Back this morning in the nest of our home I am basking in rare sunshine & the memories of what must be something like my 20th time circling with the Northwest Radical Faeries at Breitenbush Hot Springs, deep in the woods of central Oregon’s mountains, where we have gathered for the last 25 years.
This is a spiritual gathering of mostly gay men who feel called & re-called to the mission of creating & re-creating magical space for healing themselves & the planet… a far flung ambition, no doubt about it!
Harry Hay holds a position of honor as one of those who made the call for the First Spiritual Gathering of Radical Faeries in 1979 which now has become an international collective of rather anarchical groups who continually reinvent ourselves. We are a rare example of what is actually the very [pre]historic process of coalescing humans to consciousness around deep seated need to advance what it means to be human.
Too much groundwork would be necessary to bring you fully into appreciation & understanding… even we do not know quite who we are most of the time! But I want to attempt that impossibility by narrowing my focus to what might be considered our basic sacrament, which we call Heart Circle.
I illustrate sharing photos of an experiment I began several years ago, which now suggests itself as an ongoing personal practice: a book, which I first saw some four years ago in a Florentine paper shop, but passed it by as impractical for my journaling. Stephen presented it to me nonetheless some days later, in Rome, on my birthday. It is gorgeously handmade, rich paper bound with a leather spine & marbled paper covered boards.
Half moon shaped, it is a crescent which becomes fully round when opened… which shape is why I was first both attracted to it but then observed it being impractical for my squarish calligraphics. Still, he knows well how to feed my heart…
Heart’s song happily often creates askance while dancing antithetical to practicality. I do love the book so I’ve dedicated it to drawing rather than writing, however rare it is I have time in quality to sit with such importantly playful work. Much needed education has come through while I approached this project of drawing a skin of graphite over/onto the soft ribs of such heavily laid cold pressed rag paper. Much pencil pressure will easily cause the surface to crush, introducing even stronger texture… to this I must be student.
The laying onto tone over careful tone, more shading than crosshatching… chiaroscuro become meditation.
Such drawings become lengthy studies… significant investments of time… I’ve managed to fill only 8 or 9 pages so far, or paired pages, since I am making these drawings to fill that full circularity. Still, it has sat most of a year between some efforts.
While I’d brought it to Heart Circle before, at this gathering it began to find new strength in meaning to me. I stopped being concerned it might be disrespectful in the larger context as I considered that it is not unusual to see faes knitting or doing hand sewing. I come to see circles within circles as I continue my exploration with this format. The aspect of mandala… which Sanskrit makes disc obvious.
Circling is primordial human activity… “Wherever two or more of you are gathered…” reclaims a sacrament far older than that quotational fragment. Ancient peoples formed eons of family & tribe on this model. Holding circle creates & describes community at it’s most basic level. Curiously, we have mostly lost the form because more hierarchical natures have long prevailed to construct our ignorance for their power.
There is nothing of top down in a circle. There is only a totality wrapped in endless continuum. There is center… that which holds. There is oneself… there is then all one’s others held in requisite communion… & love.
Faeries find organization in that consensual choice. We are not democratic. The larger portion cannot rule simply by size. All must be worked with so that the whole is healthy as possible. This can be immense struggle & very subtle work… within each self communing with all others. If those who say such wishes truly want to “save the family”, I suspect something like this will be seen as one actually functional as well as logical way… which the father model seemingly cannot accomplish.
Faeries might take anything “organizational” with that sense of constructive skepticism, of askance, at whim. Any rule invites being met with creative breaking, just to prove the larger rule of historically evolutionary anarchy. ALL will ALWAYS break down, change… evolve… by atrophy, or recreation.
So one of the most important parts of every Faerie Gathering… or “Faeries’ Gathering” as one friend, with more particularity to this point, calls them… is the Heart Circle, traditionally held in the morning at our Breitenbush gatherings. We sit together in the North Wing, the largest meeting space in the old traditionally timbered lodge, making ourselves comfortable & cozy on cushions with back-jacks to lean on. The circle breathes to expand & accommodate as more arrive… others leave at whim. This is no obligation. Some never attend, some of us are habitues, appreciating the energetics in this pulse.
At Breitenbush we might average some 30+ in number, gathering close enough to touch, perhaps holding hands in more, often snuggling or inviting newcomers to nestle into laps rather than to disturb the present & palpable connection… we try not to disturb attention while someone is speaking.
There are numerous variations on procedure. Some traditions pass a talisman, perhaps a “talking stick” to define the concentration toward the sharing, going around the circle to include everyone. In our gatherings, we allow those wishing to speak to take the center, putting no onus on those who might choose to remain quiet until such moment as they are ready.
We have long used a shawl as our usual talisman. Such a bit of “drag” seems to suit our sense of style. The one most currently used was made by a fae who created a richly patterned & subtly spangled triangle which is sturdy enough to stand up to being draped & dragged, played with in nervousness, tugged on & tossed while faeries speak with all the potential emotions, as well as to support a burgeoning collection of additional adornments accumulating to represent all the various gatherings at which it has been used. This shawl has traveled around the country & several times to Europe since its appearance five or six years ago. The Faeries meet regularly in half a dozen sanctuaries around the country. There are Eurofaeries & a new gathering developing in SE Asia as well.
There is also an “ancient” crocheted shawl which is now so weighted by years of feathers, bits of jewelry & patches & has become so frail, in spite of numerous repairs, that we do not actively use it. It has become curiously “hallowed” by so much energy… it has seen so many years of tears in joy or pain, so much stress of emotive anger & love, of holding the weight of processing such myriad matters of collective heart.
We gay, queer, two-spirited, bi & trans-gendering people have long been outcast, especially in patriarchal societies. We hold a powerful collective pain… we hold an equally powerful, but necessarily more subtle strength to survive. Prejudice again & again proves its ultimate weakness & insecurity although never without a struggle from those challenged. Much of the work done in Heart Circle has to do with healing the resultant wounds.
We are invited to speak from our heart & to bring such deeper energies to play by avoiding the foibles & the games of the mind. Courts & Senates abound… “logic” is how we’ve come to many of the difficulties in this world which we would now attempt to dissolve with the subtleties of love.
We tell our stories inside these circles. We witness our sister-brothers in the joys & travails of their lives. We choose names for the beings we more truly are… or wish to become. We rant. We grieve our losses in the deaths & other passages of family & friends. We ask for support. We bare our souls.
One tradition, although this, as everything else in our unstructured way, is only one option, is to bare our bodies as we speak, bringing our nakedness to be seen in that symbolic honesty, because our culture has made such a poor bargain with true beauty & with sex. This must be considered when the media show only certain, very limiting, body types as acceptable. Before you recoil at this notion you must be honest with yourself about the images with which you are constantly bombarded inside your television or magazines. Does your body meet those “standards”? Is it possible you might prefer to be able to stand bare, finding approval from your peers?… How might it feel actually receiving open appreciation for your size, color, shape & weight? Do your clothes & cosmetics in truth help you compensate for the supposed deficiencies our commercial culture constructs to put us all mostly down? Could we all reach through the sales gimmicks & find some actual confidence in our truth instead?
Faeries feel that pain with all who are marginalized. Further, as gay men we easily contain our own version of that culture which puts so many of us down by impossible standards of gym bunny beauty, which is a curious form of white male privilege known as internalized homophobia. Being overachievers to begin with, simply to survive, in our frustration we take the societal norms to new heights & are often cruel to each other in order to find something feeling temporarily like a step up.
Faeries work to change this cycle… & it is complicated work indeed! It takes this strong structure of the circle… this geometry without corners where which one might stuff one’s shit or try hiding with pain. As we face ourselves & look into the mirror of other eyes, we likely first see our own fear. As we share that fear openly we more easily resolve into softening acceptance & appreciation. Without so much need to react by threatening back… we may rather begin finding strength to love more, if not all possible selves. Coming into that welcoming love we may begin more easily to see beauty in all its forms.
Nakedness is belittled by accusations of sexual “impropriety” when it really is more truthful than to accept such from some god of easily manipulated words selling a slavish lack of true logic… if any god created the infinite universe, why would he put only a few narrow-thinking white men in charge? That concept genuinely seems a comic sort of “logic”!
Circles were useful process long before churches. We continue to prove for ourselves in these circles the truth of that. This would seem more genuinely to be “that old time religion”. Still, faeries would not wish to be limited as a religion… we are more about spirit than can fit inside such limited definition.
So I brought my round book to the faerie heart circles of this gathering & attempted to honor that spirit in my particular way. In the third day’s circle I sat with a new blank set of pages, an open invitation for the mandalic process. The point of my mechanical pencil naturally arrived first at the center. While I rarely speak in circle I can speak here in my own manner. The hearts coming bodily to the center that morning were often telling of feeling off kilter or of searching to find direction & focus. That resonated with the laid lines of these particular pieces of paper, which were going at slightly “clashing” angles.
My book’s round pages are cut on many angles & mostly are folded into the folios differently one half page to the other. This requires me to consider how these subtle furrows will ultimately affect my drawing, which will only bring them more & more strongly into visual play under the darker tonalities. I began to draw that skew as honoring something indeterminate… describing a hand for a clock out of time, perhaps… or the pointer of a compass searching between polarities. I felt more the book’s calling… Its quiet turning as I crosshatched in innumerable angles allows, requires, mirrors & celebrates the circles within, the circles beyond. Wheels within discs within processes of quiet noise & meditation.
I’ve 90 or so more pages… seeming a life’s work… which gratefully feels less daunting than before. I now rather look forward to the promising permutations possible in such a concentrated evolution. I am invited to find new circles in working play!