Magical Faggots

Gina Badger, Magical Faggots (2012). Research image.

A bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches bound together,
For use as fuel,
With special reference to the burning of heretics alive, esp. in the phrase fire and faggot,
The embroidered figure of the faggot, which heretics who had recanted were obliged to wear on their sleeve,
A term of abuse or contempt applied to a woman,
A (male) homosexual,
A bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches bound together, [1]

Over the past months, I’ve been feeling a formal attraction to the little bundles of sticks that city folks put out on their curbs in the fall, especially the prunings from birches, rose family plants like apple and cherry, and other important medicinal trees. Running parallel to this formalist crush on the bundles, I have a linguistic attraction to a queer reclaiming of the homophobic slur. A little bit of etymological research yields that centuries before the term was applied to gay men in the US, faggot was a derogatory term for European women, especially old hags, witches and wise women. These bundles of sticks were used as kindling to light the fires that burned heretics (often—accurately—accused of homosexuality and other sexually deviant practices during the brutal 13th century crusades) and later, witches (who were not necessarily practicing heretics).

Above you see the formal experiment that accompanies this nascent research, what I’m calling a magical faggot (with a broom for scale!). It’s made of the woody stems and late-season leaves of plants from my herb garden: melissa, wild bergamot, wormwood, rue, lavender, sage and vervain. Burning herbs to clear a room, or to smoke, are millenia-old modes of medicine, ritual, knowledge gathering and interaction with plants that are cross-cultural. By virtue of the tenacity of these plant-human interactions, they are practices that connect us to our ancestors; the plants act as messengers of intergenerational memory. With this magical faggot, I am calling on my own queer, witchy ancestry with a host of plants that have long histories within traditional western herbalism (melissa, wormwood, rue, lavender, sage, vervain). I’m not burning sacred plants indigenous to the region I live in because I don’t have permission to access those rituals. (That being said, wild bergamot—Mondarda fistulosa—is indigenous to much of north america and is a medicinal plant that appears in Cherokee, Potawatomi, Blackfoot and other Indigenous materia medicas. As far as I know, the use of this plant is not subject to specific restrictions for non-Indigenous folks.) [2]

Who am I to stand on occupied land and call on my ancestors, you might ask? I do this because I recognize that it’s them who called me here in the first place. Colonialism is the foundation of my relationship to this land, and part of inhabiting the present of this relationship as an ally to Indigenous people requires a good, long conversation between me and my ancestors. Some generational peace-making, you might say. In this sense, I call on my own ancestors in order to acknowledge our mutual status as guests on this land, and to deliberately mark out a path through time for the assumption of accountability for our presence here, and a commitment to join our Indigenous hosts in defending the land against exploitation. I also call on my ancestors in order to connect to the traditional knowledge of the ones who weren’t settlers, who stayed connected to their own land-based cultures. For now this magical faggot is just drying, but a ceremonial burning is definitely in order during this season of death, remembrance, and connecting to our dead.

For use as fuel,
To light the fire that connects us to the wisdom of the land.

[1] OED, faggot, n.

[2] As a side note, the wikipedia entry on “smudge sticks” is surprisingly on-point politically—calling out new-age smudging for the misappropriation that it so often is: smudging is “usually found in use among non-Indigenous people who believe they are practicing appropriated North American Native spiritual traditions. But the herbs used in commercial ‘smudge sticks’, and the rituals performed with them by non-Natives, are rarely the actual materials or rituals used by traditional Native Americans.”


Gina Badger, 2013

Creative Commons License
This work by Gina Badger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *