The Fourth Quill

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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

You're Not A Wave

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles

The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash

Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass


The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

Toby Johnson

With an Foreword by the Author about this New Edition

Toby Johnson's  gay spiritual novel about healing and the problem of evil, originally published by Alyson Publications in 1987 as PLAGUE: A Novel about Healing, is back in print.

In the early days of AIDS, a San Francisco Health Department counselor is propelled into a mystery quest after a very ill member of an AIDS support group he runs kills himself in a way that brings media attention and political controversy which gets the counselor, Jonathan Stiers, on national television. Lynn Graves, a young woman from LaCrosse, moves to D.C. and gets a job with a consulting firm with a patriotic-sounding name that audits government research; in the xerox room one day she finds what seems to be a report on research into a totally successful cure for HIV—an issue which has become critical for her personally as she's learned that her boyfriend is positive for the virus. Lynn tells Jon about her discovery when they are coincidentally introduced during a Thanksgiving vacation back to LaCrosse. When Jon goes in search of this successful clue, he seems to uncover a plot to keep the cure secret.

In a medical-thriller plot peppered with clues, coincidences and misperceptions, a strange old house with secret rooms becomes the site for an assassin's attack. The counselor who's been teaching his group Buddhist and New Age healing principles of relaxation and acceptance, becomes suspected himself of murder. In a final confrontation, Jon's spiritual principles are challenged when he's forced to answer the problem of evil in game of wits with the Director of the Liberty Bell Foundation. The hero's example of enlightened attitude, even in the face of personal loss, so affects the Director's righteousness that, it seems, the cure is released.

In the end, the heroes triumph, but it is never clear if the plot they suspected has ever really existed, but the search and the confrontation with suffering and evil have changed them all and taught them the secret of finding miracles.

Interesting as historical documentation of a time when AIDS was fraught with paranoia and miracles were the only hope and still relevant today as a parable about overcoming evil and healing oneself of fear.

Read an excerpt: The story of the Bodhisattva and the four quills

Order from Amazon:
The Fourth Quill

5.5 x 8.5 trade paperback
296 pages, 101000 words
Re-released September 2018 by Peregrine Ventures

POD $15.00
eBook $4.99

available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland, through, click here

What if you learned that the AIDS virus was the result of bioweapons research gone bad, and that somebody knew and was hiding the truth? What if there's a cure? Could you trust your source of information? Could you trust your own perceptions? Could you act on such information? And what would you do? This is the situation that San Francisco AIDS counselor Jonathan Stiers finds himself enmeshed in in this wisdom-tinged thriller novel by gay spiritual writer, student of Joseph Campbell and former editor of White Crane Journal Toby Johnson.

Originally published in 1987 when AIDS was still a mystery disease, successful treatments had not been developed and spiritual/attitudinal healing—of soul, if not of body—was the only hope, this novel, with its explanations of healing and presentation of wisdom from A Course in Miracles and The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment, was originally titled Plague: A Novel about Healing.

Twenty-five years later, the novel's quandary about the nature of evil and its message of hopeful acceptance and love of life are still relevant, perhaps even more so. The story of the "fourth quill" comes from an Indian tale about a previous incarnation of the Buddha who discovers the "treasure of the ages" and it's not what he'd expected; Johnson retells the tale and derives a meaningful and life-affirming attitude that transcends the specific issues of AIDS in the 1980s.

The Fourth Quill recasts the story into a parallel universe with a surprising and happy ending where Jon Stiers really can wonder if he has brought about the cure of AIDS. Woven through the hero/adventure plot are two lovely and heartwarming romances, one straight, one gay—both with unexpected twists. A little modern, scientific and sensible and a little mystical, The Fourth Quill exemplifies Toby Johnson's style of dramatizing gay spirit through storytelling and speculative fiction. This is a parallel universe readers will likely remember and come back to.

About AIDS as a spiritual crisis and occasion for growth, see
Shokti Lovestar's blog article Accelerated Individual Discovery of Self at
Shokti: Tales of Queer Mystical Emergence

Praise for Toby Johnson's novels

“There is a fresh naivete in [Toby Johnson’s] style that rings pleasantly in the ear, like the memory of a ‘boy’s book’ enthusiastically devoured at age 12. Against the sour punk of so much of today’s gay male fiction, Getting Life in Perspective is a treat.”   
—Marvin Shaw, reviewer

“What can I say? This magical creation made me cry and laugh and muse and‚ more significantly, it made me remember the essential innocence, spirit and purpose of love. Love always presents a unique personal view; if allowed, it can expand perspective beyond mere imagination‚ Getting Life in Perspective jump starts memory, gives rebirth to hope and literally sings. It is an irreverent-reverent chant to love.”   
                                                          —Wil Biggers, White Crane Journal

“The narrator of this clever and fast-moving novel creates two characters who tell their story of gay life and relationships the way it might have been in turn of the century America. Weaving the spiritual messages of Edward Carpenter and Joseph Campbell into the plot adds a provocative and timely theme… a thoughtful book as well as simply great good fun.”                                                                               —Michael Shernoff, gay therapist       

From a wonderful review of SECRET MATTER
by Arthur Breur on

    "...the book resolves in a very enjoyable and satisfying way, and the author's many-layered revelations about the Visitors is both intriguing and pleasantly startling. (I shouted out loud at the most critical revelation, and was very relieved when the author powerfully backed it up with science and reason.) Recommended!" 

About Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo
by Walter L. Williams and Toby Johnson

"A treasure to read"  -- W. Randy Haynes (Cherokee), author Cajun Snuff

"Can I tell you how many times I cried reading TWO SPIRITS?  SO beautiful...  like coming home." -- Wade McCollum, singer

". . . one of the most moving novels I have read in a very long time. . .  It is still resonating with me." -- John Caminiti, writer

The Fourth Quill
is available from the author (signed, if you'd like)
at retail price but with free postage--and can be purchased by credit card
through Paypal. (Click the author link for that page)

To order from, click here

The Fourth Quill
is available for the amazonKindle ebook device, as well as many other ebook readers. features a variety of formats.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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