Christopher Penczak: Gay Witchcraft

16. Dezember 2013 | Von | Kategorie: Articles in english, Bibliothek und Medien, Sach- und Fachbücher

This book has been lying on my „to review“ pile for quite a while. The discussions I had recently motivate me to finish that review now.

I don’t remember my motivation when I bought this book some years ago. There was no way around it if I wanted to have a synoptic view of the literature on the topic of „LGBTQ and paganism/witchcraft/heathenry“. So here are my two cents about this book.

Title page of Christopher Penczaks "Gay Witchcraft"Penczak has written a how-to book about witchcraft, complete from the beginning, with meditations, correspondences, a list of gay-friendly deities and rituals and recipes galore.

The first part deals with the question: „What is a withch today?“, with the history of witchcraft and queer-positive mythology.
The second part is an introduction into the „craft of the witch“ – meditation, god_esses, animal spirits, altairs and rituals. Penczak views the home and the body of a witch as „temples“, as places „created to hold energy that will nourish a certain state of mind, a connection to the divine“ (p. 87).
Part III is about practical uses of magic. Love and sex spells are each honored in one chapter, sex magic is explained in detail (in ways that are suitable for heterosexual couples as well), one chapter is dedicated to healing magic, another one each to the Wheel of the Year and to rites of passage. The closing chapter addresses interaction with the pagan community and with society as a whole.

The book is – apart from some rituals to be performed with an intimate partner and some group rituals – geared towards solitary pagans.

Penczak primarily directs his book towards witches resp. people interested in witchcraft. His understanding of god_esses presupposed in this book is different from more reconstructionist-oriented pagans; an understanding that is ultimately pantheistic and implies syncretism because it’s premise is:

„All gods lead back to the God, all goddesses lead back to the goddess.” (p. 63)

The „gay“ of the title translates to „homosexual“, and that’s about it – bisexuals aren’t kept in mind in this book, not to mention trans* and other queers, or non-monogamous relationships. Penczak explains in his introduction that he wants to include LGBT, but then he insists that gay has a „special magic“ to him and uses this term instead of more inclusive ones.

His perpetuation of the myth of homosexuals as „healers, teachers, artists, poets, scholars, and aides to the community“ (p. 28) is problematic for me, because these are vague, but age-old cliché ascriptions. I wonder how much essentialism is contained in his tenet that gays „have a different blend of energies and many need to recognize their differences as gifts and blessings“ (p. xv).

In some passages – especially in the catalogue of deities in chapter 3 – I see a danger of monopolizing trans*, and there is not nearly enough differenciation between trans* and homosexual.

I can’t escape the impression that Penczak writes from a gay male perspective and considers it to be representative for LGBT people in general. In spite of his disclaimer (that shows in one place that he is conscious of his perspective) I would expect more critical reflexion of the own position and bias from a book geared at LGBT people.

Heterosexual union as a central myth

Here’s what sits most heavily on my stomach: Penczaks complete concept of the gods is based on the following core concept of the fundamental duality in divinity being the one between male and female; a duality that constitutes a complementary relation – therefore, his „gay witchcraft“ is based on thoroughly heteronormative notions.

The image of the the sacred union as the creation act par excellence is apparently so central in this kind of paganism that Penczak cannot simply shed it. To put it crudely: Penczak basically takes Wicca and grafts some gay positiveness onto it. The apologetics for this follows the lines of „solitaries have to embody and unite both poles in themselves“ and „we are all feminine in relation to the divine“ (p. 110-111) (including the known construction of feminine as receiving penetration, receptive, [sexually] passive and surrendering itself); the reasoning seems to be „we all have male and female traits“.

Same-sex sub-mythologies of the mythology of goddess and god presented in chapter 5 are ascribed specifically to gay men/lesbian women while heterosexual imagery is supposed to remain central and universal (see p. 64-65).

In general, sex takes such a prominent place that it looks hypersexualized to me in some parts. If I haven’t overlooked something, non-sexualized relationships are nearly not mentioned or honored in this book.

The deity catalogue and cultural appropriation

The presented queer myths make a laboured impression on me – and their presentation seems often speculative; source citations are missing, and with them the impression of credible historical and archaeological material with which I could research this mythology. Penczak obviously serves a need for „homosexual history“, as if he wanted to say: See, We™ have always been important and always had roles that made us valuable members of society.

That such an understanding of social roles serves an understanding of heterosexual relationships that is abridgedly orientated towards reproduction (what is, according to such an understanding, the social legitimation for eterosexual couples that don’t raise children? where do gays and lesbians fit in who are or want to be parents?) and thus fits neatly into reactionary notions – that’s what such an interpretation is blind for.

Besides, the deity catalogue could be problematic with respect to cultural appropriation: Deities not only from European cultures, but also from the Aztec culture, Native American cultures, India, Mesopotamia, China and from Voodoo and Santeria are presented in a long, long list, each with an explanation of a length from one paragraph up to a page.

From a viewpoint of „all goddesses are one godess and all gods are one god“ such a catalogue of deities might work; for a polytheist of my kind, it is a no-go to present deities in such a way, detached from their respective cultural context, as if one wanted to say: „Here, pick a suitable deity for today’s ritual.“

I don’t want to criticise syncretistic practice as such – my Asatrú and my neoshamanistic practice wouldn’t work without „borrowed“ concepts. If and how and under which circumstances integration of god_esses from cultures that have been/are affected by colonialist history and colonialist exploitation can be legitimate – that should be a matter of debate in the pagan community.

The rituals

I am very sceptic about the chapter on love spells, because Penczak gives directiosn for love spells directed toward one specific person (although with „mitigating clauses“ such as „if it is for the good of all involved and harms no one“), something I read with an uneasy feeling in the stomach. Love spells aimed at a specific person are something I NEVER EVER recommend, not because I have made negative experiences with them but because I don’t want to see a manipulation of the will of other people propagated, how well-meaning and „mitigated“ ever.

I don’t get high on the script-like presentation of the rituals; but that’s due to my ritual taste. I generally don’t like „scripted“ rituals, especially not in solo rituals.


For people who like this kind of rituals and who are more interested in witchcraft than in cultic worship of god_esses, or who want to work in a wicca-informed paradigm, this is a good workbook – if one wants to see over the fact that from a perspective that understands „queer“ as more than an handy acronym for „LGBT“ this is a deeply problematic book, the biggest (but by far not only) problem being the profoundly heterosexual premises in the conception of deities. I have big difficulties with this premise, and so my judgement is: A book that leaves me with very mixed feelings.

Bibliographic data
Penczak, Christopher. Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe. Red Wheel/Weiser, 2003.

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