On The Queer Affinity For Witches

With American Horror Story: Coven coming to an unsatisfying conclusion, the fever pitch of the “witch trend” of 2013 might be coming to a disappointing end. After a slew of fumbling lower-quality copycats (Witches of Eastwick, the rumored Charmedreboot, perhaps even the latest Paranormal Activity film), it seems the occult has been vanquished as speedily as it rose up from it's Eldritch origins. But witchcraft has long been of fascination to queer audiences, with more contemporary roots in the avant-garde shown by artists like Kenneth Anger.

With a glut of middle-brow think pieces blaming the trendiness of the occult on disaffected millennial hipsters seeking to cope with their loss of power from the post-9/11 economic collapse through alternative and supernatural means (examples: here and here), is there a more rational and less buzz-wordy explanation for the appeal of the otherworldy? Can the recent embracing of the occult specifically by queer parties, fashions, and audiences be explained as an almost implicitly political stance?

Obviously, this political affinity is not only a modern or post-modern situation. The history of the punishment of queer people is not so far off from the punishment of witches, a parallel made obnoxiously and uncomfortably explicit in the finale ofCoven. Some claim that the word “faggot” even comes from the bundle of sticks used to burn both homosexuals and witches, although the historicity of that is dubious. The hunting and persecution of both pagan practitioners and their sexually transgressive counterparts is, on the other hand, indisputable fact.

As a more contemporaneous statement, the embracing of witchcraft by sexual minorities or pseudo-transgressive minded artists is not uncommon. From Sharon Needles to Ke$ha and (most recently) Katy Perry, Satanic images run rampant in the popular sphere. In a quote I've discussed before, Sharon once proclaimed that her infatuation with horror imagery is utilized in order to become a sort of precipitate of larger cultural fears and anxieties. What sounds like art-school babble on the part of the Drag Race Season 4 champion is, in a way, rather astute. What is more scary to the conservative right wing than a devil-worshipping drag queen? Miss Needles actively seeks to become the monster that the evangelical right commonly perceives the queer community to be.

And she isn't far off from Anton LeVay's original intentions as he writes out in The Satanic Bible. If we can excuse LeVay's devotion to the philosophies of Ayn Rand (admittedly a difficult if not impossible thing to do) the practice of Satanism (atheistic or otherwise) is implicitly queer. Created as an inversion of Judeo-Christian faiths, LeVayan Satanism is predominantly aesthetic and secondarily political; it is more of a self-performative psycho-drama than a religion. Inscribed within it are injunctions against sexual restrictions: do what thou wilt. For LeVay Judeo-Christian sin is the realization of the desires of the body (gluttony, lust, wrath, etc...), Satanic bliss is the embracing of those sins. Pansexuality is celebrated, albeit often misogynistically.

The logic of this is extrapolated in the rituals / performances of Lucian Greaves' chapter of the Satanic Church, who in unsubtle satire of the evangelical right have performed “pink masses” to turn the relatives of Westboro Baptist Church leaders into homosexuals in the afterlife as a sort of jokey nihilistic revenge against those who would vilify gays. The potential for the embracing of Satanic or occult imagery as a protest against extreme “moral” conservatism is perhaps vastly under-explored except in the popular imaginary of drag queens, pop stars, and (more recently) television shows.

While I've focused on Satanism here, the celebration of pansexuality is perhaps a trait of most (if not all) pagan or occult sects. Thus, amalgamations of made-up and real-life rituals from a pantheon of pagan mythos are created in the lore of things likeBuffy The Vampire Slayer (Willow and Tara were gay, remember?) and AHS:C (a show made by and marketed, sometimes panderingly, to gays)This amorphous and nebulous occult-chic imagery (marketed smartly by fashion lines like Unif, Kill Star, and Actual Pain) is, of course, watered down, but still remains potent in its potential as an aesthetic oppositional tool.

The trendiness of witches, specifically within queer communities, highlights the use of the occult as a tool against a hetero-patriarchal oppressor (in this case, evangelical Christianity and its plethora of similarly right-winged variants which actively campaign against the queer people), even when the co-opting of said imagery has been evacuated of any actual religious or spiritual intent. Witchcraft is often paired with disenfranchised minorities and more recently underground subcultures (goth, for example, which has its own queer history) in ways that smartly subvert hegemonic instantiations of specific sexual moralities.