History of the Radical Faeries
As noted earlier, the goal of co-founder Harry Hay was to connect to the ancient spirit of gay people throughout history. Therefore, a true appreciation of the history of Radical Faeries could not be obtained without an insight to the historic spiritual and social role of gay people and a thoughtful look into the life of Harry Hay. Two excellent resources that would do justice to those two concerns are Randy Conner's Blossom of Bone, 1993 and Harry Hay's Radically Gay, 1996. Otherwise, the Radical Faerie history I will focus on includes a brief description of the developments leading to the first gathering, a summary of the first gathering, and a synopsis of subsequent events.
The movement of the Radical Faeries began around 1978. "The term 'movement' could not, [however], contain what the Faeries were all about; in fact Harry avoided using that term at first. He saw the Faeries rather as a process or way of life" (Timmons 250). Nonetheless, Hay had ignited something in the minds and spirits of many gay men, and consequent activity was inevitable. Hay's resounding calls and essays to gay men in the'70s filled a deep spiritual need in gay society. Gay men began making the pilgrimage to New Mexico to seek out the legendary founder of Gay Liberation (Roscoe 238). One of those men, Mitch Walker, suggested that they call a gay male conference based on the ideas of history, mythology and the meaning of gay consciousness. With the help of a third man, Don Kilhefner, the first plans for a Radical Faerie gathering started in the Fall of 1978 (Timmons 1978).
Additionally and simultaneously, Arthur Evans was asserting the role of queer spirituality in his book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, 1978. His book was a strong initiative in the Radical Faerie movement, influencing gay men to examine their relationship between gay spirituality and the old Pagan Nature religions. In his chapter entitled "Magic and Revolution," Evans writes that it is the role of gay men to look forward to re-establishing our communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together...We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process as coming out -- as Gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos. (154-5).
The accumulative effects of Walker, Kilhefner, Evans, and Hay resulted in "A Call to Gay Brothers: A Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries." Fliers were sent to gay and leftist bookstores, schools, gay community centers, and health food stores. An examination of the flier's language is crucial to understand the intent of its organizers and participants:
It's in the air. Heard everywhere. At the World Symposium on Humanity the talk is about "New Age Politics" -- beyond Left and Right -- a synthesis of the political and spiritual movements of the past two decades....the need for "conscious beings" assuming responsibilities for social and political change -- a radical Circle of Dharma....something new is happening in our society with more and more people living and perceiving their lives differently....merging of political consciousness and spiritual consciousness -- an interest in healing society rather than championing exclusive claims to "rightness."....Does all of this political/spiritual ferment have any relevance to gay men? Is there a gay vision of New Age society? Is a "paradigm shift" in gay consciousness also manifesting itself? The answer to all of these questions is: YES! And many gay brothers are feeling the need to come together... to share insights about ourselves; to dance in the moonlight; to renew our oaths against patriarchy/corporations/racism; to hold, protect, nurture and caress one another; to talk about the politics of the gay espiritment/ the espiritment of gay politics; to find the healing place inside our hearts; to become Inspirer/listener as we share new breakthroughs in how we perceive gay consciousness; to soar like an eagle; to re-discover/re-invent our myths; to talk about gay living/loving alternatives; to experience the groundlessness of the calmus root; to share our gay visions; to sing, sing, sing; TO EVOKE THE GREAT FAIRY CIRCLE... (Hay 239-40)
Undoubtedly, 220 men found meaning in the language of the flier, trekking to Tucson, Arizona for the first Faerie gathering on Labor Day weekend, 1978. It could have been the first time in recent history that gay men realized that there was something more to do with their sexualities besides simply to "accept it" (Hay 245).
The first gathering proved to be a successful experiment. As one attendant relates: "We had no answers, we cried a lot, and laughed a lot, and sometimes we were cruel to each other. Living in a culture that has this idea that the physical and the spiritual are split, we didn't even have a vocabulary for speaking about what we needed" (Adler 343). Although structure and definitive language was lacking, two events manifested from the spirit of the group: the Great Faerie circle and the Mudpeople.
The first Faerie circle contained a spontaneous theme of Paganism. "Invocations were offered to the spirits, blessings and chants rose and fell...[Hay] called on the crowd to 'throw off the ugly green frogskin of hetero-imitation to find the Faerie Prince beneath'" (Timmons 265). A small wire cage was brought into the circle. People were asked to place fears, anxieties, any spiritual-limiting force, into the cage. "As the cage began to make its way around the circle, spontaneous chants began...A low hum began but quickly moved into a more agitated, coarser, emotion-filled cries...When the cage had been around the circle, the leader took it to the center, and held it up...so everyone could see what they were throwing away, then...he flung the cage and everything it contained into the desert darkness (RFD 22:62-3). Subsequently, the Great Faerie Circle has provided the framework in which much healing and spiritual awakenings transpire.
Likewise, the traditional Faerie practice of the Mudpeople was started at the first gathering. Numerous accounts exist about the profound event that "started out to be a lighthearted romp [and] turned into be a serious affair. Something about the nudity and the primitiveness of the chanting and the ambiance of the gathering triggered a primal urge in them all" (Adler 342). The whole event is recounted in language and phrases suggesting a religious rite of passage. A writer in RFD remembers a bystander who took off his clothes and traveled to the mud pit:
Immediately there was a sense of initiation. They held him on their shoulders -- a completely white body amid the mud people. They lowered him into the ooze and covered him over. They held him up high again and began to chant. After they put him down another spontaneous dance broke out. It was truly watching a tribal ritual... (342).
The power of the Mudpeople events exemplify the transcendence of cultural boundaries. Silence, grunts, chants, and motion becomes language, feelings, attitudes, and power.
The first gathering kindled the movement. Attendees formed circles around the country as a way to prolong the awakened spirit they found at the gatherings. Also, Faeries felt a need to reconnect after the gathering in order to deal with "re-entry trauma syndrome," the problem of reorienting to the straight world. The nationwide Faerie circles also dealt with issues such as determining characteristics that encompass 'real' Faeries, confronting Faerie chauvinism against heterosexuals, and examining the role of Faeries and political consciousness (Timmons 268-74). As a result, countless Faerie sanctuaries have been established world-wide.
The second gathering in Boulder, Colorado provided dialogue for the concerns discussed in the previous paragraph, as well as created new Faerie traditions and ideas on Faerie sanctuaries. Ron Lambe, 62, resident of Asheville, shares some of his memories of the second gathering in Boulder:
The most powerful of all of the experiences that I've ever had in the whole movement was the National gathering in Colorado in '80. There was a huge number of people. That one was so successful it was astounding. And, there was true magic going on there because some of the people had a background [in ritual] -- They were able to take the energy of the group and shape it into something very creative and astounding that everyone felt -- I think it was rare. I don't think that happens all of the time.