“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.
Sex is not a doorway leading to something else, nor is it a metaphor for so-called spiritual love, but a sun and moon lit path leading across the sea of life to an infinite horizon.
Introduction to Part One
In Part One, I briefly put forward ideas of how the Witch power operates with Qwyr people in the context of Faerie Witchcraft. I then discuss and contrast ideas of how the Witch Power is believed to work in some other modern Witch traditions in the context of polarity. I show how polarity works not only as a model for heterosexual couples but also for Qwyr couples. Then I introduce an ancient idea of non-gendered polarity and how that exists and functions in our world today in the context of creation. Later, I delve more deeply into Faerie Witchcraft ideas about how the Witch Power moves within a magic circle based upon our mythology. I give the examples of gravity and plasma as to how the Witch Power moves within nature and mimics its natural movement within the circle.
Attitudes about Qwyrness in Faerie Witchcraft culture
Believing as they did in both the autonomy and the empowerment of each individual was the exquisite beauty of the Anderson’s teachings. The Tradition can morph to fit and empower the individual, but at the same time there are some items that clearly distinguish Faery from Wicca.
Faery meetings might look a great deal like a Wiccan coven’s, but the informing principles are quite different. Victor and Cora dismissed the physical polarization of Deity by gender as an oversimplification of the Divine’s multiple manifestations of every conceivable mixture of gender. (Gander: 2010, 3)
I feel that the power in an Anderson Faerie Witch circle doesn’t flow only between men and women or even simply between individuals. Like life-giving dew forming from moist air, sexual attraction between people makes the Witch Power condense onto their bodies, giving them a feeling of pleasure in the other’s company. I feel the power raised in a circle before it is formed into a spell or cone to be like a bubbling cauldron: full of potential yet free flowing throughout the cauldron of the circle and freely available to every member in circle regardless of sexual proclivity.
The common understanding of Wicca tends to stress the importance of male-female workings and focus on fertility. Anderson Faery magic has always had a primary focus on ecstasy instead of fertility. This may be due in part with the plurality of Deities we work with. As a result, sex of any stripe is honored as a gift from and to the Gods. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, polysexuality, transgendered sexuality, in short all of sexuality, is our holiest mystery. We have no reason to simplify the profound mystery of sex into redundant and meaningless roles. The Anderson Faery Witch is complete in herself, needing no other to complete her magic (Johnson: 2001, 3).
Gender and Polarity in Wicca
Polarity can mean a lot of things to different people, but to many modern Pagans it means that magic is believed to work by raising energy from paired couples of men and women. Thus it is sometimes believed that, in order to properly raise power, it must flow only between alternating male and female partners. Some covens insist on alternating men and women in their seating or standing arrangements. Some covens will also only pass initiations or magical tools from men to women or women to men. Some covens also believe polarity to mean a division of labor based upon sexual characteristics and they have fixed roles for priests and priestesses in ritual. What are the principles underlying such ideas?
From talking with those who work magic in a format of gendered polarity, I learned that underlying the idea of polar gender-oriented ritual is the desire to maintain a literal interpretation of a symbol set and the use of a sexually charged atmosphere. This atmosphere is charged by the release of psychic energy, subtle and obvious sexual signals, pheromones and possibly other bio-chemicals.
“Polarity” has been the term used to denounce the workings of same-sex couples, while at the same time shoring up the privileges of non-gay couples. “Polarity” is the “reason” why gay people cannot work together in a Gardnerian circle. If one were to ask what “polarity” is, one gets conflicting answers. One well-known and highly respected Priestess in the Long Island line of Gardnerian Craft once explained “polarity” with a scientific sounding proof. She said that “polarity” operated like pheromones in that they flowed from male to female or female to male and caused an excited state which could be tapped into as a source of magical power.
However, pheromones are a specialized type of hormone. They act like hormones in that only an extremely small amount of the chemical is needed to have a great effect on the body and they actonly on specific receptor sites. Pheromones spread throughout the entire environment in all directions, like hormones which spread equally throughout the whole body and its tissues. As one’s body emits pheromones, they do not flow through the air only to one receptor site (an opposite sex body), but are available to everyone in the area equally, regardless of sex. However, only those people who are susceptible to the pheromone would be affected. Heterosexual people are affected by the pheromones of the opposite sex and homosexual people are affected by the pheromones of the same sex. The same man in a circle can affect the bodies of both heterosexual women and homosexual men. The effect is not determined by the preference of the emitter of the pheromones but by those who react to it.
The Gardnerian Priestess’s explanation wasn’t an explanation in favor of “polarity” working only for non-Qwyr people or a “reason” why same-sex working couples were taboo! Using pheromones as a model to explain “polarity” actually shows why “polarity” would work for Qwyr working couples as well as non-Qwyr couples. A gay man would be affected by the pheromones of any man in the circle that he found attractive! Thus, I have come to believe that “polarity” is simply the same thing as good old sexual attraction. It is the sexual attraction felt between two people that acts as a source of magical power. It is sexual attraction that makes the working “juicy.” It can be physically felt only between those who are attracted to each other. “Polarity” would not work between a non-gay and a gay man, but only between gay or bi-sexual men. It makes sense that Gardner as a heterosexual would feel “polarity” only with a woman, and write about it as such. It is incorrect, however, to assume it is the same for everyone in all Gardnerian circles.
Looking at “polarity” from an electrical theory viewpoint, between two separated poles there exists a gap that can become charged. When the charge becomes intense enough or when the poles connect, they discharge the force collected between them. When there is sexual attraction between people, the attraction can build until it is released with orgasm, which is like discharging a charge. The charging and discharging of a space is like raising a cone of power which is sent to the target upon total relaxation of the coven members.
This ancient idea of a gap of charged atmosphere as the source of manifestation was known by the folk of Scandinavia. They called it the Ginnungagap and it was seen as the source of all creation. The word Ginnungagap comes from the old Norse ginning which means a charged potential and gap which has the same meaning as in English – a space in-between. This primal space was charged with a mighty, magical force and is from whence all reality springs. This primal place was not formed, it just existed.
Fire and ice were formed billions of years later as the extremes that defined the outer limits of the Ginnungagap. The northern part was frozen, solid and dark whereas the southern part was molten, flowing and glowing with light. The middle was as mild as the warm air of a summer’s evening. Due to the warm breath in the middle – from the melting ice the first life arose from the mists. Life arises from the middle not at the extreme poles of fire and ice. The proto-space filled with magic power moves from formless potential into form, in this case as the giant Ymir: “He incorporates the double function of creation – conception and birth” (Lindow: 1988, 467).
“But it is said that while he his legs got a son with the other, and that is where the families of the frost ogres come from. We call that old frost ogre Ymir” (Sturluson: 1973, 34). Snorri refers to two groups of beings created by Ymir – men and women from His arm pit as well as a son produced independently by His two legs. Perhaps this son of the primordial bisexual Giant was Qwyr. The myth of Ymir can be seen as an ancient reason why gender variant people are associated with creation and thus fertility. Similar tales of creation arising from a hermaphrodite progenitor are found not only in Norse myths but also in ancient Iranian, Egyptian and Indian cultures. Even though sometimes the Gods rose up against Their progenitor and killed Him/Her, They still bear the marks (genes?) of Their Giant ancestry. As we are children of the Gods, then all people must also bear the marks of the first born bisexual progenitor. Thus it makes sense why heterosexual relations give rise to bisexual and homosexual people, because they carry the genes for it!
Although the Alexandrian tradition was started by a bisexual man and they have historically been much more welcoming of gay men and lesbians as equals in their circles, in America this seems to be changing. Apparently, some American Alexandrian Witches are introducing alternating male-female partners in their circles. One Alexandrian Priestess once told me in her experience and the experience of her coven, power only flowed from a woman to a man to a woman in a straight line across the circle. I think this is a worthwhile observation, but I wonder if these observations are related to the sexual orientation of the group members or simply their expectations. Ironically, I have seen this bias insisted upon in circles where two men are not allowed to stand or sit together while at the same time everyone on the other side of the circle are women. Three to five women for every man – talk about gender imbalance! However, it only seems to bother the “polarity” people when two men are together!
It doesn’t bother some gay men to only work with a woman as a partner in circle; they follow the rules and they are happy. They have told me that it is no big deal to work magic with a woman for only a few hours a month. I understand, as I have worked magic with women to wonderful effect. However, it is my feeling that when one is in the sacred circle and in the presence of the Gods, it is the most important time to be honest about your true self! To play the role of a heterosexual so the other people in the circle feel okay about me is not what I want to do in the Gods’ presence. I feel it belittles my relationship with the Gods to try and trick Them by playing the role of something I am not.
In the lore of ancient peoples all over the world, Mountain and Lake were primal polarities that manifested the genesis of our world and were primeval symbols of fertility. However, the Holy Mountain and Sacred Lake are polar fertility symbols that are not gender specific. Mountains and lakes are often viewed by local peoples as having a particular sex, but the same sex is not allotted to either mountain or lake. Sexual characteristics ascribed to masculine or feminine traits are not the same for all people.
Some of the surviving ancient images of the Goddesses Astarte, Tiamat, and Aphrodite include apparently masculine traits, even those most strongly associated with the male, such as a beard or penis. Likewise Baphomet, Agditis, the Hurrite God Kumarbi, Zarvan of Akkadia, the Hittite Teshub, the Hindu Shiva Ardhanarishvara and the wooden God image from Somerset, England also display breasts and vaginas. Even the sacred island of the most masculine of the ancient warrior Hawai’ian God, Ku is named the “Vagina of Ku.” Since primary sexual characteristics such as a penis or vagina are displayed as both characteristics of Goddesses or Gods, then surely They share secondary and tertiary sex characteristics such as hair, hair styles, clothing and gender roles.
The ancient non-gender specific model of polarity has been almost forgotten in our modern Pagan world. However, since the universe is infinite and unlimited, the generative power of creation must also be unlimited. Since the blinders of religious prejudice have been dissolving before our collective eyes, it is possible to see that in nature heterosexuality is not favored over homosexuality. It is very common for animals and humans to be sexually attracted to members of their own sex at least once in their life. Some try to insist that nature conform to their way of thinking, but it does them little good.
Polarity and Gender in Faerie Witchcraft
In Faerie Witchcraft we do not talk about “polarity” as if it were a process that demanded women and men alternate positions. Victor Anderson himself was bisexual, and he never said anything that could be construed as homophobic or heterocentric to me during the many years I visited him and Cora. In their opinion, a man was equal to a woman in power and could do anything a woman could do except give birth. They told me that of course a man can cast circles, initiate and work with another man, and it is the same for women working together. This is the general consensus of our tribe: that all are equal in the circle of initiates regardless of gender. As it is for the Faerie Witch, so do the Gods display every combination of gender, just as humans in diverse cultures have done for centuries. In our tradition the extreme points of masculine and feminine (on a sexual spectrum) are respected and honored and They are seen as the exception that They are in life.
Just like us, the Gods can assume a multiple variety of gender roles. They do this to meet the needs of the people. In Faery Witchcraft we say: “God is self and self is God and God is a person like myself.” We do not have to fit ourselves into outdated gender role models to connect with the Gods, we just need to be ourselves. For this reason Lesbians, Gay men, and Transgender folk often feel comfortable in working Faerie magic, because they don’t have to pretend to be something they are not.
There are many forces like polarity that are mysterious to us. For instance, gravity is strange to us. It doesn’t come in discrete little packages of energy. It seems omnipresent and it is totally continuous without break. If there is no break in the force of gravity, then there can be no gravitational polarity. Gravity is the origin of our world and universe – the origin of duality. If the origin of duality is ceaseless then it is non-dual. In the same way that an apple seed produces only an apple tree, then a fundamental force of nature that is non-dual can only produce a non-dual reality. This pointing out of the identity of non-dual and dual modes of reality is exactly what the image of the gender-variant individual is alluding to.
If the point of polarity is to explain how we raise power from our bodies within a sexually charged space to empower a spell, then it seems it is most important to raise our libido. This can be enhanced in many ways, such as through movement, hearing, smell, taste, touch or sight. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the sexual arousal of homosexuals and heterosexuals, so the power raised is the same. How would the power move in a circle of people if the popular model of an electromagnetic field was not used to explain the phenomena of polarity? Even without any explanatory concepts, power would still rise with the libido of the coveners. Libido is usually defined as sexual interest, but it is also the passion for life and life’s experiences, as well as a driving force behind all kinds of creativity.
Most of us are familiar with three forms of matter: solids, liquids and gasses. But there is a fourth form of matter that is found in the dark heart of stars and also within the huge gas clouds that move between the stars. This is a form of matter that starts as a gas but becomes ionized by extreme heat and is called plasma. If the temperature of the material is very high, all the electrons separate from their nuclei. The particles which make up the gas are split apart into smaller positively and negatively charged particles. In plasma, the electrically charged particles moveindependently of each other, not in a linear fashion like electricity.
Instead of marching in line, these independent particles move wildly in any direction, pervading the entire plasma field. Plasma has diametrically charged particles and so is a phenomena of polarity, but the charged particles do not move in a predetermined configuration based on detached opposites. Plasma is a substance which demonstrates non-dichotomized polarity. Due to the electrical charge which pervades plasma, it behaves differently than a gas and is also affected by electromagnetic fields. Although on earth we are often not familiar with this substance, it is by far the most common state of matter in the universe. Plasma is a primal form of matter from which all the atoms in the universe congeal.
The reality of plasma can be used as a model for understanding how power moves and works in a magic circle. Instead of conceiving that an electric-like charge flows from one person to another in a straight line, the charged particles released from our bodies move about freely within the circle. As water brought to a boil inside a cauldron where the molecules move in every direction, so too particles of pheromones from our bodies rush in every direction within the confines of the magic circle. By intensifying the libido thus increasing the pheromones, the contents of the charged atmosphere in the circle is brought to a “boil” that allows the power to build to the pitch necessary to manifest magic. If pheromones or other bio-chemicals are a part of the process of raising power, then a model based upon the roiling movement of power as with a boiling cauldron makes more sense than an electrical linear movement of power in a circular space. The bio-chemicals wouldn’t move in a linear fashion but pervade the air like a fragrance smelled by all present.