The Frosts and Consent Culture

25 Aug

Carved Heart– By Shauna Aura Knight

This post is inspired by Gavin and Yvonne Frost but isn’t actually about them. It’s about how Pagans continue to support Pagan leaders and teachers who have written or done highly unethical things. (And by unethical I don’t mean gray area, I’m talking about issues of rape, abuse, and consent.) It’s about how Pagans continue to sweep abuse under the carpet.

What does support look like? Support is hiring people to teach at your event or in your area. Support is hosting teachers in your home or at your venue. Support is attending their workshop or buying their book. Support is keeping silent.

Why is it important to talk about these issues? Largely because there are so many abusive patterns in the Pagan community What I hear over and over is that Pagans want this to stop. To stop it, we have to address it.

And then we have to actually make changes and stop making excuses. 

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Orthodox Pagan Food

11 Aug

I’m an avid reader. Books, blogs, and HuffPost articles feed my unquenchable hunger for more information. The genres I read lend toward nonfiction: science, memoirs, and of course, Pagan books. Religion is something I have deep interest in and not just my religion. I love to read books by and about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion. My favorite stories are religious memoirs, books written by people who came from some sort of orthodox life who “escaped” and are now making their way in the world. Some of my favorites include Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and The Namesake.

Whenever I read books on this subject an envy deep in my soul grows a little bigger. The envy is for the the connection many of the community members have: living in tight knit communities, sharing space and lives and sometimes bloodlines, of actually *knowing* your neighbors, of being able to trust those around you to have your best interest at heart.

Of course, the authors don’t paint the rosy picture my mind wants to see. Instead, they talk of oppressive patriarchal hierarchies so tightly knit together they can be almost impossible to rip back. They speak of deep loneliness, of feeling “other” all the time, not being able to trust their families and peers for fear of being shamed for wanting something other than maintaining whatever the cultural and religious norm there are.

Our religion does not fit into the above description. We Pagans tend to flee when we see the words “rules” “restrictions” “regulation” “responsibility” because many of us came from religions which had far too many of these “r” words. We bristle at the very thought of anyone having power to tell us what to do and what not to do. I’m one who bristles at the very thought of someone telling me anything. But I see there is a need for some rules. Paganism is not a free-for-all religion. We have responsibilities to ourselves, our kin, and Mother Earth.

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You Might Be a Predator If… A Simple Guide in Case You Didn’t Know

7 Aug

By Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez

In light of recent issues, the Pagan community has finally begun discussing how predators have negatively affected us. So many people from numerous traditions have shared their own terrifying experiences in countless stories. As I’ve searched the internet and read articles and looked at comments pertaining to said articles I’m finding more and more people who don’t understand what defines a predator and even worse, those who believe that predatory behavior is in fact defensible. Today I am going to highlight a few items to more clearly outline what constitutes unacceptable behavior as I believe that members of our community deserve to be safe. Please note that in addressing these issues I am not referring to those who participate in BDSM relationships with terms and safety conditions decided upon by all involved parties of appropriate age.

You might be a predator if…

1) You think it’s alright to harass and oggle the people around you.
          The world is full of attractive people. It’s hard not to notice when someone carries themselves in a way you find alluring or has a look about them that you appreciate. I think we’ve all found ourselves checking someone out a time or two. It is one thing to gaze in admiration. It is entirely different to undress someone with your eyes, follow them around, make comments at them or yell at them as they pass. You are not entitled to the attention of those you find attractive.

2) You don’t comprehend that “no” takes different forms.
          Many people, women in particular are frequently subject to aggressive attention from others, particularly men. Some of us are practiced at saying “No, leave me alone” while others have developed different defense mechanisms. In certain cases a woman will not verbalize her “no” but will show it in body language. If she does not respond, does not make eye contact, does not stop to greet you or is obviously trying to leave, that means no. If in your world that doesn’t mean no, if you feel that means “try harder”, you are exhibiting predatory behavior and you need to stop. This person is obviously not interested. If you can’t take a hint, you’re being a creeper. Even worse, if you find yourself excited by their discomfort you are definitely a predator.

3) You feel that certain styles of dress or behaviors are an invitation.
          I’ve gone to any number of Pagan events, most of which take place during warm weather, on beautiful days. There are drum circles and bellydancing and hoop dancing and all manner of joyous activities that many of us feel are celebratory and life-affirming. Many attendees wear less clothing or even none at all. Hey, it’s hot out. They’re really comfortable with their bodies. They enjoy the freedom of it. They are dancing in ways that people may find enticing or they share their art in a way that speaks to you. Many of us express sexual energy in our practice through dance and art. That having been said, you may not assume that you are entitled to partake of that sexuality. Nudity is not an invitation. Just because someone is not wearing clothes does not mean you get to stare as long as you want, follow them around or have sex with them. They didn’t attend for your enjoyment and they don’t owe you anything.

4) You use the unseen as a means to get people in to your bed.
          I don’t know how each and every person practices. I’m not familiar with all methods of teaching. I am aware that some methods of study do include sexual elements. That’s fine as long as all parties involved are of age, totally aware of the decision they are making, are not coerced and that safety is considered. Coercion, I repeat, is not okay.
          For example, a person goes to another for spiritual instruction and is informed that if they want to “get to the next level” they have to sleep with their teacher, or that the “Gods” have decided that the student must sleep with the teacher to open them to new experiences in “enlightenment” or some other such nonsense. If you impose such a thing on a student, you’re a predator. If you don’t have clearly defined agreements and try to push sex on someone, you’re a predator. Should you include sex as an element of your teachings and practice you are responsible for making certain that every person who comes to you for instruction knows the specifics right away and is capable of making an informed decision about their own path. If you would deny someone this, guess what? You’re a predator!

5) You threaten spiritual retribution if someone refuses your advances.
          It sure does suck when someone you have a thing for doesn’t reciprocate. Everyone has been there. It hurts. It can be humiliating. But it’s also a part of life. Most of us are pretty well in touch with reality and know that it’s better for someone to be honest regardless of how we feel about it. If you’re the person that gets turned down and decides to threaten someone with a hex or a curse, you have found yourself in predator territory.
          You’re not that powerful. Sorry to break it to you but your magick-fu is not mighty enough to destroy someone for not liking the cut of your jib. It’s also equally wrong to threaten the significant other of the person who turned you down.

6) You threaten character assassination.
          This is a frequent tactic practiced by members of the Pagan community. I have seen this myself and frankly it is far more damaging than threats of hexes. People look to their community for support and encouragement. Threatening to destroy someone’s reputation because they aren’t interested in you or have broken up with you is sick, twisted and abusive. It is one thing to commiserate about a bad break-up with friends. It is a different story when you go out of your way to exaggerate or lie about someone because things didn’t turn out the way you planned. Of course it is imperative that you be honest if someone has harmed you or someone else. That’s what this entry is all about! But the act of cutting someone off from their support system because you’re hurt over rejection is predatory.

7) You would eliminate someone else’s right to say “no”.
          The Pagan community tends to have some very liberal views in regard to sex and nudity. I know of events where nudity is allowed, where people practice sex magick, where swinging is common and any number of other practices. As long as these practices are safe, sane and consensual amongst adults, I take no issue. However if you would pressure someone to give up their right to say no, that is inexcusably predatory.
          There are covens who choose to practice skyclad. In all instances there must be full disclosure that such a thing is required prior to anyone showing up for ritual. If a teacher ever runs a ritual or event and springs required nudity or sexual participation on someone last minute or utilizes peer pressure to convince someone to participate, that is coercion and said teacher should be considered a predator as well as anyone else who backs his or her play.

8) You have no respect for boundaries.
          Boundaries are key to maintaining a safe environment for everyone. Each person is going to have different boundaries. Some people don’t like being touched. Some are not comfortable being nude in front of others. Other people don’t like speaking in public. These are examples of some personal limits people may set for themselves. They must be respected.
There are other considerations such as ethics. Ethical boundaries include things like not participating in sexual acts with someone who is too drunk to consent, or not engaging in sexual contact with children. These are boundaries that don’t have room for negotiation. You don’t do these things. They are not okay. If you would cross these boundaries you are without question a predator. If you would advocate for anyone who would, you are part of the problem.

Sadly it’s going to continue to happen until people stop yielding their will and free thought to self-appointed authorities and experts. It’s going to continue until victims speak out. It will still happen until every Pagan educates themselves about what is acceptable practice and what is not. It is up to us to create the community we want.

Don’t accept abuse. Do not stand idly by and watch as others are abused. Don’t allow people to destroy the message of the spirituality that you love by using it as a means to further their own goals and to support their disregard for others. Let predators know that their behavior will not be tolerated.

When Uncertainty is the Only Certainty

28 Jul

Taking a stand and taking action is what we, as activists, do. We all have experience with fighting for causes in our towns, state and even on a national level where people have come together over issues of common concern and pooled our creative talents to figure out ways to make a difference. Our collective successes are motivating, strengthening, heartening. But there are issues facing us now on a global scale that defy reason or our ability to fathom the depth of violence, hatred or potential for destruction that they bring. Israel/Palestine and Russia/Ukraine are just two examples. Sadly, there are so many more.

I am sometimes envious of those who have a clear, black and white vision of who is right vs. who is wrong, who is the perpetrator vs. who is the victim, who represents the world’s hope vs. who is an evil that must be eliminated. Indeed, that certainty of position is what often moves us to action but those of us who are still trying to make sense of it all can get stuck in a place where taking sides is impossible because even a small perspective from the “other” keeps us questioning. I recently re-read a book entitled Who Owns History by Eric Foner. Mr. Foner talks about perspective and how it influences one’s view and determination of those things just mentioned. Events around the world affect all of us. Whether governments remain neutral or intervene in events taking place halfway around the world, each decision becomes a link in a chain of unforeseen consequences. If ever there was a time to be able to see into the future, this surely is one but sadly, that is not possible.

As an activist, I want to determine my positions, share my perspective in hopes of influencing others and then determine actions I can take to correct what I deem wrong. I see my job as being an active participant in not only bringing injustice to light but then involving myself and hopefully motivating others to work toward a solution. That is only possible with clarification and certainty of where I stand and lately that certainty eludes me. For this I weep as surely as I weep for the lives being torn apart across the globe.
As a human being whose heart is breaking for every act of aggression, violence, blind allegiance to any particular dogma, I want to shout “STOP!” in a way that could actually make that happen. I weep as well for the fact that such a possibility is merely the stuff of dreams.

I long for a time when people and governments will begin to ask WHY questions. Why do “they” hate “us”? Why are “we” afraid of “them”? Why have we all allowed human relations to evolve as they have? Why is it so impossible for warring groups to stop hostilities long enough to literally sit down, break bread and actually know each other? I can hear the predicted responses from many in my circle of family of friends, responses from both sides of any of the conflicts we choose to talk about. Some will respond with outrage that I might consider the “other” side. Some will call me naïve and useless. It is the second of these possible reactions that most troubles me because it is a possibility that I fear may be true. I keep thinking of John Lennon’s words in the song Imagine: “You may say I’m a dreamer…” Dan Fogelberg’s song There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler suggests: “There’s a light in the depths of the darkness. There’s a calm at the eye of every storm. There’s a light in the depths of the darkness. Let it shine, oh, let it shine!” Dear Goddess, let my activism take the form of daring to dream, to helping find a way to shine that light.

There is one more song I must share here because it speaks to the very heart of the matter. I hope readers will find some truth in its words and help those of us who feel stuck to believe that we are making a difference. The song is titled Swimming to the Other Side and was written by Pat Humphries. Please find a recording and listen if you can.

We are living ‘neath the great Big Dipper
We are washed by the very same rain
We are swimming in the stream together
Some in power and some in pain
We can worship this ground we walk on
Cherishing the beings that we live beside
Loving spirits will live forever
We’re all swimming to the other side

I am alone and I am searching
Hungering for answers in my time
I am balanced at the brink of wisdom
I’m impatient to receive a sign
I move forward with my senses open
Imperfection, it be my crime
In humility I will listen
We’re all swimming to the other side

On this journey through thoughts and feelings
Binding intuition, my head, my heart
I am gathering the tools together
I’m preparing to do my part
All of those who have come before me
Band together and be my guide
Loving lessons that I will follow
We’re all swimming to the other side

When we get there we will discover
All the gifts we’ve been given to share
Have been with us since life’s beginning
And we never noticed they were there
We can balance at the brink of wisdom
Never recognizing that we’ve arrived
Loving spirits will live together
We’re all swimming to the other side.

Blessings to all who are working for what I must believe is possible….

The Ethics of Your Personal Journey

28 Jul

rider-Waite_The_hermit_large2Today I wanted to write about something I’ve seen a lot of lately. When you become a vegan – or a feminist, an environmentalist, an activist of any flavor – you start to notice things. You have interactions with people that you didn’t have before.

To be an activist, in a sense, is to step outside the bounds of what’s proper and try to push, pull, or encourage others to change. To be an activist, even when you’re silent, is to critique people. It’s not always going to be popular. Sometimes you’ll see sides of people that you didn’t see before. And you’ll have the opportunity to hear people’s justifications for their beliefs and actions. People who share the same mainstream beliefs don’t necessarily ask each other why they believe what they do. Minority status (which I’m using in the broadest sense) can offer a different perspective on majority culture.

What I’m seeing is a lot of people talking about their personal moral journeys.
Continue reading

Greening your Magics: Wildness and Waters

21 Jul

If the land is poisoned, then witchcraft must respond.

(Point one of the Apocalyptic Witchcraft manifesto, by Peter Grey)

Last year, I started the Greening your Magics series in a fit of inspiration for what is my activism: sharing information and changing my own practices as I learn. I got inspired to start writing posts in this series again after a post from my friend Lupa on sourcing ritual items secondhand and another post about the use of animal parts as an ecologically friendly practice. (I can’t find it now though) Then it seemed like I was seeing blogs right and left posting about matters like this. And then there was Peter Grey’s Rewilding Witchcraft essay, which I encourage you to read if you have not already. I also recommend Sarah Lawless’s response. (and Sarah, if you see this, I had forgotten the actual title of your post when I was coming up with mine.)

I read posts like this and my mind races. The fire builds. The waters of emotion overflow. I want to should from the rooftops, shake people, dance like mad, and DO. Whether or not you identify as “Earth-based” in your traditions, the reality remains that you live upon this earth, and there is not a spare one waiting in the wings, nor a Christ to replace a ravaged one as the Wise Use proponents claim.

So first, I give you this reminder about using your magics in whatever form. Do your rituals. Use your words. In ancient Egypt, magic was heka, which also translates as authoritative speech. Execrate, and be like Set at the front of Ra’s barque, slaying Apep, the snake of Uncreation, every single day to ensure the sun rises again.

And then there are the days when I wonder if it’s all just pointless. Because we have too few people like this and too many more like Peter Brabeck-Letmathe who do not even consider water, the building block of life, to be a human right. Oh excuse me, no, it is but it must be “properly managed”. Apparently that proper management includes taking it from the California water table to be bottled at a huge markup. You might also be interested to learn that the same state wants to charge up to a $500 for private citizens who use too much water. But what about businesses who do? What is our culture when we want people to pay such high prices for the very thing which supports us into life? Any deny people it flowing into their homes because of questionable billing practices, like in Detroit?

I’m reminded of the Cochabamba protests of almost 15 years ago, when people in Bolivia were able to overturn the privatization of their water supplies. If that happened in this country, how many people would even protest? I have to wonder now.

Because of the feelings stirred up for me by these readings, I had to reign in my anger, my passion, my sadness, and not let this post turn into rants and screeds. They won’t help. Attacking and demonizing in a blog post does not make for effective magics. Clear thought and words do.

Let us gather our magics. Find our fire, and our water, but do not let either of them overcome us. Suck out the poisons, wherever they are. Let us try to do better by our communities, seen and unseen.


Used with permission

Sins of the Whistle-Blower

14 Jul

iStock_000000908646Medium– Shauna Aura Knight

In the movies and on TV, when someone blows the whistle and reveals the illegal doings of a company, or speaks out against their rapist, or outs an abusive leader, there’s always a happy ending. And–the person is always telling the truth.

The middle part of the movie might have a lot of dramatic tension where the whistle-blower is in danger, or people think they are lying, but ultimately they come out as the hero. I wish it were always that easy. I wish that people believed the activists who rise up to speak the truth.

For that matter, I wish the whistle-blower was always the truth-speaking hero. Continue reading

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