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Undermining the Patriarchy Every Chance I Get. And I Get a Lot of Chances

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OK, Everybody Breathe.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Witches (along with many other denominations of Paganism) view sex as sacred. 

The Charge of the Goddess says that all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess, and not only do I believe that to be true, it's one of the things that drew me to this religion.  In many ways, we're more open about sex (some of us say that we're more "sex positive") than the members of many/most other religions.  Similarly, we're more likely to be quite accepting of QLTBG, etc. sex/sexuality/identity, polyamory, public nudity, and various less-than-mainstream forms of sexual expression than the members of many other religions.  Our on-line discussions and our festivals and conferences often reflect this reality. 

I consider those to be some of our strengths.

Yet, for years, some Pagans have expressed concerns about how sex is "managed" at Pagan events.  As we have grown into religions that have families with children, we've been having more discussions about how to have "family friendly" events while still allowing adult Pagans to engage in "rituals of the Goddess," such discussions often focused especially on public nudity, public sex, and what sorts of activities might be appropriate for various age groups.  I was recently reading the new biography of Otter and Morning Glory Zell and, you know, concerns about Pagan "tea dances" and their impact on families was a topic (and an emotional one) even back then.  Similarly, many women have expressed concerns that there are often men or older couples who pressure (especially young) women into sex at Pagan events, in ways that make the women uncomfortable.  New people, especially, can be subject to a pretty hard sell:  if you won't have sex with me/us you must be uptight, not really a good Pagan, need me to initiate you, etc.  And it happens outside the context of festivals; I've had friends subject to such pressures from other potential members of a Circle.  There has often been a perception that those who speak up are viewed as troublemakers.  Sure, "everyone knows" that so-and-so hits on newbies and takes advantage, but it's simply not the done thing to raise a stink about it.  If you're in with the in crowd, the other women will warn you.  If not, well, too bad, you should be "evolved" enough to deal with it.

And, to be honest, it can be really, really difficult to draw a line between an angry, jilted lover and someone with a legitimate concern that could impact others.  The greater Washington, D.C. area was torn apart a few years ago by a jilted lover who insisted (with support from former girlfriends) that her then-former boyfriend was a serial abuser who must be shunned and removed from all positions of influence.  BNPs from out of town weighed in, over and over and over, showing up on every facebook and blog comment page, determined to ensure that the young woman's point of view prevailed.  A valuable community resource was damaged, if not destroyed, and, today, that couple is back together and raising a child, all charges of "gaslighting" and "serial sexual manipulation" apparently no longer relevant or open to discussion.  Those who intervened have, at the least, egg on their face and, at the worst, no more credibility around here. 

So we can all understand how festival/conference/event organizers would be reluctant, on top of all their other volunteer duties (which often are heaped on top of their day jobs, families, own practices, etc.), to get in the middle of such disputes.  It's easy to say, "This is a personal dispute.  It's not an issue for the whole community.  How can we know who is right?"  But we can also all understand that this issue must be addressed and that, like all of those issues that we ignore and stuff down into our collective Shadow, they have festered and grown more intense the longer that they have been ignored.  And, as in many areas of discrimination and abuse, trying to remain "neutral" often favors the abuser, who is left free to repeat the behavior, and further harms the victim, who is disbelieved or ignored.

These issue appear to have been brought to a head by the arrest of a Pagan musician, Kenny Klein (am I the ONLY one who'd never heard of him?) , on charges of possession of child pornography (to which charges he has apparently confessed).  Most members of the Pagan community have been quick to condemn him; if all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess, sex without legal consent is the Pagan equivalent of a Black Mass, the turning of a sacrament on its head for evil. 

Mr. Klein's former wife and his children have commented that they complained about his proclivities long ago and were ignored.  Other Pagans have come forward and said that they, too, expressed concerns about him to the organizers of various events, only to have their concerns ignored, downplayed, or rejected.  Mr. Klein continued to be invited to perform at various events and his books were published by Pagan publishers. 

This re-ignited a long-simmering concern over some of the teachings of Gavin and Yvonne Frost, elder Pagans who have, at the very least, taught (with no historical support, IMHO) that Pagan initiation can only occur if one submits to sex with a partner chosen by the High Priest/High Priestess of a given tradition and that, at least historically, it was the practice for parents or other elders to "initiate" (in some rather bizarre ways) even minors once the minors become sexually aware.  Those suggestions not only involve a number of possibly illegal acts, but also trigger very serious alarms for many of us who deal with issues of patriarchy and power over.  (I wrote years ago at my own blog about my concerns and absolute disagreement with the Frosts' first suggestion, which occurred in a recently-published book.  I also repudiate the Frosts' second suggestion.  There is, IMHO, no historical support for it and, even if there were, such practices are completely unacceptable.  My DiL, a prosecutor, has noted the resemblance of this practice to the way that young women are sometimes initiated into violent gangs.  Enough said.) 

Because the Frosts were scheduled to speak at a Pagan festival in Florida, that festival became the focus of those who have felt that the Frosts should no longer be presenters at such conferences.  It now appears that the Frosts will not be presenting at this conference.  Their participation at other events is up in the air. 

This entire mess has led to a general discussion concerning how we deal with sexual predators within Paganism while retaining our sex-positive position.  And I'm glad to see us having this discussion.  We've seen what happens within Catholicism, various Evangelical sects, and under a number of New Age gurus when people refuse to have the discussion and rally round the "elders" at the expense of those whom the priests, gurus, and elders have exploited.  Any time some people have power over (especially as teachers, elders, those who approach newbies) others, the possibility of sexual exploitation is present, even in Paganism.  And whenever that possibility is present, sunlight, as Justice Brandeis said, is the best disinfectant.

Some Pagans have decided to come forward and name names.  "I was involved with X and X was abusive to me.  X used Pagan events to sexually manipulate others.  I want to warn everyone about X."  Not surprisingly, X often reacts by threatening to sue for libel, slander, breach of contract (to keep such issues confidential), etc. 

Such threats involve an area of law well outside my expertise and I am not offering anyone legal advice in this area.  My opinions are my own.  But when I was considering going to law school, I was fortunate to strike up a friendship with a retired lawyer who had cut his teeth prosecuting war crimes at Nuremberg.  He used to tell me often that "Only God can make a tree but any asshole can file a lawsuit."  I think he meant that it's easy to file a lawsuit, but difficult to win.  And, IMHO, most people who say, "You'll be hearing from my lawyer," often fail to follow through because lawyers, bless our hearts, cost a lot of money and a good lawyer will usually tell such people that they really don't have a case.  And "truth," as my old law school professor used to say, "is a defense to libel."  But even the threat of having to go through a lawsuit can, in legal terms, "chill" such discussions and cause people to shy away from writing about these topics on their blogs, discussing them on their podcasts, or bringing up these topics at their board meetings.

Even without threats of lawsuits, many of the discussions around this topic have generated much more heat than light.  It's not surprising.  Sex is a topic about which people have strong emotions.  Some of us feel that our concerns have not been heard and, indeed, have been ignored in order to ensure that BNPs and others will continue to attend and perform at various events or in order to sweep conflict under the rug.  Some of us worry that Paganism is about to be swallowed up by newly-conservative, worried, helicopter parents who no longer want to allow Pagan festivals to be a refuge for the very sex-positive practices in which they used to engage.  Some of us worry that all the work we've been doing for years to make a given event a success will disappear because some polyamorous group had an ugly breakup or because someone was jilted.  Some of us worry that all of our efforts to make Paganism a mainstream religion -- whose clergy can be recognized, whose soldiers can be buried with Pentacles or Thors' Hammer, whose handfastings can be legitimate -- will be for naught as our discussion of these issues goes public and the Christians who are always looking for a way to discredit us seize upon these events.

I'd like to offer a few points for further discussion.

First, I'd like to invoke Toth, who impartially records all that occurs and who walks the boundaries and Quan Yin, who brings compassion and who hears the cries of the world, to work with Pagans as we deal with these important issues.  We can use an objective observer and we can use active compassion as we deal with each other.  This is my will.  So mote it be. 

Are there others Goddesses or Gods whom we should invoke before we throw ourselves headfirst into this fray?  This is an important crossroads for Paganism and I'm dismayed to see so many who want to cross swords without invoking divine help.  Shall we invoke Athena who deals with politics?  Mercury who manages messages?  Hecate who stands at all crossroads?  Coyote who deals with tricky issues?  Aphrodite who reigns over sex?  Hera, who longs for conventional sex and relationships?  Diana who refuses to be seen nude?  Zeus who seduces everyone he can?  Freya the Fair who knew how to use her sexual allure to get what she wanted?  Persephone, who pulls the narcissus and descends into the shadow world of relationship?  Innana, who couldn't trust Dimmuzi, or Isis, who makes her lover whole?  Loki who could appear as a woman?  Cúchulainn and Ferdiadh who shared a bed?  Chinese dragons who slept with older men?  Virgin Goddesses who were complete in themselves?  We have a lot of choices and it's odd to see us join battles without invoking and listening to deity.     

Second, I'd like to ask all of us to drop and open, to ground and center, to engage in whatever practice our tradition uses to become grounded, present, rooted, in touch with our ancestors, and with the powers, and spirits, and beings of our land, with the Goddesses and Gods of our traditions.  When we act from our centers, we don't need to feel so threatened by others who have different opinions and we can take the time to consider what's being said without feeling threatened.

Third, I'd like to suggest that we all consider that those who want to discuss ways to make Pagan events comfortable for everyone are not really likely to be thought-police, helicopter parents who want to force all of us to behave the way they want their children to behave, or feminazis.  And, those who want Pagan events to remain sex positive are likely not pedophiles, predators, or establishment pervs.  As Rumi said, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,there is a field. I'll meet you there."  We're often far more willing to engage in dialogue with Christians and others who do not want to suffer us to live at the same time that we're demonstrating outside each other's rituals.  Let's go meet on Rumi's field.

Finally, I'll add that, although what i don't know about astrology could (and does) fill libraries, perhaps we, as Pagans, could stop for a minute and consider the stars.  Even I know that we're in the middle of an important Cardinal Square.  As Diotima says:

Mars — retrograde, in its detriment, and tucked away in the 3rd house in the WDC chart — rules the New Moon. Passive-aggressive describes this placement pretty well, and given Mars’ rulership of the foreign policy, higher education, philosophy and religion 9th house, we are likely to see veiled hostility, avoidance of confrontation, underhanded actions, and knife-in-the-back behavior in any of those areas, because when Mars ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Ditto for 3rd house areas of media, communication networks, transportation, early education.And, yes — the Cardinal Cross kicks ass, and Mars is part of that. But you can avoid a lot of the pain and aggravation if you get off of the aforementioned fundament and put it in gear.

You can’t escape change, especially if you have key planetary placements in the Cardinal signs. In fact, many of you are right in the middle of a period of profound change. The Cardinal Cross can give you a lot of power to change your life for the better, but you’ll need to participate enthusiastically in releasing the old to make room for the new. The choices you make now are exceptionally important. You’ll want to have goals in mind, and a clear focus. I can’t emphasize enough how much this chart requires flexibility, focus, and a willingness to act with empathy and in line with your core values.

More here: http://tonylouis.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/the-uranus-pluto-square-of-april-2014/

So, it's no surprise that we're going through these issues and that we're all feeling rather raw, dealing with the temptation to be passive aggressive, almost predetermined to assume the worst of each other.  But because we know that, we can control how we react.

Ground.  Center.  Connect. Breathe.  May modern Paganism have the strength to deal appropriately and fairly with these issues and may we emerge even stronger, even more sex-positive, even more supportive of all who are vulnerable and all who are driven.  

 

 

 

   

 

 

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HecateDemeter is a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an ecofeminist, a lawyer, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

Comments

  • Diotima
    Diotima Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    Thanks for bringing some cool, lawyerly light to the discussion, Hec. This is an excellent, much needed post (and not just because you quoted me. ;-) )

    Your clarity in laying out the issues is much appreciated, as are the suggestions to contact our deities and do our own personal work around the issues -- something that has been rather lacking in the discussion so far -- at least, from what I've seen.

    Also, thank you for the reminder of how quickly valid responses to valid situations -- crimes confessed to, advice in print for 30+ years -- can be turned into overzealous responses, even life-destroying witch hunts if we are not willing to listen to each other. Ditto for crimes that go unpunished,victims that are ignored, year after year, because we are not willing to listen to each other with respect. The Shadow gets bigger and bigger unless, as you say, we have this discussion, as uncomfortable as it might be, whenever it needs to be had.

    Yeah, a lot of breathing, grounding, centering, magick and a common sense is required.

    One thing I think it's also important to keep in mind when we are in the middle of discussions like this is that events like the Klein arrest re-traumatize not only his primary victims, but -- to a lesser but still significant degree -- other survivors of sexual assault as well. That means that people are trying to discuss and solve the problem while many of us are also dealing with our own, re-ignited issues, and some may be responding from the midst of their own trauma. Healing from trauma is a process, and people's words -- even those of strangers -- can have a strong effect on those who may be at a critical point in that process -- even years after the fact. A little empathy, openness and understanding can go a long way. Rants and accusations can have devastating effects. It would behoove us all to think well about whether we are contributing light or heat through our words.

  • Arwen Lynch
    Arwen Lynch Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    I think your statement has heart as well as head (love and smart together). For me, the statement "all acts of love and pleasure" nails it. That has to exist on both sides for the sexual act to be sacred.

    I have been part of the dogpile on someone when their partner said this or that. I have not stopped and tried to get all the facts. This is a good reminder to do that as well. Thanks for this post.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Friday, 11 April 2014

    I have a suggestion that may make your posts easier to read. You have a style which lends itself to initialisms, because it's just easier to type out a few quick letters than a frequently-used phrase. That can be a barrier for any reader who hasn't learned this new dialect, and who can't quickly parse what IMHO, DiL, BNP and other bits of alphabet soup might mean.

    What I think might help you be more approachable without slowing down your typing speed is to keep some of your favorite phrases in a clip file, and just copy the appropriate one when it's called for.

    I speak as someone who appreciates your perspective as wider than my own, and as someone who is mostly fluent in today's initialisms but still find the density of them in your prose to be challenging. Thank you.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Friday, 11 April 2014

    Yes. I've been around a while and I'm somewhat lost. What does QLTBG mean? Even Google was at a loss for that one.

  • Hec
    Hec Friday, 11 April 2014

    I have posted a clarification over at my blog. You can read it here: http://hecatedemeter.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/clarification/

    Diotima, thank you very much, especially for the reminder of how these issues can re-trigger other survivors of sexual assault.

    Arwen, I think we've all been guilty a time or two!

    Terence, thank you for the very good suggestion. I'm always trying to improve my writing.

    Greybeard, QLTBG stands for Queer, Lesbian, Transgendered, Bisexual, and Gay.

  • Max Dashu
    Max Dashu Tuesday, 15 April 2014

    "Feminazis," really??? No remedy for child abuse or battering, because He said, she said, just like in the courts. I'm disgusted.

  • Hec
    Hec Wednesday, 16 April 2014

    Max,

    The sentence says: "Third, I'd like to suggest that we all consider that those who want to discuss ways to make Pagan events comfortable for everyone are not really likely to be thought-police, helicopter parents who want to force all of us to behave the way they want their children to behave, or feminazis." (emphasis added) It's followed by a sentence that says:  "And, those who want Pagan events to remain sex positive are likely not pedophiles, predators, or establishment pervs."

    Those sentences collect some of the more extreme reactions that I've seen expressed in recent days and suggest that they are wrong. Like you, I'm no fan of the term "feminazis," which is why I included it in my list of reactions that are wrong.

    My post states that: (1) "[I]f all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess, sex without legal consent is the Pagan equivalent of a Black Mass, the turning of a sacrament on its head for evil," (2) "[The Frost's] suggestions not only involve a number of possibly illegal acts, but also trigger very serious alarms for many of us who deal with issues of patriarchy and power over.  (I wrote years ago at my own blog about my concerns and absolute disagreement with the Frosts' first suggestion, which occurred in a recently-published book.  I also repudiate the Frosts' second suggestion.  There is, IMHO, no historical support for it and, even if there were, such practices are completely unacceptable," (3) "We've seen what happens within Catholicism, various Evangelical sects, and under a number of New Age gurus when people refuse to have the discussion and rally round the "elders" at the expense of those whom the priests, gurus, and elders have exploited," and (4) "Any time some people have power over (especially as teachers, elders, those who approach newbies) others, the possibility of sexual exploitation is present, even in Paganism.  And whenever that possibility is present, sunlight, as Justice Brandeis said, is the best disinfectant."

    I'm not sure how you can read those statements and imagine that I propose that there should be "no remedy for child abuse or battering" because it all comes down to "he said, she said." (Battering really wasn't discussed in my post). I can't imagine anyone even remotely familiar with my work could think so. Perhaps you were reading in a hurry.

    I admire your work very much, link to your blog on my other blog, and have posted a number of your videos. I hope that, with this explanation, you will re-read my post.

    Blessings,

    Hec

  • Max Dashu
    Max Dashu Tuesday, 22 April 2014

    I read your post perfectly well the first time. Feminazi is an offensive slur that is used to insult women on the regular. Your usage of it is uncritical: "for everyone are not really likely to be thought-police, helicopter parents who want to force all of us to behave the way they want their children to behave, or feminazis". There is no such thing as a feminazi, so why use the word?

  • Diotima
    Diotima Wednesday, 23 April 2014

    Not every criticism has to be explicit, Max. I saw the criticism as implicit in the context. It seemed pretty clear to me that she was using the same dismissive and critical terms she heard others use to describe "opponents" in this situation, and by implication, criticizing the use of the terms. Yes, it is an offensive slur -- so is "establishment perv" . That seemed to me to be the point she was making.

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