Arthur Evans 1942 – 2011

Pioneering gay activist and writer Arthur Evans died on Sunday, September 11th, from a massive heart-attack. In addition to being one of the first openly gay men to appear on national television, heavy involvement in the gay liberation movement, and early AIDS-related activism, Evans was also a pioneering figure in the development of gay Pagan spirituality, publishing “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” in 1978 and “The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos” in 1988. The latter featured his translation of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae” along with commentary on Dionysus as patron of homosexuality.

Arthur Evans picketing against anti-gay policies at the NYC Board of Education.

Diagnosed with aortic aneurysm in 2010, Evans knew he didn’t have long to live and penned his own obituary. Here are excerpts describing his spiritual/religious work.

“In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired spiritual group in San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined countercultural consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial playfulness. In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures at 32 Page St., an early San Francisco gay community center, entitled “Faeries”, on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. In 1978 he published this material in his ground-breaking book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. It demonstrated that many of the people accused of “witchcraft” and “heresy” in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were actually persecuted because of their sexuality and adherence to ancient pagan practices.

In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides’ play Bakkhai. The hero of Euripides’ play is the Greek god Dionysos, the patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this translation, together with Evans’ commentary on the historical significance of the play, was published by St. Martin’s Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.

In 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy. Thanks to a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was published in 1997 as Critique of Patriarchal Reason and included artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro. The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans’ former doctoral advisor at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the work “a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history.”

Evans work, especially “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,” would end up being influential in the formation of the Radical Faeries.

“Arthur Evans was asserting the role of queer spirituality in his book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, 1978. His book was a strong initiative in the Radical Faerie movement, influencing gay men to examine their relationship between gay spirituality and the old Pagan Nature religions. In his chapter entitled “Magic and Revolution,” Evans writes that it is the role of gay men to look forward to re-establishing our communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together…We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process as coming out — as Gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos. (154-5).”

Today, as we talk about gay/queer Paganism’s second wave, with groups like the Brotherhood of the PhoenixCircle of Dionysos, and  Ekklesia Antinuou flourishing, it’s important to remember those who paved the way. Figures like Evans not only laid the groundwork for gay Pagan spirituality, they also anticipated the battles over gay marriage back in the 1970s. May he rest in the arms of his gods, and may his spirit be remembered.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562035360 Larry Vigus

    Blessed Be

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    May Arthur Evans be frolicking in the grape fields with Dionysos!

  • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

    Thank you for letting us know. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture was a great find for me in the middle to late 1980s. I still have my copy, found in a used bookshop in San Francisco.

    What is remembered, lives.

    • Gede Parma

      What is remembered, lives.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wade-MacMorrighan/738152218 Wade MacMorrighan

      Ditto. I still own and cherish my own copy. I wonder if he was ever able to make arrangements with a publisher to republish the second edn. he was working on? It is a book that MUST be re-published for a second generation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040264388 Hayden Reynolds

    Arthur Evans’ work was important in the formation of the Circle of Dionysos. His book “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” is one of the seminal books in the gay spirituality realm. I came across it while doing my dissertation work.

    His “The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos” continues to be very important for us here at the Circle of Dionysos. When we produced our own version of “The Bacchae,” Evans’ book, among others, served as important source material for that production. Thank you Arthur Evans for your contribution

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Gotta love the Socrates sign!

  • http://twitter.com/ashareem HR Mitchell

    RIP Arthur. There will be a returning.

  • Caliban

    Well, I know who I’m inviting to my party on Samhain! :)

    Go with the gods, Arthur.

    • Valerie Voigt

      To mine, too. I suspect his dance card is going to be, deservedly, very full!

  • Syna

    I have to agree: the Socrates sign is wonderful.

  • Gabe Dominguez

    Dear Arthur, thank you for your work and your courage. I too clap my hands and shout with conviction: I believe in faeries!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wade-MacMorrighan/738152218 Wade MacMorrighan

    OMGs, what a tragedy! “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” is one of my favorite texts! In fact, I had heard a few years ago that he was in the process of re-writing it to be published as a second edition with a new title. :o( Every Witch needs to hunt down a copy of this rare book. Doreen Valiente read it and loved it, and only wished (in a speech she gave shortly before her death) that she had been cognizant of it while Gerald Gardner had still been living in the hopes that it would absolves his virulent homophobia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wade-MacMorrighan/738152218 Wade MacMorrighan

    I had made an attempt to e-mail him re: him re-writing “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” in order to verify it, but, sadly, he never returned a reply. :o(

  • D Compton63

    BB and rest in Peace Brother…you’ll be missed


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