I realized that the community as a whole was hurting and that we all needed to have a place to talk about this and to do something to protect our children in the future … [Since] I’ve worked with this a lot and I figured this was something I could do.
On April 2 Ariel posted an open letter to the Pagan community on Green Egg’s home page. In that letter she “put out a call for anyone wishing to participate.” The letter reads:
I have chosen to spearhead a campaign to establish a central committee for reporting child sexual abuse in our Pagan community. I don’t have a complete plan yet, and I need the input from the Pagan community at large.
Now one month later the Council has “quite a few people on board” with more joining each day. Two of its earliest contributors were Green Egg Web Manager Sylveey Selu, and Klein’s ex-wife and the founding Priestess of Blue Star Tzipora Katz. Ariel considers them both council founders. Sylveey is responsible for much of the groundwork and logistics. Tzipora has contributed “valuable ideas from her own experience” to help with programming. Tzipora says:
Shortly after the open letter was published, Shauna Aura Knight joined the Council in order to connect with others who are “looking for ways to help solve these problems.” As both a teacher and writer, Shauna is often confronted by stories of abuse. She says:
[This is] something that I had wanted to see some 22 years ago. When Ariel reached out to me I was only too happy to add whatever support I could so that no one else ever had to feel the isolation and abandonment my own family experienced.
Other founding members include Blue Star Priestess Kristin Barton who has “training in community violence prevention, human services administration and domestic abuse advocacy;” author Tish Owen who has nearly two decades of experience operating a large alternative-religion festival; graphic designer Casey Whitworth who wants her experience as a survivor to help others.
Sexual abuse in the Pagan community wasn’t news to me … Mostly I hear about egomaniacal, emotionally abusive leaders, but I also hear about group leaders and teachers pressuring people for sex, as well as rape, harassment and other abuse. Most of that gets swept under the carpet as “You’re starting a Witch War” or “It’s sour grapes,” or “That’s just he said/she said,” and so people keep quiet. Actually—I’ve been through it myself with an abusive ex who was also my co-teacher. Many times I’ve thought, “How do we change this?”
Many of those involved were unable to give their names due to the sensitive nature of their professional work. Ariel says:
We have several people with professional experience who have been counselors or at a management level in social work, and who are familiar with domestic violence and molesting. We also have a [consulting] psychotherapist who has decades of experience in working with sex offenders … We also have several top notch researchers who can do background checks and the like on individuals in our community.
Along with these professionals, Council members also include survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. According to Ariel, these people are invaluable because “they know what is needed in order for healing to take place.” One of these survivors is Donald Bates. He says:
While its currently only at the very beginning stages of development, the Council of the Phoenix will eventually offer both professional and peer counseling services as well as education and training for event coordinators and leaders; awareness building; assistance at events for maintaining safe space. Shauna adds that part of that education will be teaching “what consent means and what sex positive actually means.”
There are too many walking wounded out there … I want to be there for the walking wounded and the children. I have firsthand knowledge of being abused. I was sexually abused, by my uncle for nine years and I personally know how alone and ugly you can feel. The council will be able to open up these avenues for communication, so we can find and connect with the walking wounded and help those that are being abused. That is why I want to be part of the council.
The founders are also developing “safe zone kits” that will assist festival organizers work “proactively against violence by promoting a consent culture and healthy relationships in the Pagan community.” A “safe zone” is a private location within the festival that is open to anyone needing to escape an uncomfortable or abusive situation. The zone ideally would be staffed by a counselor or other similar professional who has the training to handle sensitive situations with compassion and clarity.
In addition the Council also hopes to “act as an information clearinghouse” for suspicious behavior; a place to report problems. Ariel says:
We are not trying to start a witch hunt; this info will be kept within our council and only when we have sufficient evidence or very strong suspicion due to a number of reports, will we disseminate this info … We are still working out the details on this, as we all feel strongly that we never want to accuse anyone falsely.
Over the next few months the Council plans to contact festival leaders and organizations in hopes of working in tandem for a safer community. As the program develops and grows, the Council will update its new website and Facebook fan page. It has also set up a crowdsourcing campaign to help fund the project.
Ariel and the other founding Council members are excited about the Council’s huge potential to benefit so many people in so many places. Shauna adds, “I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I believe that some of the steps the Council is looking at are a place to start.”
Correction: The original article said that Tish Owen had been operating a festival for 10 years. The Pagan Unity Festival of Tennessee is now in its 17th year.