Let’s End Rabbit Season on the Newbies

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.

Gizmo
Gizmo hiding…sort of

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…

 

 

It is Not About the Gods, it is About the Power….

I love to walk with crow brethren. In real life, it happens from time to time when I walk around the college campus I work on. Most of the time, they want food, which I am happy to supply from the last portions of my lunch. But in my dreams, the time spent with them is more of conversation. This dream-world is where I get a lot of the ideas which populate my dream journal, as well as my personal journal.

A few nights ago, one of the typical “conversations” eventually led to a question from me concerning leadership. Why do leaders seemingly reach a point where they abuse others. I was aware of the origin of the question – both then and now. Recently, there have been a large number of people who have been charged with abuse of others – Judge Moore in Alabama, Senator Franken from Minnesota – just name two. Why would the God(s) allow this to happen? Surely, particularly in the cases of individuals in positions of leadership in religious communities, the God(s) would intervene and not allow such abuses to take place in Their name(s). One of the crows supplied an answer, which I wrote down when I woke up in the morning….

It is not about the Gods…it is about Power. It does not matter what one practices or believes…tyranny is about what power they hold over others…not about what beliefs they practice.

Now, I have been in positions of leadership to one degree or another throughout my life. I understand the seduction of power, of playing favorites amongst people who look to you for direction and (shudder) answers. And power is an extremely seductive force. To have people do things when you tell them or to be able to utterly ruin a person’s public reputation with a few well-placed words. To have people hang on your every word. For your every intonation to be treated as the sacred word of the Gods. Who would not want such command??

Well, me, for one. And perhaps I am just the odd duck when it comes to something like this. In my job, I am considered to be a subject expert when it comes to writing programming code. If only I saw myself in that same vein. I am a good programmer. I understand all the manners in which to make most programming dance to my fingertips. But I am by no means an “expert” at my trade. I am merely the best in the environment in which I am in. I know my limitations as a programmer and have little doubt that I have a long, long way to go before I can even be considered “very good”. But in a world of neophytes, even the individual of average knowledge seems to be an all-knowing God. I have no desire to become an all-knowing God…and I am always ready to improve on what I know – ready to adapt to change.

When I was a supervisor in the Air Force, I had subordinates who literally hung on my every word. I had been in the Air Force for over five years at that point. Each of the airmen under my supervision had been in the Air Force for a little under a year. I was their authority figure. Not because I had earned it, but because my rank dictated that I had. For them, I was mother AND father. What I said was law before I uttered it. And I grew up very fast in trying to live up to that responsibility. I realized that responsibility was easily shared. And while authority from above came in the form of rank, it was easier to split that up into equal pieces amongst all of us. Together, we shared the responsibility for getting tasks assigned to us completed. We learned how to work towards resolving issues quickly, not pointing fingers of blame first, and when the task was completed – trying to find out what went wrong at that time. After a time, we learned our strengths, our weaknesses, our incomplete knowledge areas – individually, and collectively. There was no need to dictate what needed to be done. We assessed together, resolved based on our strengths and weaknesses, and treated each other as equals regardless of rank (a concept that runs counter to military organizations).

I see similar aspects in some Pagan communities, whose power dynamics I admire greatly. Responsibilities and leadership are shared commodities with individuals stepping into positions of ownership with what they have been tasked to do. Leadership roles are rotated, along with other aspects, regardless of knowledge or experience. Each individual gets a chance to do, to plan, to organize, to execute tasks, to resolve issues….and each individual grows and learns. And that growth and learning and experience make a more rounded individual. As a group, these well-rounded individuals have their own strengths and weaknesses. Taken together, each member of the group feels empowered to be a part of the solution. Each member of the group has an ownership in the group. And that empowerment and ownership are paramount towards the continued growth of the group.

But we are talking about people here. People are seduced by the power of being the place where answers come from. People are seduced by the concept that they have all the answers where others don’t. One’s Experience becomes a bludgeoning tool with which to keep others away from becoming that Oracle of Knowledge. And soon enough, the power leads to being abusive. Using that power of dominance and leadership to reach for aspects that normally would not be available. We have all heard it before within the Pagan community – the charismatic group leader that uses his/her position of authority as a means to be sexual with someone else. Oddly enough, what the Pagan community has gone through before (largely, to my knowledge, in the 1990s), the evangelical Christian community is getting a taste of here lately. Judge Moore does indeed come from an evangelical Christian background. And I do find it interesting that the evangelical Christian community is rallying around the accused rather the accusers, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly pointed against Judge Moore.

The Dream Crows are right though. What Judge Moore is accused of is not an indictment of Christianity. Nor is it an indictment of the evangelical community. It is a harbinger of something that needs to be looked at far deeper. But its definitely not about the Gods or even the Christian God. It is about the abuse of power. A power that is provided to the individual by the community. The Gods can direct us to do Their will throughout the world. But even They are aware of the frailty of human beings. Even They are aware of what the seduction of power can do to a human being. This is not about Their will, but rather the lack of ours…ours being the “collective we”….