“The old Kahunas would transmit their power from one to another via sperm. To be a Kahuna was to be bi-sexual because their relationships with their Gods was sexual. Homosexuals are so greatly feared in our culture because of an ancient memory of the awesome power of homosexual sorcerers.” –Victor Anderson 2/21/1995
The so-called “laws” of magic are descriptions of how magic works. There are many laws which are used singly or in combination to produce spells. The law of polarity is one description of the way in which magical body force is generated. Magic, in the traditions I am heir to, is of the body. The body is the battery, conduit and shaper of the power of the witches. So, it is no surprise that polarity is grounded in the body and is such a wonderful, delightful and powerful force. Freely accessible to all, everyone has the potential to feel it; the only requirement is to have a living body.
The Law of Polarity, like sex, is a straightforward function of the body. Unfortunately, it seems that many people make it more complicated than it is. By straightforward, I mean it’s easy for people to understand once the complicated social issues are stripped away.
The conceptual edifice that often accompanies the word “polarity” is fraught with emotional tensions. Rigid social conventions around gender and gender roles are overlaid onto a simple sexual attraction. The way that polarity is explained in some circles causes some to freeze their understanding of power into a small box and others to feel that it is a ridiculous concept that alienates many worthy people.
My understanding of the Law of Polarity is simply that it describes how sexual attraction can generate a lot of power. By power, I mean the energetic juice that exudes from our bodies and flows throughout the world around us. It is a power which fuels our magics. When there is sexual attraction between people, a joyful force is generated by the bodymind which is noticeable: noticeable in facial expressions, movements, and other changes in their bodies. The power is palpable to others. It’s called “polarity” because it’s like charged electrodes which are separate and yet emit a force around them. It is in the magically charged gap between the poles where the discharge happens, releasing the built up charge. When the charge is released, the deed is done and the spell is sent.
Simple biology! However, as humans, we have a need to elaborate, which in this case often confuses the issue. Some conflate the build-up of sexual tension and its release with unrelated issues of gender and sexuality. Yet power is power no matter what form it takes, and no matter what human form we happen to be in. In the womb, each and every one of us starts out as female in form. All the diverse bodies we see around us are manifestations of the female body, even the most apparently male ones. This reality is also expressed by the simple fact that every body contains both female and male sex hormones. Each person, of course, has their own unique mix.
A well-respected American Gardnerian high priestess of the most conservative line once used pheromones to explain why polarity must alternate only between females and males. As a medical professional, I kindly explained that in fact pheromones are a good explanation for why power doesn’t only flow between females and males. Pheromones are hormones that are excreted into the air around us. Pheromones work like hormones. Hormones are spread throughout the whole body equally. They operate in specific locations in the body because that’s where the receptors for the hormones are located. In terms of sexual attraction, the sexual pheromones emitted by every person present permeate the whole room equally. Pheromones do not travel in a straight line from person to person; they disperse into the whole space. Yet they only activate sexual/emotional feelings in those who have the proper receptors. Homosexual men and heterosexual women have receptors that are activated by male pheromones, so naturally both might experience sexual attraction for a male. Sexual attraction is sexual attraction regardless of gender.
An Alexandrian priestess once told me that her coven felt the energy of a circle moved only between the women and the men of their circles. It seems natural to me that would be the case in groups of heterosexuals, who are attracted to the opposite sex, but it isn’t natural for non-heterosexual members. Preconceived and learned ideas of social relationships come into play when we perceive power and may prevent us from perceiving realities we do not expect.
Some practitioners of witchcraft believe that the Goddess can only possess a female body. This belief seems to me to be based on the same narrow view of gender polarity that I have questioned above. It seems inconsistent to me to believe that the Great Goddess, who is the mother of all, can be found everywhere and in everything, except inside a man’s body! In fact, I know from experience that the Goddess can be wherever She wants! In Faerie witchcraft, which is historically older than Gardnerian witchcraft, it is common for both men and women to be possessed by both Goddesses and Gods. This practice does not harm them, it enriches their lives and the lives of those around them.
Some may wonder how non-gendered roles would work in traditions that have specific roles for women and men. In Feri witchcraft, there are typically no specific roles based on gender or sex. In some traditions of witchcraft, however, it is believed that women and men must fulfill certain ritual roles in order for the rite to be effective. Although women are allowed to fulfill the role of a man, men are forbidden to fulfill the role of a woman. Some have said in the past that women must rule the circle to counteract the harmful effects of living in a male-dominated society. That surely has a healing effect on the psyches of both women and men. For women to claim power and men to release control is most certainly an important part of healing our society by redressing wrongs. However, I personally feel that at this time in our history, equality is a more powerful longing and a greater force of positive and deeper change in our social structures.
One advantage of conceiving the power generated by Polarity as based on something broader than gender or biological sex is that power can be generated and recognized by everyone present regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. There is no need to try to trap the power into flowing in narrow lines between specific participants. Power can thus be raised exponentially because there are no barriers to power. Energetically, pheromones cause the power to boil like water in a cauldron, roiling in all directions! Thus trans, non-binary or intersex members of the circle can fully participate.
In popular imagination, Gardnerians are famously connected to the concept of alternating female/male polarity. Once, I was in a California-Gardnerian coven meeting with some friends. The tradition is one that allows same-sex initiation. In that circle was a woman (a guest, not a priestess in the circle) who insisted that my male lover and I should not stand together even though she was standing next to four other women. Niklas and I refused to separate; the circle continued, and the Gods were pleased. The enforcement of the alternating female to male “rule” is an example of how these guidelines are social rather than magical or spiritual: it is as unequal as the distribution of women and men in that circle. Too often, such policing of behavior in witchcraft circles only pertains to and affects queer men.
Some say alternating female participants with male participants is the tradition that Gardner passed and thus it must be adhered to. However, what Gardner “passed” and what he did were not always the same. I once had the chance to ask Dayonis, who was for a time the high priestess of Gardner’s coven, if a man could cast a circle. She replied, “Of course; Gardner did!”
Clearly, such “rules” are adapted to suit an occasion. They can be used to uphold the integrity of a tradition or to denigrate and disempower members. The reality is that each of us is unique and valuable. What does it mean for our integrity if we don’t uphold that belief when we stand before the Gods?
Some covens hold the belief that a woman must teach a man and vice versa. If that is the case, then a woman must know the man’s parts and the man, the woman’s. A part or role cannot be known by reading it a few times. In order to know a role, one must perform it repeatedly. So, ironically, the only way for a woman to teach a man or a man to teach a woman is for there to be no gender-based roles at all.
Social concepts and rules that deny reality do not last. The Law of Polarity as I teach it acknowledges the power of people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations. I am confident that this view is the future of witchcraft.