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.

Gay people often had the mystical talents and gravitated toward the healing arts. They became the witches, priestesses and priests of the old religions, until the old religions were almost wiped out. You will find similar accounts of GLBT people, (though its important to know that our current concept of gay or even GLBT is a modern one) are found in North and South America among the shamans. The ability to relate to both energies, male and female, gives you ability to better relate to the worlds, of spirit and matter. They are often referred to as Two Spirits.

Who are the "queer-positive" gods and goddesses? Do you personally focus on these deities exclusively?

The queer positive deities are too many to list by name, but they encompass the god forms from many ancient mythologies that have homoerotic currents in their story. Many are bisexual or transgendered. When you see an image of the divine with aspects you relate to, the divine becomes more inclusive. I was raised with the idea that God is a father figure, distant in the sky and sometimes punishing. I can't see myself in that image.

I don't focus on the more queer-influenced deities exclusively, though many are a part of my practice, and were before I even knew about their homoerotic elements and transgendered themes. I work with the deities who want to partner and work with me, and I'm open to the universe to send me what is for my highest good. Celebration of the gods is really a partnership where you find the beings that are most compatible with you. They help teach and heal you, and you help bring their blessings in the world.

You say that "all sex is a spiritual exchange" and that like meditation, music, and dance, sex is "a gateway through the veil." Can you talk more about the relationship between sexuality and spirituality?

Sexual energy is life force energy, and it's the same energy used in magick and spiritual development. It's only in the more repressive ages and times that institutions seek to control sexuality, or make people feel that it is wrong, base, or dirty in some way to express yourself sexually. It creates a pathology when we deny our basic feelings.

In eastern schools of thought, as well as the ancient western mystery schools that hold the teachings of magick, sex is a gateway to higher consciousness. Through ritual, meditation and energy work, you can raise energy through sexuality, alone or with another, to make magick. You can create a change in your inner life and thought process, or fuel a spell to create change in the outer world.

Sexuality is energy. When you approach it with small thoughts, you have small contracted experiences. When you approach with magick and divinity, you have divine experiences. In Wicca, sexuality is said to be one of the "gates" for changing consciousness and raising power.

Think of how your mind, body and thought process changes in sexual passion. It alters mood and consciousness, allowing magick to flow if you let it. Eastern tantrics would raise their base sexual energy through the chakra points to reach the state of greater enlightenment. All forms of ritual and magick have that basic concept in mind. Sex can be a very empowering ritual.

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