Steve Wilson, pagan activist, writer and founder of PEBBLE (Public Bodies Liaison Committee for British Paganism) gave a talk entitled Sex and Paganism at the PF London Gaia-Sol convention at the end of June.
Of all the talks at the event, Steve's was the one I most wanted to hear. Obviously anything with the word “sex” in the title is likely to attract interest, but I also know that Steve is a great speaker. He is extremely knowledgeable about paganism and the occult, and is also not afraid to say what he thinks about controversial subjects. He is someone I have a great deal of respect for.
Steve explained that the basis of his talk on Sex and Paganism came from a project run with schools in a borough with a high rate of teenage pregnancy. Children were asked to come up with questions about sex and relationships, which were then put to various religious bodies to give that faith's views. Steve Wilson, as a member of PEBBLE, was asked to respond on the pagan perspective on sex and relationships.
He said: “To start with, I decided to talk about the importance of 'oath'.”
Most pagan traditions believe that oaths are very important. In relationships, this means keeping your word. For teenagers, this could be thinking very carefully about whether they believe the promises their boyfriend or girlfriend makes. For example, if they promise not to tell their mates about something, do you really believe they will be able to refrain from bragging?
Moving on to the subject of sex and paganism in general, Steve talked about how the pagan revival has suffered from a common view that as it was a fertility religion, it was therefore all about getting their kit off and having sex. Since the 1940s, newspaper reports concentrated on the fact that Wiccans perform their rites naked – or sky clad - and their highest ritual is the act of union between the high priest and high priestess – The Great Rite.
This view might sell papers, but it gives the wrong impression about paganism. Wicca might be a fertility religion, but that doesn't only mean having sex and procreating. For pre-Christian pagans, for example, fertility of the land was extremely important. Human sex might be used as a symbol of that, but the meaning behind it was to ensure good hunting and good harvests.
In Victorian times, much was written – and depicted – of paganism being all about sex, but this was quite often pornography in disguise as academia.
Steve said that even by the 1980s, those attitudes were looking very old fashioned. He said: “The idea that fertility is all about sex is an outdated concept.”
Through PEBBLE, Steve took on the task of putting in words the modern pagan view on sex and relationships.
For some religions, the official standing is based on what they see as the word of god as written in holy books. Pagans do not have official holy books. Modern pagan religions evolved through revivals of pre-Christian religions.
Pagans do have mythologies – stories about pagan gods and goddesses. However, Steve pointed out that these are not really morality tales. For example, Steve said, it would be silly to look at the story of Isis and Osiris and take the moral stance from it that: “If you want a child by your dead husband who has been chopped into pieces, make sure you find his cock.”
We often describe paganism as a nature religion. Many religions selectively use nature in arguments such as “homosexuality is not natural”. However, homosexuality is found in species apart from humans, so is quite natural.
Steve felt it was appropriate for pagans, as members of a nature religion, to look to nature to find sexual morality. He said: “From nature we get examples of a wide variety of sexual habits and activities.
“Humans are clearly sexual by nature and our sexuality is designed to restrict human population in that we can enjoy sex without procreating.”
Steve asked: “If nature only wanted us to have monogamous relationships for the purpose of conception, why do women have a clitoris? It is not an undeveloped version of a male organ, because all foetuses start female.”
He argued: “The clitoris can only have developed as a way for a woman to enjoy sex without necessarily having to conceive. Men have a prostate that can be stimulated, which is another way of enjoying sex without procreating.
“We have evolved to want sex more than most other species and can have sex frequently, but without that having to involve conception.”
This means that gay and lesbian behaviour are among of nature's ways that humans can enjoy sex without the risk of conception. The same can be said for masturbation.
Steve asked: “If sex without pregnancy wasn't intended by nature, why is it so enjoyable?”
According to studies of chimpanzees, and studies of Americans, both are less monogamous than was originally thought. One in four American men are bringing up children they did not father. It is a similar figure with chimps. Studies also show that female chimps will actively seek sex with males who are not the alpha male of the group.
Steve said: “This ensure a good genetic spread. Monogamy is less useful for a genetic spread.”
He pointed out that white people, with official religions that encourage monogamy, have spread all over the world, despite their calls for monogamy and sex only to procreate. This shows it isn't particularly good as a means of controlling population.
Steve summed up by saying: “The pagan message is, it is OK to celebrate our sexual nature in all adult consensual ways.”
The photograph above is of a solar goddess on the altar during the opening ritual of the Gaia-Sol conference