— 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.
My last Pagan Activist article was on the difficulty of whistleblowing. I’m not writing this article to say that I myself am perfect. Far from it. I have my own flaws, though my mistakes have made me a better leader because I learn. The focus of this post is on accountability. Specifically, how many excuses are made for the reprehensible behavior of Pagan teachers and leaders?
Who Are The Frosts?
Gavin and Yvonne Frost make an excellent case study on the issue of accountability . Back in the 1970’s, they published The Witches Bible, later published as The Good Witches Bible. The original version and subsequent versions contains several paragraphs in Chapter 4 which detail a sexual initiation ritual that parents should engage their barely-pubescent children in. A later edition clarified that none of the rituals described in the book should be done by anyone under 18, yet the text remained using the word “child” and describing physical sexual characteristics of puberty (girls were supposed to have sex with a man who was part of the coven, one month after their period started). The chapter describes how girls should given one month to prepare for sex with a wooden phallus. To prepare for the ritual, boys and girls are to fast for three days and then be given alcohol.
Text of Chapter 4, 2007 edition.
*Note: There’s a new edition of the book, and I have not read the edited chapter.
Whether we’re talking about minor children, or about teenagers under the influence of alcohol, the person cannot give consent. In essence, the chapter outlines–and borderline advocates–child rape in the context of ritual.
I’ll be clear on my stance: Anything that suggests the rape of minors is wrong. It goes past negotiating the gray area of different religious traditions.
Here are articles that cover the Frosts in more depth:
Why Do the Frosts Matter Now?
Pagans have protested the Frosts being headline speakers at festivals for years. After the Kenny Klein news hit, the Frosts withdrew from presenting at Florida Pagan Gathering and Michigan Pagan Fest. However, Michigan Pagan Fest went ahead and hosted a special weekend with them in mid-August.
*The primary coordinator for Michigan Pagan Fest is the person who brought the Frosts to Michigan this August. She clarified that MPF itself was not responsible for bringing the Frosts in. However, I’ve pointed out that the event was publicized on the MPF Facebook group, and posted by the MPF Facebook identity, vs. by her as an individual. This implied that the organization, Michigan Pagan Fest, had given the Frosts event its backing and support.
I posted on my Facebook that I was significantly disappointed to see people still hosting the Frosts. Nearly 300 comments and several private conversations later, I observed that the Frost supporters continue to make excuses for the Frosts no matter what evidence was presented. (Read this excellent post on cognitive dissonance by Jason Morrow.)
Anti-Frost Folks Go Overboard
Now–complicating the discussion, many folks who are against the Frosts overstate the issue, often referring to the Frosts as pedophiles. Pedophiles are only attracted to pre-pubescent children. A hebephile is the term to use for someone attracted to post-pubescent children/teens.
That being said, the Frosts say they haven’t ever done the ritual, and there’s no evidence suggesting they have (ie, no victims).
Arguments Frost Supporters Use
These are specific to the Frosts case study, but consider any leader/teacher that people make excuses for.
“They wrote that years ago.”
They still stand by what they wrote with only vague backpedaling including some fairly defensive blog posts. Check the comments as well–basically, they don’t ever address the actual issue.
The two main excuses they seem to offer are: 1. they only included it as historical reference and 2. their use of the word “child” meant “non initiate.”
I think it’s fine to reference historical ritual/traditions; why pretend our ancestors didn’t marry girls off at 12 or younger? If initiations happened as described in the chapter, or as referenced in the novel The Red Tent, then reference it that way. What’s posed in their chapter is a living ritual. They don’t write it as anthropology or history. They write it in a “This is how it should be done” style.
“Child” meant “Non-initiate/spiritual child.” That just doesn’t make sense if you read the chapter. The Frosts outline how parents should assist their barely-pubescent children to prepare for sex. They talk about puberty, and doing the ritual in the month after a girl’s first blood (puberty typically happens between ages 10-15). They are talking about the children of members of the coven.
“There are more productive things to worry about.”
Well…maybe. But, we still have to address this behavior in our community. This is basically just phrase that evades the issue.
“You are violating their civil rights.”
Not sure how that follows; speaking up against abuse or writing that promotes abuse is not violating civil rights.
“You are destroying Wicca.”
Still not sure how that follows. And–well, if calling out bad behavior destroys a religion, then I can’t say that I feel much remorse in that.
“Show me a victim.”
I’m not suggesting that the Frosts themselves have actually sexually abused any minors. My issue is the passage that they wrote detailed instructions for raping children in a ritual context. However, if you want a victim, here’s one. I’m sure there are more.
“I was personally hurt as an adolescent by the Frosts’ writings, and those that follow said writings like scripture.When I was 14 years old I wound up in my first coven…in central Indiana….However, the two leaders, the self appointed high priest and priestess were big fans of a book called the Good Witch’s Bible by authors they referred to as “The Frosts.” … When I heard that this 30 year old woman thought it was rational and appropriate for us to be sexual in any way at all, I freaked out! …I didn’t associate with other pagans for…4 years.”
–Mark P., Indiana
“It’s not that bad.”
I don’t understand how anyone can read their chapter and not read it as an outline for child sexual abuse.
“Don’t be intolerant of other traditions and the way they practice.”
This is accompanied by an admonishment, “You wouldn’t want people to tell you how you could practice, would you? Here’s the problem. We’re still talking about non-consensual sex. Rape. We’re talking minors, and fasting and inebriation before the minor has sex with the partner the coven has assigned to them.
For that matter, what if the child is gay, lesbian, asexual, or transgender?
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Or, “They are elders and we should respect them.” Yes, when someone has expertise in an area but they’ve done some bad/unethical things, shouldn’t we focus on the good and what we can still learn from them? On the other hand…what are we valuing and supporting if we do that? What behavior are we continuing too make “ok” with tacit support?
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s a fantastic author. However, were she alive today I would never invite her to speak at any of my events–despite the strides she made for feminism and female authors–because of the transcripts where she admits to aiding her husband in the sexual abuse of minors. Her fiction works will stand the test of time, I think, but that’s different from me inviting her to be a speaker at an event.
In fact, in the science fiction and fantasy community, numerous editors and authors have gotten away with sexual harassment for years because nobody had the guts to speak up against them. People now take the risk to speak out. It’s not to say that those aren’t great authors/editors. But if you bring someone in to teach at your event, are you promoting consent culture or rape culture?
“No one is perfect and without flaws, yet we must all remain accountable…to the consequences of our actions…To remain oblivious or silent is to allow the culture of harm behind sexual abuse within ‘spiritual context’….at what point does the harm they do outweigh the good? …[S]omeone who has been raped or abused in the name of spiritual obligation/initiation/healing would have a much stronger opinion than someone who has never experienced such harm.”
“You’re trying to rewrite history.”
Stating that rituals like that happened is history. Stating what the Frosts wrote in their book is history. Stating that a ritual like that with minors is unethical and should not be done isn’t rewriting history.
What else is part of our history, or even current world events? Slavery, racism, misogyny, beating your wife, beating transgender people, discriminating against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, selling children into sex servitude at a temple, child brides, female/male circumcision. Should we continue those practices just because they are traditional?
“You’re a prude.”
“You just think initiatory sex is bad.”
We’re talking apples and oranges here, but the relevant connection is consent. Here’s a quote from the Frosts displaying a complete lack of understanding of consent, rape, or the nature of coercion and grooming:
“Any initiatory sex should be with a “stranger” — an initiated Witch of the coven [that] the neophyte plans to join. . . . The underlying tradition here is sometimes overlooked. If the Craft means enough to you that you are willing to abide by its tenets then abide by them! If you cannot transcend your cultural brainwashing and accept the assignment to have sex one time with an assigned partner, in accordance with centuries of Craft tradition, the Craft can’t mean that much to you. Here’s the door. Don’t call yourself a Witch.” – Gavin and Yvonne Frost
I’m not suggesting that all initiatory sex or sex magic is bad. I agree that the Pagan community has gotten squeamish about sex, but there are reasons for that. In the name of sexual freedom and sexual intiations,I have heard of so many people who have been damaged, manipulated, and abused by the practice of ritual sex–even as adults. Jason from the Wild Hunt details his experience of emotional and sexual abuse at age 18 through being groomed by an abusive HPS.
It’s time to take stock. If we want to use sex in our rituals, we simply have to find a way to do it ethically. For me, ethically means enthusiastic consent.
“They’ve never done that ritual.”
Either they wrote about a ritual in an instructional format that they deeply believe in but they have never actually practiced. Or, they wrote about a ritual in a how-to format because they had done the ritual themselves. The latter is more legally problematic. The former implies hypocrisy.
“It was a different time, different morals.”
Add to this prevarications about how the age of consent was different, or that girls started their periods later. Some apologists wrestle with what specific age is legal, and state laws vary. And yes–a teenager doesn’t magically turn into an adult on their 18th birthday. In some states you can still get married at 13…overall I think it’s safe to say that it’s less socially acceptable now than it was 40 years ago to get married under 18, and even 40 years ago, this chapter outlining a ritual with inebriated pubescent teens would have been questionable.
This is, I think, one of the core fears underlying a lot of the defensiveness from people making excuses for the Frosts. I don’t think people mean to be abuse apologists with it. The fear seems to be that those of us speaking up about abuse will take away the deep sexual initiation mysteries and thus, we’re taking the power and magic out of Wicca/Paganism.
Phaedra Bonewits pointed out, “[The Frosts] are sincere in their belief that what Gavin was taught was the real deal….I hope it gives some context to their conviction that some things they were taught shouldn’t be changed.”
Watching their video and reading their blog posts, I understand the Frosts’ point of view as, they were handed down this ritual and they believe that it’s an important, potent rite of passage ritual from ancient times that shouldn’t be changed. They talk about wanting an initiation to matter, to not lose those potent, powerful initiatory experiences.
But–speaking as an experienced ritualist–there are dozens of ways to give someone a transformative initiatory experience without sexual abuse. The Frosts go on the offensive pretty easily in their blog posts and on the Youtube video. Instead of addressing the question, they talk instead about how Pagans have gotten squeamish about sex.
I’m not advocating keeping children ignorant of sex. It’s important to explain biology, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and yes–some education around pleasure so that masturbation isn’t shameful. I’m an advocate of providing teenagers access to condoms/other birth control.
However, there’s a vast gulf between sex education, and pressuring a young girl to penetrate herself, or telling a young boy or girl “You must have sex with someone from my coven, assigned by my HP/HPS.”
The Frosts’ chapter 4, and their statements about acquiescing to your HP/HPS’s orders about who to have sex with, lead me to believe that they do not understand nor support consent culture. Broader cultural shifts have occurred thanks to feminism and other activism that have brought up issues of harassment, slut shaming, rape culture, and consent. The conversation around consent has, inherently, changed some perspectives about what “counts” as rape.
We have to acknowledge facts. We have decades of abusive leaders in Paganism pressuring people for sex, and that includes minors. Also, discussion of these abuses have led to some reframing of the “free love” part of the Pagan movement and revealing the dark underbelly of how it often became “Free love…and what I mean by that is, have sex with me or I’ll guilt and shame you.” Shaming someone into sex, or into sexual initiation, is not consent.
Leadership and Teacher Accountability
I don’t believe the Frosts are evil nor pedophiles. I have serious ethical issues with the chapter they published and their failure to address it. Supporting the Frosts is supporting people who have written–and continued to defend–a ritual that outlines a how-to guide for raping a teenage child.
While it’s sometimes used as an excuse, context is important to this conversation. In the my Facebook conversation thread, Phaedra Bonewits referenced Pagan history and that older generations of Pagans were engaged in more of a socially-transgressive, countercultural movement than modern Pagans may understand, and that sex was part of that. She brought up that “The unspeakable of one generation is the ordinary of another.”
Phaedra and I usually agree on matters of ethics and leadership, though we disagreed a bit around some of the nuances. I did appreciate the perspective she offered on how Paganism and Wicca have changed over the decades. She agreed to let me quote her for this article.
“Isaac was friends with [the Frosts] for years–and tried for years to get them to revise those two pages. ….Their flaw is not that they did this ritual, their flaw it is the stubborn refusal to change what they had written. Do I think they were right not to change it? No. I think they should have rewritten it decades ago. Gavin is proud and stubborn, but he’s not a monster. Neither is Yvonne….Did you think that their seeming lack of remorse might reflect a couple of elderly people trying to save face? That it might be more painful than you think to say they were wrong about a position they held to so tenaciously for so long?”
I hear that. What I’d offer is that the Frosts, and any teacher or leader, are accountable to the broader community if they are teaching at public Pagan festivals. They’ve failed to address the chapter with anything other than backpedaling. I feel that stubbornness does not excuse this.
I’m not asking for perfect leaders. Gods know I’ve screwed up so I’m no exception. If we want Paganism to have healthy community, we have to start holding our leaders accountable and not just saying, “Well, they’ve done so much other good, their action over here shouldn’t tarnish that.”
What I want to see in the Pagan community are leaders we can trust. Not perfection, but excellence. We have so many leaders that we “put up” with. We cover up a range of abuses–because there’s nobody else. Or because they’re charismatic.
Festival Organizer Accountability
Any Pagan festival or event organizer is also accountable to the community. When we promote presenters who do not support consent culture, that says, “Consent culture doesn’t matter to me or to my event.”
I don’t support events or teachers who don’t support consent culture. And yes–consent culture is difficult to build. It’ll take us a while, and we’ll screw up, but it matters. Making excuses just continues the culture of harassment, shaming, and rape culture.
Let’s look at who we make excuses for. Let’s understand predatory and abusive behavior so we can challenge it. Let’s look at consent culture and what we want to build. Let’s look at what it means to be held accountable. I’ve written before on Sex, Ethics and Paganism, and there’s Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez’s article on behaviors that predators often engage in.
How do we build healthy community?
Shauna Aura Knight writes on the topics of community leadership, spiritual transformation, and activism. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and Spiritual Scents, as well as a contributor to many magazines and anthologies, as well as a fiction author and fantasy artist. Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, facilitation, leadership, and personal growth.