Archives For abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was one of the boys who found his body.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what we do know about perpetrators?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen

  • Noted naturalist and author Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday after battling leukemia. Mattheiseen, a Zen Buddhist, wrote over 30 novels, was an environmental activist, co-founded the Paris Review, and famously wrote “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” which chronicled the story of Leonard Peltier. Quote: “Matthiessen is held in such high regard as a nonfiction writer by nonfiction writers that they sometimes say, ‘How is it possible that this guy can be such a virtuoso fiction writer, and give his equally substantial body of nonfiction work such short shrift?’ Because all the rest of us are trying to do what we can to mimic his nonfiction work.” What is remembered, lives.
  • Two people in Western Kentucky have been arrested on charges of committing sexual offenses against children. One of them, Jessica M. Smith, allegedly described herself as a Witch and threatened the children with her powers. Quote: “Prosecutors say the two threatened the children with ‘hexes and curses’ [...] Police said Smith described herself as a witch and told the kids ‘she was going to put a spell on them’ and that ‘if they told anyone, something bad would happen to them.’”
  • A federal appeals panel has ruled that New York City has the right to block religious services in public schools. Quote: “The decision does not mean that the city must force religious groups out of the schools, but merely that a city prohibition on religious worship services in schools would comply with the Constitution.” Appeals are expected.
  • It seems that “real housewife” Carlton Gebbia isn’t the only reality television star who has practiced Wicca. It seems that Millionaire Matchmaker star Patti Stanger was a “real Wiccan” for six years. Quote: “I’ve studied Kabbalah, I’ve studied Wicca, so you can’t be like that. You can’t throw stones at people, because karmically it’s going to come back to you even worse then you threw it at them.”
  • Is the Internet destroying religion? A new study makes the case that the rise of the Internet has been an important factor in individuals abandoning traditional forms of religious practice. Quote: “Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.” Of course, correlation is not causation, but Downey says that “correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely.”
Terence Spencer—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Terence Spencer—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these we may expand into longer posts as needed.

On Tuesday, following an investigation by state law enforcement in Louisiana, Pagan author and musician Kenny Klein was arrested on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.

Kenneth Klein's arrest photo.

Kenneth Klein’s arrest photo.

“Kenneth Klein, 59, was arrested around 7 a.m. at his home on the 2800 block of Carondelet Street. Detectives in the State Police Special Victims Unit began investigating Klein in February after receiving a tip about his online activities. Upon executing a search warrant of Klein’s residence, they discovered on his computer a large volume of explicit photos and videos involving minors under the age of 13 engaging in sexually explicit activities, according to an arrest report. Klein admitted to detectives that the computer was his and that he had used the computer to share and download the explicit material, the report says.”

Klein has been a visible presence in the modern Pagan movement for over 30 years. He has performed and taught at festivals, writtten books, contributed to magazines, and taken part in various pan-Pagan endeavors. The news of his arrest went out on Wednesday afternoon; by Thursday, social media had exploded with discussion about Klein. Many were shocked and horrified by the allegations made in the news article, but perhaps more disturbing are the emerging voices that allege Klein made advances towards them, or their friends, while they were minors.  One of them is Vyviane Armstrong, a Priestess with the Sisterhood of Avalon.

“Back in 1996/1997 I was sixteen years old and new to Paganism. I attended many Pagan festivals in my home state of Georgia, and got involved in hanging out behind the scenes at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. It was during this time I met Kenny Klein. I attended his concerts as he was one of the first Pagans I met in person and was certainly the first “famous Pagan” I had met. He started flirting with me which made me very uncomfortable. Despite no reciprocation on my part, he continued to relentlessly pursue me. This included heavy inappropriate flirting and sexual innuendos, him offering me alcohol constantly, as well as using various tactics (books, food, etc) to encourage me to go somewhere alone with him, and other inappropriate gestures which, as an adult, I can look back upon and see as incredibly manipulative. He would come up and wrap me up in his cloak and hug me, which sounds benign, but I had asked him multiple times to stop and it was just horrible. This happened over the course of two Faire seasons. It is important to note that during this time there was a huge overlap between the Georgia Pagan community and those who work and perform at the Georgia Renn Faire.

Although I voiced my concerns with the Faire organizers, and adult leaders in the general Georgia Pagan community, I felt as if I was not being taken seriously. I grew even more concerned when I saw one of my fourteen year old friends sitting on Kenny’s lap and drinking from his flask. I was told that Kenny was a long time Renn Fairer and Pagan Elder, and that he was just being ‘friendly’ and my concerns were brushed aside. Wikipedia puts his age at the time to be 43. I chose to stop going to Faire altogether because I could not deal with the constant harassment from Kenny any longer.”

You can read Armstrong’s entire statement, here. In it, she also says that she is in contact with others who have had similar experiences. At a Patheos.com article regarding Klein’s arrest, a commenter using the pseudonym of “EnergyFiend” said she and her friends encountered this behavior as well.

“He would run children’s workshops whenever he could at gatherings when I was younger (maybe still, I don’t know). I was a 12 yr old girl back in the early 90′s when I first encountered him back before the first round of this came out. I have been warning parents ever since, when I notice he’ll be at a gathering I’m going to, because people in a religious/spiritual community have this odd blind trust in it’s leaders, and that includes leaving their children alone with him while predators sing or tell stories. So maybe you don’t have kids (I don’t), but it’s all our responsibility to speak up when we see injustice and not “protect the community” as has been done for more than 20 years now. [...] Luckily, what he did to me was just creepy and inappropriate. Trying to get me alone, giving me massages, etc. I had close friends who were younger and not so lucky. They did go to the police and he still got away with it. No one believed them.”

Another Pagan, who requested anonymity, also contacted me to share her story.

“Kenny cajoled me into doing a set of nude photos when I was about 18 or 19, essentially using the ‘nudity at a Pagan festival’ vibe to justify it–it was my first festival. Never touched me, the photos were not explicit, just nude chick in the woods. Still, I knew something was wrong and I never felt good about it.”

All of these narratives about Klein in our community begin with his former wife, Priestess, and singing partner, Tzipora Katz, who revealed to me in a phone conversation on Thursday night that she and her children were abused during their relationship, which ended in 1992. However, despite the pain, anger, and worry that these new developments have brought about, Katz says that she wants her voice to bring healing and closure, and wishes that Klein could have gotten help those many years ago. Katz further expressed that our community needs to recognize the “walking wounded” among us, and that we should be there for them, with each of us becoming “the community you want to be.” In our conversation, Tzipora Katz parted with a simple hope: “I don’t want anyone to suffer the way we suffered.”

While Klein has not been yet been tried or convicted on the charges for which he was arrested, nor faced legal proceedings for these additional allegations, the Pagan community has taken his seeming confession, and the testimony of those who’ve interacted with Klein, seriously. Ramifications for this arrest are already starting to ripple outward. Immanion Press / Megalithica Books has pulled Klein’s book “The Flowering Rod” from their publication lineup.

“The Flowering Rod by Pagan Author and Musician Kenny Klein is being pulled from our line of Esoteric Non-Fiction books as a response to the recent news that Kenny Klein has been charged of downloading and sharing child pornography. Mr. Klein has admitted his guilt in this matter, and we do not feel that we can, in good conscience, continue to publish his book. We are removing the book from our line-up effective immediately. At Immanion Press we do not believe in knowingly supporting acts of behavior that violate the Pagan community or how it is represented to the world by our authors. We are committed to publishing books that help the communities we are a part of, but we also believe that any author is a role model and should behave accordingly. We offer our condolences to people who have been effected negatively by this situation or any other actions Mr. Klein has done.”

Meanwhile, PNC-Minnesota reports that Witches & Pagans Magazine has suspended Klein’s blog at their PaganSquare site, pending the outcome of the trial, Sacred Harvest Festival has cancelled his pending appearance at their festival, and Llewellyn Worldwide has issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed to learn of the allegations against one of our authors.” Also speaking out are clergy from the Blue Star tradition of Wicca, where Klein was a High Priest. Here’s a statement from Keith Campbell, a 3rd degree Blue Star initiate from Pennsylvania.

“Like most Craft traditions, Blue Star is composed of many independent, autonomous covens and groves, and no person or organization can speak for the tradition as a whole. Speaking only for myself, news of Kenny Klein’s arrest deeply saddens and troubles me, and my thoughts and prayers are with his coven and grove at this extremely difficult time. 
 
The acts of which he is accused are very serious, and do not reflect the values, principles, or teachings of my tradition. I certainly don’t have enough information yet to make any judgments about what is and is not fact in a very complicated situation; that is the task of the courts. I pray that the investigation and judicial process will lead to truth, and that out of truth comes justice. I pray that all those affected by this issue find healing and peace.”

No doubt further actions from these parties, and others, will happen once a verdict is reached in this case.

As for the larger Pagan community, many of whom may have had several uneventful or positive interactions with Klein over the years, there can be many conflicting emotions relating to this situation. Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan psychotherapist whose specialty was counseling survivors of childhood sexual abuse, counsels against thinking that all abusers are obvious or easily found out.

“Some of us have given in to the temptation to dismiss Klein as simply a creep. It’s important though, to remember that if we allow ourselves to believe that all perpetrators are simply and obviously creeps, we’ll refuse to see the perpetrators who don’t fit that stereotype. There may have been warning signs to some, but not everyone saw them. And that may not be about blindness, either–it’s best not to make that assumption, and not only risk blaming victims, but also risk failing to see future perpetrators, if they don’t seem ‘obvious.’ I write this as a former psychotherapist, who worked as a counselor in the field of sexual abuse for about 20 years. I vividly remember the first perpetrator it turned out I knew: he’d been a local minister who had been active on the same board I had, that founded a battered women’s center. That disabused me of the notion that, as a trained professional, I, at least, could ‘always spot’ a perpetrator. It’s important to pay attention to signs of trouble; it’s more important to structure kids’ programs in a way that is likely to keep them safe (like always having two or more adults in charge of kids, and free access and open visibility to parents at all times). But it’s also important to remember we won’t always know, and we won’t always keep kids safe. We’ll do better if we do our best with a little humility.”

This arrest, and the shockwaves it has sent through the Pagan community, are bringing about important conversations about how we address abuse in our interconnected communities, and how we react when serious allegations are made in our communities and at our events. As this issue progresses, The Wild Hunt will continue to explore not only this story, but how we can move towards being a healthier, safer, more transparent, community.

Note: Tzipora Katz wants the community to know that her children do not want to discuss this matter publicly, and that anyone wanting to reach out to them should contact her directly first, so they can speak when they’re ready.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

idle

  • Climate Progress reports on efforts by an alliance of Native American nations, activists, and environmental groups, to stop the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Lakota land. Quote: “In the wake of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statementfor the Keystone XL pipeline which sparked nearly 300 protest vigils across the country, a group of Native American communities have added their voices to the calls to reject Keystone XL. In a joint statement — No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands — Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred announced their intention to peacefully resist the construction of the pipeline slated to cut through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.” You can read the full statement, here.
  • Amnesty International has released a statement saying “after 38 years time to release indigenous leader Leonard Peltier.” Quote: “It is time for the USA authorities to release Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who has been imprisoned for 38 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction. Leonard Peltier was arrested 38 years ago today in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to having been present during the incident, Leonard Peltier, who in 1977 was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders, has always denied killing the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.”
  • A woman charged with the sexual abuse of children allegedly tried to silence victims by saying she was a witch, and that she would utilize spells against them if they talked. Quote: “Shocking is perhaps the best word to describe the allegations against Jessica Smith. But perhaps it also best describes her self-proclaimed job title. ”Ms. Smith led the children to believe that she was a witch, a practicing witch. [She]would place hexes or spells on the children if they revealed any of the facts that had happened,” Richmond said. “Of course, these children are young and they believed her. As if what [the victims] witnessed at that point wasn’t enough, now they think someone is going to cast a spell on them.” There’s no confirmation of whether she actually adhered to some form of religious witchcraft, or if it was merely a ruse.
  • “Conscience” laws are redundant, and largely politically motivated, and even lawmakers in South Dakota realize that. Quote: “As Americans United has pointed out several times, the First Amendment already protects members of clergy from being compelled to officiate at marriage ceremonies. Why can’t a same-sex couple demand a church wedding? For the same reason that a Protestant couple can’t just walk into a Roman Catholic church and demand that the priest marry them. Members of the clergy have an absolute right to determine the parameters for the sacraments they offer. If a couple doesn’t meet those criteria, the pastor is free to show them the door.”
  • Religion Clause reports that a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in State v. Armitage says Native Hawaiians are not infringed on by making them obtain a permit to enter an island reserve. Quote: “The Hawaii Supreme Court held that the rights of Native Hawaiians are not infringed by a statute limiting entry into the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve only to those who obtain authorization to do so through a written application process.  Defendants claim they were traveling to the island to proclaim the right of the “Reinstated Kingdom of Hawaii” to the island. The court rejected defendants’ arguments that their entry was protected by the Art. XII, Sec. 7 of the Hawaii Constitution which protects the right to engage in traditional and customary Native Hawaiian subsistence, cultural and religious practices.”
A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

  • Global Post has a photoset up focusing on Palo in Cuba. Quote: “The cultures of Cuba’s many African descendants run deep across the island. They blend with the country’s traditional Roman Catholic practices to create vibrant mixtures. Photographer Jan Sochor captures the ritual scenes here in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, in particular capturing Palo rituals. A religious practice often confused with Yoruba religion (Santeria), but distinguished by more underground practices and initiations.”
  • Is cultural Christianity dead? That’s what  R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserts. Quote: “There was in the center of the country — and I don’t mean that geographically, but culturally — a cultural religiosity that was, in the main, a cultural Christianity that trended in one direction for the better part of 60 to 70 years, and it had a kind of moral authority that is disappearing before our eyes.” 
  • Don’t be a jerk, don’t deface ancient rock formations. Quote: “Prosecutors have filed charges against two former Boy Scout leaders accused of toppling one of the ancient rock formations at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. State Parks officials say Glenn Taylor is charged with criminal mischief. David Hall is charged with aiding criminal mischief, another felony.”
  • Early Americans really didn’t like the Quakers much. Quote: “Known today for their pacifist and quietist ways, Quakers had an altogether different reputation in the seventeenth century: belligerent and boisterous rabble-rousers. Fueled by evangelical zeal, and asserting radical ideas for the time, the Quakers were aggressive proselytizers. As a result, they faced violent persecution in England and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands, where many migrated. News of their beliefs (e.g. equality for women, refusal to swear oaths, etc.) and their tactics (e.g. preaching loudly and publicly, disrupting worship services, etc.) reached the colonies before the Quakers did. Connecticut, in fact, banned Quakers in October 1656—prior to any Quakers having ever reached the colony.”
  • What’s it like being a Pagan at Penn? Pretty lonely, it seems. Quote: “Deidre Marsh, a College senior, founded Penn Wheel a semester ago in order to build a community for earth-based religions and paganism. But even in a school of over 10,000 undergraduates, Marsh has been unable to find anyone else who shares her religious beliefs.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

The Temple of Witchcraft Wins Zoning Permission: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, has received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft has received final approval to expand its operations on North Policy Street, despite opposition from neighbors. The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to grant the nonprofit organization the permission it needs to relocate from 2 Main St. to a two-story building at 49 N. Policy St.”

Opponents insisted this was only about traffic and noise, and not about Witchcraft, though one neighbor did question if the Temple of Witchcraft was “truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption.” Still, this is a win, and I congratulate the temple on their new home.

UK Witches in Sexually Abusive Coven Found Guilty: Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp have been convicted of being involved in a pedophile ring that used the trappings of Wicca to lure in young girls in order to sexually abuse them. Their abuse, which involved “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five,” was also linked to murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim.

peter petrauske

Peter Petrauske

“Petrauske was said to be the “high priest” of a witches’ coven in St Ives, Cornwall, and ordered the girls to carry out his sick fantasies. The court heard Kemp videoed the abuse, but also took part in the assaults, along with friends Solheim and Stan Pirie – a notorious paedophile who died in jail following his conviction for sex abuse in the mid-2000s. The duo’s victims gave harrowing evidence from behind a screen during the three-week trial. They said they were then abused by their tormentors, before being given money and sweets to buy their silence.”

As I said when I first reported on this, “those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.” I can only hope the victims find some measure of closure with their conviction.

More on the Pagan Federation Charity Fight: Third Sector Magazine reports on the Pagan Federation’s fight for charity status in England and Wales after being recently denied for not meeting “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.”

Pagan Federation

“The commission’s decision is interesting, says Emma Moody, head of charities at the commercial law firm Dickinson Dees, because it has said in the past that it is not the regulator of religion. But it is now saying, she says, that the Pagan Federation is not a religion because it does not meet its requirements.”

The Wild Hunt recently interviewed  The Pagan Federation’s president, Chris Crowley, about the matter, and he said that the organization will “not give up and keep hammering away” until it is recognized as a charitable Pagan organization. We’ll keep you updated as this story progresses.

Charles Jaynes Denied Religious Name Change: Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge this past November wanting to change his name to “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” in what he claimed was a necessary step in his growth within the Wiccan religion. Now, the judge has denied that request, stating “that allowing the Petitioner’s petition for change of name is inconsistent with public interests.”

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

The decision also states tht due to Jaynes’ history of using aliases, concealing his identity and eluding criminal prosecution, “an allowance of the Petitioner’s change of name petition jeopardizes public safety.”

As I said previously, this case points to how badly we need effective, and supported, Pagan chaplaincy in our prison system (and better information about Paganism available in general). Perhaps this name-change request might still have gone forward, but it may not have had the label “Wicca” put on it in the process. Be sure to read the very insightful comments on this issue at my original post.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Jeet-Kei Leung, a researcher into ”transformational festival culture,” heads up a new web documentary series entitled “The Bloom” about these events. The first episode is due in February, but you can watch this 9-minute preview video now, featuring some familiar faces (and places) and plenty of Pagan-friendly themes. Quote: “Amidst the global crisis of a dysfunctional old paradigm, a new renaissance of human culture is underway [...] THE BLOOM tells the vibrant, compelling and colorful story of a cultural renaissance in progress with the artistic sensibility and inspired creativity from which the culture has been birthed.”
  • Art dealer and museum curator Carine Fabius writes about Baron Samedi, Haiti’s Lord of Death and Sexuality, and why the Haitian people love him. Quote: “I also reminded people that the Baron isn’t just the Spirit of Death. As many of the numerous works featuring larger-than-life phalli imply, he is also the Spirit of Sexuality, the extension of which is life. The Baron is death in charge of life; he is a guide and source of comfort during difficult times, and the one who takes life away. He may be unpredictable but he is God’s ultimate helper.”
  • Yesterday was a unique calendrical event: 12-12-12, which of course means that someone had to do something stupid, like carve a pentagram into his 6-year-old-son’s back. Quote: “According to CBS DFW, Brent Troy Bartel of Richland Hills, Texas, told a 911 dispatcher early Wednesday that he had carved the religious symbol — often used as a symbol of faith by Neopagans — on his 6-year-old child because ‘it’s a holy day.’” The star, or pentagram, is a symbol used by many faiths, philosophies, and traditions, and this has nothing to do with modern Paganism. Bartel is now in custody, the boy is in stable condition, and with his mother.
  • The Cornwall “Paganism Sex Case” (as dubbed by the BBC), which I’ve covered here previously, has now been turned over to a jury for a verdict. Quote: “Prosecutor Jason Beal said the duo had “used the cloak of paganism” to commit the offences. He said Mr Kemp had “put up a number of explanations” for him being linked with the case, but they were nothing more than “diversions” or “red herrings”.” During the course of the hearing, murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim was also accused of being part of their group (Solheim was murdered by a former lover).
  • The male lead in Bollywood film Ek Thi Daayan, Emraan Khan, is apparently talking to real-live Wiccans to better research for the supernatural witchcraft-themed film. Quote: “The actor didn’t know that many practitioners of the Wiccan craft reside in Mumbai, in fact, he didn’t even know that certain forms of witchcraft are practiced till today [...] the actor is making the rounds of the plush residences in Mumbai where Wiccans stay and practise their craft. Emraan visits them diligently, to find out more about their customs and philosophies. Friends of the actor say his research has made quite an impression on him.” So now you know where Wiccans live in India, the “plush residences” of Mumbai!
  • With a new film treatment of “On the Road” on its way, Scott Staton at the New Yorker considers Neal Cassady as a sort of American “muse and demigod,” a holy fool, “the consummate hipster-savant.” Quote: “He presented an extreme embodiment of American freedom to close friends who were determined to become writers, and in being thus grafted onto their work, he became an unlikely literary legend.”

  • Singer, songwriter, and visual artist Phildel sent me a link to her new video “Storm Song,” saying that it’s “a celebration of the natural world,” and that she has “always enjoyed a strong spiritual connection to nature.”I think many folks here will enjoy the song, and the imagery in the video. Her debut album “The Disappearance of the Girl” is set for release in January 2013.
  • “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson says that “West of Memphis,” the documentary on the West Memphis 3 that he produced with partner Fran Walsh, was one he “never intended to make,” but that “it turned out to be the most important one they’ve ever made.” Quote: “Their support turned into funding of scientific research and, when they felt they needed to present the evidence to the public, they eventually decided to make a documentary on their findings. They asked Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) to direct.” For all of my coverage of the West Memphis 3, click here.
  • The Baltic Crusades were pretty terrible it turns out: “The Baltic Crusades left major ecological and cultural scars on medieval pagan villages, and new archaeological evidence shows the campaign caused deforestation, pushed species to extinction and may have even ended a pagan practice of eating dogs.” I guess it was good for the wild dogs, but still. Pretty bad.
  • More and more people are starting to notice that the “religiously unaffiliated” are becoming an important voting demographic. Quote: “The religiously unaffiliated voters are almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals are Republican, polls show. Their overwhelming support of Obama proved crucial in a number of swing states where the president lost both the Catholic and Protestant vote by single and low-double digits, but won the “nones” by capturing 70-plus percent of their votes.” Maybe it’s time to tone down the Christian culture war stuff?

That’s it for now! My best wishes to everyone heading to Between The Worlds! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Two men, Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp, are currently standing trial in Cornwall over the alleged abuse of “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five.” According to testimony, the two men, and other unnamed members of a Witches’ coven, would ply the girls with alcohol, have them undress, then involve them in ritualistic sex-acts.

peter petrauske

Peter Petrauske

“Pagan ceremonies with a coven of white witches in mid and west Cornwall were cited when the trial of two men accused of sexually abusing children over a number of years began at Truro Crown Court on Monday. In the dock were 69-year-old Jack Kemp, of Grenville Road, Falmouth, and Peter Petrauske, 72, who at the time of his arrest last December was living at The Beacon, Falmouth. Petrauske has denied raping one girl and three charges of assault. Kemp has denied aiding and abetting attempted rape and 15 charges of assault.”

Kemp has a previous charge of child abuse, both men deny the charges against them, which involve alleged incidents that reach back to the 1970s. The Pagan Federation, one of the oldest and largest Pagan advocacy organizations in the UK, released a statement which reiterated its stance regarding sexual ethics in modern Pagan religions.

“The Pagan Federation believes that sexual activity between consenting adults is a matter only for those consenting adults. However, in no way is any sexual activity engaged in with children or vulnerable persons ever appropriate. Such activity does not form a part of any Pagan path and, should any Pagan be found to be engaging in sexual activity with a child, officers of the Pagan Federation would not hesitate in communicating those concerns with the appropriate authorities.”

Sadly, a number of individuals have used the largely decentralized and non-hierarchical nature of modern Pagan faiths in order to abuse young men and women for their own gratification. From Colin Batley’s pseudo-Thelemic sex cult, to pathetic individuals like Daniel Hess or Kenneth James McMurray. Even the John Friend scandal, which involved nominally consenting legal adults, shows how some warp our rites in order to satisfy a particular urge for control, power, or sex.

Let me be clear, sex scandals, and abuse scandals, are not some unique Pagan problem. All religions where power and trust are in play fall victim to those who become blinded by their power, or attract those who would exploit the trust of adherents. The Catholic sex abuse scandals are well known, but there are Buddhist and Hindu sex scandals as well. For Pagans, what we need isn’t to explain away these horrible incidents, but to be clear and forthright about what our sexual ethics are. To regularly express our values in a public way, so that when stories like the one in Cornwall emerge, reporters can know that they are aberrations.  During the John Friend scandal, I said that these are powerful moments for outreach and clarification.

“Wicca’s roots, its core, is in sacred union. Many over the years, both detractors and adherents, have called it a “sex cult” or a “fertility religion.” This can lead to some taking liberties that ignore our ethical base, our commitment to sacred trust, our belief that “as above” is at one with what’s “below.” It can lead to people like Friend misusing the currents of both Wicca and yoga for his own gratification. [...] 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.”

Later, during the Daniel Hess abuse scandal, I noted that speaking out isn’t merely about media spin, but about protecting those who might be in dangerous or abusive situations as we speak.

“This call to outreach isn’t for the sake of media outlets in Ohio, but for the young people who may be out there being “groomed” as we speak to believe their route to power, to control, to acceptance, comes through sexual activity with a coven, grove, circle, or kindred leader. Those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.”

My hope is that every significant Pagan organization reiterates its sexual ethics, and places them in a place easy to find by all. That they do outreach to their own members, and have dialogs concerning sex and abusive situations. Whether Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp are guilty or not, this won’t be the last allegation, or sexual abuse conviction, we’ll have to collectively deal with. Pagan faiths aren’t immune to these tragedies, but we can deal with them in a more open, honest, and accountable fashion than the more hierarchical faiths.

The United Kingdom’s Department of Education has released a national action plan for dealing with cases of witchcraft and occult-related abuse of children within religious communities. This comes after several high-profile cases of murder and abuse of children related to anti-witchcraft rituals, most prominently the murder of Kristy Bamu, who died while being tortured under the auspices of an “exorcism” at his sister’s home.

Blood-spattered bathroom tiles at Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi's flat.

Blood-spattered bathroom tiles at Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi’s flat.

During sentencing, Judge David Paget said the murder had a “sadistic element”, adding it was “prolonged torture involving mental and physical suffering being inflicted before death”. He added that the ordeal the children were subjected to “almost passes belief”. However, he accepted Bikubi’s defence that he had brain damage and had believed that Kristy was a witch. But Judge Paget added: “The belief in witchcraft, however genuine, cannot excuse an assault to another person, let alone the killing of another human being.”

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton told the BBC that “abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths,” while Andrew Flanagan of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) goes out of his way to note that this isn’t a problem within communities that actually believe in and practice witchcraft or magic as part of their religious faith.

The vast majority of people in communities where witchcraft is practised are horrified by these acts and take no part in this atrocious behaviour. So we must not be afraid to raise this issue so the offenders can be exposed.”

Despite the desperate and craven attempts by some in the media to wrongly conflate modern Paganism with this issue, this is a largely a phenomenon that is nurtured within a Christian context, a point that has many ministers in the UK deeply concerned. In fact some, like Debbie Ariyo, director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, wants explicit laws against branding children as witches.

Debbie Ariyo, the director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, described the action plan as the first step taken by any government to seriously tackle ritualised child abuse, but said it was not going far enough. She called on the government to make it illegal to brand a child a witch. ”We would have liked to see the government go further but we believe this action plan will go a long way to encouraging voluntary agencies to take concrete steps to fight this type of abuse,” she said.

Ariyo has previously noted that the spread of anti-witchcraft and sorcery violence in the UK is centered in Pentecostal Churches, not indigenous, revived, or reconstructed pre-Christian belief systems.

Debbie Ariyo, executive director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse(Afruca), who added that a boom in pentecostal churches was leading to more children being accused of witchcraft. “This is not a problem with all pastors or all churches, but the branding of children as witches is not abating. It is a growing problem. There are so many children suffering in silence.”

This new initiative joins recent moves by British police to better spot sorcery/witchcraft-related abuse cases, and has so-far been widely praised as an important step forward on an issue that many believe is under-reported to law enforcement. Modern Pagans, practitioners of African indigenous faiths living in the UK, and other occult-oriented communities should take a proactive stance on involving themselves in assisting the government, and pushing for laws that criminalize the abuse of children because of occult-oriented religious beliefs. Not only because it’s a good idea, but because our input will be important to make sure future laws and regulation thread the needle between protecting children while safeguarding the rights of those interested in religious Witchcraft or occult practices.

For more on this new action plan by the government, here’s the executive summary, and here’s the full plan. We will be following this story as it continues to develop.

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.

Local media in Ohio are reporting on the arrest of Daniel Hess and live-in girlfriend Lacey Day for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old family member. NBC affiliate WTAP noted that Hess and Day admitted to the sexual acts, and that according to police deputies the victim seemed to be there willingly. Hess allegedly told police that the sexual acts were part of the Wiccan faith.

“We’ve been conducting the investigation for about the last two weeks. It came to our attention through another public service agency within the county,” said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks. Upon his arrest, Hess maintained the assault was a result of his religious beliefs, according to the sheriff. “The guy sort of alluded to the fact the reason he did it was his belief in Wicca,” Mincks explained. [...]  Regardless of what religious belief a practitioner has, it does not justify the assault of a child, say officials with Washington County Children Services. ”It doesn’t matter what kind of religion it is. In America, in Ohio, in Washington County, it is illegal to sexually abuse a child,” said Alice Stewart, intake assessment supervisor with Washington County Children Services.

Sheriff Mincks went on to say that Hess “indicated and justified, or tried to justify what he had done by his belief in Wicca which is a form of witchcraft, or the practice of witchcraft.”

There are a lot of different issues to unpack here. First, let’s reiterate that no mainstream Wiccan organization condones this behavior. No Wiccan group that I know of, whether eclectic or traditional, engages in sexual threesomes with under-aged family members as part of its rites. No matter how precocious or willing that family member was, the law in Ohio clearly states that 16 is the age of consent, and no coven that I’ve encountered encourages breaking the law in order to engage in sexual acts with a minor. Further, if we accept that these sexual encounters were indeed a part of their religious practice, Hess and Day could be charged with a third degree felony.

“However, the preceding statute, Section 2907.03, specifies that sexual conduct between anyone under 18 and a teacher, administrator, or coach of the school they attend, a cleric, or other person in authority, is punishable as a felony of the third degree. 2907.03 Sexual battery. (A) No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another, not the spouse of the offender, when any of the following apply: [...] The other person is a minor, the offender is a cleric, and the other person is a member of, or attends, the church or congregation served by the cleric.”

So, if this truly was a Wiccan ceremony of their design, the consequences for Hess and Day could be far more severe than if the incidents had been purely secular in nature. No doubt more details, and explanations, will arise during the trial.

To close, as I did during the John Friend scandal, I want to reiterate my call for Wiccan and Pagan organizations to be more proactive, and use painful moments like these as times of clarification and outreach.

“Wicca’s roots, its core, is in sacred union. Many over the years, both detractors and adherents, have called it a “sex cult” or a “fertility religion.” This can lead to some taking liberties that ignore our ethical base, our commitment to sacred trust, our belief that “as above” is at one with what’s “below.” It can lead to people like Friend misusing the currents of both Wicca and yoga for his own gratification. [...] 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.”

This call to outreach isn’t for the sake of media outlets in Ohio, but for the young people who may be out there being “groomed” as we speak to believe their route to power, to control, to acceptance, comes through sexual activity with a coven, grove, circle, or kindred leader. Those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.