Pagans & Politics: The Power of Pagan Activism

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Sexual misconduct and Paganism

The dam has broken. In fields of politics, sports, entertainment, journalism, and more, predominantly middle and upper class women are silent no more. It seems every day brings another list of men in a wide variety of fields who are accused of sexual misconduct.

 

It’s difficult to know what has caused this watershed. In the 1990s Bill Clinton was accused of sexual harassment by a number of women but no one paid any attention to his sexual misconduct until the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Perhaps more stunningly, the calm and collected Anita Hill stood up against Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court with numerous allegations of misconduct. The energy shifted from one way to the other until Thomas called it a “high-tech lynching” and the all-male committee quickly confirmed him. Even when the scores of women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual abuse spoke up, it was treated as an isolated incident. And of course, after first condemning him, the Republican establishment fell over itself promoting “Grab ‘Em by the Pussy” Trump.

 

While many people have heard of the #MeToo movement on social media, many don’t know it was actually started in 1997 by an African American woman, Tarana Burke, who was trying to help an adolescent girl who was the victim of sexual assault. But it didn’t catch on then — some say because it was started by a black woman and mainstream feminism has historically discounted them — until the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. Over 100 women have accused him of sexual misconduct and he is under investigation in three states. Actress Alyssa Milano wrote a simple tweet asking people who’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply with “me too.” The result opened the floodgates. Millions of women and men have come forward with tales of criminal misconduct.

 

Perhaps more shocking are the revelations about Roy Moore’s pedophilia. Many Pagans will be familiar with Moore, who was booted off the Alabama Supreme Court twice: once for refusing to remove a display of the Ten Commandments on public property and again for telling judges to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. During Moore’s recent campaign for an Alabama senator seat, several women were interviewed by the Washington Post who claimed Moore had sexually intimidated and assaulted them when they were teens and he was a thirty-something district attorney. One of his accusers displayed a note Moore wrote to her in her yearbook. Even Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, said, “I believe the women” and intimated that, if elected, Moore would immediately be called before the Senate ethics committee. But the Republican National Committee, while initially immediately cutting off financial support for Moore, did a 180 only three weeks later and reinstated his funding after President Trump endorsed Moore. There was a massive get-out-the-vote campaign on the Democratic side where African Americans and Democratic women voted for Moore’s opponent Doug Jones, but on the Republican side there was also a massive write-in campaign. Both Moore and Jones received over half a million votes. Jones won by about 20,000 votes, which is the same number as the write-ins. That tells us how many Republicans voted for a sexual predator and pedophile just so they can get a tax cut passed and restrict women’s reproductive rights and the other usual Republican agenda items. In other words, they chose politics over morality. Perhaps most shockingly, Moore partisans claimed that even if the allegations were true, Joseph had married the Virgin Mary when she was a teenager, so age differentials weren’t an issue.

 

We still need to shine a light on working class women (and men) who are victims of criminal sexual misconduct. But we also need to look close to home and examine the environments and behaviors of our own Pagan groups.

 

In the 1990s, there was a man who was accused of sexual misconduct in the Craft community and he just moved from coven to coven, kicked out after one or two incidents. I was then the coordinator for the Pagan Leaders email list and we agonized over what to do. After all, no criminal charges had been filed — innocent until proven guilty? Yet we couldn’t ignore the wealth of stories. We finally decided to warn covens in the area of this man’s history in the hope that it would prevent his being able to join a coven. But really, what did that accomplish? Were we much better than the Catholic Church, moving offending priests around? 

 

It was a really different time then. As mentioned above, Bill Clinton was alleged to have had a string of extramarital affairs as well as having sexually harassed women who worked for him. I am ashamed to say that I disliked these alleged behaviors but I was more inclined to discount the women’s stories because I so desperately wanted someone besides George H. W. Bush in the White House. At times I said that as long as the behavior was between consenting adults, it had no impact on his job performance and should be ignored. Twenty-some years later, with a crystal-clear memory of my own experiences with sexual misconduct and the agony of not being believed, plus the ever-growing awareness of how common sexual misconduct is and how women are routinely discounted out of hand in mainstream culture, I have completely switched my point of view and am much more likely to believe accusers. I look back on that incident in the ‘90s and wince. How many women were affected? How many were traumatized? How many covens were torn apart?

 

In the present, it’s time for Pagans to take a serious look at our behavior. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment pretty clearly, but it comes down to creating a “hostile or offensive” environment. Do we create that in our own covens, groves, blots, etc? Is is really consensual sex if the person initiating it is in a position of power over the one on the receiving end? Are there clear rules regarding sexual behavior in our individual gatherings in order to create a healthy environment for all participants? Are these rules in writing and regularly shared and reviewed? Pagan religions are generally sex-positive but that doesn’t mean you get to come on to anything with two legs.

 

I like to think this is less of an issue in Paganism because of our reverence for the Goddess/Goddesses but I’ve seen entirely too many fantasy images of thin, perfectly breasted, naked, smoothly shaved women in our iconography to be that naïve. Goddesses are sexualized and commodified in Paganism just like everywhere else. It will take conscious effort on our part to really examine ourselves and explore how the mainstream culture affects our thoughts and behaviors. 

 

Should your tradition call upon Gods, it’s also important to look at their role in possibly propping up misogynistic or patriarchal attitudes towards women. Those following a Greek path are especially hard-pressed to find myths that don’t include wholesale rape. All Pagans need to look at our conception of divinity and weed out the poison that mainstream culture has fed us.

 

What else can we do? Women need to support women who claim sexual misconduct — and we need to support male and transgender victims, too. That doesn’t mean we immediately banish accused offenders without an investigation, but it means listening to victims and providing them support. And in cases where misconduct has occurred, victims should be encouraged to report the criminal activity to the police. If they don’t want to go through the agony this can produce, we need to still be supportive and not insist on doing things our way. Sexual misconduct cases are often brutal on victims and not everyone wants to go through that. 

 

Groves, covens, etc need to take a good look at their power structures and ensure that equality is the name of the game. Young people are especially at risk from predatory men and women in power who claim they will impart sacred knowledge if the victim engages in sexual activity with them. But it’s not just about overt sexual practices — it’s about that environment we create. Is it “hostile or offensive”? It immediately needs changed.

 

 

While as sex-positive, Goddess-oriented Pagans we may think we’re immune to the mainstream culture’s views on the objectification of women and the endemic use of power-over, the truth is we have to engage in a rigorous process of self-examination, learning, and seeking opinions from others in order to rid ourselves of this negative conditioning. Listen. Learn. Act.

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Cairril Adaire is a solitary Celtic Witch and lapsed Discordian. She is the founder of Our Freedom: A Coalition for Pagan Civil Rights. She is an entrepreneur and also a professional musician with the world music ensemble Kaia. She blogs at irishsparks.com.  

Comments

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Friday, 29 December 2017

    I completely support the point of this post, but I would go farther: I believe that because we are sex-positive and allow erotic playfulness within our communities, it is incumbent on us to be crystal clear about what is not okay, and to train and educate our members in that.

    I've seen too much of adult Pagan men hitting on teenagers (I don't care if some of them were 18--it's still not right for a 40-year-old to be hitting on them). I've seen too much indulgence of people with clearly terrible boundaries because "they're just that way" or, worse, because they are a Big Name Pagan and can therefore, apparently, get away with sexual harassment and/or assault with impunity.

    We aren't just part of this story. We are particularly vulnerable to this kind of behavior, and we need to steer the ship so that it is no longer tolerated.

  • Cairril Adaire
    Cairril Adaire Tuesday, 02 January 2018

    Hear, hear! Very well put. I agree completely.

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