Spirituality * Culture * Self-Expression

Month: June 2014

Pride and Courage



The 10-day World Pride festival is in full swing in Toronto.  This is the first time this international event has ever been held in North America. The celebration honours the history, courage, diversity and future of gay communities throughout the world – but also strongly emphasizes the importance of human rights concerns of all kinds. We all need to thoughtfully consider what it means to live safe, free and joyful lives without fear of persecution or censure.

Human Rights


Things have certainly changed in the world since the days of the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969 – the spark that ignited the whole Gay Rights / Gay Pride movement – but the changes have not been nearly as great as they could have been. Although there is now more sexual openness and equality for most people, violence and oppression still exist – and not just in far-flung “backward” parts of the world – right here in cities like Toronto. Despite the annual parades and marches violence is still a daily factor in many people’s lives. It still requires a great deal of courage to declare yourself openly lesbian, gay,  bisexual, transgender, intersex, two-spirits, queer, asexual or anything else that might conflict with 17th century Puritan sexual morality.

Back in the summer of 1971 – totally oblivious to the New York riots of 1969 and totally unaware of the mass protests that were to come following the Toronto bathhouse raids of 1981 – I lived in a section of Toronto not particularly known for its tolerance or acceptance of alternative life-styles. It was a violent community filled with underemployed people – some desperate to escape their circumstances but many resolved to remain forever in the under belly of society.  Known as Corktown, Cabbagetown or Regent Park, in those days the neighbourhood was a place where the “respectable folk” of Toronto wouldn’t be caught dead, unless they had “shady business” to do. Of course there were a lot of nice people living in Regent Park – hardworking, honest people just hoping for a break in their lives – people that watched out for each other and the neighbourhood kids. And yet there really were nasty people around that it was best to stay away from.







Aside from individual nasty people, there were whole streets and blocks kids were warned to avoid for various reasons. And we whispered to each other about what might be going on in those areas. For example, Toronto’s “Red Light District” was within Cabbagetown’s borders – just along Dundas Street between Sherbourne and Jarvis.  And there were notorious pick up joints and criminal hangouts like Spot One, Norm’s Open Kitchen and the New Service Tea Room. But the worst place of all, we were told, was the St. Charles Tavern at Yonge and Wellesley.


St. Charles Tavern with its famous clock tower

St. Charles Tavern with its famous clock tower



The Tavern is closed but the tower still remains

The Tavern is closed but the tower still remains


If a kid was dumb enough to walk past that place alone, even in broad daylight, the story was that he might be snatched off the street, dragged into the back room and have all sorts of unspeakable things done to him by sexual deviants and perverts.  The St. Charles was probably the best known gay bar in Canada at the time. It was frequently raided by the police because in those days there were all sorts of possible crimes connected with homosexuality. Strange as it might seem today it was, at that time, against the law for a man to wear women’s clothing, so the police could just stop a man in the street on suspicion and search him. If he was found to be wearing women’s underwear, or something other than white cotton boxer shorts, he could be arrested or just plain beaten up.

Regent park tough guys might also hang around these places with the intention of passing the time by beating up a few “queers” or “faggots.” And the police were never too concerned about investigating such crimes. As I said, it was not a section of Toronto particularly known for its tolerance or acceptance of alternative life-styles.

I lived on the southern border of Regent Park around Queen Street east of Parliament – and all these “no go zones” were more west of Parliament and north of Queen – far from my stomping grounds. But that didn’t matter to the haters and fear mongers.  The patrons of places like the St. Charles Tavern were a threat even to the low lives of Regent Park.

There were, of course, cases in which a certain type of person might wander into Regent Park with immoral intentions. Perhaps they thought the people in my community were easy prey. I, myself, was confronted several times by deviant individuals and literally had to run away screaming for help. And perhaps some were that particular sort that actually wanted to be beaten up. In Regent Park they got their wish and these people did not make return appearances and certainly did not live in the community.

Now, I’m describing all this because there was a particular young man who did live in the neighbourhood and who used to ride his bicycle along Queen Street towards Parliament.  There was no doubt in the mind of anyone who saw him that he was heading for one of those well-known dens of iniquity. How did we know? First, he was a thin, haughty looking youth, who proudly rode his bike down the centre of the street with his head held high and had rainbow tassels streaming off his handle bars. The rainbow was not yet recognized as the symbol of gay pride but even then we knew what it meant. Boys DID NOT decorate their bikes with frilly tassels. And if that wasn’t enough, he wore puffy sleeved, brightly coloured shirts with a long lavender scarf around his neck that fluttered out behind him in the wind. As far as I know, he was never accused of doing anything other than being “queer.” He never tried to hurt anybody. Kids weren’t afraid of him. But his appearance and mannerism was enough to make him the subject of scorn.



Now, people said things as he rode by as you might imagine. He was laughed at and openly mocked; an easy target for the most childish of insults. Yet, what stands out most for me was the way he held his head up: proud and defiant. Sometimes I would see him riding by with black eyes and bruised face; sometimes with bandages. As I said this was not a tolerant neighbourhood. And seeing his bruises, some people mocked him even more as if he somehow deserved to be beaten. Sometimes people claimed to know the guys who beat him up and would smile as they spoke of it.

I don’t know who that young man was. I don’t know his name. I don’t know what happened to him. He rode his bike along Queen Street all that summer: rainbow tassels streaming off his handlebars and his lavender scarf blowing in the wind. He rode with his head held high, seemingly indifferent to the abuses hurled at him and the violence he endured. Was he brave? Was he courageous? Or was he just stupid? I don’t know.

More than 40 years later I still remember that man and wonder what his life was like. And I think about all the other men and women of that time who chose to be defiant and stand up for the simple right to be themselves. They were not deviants, perverts or sexual predators – they were just people with different desires. It takes courage to stand up for your sexual preferences today but it must have taken ferocious bravery to do so back then. Imagine what it would be like to have your whole life be a protest against intolerance. More than just marching in a parade once a year or waving a rainbow flag – it was living in constant rebellion. Imagine a world where you could be beaten up for wearing a puffy shirt or even killed for holding hands with someone of the same sex. Not in some far off Middle Eastern country where we think all intolerance now resides – but right here at home – places like Rome, Jerusalem, London, Toronto, Madrid – these are cities where World Pride has been held and will be held in the future – the intolerance and hatred that man felt in 1971 still exists in all those cities and in other cities around the world. And the courage it took for that man to ride his bike with its rainbow tassels is still needed today.

World Pride starts with the Gay community where perhaps courage and organized protest is still needed most. But it extends to all people who wish to express themselves freely, creatively, artistically, romantically and joyfully but cannot because of the fear, ignorance and intolerance of the dominant forces of a community.  Is it possible for people to live safe, free and joyful lives without fear of persecution or censure? I hope so. But we must all stand together – men and women; gay and straight; rich and poor – we must declare loudly and openly that the peaceful pursuit of love and fellowship is the right of all human beings in all nations at all times.


we all belong


Summer Solstice



There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

They are:

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltaine or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Lithia in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

And Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

This year Litha , the Summer Solsticeis on June 21st.



Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way, shape or form. On this date the sun reaches its zenith in the sky. It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems to just hang there without moving – in fact, the word “solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which literally translates to “sun stands still.”

There are numerous deities from around the world connected with the sun and therefore honored on this day. Some of them associated with this day include:

  • Amaterasu (Shinto): A solar goddess – sister of the moon and the storm god of Japan. She is known as the goddess “from which all light comes” and is much loved by her worshippers.


  • Aten (Egypt): This god was at one point an aspect of Ra, but rather than being depicted as an anthropomorphic being (like most of the other ancient Egyptian gods), Aten was represented by the disc of the sun, with rays of light emanating outward.


  • Horus (Egyptian): Another Egyptian solar deity, he was the child of Isis and Osiris and is often conceived of as a savior god who brings light to the soul.


  • Apollo (Greek): The son of Zeus, King of the gods, by Leto, a mortal woman, Apollo was a multi-faceted god. In addition to being the god of the sun, he also presided over music, medicine and healing. He replaced the older god Helios, the titan that drove the sun chariot across the sky. As worship of him spread throughout the Roman Empire into the British Isles, he took on many of the aspects of the Celtic deities, and was seen as a god of the sun and of healing.


  •  Huitzilopochtli (Aztec): This warrior god of the ancient Aztecs was a sun god and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He battled with Nanahuatzin, an earlier solar god. Huitzilopochtli fought against darkness, and required his worshipers to make regular sacrifices to ensure the sun’s survival over the next fifty-two years, which is a significant number in Mesoamerican myths.


  • Sulis Minerva (Celtic, Roman): When the Romans occupied the British Isles, they took the aspects of the Celtic sun goddess, Sulis, and blended her with their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The resulting combination was Sulis Minerva, who watched over the hot springs and sacred waters in the town of Bath.


  • Sunna or Sol (Germanic): Little is known about this Norse goddess of the sun, but she appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god.


Notice that in Greco-Roman and Egyptian myths the sun is male and the moon is female, but in many other cultures the sun is a feminine power.


Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Litha, but the focus is nearly always on celebrating the power of the sun– the symbol of the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening. Consider the sun at the height of its power, with all the Light and Energy of the cosmos flowing through it onto the people of Earth and use that power to help you achieve your destiny.

  • Joyously take stock of your life and seek fulfillment – realigning with your goals and purpose.
  • Consider getting a new job if you aren’t satisfied with your current one, or taking some training courses to help you overcome any obstacles that keep you from doing what you truly want to do.
  • Upgrade your wardrobe, hairstyle or general appearance, and review your overall levels of fitness and health. You could also consider ways by which you can make others healthy – Perhaps get involved with the healing arts, or even with the ecology movement to help heal the world.
  • Consider spending summer solstice away from home. Visit Britain’s Stonehenge, the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids or even the growing New Age community in Sedona, Arizona. These places, along with many others, have wonderful Summer Solstice festivals to take part in.

    stonehenge solstice

  • Throw a party with a bonfire. A bonfire is part of the tradition of the summer solstice. Fire has always been a source of protection for human beings, scaring off the creatures of the night, both ordinary and magical. Nowadays you can reinvent the bonfire as a great reason to hold a summer solstice party with friends. In England, rural villagers built a big bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve. This was called “setting the watch,” and it was known that the fire would keep evil spirits out of the town. Some farmers would light a fire on their land, and people would wander about, holding torches and lanterns, from one bonfire to another. If you jumped over a bonfire — presumably without lighting your pants on fire — you were guaranteed to have good luck for the coming year.


    Sunwheels were also used to celebrate Midsummer in some early Pagan cultures. A wheel — or sometimes a really big ball of straw — was lit on fire and rolled down a hill into a river. The burned remnants were taken to the local temple and put on display. In Wales, it was believed that if the fire went out before the wheel hit the water, a good crop was guaranteed for the season. Residents of some areas of Ireland say that if you have something you wish to happen, you “give it to the pebble.” Carry a stone in your hand as you circle the Litha bonfire, and whisper your request to the stone — “heal my mother” or “help me be more courageous”, for example. After your third turn around the fire, toss the stone into the flames.


If these suggestions are too adventurous or time consuming for you, you can always just sit outside and read a book -this is a simple but still highly appropriate way to get connected with the sun and nature.

The important thing is to mark this day in some special way. Honor and appreciate the Sun for the all the blessings it bestows on the Earth and think past the mere physical body out in space to the spiritual aspects it represents. Take time to immerse yourself in the true Light, Life and Love of the Universe.




Deceived by Appearances



We are often deceived by appearances and end up making snap decisions about a situation without taking into account what we should know to be true as a result of our past experiences or insights. Many people are ready to assume the worst about a person, even a person they know quite well, without considering all the relevant evidence. In the heat of the moment, with emotions flaring, some are likely to jump to conclusions before they’ve evaluated all the facts. When only the senses and intellect are being used – only what is being seen and experienced at the moment is evaluated – it is easy to be mistaken about the true nature of a situation. If there is time to reflect and analyze the issues, then, of course, the intellect can help reach a well formed and clear decision. But when there is no time for a studied response, the mystic has the advantage of using intuition. Practiced intuition, strengthened by regular meditation, allows for a more cosmic view of the world and the events transpiring before us.


cosmic view

Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to rely on intuition in the heat of the moment – it is not within most people’s comfort zone. Far easier just to react to the world rather than being one with the action.

Take for example Aesop’s fable of the Beekeeper and His Bees:



Once there was a kind and generous Beekeeper who took special care or his bees. He always made sure the bees had everything they needed to make their honey; he never took more than his share and always tried his best to protect them from any harm.

One day, when the Beekeeper was away, a thief got onto the property and plundered the beehives, breaking up the honeycombs and stealing all the honey.


When the Beekeeper returned, he saw the empty hives and all the damage and was very upset. He stood staring at the wreckage with tears in his eyes.

Just then the bees returned from the pastures and seeing the damage for themselves and the Beekeeper just standing there they viciously attacked their caregiver, stinging him without mercy.



The Beekeeper cried out “Why are you doing this? I’ve always taken such good care of you. You let the thief who plundered your hives get away without harm while you direct all your rage against me.”

The bees, for all their beauty and industry, are simple creatures. They can do little more than react to what life throws at them. It is to be hoped, however, that we can assess situations with a little more depth.


don't judge

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