Marion Zimmer Bradley, Abuse, and Cautionary Tales

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 26, 2014 — 117 Comments

[Trigger Warning: This post discusses the sexual abuse of children.]

When I first embraced modern Paganism I read “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and it was considered essential reading by many Pagans I met at that time. Plus, in the pre-Internet age this revisionist Arthurian drama that introduced feminist and Pagan themes was widely rumored to be written by someone who was, if not Pagan herself, deeply enmeshed with individuals from the Pagan community (and this turned out to be true). So, as a consequence, Pagans widely considered Bradley to be “one of us.” This was further reinforced more recently when I started interacting with the West Coast Pagan scene, and various individuals would privately tell me about their own interactions with the author. When Bradley died in 1999, few could deny the huge impact she had, down to the individuals who tattooed themselves as the priestesses and priests did in “Mists.”

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However, right after Bradley’s death, a document was published by fantasy and science fiction author Stephen Goldin that shocked many. The publication, which included a sworn deposition from Bradley, alleged that the author aided and abetted her late husband, Walter Breen, in the sexual abuse of children. 

“Marion Zimmer Bradley was a noted science fiction and fantasy author, with best-sellers to her credit and a large number of adoring fans. But MZB, as she was often called, had far less savory aspects to her as well. Most notably, she actively aided and abetted her husband, Walter Breen, in the sexual abuse and molestation of children. Before people cast too many tears over her death, they may wish to learn some of the harm she helped perpetrate in the world as well. […] In the excerpts you’ll see that MZB admits having deliberately covered up her husband’s involvement in activities she knew were illegal and harmful. She took some pains to tell Walter not to molest her own children, but she didn’t care in the least what he did to other children. Readers will be able to judge for themselves the sort of moral character this woman possessed.”

For those who weren’t knowledgeable about the charges, the depositions by Bradley where she admitted knowing about Breen’s sexual abuse of children, came as an immense shock. Defenders of Bradley counter-argued that she was not aware of the abuse that took place after their marriage, that she acted appropriately when she found out about the subsequent accusations, and was too deathly ill towards the end of her life to properly litigate her innocence (it should be noted that allegations regarding Breen and debate over Bradley’s knowledge of those allegations had been around since the 1960s). This back-and-forth over how much Bradley knew, when she knew it, and what exactly happened, seemed to create enough of a fog concerning the matter that many decided to simply let it drop. Especially since both Breen and Bradley were now deceased.

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Stephen Goldin’s page on MZB.

Now, a recent Tor.com article celebrating Marion Zimmer Bradley’s birthday (since pulled), has reignited the conversation, and prompted Moira Greyland, the daughter of Bradley, to come forward describing the abuse she says she received at the hands of her mother.

“The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away. I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment. I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family ‘home.’ None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.”

The full emails, and two poems Greyland wrote concerning her experiences can be found, here.

When allegations and discussions came up before, they were often isolated. Either by geography, fear, or by the nature of the early Internet, where different groups tended to circulate in a limited number of forums. Now, with the highly social nature of today’s media, and with these new statements by Greyland, the topic has gone viral, and many fantasy authors have been speaking out. These include Jim C. Hines, Colleen DoranCatherine Schaff-StumpNatalie Luhrs, and Janni Lee Simner, whose work appeared in two of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover anthologies.

“I read and reread her daughter’s words this week. I read, too, portions of MZB’s own court deposition (from her husband’s trial, also for child abuse) that I hadn’t read before. Then yesterday I took a deep breath, and I added up the advances from my two Darkover sales, my Darkover royalties, and (at his request) my husband Larry Hammer’s payment for his sale to MZB’s magazine. And then we made a donation to the anti-abuse charity RAINN for that amount. I’ll donate any future Darkover royalties, as well.”

Goldin, who initially published the depositions in 1999, commented this week that he sees the current discussion about Bradley as a “cautionary tale.”

“Think of it as a cautionary tale. There are altogether too many people who think someone is trustworthy simply because they’re famous/talented/rich/powerful and, because of this, the parents will trust that person far beyond the normal bounds. Marion (and by extension, Walter) is one example. Another was Michael Jackson. By telling this story, Mary and I hope to instill a little a little more skepticism into parents and maybe save future children from becoming victims of sexual predators.”

Perhaps these allegations coming up in the here and now can serve a purpose in our community, to serve as a cautionary tale, so that we do better in recognizing and preventing abuse in the here and now. For some further ideas on how to do this within the context of the Pagan community, please see Cat Chapin-Bishop’s excellent guest-post she recently wrote for this site.

I have been searching for a way to wrap up this piece. A piece that, due to my own personal triggers, I’ve had a hard time writing. So let me simply say that I hope some sense of healing and closure can come from Moira Greyland speaking up now. I also hope that these latest revelations can lead us towards a healthier place, a place where we do concrete work to ensure it never happens again.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Natalie Black

    Thank you for writing about this, Jason. It is a very difficult topic, indeed. I read about Moira Greyland’s statements against her mother yesterday and they went right thought my soul. What did Mists mean to me? Well, I’ve had plans for an “Avalon” blue crescent brow
    tattoo when I crone since I was a teenager. Mists has been a huge influence for me, and now
    it feels tainted somehow. The question I keep coming back to is this: Is it possible to separate a work of art from its creator?

    • Junius Stone

      Yes, it is. IMO, we should. But it is up to each individual to decide for themselves. But we have many, many works of art whose creators have something unsavory in their past, personality or makeup. Humans are complicated things, especially creative people. And whatever Bradley’s crimes, “Mists of Avalon” does not figure into it.

      I would hope people remember this.

      • TheSeaHag

        I don’t think it’s a matter of people “remembering” it. Some people will agree with you and others will not. It’s not for anyone to tell, for example, a survivor of childhood sexual assault that they should make that distinction.

        • krystyl

          As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I can tell you that even as a “group” the individuals will disagree on how that distinction should (or shouldn’t) be made. People cope different ways and some never learn to cope at all.

          I personally felt that the book/movie was a bit dark in its sexuality to begin with, even before I found out about the author’s history. I love much about the movie, but so much of it is abusive or dark in it’s own right, that I honestly couldn’t say I was surprised by the “revelation” that she had a history in abuse.

          Do I judge the work by the author? No, there are still many wonderful parts, but when you re-read the work and know the history of the author, will you notice the nuances that you might have previously missed? I think so.

          • Bruce

            I never read the book, only watched the movie, and based on that, really had no desire to read any of her books. The basic premise in the book, I think was wrong and really repelled me. Didn’t anyone see the incest theme as a little strange?

          • Merlyn7

            No because the incest occurs in every version of the tale of King Arthur (though usually with Morgause being the sister who sleeps with Arthur). Both characters are horrified when they discover that it has happened.

            The television movie (which I enjoyed for being simple fun) bears very little resemblance to the book (which I enjoyed even more).

    • missannthrope

      That depends. Can you separate the Quran from the fact Muhammad married a six year old and consummated the marriage when she was nine? If not, then no, you cannot separate her from this book, no matter how much you want to.

    • Dee

      (I am new at this so please bear with me) Yes you can. Many creative people has done some form of questionable act that does not mean we belittle their work.

      • Emily

        I don’t think I can ever read her work again without my brain reminding me of Greyland’s words. I won’t be recommending it. Yes I do believe that you can separate the art from the artist, but there’s a line, and it is child abuse.

        • I feel the same about the books. When I ever get a chance to go through my books to separate keepers from the rest, hers will go. I will never read them again. I always wondered what kind of hate and anger she had against women, given how they were treated in the Darkover books.

          This is not a plagiarism issue, but one involving tangible crimes against children. I can’t bear any Woody Allen productions any more, and never having started with Roman Polanski, won’t start. Both those situations creep me out.

          There were a couple of Bay Area sf cons where Moira and family appeared. My son and her two were of similar ages and interests, and A (not much older than 10, can’t remember the year) wanted to have them to the room for pizza and movies/games. We parents conferred, established ground rules, and I think everyone was happy. The next time we met at a con, the boys hung out together. However, I was known to folk she trusted, which likely helped.

          Reading even a third of the email exchange was chilling and sickening. The poems–had I known then what I know now–I would have offered energy for healing, pledged to do what I could politically and otherwise, to prevent other kids from living in that kind–any kind–of abuse.

          We’ve tried to have our home be a safe place for anyone. I started that in the decade after college, once I found what a friend and her sisters had suffered from their father–after her youngest sister suicided. As it turned out, my friend R and her husband E, kept *me* from suicide in the early part of 1988. I am forever grateful to them.

    • The Ragin Pagan

      Is it possible to separate a work of art from it’s creator? Yes, it is entirely possible. But sometimes it’s not so easy. For example, I used to listen to Tyr, and enjoy the “message” that their music carried. But then the lead singer came out with many controversial statements, mocking the Heathen community and informing us that some songs which seemed to do honor to Heathenism actually were mocking us for believing in “fantasy myths.” I cannot hear that band anymore without hearing hypocrisy and commercialism.

      So too it might be for someone reading “The Mists of Avalon.” If they know about her actions, they might not be able to see past the harm that she caused – especially since her daughter is coming out and speaking her part. While the book itself is relatively “innocent,” that it is associated with and written by an abuser might stink too much of hypocrisy for some to look past.

    • welltemperedwriter

      Is it possible to separate a work of art from its creator?

      I think that this is something which happens naturally over time. (How much do we know about Euripides as a person? Next to nothing. We don’t even know much about Shakespeare, despite his work being the most influential in the English language.)

      If I may be interpretive for a moment here, I think the question you’re really asking is, when (if ever) is it feasible or justifiable to appreciate a work when you know the person who created it is a horrible person? The classic example that I come back to is Wagner, an enormously important composer who was also in part responsible for bringing Norse and German myth back to popular prominence, but was also horrifically anti-Semitic, among other unpleasant characteristics.

      On a personal level, part of the answer is whether knowing something about the author spoils the experience of their work for you. I can’t stand to read Orson Scott Card anymore because to me, his personal beliefs which I find repugnant are evident in his work. (This is different from writing a character who does evil things, btw.) Now someone else may have a different opinion where Card is concerned, and that’s fine. I’m not going to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do. I didn’t see the movie of “Ender’s Game”, but plenty of people did, and I don’t think less of them for it. (Similarly, one of my friends refused to see “Edge of Tomorrow” because of Tom Cruise’s connections to Scientology, and that’s his right.)

      The other question is who benefits if you continue to support the artist’s work with your money and recommendation. I’ve seen plenty of people say that they’ll keep their MZB novels but won’t buy any more, because the administrator of MZB’s estate likely played a role in covering up abuse, and that person benefits from sales of MZB’s novels. I think this is a factor worth considering, separate from whether you think the work itself has merit.

      For me personally, I never much liked MZB’s work other than Mists, and Mists itself is one of those novels I read when I was younger that I’ve hesitated to pick up again as an adult because often, the books we loved as children don’t hold up when we’re older and have more developed tastes. So for me the question isn’t even really a question.

      So really, it’s up to you. I think that if you make your own thoughtful decision about it, though, you’ll be more satisfied in the long run.

      • Friday

        Hrm. I don’t think I’ve read Mists of Avalon in twenty years or more, but I think it’s very possible the content matters with regards to what the accused abuses have to do with how the work’s read. I’ve always thought it was important to the then-ballooning Pagan community because it was, however fictionally/mythically, a tie to a sense of history that our society’s long been suffering from disconnection from, notably by Christianity and the obliteration of so much of those heritages. To a degree it might be something that ends up being read in terms of a messed-up individual trying to express things about a messed-up world.

        I tend to agree on Orson Scott Card, he’s actually kind of actively and currently hideous to others, somehow it fits in that before I knew of his anti-LGBT actions, I was rather not-K with the Ender sequel at least and got disinterested in the first one anyway. I doubt you could really claim there’s some abusive ideology promoted in Mists of Avalon in the same way. I think OSC actually just tends to pop up when it’s a dry spell for space opera (apparently even in movies) and standards are lower. Not, I suppose, very much of a challenge compared to someone whose writings actually made it into womens’ studies classes without anything sketchy seeming to set anyone off.

        Guess we’ll see. As for the actual abuse case, maintaining a token amount of skepticism until I actually check out the evidence, myself.

        • welltemperedwriter

          Point taken, but I’m not so much talking about whether a particular ideology is promoted or not in a work–that kind of literary analysis is above my pay grade–and more about whether the knowledge of an author’s proclivities affects a reader’s perception of and ability to appreciate the work. I think that’s going to vary from person to person, and possibly from artist to artist. The reader’s reason may be ideological promotion, or it may be something else.

          My point being, content probably does matter, just as you say, but it’s just one of several dimensions of the question, it seems to me.

        • krystyl

          In the story of Mists of Avalon, I would disagree with your statement that there isn’t really any “abusive ideology promoted in Mists of Avalon”. They tricked her into having sexual relations with her brother which emotionally scarred her and she was forced to keep her knowledge of this secret in her attempt to spare him the same emotional scars. This is just one of the things that I noticed, even before knowing of the author’s history.
          That said, there are many parts of the story that I feel are still very worth the read. Like life, there are grey areas abound and we have to learn to navigate them.

          • Guest

            Please be careful to separate the novel from the TNT movie. In the novel both Arthur and Morgaine recognize each other the morning after and Arthur is also scarred by their encounter. Morgaine does hide her pregnancy and Mordred’s existence from Arthur in an effort not to further hurt him and increase his guilt.

            Viviane does not see the event in the same way Morgaine or Arthur do. She does not view incest in the same way, and it is heavily implied at the end of Priestess of Avalon that Viviane’s consecration as High Priestess and Lady of the Lake involves performing the Great Rite with Taliesin the Merlin, who is for all intents and purposes is her step-father.

            I’m not advocating incest or any sexual behavior that is injurious to a person of any age, physically or mentally. But perspective of characters from a different culture and time period is important. Viviane was looking for a way to keep a pagan cultural hold on Arthur by making Morgaine an even larger influence in his life and reign as mother to his child and as the incarnation of the Goddess to him. But in putting her plan in action she did not obtain the consent of either of them, these 2 young people who had been raised with early Christian influence as well as pagan. Maybe they would have consented – we’ll never know. But their choices were taken away from them and that is what makes it abusive, even in a culture where sibling sex might not have been taboo.

            The movie has its good points and some ideas are portrayed better than in the book, but it was rather heavily white-washed and Christianized.

            In a similar fashion, Games of Thrones shows a tradition of the Targaryens marrying brother to sister. Danerys expects to marry her brother Viserys and has no disgust for the idea; she is disturbed when she is told she will marry elsewhere. It is Viserys’ abuse of her that is disturbing and that scars her.

            In another book vs film disfiguration, when Danerys marries Drogo, he rapes her on their wedding night as she weeps. But in the book, Drogo waits until he has her eager consent. And though Danerys is 3 years younger in the book – only 13 when she is married – in a medievalesque world 13 was not only marriagable age for girls, they were considered old enough to give consent (even if they were rarely asked for it). This perspective makes it much easier to understand how Danerys could come to love Drogo so much and yearn for him long after he is gone.

            Sorry to ramble – my point is that we often judge sexuality in art by our own culture, our own age, and our own attitudes rather than those portrayed in the art. There are tons of other examples in all genres where this is true and often have little to nothing to do with the author’s life or experiences.

            IMHO, abuse of any kind is about taking someone’s power and choice away from them. But there really are no universal absolutes about the subject, except the fact that the person felt abused.

          • Krystyl

            I am sorry that I didn’t make the distinction more clear. I have both read the book, and seen the movie. Though neither have been within the last 5-10 yrs. I know that there are very distinct differences in the two. I still stick to my statement that the occurrences are akin to a show of abusive behavior. Regardless of how things were viewed by the people at the time, trickery in sexual encounters cannot really be viewed as not abuse. By your own definition, they took the power from them because they didn’t give them the information to make an informed choice, and though it is never outwardly stated, I would posit that the emotional scarring suffered by both would be them “feeling abused”.

          • Guest

            Crystal, I should have been clearer also. While I replied to you to make clear the difference between what MZB wrote versus what TNT filmed, I thought we reach the same basic conclusion and the rest of the post was my effort to expand on that conclusion juxtaposed to some other comments here.

            The conclusion we both headed for was that manipulation was the abuse that Viviane perpetrated against Morgaine and Arthur. I never said or meant that it wasn’t abusive – quite the contrary. I was trying to say that even if sibling sex were not taboo, Viviane’s manipulation and deceit would still be abusive.

            That said, Iike poster Friday I don’t think MoA *promotes* an abusive ideology. To me, it was never glorified, never presented as “right,” and even Viviane has to justify it with the statement that she was doing what she felt needed to be done. The amount of damage she does scars Morgaine so much that she feels she cannot fully realize herself as a Priestess of Avalon again until Viviane is dead (when Morgaine returns to the Isle and Raven reconsecrates her).

            To me, that is far from promoting an abusive ideology. So on that point, with respect, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

          • mel

            The part of the story in which Morgaine and Arthur have sex as part of a rite isn’t an invention of MZB… Its part of nearly all if not all of the ‘King Arthur’ legends. Just want to point that out so that no one views this part of the book in the wrong way, as an incestuous invention of a twisted mind.

            As for myself I am not sure if and when I will be able to read the book again. Its one of my most favorite books and also very important to me. As heartbreaking as this news is to me and as heartbreaking as such a tome being possibly tainted by the disgusting acts of the author… Well, I feel a bit selfish thinking about it in that way. The most heartbreaking thing about his is what happened o the victims of MZB and her husband.

    • Sarah Sadie

      I struggle with this with Woody Allen as well. Finally decided there will always be a place in my heart for Annie Hall, but I wont see any more of his films. That’s where I come down.

      In some way, time may be a factor here. Mists was/is so groundbreaking, so crucial. If it still seems so in 50-100 years, then maybe it will be easier to see it as apart from MZB, the person. Right now, it is more difficult to separate them.

    • It may be possible to separate a work from its creator. But, once certain lines have been crossed, our relationship to the work irrevocably changes. This is a natural thing, and everybody has their own lines in the sand. For many, child sex abuse crosses that line, and their relationship with the author’s work will be tainted going forward. Ditto OSC’s virulent homophobia.
      Furthermore, it may be possible to separate a work from its creator, but I would be wary of individuals who use veneration of a work of fiction as a way to gloss over the evils an author committed in real life, with real victims. Separating art from artist is one thing. Suggesting that we do so in order to deter or quell discussion of an author’s behavior is reprehensible, especially when their victims are still living and very much a part of the conversation. (Not saying that’s what you’re doing, but I have certainly seen enough of this behavior in this discussion and beyond.)

    • ELNIGMA

      Maybe the odd delay slowing getting that particular tattoo makes sense now, and better to get something else.

  • Emily

    Really excellent piece, Jason.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Jason, I hope your awesome service to the Pagan community is a healing path for you.

  • The Ragin Pagan

    I can understand the distraught feeling caused by being disillusioned by one’s heroes. But, in my opinion, no matter how many flowers a vine might have, it still has thorns and chokes out other plants. Far better to cut that vine out, and let other plants with their own flowers grow.

    • Depends on the vine. Himalayan Blackberry–die, die, die! Kudzu in the US, the same. I can manage roses and wisteria….

  • Shauna Aura Knight

    This makes me hurt deep in my gut in a way that I cannot even articulate. MZB wasn’t necessarily one of my favorite authors, but obviously she had a tremendous impact on many sf/fantasy authors, readers, and on the Pagan community. In the past months I have heard so many stories of rape, abuse, and pain. Thank you for writing this. I have to believe that these things coming to light serves a purpose for future healing and prevention. Though I am trying to wrap my mind around how it comes to be that some of the folks who are so positively influential in one way end up being terrifying monsters under the surface.

  • welltemperedwriter

    I’ve seen a ton of discussion of this in recent weeks in my writers’ circles, but next to none in my pagan circles. Thank you for opening the conversation.

  • RollingHerEyes

    This comes as a great shock to me. I started on this path in 1982. In 1984 I met Marion at the first Ancient Ways event (For COG), when she did a talk entitled “So you want to be a priestess” at Harbin Hot Springs, CA. I met her again a few years later. But I had the unusual privilege (if you can call it that) to know some of the people who knew her, worked with her, and circled with her in the East Bay. This happened because the guy I was dating, then who became my roommate, was long time friends with these people, circled with them, and had met Marion several times and been to her house. My roommate is the person who introduced me to the Pagan community and gave me “Drawing down the Moon”, by Margo Adler, which started me on my path.

    That all said, I have to say that I was never comfortable around those people and they creeped me out. I even spoke to my roommate about my feelings back then. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was begining to go through recovery back then, so my sensitivity to sexual predators was very high, though I was fooled at times as well. But I never got any of those creepy feelings from the few times I met Marion, though I never met her in private. I do not tell this lightly, nor to cast an ugly light upon others, but to give some confirmation to those who have spoken out that even from a distance I could sense something was very wrong, and that in the case of Marion, even someone as sensitive as I was at that time was, apparently, fooled at the same time as well.

    It was my experience around those specific people, and other situations that has had me waiting for this shoe to drop in our community for the past 30 years. It had been so long since those first strange days, that I thought I was being over cynical. I am heart broken to learn that I was not, BUT the community itself has changed and grown since those days, and that is our strength.

    The fellow Pagans I am around these days are nothing like those handful of people I met so long ago in the early 80’s (and back in the late 1960s). We are stronger, more open and public, and as a community I have seen us grow in so many wonderful ways. These kind of revelations have broken communities and families before, but the response I have seen here and else where since this all began to brake open, has been wonderful, both as a survivor and a Pagan. The lack of hysteria, denial, and finger pointing has been amazing.

    IMHO we need to continue to stay open, responsive, caring, and clearheaded around this, and the probable new revelations that will come. Let us not travel down the road that other spiritual communities and institutions have in regards to these types of crimes. In the shock of it all, and the resulting heady emotions it is easy to over react and over compensate ….. to start literal “witch hunts” of the worst kinds ….. and people become afraid, and when they become afraid, people get hurt. “And ye harm none …. ” must always be in the forefront of our hearts and minds now and in the near future as we traverse down this rocky road. Together, as a loving and supportive community, we can not only weather this, but grow and mature, and to become far better for it; for facing it head on rather than covering it up and denying its true impact and taking the necessary and careful steps to address the needs and issues that this has reveled.

    Together, let us stand with intelligence, humanity, and empathy.

    Lilith B. De’ Anu

    • Franklin_Evans

      Lilith, I wish to publicly honor your strength and courage in sharing your story here. Our community depends on people like you. Be well.

      • RollingHerEyes

        Franklin, thank you. Though I do not think survivors ever truly completely “recover”, we do get better, as I have done. I have had wonderful therapists, and a great 12 step group for survivors. It takes time, and hard work, but you can get through it, and gain some of your life back. It is really predicated on how much damage you have to deal with to begin with. I was lucky, I had a loving and wonderful step-father, who literally saved my life by being my step-father. Sharing IS part of my recovery 😉

        • Franklin_Evans

          You’re most welcome. I’ve had the personal honor to be part of the healing process for others — 12 months as a volunteer (with professional training and supervision) for a crisis intervention service — and a close-enough personal background (abuse comes in many forms and degrees, no comparisons being offered by me except to acknowledge how much worse some have had it) to understand the possible extent of the injury and how very difficult the healing process can be.

    • Tzipora Katz

      I had met MZB long ago at some festival. Memory of which and what year are all blurry to me. Anyhow, we were introduced and I was “prepped” by someone who told me that MZB and I hit it off so well. Couldn’t have been further from the truth. I remember very clearly feeling slimy at ill after our brief meeting. At the time I chalked it up to the reality that I never liked any of her books.

      I see now that there was more to the story.

  • I am perhaps as comforted by the fact that Pagans are now openly discussing sexual abuse as I am saddened to hear yet another survivor’s painful story.

    Not to be alone in grieving turns out to be a big deal for me. (Not trying to speak for survivors, or to tell anyone else how to feel. But for me–there’s some comfort in the bare fact of our new-found openness to the conversation.)

    Thank you for continuing to cover stories on a painful subject. For me, at least, it helps.

    • Joy

      You’re not the only one.

  • Mary DeEditor

    I’ve heard persistent rumors that Marion Zimmer Bradley didn’t actually write most of “Mists of Avalon.” An unnamed intern/acolyte/grad student wrote most of it, certainly all the good parts. MZB didn’t acknowledge or credit her “co-writer,” but swept her aside in the book’s success. That might explain the unevenness of “Avalon,” and the sharp contrast with other MZB novels, which are generally of much lower quality.

    Has anyone else heard this rumor? Can anyone confirm it? If true, is it okay to like “Mists of Avalon” again?

    • krystyl

      There is nothing “wrong” with liking Mists of Avalon now, whether ghost-written or co-written or self-written.
      You can object to a person’s beliefs, practices, and so on, without necessarily dismissing their work. If you like the story, then enjoy it. If you can’t get past her history, then find another work from a different author that you like equally well. Just don’t think you MUST do away with the work because of the person behind it. If you don’t already own a copy and object to buying a copy because you don’t want to support her estate, then you can buy used (that book will have already supported her estate, but it won’t be your money doing so) or borrow it from a library whenever you feel like reading it (same story, money was already spent, but it wasn’t your money that she was to benefit from). If you already purchased a copy, then getting rid of it will not change that the money already went to the author. The only thing you can do is move forward, you can’t change the past. While the author’s actions are morally reprehensible, you cannot blame yourself for inadvertently supporting her when you did not have knowledge of her abuse.

    • Robert Mathiesen

      Yes, indeed. That rumor has been going around since Mists of Avalon was first published. It’s also pretty clear that she employed ghost writers for many of her works after Mists of Avalon. Recent printings of a handful of them have even named the ghost writer for those titles.

      I only met MZB once, briefly, after a lecture at Brown University, but I have been reading her since the ’50s, when I was a ‘teen in Berkeley. It seems to me that it was in the early ’60s when I first heard that she herself had been abused as a child and a ‘teen, and had married her first husband in a sort of “out-of-the-frying-pan, into-the-fire” futile attempt to escape that past. With that piece of information, so very much of her Darkover series came together for me with a loud click for the first time.

    • ELNIGMA

      No. Better to read someone else’s Arthurian stories or something, or some other fiction book. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mary-stewarts-merlin-trilogy-mary-stewart/1000176669?ean=9780688003470

      I think the clinging to some idea that because “Mists” became a best-selling New Age darling book means it had special, original qualities isn’t necessary.

  • I had discarded my copy of “Mists of Avalon” many years back, before I heard any of this; something in the final chapters had made me not want to read it again. For me, it is the memory of the many Darkover novels devoured as a young woman that is sullied the worst. I tend to think pedophiles are very damaged people — it is a sickness, I believe, and not merely a choice. So, if others can still treasure and read these works, I don’t think that is a bad thing. But it is certainly understandable if people simply don’t want to be reminded of the victims’ suffering inflicted by the liberties granted by fame and wealth TO create such victims.

  • Kathy Krauss O’Leary

    I’m finding myself getting very angry. Not because another Pedophile was exposed, but because she and her husbands abuse is being linked to Paganism. Lets just give the religious right another stone to through at us.

    No I am not a Bradley fan and never have been. I tried to read the Mists and found myself angry, there was just something that set off my alarm, and now I know why.

    I am a Pagan and have been for almost 50 years. I learned my craft and beliefs from teachers, not from books. I was not drawn to Paganism because of something someone wrote, but because at a very young age I knew it was where I belonged. That said, no I am not downing anyone who was drawn to the Pagan path because something they read clicked something in them and they needed to connect with that side of themselves. How you find your path is always personal.

    What I’m trying to say is that this article though good forms a link that is dangerous. It allows the RR to point at pagans and claim we are the monsters they have fears us to be. Yes Bradley and her Husband need to be seen for the sick people they were and condemned for the pain they inflicted on the victims of their abuse. She used her fame to gain access to children and that is a horrid thing, but like all pedophile she used what she had to get what she wanted.

    I lived through 10 years of sexual abuse, and many more years of physical and mental abuse. My abuser was Catholic, but that does not make all Catholics abusers. Just as Bradley being an abuser and a pagan does not make all Pagans abusers, but bringing up the fact that she was an icon to many Pagans and a Pagan herself wile discussing the fact that she has been uncovered as being a pedophile, is forming a link,that we do not need or want.

    Jason Pitzl-Waters could have very easily said that he was a great fan of Bradley and that her writings had, had an influence on his life without pointing out that it was one of the factors that brought him to Paganism. And that many other Pagans credit her for putting them on the path.

    • Elysia

      “Not because another Pedophile was exposed, but because she and her husbands abuse is being linked to Paganism. Lets just give the religious right another stone to through at us.” – not this again!!! Back in April, there was definitely a vocal minority criticizing coverage of another alleged Pagan pedophile because it would give people “ammunition” against Pagans. This is a completely regressive mode of thought.

      If we want to hold our heads up high among other religions, we have to stick to our values – one of which is transparency and equality, versus the hierarchy and secrecy that has made the Catholic church’s handling (or non-handling) of child abuse so damaging and sick. We have to be brave and responsive as a community, get out in front of these things, talk about them, air it out, and develop community responses and adopt guidelines for prevention of this behavior. That is the honorable thing to do. Not to sweep it under the carpet, deny or somehow downplay the connection to Paganism because we’re embarrassed/ashamed of it. Good job, Jason.

      • Yes. The religious right will say what it will, because they operate from a base assumption that all non conservative-Christians are debased and awful. That does not concern me. As a Pagan, what concerns me is our own ability and willingness to police and call out the predators in our own midst. Priorities.

      • Deborah Bender

        The strength of our community is not in numbers, financial resources, or political power. Our strength is in the love and trust we give each other, which while not perfect, motivates us to cooperate and support each other. When Pagans are able to abuse others without receiving notice and censure from other members of the community, it weakens the mutual trust and respect upon which our community depends.

    • happydog

      The Religious Right doesn’t have any stones to throw when it comes to sexual abuse of children, because there are enough right-wing child molesters out there to drive a truck over (and back up and drive over them again). I’m wondering if “not giving the Religious Right any ammunition,” is the same thing as hushing things up so the neighbors won’t hear.

      I’m not a fan of the snobbery that says, “I learned from teachers, not from mere books!” Well, good for you. How lucky you were. Now you can get off your high horse.

      • aw heck. That few? How about enough to pave an Interstate highway?
        Sorry, snark attack.

    • For what it’s worth, I broke Moira’s story, and I’m a Pagan.

      There are several narratives I couldn’t stop people from thinking, but still they weren’t a reason to prevent the story being told.

      Also — worrying about how Paganism LOOKS?

      Umm, why not worry about how Moira and her brother are doing?

      • Thank you for breaking her story. I think it needed to be heard.

        My son, who spent some time with hers, also stands up to bullies. He would do that for others, even when he couldn’t do it for himself.

      • ELNIGMA

        Hope they are doing well. It’s not possible for those who just learned of this to do anything about what happened to them, but I hope things will continue to get better.

      • NineOfCups

        Our world-view changes when we center the victim instead of the rapist. “How will this look for paganism?” and “But what about MZB’s literary legacy?” are questions in service to rape culture.

        Thank you for giving Moira a venue to share her story. I hope that she and her brother are receiving the support and love they need to continue their healing.

        • Thank you. I couldn’t quite articulate my feelings as well as you just did.

          The overwhelming support has been very helpful for them

    • mysticserpent007

      We cannot be concerned with what the religious right says about Pagans; they’re going to diss Pagans anyway no matter what Pagans do. Also the religious right has plenty of sex offenders in their own ranks.

      I, for one, agree with Gus; I’m glad Pagans have the maturity and courage to discuss abuse in their communities; something I doubt the religious right has the integrity to do.

      • Northern_Light_27

        I’m pretty sure that Christians of varying flavors have been discussing abuse within their own communities a hell of a lot longer than we have, so that we’re-more-mature dog simply won’t hunt. Don’t forget that much if not most of the work in bringing the story of the Catholic Church’s abuse history into the open, and trying to hold that Church accountable, was done by Catholics sick at what they saw around them. Think of the immensity of the backlash against those Catholic activists, and think how much they risked to do what they did and how enormous and powerful the machinery weighed against them, and then say they lack integrity or courage.

        I’m glad we’re talking about this now. But to say it gives us any kind of moral high ground is mistaken. (Also, given how often Pagans are also SF fans, I continually wonder why it takes greater Pagandom so long to catch up to discussions in fandom that have literally been going on for years. It’s good that we’re dealing with social justice issues, festival safety, rape and molestation in our communities, etc. but it would only take getting out of the Pagan bubble a bit to know that these discussions are and have been going on in other communities, and we’re latecomers to them.)

        • Macha NightMare

          We’re latecomers mainly because we’re young. First you need a movement, or religion, to develop before you have anything to rebalance.

          “[W[hy it takes greater Pagandom so long to catch up to discussions in fandom that have literally been going on for years” is because not all Pagans are SF readers or fans. My question would be if all these SF fans knew all this, why didn’t they bring it up to other Pagans?

          We are now dealing with things that every other religion in the world has experienced. How they dealt with these things, or refused to, is, to me, the measure of a social group’s (all kinds of groups of humans) healthiness and honor.

        • mptp

          Don’t forget that much if not most of the work in bringing the story of
          the Catholic Church’s abuse history into the open, and trying to hold
          that Church accountable, was done by Catholics sick at what they saw
          around them.

          Um, no. Try the Boston Phoenix newspaper which broke the story a year prior to the Boston Globe – that’s what brought it into nationwide limelight.

    • Sturgeon’s (and many others’) law: 90% of anything is crap. However, the RR and their ilk would speak ill of us for lesser faults.

      The non-Abrahamic religions have their jerks & creeps & criminals, same as any other group. Wish it weren’t so, but reality sucks.

      Unlike some religious and quazi-religious organizations, I think we’re not, as a group with no hierarchical leadership, less likely to cover our messes and hide them for decades. We also have no deep pockets…nor the ability to keep something like this hushed up for decades. We have neither that money nor that power. Perhaps that’s not so bad, here.

  • Joy

    This happened, and continued to happen, because individuals along the way decided that namedropping and ego building were more important than the well-being of the ‘little people’ (children in this case). Do we care enough to change that? I hope so.

    The better way to deal with this would have been to LISTEN to those who come forward about being abused in any way, no matter where they fall in any imaginary hierarchy (and let’s face it, we’re all human so they’re ALL imaginary).

  • Gus diZerega

    Movements and organizations generally cover up the crimes and
    serious shortcomings of major figures within them. I think it speaks
    very well of the moral maturity of the Pagan community that this is
    being aired- AND that the person who aired it is not being criticized,
    but praised.

    • I very strongly agree.

      That there are those who sexually abuse children who have ties to our movement is not news to anyone who understands sexual abuse and human communities. That this community is willing to confront that fact openly is.

    • RollingHerEyes

      Gus, yes that is one of the things I have been so happy to see happen: The lack of vilification of those that have come forward. I would also like to add to that: “the lack of the community’s outright acceptance of accusations and the usual resulting hysteria”. I have appreciated the thoughtful and researched responses that has been so prevalent here and elsewhere to date.

    • Tzipora Katz

      It is so good to this evolution within the community. So very good from where I sit

  • Hello Everyone, I am distressed and saddened by this news. Thank you Jason for your post. I don’t often participate on internet commentary but this subject is too vitally important and I do very much have something to say. Just a day ago my editorial that addresses how we, as a pagan community, can work to protect our children from abuse and molestation came out in the latest issue of Coreopsis. http://www.coreopsis.org. I urge everyone interested in implementing concrete procedures and policies that could at least better ensure children’s safety at pagan events and gatherings to give it a read. I put forward in that article the protocols which the Center for Missing and Exploited Children recommends that any organization or program which includes, or provides care for children would do well to adopt. The editorial is titled “Alarm in the Pagan Community: for the Protection of the Children.” While I wrote it and the poem of similar title also featured in Coreopsis’ current issue in response to the shocking and tragic events surrounding Kenny Klein and his molestation of many children and use of child pornography, all I have written is just as much relevant now, if not more so. I encourage that we begin an evolving and earnest dialogue about effective and tangible ways to respond within and across our various communities as it seems quite clear that the time for such an honest and necessary, however difficult, discussion of child abuse in our community and its prevention has come. I will try to look back at the comments here but would very much prefer a non-anonymous email as it takes a long time to navigate disqus with a screen reader and I also have mixed feelings about the culture fostered in the comment sections on internet websites. My email I’m giving out on forums is truthagainsttheworld3@gmail.com. In any case thank you again to Jason and may we continue to grow and heal and learn, stronger and wiser than before.

  • Deborah Bender

    This is a critique of MZB’s novels, not related to child abuse. I read most of the Darkover series when I was in my twenties and early thirties, and Mists later, shortly after it was published. I haven’t reread them since.

    The Darkover novels are soft science fiction with fantasy elements. One of their principal themes is how patriarchy operates, its practical and psychological effects on women (Bradley was less interested in its effects on men). IIRC, there are three major civilizations in the novels, at different levels of technological development, recognizable as analogous to civilizations in real Earth’s present or recent history. All the Darkoverian civilizations are patriarchal and they manifest patriarchy in different ways. The most technologically advanced society, which reads as American, looks down on the most backward, which reads as Arab, for its overt control and oppression of women, but lacks self awareness of its own woman-denigratng attitudes.

    The female characters in these novels have the options of making peace with the limited choices their societies offer women or joining the Renunciates, who reject all rewards and protections available to women who go along with the system, in favor of a measure of autonomy. Either course restricts a woman’s life opportunities. All the female characters are unhappy, whether they internalize the values of their cultures or vow lifelong opposition to those values. That IMHO is a realistic depiction of what patriarchy does to women. I read the novels to see how Bradley works out the details.

    When I read Mists of Avalon, it became clear to me that MZB was incapable of imagining a powerful, authoritative woman who is happy and enjoys her work. There are and have been real women like that, successful abbesses, queens, artists, businesswomen, but MZB could not conceive the outlook of such a woman.

    The priestesses of Avalon grow up and live in a society that is not patriarchal. That society is on the defensive. They have considerable prestige and authority. They are supported in their vocation by the values of their culture and have centuries of tradition to draw upon. The higher levels of the priestesshood have some choice about how they spend their time; they can make decisions that affect others; they believe in what they are doing. They are beleaguered by outside forces, but they have every reason to take pride in who they are and what they do. Despite this, none of these priestesses ever has a good day.

    Mists is a very long novel in which all the women are depicted as victims or traitors to their sex or both, none of them enjoys life, and none of them exercises the agency she has effectively to her benefit or the benefit of the values she cares about. It’s a staggering failure of imagination and I do not understand why so many readers thought it was a feminist novel.

    • Robert Mathiesen

      My take on MZB’s Darkover books is very like yours, Deborah. I would add that most of the fleshed-out native Darkovan characters in them, women and men alike, seem to me to live their entire lives in a haze of raw agony punctuated by occasional flashes of horror, all carefully masked by a veneer of civility and culture. The Darkovan men achieve their moments of respite through violence, limited by the strictures of the Compact. The Darkovan women, it seemed to me, rarely achieve any moments of real respite, but do not generally succeed in going numb either. I found them utterly fascinating at the time, but extremely hard to read more than once. Like no other novels they seemed to articulate my own personal experience and perception of all human life, from cradle to grave, as lived in perpetual terror as well as sporadic beauty, and of humans themselves as utterly depraved, yet also capable at times of amazing feats of altruism and nobility. (I was slightly more than a decade younger than MZB, and grew up looking backward in time. I dare say she had experienced life in much the same terms as I did, which would explain why her novels resonated so strongly with me, but were so hard to reread.) — I mentioned in another comment that hearing that MZB and her brother grew up in an abusive home was the final piece of information that let my partial perceptions of the Darkover novels click into place as a unified whole, which Deborah’s comment has now led me to articulate here.

    • Deborah Bender

      On reflection, I see reasons why Mists of Avalon was mistaken for a feminist work. 1) The author’s previous novels contain feminist elements. 2) The book tells the Arthurian story from a female POV and gives women a direct voice. 3) There are goddesses in it.

      Also, to be fair, Bradley was trying to do justice to the tragic elements of the Arthur/Morgaine story, and a tragic narrative can easily slip over into a celebration of victimhood.

    • Merlyn7

      It takes a long time in the novel for Morgaine to claim her power but by the time she rules in Wales with her consort she truly takes on the mantle of High Priestess and becomes a powerful force for change in that region. At the novel’s ending she reaches a state where she is able to look beyond her political failures and see that the will of the Goddess had been made manifest. It’s a powerful book and one that I have always found to contain deep spiritual significance. I don’t see its message (or the message of its sequels) being that women are meant to be victims.

      • Deborah Bender

        I only read the book once and by the time I got to the latter part, I was pretty fed up. I may have missed something.

        I can accept the idea that some human tragedies and some societal developments that seem to be turns in the wrong direction are the will of the Goddess. Not in the sense that we should accept suffering and failure passively, but that many outcomes are a necessary result of past actions or of natural laws, and also that destruction may clear the way for something new and valuable.

  • After reading through the transcript, I am appalled by MZB’s lack of concern about her husband’s molesting of young teens. But I admit I am not totally surprised by it. These abuses occurred many decades ago, during a time when our culture was reappraising many boundaries but our culture eventually came to understand how wrong sex between an adult and a young teen is. I am disappointed that she did not understand the depth of harm her husband was causing and especially that years later she had failed to evolve in her ethics on the sexual abuse of children.

    • RollingHerEyes

      I agree, but only to a point. Yes the 60’s and the 70’s saw a lot of this behavior being touted as “all right”, and “a new understanding” back then. About 25 years ago, when I confronted one of the much older men who, starting in 1970, inundated me with inappropriate advances, suggestions, and comments (let alone whole conversations – he was a close and weekly visitor to our house and my parents) about his behavior back when I was 16 (and on going for years – he was in his 30’s) and how it scared me, his response was to dismiss it and say “Oh that was back then! Things were different back then!” as a form of defense for what he did, and as far as I know, still does. He felt I was over reacting to something so long ago and in a different era. He seemed to think that excused him and he need not apologize now, nor recognize the damage it had done to me.

      Although it being the 60’s and 70’s may explain how and why things happened and did not happen, it in no way diminishes the damage, nor the responsibility of the adults of that time.

      • Constant Reader

        Agree 100%. The same thing happened in my family in the 70s. The victim was my sister, at age 15 through about age 19; the man was in his 30s. His advances were unwelcome, but tolerated by her because he was my father’s friend. At one point, he was living in our house. I went to my parents many times in anger and/or tears, begging them to stop this guy from behaving inappropriately toward my sister. I was only two years older. I had no special gifts or insights, I just had common sense and the ability to judge right from wrong.

        IMHO, in the 70s those acts were wrong and people of conscience knew they were wrong. The difference between then and now is what people are willing to look at, discuss, and do something about. The time frame may explain why your situation and my sister’s were ignored, but it doesn’t retroactively make those situations okay.

        • RollingHerEyes

          ABSOLUTELY CORRECT, IMHO! In fact when I was 15, in late 1969, my mother encouraged and not so subtly pushed me into the arms of a 27 year old pedophile (he was not called that back then, but that is what he was), for her own purposes and gain. My step-father came home, saw the two of us laying together on the bean bag watching TV. He took one look, turned around, stormed into my parents bed room and loudly yelled at my mother asking what the hell was she thinking. I was only 15, he yelled at her. That ended that, thank goodness, before anything bad actually happened to me that time. Like I said, he literally saved my life simply by being my step-father.

          • Constant Reader

            I’m sorry your mother did that, but I’m glad your step-father was a man who did the right thing. I admire your courage in speaking up and sharing your story.

          • RollingHerEyes

            Thank you.

          • Haragano

            You hit the nail on the head in your comment. The difference between and adult and a non adult. Your mother contrived to rationalize what she wanted regardless of the cost. Your step-father saw it was wrong and said so. A lot of people back then were in adult bodies but WERE NOT, and never became adults. Is that grounds for forgiveness? No. But it lends a modicum of understanding

          • RollingHerEyes

            By understanding my mother’s past, and the history of my family, has been helping me to realize that for the most part it was not personal, it was a manifestation of both her past and her mental illness. I remember a saying in the recovery community back in the late 1980’s: If what you did was “your best”, then your best was not good enough …

        • RollingHerEyes

          I forgot to say THANK YOU for standing up and protecting your sister the best your could. That took a great deal of courage, especially for some one your age back then! Brava!

    • She copyedited his book on pederasty not long after they got married. The Breendoggle broke before they got married.

      Let me put it this way: you’re fundamentally not realizing part of why they clicked. They were on the same page.

      • You’re right, Deirdre. I finally went back and read her daughter’s remarks and I have to agree that there was something very sick in both Breen’s and MZB’s minds.

  • Marrs Man

    This sick-feminist-sexist (Marion Zimmer Bradley) has put paganism on a path of imbalance. Paganism is supposed to be about harmony of woman and goddess. So many of us come to paganism from a culture obssesed with god, only to find a pagan culture with a sick obssesion with the goddess.

  • RollingHerEyes

    Okay, I just finished reading the deposition by Marion, and most of the other links and so forth …. I think that I will go to the corner and throw-up now.

    Reading Marion’s account at her deposition, in her own words, and learning about the connection to NAMBLA (and a mention of the OTO) has brought back memories of my uncle and my mother. Especially my mother. So many similarities between Marion and my mother. I think they could have been good friends ….. sigh!

    • Charles Cosimano

      Pretty easy to be exonerated by a jury made up of people who don’t want to be killed by insane fans.

      • RollingHerEyes

        Charles, your comment makes no sense to me. Please explain.

  • steeldrago

    the only issue i will take with this article is the inclusion of michael jackson. yes he was batshit crazy and did in fact endanger a child on the balcony if those were specified i would say nothing. however, this article is ultimately about pedophyllia and michael was not that and was exonerated of that medically and legally at all charges. i do fully agree otherwise.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Jason, thank you for this very important post. You do such an amazing job of writing about even very contentious issues within our community. It’s a more important gift than is often mentioned and you do it better than anyone else I know.

    As I’ve said at my own blog and at my Pagan Square blog, it’s important for us to keep having these discussions. I agree with Elysia that, “We have to be brave and responsive as a community, get out in front of
    these things, talk about them, air it out, and develop community.”

    As someone who’s taken and observed a number of depositions in my time, I admit to being a bit amazed at MZB’s responses to some of the deposition questions. She was either better prepared than most people or truly didn’t see much wrong with sexual abuse of minors.

    In either case, may those who have been harmed be surrounded with care from our community.

  • GibsonGirl

    I find it abhorrent that Michael Jackson be lumped into the same category as Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley by Mr. Goldin. Michael Jackson was a victim not an abuser. As far as the abuses (real) that were perpetrated by Marion and Walter, Moira Grayland, I feel, can only be telling the truth as a victim and witness to the abuses that she suffered through and saw first hand. I feel that her case is true one because she isn’t seeking money for her testimony or the outcome thereof, she only seeks to have the truth known and her story told as the “cautionary tale”.

    • Bridget

      Aside from whether Moira’s story is true or not: She could be planning to come out with a book of her own. I will reserve judgment on whether she has nothing to gain, until she has actually gained nothing. Wait a couple of years and look at this again.

      • Coming out with these accusations are certainly not going to help her sell her harp CDs http://www.moiragreyland.com/buy-albums That’s one reason I find her accusations to be credible since they would hurt Moira rather than help her. Remaining silent about the abuse and keeping her connection to her mother (“Avalon’s Daughter”) would have been better for her financially.

  • Cea Noyes

    I never liked The Mists of Avalon Series. I had been a practicing pagan for twenty plus years by the time I got around to it and while I know a lot of folks who really liked and recommended the books, I didn’t get them. I thought they’d be good as I thought she did a great job with the Darkover series. I developed a personal theory that she was channeling one of the Hasturs because (in my opinion) her only decent work related to Darkover. I was actually offended by The Mists as it seemed to me she had hopped on the broomstick and was merely trying to make a buck by writing harlequinized fantasy.
    Given her treatment of issues of gender in the Darkover Series I would, and did, think that she was aware of the misery that abuse causes. I am dismayed by this information, and I extend my sympathy to her victims. My Darkover books are getting quite tatty and I was going to replace them but not if it doesn’t benefit her victims in some way. I don’think we should separate the art from the artist in cases like these. Supporting the artist supports their life and the choices they make. I won’t watch a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski movie, no matter how brilliant they may be because I believe that doing so supports and in a way, pardons, their behavior.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    This has generated a fair amount of discussion, but I have only one question:

    Where do the proceeds of her book sales go?

  • thesilverspiral

    Let me state this: If you are loathing Bradley right now, but think we should separate the art from the artist, but you jumped on the “Let’s ban Kenny Klein’s books!” dogpile, you are a hypocrite.

    • kenofken

      I haven’t read any of them, but one crucial distinction in this sort of decision is that Klein is still alive. Buying his books puts money in his pocket and furthers his agenda/actions in this world. If you buy Bradley’s books these days, it doesn’t automatically put you in that position of funding something evil. It might, depending on who is running and profiting from her estate, if it is someone who participated in abuse or helped hide it, but there isn’t that immediate fear that your dollars might underwrite abuse or help someone evade responsibility for abuse etc.

      I used much the same reasoning in my decision not to see Orson Scott Card’s movie or to buy any of his books. It’s not that I think his works are “ritually impure”, it’s that I don’t want to enrich a guy who is virulently anti-LGBT, and who will use some of the money I might give him to oppress others.

  • EmmettGrogan

    Thank you for this article, Jason. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to write. I remember Morning Glory telling me back in 1999 that MZB, whom she knew pretty well (but not well enough to know about MZB’s child molesting), that Marion knew full well of her husband’s molesting and protected him. As well, the sci fi convention community also knew about it for years but covered it up and didn’t address it. I never knew about Marion molesting her children until I just read your article and I’m horrified. It also makes me wonder about Diana Paxton and what she knew, as she lived with them and was Marion’s ghost writer. I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but I am wondering. There were so many who knew, but who did nothing. I think people simply don’t know how to address this type of thing and need education about the topic and on what to do.

    • Robert Mathiesen

      MZB had other ghost writers as well as Diana Paxton. Rosemary Edghill (= eluki bes shahar) worked on MZB’s late “Light” tetralogy, though she wasn’t credited in the early copies that I have on my shelves. I have heard, but do not know how true it may be, that Elizabeth Waters did a lot of ghostwriting for MZB also.

      • And again, let’s be very careful about tossing names about with any implication that there’s guilt by association here. One of the things that is making it hard for some to accept the evidence of MZB’s abuse is that her writing is popular, but she was also well known for her generosity to many, many up and coming writers over the years. Just as it is possible for the same person to have written books that captured the imaginations of many good people, it is possible that she furthered the careers of many writers who had no idea about the abuse.

        • Robert Mathiesen

          Yes, this! Many a person who behaves monstrously in one area of life, behaves admirably and generously in another. This is just the human condition. Thank you, Cat!

    • Deborah Bender

      Diana Paxson is her name.

      • Robert Mathiesen

        Thanks for catching that. It wasn’t so much a typo as a momentary brain glitch.

    • Northern_Light_27

      I’ve been wondering that about Diana Paxson for a while now, enough to make me very uncomfortable about her.

    • How about we keep names of those who have not been directly implicated out of the comments, eh? It’s one thing to accept clear and unambiguous statements from a direct victim as highly convincing evidence of guilt.

      It’s another to move from that to guilt by association and rumor.

      I hope we can back off where we have no evidence–smearing someone’s reputation in public is no more a thing to take lightly than the difficulties in speaking out as Moira Greyland has done.

      Let’s have a little ethical restraint here. Jumping to conclusions heals NO ONE.

      • Northern_Light_27

        I don’t think it’s unethical to wonder what someone who lived there at the time knew, since afaik Paxson has made no statements on this issue at all. I agree the ghostwriters have a more remote connection, but I think it’s fair to ask what was known by someone in residence when/where abuse was happening.

        • And have you asked? Paxson, I mean–not an audience of strangers on the Web. Do you have an investigation you’d like to link to here, or are you, as it seems, simply speculating, because you find armchair commentary on other people’s tragedies intellectually interesting?

          In the absence of evidence, speculation is merely gossip. And _these_ allegations are far too serious for gossip to be ethical.

          Not to mention the irony that you’re comfortable airing these speculations from the safety of a pseudonym, Northern Light 27. What’s up with that?

          I’m all for public disclosure on the part of people who know what they’re talking about. But if you’re going to name names, cite your source and/or share your evidence. Don’t play games with the reputations of people you don’t know, based on knowledge you don’t have.

  • ELNIGMA

    Out of curiosity, when did MZB become Pagan?

    • MZB was baptized as an Episcopalian at 17. She explored Rosicrucian studies in college. Around 1959-1960 she and Breen founded the Aquarian Order of the Restoration. She was part of the Darkmoon circle around 1978 and that is when she was active in the Pagan community and in 1981 she was a leader of the Center for Non-Traditional Religion. However, in the 1990’s she returned to the Episcopal path saying that she was over Paganism.

      • Deborah Bender

        MZB wrote an article called “I Have Always Been a Priestess” which was published in an early issue of Womanspirit magazine around 1973 or 1974. The article was mostly about past life memories, but her owning the title of priestess at that date and choosing to write for Womanspirit, which was oriented toward non-Abrahamic spiritual exploration, puts the beginning of her pagan period back into the early 1970s at least.

      • Robert Mathiesen

        The seeds were planted when MZB was still a child living at home, I think in her high-school years. She told one of her biographers the story of how she would cut school regularly and spend the days and hours at an excellent public library, where she read through all the volumes of Hasting’s Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics and many other adult books on mythology and comparative religion. She went back to the Episcopal Church about the time when the chickens of sexual abuse began to come home to roost for her in the 1990s.

        • Robert Mathiesen

          The biographer in question was Rosemarie Arbur, IIRC.

  • steward

    2 things:

    1 – the accusations from Moira all seem to come through an intermediary, “Deirdre”. Moira, herself, paints quite a different picture of admiration of her mother on her website at http://www.moiragreyland.com/buy-albums

    2 – I realize that California does not make all citizens mandated reporters of abuse (18 states do), but I think statements from people who live or have lived at Greyhaven, and who knew Marion, are in order (if they would be so kind): http://www.grendelheim.com/greyhaven/who.htm

    • Morgan Dambergs

      1) Moira has addressed the allegation that, because she dedicated an album to her mother, her accusations cannot be true, in the comments on the deirdre.met blog post. It is the same post that includes an email and two poems by Moira verbatim, reprinted with her permission. Deirdre Saorise Moen has provided a platform for Moira to make her voice heard, but there is no evidence she has altered the words Moira provided, only published them.

      2) Many child abusers have people who like them and will rush to their defense, often because they are shocked to think that someone they know and like could do something so horrible. So no, I don’t think statements from people who knew and liked MZB can be taken as evidence that she could not have molested Moira. I hope it simply means they did not know and/or do not know how to deal with the information, rather than that they did know and turned a blind eye.

      • Yes.

        That a child has said positive things about a parent does not mean that their later reports of abuse are not credible. Most of us have complicated feelings about our parents, and few of us are comfortable airing painful memories in public–even without histories of childhood abuse or the added issue of a parent’s celebrity to make the message even more loaded.

        If we keep expecting it to be self-evident who does or who doesn’t molest children, we’ll keep turning away from the vast majority of child sexual abuse. It is genuinely difficult even for those who have been specifically trained in working with perpetrators to recognize most of them.

        I think it’s time we grew up, as a society, and recognized that we can’t know everything we wish we could about other human beings, and that sometimes figures we would like to admire do things that we find painful to accept. Humans are capable of all kinds of things, and we are none of us so very wise that we can fully know even all the people we interact with on a daily basis.

        To believe otherwise is the destructive kind of “magical thinking,” not the spiritually powerful kind.

      • Robert Mathiesen

        Often, too, the child in a family who was most heavily abused by her parents is the child who ends up taking loving care of her parents when they can no longer take care of themselves. The emotional bond that child forms with her parents can be stronger than the bond her siblings form with the same parents. This was certainly the case of my grandmother and her horrifically violent parents.

        So it’s quite possible that Moira Greyland had formed that sort of emotional bond with MZB, which was reflected in the dedication in her album. This sort of devotion between abused and abuser cannot ever serve as hard evidence that the abuse did not happen.

        It is unpleasant to contemplate why this should be so, but it is also necessary. Contrary to every humane intuition, violence can actually produce the same intense emotional connection that nurture or sex can. The way human nervous systems are wired, each of the three kinds of experience can even produce orgasms in some people. Mothers not all that rarely experience it while nursing a child {as we were told in our childbirth education classes back in the late ’60s and early ’70s); and men — even straight men — fighting one another outside a bar also sometimes find the physical violence orgasmic, no matter who wins the fight. So unusually abusive parents often can produce the same sort of close emotional bond in their children as unusually nurturing parents can.

        • Deborah Bender

          I believe I’m going to out grim you. The family history I am sketching here did not involve violence, physical neglect, sexual misbehavior, substance abuse, insanity, or conscious malice, just run of the mill emotional screwups among basically decent people. However, I think it would apply to families with more extreme problems.

          Some reasons why a grown child who has had a difficult relationship with a parent might volunteer to be a loving caregiver to that parent: 1) When parents can no longer take care of themselves, the power relations between parent and child are reversed. For the first time, the adult child has some leverage over how interactions between them go. 2) The illness and frailty of the parent may make it harder for them to push the offspring’s emotional buttons. 3) The caretaker child, who may have previously been criticized or looked down on by other family members, sometimes garners brownie points from those relatives for volunteering to take care of a job they are unable or unwilling to do. They may even express gratitude. 4) This is the last possible opportunity for the child to demonstrate to the parent that he or she is a good child. 5) Depending on how bad things have been between them and how the parent behaves toward the child when dependent on his or her care, it’s possible for an adult child to be a kindly and attentive caretaker while quietly experiencing a degree of schadenfreude over the parent’s decline, observed up close. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

  • Jen Riley

    Thank you for writing about this. As MZB died when I was 19, I actually had no idea. I probably began reading her books when I was 16 or so. As a survivor myself from a family that didn’t believe me I actually almost threw up and took her books out of my shelf. I wish I could separate the crimes of a creator from their creations, but in this instant I cannot. I will do not harm in my reaction to this news, but I cannot condone the author either by having her books present in my house.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Another disturbing case. But what we do just ignore it because the person was Pagan? No that would be like so many other groups. But it is the reason I tell new Pagans to treat all strangers, including Pagan ones, with the same caution and if something feels not right leave and avoid future contact. It is easier to avoid trouble that to try to heal from it. Each of us is the first defense against bad things. Sometimes we have to go by our instincts. Thanks for the story hard as it was to read.

  • Maya

    I believe that the prevalence of abuse in all communities is a major cause of so many problems and may be the core problem of our civilization. Just think about how many of your friends have suffered sexual abuse or torture at the hands of their parents or step-parents or other family members.When children are abused, they cannot learn well because their mental energy is involved with trying to cope; they are more likely to have problems in school and to get involved with criminal activity and drugs (self-medicating) and to endure mental illness as an adult. When people are abused and do not walk a path of self-healing, they bring their woundedness into adult life. Their wounds lay in the subconscious and may result in their own abusive behavior. It does no good to demonize those who abuse. Their evil behavior is usually rooted in their own abuse as children. However, this does not absolve them of wrongdoing, they must take responsibility for their actions and work to change — and that would include getting treatment for themselves. We can view the world’s history of wars breeding wars as another example of the cycle that abuse engenders. We are wounded and we wound in retaliation and then the whole thing cycles over and over again. I also view our easy abuse of the earth as a part of this same syndrome. If our model for human relationships is based on people disrespecting other humans, how are we going to respect non-human beings? We abuse the very animals that give themselves up for our survival . . . Somehow we must break the cycle and focus on all of us recovering from millennia of abuse in so many forms. I don’t pretend to know how to do this other than: if we have been abused, make sure we find a path to healing; if we know abuse is happening, intervene to prevent it.

  • RollingHerEyes

    I have read a lot of comments here about how or should a person separate the abuser from their art. There has also been talk about how could Moira say such loving things about MZB and still be believed now.

    1. As a survivor, an artist, and a survivor who abuser was a very talented artist I can Yes ….. and …. No. I can objectively separate who and what my mother was and did from her art. I can appreciate and love the art that she did and still feel about her and what she did to me at the same time. My mother was not an evil troll, she was a severilly damaged person. This in of itself does not absolve her, for she knew she was doing wrong (which is why she hid most of it, then lied about it), but I can see her as a whole person. I can grieve for the child that she was, the adult who continued to be abused, and the damaged person she became. It also does not diminish how I feel, what I experienced, nor the resulting damage of her actions. It is possible to separate ……. most of the time. In this there is also the ability to appreciate the influences my mother had on my artistic life as well, both good and bad. But, if appreciating her work benefited her in some way, especially if I had to spend money or cause money to be given to her for my appreciation, I doubt I would have done so. I would admire from afar. I have this problem with people Like Woody Allen and so forth. Love their work, but do not in anyway have them benefit from my loving their work.

    2. Abuser and the abused have a complicated relationship. The struggle that abused children have when their abuser is a parent or caretaker is multifaceted:

    A. This is the person whom you love and who is suppose to love and care for you.

    B. Abusers are never horrible 24/7, in fact they can be great, loving people in between. This causes the unstable constant state of stress of love/hate, fear/security state of being for the child. Someone abused by a stranger or someone not close to them is allowed to hate that person. When it is your parent (the person that is suppose to love you, and who can convince you from infancy that you are the one with the problem. not them), hating them is both psychologically and socially forbidden. Especially before the late 1980s. This is many time worse for someone who’s abusing parent is loved and admired by 1,000s of other people. The child can and often does turn on themselves and begin to believe that they must be wrong about how they feel since no one else seems to feel that way about the abusing parent.

    C. Love is also complex, so is the desire to be loved. This often plays into the abused child’s desire and need to get love and acceptance from the abused parent. It can make them cleave to each other more closely, even violently so.

    When my mother died, two things happened that surprised me. 1. I grieved for her, even cried heavely, and suddenly all this love for her came rushing forth. When I asked my therapist about this, she pointed out that before, when ever I showed my love towards her and around her, she would use that against me and as a weapon to hurt me, till the day she died. So though I loved her all along, it was not safe for me to feel or express it till she was dead. and 2. I realized that I forgave her …. for most of it … but not all of it.

    Like I said, love is complicated.

    • I really hope that, as a community, we can learn to listen to the full complexity of what survivors feel. I’d really like Paganism to be a safe place for survivors to speak their truths and to be heard clearly…on their own terms.

      Love is complicated.

      Blessed be, Rolling Her Eyes.