Christopher PenczakChristopher Penczak is the author of 'City Magick,' 'Spirit Allies,' and 'The Inner Temple of Witchcraft.' He lives in New Hampshire with his husband Steve. He spoke with Beliefnet producer Lisa Schneider via email.

How did sexual orientation become the focal point of your spiritual practice? What does it mean to be a gay witch?

I wouldn't say that sexual orientation is the focal point of my spiritual practice. I think the experience of being human is. Being gay is just an aspect of this life, this earthwalk. I think reconciling the fact that I am gay and a spiritual person -- coming from a time, place and culture that often sees those two as mutually exclusive -- forced me to really examine being a gay man in a different way.

Whatever spiritual practice I looked at in my studies, I would always seek to know what the religion thought about and how they treated women and homosexuals. That was a big yardstick for me, since both groups have been traditionally persecuted by more mainstream religions.

Being a gay witch is reclaiming the spirit of traditions that predate more dominant religions and reaffirm the sacredness in the balance between genders, by honoring those with different mixes of male and female energy, such as those from the gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgendered community.

You write in your book "the coming out experience in modern society is akin to a magickal or shamanic initiation." Can you talk about the parallels, in your own experience, between coming out as a homosexual to your friends and family and coming "out of the broom closet"?

I became a witch before I came out as being gay. All my friends and family were aware of me being a witch, and the magical experiences gave me the strength and courage to face what I thought was more difficult, coming out of the closet. Without the broom closet, I don't know if I would have had the strength to come out.

When you come out of the closet [as a homosexual], you are changed. First you come out to yourself, and really consciously acknowledge the fact that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Once you wrap your own mind around it, you are different. Then you tell your family and friends, you can't go back in. You let the genie out, and can't put it back into the bottle.

The way you relate to the world changes completely. Your range of possibilities changes completely. You can envision things for your life that you never could truly see or feel when in the closet. Even if you dream of a healthy, happy, open relationship, when in the closet, it doesn't seem real. When you are out, a light shines and lets you be closer to your true self.

Spiritual initiations bring you to your true self as well. With magick, once you have experienced a true, inner initiation and come through the door successfully, you realize your magick is real, and you can make things happen, envisioning possibilities that you never dreamed of before. The rituals and spirit journeys are life changing. Often they can be traumatic, but they change your worldview, and you cannot be the person you were again.

You say that some gays are turned off by the heterosexual imagery of god and goddess that dominates neo-paganism -- the emphasis on the union between opposite sexes and fertility rites and so forth. How do you, as a gay witch, envision the divine?

The divine is spirit, and as such, is beyond male and female, yet incorporates both. Witches believe the divine in immanent in all things, all nature, the stars and all people.

Neo-paganism initially focused on heterosexual union because the roots of our reconstruction are based in fertility cults - fertility of the tribe and fertility of the crops. No gay witch is going to dispute the role of fertility. We all got here through reproduction. But a gay witch will recognize that everyone has male and female, god and goddess energy in themselves. All men have feminine energy. All women have masculine energy. GLBT folk have a different blend of these energies when compared to the traditional heterosexual roles. It makes them perfect for magical world, because they can access whatever current of energy that is needed.

You suggest in your introduction that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people were honored in ancient cultures, and considered holy. Can you talk more about these societies?

The classical societies associated with witchcraft have gods and stories associated with same-sex relationships and identifying with the opposite or both genders. You find it in Greece, Egypt, the Celts and the Norse. You will also find information on particular sects of priestesses and priests, often transgendered, gay or lesbian, in service to a particular deity associated with witchcraft, such as Isis.

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