As the immediate shock regarding the arrest of Pagan author and musician Kenny Klein on possession of child pornography wears off, a wider conversation in the Pagan community on event safety and sexual predators begins. Festival and convention organizers consider possible changes in policies while attendees ask for greater protection. Yet it’s unclear if this focus is a lasting trend or a short lived reaction. MerryMeet, a yearly convention hosted by different Covenant of the Goddess Chapters, and CONvergence, a science fiction and fantasy convention lauded internationally for their anti-harassment policies, offer best practices which aim to protect attendees while still allowing an open, diverse event.

Evolving conversation
Kenny Klein’s arrest on March 25th affected the Pagan community deeply due to his decades of traveling the Pagan convention and festival circuit, bringing him into contact with thousands of children and teens. Almost immediately conversations on social media sites and blogs moved from focusing on Klein to looking at how the Pagan community deals with sexual violence and harassment. ”I’m far more concerned with, can we look at this as a wake up call for how to deal with sexual abuse, and other abuse, within the Pagan community? Can we call someone out for bad behavior without it turning into a witch war? Can we make it safer for victims to come forward? And at the same time, can we find ways so that Pagans are not wrongfully convicted in the court of public opinion by people who have made untrue allegations?” Shauna Aura Knight in a March 27th post on Facebook.

By April 1st the Pagan community had its first opportunity to deal with conflict between a festival and attendee over scheduled guests. Florida Pagan Gathering had, as they had done in the past, invited controversial Pagan elders Gavin and Yvonne Frost to speak at their festival. Attendees and Florida Pagans, once again, objected to the Frosts due to their book, “The Witches Bible”, which appears to advocate ritual sexual initiation of minors just entering puberty. An organized protest developed and called for the “removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials. It’s past time that our beloved community take a stand against those who advocate abuse. Silence = complicity.” Also as in the past, the festival initially stood firm in keeping the Frosts as presenters, noting they expected to maintain high attendance numbers in spite of the controversy. All that changed and the FPG felt compelled to remove the Frosts from the line up after the venue was made aware of the situation and became involved.

Culture change or fleeting interest
Was the stronger, more organized and successful stance by Florida Pagans an outlier or a glimpse at a future trend?

That’s it! If a convention or a festival doesn’t have clear policies, that they actually follow, which protect women and men from creepers, I’m not going. They won’t get another dollar from me.” – Brenna Summer, a Midwest Pagan who says she attends at least one festival or convention per year.

Pagan festival and convention attendees have now spent weeks online discussing past instances where event organizers failed or succeeded in addressing attendee concerns about sexual predators. They’re talking about what worked, what didn’t, and suggestions for event organizers. “I’d like to see confidential feedback about predators made public. Festival goers have a right to know what has happened with other attendees and personnel as delivered in feedback from people who were witness to or on the receiving end,” says Tasha Rose, who attends events in Minnesota.

Other attendees have been on both sides of sexual predator allegations. Otter Dancing said she witnessed a man harassing women at a local festival and the man was quietly asked to leave. Yet she’s also seen allegations handled poorly at the same festival. “Six men stormed into our campsite and accused my husband of harassing a 13 year old and verbally assaulted him with out proof. This greatly traumatized my husband and probably lead to his subsequent physical downward spiral. My husband was innocent. It turned out that it was another bald middle-aged fat man that had done this. Of course there were no apologies and I refused to ever go back to that particular gather again.”

As many cases of sexual harassment or sexual abuse happen without witnesses, how are organizers to balance keeping attendees safe without destroying the reputation of persons’ wrongly accused? What steps should workshop presenters take? They can look at best practices both within the Pagan community and outside of it.

Best practices for presenters
David Salisbury, whose books and workshops are often geared towards teens and young adults, says he is rethinking everything in relation to how he presents to minors. Although he feels he has a good system in place, he is making one important change, “I will not teach youth without one or more other adults present.” He also plans to spend more time explaining to adults why he does this so it becomes a more commonplace practice.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Salisbury says Pagans need to stop trusting anyone with a book or CD out and encourages parents to ask questions about who is spending time with their children. “If I’m giving a talk to teens, I hope that the adults of that event will ask me who I am, what material will be covered, and the extent of any communication, if any, that will happen beyond the event. Although I don’t want to see our youth cut off from resources out of a sense of paranoia, I think open communication is a must.”

In the world of science fiction and fantasy, over 500 presenters, artists, attendees, and vendors have joined best selling author John Scalzi in announcing they will not attend, present, or vend at conferences that do not have, or will not enforce, written harassment policies.

They require
1.  That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.
2.  That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.
3.   In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

Best practices at CONvergence
Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) conventions have many of the same challenges as Pagan events face. They have a sex positive culture. Attendees may be naked or wearing very little clothing. Pagans may have sex magic, but SF/F conventions have Furries, Vampire: The Masquerade, and other sexual subcultures. Add in alcohol and the carnival like atmosphere of a convention and problems can arise.

CONvergence, a SF/F convention held in Minnesota, is considered something of a gold standard when it comes to safe space conventions. Unlike some other SF/F conventions, CONvergence has never had the reputation of a creeper’s paradise, where attendees are regularly groped and verbally harassed. Yet, while rare, there have been instances where attendees haven’t felt safe or were sexually harassed. When that happens, CONvergence attendees and staff know exactly what to do.

If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. – from CONvergence policy on harassment

The policy not only outlines what is unacceptable behavior in clear and simple terms, it outlines what attendees should do to report the behavior and what steps are taken if an individual “stalks, harasses, or attempts to assault you at the convention itself, you may report that individual to a member of Operations (they will report it to the hotel’s security staff who will get the police involved if necessary) or you may report it to hotel security directly, and the appropriate action will be taken. Conversely, any attempt to have an innocent person removed from the convention by falsely accusing him or her of threats will be itself treated as an act of harassment and will be dealt with appropriately.”

Brian Etchieson, a SubHead in Operations for CONvergence, says the con also has a constant patrol of Wandering Hosts throughout the hotel. These volunteers assist the con goers with questions, problems, and troubleshooting. They also have a team of First Advisers on hand who can assess any potential medical emergency and the con has an excellent relationship with the local police department.

Etchieson says they deal with allegations of harassment on a case by case basis. “If it is a case of that guy is looking at me funny, said guy may just get a ‘hey, what gives?’ talk from a Wandering Host. He won’t stop taking my picture is going to get him a walk to The Bridge and he’ll be asked to cease said behavior. Small infractions like this usually get The Talk. Repeat offenders, or Mr. He’s Clearly Hammered may have their badge taken away for the night, effectively banning them from the convention. Said badge only gets returned in the morning at the discretion of an Ops Head. In cases of physical assault, the perp will have their badge pulled immediately. The police will be summoned if necessary or if requested by the member who has been assaulted. The perp may be placed on the Permanent Ban list.”

costumes-are-not-consent-750x1024Along with a clear policy, CONvergence instituted a public awareness campaign, called “Costumes Are Not Consent.” Etchieson says,”The idea of putting on an ‘anti-creeper’ campaign has been bandied about for some time. Ishmael Williams, Director of [CONvergence] HOME Division, threw out the idea of putting out posters. The Ops crew held a brainstorming session and came up with the designs.” It was Etchieson who came up with the “Costumes Are Not Consent” concept.

Christin LeXi Davis, Communications Director for CONvergence, said the the reaction by con goers has been enormously positive. “They love it. We are blessed to have so many talented and creative individuals to help create catchy ways to get sensitive messages out that is positive and fun.”

It was so catchy and fun it went viral. Charmaine Parnell, CoHead of Hotel for CONvergence, said, “The reaction to the campaign has been stunning. When it went viral, we just couldn’t believe how fandom reacted to it. Exceeded all of our expectations. You don’t expect to see your work trending on Twitter or being mentioned at a convention in London during their closing ceremonies.” Parnell said she was also surprised at how it opened up a conversation about women harassing men at conventions by performing ‘kilt checks.’

The Costumes Are Not Consent campaign was targeted to three main groups, which Etchieson labeled as Socially Awkward Fans, Your Actual Scumbags, and I’m Creeped Out. The convention used posters, buttons, video, live performances, and word of mouth to get the campaign’s message out. Etchieson says the Socially Awkward Fans may not understand they are causing anyone discomfort. They need clear rules and a reminder to think about their social approach. Your Actual Scumbags are predators who think a convention is easy pickings. Etchieson says the convention is watching for them and they will take strong action against them.The third group, I’m Creeped Out, is the group that most concerns Etchieson. ”We want to make sure our membership knows that it is not OK to let someone creeper on you and, if they do, the Con staff and the rest of the membership have your back. We will listen to you and fix the problem. Because it’s not your fault, and you shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

Best practices at Covenant of the Goddess’s MerryMeet 2014
So how does a Pagan conference compare to CONvergence’s example of best practices? Although the weekend conference MerryMeet is held in different locations and hosted by different Covenant of the Goddess chapters, they rely heavily on CoG’s bylaws for standards of conduct at events. While CoG‘s bylaws may not specifically address sexual abuse, the Merry Meet 2014 committee is considering adding such language to its own convention agreement.

For MerryMeet 2014, the convention committee is requiring each participant to sign an acknowledgement of the rules and regulations for both the event and the hotel. Similar to CONvergence, they are working to have clear and accessible rules of conduct.

Green-Faiths-3ALady Mehurt, Second Officer of Covenant of the Goddess and Registrar for MerryMeet 2014, says they also have a clear way to address onsite complaints. “The Merry Meet 2014 Committee has its own security team led by a professional law enforcement officer. In addition the hotel has its own security force. If any guest has concerns or complaints of any kind, our security team with the help of hotel security will address the situation immediately.”  Lady Mehurt also says they would not allow a speaker or attendee “…who has been formally accused, convicted or arrested of sexual abuse at our Merry Meet Atlanta event. The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance.”

Yet dealing with claims of sexual harassment or violence are very difficult for organizers because the acts are often committed in a private area, without witnesses. Lady Mehurt says there are additional difficulties. “The violations can bring shame to the abused or fear of retaliation. In addition, people have different expectations and definitions of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ Those boundaries can change in altered states – either by alcohol, drugs or even spiritual practice.” She says that organizers need to address all accusations and situations carefully, slowly, and compassionately, “for all parties involved until the truth can be ascertained and the best course of action, legal or otherwise, be taken.”

 

Send to Kindle

On April 6 South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) held a 35th anniversary event to commemorate the death of freedom fighter Solomon Malanghu. Several national politicians spoke including President Jacob Zuma. The event turned “surreal,” as described by The Cape Times, when the National Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula labeled opposition party members “witches.”

The ANC is currently the controlling party of South Africa’s national government. However the country’s provinces are independently run. While the ANC maintains control over most of these provinces, its opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is the controlling force in the West Cape. The two parties regularly engage in heated political debates, street conflicts, marches and rallies.

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: Government ZA Flickr]

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: GCIS]

The anniversary event was held in a community center in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town which is located in the DA-controlled West Cape. Speaking to ANC supporters, Minister Mbalula took a direct shot at the opposing party when he said:

This thing of witchcraft is when a witch does nothing for the people but they still get re-elected. This is what we find ourselves in here in the Western Cape. We are being governed by witches. (As quoted by The Cape Times)

Later in the speech Mbalula adds:

These witches are oppressing us, they are trampling on us. Where are the tokoloshes and the (sangomas) so that we can chase these witches away? It is witchcraft to let people live with feces inside their own homes and have no proper toilets. This is the same province where farmworkers are not paid with money but in the dop system … It is the same place where our people are called refugees. What do you call that? Witchcraft … (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Witchcraft accusations are a serious business in sub-Sahara Africa. As described in this Daily news report, a lost grandmother can be accused of witchcraft and consequently in danger of being physically assaulted. Through his words Mbalula called up a deep-seated cultural fear surrounding occult practice.

In the weeks prior to Mbalula’s speech, the DA had publicly challenged President’s Zuma’s fiscal policies and accused him of corruption. In response the ANC demanded a legal retraction. Mbalula’s witchcraft accusations may have been a direct response to the DA’s claims.  All of this is happening only a month prior to general elections.

As explained in an opinion piece published by mainstream media site eNCA, a South African 24 hour television news station:

The ruling party seems to have deployed the Minister of Sports and Recreation to bring inflammatory and incendiary ideas and practices from the fringes into mainstream political debate… This was a role played by the party’s Youth League leaders not so long ago: making statements so provocative that the party elite could maintain a safe distance from any fallout yet benefit without necessarily disavowing or disciplining the errant figures. 

Mbalula’s speech may not have been completely a party play. He has a history of publicly lashing out. In a recent interview he called the South African media “losers” for criticizing his plans to shape South African athletics. In a tweet he likened his dreams to that of Hitler’s.

110414tweet

When soccer fans booed President Zuma, Mbalula called these fans “wolves and hooligans” whose “plans, infused in Satanism at best, will never succeed in the future because their plans are nothing else but filled with evil.”

Minister Mbalula appears to have a propensity for using inflammatory language. However in the case of his witchcraft accusations, the words are more than just offensive.They are illegal as defined in the Witchcraft Supression Act of 1957 & 1970. Making this point is South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) director Damon Leff,

We remind the Minister and the ANC provincial secretary that according to Act 3 of 1957, accusations of witchcraft are punishable by a fine of up to R400,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years. Accusations of witchcraft amount to incitement to violence in South Africa. ANC members therefore contravene the electoral act by inciting violence (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Leff was interviewed about this subject by Talk Radio Host Kieno Kammies:


SAPRA has called on the ANC and the national government to apologize and condemn the ongoing, dangerous witch accusations. Since this call-to-action there has been no response from either party.  

These recent political events happen to coincide with SAPRA’s yearly “30 Days of Advocacy” campaign to raise awareness for and end the notorious witch-hunts in the country. SAPRA and other similar organizations have been regularly engaged in a cultural struggle and daily conversation with media, law enforcement and government.

30daysIn early 2014 the South African Police Occult Crime Unit revealed that “occult” related crimes were rising. In reaction:

[Unit] investigators [will be] doing awareness workshops that are being presented at various schools, churches, police stations …  A network of prayer groups from different church denominations where establish to assist with the problems.

In a press release SAPRA noted that the Unit has designated the warning signs of Occult “dabblers” as:

Personality changes including rebelliousness, boredom, low self-worthiness, difficulty relating to peers, a change in friends, secretiveness, a drop in academic performance, loss of interest in extra-curricular activities, avoidance of their family, drug and alcohol use, and withdrawal from their family religious heritage and a lack of church attendance … an unusual interest in books, films and videos with an occult theme…body markings, including the Pentagram 

In February SAPRA protested by lodging “a formal charge of hate speech against the SAPS Occult Crime Unit and its members, with the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, and the South African Human Rights Commission.”

Fortunately all of SAPRA’s work isn’t defensive. Just today Leff announced that SAPRA is being consulted in the amending of the country’s Witchcraft Suppression Act. The final paper will be submitted directly to the Law Reform Commission by May 30. It is SAPRA’s hope that the Commission will make some distinctions in Witchcraft practices that will support South African Pagans and curb the destructive witch-hunts.

In the meantime charges of witchcraft continue even at the highest level of public politics. The eNCA’s opinion piece concludes:

We can ill afford to either tolerate or entrench vilifying political speechifying which deploys tropes designed to provoke communities into moral panics. In March it was Satanism; in April it was witchcraft. What will May bring? …As for the appropriateness of calling people witches at a memorial for Solomon Mahlangu, one recalls the words of Joseph Welch from the United States’ anti-communist ‘witch-hunts’ during the 1950s: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?

While SAPRA will continue to wait for an apology from Mbalula and the ANC, it is not expecting to receive one.  The organization will be focusing its energy on the Commission’s reform work. A full article and update on that effort will be published in Penton Media’s Minority Review blog near the end of April.

Send to Kindle

On Sunday, avowed white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller) allegedly shot at two Jewish community centers in the Kansas City area, killing three people. Cross reportedly shouted “Heil Hitler!” during his arrest, and authorities have officially classified the shooting rampage as a hate crime. This shocking incident, which happened on the eve of the festival of Passover, has had individuals, and the press, digging for more information on the alleged shooter. Daniel Burke, co-editor at CNN’s Belief Blog, believes he has uncovered the religion angle to this story: Cross is not a Christian, but an Odinist.

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross

“Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian. [...] The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists. But according to Cross’ 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has become one of the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.”

The article then quotes from an autobiography written by Cross in 1999.

“I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity. Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.”

As this new information came to light, Heathen groups and individuals were quick to distance their faith from the racist strain of Germanic paganism practiced by Cross and those like him. These voices speaking out included members of The Troth, one of the largest mainstream Heathen organizations in North America, and the activist group Heathens United Against Racism.

“Asatru and the worship of Odin have no connection with white supremacy, no more so than Christianity has to do with white supremacists. And there are bigots and haters in all faith traditions. In The Troth, we embrace diversity and welcome all who are called to our Gods, and are working with our program, In-Reach, to offer an alternative to the racist material that is circulated in prisons by members of racist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood. Crime such as what Frazier Cross is accused of, is abhorrent to us. Personally I extend my prayers to the Jewish community on this heinous crime committed during the high holy time of Passover.” – Lisa Morgenstern, member of the High Rede of The Troth, and Volunteer Chaplain at CSP-Los Angeles County for Heathens, Druids, and Wiccans.

Heathens United Against Racism

“Equating all of Heathenry to the beliefs of a racist Odinist is the equivalent of equating all the beliefs of Christianity to the beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church. While Heathens are by nature a highly diverse and sometimes argumentative lot, those who are discovered to be white supremacists are quickly ostracized from the general Heathen community. Heathens United Against Racism tries to help expose those who would try and use our faith to promote hatred.” - Natalie River Smith, a member of Heathens United Against Racism.

Another HUAR member, Harrison Hall, added that “Cross’s actions are unforgivable, without question” while Steven T. Abell, Steersman for The Troth, says that he hopes for “swift and harsh judgment and punishment for the perpetrator.” Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, who writes at The Norse Mythology Blog, called the shooting “heartbreaking” and “infuriating.”

“The disgusting violence in Kansas on Sunday is truly heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine the overwhelming pain of a family losing both a teenage son and his grandfather on the same day. The man accused of killing them seems to have been an ignorant racist maniac on a willful anti-Semitic rampage, which makes this horror not only tragic but infuriating. I find it personally abhorrent that the accused, at least at some point, claimed that his white supremacist delusions were rooted in his purported ancestors’ worship of Odin. I believe that there is no place for racism in heathenry. There is no place for anti-Semitism in heathenry. It is completely repellent to me that a violently disturbed individual tried to import his ideology of race-hatred into a contemporary religious tradition that focuses on wisdom, generosity and a balanced relationship with the world around us.”

These Heathen voices speak to the high value placed on honor, truth, and hospitality within their interconnected communities. Individuals, groups, and family units that abhor the racist appropriations that have blossomed on the fringes of society. That said, CNN’s assertion as to faith of the alleged shooter starts to get murky as the piece progresses. After quoting from the 1999 autobiography, we then learn Cross presented himself as a “traditional monotheist” when running for political office in 2008, and then, according to a religious studies professor who knew him, as an atheist.

“David Embree, a religious studies professor at Missouri State University, said Cross presented himself as a traditional monotheist when he ran for Congress in 2008. But when he spoke at Embree’s classroom in 2012, his views had apparently changed, the professor said. ‘He essentially self-identified as an atheist,’ Embree said.”

This section is inserted towards the end of the piece, and is then seemingly ignored in the closing (which again quotes the 1999 autobiography). So, what are the actual beliefs of Frazier Glenn Cross? Odinist? Generic monotheist? Atheist? If professor David Embree is to be believed, he hadn’t publicly identified as an Odinist for several years. Is there some source that Daniel Burke has tying Cross to Odinism recently that he isn’t quoting? As it stands, some Heathens are unhappy with the way this piece was reported, with Troth Steersman Steven T. Abell expressing the “hope that the reporter who wrote the CNN article will learn to do his job better.” Meanwhile, Dr. Seigfried notes that no Heathens were interviewed for the CNN Belief Blog article.

“Mr. Burke fails to quote a single actual follower of the Old Way. Maybe he made a heroic effort to contact heathen religious organizations, leaders, individuals and writers to gain their input, and no one responded. It would only be good journalistic practice to include the voice of at least one follower of a faith tradition you are covering, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, he was sure to get in a disclaimer distancing Christianity from white supremacist action: he quotes Jonathan White saying, “It’s hard to get a violent god out of Jesus.” Leaving aside the endless historical and contemporary examples that contradict this statement, wouldn’t it be nice to have had some heathen, any heathen, being asked by CNN to make a statement about their tradition?”

 The problem of Pagan and Heathen faiths being appropriated by racists is a real one, and it is necessary and right for our organizations to speak up on the subject when horrific and brutal incidents like this occur, but the headline “Frazier Glenn Cross’ racist religion: Odinism” seems misleading at best when the alleged shooter appeared uncertain if he believed in any higher power as recently as 2012. For this CNN article to travel beyond mere sensationalism, a solid source pointing towards what Cross believed recently should be added, and if such a source does not exist, the piece should be altered to reflect what we actually know. In the meantime, Heathens are currently organizing to raise money for the victims of the shooting.

ADDENDUM: Daniel Burke at CNN’s Belief Blog has updated the piece with commentary from Josh Rood, founder of Óðrœrir Heathen Journal, and an MA student in Norse Religion at the University of Iceland. He has also changed the headline to “The accused Kansas killer’s neo-pagan religion.”

“I want to say that Frazier Glenn Cross is a monster, and it cannot be denied that he’s not alone,” said Josh Rood, an expert on Asatru at the University of Iceland. ”The prison systems, and the white separatist movements have been bastardizing Asatru beliefs, symbols, and myths for a long time.”

It should be noted that Dr. Seigfried’s quotation was written before Rood’s commentary was added to the CNN piece.

ADDENDUM II: Heathens United Against Racism have posted an official statement.

“We wish to make it clear that Cross, and any others, who invoke the names of our Gods, our traditions, or our symbols as justification for their bloody rampages are the lowest of the low in our eyes. We stand, as a community, against all who would try to co-opt and pervert our practices just as the Nazis once did to support racist, fascist, or otherwise bigoted agendas. Such people are unquestionably unwelcome in our community and any who give them aid, shelter, or otherwise enable their bigotry are equally unwelcome in our hearths, rites, and events.

We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the victims of this terrible crime and the community this honorless, cowardly individual sought to terrorize. We stand with you in this time of terrible tragedy and will do whatever we can to help heal the wounds inflicted yesterday by one hateful man. We hope that going forward we can build a respectful, genuine dialog between our communities and work together against all who would inflict their hatred on others.”

You can read the entire statement, here.

Send to Kindle

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Sociologist Helen Berger discussing new Pagan census data (more on that soon).A follow-up to the Pagan Census Revisited is now up and asking for Pagan participation. Here’s a quote from sociologist Helen A. Berger, who is overseeing this project along with James R. Lewis: “The PCR II is a follow up to the Pagan Census Revisited, which itself is a follow up the Pagan Census. You don’t need to have responded to either of those to participate in this survey. This survey is short, they contain some of the question we wished we had asked in the PCR. For those of you who don’t know about the PC it was the first large scale survey of US Pagans. I published a book on it Voices from the Pagan Census and all the results are online at the Murray Institute at Harvard University for any and all to view. The more information we have about contemporary Pagans the better for understanding the religion, its participants and how it might be changing. Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to complete the former surveys and those of you who complete this one.” I encourage wide participation in this survey, as it shapes research into our communities, and gives insight to those of us inside of the movement. The 2009 revisitation data was a big eye-opener for many, and it will be important to know how we are changing over the years. Click here to take the survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PCR-II).

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

As has been reported here recently, Pagan elder Morning Glory Zell has been in and out of the hospital due to kidney issues and other complications. Her condition is serious enough that a celebration of her life is being planned for April 19th. Quote: “Celebration of Life for Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. Our intention is to give her the energy to stay with us as long as possible. Come celebrate Morning Glory’s life while she is still here to enjoy your stories: How did you first meet Morning Glory? How has she touched your life? We are working with a few people on plans to video-tape your stories, poetry, song – whatever you bring to share.” Morning Glory’s partner, Oberon Zell, adds that “Morning Glory remains at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; however, she is rallying against the pneumonia.” Today, April 14th, is Oberon and Morning Glory’s 40th wedding anniversary, and our congratulations go out to them on this milestone. “The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism,” which focuses on the lives of Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, was recently released by Llewellyn Worldwide.

9931d7a41cff52affc54a1c0f3082178_largePagan singer-songwriter Arthur Hinds, a member of the band Emerald Rose, recently launched a Kickstarter to fund a new CD entitled “Dance In The Fire.” Quote: “So let’s talk about this new CD, which I’m already at work recording in the Kitchen Studio. It’s called Dance in the Fire, and you can expect a lot of energy and beats that are going to want to make you move. You’ll also hear soulful love songs, chants that honor the seasons and our connections to Spirit, rousing rock anthems that you won’t be able to stop singing along with (so my Lovely Wife tells me), and more. But to get all of this out into the world, I need your help.” Happily, the Kickstarter has already reached and surpassed its modest goal of $2,500, and is now working on stretch goals. Quote: “If we reach 3500, I will be able to produce my next solo collection, tentatively called, Words of Mystery, and anyone who pledged forty or more will also get a copy of these bardic tales when it becomes available in the fall. So spread the word and lets bump this up. To be clear, if we hit 3500, everyone who has pledged forty dollars or more will get Dance in the Fire, a t-shirt, a tattoo,  Words of Mystery and I will throw in a copy of Poetry of Wonder for good measure. Thanks!!!!!” Congratulations to Arthur Hinds!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • While I’m on the subject of Kickstarters, Pagan scholar and author Brendan Myers is looking to fund his fantasy series “Fellwater.” Quote: “It’s a series of novels about factions of ancient demigods and the everyday people caught in the conflict. Secret societies vie for control of the last corners of the Earth where the Mythic Age survives. It’s a world of alliances and betrayals, cults and politics, friendship and power. It’s what happens when you make a wish, and the horror of it coming true.” Sound interesting? Check out the campaign.
Character portraits from Brendan Myers' "Fellwater" series.

Character portraits from Brendan Myers’ “Fellwater” series.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Send to Kindle

Over the past three weeks, two Wiccan Police Officers have filed suit against the City of Los Angeles in response to workplace discrimination. On March 26 Officer Victoria DeBellis filed her complaint charging the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) with “harassment, discrimination and retaliation” due to her “sex and religion.” One week later her husband Sgt. A.J. DeBellis filed a similar suit.

Both officers are veterans of the LAPD. Sgt. DeBellis joined the force in 1990 while his wife joined in 1996. During the time of the reported problems, the couple worked in entirely separate divisions. Sgt. A.J. DeBellis was stationed in Devonshire. Officer Victoria DeBellis worked in North Hollywood and was later transferred to West Valley.

downloadOfficer DeBellis’ story begins in March of 2011 with what she describes as “severe sexual harassment.”  During that time, an unnamed fellow officer made repeated inappropriate propositions and engaged in unwelcome physical touch.  After filing a complaint with Internal Affairs, she was granted a request to move departments. However the harassment only followed her from North Hollywood to West Valley.

According to the report, DeBellis endured another two years of sexual harassment at the hands of one particular officer, Thomas Tenney.  At first it was limited to sexual harassment. Tenney allegedly admitted to having a “dislike and disrespect for women, including his own wife, mother, in-laws, and several ex-female officers Tenney supposedly tried to have fired because of their incompetence.”  DeBellis claims that Tenny even bragged about hitting another female officer with a basketball.

Within a few months of transferring to West Valley, DeBellis became the target for Tenney’s abuse. For example, he allegedly would shoot her with rubber bands followed by “inappropriate sexual and gender comments.” She endured the harassment over the next year and throughout her pregnancy.

Upon returning from maternity leave, DeBellis claims that she was hit immediately with both Tenney’s harassment and departmental discrimination due to her decision to breast feed. She requested daily personal time as afforded her by the Police Department’s Lactation Accomodation Policy.  At first she was denied this request causing physical pain and “embarrassment.”  After some struggle, she was eventually given the time. Before one lactation break, DeBellis recalls Tenney making the offensive remark,  “Are you going to milk it?”

LAPD Police Cars [Photo Credit: Flickr's 888BailBond]

LAPD Police Cars [Photo Credit: Flickr's 888BailBond]

In March 2013 Tenney discovered that DeBellis was a practicing Wiccan Priestess and a Buddhist. He allegedly said, “Woman can’t be Priests” and told her that she “could not switch religions.”  He also told her that she would “burn in hell” and allegedly warned other officers not to trust her. On one occasion Tenney hung a Blues Brothers poster near DeBellis’ work space. It read, “We are on a mission from God.”

In her filed complaint DeBellis describes the various ways in which she attempted to mitigate the situation. She met with superior officers, attended meetings, spoke with Internal Affairs, and repeatedly asked for assistance. DeBellis maintains that the Department did little to alleviate her problems and in some cases even made it worse.

DeBellis says that LAPD “denied her a work-environment free of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”  As a result her “career has been materially and adversely affected, irreparably harmed and damaged by the conduct of the Defendants” including both the Department and a number of unnamed individuals.

A week after Officer DeBellis filed suit, her husband, Sgt. A.J. DeBellis filed his own complaint charging the LAPD with religious discrimination.  He specifically cites an incident that occurred in December of 2012.  His department held a mandatory training session at the Church of Rock Peak.  According to the report, the meeting included prayer and religious music. The filed complaint reads:

As a practicing Wiccan, (DeBellis) was deeply offended by the department’s decision to conduct the training session and holiday gathering at a religious facility and reasonably believed that the event violated the Establishment Clause and separation of church and state.

Over the next year, DeBellis became the target of further religious-based harassment which he believes was in retaliation for his initial internal complaint. On one occasion, someone placed a sign on his desk reading, “One Nation, Under God.”  In addition Sgt DeBellis states that he was forced into meetings without his lawyer and denied disability insurance and more.

The Los Angeles Police Department has declined to comment on either case at this time. However the Department does maintain strict policies regarding discrimination and harassment. These policies are publicly available for review on their website.

It is the policy of the Los Angeles Police Department that discrimination in the workplace on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. 

A Department employee may file a complaint on any action, procedure, practice, or condition of employment which the employee believes to be discriminatory on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, including sexual harassment; age…. [and more]

officers of avalonFollowing the case with interest is The Officers of Avalon, a nationally-based fraternal, educational, and charitable organization that provides community and networking for Pagan first responders and military. Currently the organization does “not have an official position regarding this issue as [they do] not know all the facts and circumstances surrounding this dispute.” However the organizers did say:

We stand in support of our fellow officers and hope that soon an understanding will be reached … While working in law enforcement, you must put your life in your co-workers hands and be able to trust that they will do all they can to get you home safe after your shift. You must also take the responsibility for their lives and safety. Trust is paramount, and there is no room for prejudice. No matter what sex, color, creed or religious calling, we all bleed blue.

Both cases are filed with the Superior Court of California, City of Los Angeles. The DeBellis’ and their attorney have declined comment. We will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Send to Kindle

[The following is a guest post from Cat Chapin-Bishop. Cat Chapin-Bishop became a psychotherapist in 1986, and she has had over 20 years of experience as a counselor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She served as the first Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary's Pastoral Counseling Department, and designed the earliest version of CHS's Boundaries and Ethics course, which is still central to the program there. Cat has been a Pagan since 1987, and a Quaker as well as a Pagan since 2001. Her writings can be found online at Quaker Pagan Reflections.]

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an discusses sexual abuse and suicide, and may be triggering to some people.

The first perpetrator of child sexual abuse I ever reported committed suicide.

I’m aware that there are those who, on hearing that, will say, “Well, good!  One less pervert in the world.”  Unfortunately, the world is not so simple as that.

This was back in the mid-eighties, and I was still an intern in psychotherapy.  My client was a single parent, the mother of two young boys, barely scraping by, in part with the help of a boarder… who, it turned out, had sexually abused both the boys.

“But it was only once!” the mother said.  “And I watch them all the time now.  It has never happened again!”  But, of course, it had happened again, and more than once.  We found that out after I did what the law required and made the phone call to child protective services.  Later that day, CPS called at the family’s home to interview the room-mate.  And later that night, he went into the garage and hung himself.

It was one of the boys who found his body.

To him, this man was not “a perpetrator.”  To him, this was the man who had taken him fishing and helped him with his homework.  Because while the abuse had been awful, it had not been all there was to this man’s presence in the boy’s life.  His feelings, like life itself, were complicated.

1609597_10151908719899327_1392178353_n

So the mandated counseling to help the boys recover from sexual abuse became counseling to help them cope with sexual abuse and the suicide of a member of their household.  And for a time, everyone in that small family had to struggle with the added burdens of guilt and financial hardship caused by this death.

I do not in any way regret making that report.  I do not believe that taking a young boy fishing wipes out the harm of abusing him, nor that paying part of a family’s living expenses erases the guilt of sexually abusing a child.

But the story points out the trouble with making sweeping generalizations about perpetrators.  Those who prey on children are also friends, family members, wage-earners… And sometimes they are artists, musicians, teachers, or members of a spiritual community whose work is missed when they are removed from those communities.

It is dangerous to caricature offenders as all alike, easily spotted, or wholly monstrous.

The trouble is, if we begin to believe that all perpetrators of child sexual abuse are like comic-book villains, we risk becoming blind to the cases that don’t fit that simple picture.  Our communities may begin to make excuses, to minimize, rationalize, and deny the abuse.  We say to ourselves, “But she was a teenager—she could have stopped it,” or “He’s not like those other perpetrators—it was only because he was drunk (had just lost his job/ had been divorced/ was depressed.)”

And then we may not pick up the phone and make the report—or we may not enforce a community statement that says we have a “zero tolerance policy” around sexual abuse.  Or we may try to “fix” an abuser through compassion and good intentions, without understanding that those are not the tools needed for this particular job.  To prevent that, we need to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, and understand the real world of perpetrators and their victims.

So what we do know about perpetrators?

They are, overwhelmingly, male.  Women can and do sexually abuse children, but it is far less common.

They are no more likely to be gay than straight, despite years of right wing propaganda to the contrary.  However, being gay does not mean that someone is not a perpetrator; there is no relationship between those two things.

They may well be minors themselves; the problem of sexual abuse of children by older children and teens is probably under-reported, and can be difficult to tell from “sexually reactive behavior” in which children act out abuse they may themselves have experienced.  (Effects on the victim may be very similar, though the prognosis for the perpetrator may be very different.  This is one case where seeking help, and not turning away from a perpetrator because he is not what we have been led to expect, can make an enormous difference for everyone.)

Some perpetrators will largely confine their abuse to members of their own family; others will offend primarily against unrelated children.  Some will have only a handful of victims, but many will abuse hundreds of children over the course of their lives.

1546394_10151908719944327_2132891081_n

Perpetrators are almost always survivors of childhood sexual abuse themselves.  Often, they are sexual offenders in multiple ways.  They may well have ongoing sexual relationships with adult women (or men) at the same time that they are abusing children.  They often (though not always) abuse drugs or alcohol, sometimes as a way of lowering their own inhibitions against committing a crime.

Often they will have a habit of objectifying the targets of their sexual interest; this is associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending.  Generally, they lack empathy for others, and particularly for children, but this is not always obvious.

It can be hard to get good information on recidivism among perpetrators of sexual abuse, because most studies rely on criminal convictions, which self-reports of convicted perpetrators reveal to be far fewer than the number of victims offended against.  What is clear is that sexual abusers of children have a high rate of repeating their crimes.

Treatment does lower that risk… but only if it is specialized offender treatment.  Counseling from sources other than specialists in this field seems to have no effect in lowering the risk of reoffending, and this is one area where no ethical pastoral counselor should even think of offering their “help” as a substitute for reporting abuse officially and having an offender complete a specialized offender treatment program.  Unless you have been trained in this specific area of practice, this one really is over your pay grade.

So who are the victims of child sexual abuse, and what are some of the effects of that abuse?

They’re a lot of different people, it turns out.

About 20% of adult women and 5—10% of adult men recall having been sexually abused as children.  Boys are more at risk of abuse by non-family members, possibly because boy children tend to be more mobile and independent of their parents’ supervision in our society.

Some research shows risk is evenly distributed across age groups, but other studies find that teenagers are especially at risk—an important thing to keep in mind, as there can be a tendency to blame the victim where teens are concerned; it’s important to remember that, though teenagers can engage in consensual sex with other teens, they still lack the knowledge and resources of adults, and there is always a power imbalance between an adult and a child.  Perpetrators take advantage of that power imbalance to manipulate victims of any age.  And there are other vulnerabilities perpetrators look for, to exploit among their victims.  We know that children who have been victimized in other ways, or whose families are affected by poverty, substance abuse, or violence are at higher risk for sexual abuse.

Whatever makes a child more vulnerable, in other words, makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The lingering effects of having been abused as children can include depression, PTSD, and a higher risk of substance abuse, suicide or self-injuring behaviors into adulthood.  Children who have been sexually abused may show prematurely sexualized behavior, and there is an elevated risk of being re-abused or sexually assaulted among children who have experienced sexual abuse.

It is worth mentioning that even when there is clear evidence that penetration has been part of sexual abuse, in only a small fraction of cases will there be genital injuries of that penetration.  This is important to understand, so that we do not refuse to accept the testimony of victims that is not corroborated by physical injury.

1957702_10152034837709327_1599957864_o

Sexual abuse is definitely harmful—but it may not be harmful in the ways we’ve been taught to expect.  And while children are in no way responsible for their own abuse, some responses to having been sexually exploited, such as early sexualization, may be misunderstood by adults in a way that allows us to dismiss their testimony.  We need to be careful to remember that victims of sexual abuse are complicated human beings, and no more likely to fit one mold than any of us.

What do we know about helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse to heal? 

There are a number of things we as a community can do to support survivors in their recovery after sexual abuse.

Research shows that some very simple things can make an enormous difference to how well survivors heal from the most horrific abuse: things like, when a victim reports their abuse to an adult in authority, that adult takes them seriously and acts on the report.

Counseling can be important, of course, but there is definitely a place for just standing by survivors and showing empathy.  Research suggests that other important factors in healing include having at least one non-abusive adult a child can confide in, and having a community that responds with what might be called moral clarity, making it clear immediately that, no matter what, children and teens are not to blame for their own abuse, and that sexual abuse is always the responsibility of the adult.  It turns out that simply being clear that the sexual abuse of children is wrong is of enormous benefit to survivors. We do not need to burn perpetrators in effigy to support survivors.

That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons: threats of violence against perpetrators, for example, may not be reassuring to a victim, but instead, can stir up feelings of guilt or fear—fear for themselves, as survivors of another form of violence, or for other adults in the child’s life, who may have been threatened by the abuser as a way to secure the victim’s silence.

Instead, reporting suspected abuse to the authorities, if that is still possible, and firm, consistent limit setting with those we reasonably believe to have sexually exploited children—regardless of the age of the victim, regardless of whether force was used, or whether the victim confided the abuse in an adult at the time or much later—is likely to be more helpful then vengeful rhetoric or acts of violence.

What else can we, the Pagan community, do to make our gatherings and groups safer for the children and teens who attend them?

In this area, there is a lot that we can do.

  • 1.  We should structure programs for children and teens to minimize the risk of abuse at gatherings.

This one is pretty straightforward.  Many gatherings are now large enough to have children’s programming, and that’s great.  However, we need to think about these programs as potential risks.  Perpetrators are often drawn to positions where they can interact with kids, because access allows opportunities to abuse.

To limit that, we need to do what other religious organizations and reputable child care programs do: make sure that children are never left in the company of just one adult.  All children’s programs need to have more than one adult staff member with kids at all times.  In addition, we need to make sure that kids’ programs happen in locations with lots of visibility and easy access for the parents.  For instance, one of my favorite gatherings features a large rec hall just off the main dining hall.  Both rooms are a hub of constant activity during the event, and the children’s programming happens mainly in that rec room, with parents and other community members constantly passing through.  It adds a note of cheerfulness to everyone’s experience… and it means that the whole community is aware of what is happening with the kids all the time.  Not conducive to abuse!

  • 2.   We should institute mandated reporter training for all gathering staff, along with education on perpetrator behavior and warning signs.

Many Pagan religions feature initiatory oaths of secrecy, and Pagan leaders often need to observe confidentiality around the identities of participants in community events in light of the religious discrimination which many of us still face.

However, there is a difference between protecting initiatory secrets and maintaining the confidence of Pagans in sensitive positions and preserving secrecy around suspected child abuse. Mandated reporter laws in every state require clergy, counselors, and child care workers to report all suspected incidents of child abuse—physical or sexual—and neglect.  Notice, the standard here is suspected abuse—not proven, not confirmed, but suspected abuse.

Staff at a Pagan gathering, Pagan clergy in the performance of their duties, and staff who provide programming for children and teens at community events are required as a matter of law to report when they suspect abuse has occurred to any underaged person.  Everyone whose work will put them in contact with the community’s children needs to be aware of their duty to report suspected abuse and neglect to that state’s child protective services… and the organization’s procedure for doing so.

Not only is this the law, but I believe there’s a moral case for following this law without exception.  I can’t tell you how painful it has been for me, as a counselor, to hear over and over again from adult survivors of child abuse that they had told a trusted adult what was happening to them… only to have that adult ignore their confidence.  The sense of betrayal caused by abuse is only deepened when an entire community seems willing to look the other way.

1172755_10152034838084327_1843802068_o
I understand that we may be tempted to short-circuit the legal channels for abuse.  We may not want to trust them.  However, we are not trained investigators in this field; we are not in a position to truly protect kids from abuse without help.  We are in no position to evaluate even the most sincere-sounding promises by an abuser that they will seek help.  No matter how counter-cultural our values may be, in this one area, I firmly believe we need to follow the legal process for signaling the state that a child may be in danger.

  • 3.     We should create trained community ombudsmen, to reach out to children and families affected by sexual abuse or sexual violence.

It’s great to have mandated reporter training for staff at events, but Pagan events are large, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes bewildering things.  There can be hundreds of strangers all around, and very few of us, surrounded by strangers, feel comfortable asking for help in a time of crisis.  Newcomers to a community may not even know where to turn for help.

The time has come for all large Pagan events to have clearly identified contact people who make it their job to be welcoming and accessible, and to serve as the first contacts for incidents or individuals that cause concern, whether or not they rise to the level of sexual assault or sexual abuse.

Needless to say, these people should have additional training, probably including in some form of counseling.  They will need to be calm, grounded, and very familiar with the resources of the area where any events are being held, and they will need to have the ear of the gathering’s coordinators and the community’s leaders. Finally, and most importantly, their job will not be to act as finders of fact—no individual is in any position to do that.  Instead, their job is to make sure that problems get noticed, victims get supported, reports get made, and records are kept—confidentially between the gathering’s leaders and any official investigators.

  • 4.     We should not attempt to create a secondary court system to determine the ultimate guilt or innocence of accused perpetrators.

This is a difficult thing.  We need at one and the same time to take seriously allegations by children and teens who report their abuse, and we need not to attempt to act as finders of fact. While false reports of abuse are exceedingly rare—at least as rare as false reports of other serious crimes, according to the FBI—they do occur.  Moreover, it is one thing to believe the testimony of victims themselves, and another to allow rumors and friend-of-a-friend accounts to rush us to judgement.

This is not only for the sake of the accused.  Not only are we, as a community, unable to provide the system of checks and balances that allow defendants their rights to fair trial, we are also unable to provide the level of expertise that properly trained investigators bring to their work with abused children.  Ironically, if we rush to create a parallel system to mete out justice, we may endanger the rights of both victims and the accused at the same time: we can both deprive the accused of a fair process within our communities, and also contaminate the evidence so that even solid grounds for a conviction will be inadmissible in a court of law.

Fact finding just isn’t our role.  When there is reason to suspect child sexual abuse, we need to hand the ultimate finding of fact over to those who have the resources to do the job properly.

  • 5.     We should empower local organizations to respond to suspicion and to concerns, through mandated reporting, banning, and/or watchful waiting for persons of concern. 

While it’s not the role of our communities to be substitutes for the legal system in determining guilt or innocence, neither do we have no role to play in judging what actions we need to make on a local level to protect our kids, and also to be sure that our leaders and teachers are held to a high standard of ethical conduct.  We need to establish clear guidelines in our local communities for removing persons of concern from positions of trust within the community, with or without a criminal conviction, when there have been credible, specific allegations of misconduct made.

I’m not talking about banning individuals based on vague rumors or the notion of guilt by association.  But I am talking about times when there have been repeated reports of troubling behavior made against a person, as reported by the people who were directly involved.

This may seem like a contradiction to my recommendation not to attempt to adjudicate questions of guilt or innocence on our own, but in fact, it is not.  Because, while we really need the standard of innocent until proven guilty where someone has been accused of a crime, whether we grant or refuse the privileges within our own communities is a different matter.

There, our standards will be different from those of a criminal court.  Not only will a different level of proof apply to our own hearings, but a different standard of behavior may be needed, too.  I would suggest that the higher the position of trust granted someone, the higher the standard of behavior we will hold them to.

Among our leaders and teachers, despite the fact that we have no means of our own of establishing guilt or innocence, credible reports of child sexual abuse at a minimum create an appearance that is at odds with our community’s ethics.  And in the case of a leader or a teacher, allowing them the privilege of holding themselves out as representatives of our religious traditions while they are under investigation for sexual abuse is simply inappropriate.

Likewise, given the high rates of recidivism among perpetrators, we may want to think twice about allowing anyone access to gatherings where children will be present, who has either a past conviction of any form of sexual exploitation of children, or who has been the subject of repeated, specific allegations from within the community, with or without any criminal convictions.

  • 6.     On an national and international level, we should encourage full, open disclosure of objective indicators of risk, like arrests for charges related to pedophilia.

We should report allegations as allegations where legal processes have been initiated, but not in the absence of legal action.  On some levels, this is very unsatisfying: how can past victims hope to warn future victims when a perpetrator who has never been arrested or convicted moves from one place to another?

On another, it is a way of recognizing the reality that we will never know every potential source of harm within our communities… while allowing our budding news services to function as they function best—as news services, reporting only what is subject to confirmation, only what is objective.  Trading in rumor may serve justice one day, but it will thwart it the next.  Without the greater knowledge of one another we can only have within local communities, we will have no way to prevent the kinds of abuses that many of the critics of the current wave of coverage fear: vague accusations that make polarize us, without actually making our communities any safer.

10003607_10152034837969327_1557624310_o

We live in a world of complexity, and as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are not separate from even the most dysfunctional aspects of our society as a whole.  Child sexual abuse is a part of our modern world, and sadly, it will remain part of the Pagan community as long as that continues to be true.

The good news is that we are not helpless.  We can do more to protect victims, and to keep perpetrators from using our communities to find and access victims.  It’s not enough; surely, we all wish we could do more.  But it is a good deal more than nothing.

As we work together to heal the world as a whole, may our efforts within our own communities take root and flourish.

Send to Kindle

We Know Time

Eric O. Scott —  April 11, 2014 — 8 Comments
"Prosperine," Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1874.

“Prosperine,” Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1874.

I woke up this morning – one of the first mornings where I was able to sleep with the window open, the surest sign that Spring has finally arrived – and found it was still dark. I rarely wake up so early, and I took a moment – well, more like fifteen minutes – to lay there in the darkness, still beneath the covers, and listen to the birds calling in the dawn. After a few minutes in which my universe consisted only of birdsong and darkness, a sentence came into my head and began swirling around, like a song with an inescapable tune. “We know time.” It’s a koan that Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac’s trickster saint, repeats again and again throughout On the Road. “Everything is fine,” says Dean. “God exists, we know time.”

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that I am a devotee of Jack Kerouac – like many writers, my first encounter with On the Road filled me with shock and liberation, awakened me to possibilities of language and structure that I would not have thought possible. Over the years, I’ve come to think of The Dharma Bums as the better work in Kerouac’s oeuvre, the Apollonian remedy to the Dionysian morass of On the Road, but On the Road is the one everybody remembers best, including me. The peculiar draw of that book is Dean, who is charming and fickle, loving but selfish, and the spots of wisdom to be found among the chaos of his existence. “We know time.” An exhortation to remember how quickly life slips past, perhaps; or a reminder of how human existence depends on the progression towards its own end; or just a bit of truthful-sounding nonsense from a man who, viewed objectively, was an irresponsible, callous exile.

“We know time.”

I came into St. Louis a few weeks ago for my family’s Ostara. It was still cold here in Missouri, and snow flurries continued to fall until the 25th of March; it did not feel much like Spring had begun. Before the ritual, we mostly sat around the fire pit and tried to keep warm; after the ritual, most of us went inside and stayed there for the rest of the evening.

The ritual itself contained a passion play, as many of my family’s rituals do – Kore and Demeter, that foundational myth of the seasons. I called a quarter – West, which is the one I always choose – but otherwise had no special role in this ritual. Instead, I watched as my friend Megan bounced on her toes in anticipation of her cue to speak with the voice of Persephone. But before Persephone can return, Demeter must mourn; the mother must speak before the daughter. And in that moment, I saw one of the more powerful things I’ve ever seen in ritual.

I watched as Therese invoked Demeter. Therese is the high priestess of Watershade, the sister coven to my family’s Pleiades coven; I have known her my entire life. One of my earliest memories is of a sabbat held at her house – one of the Spring festivals, I think, maybe Beltane – where a food fight broke out. My friend Joe and I, only three or four years old at that point, didn’t understand the implicit rules, and started throwing apples. (My dad claims we started asking for canned goods.) When we talk about Therese, we talk about her as a mischief maker, a prankster, a trickster saint in her own right. That is our collective vision of her.

But she was not that person at Ostara. Her son had passed away between Candlemas and the equinox. I don’t want to get into it any more than that – I know how raw that feeling is for me, and cannot imagine how it must be for her. Demeter is a goddess who grieves for a lost child; Therese was a woman who had just lost a child. In the ritual, I saw the duality of the invocation – how Therese was not just a woman, nor even “just” a goddess. In that moment, I saw her, and I understood Demeter in a way I never had before. I was about to write that, in her, I saw the grief made flesh, but that isn’t right; the grief is the flesh. The myth is life.

The only difference is that, in the myth, Kore comes back.

“We know time,” I found myself whispering, still listening to the sound of the birds. I wondered how Therese had felt about playing that role in the ritual, whether she had identified consciously with the myth, whether it brought her any catharsis. I hadn’t thought to ask at the festival; I wished that I had.

My bedroom began to lighten, the black turning slowly to blue. I dug out clothes from the closet and dressed in the dark.

Time in Wicca, as I’ve explained over the years, is about circles, not lines; the wheel of the year turns, but in turning, it comes back around. It’s different than the linear progression of events inherent in the march from creation to fall to salvation to Armageddon. But there is no escaping the linear nature of the individual experience, either, even to one who believes in that cycle. A human life does proceed from birth to death with no backwards steps. Perhaps there are children who follow and continue the cycle – but not always. Sometimes, there’s just the line.

I got upstairs, made breakfast, sat down at my writing desk. Daylight had come, and the birds of the dawn had been replaced by the birds of the morning. I saw them dart from branch to branch in the trees outside my window. New green leaves had formed on branches that were barren a week before. Spring, here at last.

I found myself thinking of the nervous Kore, waiting to say her lines. I found myself wondering if even mighty Persephone truly knows time.

Author’s note: Some names have been changed.

Cheap plug note: Many thanks to my readers for helping to fund my research visit to Iceland! I’m really looking forward the columns that will come out of the experience. There’s still 22 days left in the campaign, so if you want to get your hot little hands on an ebook of my Iceland writings, and maybe a postcard from Reykjavik or other swag, head over to my Indiegogo page and donate a buck or three.

Send to Kindle

For the second time in five years, Ft Hood, Texas is the site of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. For the second time in five years, military members, dependents, and area residents must deal with the emotional aftermath. Among them are members of the military’s first officially recognized Pagan congregation, the Ft. Hood Open Circle.

“We still have to go to work here every day. How do I help my congregation do that?” asks Ft. Hood Open Circle Designated Faith Group Leader, Michele Morris.

The Ft. Hood Open Circle is comprised of up to 100 active duty soldiers, dependents, and military retirees. They, like other military communities, have endured repeated overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, coming back to Ft Hood isn’t just coming back to a job. It’s coming home.

sidebar ft hood historyDesignated Faith Group Leader (DFGL) Michele Morris understands how challenging recovering from this incident will be. “The most difficult aspect of this is that many soldiers have deployed, some several times. This is supposed to be home, where they’re safe, and can recover from the emotional stress of deployment. When something like this happens, you lose that feeling of being safe at home.”

Emotional, spiritual, and mental assistance for area Pagans dealing with the effects of April 2nd’s shooting, in which 4 soldiers were killed and 16 were injured, comes from several quarters. The military, DFGL Morris, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and a team of volunteer Pagan counselors are working to provide assistance for Ft. Hood Pagan community members.

DFGL Morris, ‘boots on the ground’ assistance
DFGL Morris, a civilian, describes herself as a “full time minister, a full time student, and a full time mother.” She’s been leading the Open Circle since February of 2009, just months before the earlier mass shooting where 13 people were killed and 30 injured. Her background is in mental health and she’s currently in college working toward a degree in social work. Normally her role at Ft. Hood primarily uses her skills as a High Priestess and ordained minister, but with last week’s shooting she’s using every tool she has to help her Circle.

DFGL Michele Morris

DFGL Michele Morris

Upon hearing the news last Wednesday that there was an active shooter, Morris got word out to those in the Open Circle to not come onto the post as Ft. Hood was in lock down. Then, using her phone and social media, she tracked down her congregation to make sure they were accounted for and safe. She quickly assessed her community’s immediate needs and offered her support. Thankfully no one in Ft. Hood’s Open Circle was physically injured. Her next move was to ensure that the planned Pagan retreat, scheduled to start on Friday, and last through the weekend, was still a go. It was.

DFGL Morris said the retreat allowed Open Circle members the chance to come together in privacy and begin to heal. The retreat was held in tents adjoining the grassy, outdoor worship area set aside for the Open Circle at Ft. Hood. They physically and spiritually rebuilt the stone circle surrounding their worship area. They purged themselves of grief and strengthened community bonds. “Through ritual, Ft Hood Pagans have a way to process grief that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” says Morris.

ft hood open circle

Morris was able to make something else available, a way to connect to Pagan counselors, organized by Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. While the military offers extensive and caring counseling services, “The military resources are soldier specific. What Circle Sanctuary offers is Pagan specific,” says Morris.

Circle Sanctuary offers assistance

Rev. Selena Fox

Rev. Selena Fox

Just as she had five years ago, Rev. Selena Fox, immediately reached out to DFGL Morris and offered Circle Sanctuary’s help. Rev.Fox assembled a team of seven Circle Sanctuary ministers and ministers-in-training to be available to Ft. Hood Pagans through phone consultations. Confidentiality and anonymity is of paramount concern and Rev. Fox says all the counselors understand this.

Due to Rev. Fox and Circle Sanctuary’s long association with Ft. Hood Pagans in particular and military Pagans in general, Fox knows the complex dynamic specific to counseling military members, “Most people don’t understand the constant stress military deployments cause, then you add a trauma like this, and they still have to do their jobs. They do it without complaint and they don’t normally ask for help.”

Rev. Fox says providing support early is crucial, as it creates a solid framework for healing. Feeling alone and not connected complicates trauma.

In addition to standing ready to counsel Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, Rev. Fox has been offering support to Pagans who have family members stationed at FT. Hood or who formerly were stationed there.

How other Pagans can help
Rev. Fox says it’s important for Pagans to pray for the soldiers and their families. Another thing she stressed was the need for Pagan groups to discuss how they honor military Pagans, “Warriors in Native American cultures are both honored and visible. Pagans can look at their religious ancestors and find out how warriors were honored and bring those traditions and practices back.”  She says too often Pagan warriors are invisible or feel they need to keep that part of their life private. Having community support, when honored or acknowledged, is what sticks in their minds and helps them heal from any trauma they may have experienced while serving their country.

A long road to recovery
Although the counselors haven’t yet received a call from Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, DFGL Morris says this isn’t unusual, “Some experience the stress right away, for others it takes a while for the shock to subside.”

Rev. Fox agrees, “Sometimes people need to talk in the first 24 to 48 hours, sometimes they don’t feel the need to talk for weeks after the event. Whenever they are ready to talk, we will be here for them.”

[Cara Schulz has joined The Wild Hunt team as a weekly staff writer.]
Note: An earlier version of the article said the retreat was held in cabins. This was incorrect. The retreat was held in tents.

Send to Kindle

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, two Pagans were inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. International College of Ministries and Laity at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were given this honorary designation for their ongoing efforts in the interfaith movement namely for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion. The special ceremony was one part of a much larger event celebrating Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion.

downloadIn 2008 Karen Armstrong, author and fellow at the Society of Literature, received a $100,000 TED prize for her global messages of peace and compassion. Dr. Armstrong took that money and launched a campaign called the “Charter for Compassion” which would embody her message and grow a movement. The Charter is described as:

a cooperative effort to restore no only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.

In February 2014 the city council of Atlanta joined the movement by unanimously voting to become a “Compassionate City.” The declaration was the result of a grassroots effort by a group called Compassionate Atlanta. The local movement garnered a number of supporters including The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel at Morehouse College.

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter, the dean of the Chapel at Morehouse, happens to also be a Parliament trustee. As Andras explains:

Through his involvement on our Board, Dr. Carter, who has been Dean of the MLK Chapel since its inception, felt that it would be significant for the Chapel to recognize the longstanding interfaith efforts of the Parliament, so he proposed that the current trustees be inducted as honorary ministers. 

Dr. Carter scheduled the “investiture ceremony” to coincide with Atlanta’s “Celebration of Compassion” and the honoring of Dr. Karen Armstrong. All events were held on Morehouse College’s campus in downtown Atlanta.

Prior to Thursday’s ceremonies, Andras and Phyllis met with local Pagans and Interfaith representatives to discuss “Pagans in the Parliament.” This talk was held north of the city in Sandy Springs at The Phoenix and Dragon, a local metaphysical bookstore and Charter for Compassion Partner.

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

After a digital slide-show highlighting the 20 years of Pagan involvement in the Parliament, the elders discussed the positive effects that global interfaith work has had on Paganism in general.  Lydia M. N. Crabtree, author with Immanion Press was one of those in attendance. She said:

It was interesting to see where much of interreligious tolerance for Paganism has come from. Without Phyllis Curott, Andras Corban-Arthen and many other, often unnamed and unrecognized leaders, working on a global level, interreligious work done by Pagans at the local level would be a pothole-riddled road to try and travel upon.

10152674_850351721648798_1602302713_n

Then on Thursday morning, Andras and Phyllis gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel for their induction ceremony. Andras says:

I feel deeply honored and also overwhelmed, since MLK was my childhood hero, someone I’ve looked to for inspiration all of my life. It’s truly a humbling experience to walk down the photo-lined halls of the Martin Luther King Memorial Chapel, seeing all the faces of the remarkable women and men who put their lives on the line in the struggle for civil rights.

As part of its interfaith programming the Chapel has been “conferring honorary inductions” to those people whose work is “congruent with the principles set forth by Gandhi, King and Ikeda,” as Andras explains.  He and Phyllis became the first two Pagans, of any tradition, to receive this honor. Andras adds:

To have two of us welcomed into the ranks of a storied Southern Baptist institution; to sit on a stage along with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Catholics, Indigenous, Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahá’ís while the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta stirred up the audience with all the zeal of an old-time black preacher; to be treated not just with openness and respect, but with actual deference by everyone at Morehouse — it really brought home just how far we’ve come. That scene would not have taken place as recently as 20 years ago, when the Parliament, much to its credit, first let us in the door.

Later that evening at the same Chapel, Compassionate Atlanta held its own reception and ceremony to honor Karen Armstrong and her work. Mr. Ajit Jumar of the consul General of India, Mr. Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mr. Shigeo Hasegawa, Vice President of Soko Gakkai International presented Dr. Armstrong with three different peace awards and an honorary degree. In addition, they unveiled a commissioned painting of her which will hang in the King Center Hall of Fame Gallery.

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Sitting on the stage during the evening ceremonies were both Andras and Phyllis as trustees of the Parliament. Andras says:

It’s not every day that I get to share a stage with both the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi — a fascinating, educational, inspirational and productive visit to Morehouse College in Atlanta! 

Several local pagans attended the event including Eibhlean, Priestess and member of the Interfaith Community Initiative in Atlanta. She says:

Dr. Armstrong was engaging and thought provoking as she cited example after example of the existence of Compassion as a core tenet in religious faiths around the world. She ended her presentation with a statement that we could move closer to God by opening ourselves to seeing the Divine in everyone’s eyes – most especially in those who have caused us the most heartache. Compassion is not comfortable – it is standing in integrity and strength to embrace the world in its entirety. It was an honor and a joy to feel that embrace include me as a Witch and Druid.

Compassionate Atlanta has a complete overview of the entire event including photos, music samples and prayers read.  Want to know if your city is Compassionate? Go to the Charter for Compassion to see which cities have signed up for Dr. Armstrong’s “Compassionate City Initiative” and which local venues are Compassion Partners.  

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

Send to Kindle

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

hexenfestHexenfest, a “festival of magick, music, and dance” is coming up on April 26th in Oakland, California. Featured musical performers include Ego Likeness, Pandemonaeon, Tempest and Nathaniel Johnstone, and Unwoman. The event will also feature dance performances from Anaar and Morpheus Ravenna, with DJing by Daniel Skellington. The event, now in its 3rd year, hopes to “create a San Francisco Bay Area festival that caters to the mythic imagination in a way that appeals to adults. Sensual and fierce, and willing to explore darker themes, Hexenfest seeks to awaken inner archetypes in all their aspects. To our knowledge, this is the first festival devoted specifically to the arts in the Neopagan revival. We believe that a culture’s art is both shaped by, and a shaper of, the identity of its people. As such, the inclusion of the arts in the Neopagan sphere is very important. As our young movement both rebuilds ancestral traditions and grapples with a modern identity, the arts will be essential to the legacy of our spiritual community.” Were I in the Bay Area of California I would surely be there. You can buy tickets to Hexenfest online.

Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer

Last week two different essays, from two different Heathens, tackled the issue of race, and racism, within modern Heathenry. First was from Alyxander Folmer, an anthropology student who wrote a piece for Patheos.com entitled “Drawing The Line – Heathens Against White Supremacists.” Quote: “Like it or not, there is a small segment of the modern Heathen community that not only buys into this kind of blatant racism, but co-opts our faith and uses our religion as an excuse to do so without having to admit that they ARE racist. These people twist the idea of ancestor veneration and cultural pride as a way to justify and mask their hate, as if using religious reasoning for their behavior somehow exempts them from the consequences of their actions. I refuse to allow them to abuse and dishonor our faith, our community, and our gods. We have the power to speak up and strip away that religious mask they wear. We CAN expose these people for what they are and show the world that they do NOT represent us.” Then, on Tumblr, the writer known as ‘Grumpy Lokean Elder’ posted a much-shared essay critiquing “Folkish” Heathenry. Quote: “You can be a very intelligent person, you can have the best intentions and not want to be racist at all, and when you’re starting out in Heathenry, Folkish recruiting can still hook you and reel you in.” Both of these essays come in the wake of talk at PantheaCon (featured in the most recent Elemental Castings podcast) that focused on racialist/white supremacist Paganisms. Is this all coincidence, synchronicity, or is the Heathen community gearing up for a new conversation on these issues?

FPGIn an update to Sunday’s story on controversy at Florida Pagan Gathering, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, the authors of “The Witch’s Bible” (reprinted  later as “The Good Witch’s Bible”) have posted a long response at their blog defending themselves. Quote: “If your group practices the Great Rite, then surely it is better to state that fact plainly than to hide behind euphemisms and try to blame others for things that those others have not done. And, surely, you do not have active members in your group under the age of 18. Living in the Craft means that you work daily to realize how sick and twisted are the ‘norms’ of the culture in which you find yourself.” It should be noted for clarity that the “Pagans For Change” group, in their public statements, never accused the Frosts of sexual impropriety, or illegal actions, only that they objected to their content on sexual initiations and didn’t wish for them to teach at FPG. Meanwhile, in the wake of the renewed debates and controversy over this issue, the Frosts have decided to not attend the upcoming Michigan Pagan Fest. What the long-term ramifications are of this decades-long issue within the Pagan community resurfacing once again remains to be seen.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • PMPChannel and Green Egg/Five Rivers hosted a conversation on Friday with Jo Pax and Tzipora Katz. Quote: “Ariel Monserrat and Michael Gorman, the hosts of Green Egg/FiveRivers, have Jo Pax and Tzipora Katz join them on the air. Jo is the biological son of Kenny Klein and Tzipora is his ex-wife. The topic is a tense and emotional one, they will be talking openly and honestly about their experiences as Kenny Klein’s son and ex-wife.”
  • A new service, Pagan Broadcasting International, is starting to emerge. Quote: “While we’ve got a basic station begining to function, to turn this into a world-class Internet station will still take a bit of work – and a bit of money. So later this week, we’ll start a campaign to help fund the equipment  and software that it will take to make this happen. I haven’t decided exactly what form that campaign will take, but check back here for details!” Interested in helping out? They have a Facebook group.
  • Damh the Bard has a new songbook coming out on April 17th, “The Four Cornered Castle,” now available for pre-order. Quote: “This chord book contains the chords from my last three studio albums, The Cauldron Born, Tales from the Crow Man and Antlered Crown and Standing Stone. As with Songbook 1 there is no musical notation in the book – I don’t read music myself – but the chord shapes and locations within the lyrics will show you more about my writing process, and how to play the songs as I do. As with my last songbook, I hope you enjoy singing these songs around your camp fires, in your covens and groves, or simply on your own or with friends. Get strumming!”

CoverEarthWarriorshopbig

  • European Pagan-folk band Omnia’s new album “Earth Warrior” is out now and available for order from their website.  Quote: “OMNIA’s 14th independant production is a studio concept-album all about the Living Earth and the fight against her destruction by humanity containing 14 OMNIA compostitions written in varying acoustic-musick styles, from classical, country, bluesgrass, hard rock, jazz, native american,celtic-folk, Balkan all the way to OMNIA’s original PaganFolk.” For those of us in the United States, Omnia will be playing at Faerieworlds this Summer, and FaerieCon in November.
  • Star Foster has issued a call for participants in a book on doubt, belief, and spiritual struggle in polytheism. Quote: “I am writing this book because I think it will help people. If you have experienced a spiritual struggle, then I hope you will share your story to give others comfort and hope. I will be collecting stories until June 1, 2014.”
  • Happy 20th anniversary to Murphy’s Magic Mess on KZUM in Lincoln, Nebraska. Quote: “Thank you for all the well wishes as The Mess reaches 20 years on air. loved the ‘bumps’ musicians sent [and it] was a very fun show. We started with Buffy Sainte Marie’s “God is Alive, Magic is Afoot’ because that is the music with which I began my very first show. My how time flies. It doesn’t seem like 20 years.”
  • A few weeks back, I mentioned that The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire would be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Now, you can see the pictures!

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Send to Kindle