Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wrestling With Ancient Queer Paganisms

Between Hutton and some Queer Pagan Theory from 2011 I've just recently read, I've been revisiting gay male NeoPaganism.

From Hutton's "Pagan Britain" I've gotten the idea that history and archaeology aren't the steady guides to a pre-modern Paganism I thought they were (that they were steady guides, yes; that they were guides for NeoPaganism, not so much).  Hutton seems to be taking the Many Worlds theory of the multiverse to turn history from a linear narrative and into a superposition of narratives only particularly constrained by the archaeological record (so much for steady guides).

A multiverse history enriches possibilities to model present spiritual practices based on past ones, but sacrifices specific, definitive models.  I suppose that's a good thing if history is to become a tool to navigate present choice because it increases the number of cautionary tales.  But so many choices makes choosing the future less about choosing a route on a map and more like an interpretive dance.

According to Hutton, ancient British Pagans, as evidenced by their paleolithic cave art, may have had more fluid boundaries between animals, deities and humans; between spirits, the living and the dead; and between male and female.  Applying this and other parts of the book to gay male NeoPaganism, "Pagan Britain" is both supportive and disproving of any founding stories of gay male NeoPaganism (it would be a better resource for this inquiry if it covered the Qedeshim, but they aren't British).  Gay male NeoPaganism sometimes casts The Greenman and Hern as same-sex lovers.  The Greenman is a modern development of the theories of Lady Raglan, and Hern is a literary figure back-projected onto ancient Paganisms; so the construction of them as same-sex lovers is a modern one, not an ancient founding one.  Not that I've been able to connect with any founding stories that I felt applied to my current, modern life--which leads to the Queer Theory.

The quick-and-dirty gist of what I've read so far goes something like this.  The heteronormative way of looking at things is binary, specifically gender-binary.  Early formulations of gay (male) liberation simply added another binary to the mix: straight or gay.  Male ways, gay ways, or other essentialist ways of knowing expand the heteronormative paradigm without changing it much (not changing the status-quo was a criticism of the men's mythopoetic movement).  A gender-queer world view rejects gender-binary systems; being gender queer is more about the process and practice of interacting with other folks within an analog continuum--which sounds a little like modern cave art paintings of gender and orientation.

Hmm. I'm certain that I find body and facial hair, firm torso and arm muscles, and male genitalia sexually attractive... in addition to certain scents that I'm fairly certain only males produce (pause to wonder if sexy scents are sexy inherently, or if sexy scents are sexy because sexy men are producing them... also, have I ever smelled sexy scents from a woman's body?)  I think this makes me a gay male essentialist trying to be gender queer.  

More importantly is queer theory's effect on ways of knowing.  No gender or orientation binary, no specifically gendered or oriented way of knowing.  Which might work well with the ancient cave paintings, but I am not cave art.  On one hand, if queer is a process of social interaction and not a destination or an essential identity, and if queer is a field of both/and responses instead of an either/or limit, then general, pan-cultural ways of knowing become  specific, personal ways of experiencing/experiences.  Which is freeing on one hand--no more obsessing on reconstructing gay male relationships from ancient feudal societies in order to rebuild a lost gay heritage--and feels completely unstructured on the other (quick, time to ground myself in history and re-read all those medieval and renaissance records of "The Night Police" and other criminal records of men having sex with men).

So that's the theory. Now onto the praxis.

When I think about gay male NeoPaganism, I remember that dream I had where I was a priest filling a giant rhyton which curled over my shoulders from a river so I could bring the waters back.  Or that frenzy-raising dream with Odin.  Or (cue Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street) that dream kissing Jesus.  When I remember that one gay male gathering back in 1997 where we all sat around a river bank in various states of undress sharing health tips, that feels like a gay NeoPaganism.  When I fantasize about sacred gay sex... well... I can already hear the sarcastic comments; the complaint that we don't have the space to build a giant bonfire, platform, and hot-tub; and the criticism that wanting great sex to be sacred too is greedy (and then I can hear James Broadbent talking about a visual orgy featuring tantric can-can).

When I try to think about some gay working of Hern and the Greenman as lovers, it seems like sexual attraction isn't the point, it's a metaphor for a station in the relationship between flora and fauna--and then I wonder, if gay sex is sacred, why not gay dying, or gay eating, or gay dancing ...and then I think about the "Gay Things To Do Today"/Gay Agenda joke, Heart Circles, anti-tech attitudes, Winkte-wannabes, prosperity checks, and Potlucks and I just want to run away screaming--because they aren't refreshing, they're draining.

So much for praxis....  I feel like I should just channel my inner 1960's Judith Viorst and write a poem titled "It's Hard to be Gay and be Pagan." Or just throw in the towel and write that Starhawk-esque "Spell to be Friends with Your Prostrate."   Or just mash together 1990's songs:  "As I slowly fall asleep / for a moment dreams are sacred" // "that's all I wanted, was something special, something sacred -- in your eyes...."
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