Beltaine is a time of fertility. It is the time when the birds and the bees become active again, when they procreate and pollinate. The Wicca celebrate Nature and as a result celebrate procreation because without it Nature would stop existing. The wheel is ever turning, Life blossoms in Spring followed by Death and decline in the Autumn.
Because of this emphasis on fertility, the Craft is often seen as a strictly heterosexual and inflexible movement. Women are only supposed to be the High Priestess of a coven if they are in their fertile years (and maybe not even allowed to use contraception) and apparently everybody has to be straight and identifying with the gender they were born with. Thankfully this is very far from the way the Wicca actually see things.
When Gerald Gardner was promoting the revival of the Witchcraft movement, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. The concept that there were people who were anything else than cisgender (the opposite of transgender) was something completely non-existent in most circles of society. Even though Gerald Gardner was not very explicit about his views on homosexuality, he was most likely homophobic. People from his background and generation had grown up with the idea that homosexuality was against Nature. Gardner was trying to reconstruct a religion that celebrated and embraced Nature. Therefore the most logical conclusion to him must have been that homosexuals had no place within the cult of the Wicca.
Even though Gerald Gardner himself may not have been open to people joining the Craft who were attracted to the same sex, he did in many ways lay the foundation for the Wicca to be open-minded about sexuality. Gardner was very active in the nudist movement and it is likely that he introduced the concept of working skyclad (naked) in ritual within the Craft. During these rituals the coveners celebrated Nature and sexuality. Both Gardner and several of his coven members believed that sex should not be confined to marriage, nor that marriages should necessarily be monogamous. Sex was seen as something natural, something that should be enjoyed without a guilty conscience and with Gods who applauded and encouraged exploration.
Shortly before Gerald Gardner died, Alex Sanders entered the scene of British Witchcraft. Even though he married twice during his life time and had four children, he was certainly sexually active with other men during his second marriage and was in a committed relationship with a man for the last ten years of his life. Alex Sanders was – and still is – criticised by many people in the movement for having been so open to the media, but is not criticised over the fact that he was in same-sex relationships.
Given these foundations the Wicca tend to be relatively open about sex and sexuality. When people become involved with Wicca and Paganism, they are already comfortable stepping outside the boundaries that are set by society. After all, running around naked, celebrating nature, sexuality and acts of magic is not something that is mainstream. In my experience that also means that many of those involved in the movement are interested in alternative sexual life styles and are open to experiencing new and different things. This also leads to a more open attitude towards the choices of others.
I know asexual and polyamorous people in the Craft. I have Craft friends who practice BDSM, who swing, those who have group sex and obviously people who are exclusively ‘vanilla’, of the established heterosexual monogamous kind. Sexuality is seen as an inherent part of each individual – it is the privilege of each person to explore and experience in the way they are comfortable with.
As a result of the increased acceptance of same-sex relationships in society same-sex oriented people have become more and more accepted amongst the Wicca as well. We now know that same-sex relationships are common in Nature and that long term same-sex couples are found in many species. Quite a few High Priests and High Priestesses openly identify as being gay or bi-sexual.
However, the Craft is a tradition, more than anything. That means that the way a ritual is done is not constantly changed, but is meant to reflect the same core essentials each time the ritual is enacted. An important part of that core material is a reflection of procreation in Nature, a recognition that the spark of Life stems from the conjoining of the Male and Female. It is these Male and Female energies that are reflected in the Gods we worship. That doesn’t mean that you have to think in Male and Female stereotypes, or that you have to exclusively identify as a Man or Woman.
In fact, many of the Wicca see the recognition and balancing of the Male and Female energies within oneself as essential to being able to work as a Priest(ess) to the Gods and Goddesses. Since every living thing is seen as a result of the union of Male and Female energies, both these energies are present in each and everyone of us.
If somebody straight, bi, gay, transgender, cisgender or genderfluid comes to the Craft because of a calling to our priesthood, one of the many issues coven leaders will raise is whether a person is comfortable working with ritual elements that represent the union of Male and Female. Issues around the Male and Female energies within people themselves and how to relate to those energies are usually also addressed, but all this is regardless of sexual orientation or gender orientation. It is important to figure these things out, because it is part of the framework we use in our ritual and even though the Craft is open to everybody it doesn’t mean the framework can be changed to suit all needs.
We still work with the initial framework that was handed down via Gerald Gardner. But it is a framework, a foundation, a starting point. Each person and each coven in the Craft is a unique individual one. We nurture individuality and there is room for addition and embellishment. Aside from recognising the Male and Female energies quite a few of the Wicca regularly work and experiment with things like role reversals within ritual, cross gender invocation and some people are even happy to work with same sex initiations. There are transgender priests and priestesses and sexual preferences of all kinds are represented within the Craft. That fact is reflected in the way rituals are performed and experienced.
Even though the Wicca are generally more open minded than the average Joe in the street, there are some of us who are homophobic or just don’t know the politically accepted jargon. The Wicca aren’t saints and discrimination does happen. Acceptance of gender and sexual differences is a topic that is raised quite regularly at meetings and on social media for the initiated. With information and sharing comes a greater understanding.
It is a subject that also fairly regularly comes up in social media that includes non-initiates who do not identify as cisgendered heterosexuals. Usually the tone is relatively hostile, since people have heard many of the inaccurate rumours about gender within the Craft. On one of these occasions the complaint was made that there are no articles or blogs about the views of the Wicca on this issue. When I tried to find some online articles I was surprised that this was indeed the case and in some ways I hope that is remedied by this article. I think that the Wicca don’t write about it publicly because as the hidden Children of the Gods we tend not to write about our Craft. Also, because we perceive sexuality as such a sacred and individual experience, it is not something we feel the need to be open about on the Internet. We experience the mysteries of the Male and Female regardless of the body we were born in, but equally, those mysteries go beyond gender and sexuality. We just don’t happen to blog or write articles about it!
By Sophia Boann.