Details of John Friend’s “Blazing Solar Flames” Coven Emerge

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 16, 2012 — 48 Comments

Since February, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the fall of John Friend, founder of the Anusara yoga school, since allegations emerged of sexual, legal, and fiscal improprieties. Of those improprieties was the allegation that Friend ran a Wiccan coven, named the “Blazing Solar Flames,” as a pretext for sexual liaisons with Anusara students.

John Friend (photo: Dan Winters via NYmag.com)

John Friend (photo: Dan Winters via NYmag.com)

“John has been the head of a wiccan “coven” that claims to use sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way to help build the efficacy of our practices. John engaged in sexual relations with women in the coven unbeknownst to his girlfriend, Anusara teacher Christy Nones. The Coven has caused rifts in the marriages…”

Up till now, details have been scant on the subject, though Friend has spoken in detail about how Wicca and Paganism are compatible with Anusara teachings. Yesterday, The Daily Beast ran an exclusive interview with a member of Friend’s coven, spelling out exactly what happened between “Grand Magus” Friend and the all-female members he ran.

John wanted us to do the ritual in sexy underwear and kiss each other on the mouth, tongue-y kissing,” said ‘Melissa,’ a former member of the coven who asked that her real name not be used. […]  Friend suggested to the other coven members that sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy, according to Melissa. “It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” Melissa told The Daily Beast, but she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice,” she said.

Melissa details all the hallmarks of a sexually abusive ritual/religious experience, “steamrolling peer pressure,” grooming and titles of authority undercut by the abuser’s constant reiteration of his ultimate authority (“…he was always going to be the [Grand Magus]. It was his clubhouse…”), and inflated, grandiose, visions of a shared purpose (“…Blazing Solar Flames were meant to serve as a ‘battery’ for Anusara…”). It’s little wonder that Melissa broke out in tears during an all-day “ritual” sensual massage involving Friend and two other female coven members. Melissa also tells The Daily Beast that Friend was having sex with her, and one other coven member, though sexual penetration never happened inside ritual space.

From the beginning I’ve been concerned that little attention was being paid to the Wiccan aspect of this scandal, with some in the yoga community making jokes about becoming Wiccan to help them find “a little more action on the mat.” All the while, it was clear that reporters would eventually expand into investigating Friend’s coven as other avenues of investigation dried up. Now the stark ugliness of Friends manipulations, his perversion of Wicca’s ethics, are laid bare. We are now faced with with a man who, if the all the allegations made here are true, engaged in the sexual abuse of his students, who misused sacred space for his own physical gratification, and has now sullied the reputation of Wicca in as public a way as could be imagined.

“We shared a love of Wicca, which is grounded on doing that which enhances Nature, affirms the Goodness of Life, and fosters love. We shared our love for Anusara yoga, which is a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level. With this common ground of wanting to bring more Light and Love into the world you and I started a small circle to use our knowledge and power to manifest our elevated intentions. Tiffany joined us in this auspicious and sacred endeavor. As part of our rituals you and I both agreed that we would use sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way to help build the efficacy of our practices, which is a common element of most Wiccan circles, as you know.”John Friend, in a letter to Laura Miller

What Friend did in the “Blazing Solar Flames” was not Wicca, though it wore its trappings and mouthed its words. Our faith is not “like something out of Hustler or Penthouse,” we don’t encourage cheating, or pressuring coven members to engage in fantasy lingerie shows that culminate in the sexual gratification of the “Grand Magus” while calling them power-raising rituals. Wiccan covens may engage in sexual rites under certain controlled circumstances, but no mainstream Wiccan tradition or organization that I know of encourages what allegedly happened here. Those individuals and groups who do engage in such behavior are almost always ostracized.

As this sad and painful scandal continues to unravel, let me reiterate that I think this should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, an opportunity to engage with myths versus the reality of how our traditions work. If we allow this aspect to simply get lost in the larger narrative about Friend’s downfall, it only allows misconceptions to grow. To cultivate the idea that maybe we are OK with non-transparent sex covens centered around a powerful leader. This is not the time to hope it “blows over,” but a time for our leaders to engage in powerful outreach on what Wicca is, what its ethics are, and what our stance is on Friend’s behavior. If we don’t, we run the risk of others doing it for us, quietly, with whispers, insinuations, and misinterpretations.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Malcolm J. Brenner

    In my 20 years of Wiccan practice, the sexual energy in rituals was raised SYMBOLICALLY, even when the participants were “skyclad” (naked).  Taking sexual advantage of your students is a violation of the Wiccan Rede as well as immoral in the conventional sense (and illegal, if they are underage).  Time to do some spring cleaning, folks.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    This is one case where things like tradition, lineage and initiation come into play. Was Friend part of any Wiccan tradition or lineage beyond his one so-called “coven”? Had he received initiation from any tradition or lineage or teacher that is generally recognized within the broader Wiccan community? Did he have any relationship whatsoever with other Wiccans other than his all-female harem, er, “coven”?

    “Lineage” and “initiation” are not the only things that validate a person or group as truly Wiccan, and there are lots of good and even great teachers who are self-initiated, or who were initiated by non-human entities (in many indigenous shamanic traditions, the true teachers are all in the spirit world, and real Initiation only occurs in that realm). But if a person or group is going to be publicly associated with “Wicca”, then that claim of association should have some basis in reality, especially in terms of how that person or group relates to other Wiccans. As far as I can tell, Friend and his “coven” had zero interaction with other Wiccans, and it is far from clear that there is any reason to call what they were doing “Wicca” at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/revheron Heron Herodias

    Things like this are why I share the ABCDEF with every one of my students AND give them a reminder to keep their wits about them, that not every person who claims to practice Wicca or Paganism is going to be ethical about it. 

  • Jim Murrey

    This is why I prefer a more open and congregational form of Wicca as opposed to the “secret society” coven type. I like things to be more democratic and open, with everyone having equal input, and rotating ritual leaders. There seems to be less chance of abuse by one person or a power couple.

    • Thelettuceman

       I’m reminded of various Charismatic Church issues that have cropped up over the years in response to the preference of open/congregational services as opposed to the secret society model.  I’d call some of them pretty abusive.  I think that anytime there is a person in the position of power that WANTS to be abusive they WILL find a way, regardless of worship model. 

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        With you on that last point, Lettuceman. As long as we are free to associate there will be tinpot gurus and the needy who will flock to him (generally a him) and line up for abuse. Which is why I don’t get more than usually bent out of shape when it happens within the big tent of Paganism; just proves we’re human.

    • Guest

      Wouldn’t having a Congregational style mean far fewer Priest/esses, a lot more Laity, and less people doing things in different styles?

      If someone doesn’t want to be a Priest/ess, that’s fine.

      But from someone who has made the jump, I encourage other people to do the same. I find it sad if out of nervousness, control issues caused by the religion, or out of fear, they’ve decided or were told they couldn’t be a primary arbitor to the G-ds in a large ritual, which is, frankly, amazing, and something I think more people should try. Especially if they ARE shy and view themselves as wall-flowers, on-lookers, and audience rather than lead performers. It’s like viewing yourself as sidelined in one’s own spirituality.  The World’s your stage, loves.

      • kenneth

        I don’t know that the issue is whether or not people should become priests or priestesses. I do think people ought to take a hard look at what roles they play or what sort of power people ought to give over to such leaders.  I have a bit of a problem with the idea of “clergy” in Wicca.
            Yes, there are people who are especially well gifted and trained and practiced in ritual leadership, and I fill the role as lead priest in my own group, more out of necessity than anything else. But at the same time, I don’t place too much stock into the title or position of “priest” because I don’t see any room for laity in the real sense of the word in Wicca. Everyone in circle is or should be a priest or priestess, even if they’re not doing the “lead” roles.    Apart from that bit of theology, the real issue to me is that people should be more skeptical about the “guru” model of learning.  People in this self-help culture of ours have always been big on the idea of finding the right “guru” to show them “the way.”  That is a recipe for disaster and will limit the growth potential of the student even if they have a benign “sensei.” 

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “To cultivate the idea that maybe we are OK with non-transparent sex covens centered around a powerful leader.”

    You are right, this is an idea about Wicca that we do not want propagating. It is far more important than the fact of sexual energy raising, which is probably not all that uncommon.

  • Kilmrnock

    I will Admit i am no longer Wiccan , my personal path has evolved . But , i know enough about Wicca to understand that what this guy did is completly unacceptable to any real Wiccan .As Jason has said now is the time for all wiccan groups like COG and the like to stand up , contact the media and make it known this is not what you do .Even a local group s like Sacred Wheel need to contact the media and make real valid info known.Wicca has a responcibility to the Pagan Community as a whole , this makes us all look bad .I’m NOT saying this mess is Wicca’s fault , far from it. But Wiccans are the only ones who can get good information out to responciblc media to clear up any misconceptions this has created.Luckily Wicca has a few large organisations that can speak for them , w/ political clout , such as COG. Kilm

  • Sunweaver

    There is not enough soap on the Earth to wash the skeeve off this guy.

  • Malaz

    List of ways top tell if you are part of a dangerous cult:
     
    http://altreligion.about.com/od/controversymisconception/a/dangerous_cult.htm

    • Claudine

       Great link. Catherine Beyer is the epitome of common sense supported by education. Thanks Malaz.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      My bottom line is never join a cult where you are required (or or expected or pressured or encouraged …) to have sex, and never join a cult where you are forbidden (or expected or pressured or encouraged not…) to have sex.

  • kenneth

    The pagan community has what I consider to be a very good response to this sort of thing. “The Pagan Community Statement on Sexual Abuse,” which I recall was developed a year or two ago involving Brendan Cathbad Myers and others. Here’s one link:
    http://www.americanneopaganism.com/statement-PDF.pdf 
    It covers the issue very nicely, and I would advise any group to consider adopting it as a statement of values or policy. It’s a very handy thing to be able to send to local media and shows that we have done some serious thought and pro-active action in regards to this issue. The issue isn’t really whether Friend was a “real” Wiccan or whether individual Wiccans color outside the narrow lines of “acceptable” sexuality. It’s about an abuse of leadership and trust. Group leaders have no business cultivating followers for their own gratification under the guise of “spiritual growth” or practice.  I think we can find near-universal consensus on that and present a consistent message to the public and media on that point. 

    • Henry

      I wasa wondering when someone would drag that thing out again.

      • kenneth

        Do you not think much of it? Truth be told, I never heard very much about it since it was crafted, but I find it to be a very good foundation or starting point on the issue, and one that delineates the relatively open views of sexuality among pagan traditions from the abuses of sex – ie exploitation by leaders. 

        • Henry
          • Henry

            well that is the original from the archives, however the 70 + comments that were made then were evidently not archived.
            But it wasn’t actually consensed at all.

          • kenneth

            I think at one time it was envisioned that it would have all sorts of public signatories as a kind of consensus, and I think that would have lent some strength to it, but the reality is that trying to stake out common ground as a “community” is doomed to fail these days. Still, I think the document has great value for individuals and groups. We incorporated it as part of our own group’s bylaws and conduct guidelines because we found it was a pretty good match for our own feelings on the matter.  At the end of the day, no document is a substitute or guarantee of right action, but it’s a good start. If your leadership or group culture is rotten, no amount of progressive language will save you, but a healthy culture begins with well-articulated and communicated beliefs shared by members of a group. When some reporter calls you in the wake of some scandal such as this yoga thing, it’s also powerful to be able to say your group has thought about these issues and adopted a policy or statement of beliefs years ago. It’s one of the ways we can get out ahead of these stories and not let ourselves get defined by the lunatic fringe. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/johnd39 - steward -

      I think any “Pagan Community” statement is dangerous, in that it implies to people, government officials, and journalists that there is some overarching board of practice for Paganism.

      And there’s no such thing.

  • Henry

    I suppose he should have formed a ‘Goddess temple’ and sold sex under the guise of spirituality instead of keeping it to himself, heh.

    • Guest

      No, it sounds like people felt he’d done enough harm already.  No need for him to turn people out as well. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/EdAHubbard Ed Hubbard

    I love the Rose Colored Glasses here. I have ran into more than a dozen of these type of groups over the years. First, we need to get over the illusion that we are one community, or that Wicca has any form of central authority or line. It lends itself greatly to this, and to say it is not acceptable, means one has never gone to some of the major festivals. Sexuality and Coven sex exists in a lot of groups. This concept of a sterilized and cleaned up Wicca is something new, and I know the sexual history of several of our major leaders. They practiced this without pressure.

    No question this guy is bad news, improper and out of line.

    • kenneth

      I don’t think the issue really should be about trying to “sterilize” or clean up Wicca for the sake of making us palatable to the general public or media. There’s plenty of kinky folk in Wicca and other pagan paths, plenty of crossover between our communities and those of poly, swingers and BDSM folks. I happen to think it’s generally unwise to try to integrate those practices into coven work because I find they are different sorts of deep intimacy which are not often complementary to each other. The end result tends to be a very turbulent and unhappy and short-lived coven, and it’s simply not a risk I’m eager to take. Play partners are very easy to come by, in the scheme of things. People with the emotional and spiritual depth whose souls are a good match for yours in lifelong magickal work…..that’s a rare commodity indeed. The addage of not crapping where one eats comes to mind.
          That said, if a group of truly consenting adults wishes to take on that mix with all the attendant risks, I don’t see an ethical problem with that, and I don’t see where it is our job to try to deny their existence or “disown” them from Wicca, as if that were even possible. 
         The focus ought to be kept on abuse and abuse of power. Is there a victim in the situation? If it involves minors, that’s self-evident. If it involves adults, the question becomes whether there is manipulation and abuse of the trust that comes with a leadership position. To my mind, the real problem with this yoga guys and others like him is manipulation, not kink. If he and these women had entered whatever arrangement they had as equals, even in a coven context, that would be one thing. 
          The problem comes in when a charismatic guy starts misrepresenting spiritual practices to get himself serviced. You have some sincere seekers coming to you with an open mind, and perhaps at a juncture in their lives where their judgement and skepticism are not all they could be. Then you have some guy playing that to the hilt saying “this is what Goddess wants of you, and my crotch is the path to your higher self.” That’s really what the problem boils down to. 
         I think we’d do well to stop trying to sanitize the diversity if practices in our “community” such as it is, and just be very forthright about drawing a distinction with abuse. I think we can credibly say that there are sexually open and diverse people within Wicca, and there is an element of sexuality within the religion. At the same time, the religion is not simply a “cover” for personal gratification, and we have particular ethical concerns about the relationship of teachers to students.  The fact that there is no central authority I would argue is a strength, not a weakness, of our movements.  Given the experience of the RCC and various other big central institutions, we see that hierarchies are not very good at policing themselves anyway. We as Wiccans on the other hand don’t have to cross our fingers and hope some bishop does the right thing.  We can do nothing more (or less) than to make our own stands on the issue and communicate those to the media and the world in word and action. 

    • Harmonyfb

      Wow, Ed. I’ve been practicing for 25 years, and have yet to run into any groups like that. Nor have I run into even one coven whose members had ‘orgies’. Have I encountered some covens whose members I disliked personally? Yes. Some covens whose members were not the most ethical of individuals? Well, yes – just like any other religion. ‘Orgies’ and/or perversion of the teacher/student relationship? NO. Predators who preyed on younger wo/men for sexual gratification? NO. That is (thank the Gods) a rare occurrence.

      (Heck, I’ve been to very few rituals in which the Great Rite was literally enacted, and the God & Goddess representative withdrew to a private place for it at all of them.)

      While Wicca doesn’t have a central authority, we do have pretty clear ethics – and coercive sex is definitely NOT ok. There’s a huge difference between individuals who decide to have consensual sex or private celebrations of the Great Rite, and perverts preying upon impressionable youths for private sexual gratification.

      • Guest

        If people in a group have orgies, so what?
        That would never be any excuse or rationale for some scumbag to abuse the trust of both fellow Wiccan wannabees or yoga students. 
        I think some are hooked on keeping sex symbolic – I see no reason for that to be the rule unless the group isn’t informed, private, adult, ethical, and consensual. 

        • Guest

           oh yeah, and safer, too.  I kind of despise those who act like condoms and other protections aren’t of the Goddess. not Nature’s way, or prevents the Sun god/logos, or that they’re “less comfortable”, or how they’re “allergic to latex” but won’t buy an alternative, or any other stupid excuse people have made  to not use them.  If you’re grown up enough to have sex, you’re grown up enough to always use protection without excuses.

          And any being that would want someone engaging in sex not to protect
          their health for themselves and for their partners is not worthy of
          respect. Sacred love IMHO involves LOVE and/or Respect.
          Sacred love and blessings for all, whether alone or with partners.

        • Harmonyfb

          If people in a group have orgies, so what?

          As I said above: “There’s a huge difference between individuals who decide to have consensual sex….and perverts preying upon impressionable youth”.

    • http://brock-tn.dreamwidth.org/ Blake Kirk

      Ed Hubbard wrote – “Sexuality and Coven sex exists in a lot of groups. ”

      Yes it does.  But without some pretty explicit boundaries it can cause a lot of trouble.  I’ve seen at least three different working covens pretty much destroyed because sex between and among various members got out of hand. 

      I cannot (and would not try to) speak for any coven other than my own Tangled Moon, but WE had an explicit statement within our bylaws that absolutely prohibited any sort of intimate relationship between teacher and student for as long as the teacher/student relationship continued.  Further, we had additional language in our bylaws that  limited the authority senior initiates could exercise over junior initiates and neophytes, and we went on to explicitly relieve junior members from any obligation to cooperate with instructions that were clearly an abuse of either discretion or position.  A coven (especially if there is an Inner Court / Outer Court structure in place,) ought properly to be a collegial body, and not a hierarchical and authoritarian one.

      And without exception, ANY teacher who ever uses ANY variantion of “Oh, you want to learn the secrets of the universe?  Well, hop right up here in my magickal bed and we’ll ge started…” needs to be taken out into the streets and publicly horsewhipped.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1315448416 Aepril Schaile

    This makes my stomach sick, and my blood boil. It’s about the abuse of power, not the sex per se. Whether its in a “Wiccan coven”, or anywhere else, its the same old shit. 

  • MrsKingsbury

    no matter the authority of the person, if they are telling you or asking you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, listen to your senses and walk away.  

    I’m not condoning his gross misuse of authority figure or Wiccan rites.  But, unless you are being physically held down, no one can force you do something you don’t want to do.  You don’t like what is going on, don’t show up.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      If only it were that simple. Many victims of sexual abuse are “groomed” for months before anything untoward happens. It’s only after the abuse happens that they begin to realize that their trust was misused. Our “senses” are often deceived, and the “Perfect Love and Perfect Trust” we are taught to embrace in many Wiccan traditions can cloud our judgment when it comes to those who are twisting the religion’s tenants to their own ends. 

      I think  there’s this sense that abusers are always these creepy, “energetically” slimy, people who are easy for level-headed people to spot. But this simply isn’t the case. Many of the “best” abusers appear completely normal, trustworthy, and in many cases are well-liked by their community. They get away with it for so long BECAUSE they don’t come off “that way,” and many of their victims are written off as hysterical or crazy, until the abusers is finally found out. 

      • Mia

        This is why a swift response to abusers like this is important, especially in small groups like neopagans. It’s not fair, but it’s reality that we’ll all end up being stained if we just shrug it off and say “they’re just being human, not my problem” etc.

        Western culture in general sucks when it comes to abuse, particularly sexual abuse. We’re still fighting for basic stuff like getting access to rape kits and having them actually be analyzed, let alone heavy stuff like having people take us seriously instead of telling us to be quiet so the boat doesn’t get rocked.

    • Litlady72

       I’d also like to add that many abusers and sexual predators seem to have a finely honed “radar” for finding vulnerable people. Many victims of such predators have experienced some form of abuse in the past. They either don’t recognize the signs of a predator or are so conditioned to abuse they ignore the red flags and seek out behavior that is familiar. Sexual predators often test their potential victims to see how far they can go; if the potential victim walks away, the predator moves on. If the potential victim accepts a minor form of abuse, the predator ups the ante. The vulnerability of the victim does not exculpate the predator from liability for his or her actions.

  • Kilmrnock

    I just saw the Pagan Community Statment on Sexual Abuse . that is a quite good piece to use in this situation and agree it should be sent to the media now . Tis a good bit of information most , if not all pagans will have no problem agreeing with it’s content .   http://www.americanneopaganism         Kilm

  • Earthmamacat

    Where did this man find that many women who were so self-unaware? And from a yoga organization? My first experience with Wicca (supposedly “Dianic Wicca”) was of a man calling himself a teacher “leading” a group of women. How oxymoronic was that? I walked away pretty quickly from that group but saw how some women are ready to toss over common sense and self-preservation for….what? Spirituality? Magic? C’mon, girls! YOU are the magic! Why else would he need to subjugate and use you? Because that type of man has none of his own and has figured that out. I’m trying not to “blame the victims” but it is hard when people willingly give themselves up in this way. The “battery” comment should’ve been a clue…you are a self-realizing/actualizing soul, not a battery for anyone or their organization. I have been Pagan for over 20 years now and have seen good and bad, just like any other religion.  I hope these women heal from this stuff and I hope John Friend gets whatever it is he deserves.

    • Patrick Barry

      Well, we don’t know all the details but as Jason pointed out earlier, the Grand Maggot… er um Magus (he actually sounds like a very unethical psi vamp to me) probably groomed them for it. Say you are an unethical sleezebag. You take out a few ads in local new agey papers, websites, whatever for a circle/coven. You select the most vulnerable ones.  Not everyone in the paganism starts out with high self-esteem, just as there are Christians with low self esteem.  Build up that their sexual energy is so very important to the group and before you know it you too could have your very own sex cult.

      • Patrick Barry

        I retract my inference that John friend is a maggot. It is offensive and degrading to maggots. 

    • kenneth

      Abuse is a tricky area of human relations. It doesn’t always involve coercion or extreme gullibility, especially when the victims are adults. As much as we love to register our disgust at the guy, Friend was answering some need these women had. He didn’t do so in an ethically responsible way or on an equal basis, but these women would not have fallen under his spell if they weren’t getting something from the deal.
          I suspect if we were to look at the backgrounds of most of them, you’d find many that were young and maybe victims of abuse or just didn’t have a lot of positive healthy male relationships in their past. Others may have been at that crux of mid-life where they’re coming off a bad marriage and find this guy giving them what seems to be real affirmation and affection. Maybe this guy is skilled physically (evidently gets a lot of practice). Maybe these women truly believed in the power of sex magick.
          It is indeed a powerful way to do spellwork, though I very much doubt they went in with the emotional and spiritual preparation and the proper awareness of the pitfalls of such workings.  I don’t know the full circumstances of what went on here, but it might not be “abuse” in the sense we think of , say, a priest and 13-year old altar boys.  What went on may well not have been at all tantamount to rape, but at the very minimum, these women were cheated out of what should have been a nurturing relationship rather than one based on using them and manipulating their desire to learn Wicca. 
         The “cult warning” evaluations and such only go so far because recognizing the signs of an abuser is not the hard part. The hard part is making sure YOU are in a place of wholeness so that their tactics won’t work on you. The irony of course is that people often come to Wicca, or any other sort of spiritual discipline precisely to begin doing that hard work, and abusers know that full well. 
         Finally, the other thing we need to realize is that guys like Friend are that way because they have some sort of “broken-ness” themselves. Most do, at any rate, if we discount those relatively few “out of the blue” sociopaths. If you’re a damaged person of any sort, starting a coven is a wonderful way to medicate or try to fill whatever hole you have in yourself. I think most people here at one time had a bad run in a coven or similar group, and can recall plenty of coven leaders who “fed” off their members in emotional rather than physical ways. 

      • Guest

        “Finally, the other thing we need to realize is that guys like Friend are that way because they have some sort of “broken-ness” themselves.”

        I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it.  People who are abusive and manipulative at that level know exactly what they’re doing.  People who are “acting out of their brokenness” don’t have another way to be, another persona to show the world.  The fact that Friend kept it all very secretive shows that he knew exactly what he was doing.

  • Guest

    Safety guidelines for younger people and adults. To everyone coming near any group or person – trust your instincts. I have little doubt that “Friend” seemed too good to be true or a little manipulative, and yet people felt afraid to contradict him because of his little bit of fame. Most likely as some others have pointed out, he specially picked out for predation the very naive.
    http://safelyeverafter.com/tenrules.html 
    There are sexually abusive and manipulative people in all religious stripes, including supposedly celibate or monogamous traditions – beware. 
    To ironically paraphrase a person famous: “Don’t believe anybody just because some famous person says it.”

  • http://profiles.google.com/johnd39 - steward -

    I’ve not seen anything indicating that Mr. Friend said he was engaged in Wicca.  Although some of the practices he apparently engaged in are engaged in by Wicca as well, there are certain practices that Wicca engages in that various Christian denominations engage in as well.  It would be nice to know if members of his group simply assumed it was “Wicca” (and there are Witchcraft groups which are non-Wiccan), without him actually saying so.

    I think it’s time to publicize – and keep publicizing – for all Pagans (and any other faith groupings) the late Isaac Bonewits’ Advanced Cult Danger Evaluation Frame, at http://www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html .  If people who dealt with Mr. Friend had looked at what was happening in light of the ABCDEF, the problem might have stopped before it had started.  There is no central authority to Paganism, Witchcraft, or Wicca… and even where there is (such as the Catholic Church), such an authority does not stop abuse.  Thinking about what you do and allow to be done to you stops abuse and abusers.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Friend has repeatedly stated his interest and involvement in Wicca. 

      Here, for example:

      http://bayshakti.com/john-friend-explains-wicca-and-anusara

      • kenneth

        As a general matter, trying to deny someone unsavory was a “real” Wiccan won’t get much traction in the media battle, unless we can make a real convincing case that someone off their meds was just playing about with trappings and no coherent beliefs or rituals. Friend’s group was apparently Wiccan, in ritual style and theology if not “real” lineage. At this point, our “damage control” really just needs to consist of the truth: his practices do not reflect what the overwhelming majority of us do in Wicca, and we have real concerns about his abuse of leadership power. 

  • Litlady72

    Great post. Very thoughtful and right on in its call for ethical self-examination within the Wiccan and pagan community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaunaauraknight Shauna Aura Knight

    What this guy did was inexcusable. And unfortunately, whether we want to say he wasn’t a “real Wiccan” or not–plenty of real Wiccans, Pagans, and other related spiritual traditions have done things like this, and far worse. My own former partner has used his position as a teacher to hit on women, often young newbie/vulnerable folks.

    Some of the people who have done this are the leaders and authors we respect. Some of them are leaders of covens you’ve never heard of. In traveling and teaching leadership, in talking to people, I’ve heard of a lot of men–and a few women–who were coven leaders, group leaders, or Pagan teachers, who took advantage of members of their groups in this way, or tried to. Many using Polyamory or BDSM as a vehicle or excuse.

    To be clear–I have no problem with folks who are polyamorous or who are involved in BDSM. There’s a set of ethics to both. Nor do I have a problem with a coven or closed circle that engages in sensual and sexual behavior together if it’s adult/consensual. For public rituals–yeah, the sex should be symbolic, and clothes should generally be on. If a private group has the maturity and the skill to do magical work and energy raising with sex, that’s great. I think that it’s really rare for folks to have that kind of maturity, but –what consenting adults do is their business. And if the magic works, kudos to the practitioners.

    But as some folks have pointed out, abuse can be subtle. There’s black and there’s white and there’s shades of gray.

    I’m currently a single Pagan, and so as a teacher and ritualist I have a set of ethics that I use to ensure that I don’t get into a relationship with someone and set up an unintentional power dynamic of abuse. Where I trained, at Diana’s Grove, there was a general rule that those in a staff position, or in the more advanced leadership track, should not initiate relationships with the participants who attended events. If you already knew a participant as a friend or lover, that might make room for an exception.

    And, the staff wasn’t foolish enough to think that just having a policy wouldn’t keep attraction from happening, so the general rule was, if attraction happened, the staff member’s job was to come to the staff and talk about it–use the tools of a 360 degree mirror to see if the relationship was unequal and unethical.

    Because I am a teacher, and because I facilitate transformative rituals that make space for deep personal growth, I consider it my responsibility to be careful who I will date. For instance–I would still consider it to be slimey and potentially abusive on my part of a guy came up to me after an emotional Samhain ritual and asked me out on a date, and if I said yes. Even if I’m not the one asking, if that guy asks me out after I’ve just facilitated a ritual that broke someone down emotionally, they aren’t seeing me as “Shauna who puts on her pants one leg at a time,” they are seeing me as their projection of who I am, whatever that happens to be. 

    My policy is that, if I agreed to date someone who’d been to one of my classes or rituals, it would only be after I had some reasonable assurance that we were at a peer level, and also allowing for time for a friendship to build. Ultimately, I want to make sure that I don’t agree to go out with someone who has me on a guru pedestal. It’s not something that’s come up, but I have a policy for my own actions to ensure that I can act ethically if it did come up. And I have people I would be able to check in with to make sure that I’m not kidding myself.

    If you’re a leader, and you are using your position as a teacher or ritualist to get dates, or even if you are just saying yes to a date with a student or someone in your community, you must ask yourself if it’s ethical. Cheating is a red flag, as is the phrase, “I’m poly but my partner isn’t.” 

    The problem is that most of the people who are doing things that aren’t ethical are probably not aware enough of their actions to question them. Having been partnered with someone who was a sex addict, and having also been with someone who was bipolar, there are times when folks are just driven by impulse. The aren’t Ming the Merciless going, “Mwahaha, my evil plan is working and all these people are sleeping with me.” They aren’t thinking about right or wrong, they are thinking about what they need in the moment, what they want.

    The Pagan community is not free of pedophiles, sex addicts, cheaters, liars, abusers, and unethical folks. Unfortunately, the witch wars of the past decades have created a poor environment for us to actually out these folks and keep them from harming people. If someone speaks out against a Pagan leader who harmed them, they are branded as just having sour grapes or trying to malign the person. But what do we do with the real abusers in our community? And for those leaders who find themselves unable to keep from engaging in unhealthy relationships, how do we help these folks? If they aren’t in a tradition with a power structure and superiors who can discipline them, how do we keep our community members safe? These are no easy questions.