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These dead are hungry. Fuck, Dance, run, kiss, steal, eat decadently, sing, destroy, create. The energy of life, ecstatic life, draws them close, nourishes.”

The first line of Contagion Press’s First Protocols of Queer Goetia seems an unusual way to start a pamphlet dedicated to remembering and connecting with the dead. Most memorial bulletins feature vibrant pictures or quotes chosen to represent the lives of those who have died, distributed among a small or large group of mourners. But this is the anonymous author’s favorite line of the book they wrote “in spirit” to connect with the queer dead. While it has no names written in its pages or family members succeeding their death, it is a patient and often joyous connection point to the many LGBTQ+ individuals killed and buried anonymously, who have no one wandering this Earth to remember or celebrate who they were.

A brief history of Goetia

The line above is preceded by two footnotes, one of which explains the etymology of the word “queer” and the history of the term “Goetia.” The latter derives from the ancient Greek term “goeteia” and refers to a form of sorcery invoking the dead. In ancient Greece, the term “goes” referred to magicians, seers, and healers that stereotypically were associated with deceptive magic. “Grimoires” were their book of spells that contain instructions for conjuring’s and castings, along with summoning spirits, gods, and demons. These texts predate ancient Greece, tying back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

But these terms, all described in Greek, derive from the term “goao” which refers to a ritualized form of mourning through wailing. As the author explained to me, that embedded into this practice “is this idea that certain sounds or certain intensity of emotion when connected with sound or song is able to really open the gateway between the worlds.” The concept of ritualized mourning is common to many cultures, who both change dress, meals, house guests, and excursions outside for periods after the death of a loved one, or who in moments of grief, try to reach out to lost loved ones through systems of magic like those found in grimoires.

The first page of the First Protocols of Queer Goetia

Photo courtesy of The Anarchist Library.

The first page of the First Protocols of Queer Goetia (2019).

Although traditionally today associated with paganism, grimoires were, according to British historian of witchcraft and magic Owen Davies, used by early Christian groups. In his book Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (2009), Davies explained that the concept of Enoch being connected to such books of magic continued through the Medieval Era. The most well-known connection to Christianity refers to the Testament of Solomon which would later contribute to The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King, a collection of manuscripts and text fragments from the British Library published in 1650. In the Medieval Era, soccer came to be associated with Solomon and grimoires or books he was believed to have written.

Currently, as North America experiences a revival of witchcraft and occult practice, Goetia is still part of many peoples’ practices, both in a secular way towards inner transformation and in a magical way towards greater inclusion in witchcraft communities.

As the author explained, many ancient cultures, including Ancient Greece and the wider Hellenistic culture, believe that the restless dead walk among the living; those who “are still roaming the earth are often those who died in violent ways or maybe never had children who could honor them as ancestors, and obviously for queer people, we had a type of kindship that exists outside of the framework of just heteronormative passing on and reproduction of genes and ancestry.” The First Protocols of the Queer Goetia refers to the next exploration in the history of grimoires, developing texts that connect with queer ancestors and physically reclaim the ways in which LGBTQ+ individuals have traditionally served as spiritual workers for centuries.

Written “in spirit”

The idea of this pamphlet came to the author while they and friends were visiting the San Francisco AIDS Memorial in San Francisco. While walking home, they felt overcome and rushed to a coffee shop where they began scribbling down the instructions on napkins. While they continued using these instructions in their own private practice, they didn’t approach Contagion Press to publish the text until they lost a friend in the Goshen Fire in California, with the goal of providing “something that could maybe bring some sense of peace or closure or power to people who were in my community mourning for their queer loved ones.”

Concrete slab with Inscription at the entrance to the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. The inscription reads, “Circle of Friends Loves Touched by AIDS / Donors to the Grove / Those Who Have Died / Those Who Loved Them.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Inscription at the entrance to the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. The inscription reads, “Circle of Friends Loves Touched by AIDS / Donors to the Grove / Those Who Have Died / Those Who Loved Them.” The name recalls the Circle Sanctuary, a church rooted in nature spirituality and animism, that was part of the 2023 Pride Interfaith Service.

It was a perfect match. Em Dash, a staff member at the Contagion Press explains that the organization is a project deeply rooted in connecting and conversing with the queer dead. The Press is specifically catering to self-described “weirder” facets of queer history, providing content for those working at the intersection of esoterica and the occult. For this reason, the press produces materials in extremely small batches that are highly targeted, choosing its own distributors and selling wholesale to bookstores.

In the past, the pamphlet appeared alongside zines like Queer Fire, exploring the George Jackson Brigade, a guerilla group of veteran activists of Black, Women’s and LGBTQ+ Rights Movements active in the 1970s. In line with this anarchist focus, the author chose to remain anonymous, believing that they were used as a vessel to write and share this text with others.

Although this text was written according to the author “in spirit,” the author did acknowledge that they follow in the footsteps of queer magician Jake Stratton-Kent who wrote the Encyclopedia Goetia. In his first volume The True Grimoire published in 2010, Stratton-Kent explores the chthonic (referring to another or underworld) roots of goetic ritual and upends the European tradition that goetic magic is associated with Solomon (as explained above). In fact, he argues that modern grimoires are actually the living linear descendants of ancient Greek “goes” who also had a rich queer history and culture that elevated individuals who today might identify as trans, nonbinary, intersex, and queer as living between two worlds and two identities.

As the author shared with me:

“In a lot of traditional communities found all over the world what you see is a tendency for queer people or third gendered people or people who are in some way different to actually have a very special ritualized spiritual role in their community and it’s kind of understood that people who are able to stand in different worlds, in different identities, are actually liminal people, who are connected to spirits. I think a lot of the queer people I know have a lot of very innate or natural connection to the other world, to spirits. … I think that our exclusion, our demonization from within like Christian faiths, I think it actually is really sinister because it disconnects us from what makes us powerful and what makes us special and unique. I think that queer people come to understand that we actually also have our own lineage of ancestors, and we also are tapped into these fairly ancient practices and roles, I think a powerful part of our continued survival.”

Thus, this text and others published by the Contagion Press that are catered to people exploring the intersections of queerness, the occult, and anarchy have been surprisingly popular–meeting a need for ways to connect with queer ancestors. Some people the author spoke with have used the Goetia in a more modern way, opening the text and choosing a line at random or cutting the text apart and picking a line from a jar as an intention for the day as a form of internal transformation and secular betterment. And this focus on ritualizing the remembering of the queer dead also bleeds into the academic world, seen in Fintan Walsh’s Performing the Queer Past: Public Possessions book published this past year.

a person holds a small crystal up over one of their eyes

Image via the Broadly Gender Spectrum Collection

A Modern Revival

Walsh, himself a gay man, shared that in the post marriage equality moment, he was surrounded by progress and positivity seeing the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement as over and thus modern LGBTQ+ communities as disconnected from their predecessors. He pushed back on this idea, acknowledging that many queer people have a persistent sense of the past, that things and people seen frozen in the past and issues remain unresolved as witnessed by increasing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States. Today more than ever, LGBTQ+ lives are at risk, from access to gender affirming care to representation in schoolteachers, books, and programming to the right to express and claim our identities and protect our bodies.

His work focuses on using theater to embrace and explore queer pasts with his students who he was shocked to learn were not even aware of the HIV/AIDS crisis. He is committed to “that kind of obsessive, repetitive work in inquiry. It’s not just kind of dusty, misdirected, historic work, but it’s also the work of culture making,” he explained, “And that the past isn’t always a repository of the dead or embracing the negative, but it can also be a source of rejuvenation and richness and redirection.”

Thus, for many others, The First Protocols of the Queer Goetia is not just a text about self-discovery and intentionality but an instruction manual for seeking out queer ancestors who may be trapped in the past, who may be wandering the Earth just like the Ancient Greeks believed. Sitting alongside Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels released the same year, this text has gained a following among trans, nonbinary, and queer communities who are seeking out magical representation. It reflects a growing interest in queer folk magic and ancestor worship in the LGBTQ+ community, seeking out queer spirits and deities in ancient traditions and recognizing and celebrating the power of recently gone activists.

The best example of this is the Trickster’s Apothecary (@tricksterapoth). This small online apothecary, founded by Filipino trans man Loki and his transmac nonbinary husband Robin in 2021, aims to give LGBTQ+ individuals the spiritual tools they need to connect with queer elders and the queer deities that they may have worshipped, with custom prayer cards, rosaries, pocket altars, and this upcoming Pride month, prayer candles of figures like Marsha P. Johnson.

With this goal, the pamphlet calls out to the queer ancestors who were killed, maimed, crucified, and destroyed because of who they were for which we do not have their names carved in stone like those at the AIDS Memorial in San Francisco, who persist without descendants to name and remember them. It connects these ancestors who fought to the ones who fight today, to a community hungry for elders through which to image queer futures for themselves. See the last line of the first page:

“These spirits, in life, feared dying alone. Assure against their isolation in death./
They died in prisons and camps and pysch wards, at the hands of inquisitors and gaybashers and cops./
Vengeance is sweet even to them./
The great vengeance is to live joyously on their behalf.”

As the author explained, this book meets a specific need–pioneering a way to honor, venerate, and celebrate the queer dead, outside of queerphobic religious institutions that cast out the queer dead, seen at Cecilia Gentili’s funeral service two weeks ago which was condemned by the diocese. While LGBTQ+ communities are often stereotypically seen as dichotomous with religious and spiritual practice, the First Protocols of the Queer Goetia holds a space for LGBTQ+ individuals of various traditions to seek out and connect with queer ancestors and thus for many queer people who feel disconnected from lineages, to find mentors to guide them.

Emma Cieslik (she/her) is a queer, disabled, and neurodivergent religious scholar and museum worker based in Washington, DC.

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