The Fire in Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries
by Thom Nickels
Republished From Lambda Literary Review
The Fire in Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries
Edited by Mark Thompson
Associate Editors Richard Neeley and Bo Young
White Crane Wisdom Series
9781590213384, 309 Pages, $25.00
Mark Thompson’s latest anthology, The Fire in Moonlight (White Crane Books), is a collection of first person accounts of the Harry Hay-inspired Radical Faerie movement. Hay, a co-founder of the Mattachine Society, joined forces with Don Kilhefner and Mitch Walker to start the Faerie movement in order to add a spiritual dimension to the (often dry) nuts and bolts world of emerging gay politics.
Inspired in part by the writings of Edward Carpenter and the Calamus poems of Walt Whitman, Hay saw the homosexual as much more than a creature fighting for rights in a hostile society. The homosexual, according to Hay, was a multidimensional being with roots in the mythic, a sort of alien spirit with special healing gifts for the world.
As Stuart Timmons notes in his introductory essay, “The Making of a Tribe,” Hay once told a circle of 200 Faeries: “We Faeries need to stop saying, ‘My consciousness is better than your consciousness.’ That’s heterosexist. No one person, no one group, no one ideology has the answer. You need a spirit.”
Theologians may quibble with that relativist statement, insisting that if one truth is as good as another truth, then there’s no truth anywhere. One thing’s certain, however: You have to have spirit in order to “build.” For Hay, this meant constructing a homosexual spiritual dimension outside the world of conventional religion.
In a 1975 edition of RFD, Hay wrote: “To be a true homosexual, is to be put at odds with home, school and society….We are so other that we have to learn early how to protect our very survival.”
While this perspective may seem dated post-DADT, Hay was nonetheless insistent that a pronounced queerness was buried inside the homosexual’s “stubbornly perverse genes.” Hay’s vision of a monastic-like collective of queer men of all ages coming together in friendship circles for a process of “shedding the ugly green frog skin of hetero-imitation” started with the first Faerie Circle in Colorado in 1979.
Called “A Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries,” at that Labor Day event hundreds of men (the gatherings would later include women) participated in mud baths and neo-pagan, quasi-Native American rituals like circle hand holding, chanting, and taking turns speaking to the circle while holding a Talking Stick. Many of these ad hoc talks were spiked with references to Aliester Crowley as well as Hay’s own take on what it means to be “queer” and “other.”
In these free-love pre-AIDS gatherings there was ritualized group sex as well as individual couplings. As Timmons observes, “In selecting fairies as a role model for gays, [Hay] combined logic with inspiration to surpass the medieval Mattachines—to a pre-Christian time and beyond human limits.”
With its emphasis on aspects of Native American culture and worship of the earth, the early Faeries attracted gay men who had had enough of the dead end clone life in the urban gay ghetto.
At the second Spiritual Gathering for the Radical Faeries in 1980, in Estes National Forest above Boulder, Colorado, faerie names were adopted and the emphasis on paganism was enhanced. As contributor Carol Kleinmaier notes, besides a denial of spirit-body and male-female duality, Faerie spirituality “was sourced in… the celebration of sacred sexuality, Wicca, paganism and shamanic traditions.”
As one would expect, highly eclectic and a diverse range of spiritual references as well as divergent opinions about the Faerie experience mark these essays.
Allen Page, for instance, writes that during the first gathering he “asked the Goddess (which Goddess he doesn’t say) to show him why he needed to be there.” Meanwhile, “a young man shook a rattle and stands up in a speckled dress.” The philosophy was to embody masculine and feminine energies although one finds in many of these stories a distinct prejudice against patriarchy as well as an emphasis “to take the gifts of the Father back to the Mother.”
Philadelphian Chris Bartlett (The Lady Bartlett) notes:
I like cultures that use rituals to embody choice: the Amish Rumspringa when Amish teens, following a year of exposure to the outside world, choose to join the Amish community (be baptized) or are shunned. Another example is the bar/bat mitzvah when young Jews choose to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. The investiture of a priest in various religions is another moment of powerful choice. When participants in a culture choose to embrace that culture, they become full actors, as opposed to full recipients.
In Faerie circles, identification with the feminine is assumed. It would not be unusual, for instance, for the males in a circle to cry while listening to reports of the rape of a female friend of a member. Since Radical Faeries spanned all age categories, older men were respectfully called elders and were regarded as purveyors of wisdom, even if that “respect” ended at the bedroom door. Wisdom cannot compete with beauty when it comes to a good lay.
Just as in any local city bathhouse, the young are attracted to the young, as the older and less appealing find themselves casting about for a bone or having to spend their nights alone, Trappist monk-style.
Artwit, for instance, writes that at one gathering he got lucky three times so that his “usual depression at being alone while the slender twinks slept in pairs was less severe.” Highly critical of many in the Faerie community, Artwit states that “self righteous beliefs about food seem to be a hallmark of the Faeries. We used to joke in the kitchen about making ‘Cream of Vegan’ soup for our next meal.”
Artwit also writes about the Faerie Drag Wars.
The first two Gatherings had that old rustic-northwest-jeans-and-flannel flavor and here come these queens from California doing wigs and make-up. So a small culture war was started at the Gathering, with the hosts deciding not to send the Call to California next year. “[But] over the years, wigs and makeup won and overtook whatever Heart Circles there were.
For Artwit, the Faeries main problem was making social problems into personal ones.
“I have no desire to be a Faerie Mormon and make breakfast while the pretty ones sleep in and fuck,” he writes.
Editor Mark Thompson is to be commended for not editing out Artwit’s less than flattering reminiscences. The inclusion of such criticism is a tribute to the Faerie generosity of spirit, although there’s enough good stuff in this book to make Harry Hay proud.
As Berbiar (Jerry the Faerie) puts it, “We need queers who have radical askance alternative viewpoints to dominant cultural mores. May the Radical Faerie movement continue to play its role in providing a cauldron of change so needed in this ignorant and repressive world.”