It’s a sad truth that harassment and discrimination occurs within the Pagan community. However, I want to call some positive attention to several Pagan events that have adopted safety and anti-harassment policies at their events. While a lot of Pagans tell me, “Duh, of course we’d kick someone out for racist comments/sexual misconduct/gay bashing,” the truth is, this is not always the case. And further, some issues–such as discrimination against transgender people–have only recently become something that more Pagans are even aware of, much less working to address.
When Kenny Klein’s arrest was announced a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was not at all surprised to hear that it had happened. Why? Several years ago I was in a bookstore one day with two friends and we were perusing the New Age section. One of Klein’s fairy tale books was there, and when one of my friends saw it it, she put it back fast. Then she told us that Klein used to beat up his wife.
Now here is the thing. My friend has never been a big name pagan, or even very involved in the greater pagan communities. She knew about this because of Usenet discussions back in the 1990s.
I had a bout of cognitive dissonance at this. How is it that someone who abused his spouse was also a praised and respected author and elder? In the discussion which ensued from his arrest, many people, including family members, came out to talk about being abused, and, startlingly, how they were silenced by other members of the community.
Hush used under Creative Commons license
And this is where I come to the crux of my discussion for the week. For a community with many roots in 1960s counterculture, and espousing an alternative to patriarchal culture, it’s sad to see the same models of the overculture coming into play. A reluctance to ostracize community members for abhorrent behavior and suppressing people who dare to voice that they were violated? Congratulations in emulating some of the biggest institutions in the world. The abused committed by priests of the Roman Catholic Church have become well known, but also the Hassidic communtiy and the Amish have had their problems with abuse.
While there has been some great and much needed discussion coming from this case (see Christine Hoff Kraemer’s erotic ethics and pagan consent culture, Thorn Coyle’s predators in paganism, and fellow PA blogger Shauna’s post here and the predators series on her blog), there have also been people raising a fuss at how the story first broke (comments I saw on Facebook and cannot find now) and apparently apologists (I have not seen this, due to a brain overfull with parental memorial planning) worried about how pagans would appear from this and maybe even trying to rationalize the matter.
This is unacceptable. How can we be a community which claims to hold the female as sacred and talk about personal autonomy and at the same time throw our support behind someone who has admitted to having images of pre-sexual children being abused?
Even worse, how can we have people more concerned with how we appear in the media over, again, someone who has admitted to having images of pre-sexual children being abused?
Are we that timid? That sophomoric to worry more about our image than a grave crime?
I’ve been reminded of what John Michael Greer terms the myths of progress and apocalypse. From his book The Long Descent:
“[T]he myth of progress. According to this story, all of human history is a grand tale of human improvement.
[T]he myth of apocalypse. According to this story, all of human history is a tragic blind alley.”
Greer goes on to discuss how rooted these two myths are in our current collective imagination. And that unless “we” are in a state of progress, we are inevitably heading toward apocalypse. But this is not so. Our mythologies were once full of stories chronicling the highs and lows of life, and that to be in a low state was not the end of the world. To apply it here, the fact that “we” have a formerly respected elder now charged with one of the most abhorent crimes imaginable, and that people opposed to our religions can use it as fodder against us, could lead to big trouble. Think of the lies about Satanic ritual abuse from the 1980s.
We know this is not true, in fact that it never happened. So why are we operating from a place where we think our communities might be ruined?
Maybe now is the time to take a new approach. The neopagan community (along with recon and revival religions) have some age now. Own properties. Participate in their larger communities. Have respect and legitimacy. We should collectively be able to stand up and say “this is not who we are. Further, this is not acceptable. We will no longer cover up, apologize, rationalize these behaviors. We will not silence the victims. We will respect our members, especially our women. We will say no.”
Looking at the progress/apocalypse mythos, yes this could be seen as a failure. But we’re also talking about humans. Following a different religion does not make us special, or better, or “more enlightened.” We make mistakes. We have the same problems as any other group. And maybe what we need to do, to show how we are different is to say no, to cut abusive people out of our communities.
(Incidentally, if you think that by honoring the female divine you are not capable of violating women, think again. Think about ancient Hellenic culture, where women were invisible. Think about India. Last year the BBC did an amazing documentary in response to the gang rape there called India: a dangerous place to be a woman. Watch it if you can find it.)
It’s time for a new model. Instead of sweeping predators and creeps under the rug, we need to be honest. Get people help when they need and want it, and for those who don’t, turn our backs. Maybe we should enact something like weregild, or some other way of holding people accountable. We need to take action.
And we need to remember that if anything like this happens again, it’s not the end of the world.