So, what makes queer magic so powerful? At the end of the day, magic is magic, right? I mean, if a straight person utilizes their magic to manifest something in their life, and a queer person uses their magic to manifest the same thing in their life, is either one any more or less powerful? They got the same end result, and really, the end result is why most people utilize magic anyway, no?
So, again, what makes queer magic so powerful? It can't just be that certain special je ne sais quoi cop out answer that people use to artistically say, "I don’t know," you know? Well, for me, the answer is two-fold: fluidity and social scarcity.
How did I come to these conclusions? Well, I looked at the history of my queer tribe all throughout human history, and I've laid it all out in much more detail in my book Queer Magic: LGBT+ Spirituality and Culture from Around the World. Essentially, though, the pattern that kept popping up in every cultural region of the world, in all religious faiths, and in all spiritual and magical traditions was that LGBT+ individuals were recognized for their innate power at least some point in the history of numerous cultures/faiths/traditions. Sometimes, "hetero" society viewed these queer workers of magic with awe and wonder. Sometimes they viewed them with fear and unease. And sometimes they even looked at them as an ambiguous necessity for the well-being of the tribe's greater good. Regardless, though, those involved in queer magic were always looked at as powerful.
If we take a look into the queer power of fluidity, we can see how the lack of defining one's self as either "this" or "that" makes a queer individual neither "this" nor "that" yet both at the same time. Effectively, this results in having the power of this and that, and both simultaneously, and neither. Taoism is probably best known for this wherein, to paraphrase the opening lines in the Tao Te Ching, it says that if anyone could really be able to fully understand the Tao to the point where it could be labeled and categorized, then that wouldn't really be the Tao because the Tao is the all-powerful everything, and if you could fit the all-powerful everything into a neatly shaped box of understanding, then it would neither be all-powerful nor everything.
Outside of philosophy, a great human embodiment of this queer power of fluidity is the queer shamans of eastern Siberia. Because they don't really label themselves as "gay" or "straight," "masculine" or "feminine," "mortal" or "spiritual," they allow themselves to be all of those whenever they please. Unlike their straight shaman counterparts in their tribes, the queer shamans can invoke all the powers of any label they choose. You see, since they live without labels of any kind, they are not bound by those labels. By not defining themselves as "masculine," they are able to work "feminine" magic, too. By not defining themselves as "mortal" they are able to work in the spiritual realm, too, and so on and so on. Their queerness in being gender fluid, sexually fluid, and all around identity fluid, allows them access to all aspects of magic thereby giving queer Siberian shamans a bigger arsenal and a wider variety of magic to utilize as opposed to their "straight" counterparts.
Queer fluidity isn't just isolated to the arctic north, either. Another example of the power of queer fluidity can be seen in a region of the world that is perceived as the polar opposite of cold and snow: Hawai'i. To many modern scholars, the Kingdom of Hawai'i was a perfect example of a naturally sexually fluid culture. Sexuality was simply accepted as fluid, and while there were defining labels such as men and women, those labels were subject to change without any negative social stigma, and they even have, to this day, a very respected third gender known as m?h?. This natural fluidity of Hawai'i is what allowed their chiefs to take on the spiritual power (mana) of both men and women through the spiritual ritual of sexual intercourse. Aside from the multiple wives that Hawaiian chiefs had, they were able to increase their masculine mana by having same-sex lovers known as aik?ne. Women were also known to have aik?ne, too. Thus, by allowing themselves to be sexually fluid and not placing self-limitations on sexual orientation, the Hawaiians' queer practices enabled them to effectively double their spiritual power beyond what a self-defining "straight" person could ever have.
It's not just humans who take advantage of the efficacy queer magic, either. No, the gods themselves also enhanced their powers via the magic of sexual fluidity. A prime example of a queer-empowered deity would be Krishna from Hinduism. Being a deity of (among other things) beauty and love, he is depicted in art as an ultra-pretty male who is forever youthful. However, he is also known as a sexual libertine and actively seduces everyone with his prettiness regardless of his conquests' gender or orientation; in fact, one story even has him seducing himself via his own reflection in a lake. Nonetheless, it is this openness to love and attraction to everyone that makes him so powerful. He has no preference and can thus love you with all his being regardless of your gender, orientation, or identity. But what makes this Hindu queerness a powerful magic, you ask? Well, what more power can you have over a person than by having them voluntarily love you? You would do anything for those whom you truly love, and though Krishna's queer fluidity in allowing anyone to love him physically or romantically, he holds power over anyone and everyone.
Of course, deific queer fluidity doesn't have to be all outwardly focused sex and romance; it could also be internal expressions of the self. One of the absolute most notorious examples of this is the Greek goddess Athena. Unlike most goddesses around the world, Athena is neither very sexualized by humans nor does she really express sexual interest toward any gender. Though biologically female, she is usually depicted wearing masculine battle gear and fitting in better with the male Olympians than with the female ones. Even when it comes to male-female relations among the gods and among mortals, Athena usually takes the side of the double-standard male patriarchy rather than female equality and liberation. And yet despite being generally accepted as "one of the guys," she is notorious for falling victim to stereotypical female vanities, probably most infamously when her anger over losing a beauty contest to the ultra-femme Aphrodite helped trigger the Trojan War. Depending on how you view her, she can best be described as both asexual and gender-queer, and that is what makes her so dangerously powerful. By not positioning herself on any one side of the spectrum of gender or sexuality, she can maintain her impartiality and non-involvement, thus allowing her to see with open eyes both sides of an issue. This is what makes her such a powerful goddess of knowledge and justice. Who better to be judge than someone who is removed from being associated with any sides?
The other common pattern around the world that makes queer magic so powerful is its social circumstance of scarcity. If we talk in terms of economics, a thing's value is related to how much there is of it and how easily accessible it is to people. For example, if everyone had a college degree, then having a college degree would not be that advantageous in standing out a job candidate. However, because not everyone has a college degree, those who have one are able to utilize their degree to stand out as a more valuable candidate than those who do not. Now, I'm not saying a college graduate is more qualified, nor am I saying that that's fair, but I am saying that is how the world works. The more people that have access to a unique advantage, the less advantageous it is.
Queer Norsewomen back in the Viking era utilized this fact of life to empower themselves over men. In those times, Viking women were few and far between. The Vikings' fanatical worship of masculinity made having daughters an unwanted burden, leading to high levels of female infanticide. This drastically unbalanced the ratio of men to women in Norse society. You would think that in such a masculine-obsessed society women held little to no power, let alone queer women, but Viking lesbians had the power of scarcity value on their side. Because there were so few women, their value was exponentially heightened. Should a Viking man anger his wife enough to divorce herself from him, his chances of finding another wife were slim since there weren't many women around and competition for them was fierce. This allowed queer Viking women the power to be open about their sexuality and identity. So long as they did their marital duties and bore children (in particular, boys) queer women could go around having same-sex trysts with other married women because they knew their husbands couldn't do anything about it, lest the husbands put themselves at risk of being divorced from their queer wives.
In terms of actual queer magic, though, the Azande tribe in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in sub-Saharan Africa use their queerness to instill fear and respect in the eyes of their fellow tribespeople. Lesbian Azande women were notorious for being very open and proud of their queerness, wearing it like a badge of honor. This was because, to the Azande, the spiritual potency of women was seen as often more powerful than that of men. Already at a magical disadvantage, Azande men were particularly impotent to the power of queer Azande women. By having sex with each other, lesbians of the tribe were believed to be able to double their spiritual power, making their magical prowess the most powerful in all the tribe. To show off their spiritual might, Azande lesbians sometimes practiced their queer sexuality in public as a way to let everyone know now had 2x the power they once had. Though the icing on the cake of queer women being on the magical upper echelon of Azande society was their scarcity. Queer people are a minority, and queer women constitute only half that minority at best. This made a doubly powerful lesbian Azande individual extremely rare and therefore both extremely valuable and extremely unwise to mess with since only a fellow queer Azande woman could stand up to her.
To give one last example of the queer magic power of the scarcity value, I'll return to a devotional community that is very near and dear to my own heart, the cult of la Santa Muerte. I've written a whole book on her and her magical devotees wherein I dive much deeper into her special patronage of the queer community (La Santa Muerte: Unearthing the Magic and Mysticism of Death), but for here I'll give the ultra-edited version. Devotees of la Santa Muerte are usually the outcasts of society, those that are seen as evil or morally repugnant by traditional society (especially traditional, Mexican Catholic society). Being so beaten down by society and being barred from avenues of economic and bodily safety, the queer devotees of la Santa Muerte utilize their magic out of a sense of desperation and true need. When a person inputs their emotional feeling into a spell/prayer, the magic can become amplified, but when those emotions stem from a very sincere and real psychological and motivated need for basic human survival, the magical amplification is off the charts! If queer people were not a minority, they would not be as socially attacked to the level that they actually are, but because they are a minority and because their scarcity makes it easier to pinpoint and be scapegoated as "others," the queer devotees of la Santa Muerte are left with no other option for decent survival than magic. The fact that these queer Santa Muerte devotees work their magic from an emotional standpoint of basic survival and as a last resort option, their magic is extremely more charged and intentional than those who subconsciously know they don't need to do magic to get what they want or need because they belong to the "normal" majority.
There are plenty more examples and reasons why queer magic is so powerful and why cultures, faiths, and magical traditions all over the world have had a special respect and fear towards practitioners of queer magic, but all of that can be found in my book Queer Magic: LGBT+ Spirituality and Culture from Around the World. Nonetheless, if I had to narrow down the multi-nuanced reasons why queer magic is so powerful into a singular, quick, and easily digestible explanation, I'd say that fluidity and social scarcity are what really give queer magic that extra kick that "straight" magic often lacks.
Tomás Prower (Los Angeles, CA) is the international author of multiple books, including Queer Magic. He has lived and worked in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Tijuana, Reno, and Long Beach. He is fluent in English, ...