Archives For Sex

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.

Coilhouse Issue #6

Coilhouse Issue #6

  • Excellent alternative culture magazine and blog Coilhouse is shutting down, though the creators are promising that this is a mere hiatus and that Coilhouse will return in some form in the future. Quote: “We can’t tell you what exactly is coming next, or when; we just know we have no intention of quitting. Potential directions that Coilhouse may move in somewhere down the line: books, apps, limited edition print/art objects, video, fashion collaborations. Smaller, more manageable one-shot projects that don’t break our backs. But first, we will have to re-strategize our business and production plans. Nothing is set in stone at the moment because, simply put, we need a break. We need to rest.” For now, they’ve made the six print issues of Coilhouse magazine available as free PDF downloads, a token of affection to fans and supporters. I highly recommend checking them out. 
  • Is the famous Celtic warrior-queen Boudicca buried beneath a McDonalds restaurant? It is rumored to be so. Quote: “Dr Mike Heyworth, the director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), said that experts are on the hunt for her burial place, at one point rumoured to be near what is now a McDonald’s restaurant in Birmingham, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was unearthed in the next few years. There are contradictory but persistent tales (with “no element of truth”, according to the Museum of London) that she lies beneath either platform eight, nine or 10 at King’s Cross Station.” The big question is: what happens to her resting place once the bones are found? 
  • No, Easter was not originally the celebration of Ishtar. Let’s all be more critical of Facebook image memes, OK? 
  • At the Huffington Post Grove Harris discusses composting as a Springtime spiritual exercise. Quote: “Composting is in many ways one of the most spiritual of practices. It is the process that will feed the next cycle of life, which will take endings and serve new beginnings. It is powerfully renewing on many levels, and offers deep metaphoric guidance.”
  • Enforced celibacy doesn’t really work all that often, no matter what the religion/ideology is. The country of Bhutan is distributing condoms to Buddhist monasteries to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Quote: “Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily.” So remember, use protection, make it available, no matter what the official rules are. 
The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

I’m back from FaerieCon! First off, I’d like to thank all the wonderful folks who stepped up to do guest-posts while I was away: Sharon Knight, Star Foster, T. Thorn Coyle, Teo BishopLaura LaVoie, and Eric Scott. They all did an excellent job of providing interesting, informative, provocative, and inspiring pieces for you, and I hope you’ll follow them at their own blogs and projects in the future. As for me, I’ve returned to an avalanche of stories of interest to our communities, so I’m going to unleash the hounds in an attempt to get caught up.

That’s all I have time for today, expect a write-up of my FaerieCon adventures in the near-ish future. In the meantime, do check out my interview with Qntal’s Michael Popp at A Darker Shade of Pagan. As always, some of these stories may be expanded upon in future posts.

The Phoenix Goddess Temple in Arizona, a neo-tantric religious organization that defines itself as “a sacred place to know the secret inner wisdom of the Cosmic Mother,” was raided by police on Wednesday. Eleven women and five men were taken in for questioning, and made to do a “perp walk” for the cameras, but police would not say, exactly, what the raid was looking for.

“CBS 5 News has also learned this was part of a long term investigation that spanned from the Valley to Sedona. Police served three additional search warrants in the Sedona area and detained several more people for questioning at those locations. [...] [Sgt. Steve] Martos would not confirm the nature of the investigation, saying investigators would be working well into the night and more details would be available tomorrow.”

It was revealed that police also raided Sedona Goddess Temple, an affiliate of the Phoenix Goddess Temple. It’s plainly obvious that this is a raid looking for proof of prostitution, though previous sting operations have turned up empty-handed. Why else do a highly publicized raid and perp-walk? So far, there are no reports of actual charges being made, and Phoenix Goddess Temple has released no statement regarding these events. If Phoenix Goddess Temple was simply a house of prostitution with a veneer of religion painted over it, wouldn’t they have been closed down by now? Earlier this year the Phoenix New Times called the temple’s activities “New Age prostitution,” though the men and women at the temple insist that they are engaged in a higher calling.

But despite the obvious eyebrow-raisers at the temple, [Temple founder Tracy] Elise says she’s doing nothing wrong. “The temple is really a church for us,” she says. “We open ourselves with love as an empty channel, and that’s the authority by which I heal. I don’t get my credentials on the ground level. I get my calling and I am under the jurisdiction of the most high.”

Even if no charges are brought from this current investigation, the writing is on the wall. It’s obvious the police are looking for any excuse to shut these temples down. The question now is, should they be able to? Even if some sessions end in “happy endings” aren’t their activities protected by law so long as they don’t directly charge money for sex? If they took this matter to court, would they be able win broader protections since they are religiously sincere in their activities? How should the broader Pagan community engage with sacred sexuality practitioners?