I delayed writing about the queer mysteries of Lammas until after I attended the Coph Nia festival, a gathering for queer pagan men at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in Artemas, Pennsylvania. I’m glad I did, as the gathering helped to illuminate the Mysteries of this part of the journey of the Wheel, which concern the first harvest, the miracles of bread and beer that arise from that harvest, and the power and importance of home and family.
Lammas is also known as Lughnasadh, or “the funeral games of Lugh,” but the games are not to honor the Celtic solar god known as Ildannach (“the many-skilled”). They are, instead, for his foster mother, Taltiu of the Fir-Bolg, the People of the Spear. For Lugh was a child of two tribes: the Tuatha de Dannan and the Fomorians, his parents slain and their infant son spirited away by the sea god Mannanan MacLir (much as the wise Merlin would do with the infant Arthur Pendragon some time later).
Taltiu raised Lugh as her own and later sacrificed herself by expending the last of her strength in digging up all the stones from the fields of Eiru (Ireland) to make them fertile and bountiful: the gift of a queen and mother to her people and her child to ensure a bountiful harvest. The same harvest in which her sacrifice is honored.
In the Queer Mysteries, we have gone from illumination, to revelation (coming out), through ecstasy to pride, the claiming and using of power. Now comes the time to harvest what has been sown through the use of that power.
The queer relationship with family is often fraught, due to the necessary step of separation, of seeking queer identity outside of the family. While many more of our people find acceptance and love in the families in which they were raised, there is still a time of seeking and, like all mature adults, a time to create a new family of one’s own.
We all need connection, but members of the queer community tend to lack models and means to find, build, and maintain those connections. For the longest time, there was only the heteronormative model of monogamous marriage—a goal of equality that is now available or in sight for many people. Some openly defied this goal—along with other norms—but the threat of the plague years of HIV and AIDS tended to suppress free and open expressions of love and sexuality. It was not only silence that equaled death, but connection.
So our exploration of other kinds of families tended to focus on safety and support. We cannot know how the fiery flowering of Gay Pride would have unfolded without this terrible challenge. It may have closed some doors, but opened up others, inspiring the queer community to find new ways to love and support each other, when no one else would. We became caretakers, advocates, protectors, and educators, amongst other things.
“Family” is a loaded word, particularly for queer people, who so often in the past experienced rejection and exile from the families that raised them. That is less and less the case (although it still happens far too often) but even those fortunate enough to retain good relations with the family that raised them—as I have—are still faced with challenges: What does “family” mean to us, and how to we choose to define it?
It is another area in which queer people often forge their own path. Some may choose the heteronormative model of the “nuclear family,” a monogamous, committed couple, often raising children, but that is by no means the only option. Indeed, many queer people have adopted the expression “family of choice” to reflect their own decision to create new families in configurations that suit them, pointing out the fact most take for granted that all families are by choice: We choose to built together, to stay together, to manage together, celebrate together, to be together, in whatever way works for us. That’s true of all people, but the difference is that the “default” model is not as pervasive with queer people as it is for mainstream culture.
Thus, in my experience, have I encountered families ranging from same-sex married couples (with or without children, biological or adopted) through a dizzying spectrum of polyamory including Vs, triads, quads, tribes, and other “polycules.” There are leather families and kink families and faerie communes and intentional communities and so very much more. All of the successful ones have taken the Mystery of the first harvest—sowing the seeds, nurturing their growth, harvesting them, and transforming them into things to nourish body, mind, and spirit—and applied it to the sacred work of their lives and the lives of those they love, those they choose. It is not easy work, far from it, but important work rarely is. It is sacred work, necessary work, and a part of the maturing process where we transition in our journey of the Mysteries from we to me to us again.