Have you ever been called a fairy? If so, how cool is that? In a world of cyber-assimilation, being called a fairy is a sign that you challenge the status quo. And if you are a Radical Faerie, then watch out!
So what is a “radical” faerie? Well, it’s more than a single person, it’s a 43-year-old movement (consisting mostly of gay men) that seeks to reject hetero-assimilation and redefine gay identity by getting to the root (the “radical” in Radical Faerie) of queer spirituality.
The late great Harry Hay and others founded the movement as the Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries in Benson, Ariz. in 1979. To give you some context, Hay was one of the founders of the modern Gay Civil Rights movement who formed the Mattachine Society (an early gay rights organization) in 1951. By the mid-1980s, faerie clusters (that is, groups of Radical Faeries) had appeared in most cities with large gay populations. The organization also established communes in rural areas so they could practice “natural” magick and work towards healing the gay spirit during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Today, Radical Faerie sanctuaries exist in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
In many ways, the Faeries are a modern gay take on the old “Bohemian” countercultures that have manifested themselves in various forms – such as beatniks and hippies – over the years. Like these bohemians, Radical Faeries eschew the materialistic consumerism and patriarchal aspects of modern gay life and seek to restore healthier alternatives, such as constructs and rituals that celebrate nature and Mother Earth. Environmental sustainability and spiritual healing are prime directives.
The Radical Faeries descended upon Salt Lake City in the summer of 1989 when I returned from New York City after celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. There, the New York Faeries had rented out the basement of the old Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street and were taking guided tours of “10,000 years of Gay History in 20 Minutes” that culminated with throwing foam yellow bricks at the pigs (police officers) while shouting, “Gay Power!” When I first met the Faeries, it was a hot, hot sticky New York night and they were melting. One came up to me, gave me a $20 bill, and asked if I’d go across the street and buy as many soft drinks as I could carry for them. I looked the guy in the eye and said, “You asked the right person because I will do it.” He smiled a cute smile at me and said he could tell I was a kindred spirit. After I returned with the sodas, the Faeries showed me the altar of Maybelline beauty products and a shrine to the goddess Judy Garland. Here I knelt as they whacked me with a faerie wand and showered me with glitter. And so I became a Faerie.
Upon returning to Salt Lake City I immediately shared my adventures with friends. While some thought, “Oh brother, here’s another Ben Williams looney tunes escapade,” I could tell that some of the faerie dust was sticking. I sent out a Sufi call to the universe saying an organizational meeting of the Radical Faeries would commence under the July 20th full moon. Three souls showed for the gathering — Connell “Rocky” O’Donovan, Michael Pipkim, and me, of course.
In our circle, we invoke the Gay Spirit to determine the focus of our endeavor and we did a butterfly spread from the Native American medicine cards to determine a four-year plan for our group. Rocky and I thought of our new group as sort of an urban guerrilla tag team, spray painting pro-gay graffiti, putting up posters, and generally waging “in your face” warfare against patriarchy with our outrageous antics. However, the Butterfly Spread told us to remain innocent and to become playful like children – harmless and honoring the Spirit which allows everyone to win. We were amazed that the Gay Spirit spoke to our hearts, stating that the ultimate purpose of this Faerie circle was to find a sacred space where gentleness would heal all wounds and where the message of unconditional love could be heard.
Over the next four years, the Sacred Faeries grew to nearly fifty men and women who had their medicine cards read, found their animal guide totem, and took a new Faerie name. Mine was Gayflower Fearnought Butt Love. Others were Hummingbird, Gillian, Skybear, Fuku, Asparagus, Homo Erectus, Apple Star, Puck, Ariel, Little Bull, Sky Rat, Spirit Dancer, Ursus Heribulis, Starry One, Jasper Nightshade and so many more. Eventually, we published a ‘zine chronicling our antics called the Salt and Sage which we shared with other Faerie Groups across the country. We met under the full moons to perform magick and feasted at Sabbots to honor the seasonal cycles of nature. We danced sky-clad (buck naked) under moons we called by their traditional forgotten names such as the Honey Moon, the Dragon Fire Moon, and the Blue Moon, the name for two full moons in the same month and a time which is sacred to Faeries.
As Radical Faeries, we embraced the belief of “Do As Ye Wilt and Harm None.” We believed in respect: for Mother Earth by walking lightly upon her and doing little to upset her intricate circle of life, for all living creatures, for the Force which creates galaxies and DNA in spiraling circles, and the law of karma. Ultimately we believed that true Magick is Love.
Our five Sacred Faerie tenants were:
1. Equality of the sexes is acknowledged through timely rituals linked to the Sun and the Moon.
2. The Earth is our mother and we must take care of her.
3. We are incarnating essences in an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
4. Magick is used for life-affirming purposes only and must be in harmony with the laws of nature and the psyche.
5. Missionary tactics are taboo. Faeries are attracted to the call of the Sufi (and the rustling of taffeta). The Gay Spirit will sing to the Gay Spirit.
Our adopted Sacred Faerie Lore held that Faeries hiss when they are happy; Faeries are blue when they are very good; Faeries are mostly vegetarians, making love in their gardens; Faeries commune regularly with the delvic world and with all plants and animals
Sadly, the Sacred Faeries’ glimmer faded away in 1993 with many scattering to the four directions, some passing into new forms of spiritual existence, and some becoming solitary practitioners. But part of our legacy was the newspaper The Pillar founded originally by Sacred Faeries, of which Todd Dayley was one. The name came from the Sacred Faeries stratum of Pillars, a group of faeries converses in enough magick to lead Sabot and Full Moon circle gatherings.
Perhaps after reading this you might get in touch with the little faerie within you. In fact, a gay men’s group led by Jerry Buie appears to be rekindling the glow of magick. Check them out and remember, the Goddess is alive and Magick is afoot!