avia: Two hands, holding up to the camera, one has "magic" written on it and the other has "is real" and a heart. (magic is real)
[personal profile] avia
Last night, I was thinking about a lot of connected things, and they brought me to this idea that magic - the witchcraft type of magic, that focuses on crossing boundaries and dealing with death and inbetween places - is queer, and also, to a new understanding of gender in magic.

Replacing "Male" and "Female" with "Normative" and "Queer"

Many magic systems have an idea that magic has "gender". There is the Sun, the active, straightforward, warrior, fiery, simple energy, associated with life and good things, who is seen as male. And there is the Moon, the passive, secret, mysterious, watery, complicated energy, associated with death and dark things, who is seen as female.

I always have struggled with this, because it seems very sexist, because male and female are not always these things. And yet, it's hard to deny that the binary is there. Last night, I realized that the binary is there, but it doesn't have anything to do with gender. It has to do with Normative and Queer.

If you think about the normative social movements - patriarchy, conservatives/Republicans, etc. - they are all based around these Sun actions. They are very concerned about their ability to kill people, in an active and violent way: they want guns, they want to go to war. They often boast that they are straightforward and simple people, with "ordinary" ways. They prefer active ways of living and don't trust people who stay alone in their bedrooms on the internet. They don't trust secret and strange things that they don't understand, or private actions. They want privacy to disappear, they want everything to be obvious and open, because people who have something to hide are Bad. They care about "life", but not about the subtle underground works that make life continue to be comfortable and safe - they just care about the idea of Life, the big shining issue, the symbols of life, like a child, a fetus.

But being a conservative person isn't about your gender, as much as it is about being normative. Not-queer. Of course, there are GLBT people who are socially conservative, but as a queer person, I'm not sure those people are queer. Queer is about rejecting typical conservative social structures that tell us what to do with our lives and bodies. That's part of why I think asexual people, aromantic people, poly people, etc., are queer. And a gay person who fights to support Don't Ask, Don't Tell because they buy the idea that we should not be too visible, is probably "gay but not queer". They have a sexual identity of gay, but they don't have the philosophy of "queer", and they probably don't identify with the queer movement.

So I think we can say that "queer", as a thing, is separate from both sexuality and gender, though it is related to deviant expressions of sexuality and gender, and that's where I'm going with this.

So, how is Queer associated with Moon energy? Queer philosophies involves going to places that the Sun people hide from. They involve crossing boundaries, living in liminal spaces, breaking down the barriers between one thing and the next. In witchcraft, this is often "life and death". In queer philosophy, it is gender and sexuality. Witches and queer people both believe that breaking down this barrier will not destroy all things, like the Sun people believe, but actually is needed. Queer actions often are done secretly, because few people will understand them, and because it's common to be punished for them by Sun people.

Queer people, and Moon energies, seem to be a threat to standard order. To people on the outside, they look dark, suspicious, even "evil". But actually, they are part of an order, part of a healing world. They are just a part that Sun people don't understand.

Magic is Queer

So, based on this, if magic has Sun and Moon energy, then, would have queer and normative aspects, right? But, actually, magic is much more queer than normative.

The traditional magic-users, in many societies, are women: people who, according to the patriarchy's view of things, the view that causes us to think Sun=good=male and Moon=evil=female in the first place, are Other, mysterious, strange, not normative. In an English language where most words for respected professions - actor, priest, doctor, instead of actress, priestess, lady doctor - are or were male by default, "witch" is a word that is female by default. That's in the West, but, in many other societies, women or girls have a special role as shamans, shrine maidens, or other kinds of spiritual "others".

As well, in the West, witches are traditionally seen as "queer" in other ways: monsters, deformed, women who live on their own and don't get married. The green-faced, ugly witch who is always alone is a very similar image to the "ugly lesbian feminist" that patriarchy creates. Seeing a woman doing something independent from the patriarchy (queer), they don't believe that she really can be doing it because she is happy, because that would mean that she really doesn't need them. So they make up negative reasons why she would be alone.

On top of this, there is the idea that witches are sexually queer. Many witches in history were accused of having sex with the Devil, or demons, or similar ideas. Though in most cases it's probably not true that they did this, sex magic does exist and having sexual intimacy with spirits can definitely be called queer. Of course, this isn't true of all witches.

So, that is how witches have been stereotyped as queer. But, are they really queer? Well, although Sun and Moon are given a balance in many magical texts, I believe that there is not much magic in magic, unless it is Moon-based. Sun represents the energy of "normal life", of society going on the way it is, of strong men ruling and women and gender-weird people submitting and wars and violence and police. Moon represents going outside the boundaries of what is ordinary, living on the edge between life and death, truth and fiction, good and evil, dark and light. And, isn't that mostly what magic is about? Going outside the ordinary and stepping into the shadow places where most people don't go, and seeing what is really there?

So, though magic uses Sun and Moon energy, I think that the philosophy of magic is mostly based on Moon energy - queer energy. Magic is about "queering the world", finding the places where the barriers between binary ideas are weak and influencing that, about going into spaces that "normal" society says that you're not supposed to be and seeing what is there.

As well, the structure of magic as a religion. In patriarchal religions, relating to the god or gods is controlled by priests and other religious structures. Like in patriarchal society, the people in power are the ones who must give you what you need. On the other hand, witchcraft is mostly solitary and was through history. In modern Wicca, there is the idea of a "coven", but it is strongly questioned whether traditional witches ever gathered in a coven. In history, and still today, the idea of a witch was someone who stayed isolated from the rest of society, maybe even a hermit, practising magic and learning secrets on their own. In medieval times, it's not very likely that there would have been enough witches in a particular area to have a social gathering.

So, magic as a religion is about self-learning and directly relating to the gods in your own way, outside of society's normal structures of power and authority. We definitely can say that this is a queer system.

So We Have A New Division, Now What?

So, from this, I think we can see that the traditional binary of magic fits Normative and Queer better than it fits Male and Female... that seeing Male as the "good, active" way of things and Female as the "dark, passive" way of things is sexist, and comes from a normative perspective, not a queer one... and that magic is queer. So, what does/can magic look like from a queer perspective?

Of course, queer is queer, so there are as many ways to look at "magic as queer" as there are people. Telling you how to look at magic in a queer way would be missing the point.

But, I think one possible way to look at queer magic is that the world is overwhelmed, right now, by Sun energy, and that as magic-users we need to bring a balance. Sun energy has its place... it's not that power, or traditions, or active ways of living, are always bad. What's bad is that the world is being run by these things, and everything that is not these things is mistrusted and treated as less. Maybe one way to work with magic in a queer way, is to work with Moon energy to bring a balance of power and energy back into the world.
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little swan child

May 2013

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