I truly dislike writing about topics like this. However, as often as it keeps cropping up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the last year, I realize that is a very timely discussion to have. So what is this all about? Well, it has to do with what I consider to be “bad leadership” within the Pagan community. The newest post concerning all of this came through my Twitter feed and pointed me back to Asa West’s blog post over on Witches & Pagans. In terms of length and discussion, Asa is concise and straight to her point concerning the power dynamics that play out publicly and privately, as well as providing some links to recent examples of this taking place within the Pagan community.
Abusive individuals within the Pagan community is certainly nothing new. Back in 1986, when I started on my Pagan journey, I heard the stories about individuals in authoritative positions withholding promised magickal training for sexual favors. I have watched people that I had understood to be ethical and appropriate visages of leadership crumble into unethical and criminal activity when money entered the equation. There are others who have utilized their positions of community derived authority to enforce their way of approaching and communing with certain Gods and Goddesses as the “only way” to do so. And the stories and examples can literally go on and on and on and on…
I think that one of the issues here is the ease at which people hand the mantle of leadership and authority to others without blinking even once. I remember starting on this Path, how difficult it was to find any Pagans in the open after the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I also remember how cautious the coven I eventually decided to work with handled me. They were in Plano, Texas. I was on the other side of the metroplex at Carswell Air Force Base in west Fort Worth. A trip to visit with them was a one hour trip in one direction for me, and that was when the traffic was favorable. Until I was trusted, everything was on a first name basis only. I was even told to not completely trust what I was being taught. “Trust your instincts when dealing with magic” I was told. That was a piece of advice I have maintained since that day, and even applied it to dealing with others.
Look, I have my bad days. There are times I let my emotions get the best of me in any conversation. I expect anyone else has the same issues in their own life. In one of the examples that are linked from Asa’s post is a moment where a person in a position of authority allegedly slapped someone who had deferred that aspect of authority to the individual. Publicly. Now, I do not know the details of the entire exchange nor do I really want to. However, I will supply this: unless an agreement has been made between myself and the other individual that such an exchange – publicly or privately – was agreed upon – that single moment would be the only time that person would have. The same would hold true with someone that would degrade me in a verbal or emotional exchange. For me, the moment that this happened would be the end of any agreement, magickal or otherwise, that we had. This is my methodology for handling situations like this.
But let’s be a little realistic for a few moments. Let’s affix our little fluffy bunny tails to the seat of our pants, and place our fluffy bunny ears on our heads – and take a short trip back to the beginning when we were full of saccharine, covered in glitter, and crapped magickal rainbows. A person that is currently on a Pagan path for the first time may have gone to some really drastic lengths to find that teacher. Unfortunately, they found an abuser. Would they not be willing to let a lot of things go by the wayside? After all, sex magick is just another part of magick, right? And if we don’t reach into our darker parts of who we are, we won’t be ready for some the less pleasant things, right? Yeah. Welcome to the manipulative mannerisms of the abuser. Yes, sex magick is a part of magickal workings. But it is not a moment of getting laid, and in my mind, it is not a road to go down with a novice. AT ALL. As for the darker side of magick, it certainly is there. But making you feel like you are ten inches tall through a barrage of verbal abuse… ::sigh:: And these are just two of the many, many manipulative things that abusers do within our Pagan community. And no, beyond this single sentence, I am not traveling down the pedophile trail – it is there, it does happen, and I will beat the ever-loving shit out of any abuser I find doing this.
All right. ::deep breath, Tommy::
My advice for anyone who finds themselves being abused like this…get out. However, you have to – short of taking someone’s life. Find help. Read up on the signs of abuse. Read up on what leadership SHOULD look like. Shauna Aura Knight has two excellent books on this topic: Pagan Leadership Anthology, which contains several excellent essays from various folks on leadership. And her book The Leader Within: Articles on Community Building, Leadership & Personal Growth. Furthermore, if you have aspirations to be a leader within your community, know this stuff inside-out, be prepared to step between an abuser and the individual they are abusing. Remember, before you do something, know what you are getting into.
Me? Well, I am a solo Pagan, for a lot of reasons. One of these is so that I am not tempted to abuse whatever authority is handed to me by someone else. Seriously. I am always willing to show folks where my starting points in Paganism were, but I am also cautious to remind them that (a) that was back in 1986, a really long time ago, and (b) just because that worked for me, does not mean it will for them. That old starting point; however, might give them a hint where things might work for them as a starting point. I am no master theologian, top-notch Priest or craft Magician. And anyone suggesting just that about me will make me very, very nervous. Now, a Leader?? Maybe. I have been told that I have leadership qualities and traits in nearly every facet of my life. Usually, I lean to Edgar Friendly’s perspective from the movie Demolition Man: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to do. Sometimes, people come with me.”
Remember, trust your instincts. If it does not feel right, in all likelihood, it would be better to remove yourself from it. if a teacher or a leader asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with – you have every right to say no. You have every right to leave. If they threaten to withhold knowledge or teachings from you – leave. You can get that training or knowledge from somewhere else or someone else with a better set of ethics. There is not a single person on this planet that has sole custody of any truth, except where that applies to themselves alone. One of these days, I hope someone comes up with something similar to a Seeker’s Bill of Rights. Because our wider Pagan community could certainly put something like to good use, particularly for those fluffy bunnies just coming on to the scene. It certainly never should be Rabbit Season…