (though in a reply to my comment, the author seems to have moderated his views somewhat)
The kind of people who are advocating reburial regardless of any archaeological value of the remains are out-and-out holists. All is one to them — time, space, matter and spirit — there is no acknowledgment of context or other viewpoints.

The kind of people who lump all religionists together as a bunch of loonies are hard-boiled materialists and rationalists who assume that the only truth is scientific materialism. These are the kind of people who are so amoral that they pursue knowledge without regard for the suffering it may cause.

I reject both these extremes.

new address for respect conference proceedings

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

podcast interview with me

Alun Salt interviewing me in a podcast about the issue of human remains in which I rant extensively about compromise and why it's such a good idea. Also, did I mention how much I think archaeology has contributed to contemporary Paganisms? I may have mentioned it once or twice...

It was nice that the interviewer (Alun Salt) decided to do the interview because he read the Guardian article and thought, surely this can't represent the views of all Pagans, as he knows a few Pagans and realises how diverse we are.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

some Pagan LGBT articles

sweet Jesus

What's wrong with the chocolate Jesus? Is it that his genitals are showing? Or is it that he is made of chocolate? OK, so it is milk chocolate - should have been dark chocolate, but hey. Also it's perhaps somewhat ambivalent that the sculpture appears to depict the crucified Christ, rather than the sweet Jesus image, but Christians have been saying for centuries that he is the source of all sweetness, so why not. Maybe the Catholics who complained are worried that someone is going to eat the sculpture, but don't they eat the body of Christ in the communion ritual?

Buddhists make holy images from butter. Pagans revere naked gods (some are so ithyphallic it makes your eyes water) and goddesses. Queer Christians celebrate Jesus in love. When the male disciples rebuked Mary Magdalene for pouring perfume over Jesus' feet, he praised her and rebuked them. I think he'd feel the same way about this. It's a sensual thing. There's even a song by Tom Waits called Chocolate Jesus.

Some of Cavallaro's other work is quite disturbing, particularly the stuff he does to perfectly harmless pillows. It's clearly meant to disturb, to make you think. Just because something disturbs one's sensibilities, that's no reason to ban it or make death threats against the artist. It's interesting that a Catholic spokesperson said "They would never dare do something similar with a chocolate statue of the Prophet Mohammed naked with his genitals exposed during Ramadan." No, because Muslims would make death threats... It's almost as if Muslim extremism is encouraging or licensing other forms of extremism, and there is a climate in which it will eventually become impossible to do or say anything for fear of offending someone. There was a documentary recently about the controversy that surrounded The Life of Brian, which speculated (probably correctly) that the film couldn't have been made in the current climate of fear.

Friday, March 23, 2007

finding a compromise

My new article has now been posted on the Honouring the Ancient Dead website:

Finding a Compromise – Keeping Places

in which I propose that keeping places would be a good compromise solution for the controversy over what to do with ancient human remains, so that archaeologists could still have access to them, but they would be in a sacred space, consecrated by Pagans. I also put forward some cheaper compromise options which might be a bit more realistic.

UPDATE 3-3-2008: The article has now been removed from the HAD website, so I have posted it at

UPDATE 29-5-2008: Ah, apologies to HAD, it turns out that they had merely moved the article, so it is available from their articles page.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

my personal view

I personally think that the archaeological value of human remains is equally as important as their spiritual value, and I think the archaeological insights we can gain from them contribute to their spiritual value.

I think that the spiritual, artistic, and archaeological views of the remains should be given equal consideration. This implies to me that a compromise solution is the best one.

But in any consideration of the responsibilities we owe to the dead, perpetuating (or restoring) the memory of them is just as important to many people as respecting the integrity of their burial, and I think archaeology contributes massively to restoring the memory of the ancient dead.

I also think that there are other issues we should be worrying about right now, like climate change, the war in Iraq, nuclear proliferation, and so on.

Monday, February 12, 2007

bloggers' responses

Some Pagan bloggers have responded to the request for reburial.
Other bloggers have also commented.

the storm breaks...

Interesting post at archaeology blog Cronaca about the British reburial issue, commenting on the recent Guardian article about it. At least the Guardian article also mentioned the more moderate response by Honouring the Ancient Dead to the issue, and quoted Emma Restall-Orr:
"It is not about claims for reburial or repatriation," said Emma Restall Orr, of Honouring the Ancient Dead, which recognises the value of some research. "We are talking to them to see what is possible rather than standing up with banners." Her group recognises that information from scientific work can be valuable, but she wants to see bones with the least potential for study returned.
I think there is a case for reviewing human remains held by museums, and perhaps improving some displays. The archaeological value of these remains should be paramount, however, in any negotiations, because many Pagans are very interested in archaeology, in the stories of the ancient dead, and much of modern Pagan practice (especially reconstructionists) is informed by archaeological insights into the past - even if only indirectly in the form of raised awareness that our ancestors were not "primitive". Indeed, Davies' claim that "Any story that is reconstructed from that data will be an imagined past, which usually turns out to be a blueprint of the present imposed upon the past," is pretty rich coming from him, a past-master at imposing his own blueprint of the present on the past (see a 1998 article written by him for a sample).

Friday, January 26, 2007

conscience, what conscience?

I find it hard to believe that anyone could be so tender of their conscience that they're prepared to deny children the opportunity to be adopted because their religion disapproves of the potential adopters' sexuality. People that bigoted don't have a right to claim that they have a conscience.

I'm delighted to see that John Davies has declared himself against the Church of England's and Catholic church's position on the issue of same-sex couples adopting children, and so has Joe Gordon.

You can't impose your religion on others. Over at the Cynical-C blog, Chris reports on Muslim cab drivers trying to ban alcohol in their cabs, a similar attempt to impose religion on others. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has distanced itself from Christian protests on the issue, and was advocating a more moderate position on the gay adoption issue:
"It must be possible for people to live their lives in the manner in which they choose as long as it does not impinge upon the rights of others," a spokesman for the Board of Deputies said Thursday.

"We hope that to this effect the regulations will be framed in such a way that allows for both the effective combating of discrimination in the provision of goods and services whilst respecting freedom of conscience and conviction." -- European Jewish Press
But I don't see how, in this case, such a compromise can be achieved - either none of the adoption services discriminate against same-sex couples, or there's hardly any point in adopting the law. Otherwise this leaves a loophole for religious groups to say that their conscience told them they had to harass gay people, burn down churches that aren't Christian enough, attack Pagan shops, or otherwise enact their bigoted opinions.

Monday, January 22, 2007

conference papers online

The proceedings of the Respect for Ancient British Human Remains: Philosophy and Practice conference are now online.

Three papers are available at the moment, with more to follow (one hopes).

"Persons, Things and Archaeology: Contrasting World-views of Minds, Bodies and Death" (PDF, 44Kb) - Piotr Bienkowski, University of Manchester

"Human Remains: The Acknowledgment of Sanctity" (PDF, 35Kb) - Emma Restall Orr, Honouring the Ancient Dead

"Bog Bodies: Representing the Dead" (PDF, 63Kb) - Melanie Giles, University of Manchester

Thursday, January 18, 2007

dialectics and the analysis of religion

I'm currently reading the anthology Gender, Religion and Diversity: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (eds Ursula King and Tina Beattie (2005, London & New York: Continuum, ISBN 0826488455) which has a chapter by Mary Keller pointing out that you can't have a gendered perspective independent of race (using Hegelian dialectics to support this). By extension, using Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital, I would say it was impossible to exclude class and sexuality from one's analysis.

Keller uses Rita Gross's concept of women both participating in and being excluded from certain religious practices to show that women's religious experience is complex and does not entirely equate with victim status. She then uses Franz Fanon's extension of Hegel's dialectics to show that white feminists are in a peculiarly privileged position.

Hegel (1807) argued that to become a person, one must experience oneself as a subject (thesis), then experience the other (antithesis) and only by the reciprocal recognition of the other as a subject in their own right could one move to the third stage, synthesis, and become a mature person. Hegel also said that if one perceived oneself as a master and others as slaves, then one could not move to the third stage, but must constantly bolster the sense of self by objectifying the other. Fanon showed that white people in the colonial context put themselves in the position of master and black people in the position of slave. The position was further complicated for white women by the fact that they were objectified by white men, but asserted their own (ambivalent) mistress-consciousness by objectifying black people. Thus a hierarchy was set up in which white men were at the top, white women next, then black men, then black women (each perceiving all others below them on the hierarchy as the other or slave). If we introduce class into this hierarchy, you then get upper-class white men at the top, followed by upper-class white women, middle-class white men, middle-class white women, etc etc etc. And if we introduce sexuality & religion into the mix, then clearly a white male heterosexual Christian (or possibly rationalist atheist these days) is going to be top of the heap.

Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital (not mentioned by Keller) shows that if you have the right discursive equipment (e.g. the ability to assert yourself in the face of people in positions of power), you will have more choices open to you in life than if you don't - so perhaps in the Hegel / Fanon analysis, the more you partake of the master consciousness, the better you will get on in this bizarrely hierarchical culture of ours. Of course Keller acknowledges (as do I) that "race" is a social construct, but nevertheless one that has very real effects.

If you doubt that this hierarchy still exists, you only have to look at the way in which academic discourse excludes anyone who doesn't speak the lingo or kow-tow to the notion that people who study religion must adopt the outsider position, or the way in which the colonialist and imperialist agenda and discourse is still being perpetrated on the Middle East. Or the marginalisation of Pagan discourse in just about all spheres.

In order to escape from the trap of this hierarchical view of the world, Keller suggests, we have to return to Hegel's original model of synthesis, whereby we recognise the other as a subject in their own right, not merely an object. Being objectified and/or demonised as a category should make us more aware of our own projections of otherness, but all too often we merely perpetuate the hierarchy. A great deal of feminist discourse merely turns the oppressor (identified as all men) into the other, and seeks to objectify and demonise men; whereas often women participate in the oppression of the other (Keller's concept of mistress-consciousness is peculiarly apt, given that 'mistress' can mean 'concubine' as well as 'the female equivalent of master'). She gives female missionaries as an example - both objectified by their male counterparts, and objectifying the colonised peoples they sought to convert. Another example is of course women's participation in the practice of female circumcision, or the racism of the white memsahibs in the British Raj, or white feminists preaching to Third World women about how they should act.