Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Leave the fields to fallow, so no more hate and fear can grow.

There has been a lot of talk of abuse in the Pagan community as of late. Late last month, Sarah Lawless wrote a large blog post detailing the many abuses she and others have suffered from a number of prominent members of the PNW Pagan community. The post had a variety of effects - for some, it caused them to become very angry at her, accusing her of lying or making it up, or using it to try and garner sympathy for her kickstarter campaign. For some, they jumped in to defend her, voicing support or echoing her experiences. One of the abusers named actually commented on the post and outed himself, and many women have come forward to talk about abuse they has experienced with him. She has posted numerous times on her Facebook page, finally naming the abusers:

Sarah had many people on her side, and many defenders - myself included. A lot of the discussion was about why women don't come forward, why they are fearful. Fire Lyte from Inciting a Riot wrote an article supporting her, and he made the very good point: Silence = Death.

Sadly, she had this to say about the responses she received:

Honestly? I could not agree more. Abusers are coddled and protected in pagan communities. They are viewed as elders, as productive members of the community, as local heroes. While I have been fortunate to encounter very little sexual harassment in the pagan community, I have suffered other abuses and harassment that has shown me that, just like the priests and cardinals in the Vatican, pagans protect and believe only those in their clique. And there are cliques in the community, have no doubt about that.

I have always supported #metoo. I was emotionally and verbally abused for 2 years by an ex boyfriend. I was sexually harassed and assaulted, and I was almost raped when I was 13. I got involved in paganism after my own dissatisfaction with the Catholic church and their abuse of children and women, and their treatment of the LGBTQ community. I came to it thinking it was a safer, more inclusive, and more supportive community. As time has worn on and after spending 2 decades in the pagan community, I look back at what a naive, idealistic fool I was.

I am wary of talking about my own abuse. My abusers are still out there, living their lives with no consequence. However, I spent a lot of time talking to people - people in the community, people who have left the community, people on the fringes who have always kept their distance. I have gathered set of different cases of abuse in the pagan community that people have talked openly about, or had warned me about, or I experienced. There are more. Many more I am sure, of abuse that I was not privy to or was not a constant flow in the wheel of the rumour mill.

- A well-known creep in my former community was known to be handsy and inappropriate with women in circle, at pagan events, and in close communities. People talked openly of him massaging women around the fire or stroking their backs, invading their personal space. He once tried to pull me into a hug when I first met him, after kissing my hand and saying something about what I was wearing. I saw him once at a public event, staring at women half his age, licking his lips.

- A pagan 'elder' known in my area was accused (unsure if it was proven) of allegedly having child pornography. Almost no one I spoke to was surprised, and many stated that even if it was false, he still had a history of sleeping with his young female students. There were many issues with him, going back decades, about claiming new young priestesses had to perform the great rite with him in order to receive full initiation into his tradition.

- During the first event I ever attended as a pagan (almost 2 decades ago), I was there with a friend and his girlfriend. It was a Samhain costume event, and everyone was dressed up. My friend's girlfriend was dressed as a french maid. One of the local well-known Heathens (who is also known as the moniker 'asshole-(name)') stuck his hands up her skirt and grabbed her ass, then had the audacity to claim that 'she was dressed that way, she should have expected it' when she got upset.

- A well-known psychic and intuitive healer used to come into the store I worked at to pick up unsuspecting women. He would follow them around, comment on their purchases, talk about his own abilities and ask them if he could 'intuitively find them a stone'. He would then ask them for their Facebook information and probe for more personal information. No one on staff had any time for his bullshit and would constantly swoop in to speak with these women who looked uncomfortable to save them. Some women would feel harassed and stated they felt super uncomfortable, but never wanted to make a fuss in case they were 'over-reacting'.

- A known leader was accused of racism and verbal abuse by other members of the community with credible evidence. This leader had a pattern of setting up multiple Facebook accounts and when one was found she would set up a new one with a new name. She talked at length about her feelings on immigration, POC in the Heathen community, and interfaith. She advocated violence and celebrated terrorist acts. When community leaders were approached and were told there was proof, said teacher was defended as a 'valuable member of the community'.

- A former pagan person in my own life spent years gaslighting me, verbally assaulting me, and convincing my loved ones I was crazy. That same person also had used racial slurs on social media to describe city workers, and referred to marginalized POC as 'ghetto'.  They also threatened violence against children. This person had explosive anger issues, and would constantly react as such - the last night we spoke in person resulted in that person screaming obscenities at me and refusing to allow me to leave their home, getting up in my personal space in a very threatening way, and issuing emotionally abusive ultimatums.

- An annual pagan event I attended got a bit out of hand one year when the host got drunk and began handing out door prizes for sexual favours and people flashing their tits and getting their dicks out. It caused an uproar and the local pagan store refused to sponsor it going forward. Many members of the community jumped into to defend the host as 'having a bit a fun' and 'being a little drunk, they didn't understand what they were doing' and started a smear campaign against the owner of the store for not 'supporting the community'. 

I have tried to keep this as intentionally vague as possible. I have left out all names: some because some of these issues have been resolved; some because I do not feel safe naming them, because I know how petty and vindictive some people can get; and honestly some because the full details are not my story to share. Many of these things I have heard are second hand from very credible and trustworthy sources. I have no reason to doubt them or their experience.

Sarah pointed out that the ideal community is a fantasy - I agree. Stories I have heard from others about their own experiences in the 'safe and welcoming' pagan community would break your heart. One person I spoke with recently said 'it's scary to even fathom trying to approach anyone, because it's hard to know who to trust, who might lure you in and take advantange of you'. That is a sad statement, and one I know too well.  I have a tendency to keep abuse like this close to the chest because I have been burned by people in the past - people who are unsupportive, people who seem trustworthy but end up being not, people who lie and try and orchestrate DARVO attacks to make people choose sides. There is no support for people who get abused - no chaplains, no pastoral care, no therapists. After my own experiences, I sunk deeply into the worst depression of my life, which lasted for over 2 years. I suffered with feelings of worthlessness and suicidal ideation. I have massive anxiety about the abuse I was subjected to, to the point of becoming anxious when I read other stories of emotional and verbal abuse. It has taken a lot of therapy and some massive changes to feel like things are becoming normal again.

Seeing people in the community going through all of this and having to deal with a onslaught of abuse and bullshit for speaking up? Nuh uh. Not okay. These are people who are putting everything on the line to be heard, and the vitriol and hatred and lies I have seen makes my blood boil. This is precisely why people do not come forward. They could put everything on the line - in Sarah's case, the safety of her partner and children - and people will still find a way to claim the survivors are lying. Why? What do the survivors get out of lying about their abuse? What person would come forward, knowing they will be attacked, confronted, slandered, and encounter more abuse, if they weren't telling the truth? Why would any survivor put themselves through that unless there is truth? The most stalwart defenders claim 'they couldn't have done it, I've never seen them do anything to me!' Humans are complicated and complex beings, with many facets and many faces. The face you see may not be the same face others see. The John Doe you know and the John Doe I know may be the same person, but very different relationships.

This has been an anxious few weeks, reading through people's encounters and just feeling this sick ache in my stomach.

It comes down to this:

You can't 'believe survivors' if you're supporting abusers.
You can't support survivors if you're sheltering abusers.
You can't help survivors if you're siding with abusers.
You can't call it a safe community if you don't protect it's members.

What can we do? What is my solution?


I think we should just burn it down. 

Burn the whole of the modern pagan community down. Burn down the groups that perpetuate abuse, that enable abusers, and grow something better and safe from the ashes. Dismantle the sexist, enabling, oversexed community with it's abusive elders, cleanse it with fire, and create a place where people can come together without having to fear predators. We need willing leaders to push forward to make the community better. We need dedicated, smart, and savvy people to navigate a new and better future for paganism, because it's got a death rattle going on and it needs the kiss of a new life. All I have learned from watching this experience is that we shouldn't call out wrongdoing in the community, because I have gotten abuse hurled at me for it and I have seen others who have done the same get more and worse abuse. People get mad, they accuse those who come forward of 'causing drama' or 'rocking the boat'.  Bitches, this boat is rocking. Grab on, or drown.

So after careful thought and consideration, I am done with the pagan community as a whole. I am done trying to engage, I am done trying to make what is broken try to work. It is inevitable that change will befall the community, and those denizens had better wise up quickly. There are a lot of young, vulnerable people looking for guidance and safety, and the community better fucking step up and prove they are willing to protect their members, or they have become no better than the Christian groups who continue to enable their abuse.

I want to give kudos to the groups and traditions that are working to create safe community. There are numerous (Black Rose Witchcraft, Temple of Witchcraft et al) that are being the savvy people and pushing for change. With no tolerance for BS or abuse. Keep that up. We need more traditions and groups to pave the way to the future.

I have fought for a long time for the community, and it has taken me feeling rudderless and adrift to really examine my next steps. For right now? I'm going to keep doing my thing. It's working well, and in the end, a witch is a sovereign being unto themselves. I have put in my time. I have paid my passage. I'm content how I am, which is a weird and very liberating thing to say. I will be here, trying to plant the seeds for safety and justice, with an open heart and mind. I'll still be blogging and practicing and cursing and loving and protecting. My focus has just shifted.

I am not a perfect person - I'm flawed, like everyone else. I have made mistakes, like anyone has. But in the end, I can only do my best, until I know better. Then I try and do better.

And right now, I'm better alone.

One last thing: some of the people above may recognise themselves, or recognise events. I won't be revealing names - if abusers want to out themselves, that's their prerogative and their folly. My only hope is that they can take it as a chance to amend their behaviour and learn and grow into better people. But I don't want to hear from them. I don't particularly care what their point of view is. Nor do I want to hear from anyone else who has decided to be on the wrong side of these abuses. If you found yourself upset or ignored, perhaps you need to take a look at yourself and your behaviour that put you in such a position.