by guest blogger Robin Herne
Samhain, amongst many other things, is tied to the myths of Óengus mac Og, the inspirer of love and passion amongst the Tuatha De Danann of Irish mythology. Whilst Óengus’s tales are devoted to the pursuit of young ladies, my own tastes run more to gentlemen and I’d like to reflect on that topic a little.
Whilst a number of the languages spoken amongst ancient polytheist cultures had euphemisms for same-sex sexual activities, few if any of them appear to have required words to distinguish sexual identities based upon the gender of the individual a person preferred sex with. Whilst the urge for same-sex frolics is probably as old as for opposite-sex ones, the notion that people could be categorised according to such urges is, it would appear, a relatively recent conceptualisation. This is hardly a new revelation, but one worth restating ~ particularly given that the tendency to label people by the gender of their bed-partners (rather than some other random factor such as their skin colour, relative height, or social class) is born out of a wish to divide people into acceptable and stigmatised groups.
If our ancestors did not view sexual identity in the manner designated appropriate by largely Christian and Jewish Victorian psychologists, ought a modern polytheist do so? It’s a matter that has bugged me for a while. Like the delectable Jack Harkness, I’d like to belong to a culture where sexual identity is irrelevant and that ~ so long as it was consenting ~ anything would go and nobody would bother with labels. I’d like to, but clearly I don’t.
What I do live in, as we all do, is a culture in which countless people have been harassed, imprisoned, sacked, assaulted, tortured, imprisoned, murdered and executed for centuries because their consenting sexual activities do not fit with the norms of the ruling elite. Not only those of us who fancy our own sex, but those young women consigned to mental asylums with “nymphomania” for the dread crime of getting pregnant out of wedlock, those who’ve wanted more than one spouse, and more miscreants besides.
Focussing back on gay and bisexual men (I shan’t speak on behalf of lesbians or bisexual women, though I dare say many of the same issues apply), our value as members of this society has been damaged by hostility towards our presumed sexual choices and urges. Even with attitudes increasingly becoming more positive, this is still balanced against centuries worth of scar tissue. Inevitably such persistent scorn wears down even the most resilient sense of self-worth.
Healing is an important feature of any spiritual practice, and a solid argument can be made for a rather alchemical approach, seeking to transform the leaden restrictions imposed upon us into a source of gold. Embracing sexual identity into ritual can become a source of spiritual fulfilment and growth. For those who have struggled with self-identity, there is a death and rebirth in refuting the fear and disgust of centuries past and revelling in ones sexuality as a source of joy, pleasure, and pride; a gift rather than a curse. All of which seems peculiarly well-suited to Samhain. The traditions of guising seem appropriate too, for those exploring alternative identities ~ especially ones that some sections of the wider community may deem frightening or monstrous. As an ardent lupophile it recalls to my mind not only the iconic cinematic figure of Lawrence Talbot struggling to come to terms with the “beast within” and its animalistic, hairy hungers, but also the rather homoerotic tales of such lupine mannerbund as the decidedly pagan ulđethnar, diberga and the fianna. So as wolves howling our passions into the night we might not only honour our dead this winter, but honour our sexualities too.