When I started my Wiccan journey, it didn't even cross my mind the possibility that some of my core values might be contested within certain areas of my faith. I never once thought, in my quest for finding like-minded witches, that I'd struggle to find acceptance in my identity as a queer woman. Fortunately for me, it has indeed never been a problem. But not everyone has been so lucky.
Ahead of Leeds Pride on Sunday (August 4th), a Wiccan High Priestess friend of mine (and trustee of the Inter Faith Network) asked if I was interested in joining the Faiths at Pride section of the parade to represent the Pagans. I jumped at the chance. After seeing the work of the Leeds Faith Forum with their Faiths in Colour initiative, any inter faith project that supports both Pagans and the LGBTQ+ community fills me with joy.
The reason is because, while not every Christian/Muslim/Jew I've ever met has been accepting of queer people, I've never met a single anti-LGBT member of the Pagan community (to my knowledge, anyway), with many of them identifying as gay, bisexual, transgender and gender-neutral. So I'm simply thrilled when I meet involved religious figures who are accepting of all sexualities and identities.
However, that doesn't mean anti-LGBT Pagans don't exist. I was quite shocked to learn that there is some contention about whether or not one of the most influential figures in Wicca, Gerald Gardner, was accepting of homosexuality in his lifetime. He was even unambiguously accused of homophobia by one of his initiates, Lois Bourne, in her book Dancing with Witches.
Plus, there's a lot of emphasis on the importance of male and female partnerships within Gardnerian Wicca; you always have the High Priest and the High Priestess, and an important ritual known as the Great Rite represents the coming together of male and female through sex, be it literally or, more often, symbolically.
On the other hand, Gardner's writings have outwardly suggested a much more open and relaxed approach when it comes to couples within a coven, and the fact that he accepted Doreen Valiente's version of the Charge of the Goddess which states that "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals" is surely telling of more liberal attitudes towards sexuality - not to mention the Wiccan Rede which states: "An ye harm none, do what ye will".
Certainly, the majority of Wiccans live by this idea that, as long as you aren't harming anybody, there's no reason why you can't live your life exactly how you like, but you'd be surprised at how many feel slightly differently.
Two of the most controversial Pagan practices in terms of having questionable stances on the LGBTQ+ community are perhaps Hermeticism and Dianic Wicca. Hermeticism is based largely on the Seven Hermetic Principles, including the Principle of Gender. Here we get into problematic waters when they suggest that everything has masculine and feminine principles; genders are treated as a paradox rather than as a spectrum, which to many is ignorant of the fact that there are people who identify as neither gender. On the other hand, it doesn't necessarily rule out the idea that someone can be both. However, with this idea of male-female polarity being important, the Principle of Polarity states that opposites attract which possibly negates the idea of same-sex relationships.
But concepts of Western esotericism change with the times, so does it really matter what some mythological figure stated more than 400 years ago? We develop our traditions as we learn more about the universe, and very few of us live by strict ancient writings. We can hardly accuse Thrice-Greatest Hermes of bigotry when his writings were merely philosophical observances of his time. All that matters is those that still follow the Hermetic principles are willing to adapt.
Unfortunately, the founder of the more modern Pagan tradition of Dianic Wicca, Zsuzsanna Budapest, is a bigot. She represents why terms like TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) were coined. She introduced the idea of female-only Wiccan covens in the 1970s and was a big advocate of lesbian and bisexual women. However, she also rejected male-to-female transgender people because she believed that they weren't "real women", and opposed the idea of gender identity. (That isn't to say that all Wiccans who follow the Dianic path today are against either men or transgender people; as we've said previously, traditions change over time and many covens have their own rules about what their path incorporates.)
She isn't the only one either; Maxine Sanders (co-founder of Alexandrian Wicca) put a lot of emphasis on the importance of male-female parnerships, but branded trans women as "transvestites" who were "not happy people" and suggested that their tradition was not one they could fit into. Interestingly, her husband Alex Sanders later came out as bisexual, though it's unclear what her feelings were about his sexuality.
There are Neo-Pagan traditions out there that are specifically LGBT-focused. The Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood are same-sex groups founded in the 70s for gay/bisexual men and women respectively, while the Brotherhood of the Phoenix was founded in 2004 for gay men and have a very ceremonial and shamanic magical practice. The Radical Faeries are another movement which traditionally only includes gay and bisexual men but nowadays incorporates a variety of sexual and gender identities, while the Feri Tradition is an American tradition that emphasises inclusivity of everyone.
So while it may be true that Paganism is one of the more accepting religions given that there are so few strict teachings, that doesn't mean all Pagans are inclusive. Just as Christianity has plenty of LGBTQ+ members and allies, so too Paganism has its homophobes and transphobes.
There is no religion where every follower has exactly the same morals, and it is never fair to criticise someone for the teachings of their religion when you don't know what morals that person lives by. That's the reason why I proudly walked next to the Faiths at Pride banner last weekend. But it's also foolish to presume that those of religions that appear to be quite the opposite of Abrahamic paths hold entirely liberal views.
Holly Mosley is a Wiccan witch who has been practising consistently for three years, enjoys monthly meet-ups in the Pagan community and spends her time studying Tarot which she first discovered at the age of 10. She publishes weekly Tarot readings on Female First, alongside her informative Witching Hour series about all things esoteric, and recently set up her own Tarot reading service under the moniker Mistress Wyrd.