Toronto
5 min

Sex & spirituality

'Behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals'

BI-WITCHING. Dana Shaw, Cheryl Dobinson and Lynna Landstreet are three bisexual Wiccans who find their sexuality in harmony with their religion. Credit: Tony Fong

It’s all around you. A couple of men in Timothy’s discussing who should or shouldn’t be invited to a dedication ritual. The woman at the BDSM workshop wearing a pentacle. The trans bois outside The 519 dishing on where to buy a great athame. It’s Wicca, and it’s the fastest growing religion in Canada.



Lynna Landstreet, a priestess of the Wiccan Church Of Canada (WCC), has been practising her craft for the past 25 years. “When I picked up my first book on Wicca, I knew within the first few pages that this was it.



“Wicca has far more depth and complexity to it than most people realize,” says Landstreet, who worries that the popularization of Wicca has left the general public with an unrealistic image of the religion. “And to pursue it in a serious way requires considerable intelligence, dedication, self-discipline and hard work.”



Wicca is a pagan spirituality with roots in European folk religions. The basics include reverence for nature, the necessity of balance and the presence of the divine in all forms of life. Wiccan rituals celebrate the change of seasons, phases of the moon and the cycles of life and death. The next Wiccan holiday is Mabon, on Sun, Sep 21, celebrating the autumn equinox.



It isn’t a one-size-fits-all faith. Wicca has many traditions or paths, each appealing to different needs and interests.



Landstreet spent three years as a solitary Wiccan before encountering the WCC. Part of the Odyssean tradition, the WCC has temples in Toronto and Hamilton. “I like being rooted in a specific tradition with a lineage and a sense of history to it,” she says.



Her private coven, Wolf Moon, is a predominantly queer mixed-gender group and is open to other practices, such as Celtic reconstructionism, chaos magic and deep ecology.



Although the popular image of witches is female, the Wiccan faith itself is pretty evenly split between men and women. Half of the WCC’s members are men and half of the pagans counted in the 1991 census were men.



Cheryl Dobinson was attracted to Wicca for several years, but got serious about practising it only a year and a half ago. “For me, being feminist and queer-positive were two key things that I just didn’t see in other religions or spiritual paths,” says Dobinson. She was also drawn by Wicca’s openness to questions and independent thought. “I need to be a free-thinker in whatever I do.”



Dobinson says she wanted a group that was woman-focussed and interested in social justice, but didn’t find what she was looking for in the Wicca women’s study group she began attending in the winter of 2002. “But I found other women there who were on the same wavelength,” she says, “and we formed our own women-only coven.”



Her coven, made up of four bisexual women, is part of the Reclaiming tradition inspired by feminist collectives. Like many Reclaiming covens Dobinson’s is non-hierarchical, with each woman being considered a Wiccan priestess. “I believe that any woman can decide she is her own priestess at any time,” says Dobinson. “It isn’t something that someone can promise or give to you.”



Dobinson has found the queer community to be mostly accepting of her religion. “Many of the queer folks I know also practice Wicca,” she says. “So there is a climate of understanding and respect in the circles I am part of socially.”



Dana Shaw has been a Wiccan for the past 13 years. She was drawn to Wicca’s image of male and female equality, as expressed in its belief in both a masculine and feminine element to the divine (sometimes expressed as God/dess or Lord and Lady). “It allows me to see both masculine and feminine divinities within myself and others,” says Shaw.



Shaw’s tradition is Alexandrian, or British Traditional Wicca, which is more hierarchical. “The tradition in which I’ve studied is one that is strong in formality,” says Shaw. “There is a required curriculum to study to advance in our tradition.”



Her teacher is a bisexual man. “In most Wiccan covens the most elder or highest ranked person is the leader of the coven,” says Shaw. “In our case it happens to be a man.” Shaw is a second-degree Alexandrian, which makes her a High Priestess. “For me that means I have the knowledge and experience to lead a coven and teach others in my tradition.”



In addition to working with her own coven, Shaw has been the Wiccan Chaplain at the University Of Toronto for the past year. “Other chaplains were welcoming and treated me as an equal,” says Shaw. “The main difference between my chaplaincy and that of the others is that most of them are funded by their churches or larger religious organizations. They have budgets, salaries and sometimes offices whereas I have nothing at all except my experience and enthusiasm.”



It may seem strange for queers to be interested in an ancient fertility religion, but one of its big draws is its positive attitude toward sexuality. Refreshingly absent is the concept of sexuality as sinful, or that spirituality is separate from the body.



“Physical pleasures are not some kind of profane temptation that leads people away from the path of spirituality,” says Landstreet. “They’re a manifestation of spirituality in their own right.”



Key among Wiccan texts is a poem, “Charge Of The Goddess,” by Doreen Valiente, the mother of modern witchcraft. The poem states, “Behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Written in 1954, the poem is based on Charles G Leland’s 1890 book Aradia: The Gospel Of The Witches and Aleister Crowley’s 1904 work The Book Of The Law.



“‘The Charge Of The Goddess’ is one of the most powerful pieces of common liturgy Wiccans have,” says Shaw, “and it’s this phrase that opens the door to sexuality of all kinds.”



Most Wiccans agree on two key principles. The first of these is the Wiccan Rede, a sort of golden rule: “If it harms no one, do as you will.” The second common concept is similar to the idea of karma, and is called the Threefold Law, “What you send returns three times over.” Both principles make for good sex.



But despite its body-positive and sex-positive elements, some aspects of Wicca can feel alienating to queers. One of these is the idea of male/female polarity. For example, the ritual wine blessing uses the male symbol of the athame (ritual knife) and the female symbol of the chalice (ritual cup) to represent the creation of life. When Landstreet first joined Wicca a ritual participant quipped to her, “That’s an athame they stick in the chalice, not a tongue, dear.”



Dobinson says she doesn’t feel obligated to use such imagery in her coven’s rituals. “I felt that this was way too heterosexual,” she says. Instead, her coven draws on their own experience to create rituals. “We can and do incorporate symbols and stories in our rituals that reflect our lives and realities as bi women. For example, we might mention both same-sex and other-sex relationships in our ritual practices.”



Wiccan commitment ceremonies, called handfastings, emerged out of Celtic traditions of engagement, in which couples were joined for a year and a day to test their fertility and compatibility. Modern Wicca uses handfastings to recognize many commitments, including same-sex or polyamorous relationships. When Shaw, a polyamorous bisexual, recently celebrated a Wiccan handfasting with her partner, Sarah, her legal marriage to her husband, Dave, was not an impediment.



Landstreet and her partner, Angela, had a betrothal ritual this past spring and intend to be handfasted next year. Yet she notes that the term “marriage” still carries greater weight in society than handfasting. “Telling my relatives that Angela and I would be getting married drew a more enthusiastic response and more promises of attendance than saying we were getting handfasted or having a commitment ceremony would have been likely to.”



Handfastings are not yet recognized as legal marriages in Canada. In order to be granted the status to legally marry, a religious body has to have been in existence for more than 25 years. At 24, the WCC is almost there. Landstreet, Shaw and Dobinson all hope that handfastings will eventually be recognized as legal marriages.”If people want to enter into a legal marriage they should have the right to do so in the religious tradition of their choosing,”says Dobinson.



* For more information, check out Lynna Landstreet’s coven at www.wolfmoon.ca, the Wiccan Church Of Canada at www.wcc.on.ca, the Reclaiming tradition at www.reclaiming.org and for more about Starhawk,go to www.starhawk.org.