Druidism was the religious and scholarly path of the ancient Celts. Druids were the priests, scholars, and advisors of the ancient Celtic world. They studied for 20 years to become a full druid. Other ranks included Bards who were storytellers and musicians and Ovates who devoted themselves to divination and healing. Unfortunately the ancient druids didn’t write anything down and committed all their beliefs and practices to memory and oral tradition, so most of what we know comes from secondary sources and conjecture. Modern druids tend to fall into one of several categories including: Reconstructionist druids, neo-pagan druids, and fraternal druids. Reconstructionist druids are dedicated to reconstructing ancient druid beliefs and practices to be as authentic as possible. Neopagan druids tend to focus on the spiritual aspects of druidry. They honor and worship the ancient Celtic deities, nature spirits, and their ancestors. Other Neopagan beliefs and practices such as Wicca are sometimes merged and there is often overlap between scholarly druidry and spiritual druidry. Fraternal druids act as fraternal and charitable groups and use druid symbology, but aren’t necessarily Pagan in belief. Druids have traditionally been considered male, though there are accounts of ancient female Druidesses. With the exception of some historic fraternal orders, most modern Druid organizations are open to men and women. As with other Pagan groups, druids tend to be open and welcoming to people of all sexual orientations and gender associations.
As far as we know, the ancient Celts had no prohibitions against homosexuality. In fact, many of their tales mention homosexual relationships in a rather matter-of-fact way, while other tales talk of the deep bonds between same-sex persons. Roman and Greek accounts of the Celts mention Celtic warriors who were deeply insulted if their advances for homosexual sex were refused. Some historic accounts mention Celts who slept on animal skins with their male lovers, and other accounts mention them having a male lover on one side and a female lover on the other.
At least one tale speaks of lesbian sex among the ancient Celts. In “Niall Frossach,” from The Book of Leinster, lesbian sex is specifically mentioned as “playful mating.”
The tale of Cuchulainn and Ferdia is often brought up as an example of male homosexuality among the ancient Celts. These two warriors were also lovers, but the tale ends tragically when they are forced to fight each other to the death on opposite sides in the same battle. Cuchulainn laments the death of his friend with these words:
Fast friend, forest companions
We made one bed and slept one sleep
In foreign lands after the fray
Scathach’s pupils, two together
We’d set forth to comb the forest
Norse paganism includes Asatru, Heathenry, and Odinism among other related paths. Norse pagans honor and worship the Norse gods and goddesses including Odin, Thor, and Freya. The Norse gods and goddesses fall into two categories, the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir are the principal pantheon and are typically war gods who live in Asgard. The Vanir are a group of gods associated with fertility, wisdom and the ability to see the future. Norse pagans also honor nature spirits (such as elves) and their ancestors. Most of what we know about these gods and goddesses and their mythologies comes from the Icelandic Prose and Poetic Edda’s and the Norse Sagas.
Norse pagans celebrate feasts and rituals called Sumbels and Blóts, which usually involve food and mead or some other form of alcohol. There are two types of magic in Norse paganism – Galdr and Seiðr. Galdr (pronounced “galder”) is the masculine form of Norse magic and involves the use of runes and staves. Seiðr (pronounced “seether”) is the feminine form of Norse magic associated with the goddess Freya and is a form of shamanism. There were accounts of male practitioners of Seiðr, known as seiðmenn, but in practicing magic they brought a social taboo, known as ergi, onto themselves. Ergi was a term of insult, denoting effeminacy or other unmanly behavior. Some of the Norse gods including Odin not only practiced Seiðr, but cross-dressed. Certain aspects of Seiðr were sexual in nature and likely involved actual sexual acts. While homosexuality was looked down upon in ancient Norse cultures, Vanir gods and goddesses such as Freya and Freyr are said to have had gay or effeminate priests. Freyr is a male fertility god, who while very masculine and heterosexual himself had effeminate male priests who were said to ring bells.
The Radical Faeries (also known as the Rad Fae) is an LGBTQ Pagan movement that came out of the 1970s. In 1979, Harry Hay, his lover John Burnside, and a few others organized a spiritual conference that kicked off the Radical Faerie movement. Harry Hay was also a co-founder of the 1950s Mattachine Society. This movement originally incorporated hippie, Neopagan, eco-friendly, and feminist ideals, but has since become so large and diverse as to be undefinable.
Modern Radical Faerie groups and sanctuaries may include elements of Native and New Age spirituality, the mythopoetic men’s movement, sustainable living, anarchism, Marxism, and other eclectic foundations, but the overall theme remains queer positive, countercultural, and community focused. Faeries tend to reject the artificial constructs of the heterosexual mainstream and assimilationist notions from within the LGBTQ community. The Radical Faeries celebrate the diversity within the LGBTQ community through Pagan concepts and ritual. As with the assimilationist attitudes in the LGBTQ community, they have also challenged strict and formalized ritual structures promoted from within some segments of the Pagan community. Rad Fae events are both serious and playful, and often include a sense of gay campiness and sometimes they include drag.
Originally made up of gay men, the movement has grown to include men and women of all sexual orientations and identities. Rad Fae groups and sanctuaries can include anything from groups of only men who love men to those that include men, women, and all those in-between.
The term “faerie” is a reclaiming of the derogatory term “fairy” that was often used as a term of derision for gay men. The re-appropriated term “Faerie” celebrates gay men’s roles as magical and mystical healers, and religious and moral leaders.
Many Rad Fae groups and sanctuaries exist worldwide in both cities and rural areas.
In its broadest sense, Paganism refers to any religious or spiritual belief system outside of the three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. When referring to Paganism though, we generally exclude Hinduism, Buddhism, and other such large non-Christian religions because they are major religions in their own right. New Age beliefs, while similar and sometimes overlapping with Pagan beliefs, are also usually considered separate. Some Pagans, particularly those who follow Norse practices, prefer to be called “Heathen.” The term “pagan” itself is comes from the Latin “paganus” which means “rustic” or “country dweller.” “Pagan” and “Heathen” have been used as derogatory terms by Christians from the early times of the Christian Roman Empire. This is probably because rural, country folk were more likely to hold onto their older religions and folk practices and less likely to be Christian than the urban, city dwellers of the time. Pagan religions tend to be polytheistic and nature based. They also typically celebrate the cycles of the year including the solar solstices and equinoxes, four holidays between these solar observances, and the lunar cycles (usually full and new moons).
Modern Pagans focus on continuing and oftentimes reconstructing ancient polytheistic religions. These include Northern, European, Germanic, Celtic, Greek, Roman, and even African religions. Many of these religions are older than many of the mainstream religions of today. For example, Christianity has only been around about 2000 years, whereas the Greek and Roman religions that we now consider mythology had been around for several millennia before Christ was even born. Often in history when a new religion takes hold, the older religions are integrated, demonized, or slip away into mythology. If you look closely enough, you can see that all three have happened to Pagan religions. Christianity integrated the old Pagan holy days (holidays) into their newer Christian holy days and masses. That’s why Christmas is celebrated so close to the winter solstice and why Easter features fertility symbols like rabbits and eggs. Pagan deities have also been demonized by the newer religions. There is no Satan in Paganism, but the Christian Satan is often depicted with horns and cloven hoofs, much like the Greek god and satyr Pan. Since Satan is described in the Bible as a fallen angel, shouldn’t he look like an angel – with wings for example? The Bible never describes Satan as looking like a satyr, but many Christian’s do. And the scriptures, gods, and goddesses that were once part of ancient Greek religion and the deities of other ancient cultures have been relegated to the realm of just being good stories, myths, and characters rather than an actual religion that anyone can adopt, study, and worship.
Unfortunately, many Pagan beliefs and practices have been lost to antiquity. In some cases, such as the Druids, their beliefs weren’t written down, but instead were part of an oral tradition. In other cases, the people who practiced these religions were killed and anything written about their religions and practices were destroyed. The early Christian church was especially vigilant about converting other religions to their own and destroying any competition to their monopoly on religion. They did this through crusades and later through witch hunts. It’s interesting to note that sexual “deviants” were also victims of the witch hunts. This may be why the term “faggot” is associated with homosexuals. Faggots were bundles of burning sticks and many alleged witches and other “deviants” were burned at the stake.
With few exceptions, modern Pagans have a much broader and accepting attitude toward sexuality, including alternative sexualities, than the mainstream religions. Abrahamic religions especially tend to be puritanical – focusing on sexuality as a means to populate the earth, rather than an act of love or pleasure. In contrast, the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess states that all “All acts of love and pleasure are my worship.” Wicca makes up one of the larger branches of Paganism. Other large branches include Druidry and Norse Heathenism.