Archives For Anusara yoga

As we reach the close of 2012, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. The John Friend Scandal: Since the beginning of 2012 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.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

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.

Friend would go on to assert that he takes Wicca “really seriously,” and that he has “taken Wiccan oaths over the years where death is actually the consequence of telling the truth.”  This scandal is important for our communities not only because Friend claims Anusara yoga is “a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level,” but because this scandal should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, an opportunity to engage with myths versus the reality of how our traditions work. As other, more noxious cases of abuse done in the name of Paganism emerge, the need for a more proactive approach to these incidents seems clear.

09. Transgender Inclusion In Modern Paganism: For two years running, the issue of gender, and transgender inclusion in designated women-only spaces, has sparked debate, protest, and remarkable shifts within the Pagan community. The events at this year’s PantheaCon, where debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest in part led to one Dianic group removing themselves from Budapest’s lineage, and PantheaCon changing its policy regarding limited-access events. However, this issue was not isolated to events at PantheaCon in San Jose, California, as transgender inclusion became a hot topic at Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois as well. That instance led to a historic press conference where prominent Dianic High Priestess Ruth Barrett acknowledged the womanhood of  transgendered activist Melissa Murry.

barrett murray

“Both women said the transgender community is trying to find their voice, similar to the feminist movement in the 60′s and 70′s.   Like the feminist movement, they speak of suffering, pain, and violence.  Murry and Barrett also spoke of the value in claiming mysteries and rituals specific to their sacred journey as women.  “Within my Tradition, which is about the female body and the journey of being born female and the journey through the bloods and birth and menopause,” said Barrett.  “That is a different journey for transgendered women who come to womanhood through a different path.”

What we are witnessing, in real-time, is change happening. A realignment and reconsideration of gender both within and outside a Dianic context that seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago. No doubt there will be further debate and analysis related to this issue, but I think the shifts seen in 2012 are a predictor for future changes in how modern Paganism thinks about, and engages with, gender identity.

08. Cherry Hill Seminary and CHS Graduate Achieve Major Milestones: While there are many Pagan learning institutions Cherry Hill Seminary is reaching farther than most, working towards accreditation as a seminary for Pagan clergy. This year two important milestones in their journey were accomplished: the awarding of its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, and graduate, Sandra Lee Harris having her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This not only frees Harris to her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain but, in the words of David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, “the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.”

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

“The courses credited toward the first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling from Cherry Hill Seminary are shown to parallel those of degrees from two accredited seminaries, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Tyndale Seminary, when religion-specific requirements for Bible and Christian history studies are replaced by Pagan studies and personal spiritual formation is based on the stated mission values of Cherry Hill Seminary rather than the teachings of Jesus. Further analysis, given similar accommodation, suggests that the Cherry Hill Seminary curriculum in Pagan Pastoral Counseling could satisfy the accreditation requirements of the Association of Theological Schools.” – Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

As the Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene noted, “these advancements indicate a shift in society towards genuine respect for alternative religions within the professional world.” Meanwhile, 2013 is shaping up to be a notable year for CHS as well, with their upcoming partnership with The University of South Carolina  for the “Sacred Lands and and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium.

07. Druid liturgy in Paralympics Closing: One unexpected highlight of 2012 was the inclusion of Druid liturgy in the London 2012 Paralympic Games closing ceremony.  Alongside performances by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Coldplay artistic director Kim Gavin, Music Director David Arnold and Designer Misty Buckley showcased a seasonal theme which “took the audience on a journey through Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer.” Part of the seasonal-themed closing ceremony, spoken by Rory Mackenzie, a representative from Help For Heroes, was in fact written by Druids from the British Druid Order (BDO).

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

“We were sworn to secrecy beforehand, but Emma Restall Orr and I [Greywolf] were approached by the organisers of the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony with a surprising request. They wanted our permission to use parts of the gorsedd ritual we wrote in 1997. So, about 20 minutes into the ceremony, these words went out to 750 million people around the world,”

Philip Shallcrass (aka Greywolf), Chief of the British Druid Order, says that the original ritual was written to bring people from different backgrounds and faiths together, so “its use in the Paralympics closing ceremony seems perfectly in keeping with this original intention.” While the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony featured brief hints of Britain’s pre-Christian past, it featured no explicit contribution from the vital Pagan threads that exist in the United Kingdom, a nation that has played a huge role in the revival of Pagan religions. So it seems fitting that the last closing ceremony in London, for the Paralympic games, would explicitly reference modern Pagan contributions to British culture.

06. A Major Setback For The Maetreum of Cybele:  Earlier this yeear I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“We are now at risk of losing our property to back taxes under a corrupt local system that does not allow for payment plans, installment payments or anything other than immediate payment in full. We are a poor order and spent all our money fighting the Town of Catskill in court. Currently four women live at the Maetreum who would be homeless otherwise. We need to take the battle to Federal court at this point and we need help in doing so. We need to raise the back taxes just to hold on to our property and continue our work.” – The Maetreum of Cybele

The Maetreum is about to launch an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to save their building, and hopefully further pursue their legal case against the town of Catskill. We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop in 2013. I personally don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.”

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2012. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. The Religion Newswriters Association top 10 religion stories of 2012, HuffPo Religion’s top 10 religion stories of 2012, and 13 religion stories that went missing in 2012 from  Religion Dispatches.

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.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

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

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.

Just a few quick news notes for you today.

Lawyers May Not Mention Druid Beliefs in Vaughn Murder Trial: Earlier this week I mentioned that lawyers for Christopher Vaughn, accused of murdering his wife and three children, were trying to block any mention of his Druid religion from court proceedings.  Public Defender Jaya Varghese said that “The word ‘Druid’ alone is prejudicial,” and would “significantly impact” his right to a fair trial. Today, Judge Daniel Rozak ruled that Vaughn’s Druid beliefs may not be mentioned at trial, though comments he made on a Druid listserv can be referenced.

Vaughn family photo from 2007.

Vaughn family photo from 2007.

“A Will County judge this morning barred attorneys from referring to quadruple-murder suspect Christopher Vaughn’s Druid beliefs at trial, but said some statements Vaughn posted to a Druid listserv can be heard by jurors. […] Prosecutors want to use postings Vaughn made to Druid listservs that refer to his desire to live in the Canadian wilderness. They argue his statements were another sign that Vaughn wanted to be rid of his family. […] Judge Daniel Rozak said he would allow the statements “if they somehow deal with leaving the country or living off the land” and don’t reference Vaughn’s religious beliefs.”

How messages Christopher Vaughn posted to Druid websites are to be referenced must still be decided, though this should be seen as a win for Vaughn’s defense team. Vaughn lawyer claims his wife killed the children, before he could kill her in self-defense, while prosecutors allege that Vaughn calculatedly eliminated his family in order to be rid of them. The trial is slated to begin in August.

The Washington Post Weighs in on the John Friend Anusara Yoga Scandal: Manuel Roig-Franzia writes about the “contorting” (ha-ha) scandal within the Anusara yoga school for the Washington Post, taking brief note of the Wiccan-related accusations against Anusara founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

“In conference calls, e-mails and hushed conversations, Friend has admitted to sexual relations with students and employees and married women. He has confessed to cheating on one girlfriend and smoking marijuana, according to senior Anusara instructors who have participated in conference calls with him. And he has acknowledged leading an otherwise all-female Wiccan coven whose members sometimes took off all their clothes for gatherings, according to senior Anusara instructors who detailed his admissions in a written summary provided to The Washington Post. The coven’s name was the Blazing Solar Flames, and Friend had Anusara’s graphics team design a logo for it, according to three former employees.”

This is the first I’ve seen of any acknowledgement from Friend or Anusara regarding the coven. As I’ve reported previously (follow-up, here), accusations state that he used the coven as a pretext for sexual liaisons. While there’s no further statement, or mention of it in the WP article, the fact that Friend was the acknowledged male leader of an all-female coven does raise some red flags. That said, taking your clothes off for gatherings isn’t unusual within Traditional Witchcraft (it’s called going “skyclad”), and isn’t seen as an automatic prelude to sexy-times. You can see a video interview with Friend from last year about how Anusara yoga, Wicca, and Paganism interface.

The Occult Crimes Taskforce is Coming To the Your Television: Various pop-culture news sites are reporting that the comic book OCT: Occult Crimes Taskforce is being adapted into a television series for the A&E Network. Actress and OCT co-creator Rosario Dawson is working with The Walking Dead’s Gale Anne Hurd to adapt the work, and it is widely assumed that Dawson will star in the show, as the main character, Sophia Ortiz, is modeled on her.

Image from the O.C.T. comic, featuring Sophia Ortiz/Rosario Dawson.

Image from the O.C.T. comic, featuring Sophia Ortiz/Rosario Dawson.

“The scripted drama, an increasingly appealing genre for the cable network, will explore the inner workings of the task force, which was established after the Civil War to make the New York City streets safe from practitioners of black magic, demons from another dimension and all manner of supernatural malcontents.”

Scripted dramas, especially scripted dramas that feature occult and fantastic elements seem to be on the increase lately. It should be interesting to see if O.C.T. makes it to the small screen, and if it will find an appreciative audience. While I’m on the subject of occult-themed television, I should note that British television channel ITV2 has ordered a new drama entitled “Switch” about four witches living together in London. Created by the same people behind the show Being Human, can we expect an American version of that show on Syfy in the near-ish future?

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

Since I first took note of the “Wiccan coven” sex scandal that has engulfed John Friend, head of the popular Anusara hatha yoga school in America, the story has left the confines of the American Yoga community and been picked up by larger media outlets. William J. Broad, author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards”, informs readers of the New York Times that no one should be surprised that this has happened.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

“Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise. Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness […] if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.”

Broad’s somewhat controversial notion that the many recipients of Friend’s affections should have seen this coming, because yoga is a sex cult at its roots, isn’t sitting well with Indian-American commentator Sandip Roy, who blasts Broad’s correlation with yoga’s founding and the bad behavior of some teachers.

The bafflement with the Times article is the ridiculous equation that Mr. Broad has seen fit to draw between Friend’s personal fall from grace and the roots of yoga. His argument suggests philanderers and yoga are a natural fit. (I wonder if Bill Clinton knew about this.) Also a yoga class is just an affair waiting to happen given all that “arousal, sweating, heavy breathing and states of undress.” Houston, we have a sticky mat problem. As proof, alongside Friend and other fallen yoga gurus like Swami Muktananda and Swami Satchidananda, Broad cites the fact that the student-teacher sex problem was so prevalent the California Yoga Teachers Association had to deplore it as “immoral.”

Yes, yoga does draw a lot of starry-eyed groupies and yogis have become rock stars. Yes, after Mahesh Yogi’s Beatles adventure many so-called gurus set up ashrams in the West and dispensed the spiritual East in five easy poses and nirvana in five easy doses. But that’s really a gullibility problem, a megalomania problem, an abuse of power problem, not a yoga problem. A lot of cult leaders (even non yogic ones) have that very same problem. Remember David Koresh of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? Or Jim Jones? Or even Thomas Peli in Papua New Guinea who told his followers that the banana harvest would increase every time they fornicated in public? The problem really is, as Lauren Jacobs points out in her Huffington Post blog the “guruization of religious leaders, spiritual teachers, politicians, and even therapists who seem to be permitted to act above the rules that govern the rest of us.”

SF Gate Columnist Mark Morford also skewers Broad’s piece, noting that it explains “how yoga can make you into an orgasmic pervert sex monkey love guru.”

“I’m happy to report the NYT and Broad are mostly full of crap on this. Yoga is a physical, spiritual, energetic, wildly interconnected practice that can transform every aspect of your world. It’s based on some powerfully sacred, ancient philosophy and scriptural teachings that only want you to become a fully realized, divinely illuminated being, right now, this very second, on your very next breath — no gods, guilt, cultish sex rites or blind faith required. What’s not to like?”

While this back-and-forth over the place of sex and sexuality within yoga is interesting, there’s still almost no talk about how Friend’s Wiccan coven enters into this scandal, including the fact that Friend said Anusara yoga is “a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level.” What does that mean to him in light of these scandals? In a leaked letter, Friend seemed to hint that sacred sex was a common denominator.

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.”

Yet there’s been almost no talk about how Wiccans see this scandal, no interviews with Pagans or Wiccans who are also yoga practitioners, no mentions at all, except for fleeting ones. Only the Jezebel blog even attempts to grapple with how these two traditions intersected within the scandal.

“Both personally and as a means of seduction, Friend appears to have embraced Wicca, which he seems to feel aligns quite closely with the foundations of Anusara. He even causally mentions Wicca in his official bio, but it looks like he was pretty deep into it. In a letter that seems to be addressed to one of his lovers, he details how Wicca intersects with their sexytime … [excerpt of the letter I quote above ] Oh, the old Wiccan coven trick. But seriously, since this man is essentially a quasi-religious leader to his many devoted students and employees, his willingness to exploit his teachings and beliefs for sexual purposes seems particularly gross.”

Lauren Jacobs at HuffPo also briefly mentions the “old Wiccan coven trick.”

“Alleged special (supposedly ‘Wiccan’) sexual circles with teachers and students, including married individuals whose partners were not aware or had not approved?”

Beyond that? Nothing, and that’s a problem. No doubt that many will think this will all soon fade from memory now that Friend is stepping down from Anusara, taking a “leave of absence,” and reorganizing the tradition. That controversial Wiccan coven will get lost in a cloud of allegations that need “verification.” However, I think this scandal should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, and 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.

Like yoga, 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. Here we stand with Hindus who are fighting against yoga being turned into something it’s not, as we both see our traditions cynically used. 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.

The Hindu discipline of yoga is big, big business in the West. Teaching yoga has become a favored second career, major airports now have yoga rooms, debates have erupted over its benefits, and how essential Hinduism is to its practice. So it is within this context that we should view the story of a popular hatha yoga school in America, and the scandal that has engulfed its founder.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

“An anonymous tipster has sent us info that could potentially muddy the shiny, happy, image of John Friend and Anusara Inc., and shed some light on the recent flurry of exits by some of the brand’s foremost teachers like Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti. Up til now, we’ve had our share of poking fun at the Anusarans, their meltiness and King Melty Heart Mogul, John Friend. But if these accusations are true, they paint a whole new perspective on the innerworkings of one of the most popular yoga corporations and the possible misdoings of its grand leader.”

So what is this scandal? YogaDork pointed to a (now down) website that listed several accusations. These included misusing Anusara funds, using his position to have sex with followers, and shipping drugs to the homes of his assistants. However, the accusation that brought this whole mess to my attention was the one about Friend being a Wiccan coven-leader. The charge being that Friend used this coven as a pretext to have sexual relations with the members without the knowledge of his girlfriend or the spouses of the women involved. YogaDork excerpted a letter from Friend that was posted on the “JF Exposed” site.

“You and I always shared a love for what is Good, Shri, and Delightful. 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.”

In the wake of the accusations exploding into public view, Friend conducted an interview with Elephant Journal, and in it he admitted to having sexual relationships with students, including married students, but the issue of how Wicca fit into the picture was not discussed at all. Friend’s interest in Wicca is listed in his official biography, and last year he talked in a video interview about how Anusara yoga, Wicca, and Paganism interface.

Sadly, the interface of these traditions, and how it relates to this scandal aren’t being explored at all. Or if they are, it’s in a light-hearted “how can I get in on some of this Wiccan action” variety.

“But what do I know? Obviously not much, or else I would have figured out that all my yogi friends are Wiccans and having great sex while I’m worried about picking up the kids and finding enlightenment on the way to the supermarket. Honestly, I never considered being a Wiccan because I’m too damn busy trying to be a Jewish/Presbyterian/Catholic/Buddhist/Yogi /Pissed-Off-Democrat and I’m sitting there with my eyes closed going “Om.” Right? I have my eyes closed when I probably should have opened them.  Meanwhile, I’ve got to pick up the environmentally-friendly drycleaning, but just as soon as I can, I’m going to figure this out and see if being a Wiccan will get me a little more action on the mat.

While I’m fully cognizant of the fact that Michelle Berman Marchildon is being satirical, I think its problematic that the yoga community is focusing on the sex scandal, and not the fact that Friend was allegedly using Wicca as front for swinging with students. The ignorance and apparent misinformation about what Wicca is, and what is seen as normative, is palpable. To quote Waylon Lewis at Elephant Journal: “I’m not very concerned with the wicca/witch/coven/tantra stuff, I personally find religion generally to be full of wonderful and rich myth and tradition.” In short, they seem to just assume Wicca is fine with cheating, lying, and using a coven structure to allegedly condone these activities.

So while the greater yoga community, and the Anusara folks, deal with the ramifications of this situation, it seems obvious that Wiccans have some education and outreach to do. For while some Wiccan covens may engage in sexual rites under certain controlled circumstances, no mainstream Wiccan tradition or organization that I know of encourages cheating on one’s spouse, or using a coven as a larder for one’s sexual proclivities. Those individuals and groups who do engage in such behavior are almost always ostracized. While Wicca as a religion can be very elastic in its theology and structure, there are certain values that all Wiccans (though not all Witches), from eclectic dabblers to the most hidebound traditionalists generally agree on. In short, covens, as a general rule, don’t encourage cheating on your spouse, or engaging in any sexual activity without prior consent by all interested parties.

So to my friends in the yoga community, don’t just assume you know what Wicca is, or that what John Friend allegedly did with his coven is an accepted practice. Contrary to popular belief, Pagans have ethics, and we do care when high-profile individuals seem to use our religions as a cover for bad behavior.