People of the Rainbow
“People of the Rainbow:
Transgender in Magick and Ritual”
by Paul B. Rucker © 1995/2008-2009
(First print publication: Mezlim Vol. VI, #2, Sexual Orientation in the Magickal Community, Beltane 1995. Reprinted in Transgender Tapestry #73, 1995, and Green Egg Vol. 32, #128, May-June 1999.)
(When this essay was first presented in the mid-1990s, a great efflorescence of social and political awareness was taking place in American culture around GLBT identity, in which transgender issues and concerns achieved more visibility and gained more ground than at any time previously. Kate Bornstein and other transgendered figures of note were making the rounds in print and in public presentation, thus the ideas contained in this article were at the time fresh social currency. Many of the concepts are more generally understood and incorporated into contemporary social awareness, thanks to the Internet. Nevertheless, new circumstance arise to challenge even this extended understanding– examples that come to mind as of this update are Thomas Beattie, the “pregnant man” and Caster Semenya, the South African sprinting champion with “androgen insensitivity syndrome” whose right to be classified as female in her sport is challenged on the basis of “genetic hermaphroditism.” Since this essay stresses the imaginal and spiritual aspect of transgender considered from several aspects, it is meant to stimulate a wider kind of magickal thinking around the topic of gender, and thus remains pretty much to the point, I feel.)
Until recently, “Transgender” has been one of the least-understood arenas of self-identification in both sexual and magickal communities. However, many are now discovering in transgender a new kind of autonomy in transforming gender concepts, a new spectrum of gender choices, roles, and experiences. Gender as we know it imposes fixed categories to sexuality and sex-role behavior. Transgender presents sexuality as a continuum, a fringe domain where the “gender outlaw” creates gender identity in his/her/zir own image.
Gender– an emotional/behavioral construct of roles and attitudes reflecting one’s personal connection to one’s sex– is typically imprinted on the growing child by tacit social concensus. This concensus consists of largely unchallenged ideas of how males behave (being “a man”)– and how females behave (being “a woman”). For most people, this makes sense, as so many other things appear binary as well– black and white, day and night, sun and moon, sea and land, ad infinitum. At first glance, one might think the world to be composed solely of a series of never-ending opposites.
People derive a dual Cosmos from binary vision: a Goddess who is everything Yin in the world and a God who is everything Yang. Similarly, in monotheistic dualism, a God who is Good must still retain his “adversary” who is Evil. Perhaps because we think that because soul is so wonderful, its “opposite,” flesh, must be just awful. It follows that if one gender is identified with any particular thing, the other gender is then assigned to an “opposite.” Only one gender gets to be “strong” at any one time. (Some people attempt to make up for this by claiming “male” energy represents exterior strength while “female” energy represents interior strength. This is just a subtler form of polarizing.)
But what is this that comes between day and night– rich and colorful, not light and not dark– it is the dawn, the dusk. Those stars we call planets can be seen at times by day as well as night, walking the Moon’s road, bringing the Sun. The coast at the edge of sea and land is both, yet neither. What about that person? Is it a man or a woman? I can’t tell!
The interval of things, the margin where one things becomes another, that place of mystery, is also the place of magickal transgender. Transgender is the Third Place– the avenue of exploration branching away from duality, whose basis is the powerful energy of sexuality and eros, the energy that is our power to create, to define ourselves, to merge with All That Is.
Transgender is a fluid continuum– it contains persons who identify as male or female who yet acknowledge the presence of the other sex in their personalities. It contains androgynes whose appearance and behavior are free of the restrictions of “male” and “female,” sometimes referring to people who have blended the gender identities of both sexes.
Transgender can refer to people who evoke other genders than that of their set identity for specific occasions– theater, ritual, comedy, festivals, private magick. Transgender also includes biological hermaphrodites. An extreme commitment to crossing the gender polarity is shown by transsexuals— individuals who undergo tremendous challenge and incur great expense in redesigning their anatomy to conform with their interior nature. Although the change is physically topological (the chromosomes remain as they were before), it creates a new organ functional enough to retain orgasmic capacity (and male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals have fooled not a few gynecologists!). (1)
Traditional cultures that have a place for transgendered people usually believe that one who contains both genders in him/herself is a living Bridge between all the polarities that exist. Just as s/he is thought to understand the ways of both men and women, so also s/he is thought to have access by nature to the realms of spirit and flesh. Called such labels as hijra, nadle, winkte, bayogin and Two-Spirits (formerly berdache), transgendered people are usually shamans, counselors, artists, heyokas (sacred clowns) and tribal elders.
Just as the Rainbow is evoked as that Bridge between Sky and Earth, the “people of the rainbow” (the transgendered) serve as Living Bridges between “Above” and “Below.”
In occult terminology, adepts create the antahkarana-– the “Bridge of Rainbows”– between the Third Eye and the Crown chakras when their meditative practice attains a certain level of integration and regularity. The creative power of the libido, originating in the sexual chakra, focuses in the “form-making” body, the prism of the Inner Eye– the most powerful magick begins in one and is given final shape in the other.
Work with transgender is one of the most potent ways available for creating changes in the magickal mind. I define magick as bending and shaping our realities– making visible changes through psychic means. It is about achieving lucidity in our collective dream. To make changes in reality that generate new options, one must cultivate an inclusive attitude toward diversity in oneself and others. A larger personal universe contains more opportunities to fulfill one’s True Will.
Magickians understand that they must step outside the limits of the mass culture in which they live to incorporate the premises that make their Work possible. This entails removing cultural prohibitions where appropriate.
A “commodity” culture such as the so-called “mainstream” bases itself on scarcity and proffers only “either-or” choices. As Naomi Wolf says in Fire with Fire: “Either/or thinking is the natural mental reaction to a perception of scarcity… when people feel rich in confidence and space [then] they dare to pursue the subtleties of ‘both/and’ thinking.” (Italics mine.)
A healing alternative to “scarcity consciousness” is called a “gift” economy: everyone participates in and supports the organism of community by the exchange of gifts and by rituals that affirm the clan-bond. In such societies the transgendered person flourishes for transgender is not seen as a pathology but as a gift.
Transgender as a magickal stance resists and diverts the falseself coding of How Things Ought to Be. Mitch Walker uses the term “falseself” in Visionary Love to describe gender-based identities imposed on people by society in exchange for ontological security: “safety of being.” Without some framework to contain its reality, the average awareness would collapse; thus people collude in creating agreed-on notions of How Things Ought to Be. But, as Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan states, the very fabric of this reality coding must be disrupted– he calls this “stopping the world”– in order to bring through the magickian’s intent– the power to shape reality.
Transgender “stops the world.”
It refutes both Freud’s famous fiat, “Anatomy is Destiny” and its inverse, “Destiny is Anatomy.” Identifying anatomy as the sole source of gender identity denies the power of imagination/magick to shape alternatives. (Both “imagination” and “magic” are derived from the Indo-European root Magh— “To Make or Be Able.”)
“Our culture has sacrificed enough individuals on the altar to the Gender Archons,” says Black Cat, a self-described “Gnostic Magickian,” who applies the Gnostic view that the soul is beyond gender as we know it to her magickal philosophy and her workings.
Others, such as myself, prefer to consider gender as a concept that can be grasped, if only to permeate existing constructs and to be poured into new containers. I consider myself an eclectic shakta— a devotee of the Shakti, the Goddess energy pervading the universe. In the Hindu cosmology every God has his Shakti, without whom he cannot move. I entertain the idea that all male Gods have a Shakti, a consort or female self who is the root of their ability to act as powers in our reality.
I also believe that male magickians are strengthened in their calling when they consciously evoke their Shakti from within. Unifying male/female/etc. energies in one’s magickal being provides one of the most direct and daring routes to expressing the true and whole inner self. (I have no problem with being biologically male– I have a big problem with what that’s supposed to mean.) (2)
To a leader of a local pagan men’s group, I suggested that a truly brave activity– and thus a more potentially transforming one– for a men’s circle would not be to sit around and talk/drum/wonder “what a man really is”– but for the men involved to “stop the world” of their gender identity and perform a ritual in the garb and persona of their patron Goddesses– which is the expression we use for what I would call our Shaktis.
I have myself Bridged two Goddesses in ritual: Ereshkigal and the Snow Queen. I evoked the Queen of Death for a private initiation in which the High Priestess was also transgendered, representing Anu, God of the Air. Although I was never fully possessed as some people can be, the Queen was Drawn Down upon me, and I saw with Her eyes and my own. As one of the faces of Death, she is in a certain sense the one who “holds the bottom line.” I remember a severe and somber sense of authority, coupled with an intuitive connection between making life from out of me, yet calling it back to rest in shadow. Ereshkigal spoke of being the primal Void, the one who existed “before the count of time began.” I saw her nature inside me as if it were a hologram made of feeling. Most definitely she was not my normal self.
Neither was the Snow Queen, who for me embodies coldness, isolation, and a wildness that cares nothing for emotion. This aspect was far more conscious, not as intuitive, and was Bridged for a public Yule ritual. In the process I released the analogous emotions I was feeling at the time. (Actively living myth in group ritual is often therapeutic.)
To some it may have seemed that all I had done was to put on “female” clothing to play a transvestite role. I consider myself to have made aspects of my Inner Goddess visible–as wholly-integrated portions of myself. The classic male transvestite polarizes the genders within himself– in wearing the clothes associated with the opposite sex, he courts “her” who is part of himself, as a separate entity: a phantom other woman. He retains a separate, publicly male identity.
In itself, transvestitism does not indicate changes in gender identity, although it is one of the tools a transgendered person can use to indicate such changes. For a male-to-female transsexual (MtF), clothing, hormones and surgery constellate as the means to correct a discrepancy between a female interior and a male anatomical exterior. Such a person seeks not to engage in further polarizing, but to fully embody the female/Goddess self.
Pagans who subscribe to a purely binary concept of the world and its Powers seem to project those magickal qualities which they see as not belonging to their gender roles onto their partners. Exclusivity based purely on gender declares that no man can ever be May Queen, no woman the Green Man. The ontological security of Wicca in particular depends upon a heterosexist view of the universe, but where does that leave a person who agrees in heart and soul with everything Wicca has to offer save for the expectations laid upon him/her because of his/her/zir biological sex?
There are many kinds of fertility, more than one outcome from a meeting of the sexes. Imagine how different our practice of ritual would be if our primary definition of fertility involved the Flowering and Fruiting of Creativity itself, as opposed to the mere perpetuation of seasonal rituals unconnected to the cycles of the creative inner self. We can’t fall into the mistake of thinking that modern circumstances and knowledge will condone our aping the past. To make pagan culture a viable culture, all means possible must be used to adapt the wisdom of the past to the needs of the present.
In a pagan/magickal context, there are three essential ways to be fruitful:
1) A physical child is conceived. this is the consequence of heterosex and, as nature has it, is an essentially random act. It is not considered an act of magickal will unless invested with that significance by the people involved.
2) A Magickal Child is conceived. This is said to be the esoteric goal of Tantric Yoga (the so-called “Yoga of Sex”): two people merge their energy fields such that a third psychic entity, the “child” of their combined energy, is formed. The Magickal Child exists on the astral plane, although sometimes a physical child is conceived to be the vehicle for this being. As a discipline of unification, Tantra translates the energies of physical reproduction to a subtler form. I am given to understand that any variety of gender couplings can create a Magickal Child, although “orthodox’ Tantra insists on male-female pairings.
3) An “Interior Wedding” takes place, a Hieros Gamos, a uniting of the male and female within, with one’s own Self the Child of that union. Ancient mysticism called this “giving birth to oneself.” This second birth initiates a more holistic personality, transgendered or androgynous, encompassing and surpassing the activities and perceptions of either sexual pole. The transgendered person is therefore a gestalt of sorts– “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Aleister Crowley believed the advent of the new Aeon, the Age of Horus, was in part represented by the Androgyne: “…two sexes in one person throughout, so that each individual is self-procreative sexually… the formula is now Love in all cases; and the end is the beginning, on a higher plane.” (From Magick in Theory and Practice.)
Transgender as I understand it serves several social and psychological functions. It cultivates the growth of one’s sense of interior power, especially in life phases where changing gender concepts is vital to one’s growth or healing or moving ahead in one’s own life story. In fact, it can be an incandescent experience to watch someone blossom and fruit in the space created by transgender, which frequently helps people to give themselves “permission” to be creative, to be inwardly fertile.
A concomitant function of transgender is to evoke what is normally inaccessible within, as many “shadow strengths” are often bound into our personal concepts of “the other gender(s).” Transgender can express affiliation with Gods and Goddesses as behavior models both for ourselves and for others; my rituals served this mode.
Transgender can inspire– again, oneself and others. Transgender keeps mystery alive. In ritual, contacting the Divine Mystery is one of its essential services. Consider the myriad godforms dedicated to the transgendered Mystery: Baphomet, Hermaphroditus/ “The Bearded Aphrodite,” Coyote, Loki (who at one time assumed the form of a mare and gave birth in that shape, as did the Welsh Gwydion and Gilvaethwy as deer, wolves and swine), Tiresias, Pomba Gira, Oshumaré, Xochiquetzal, Ouranos, Dian-Y-Glas (the young face of the Blue God of Feri), Krishna as the seductress Mohini, and Shiva Ardhanarishvara, “The Lord whose Half is Woman”– depicted as all male (Shiva) on the right and all female (Shakti/Parvati) on the left. Transvestite deities include Thorr, Herakles, Baal, etc. There is also more than a hint of transgendered power in the reigns of such historical queens as Elizabeth I of England, who frequently invoked her masculine qualities in order to override objections to her sovereignty as a woman, or the African “Queen-King” Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba.
Transgender also entertains-– this is one of the few sacred places left for transgender in our culture at large. The word “entertain” means “to maintain, to hold together, to hold in-between”. Drag Queens may have a far more sacred role than we usually admit!
In closing, I would like to share one of the powerful visions given to the late Celie Mahu Edwards, a transsexual visionary performance artist with AIDS. She was driven from their ferocity to make art– performances– based on the revelations they meant to her. Many of her visions began in peace and ended in pain and premonitions of death– the dying of her cells, for instance, became a flow of lava engulfing her, melting even her bones.
In one vision the spirit of a black transsexual woman told her, “The earth has no immune system left. We have brought up her diamonds and rubies and precious metals– these are the immune system of the earth.” The spirit also said, “We have stolen the place of transgendered, gay, lesbian, bisexual– all queer people– these are the immune system of humanity. People who have died of AIDS and people who are living with AIDS are the people chosen to cry one tear for the universe, for this planet, and for all humanity.”
“Is it possible for this planet, for humanity, for this universe, to have tears this big?”
Precious metals– precious people… how ironic that this person would have been honored in another culture for her transgendered status and for her art, and for her Visions; in our culture, Celie was terrified of being labeled clinically insane. It is very possible that she saw a vital part of the truth behind our world’s crises.
Magickal people know better. We are in truth a people of the Gift, and the more we honor our splendid variations, the fuller we will grow in our chosen experience.
(1) Note: female-to-male operations are not as successful in this regard.
(2) This essay leans heavily toward the male-to-female end of the spectrum because that is my personal experience and also my primary source of external information.
Blossom of Bone (1993, HarperSanFrancisco) by Randy P. Conner (Concerns gay and gender-variant people and divinities)
Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit (1997, Cassell) by Randy P. Conner, David Sparks and Mariya Sparks. Very comprehensive work. Uses my “Androgyne” as a back cover image and as background for the wraparound.
Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Participations in African Inspired Traditions in the Americas (2004, Routledge) by Randy P. Lundschien Conner.
Hermaphrodieties: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook (2009, Asphodel Press) by Raven Kaldera.
Another Mother Tongue (1984, Beacon Press) by Judy Grahn. Cultural and spiritual roots of GLBT communities, emphasis on lesbian experience. Remarkable detailed and fascinating.
Visionary Love, (1980, Treeroots Press) by Mitch Walker.
Gender Outlaw (1994, Routledge) by Kate Bornstein. (Written by a male-to-female transsexual who explores the shamanic aspect of “gender transgression”.)
Also: Paris Is Burning (Jenny Livingston’s 1990 video documentary of the Infamous Harlem drag “Balls”– transgender in the flesh!)
Since this article was first written there has been an explosion of queer and gender-variant books and media exploring many nuances of preference, biology and gender, far too many to list here. As a result, many kids today (20 and under) evidence striking levels of tolerance and freedom in these areas as compared with previous generations. The interfertility of progressive ideas has born wondrous fruit, aided of course by the Internet, which was only just appearing on the scene at large in 1995. So much information now appears on Wikipedia and other sources relating to transgender that I have invoked restraint in my updates to this essay so as to maintain its original focus.