Druid Thoughts: Who Polices the Druids?

I’ve worked as a volunteer for several UK Pagan and Druid organisations over the years, which has brought me into contact with ‘witch wars’ and other forms of conflict. When things go wrong, we in the Pagan community look for someone to sort it out – which is natural. We seem to assume, especially with Druidry, that there is some kind of hierarchy that ought to be doing something. This blog is by way of a public information service broadcast, to explain how things work. Or don’t.

There is no ultimate authority within Druidry. Anyone can call themselves a Druid. Some Druids are members of Orders, Groves, or other organisations, some are not. No one has the power to remove someone else’s title, to make them be silent or to otherwise control their behaviour.

Most Orders only police internally, and that lightly. If you bring your Order into disrepute or break its rules, you can find you are no longer welcome – as would be the case in any sane and functional organisation. If someone from the outside turns up demanding that a member be reined in, or reprimanded… well, you’d need some evidence. Do this without a least a solicitor’s letter, and you’re not going to get anywhere. A court order would be more useful, or some other evidence that the situation is serious enough to merit action. Your own words won’t be enough, and if you stop to think about this for five minutes, the reasons why are pretty obvious.

There are people in the Pagan community who are attracted by the impression of power and influence. Also sometimes the scope to make money. There are people who get angry about other people doing things differently, or about others not taking them seriously enough. I’ve seen a lot of it, and it’s generally the noisy few, driven by ego and other such unhelpful, unspiritual things. No sensible organisation will touch this kind of dispute.

It is very, very hard from the outside of a situation to judge the rights and wrongs of it. We’re all righteously angry about how the Catholic Church has dealt with its pedophile priests, but let me tell you a thing. Would we do any better? We’ve not been tested that way as a community, and let’s hope we never are. Hand on hearts, would we be sure, if someone came to us with accusations, that we would do the right thing? Would we know which were the genuine cases that needed following up, and which were malicious and meant to bring down a good and innocent person? Do you want the responsibility for making that call? I don’t.

The only thing to do, when serious accusations are made, is to encourage those involved to take it to the police. No Pagan organisation is equipped to properly investigate any of this stuff – any more than the Catholics are. This is why countries have police forces in the first place.

I think Pagan organisations are often too quick to say ‘not our problem’ and to step away rather than dealing with issues. Let’s think about the UK’s Liberal party, recently accused of not taking appropriate action when a high ranking member was accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards junior members of the party. Would we do any better? What would we do with claims of sexual harassment against members of our communities? Probably not very much at all.

If what I’ve seen online is anything to go by, we don’t do well with sexual harassment accusations. We don’t investigate, usually. We don’t give the accused or the victims much support. We wash our hands of them.

Now, the more Pagans and the more organisations there are, the more scandals will happen. The bigger we get, the more responsibility we will have. Are we ready for this? Do any of our organisations have the means to respond if there’s a pedophile priest accusation in our ranks? Would we handle a sexual abuse scandal any better than the Catholics have, or the Liberal Democrats? I’m confident that we wouldn’t.

Nothing in Paganism lends itself to the kind of overarching structures of the Catholic Church, and I think most of us are very happy to have it that way. Most Pagans do not want to be policed. The desire to self determine is often a big part of what got us here. I think we, like a lot of other groups of people, are guilty of wanting to think the best of ourselves. We are the good guys! The bad guys are somewhere else. We don’t want to imagine there could be pedophiles in our community. Good Pagans would never do that. And you can bet the Catholics felt that way about their own as well. No one wanted to believe it. We don’t want to think there are rapists in our ranks, or that the guy opposite us in circle might beat his wife and kids, but they will be there. I say this with confidence because sexual abuse and physical cruelty are rife, and the more Pagans there are, the greater the statistical probability that some of us are going to be a long way short of what we might want.

There are no tidy answers here for us, any more than there are for the rest of the world. However, disbelief enables abuse, and we are going to have to take responsibility for ourselves as a community one way or another.

Druid Thoughts is published monthly on Agora. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

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About Nimue Brown

Druid blogger, author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors and Spirituality without structure (Moon Books) Intelligent Designing for Amateurs (Top Hat Books) and Hopeless Maine (Archaia). Book reviewer for the Druid Network and Pagan Dawn. Volunteer for OBOD. Green, folky, Steampunk wench with a coffee habit. www.druidlife.wordpress.com and www.hopelessmaine.com @Nimue_B and can be hunted down on facebook.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Good points, well raised.

    I think the rejection of organisation is somewhat crippling in the growth of Pagan movements and this is just one example of how that is the case.

    I think that, at the moment, Pagans have an unsettling tendency to ‘disown’ anything they see as unsavoury. A good example would be the Heathen inclination to dismiss extreme right wing ideologists as ‘Nazitru’ and not ‘real Heathens’.

    Another example would be the recent case in Cornwall involving Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp. The pair were jailed for child abuse and the wider Pagan community were quick to distance themselves from the abusers by saying such things as “Paganism involves nothing sexual” (R. Hutton http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-20672434 ).

    I don’t think that we can just pretend that Paganism (large as that umbrella is) does not contain anyone that is ‘unsavoury’.

    • LaurelhurstLiberal

      Drawing boundaries is important, though. As a Heathen, I’m going to speak up and say that white power skinheads don’t speak for me, even if we’re both wearing a hammer and talking about Odin. Likewise, I think it’s vital that pagans make it clear that pedophilia is not an accepted part of what we do.

      I suspect that in both cases, the religious aspect is just a cover for the antisocial behavior, but either way, a line needs to be drawn or we will not respect ourselves and we will not be respected by others.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        White power skinheads may not speak for you (or me), but they can still be Heathen.

        My point is not that we embrace them, but that we acknowledge, rather than deny them.

        How can paedophilia (or racism) be addressed in Paganism/Heathenry if people refuse to accept that it happens?

        I disagree that the religious aspect is only a cover for the antisocial/criminal behaviour. There are plenty of other ways to cover that kind of activity, after all. Ones that are more socially acceptable than claiming to be part of a fringe religion.

    • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

      The two abusers in Cornwall were not actually members of any Pagan network or community, as far as I know. So the distancing that occurred was at least credible.

      I think there is an excellent case for drawing up policies before something happens, rather than after. And yes, if you are aware of abuse happening, don’t brush it under the carpet, go to the police.

      It is also important to share safety tips for newbies, such as those listed by Phil Hine, which ought to prevent people being abused.
      http://www.philhine.org.uk/writings/gp_appgrps.html (see the list at the bottom, “Danger signals to watch for”)

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        The vast majority of Pagans are not members of any Pagan network or community. Look at the UK figures for Pagans – estimates as high as quarter of a million Pagans, yet the Pagan Federation (the largest UK Pagan organisation) has only a tiny fraction of that figure as its membership.

        • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

          Well, I am not a member of the PF, for various reasons, but I go to my local pub moot, and I am a member of the Wiccan community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

    Honestly, considering how many innocent people are in jail due to false accusations, the police aren’t any more ready to handle it either.

  • http://twitter.com/ellie_nor Elinor Predota

    Nimue: I guarantee you that there has been and are right now sexual predators using covens and groves as cover for their activity. It happens everywhere.

    Cases I know of in the US (I’m not naming names or specifics. Not gonna go there) have been badly handled, because most of us run screaming from confrontation and conflict. And most of us have a deep desire to protect people we know and like. Sexual predators know that well, and manipulate situations and people to cast the victim as the one who is ‘wrong’ and themselves as the victimised party.

    If things need to go to the police, in my view we have not done our job for one another as a community, in protecting our most vulnerable members. Making an accusation of sexual harassment is a very scary prospect, even if one has a portfolio of evidence all lined up – disclosing sexual abuse even more so.

    We need to create cultures in which it feels safe to talk about the first signs of harassment and bullying and stop them way before they become a campaign or move into sexual assault and abuse.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sara-Amis/4938819 Sara Amis

      I wouldn’t say they were completely badly handled. In one case people intervened before the individual’s plans got anywhere; that’s something. I know of several cases where the reactions were mixed, but on the whole people wanted accountability both for the perpetrators and the people who enabled or ignored them.

      I also don’t know that it’s as hard to investigate as people make it out to be. In some cases, yes. In others…it’s more that people don’t want to see what is in front of their faces. In every situation I am personally aware of, the perpetrator *incriminated himself* in various ways, often to more than one person.

  • Arjil

    Well, in my view, as workers of Magick we have all the tools we need. Just call down a justice curse- with an innocence clause worked into the intent. If the person is innocent, no harm comes. If they’re guilty, their ass gets a metaphysical mudhole stomped in it. Many pagans don’t hold with this sort of thinking, as they’re so concerned about the whole harm none thing. I don’t have that problem. If I Saw a child getting molested, there would be a reckoning then and there and Harm would happen. I have no problem with using magick to do something I’m willing to do with my bare hands- and so long as the possibility of innocence is included in the intent, no worries.

  • David Pollard

    Hmmm…. I’m thinking of the Monty Python sketch “Church Police” but with Druids instead. Guess I’ve got springtime frolics on the brain….

  • kenneth

    Don’t idly wish your tradition or organization won’t be tested on the abuse issue. You will be, if it hasn’t happened already. The answer to abuse is not tidy, but it is not impossibly complex either. It involves defining your values, implementing clear policies based on those values, and most importantly, fostering a leadership culture that is transparent and accountable.

    The RCC, at least in the past 20 to 25 years, has not failed for lack of policy. They started to draft some very sound policies going back to the late 80s. They failed because their leadership culture is steeped in secrecy and does not feel accountable to anyone, including the law. There are pedophiles and rapists and harassers withing our ranks and at our festivals. YOUR ranks and festivals too.

    Don’t wait to deal with it until the media has a permanent logo and meme for the “Pagan Abuse Scandal”. Deal with it now. Write some good policies on reporting abuse and some good common sense policies on background checks, event staffing that avoids unsupervised contact with minors, etc. Building this foundation of good policies and practices requires care, but it ain’t rocket science. Developing the culture piece is more complex.

    I know nobody likes to think of the “pagan community” in the umbrella sense anymore, but there was a very sound body of work produced a couple years ago in the form of a values statement. I think it’s an excellent starting point for any group wishing to develop its own in-depth policies and practices.


    • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

      I’ve often wondered why that statement seemed to sink without a trace. Was it too long? Did it make a mistake by leading off with what it rejects rather than with a statement about the importance of healthy sexuality? I’d like to see that statement revisited by organizations looking to adopt a formal policy.

      • kenneth

        That might make a nice expanded topic on Agora one day. Three or four years ago, the thing got off with quite a buzz. People were submitting ideas to some site and Brendan Myers was charged with assembling it into draft form, and I think the idea was to get bunches of orgs to join as signatories and then be able to present the whole thing as evidence to the media and wider world that the “pagan community” was being proactive on the issue.

        I suspect it fizzled in part because that was just about the time we had an upsurge in the idea that “pagan” was useless as an umbrella term, and it was thought, perhaps rightly, that no statement “as a community” would be credible. Sometimes I think maybe there was some darker infighting or something. The few times I’ve mentioned it since 2010, it’s sort of gone untouched in discussions, like maybe it’s one of those things we just don’t talk about in the family anymore, except for uncouth bastards like me who didn’t get the memo.

        I thought the statement was good enough that we incorporated it into our own coven’s policy on the issue. I don’t expect it fits everyone or fully addresses the problem, but we have a decent prototype laying around. We have a lot of work to do on this issue, but we haven’t been entirely idle either.

        • http://twitter.com/ellie_nor Elinor Predota

          We have enough social workers, child protection officers, school teachers and the like in our ranks that the policy-writing is not the issue. And certainly in the UK there are model policies and best practice – as well as training – that can be adopted off the shelf.

          No, the problem is not in my view policy, it’s willingness to take responsibility for ourselves *and one another*. We are so busy protecting our rights to call ourselves whatever we want that our children and vulnerable adults are being thrown under the bus.

          • Kenneth

            It’s true we don’t have to completely re-invent the wheel, but it is worth the time and effort to go through the process that ends in policy writing, whether we do that at a national or local level. It’s important to go through that exercise as a group because you get clarity on “what are our values” as a trad or coven or whatever, and you go on record as having thought through that.

            I think, or at least hope, that the value of protecting kids is pretty universal (outside of the predator community, of course). But we also have to address the fact that paganism, in many corners, is more permissive and open-minded about sexuality in general. We have traditions that include sex magick, acceptance of poly folk and various unconventional situations that gets much of the Judeo-Christian world twisted into knots.

            The media, and our detractors, tend to blur all that together so as to label us “sex cults”. It also tends to encourage explorers or even predators who have the wrong idea about what we’re about. People tend to mistake “open minded” for “anything goes.” It pays for us to take the time and articulate what’s ok and what’s not ok. A lot of it is obvious stuff about consent and the age of consent, but it’s good to have clear and on the record. It also help give young seekers the understanding to look out for themselves, to know ahead of time that giving in to the whims of a pervy coven leader is not part and parcel of being a good initiate, or serving Goddess or anyone else.

            You’re right in the sense that drafting policies won’t solve any problems by itself and cannot be seen as a finish line.

  • LaurelhurstLiberal

    Some of the things that can make sex abuse less likely, and more quickly detected and addressed when it occurs:
    –have both men and women in positions of responsibility
    –have clear policies and boundaries about sexual exploitation. If your tradition involves nudity or sexual ritual, then you need these policies twice as much.
    –Set expectations, and share them with everybody. No novice member should believe that getting raped is standard operating procedure in your tradition; every novice should know what’s normal and what is out of line.
    –have an organization that’s “flat” enough that one responsible person can blow the whistle on another without being shut down or excluded in retribution
    –get the authorities involved early — the longer you wait, the more diffuse responsibility gets and the harder it gets to take action
    –larger organizations should also have high expectations regarding this — it’s not OK for one member coven to be doing stuff that reflects badly on the whole.

    None of this is rocket science: the post-scandal Catholic church actually has some pretty good policies that are worth looking at and copying at the local level.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    What you likely missed is actually googling “Pagan pedophile”. Here’s just the first I’m Feeling Lucky link:


    Guess there are predators in all walks of life.

  • mulchman

    Even groups with an actual organization have difficulty with the pedophile issue. A member of the Sekhet-Maat Lodge of the OTO was convicted of child pornography and they refused to comment. If the Catholics and Boy Scouts have to be accountable-what about the OTO?

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