The Fish Rots from the Head Down: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation

I have been thinking long and hard about parenting this past few weeks. I have a wonderful son who is growing into manhood. The path that seems the best for him is certainly non-traditional, as non-traditional has his parents are, to be sure. He is a child who excels at one-on-one interactions and self-directed learning and, in accordance to society, fails at the cut-throat business of high school. I have given thought to all the good parents who raise horrible children and all the horrible parents who raise wonderful children, despite the horrors imposed upon them by their childhood. All this swirled in my mind when following a dream about asteroids falling in my neighborhood, an asteroid exploded within the pagan community.

Honestly, my personal stress meter was already off the charts. I am terribly behind on finishing edits to my book. My husband has been having serious back issues that have required multiple trips to the spinal doctor with medical outpatient procedures. My wonderful son has been faced with tough life-altering decisions around school and his future. My work is rolling out a new process and software that I have been implementing. I dedicated two new students last week, hosted a high priest and high priestess from out of state, and after the lull of winter inactivity, my community is gearing up again, having just celebrated its formal formation after over a year of planning and discussion. My personal goals and expectations are disproportional to my physical abilities and time constraints.

Then I saw my sister was in distress. I dropped everything and called her to discover the source of her discomfit. After my sister explained the situation, to her surprise, I simply said, “Oh.”

While she talked about the stress, I looked up things on the Internet, verified the story, and calmly listened to what actions had or had not been taken. When she was finished, my only response was, “Well, unfortunately I’ve been in the heart of something just like this before, and it’s a T-shirt I never want to wear again.”

My sister was surprised by this revelation, because it is a painful time in my past I do not discuss openly or often. After hearing about what can best be described as the Pagan community’s total freak out, I hung up knowing I would be writing about this issue immediately.

Those who have read this article so far, may be wondering what has happened. On March 26, 2014, the Louisiana State Police issued this Facebook News Release regarding a man who is a prominent elder in the pagan community and his alleged downloads of child pornography. Now factions of the pagan community are pointing fingers at other pagan Elders and Leaders claiming a guilt by association even though the arrested man has not been tried or pled guilty. There seems to be a general message by part of the pagan community that this single person’s choices somehow reflect upon every other person who knew or supported this particular man’s works. That reaction is also coupled with a general feeling of, “What? I can’t believe this has happened!”

Are you kidding me?

I have long run with elders who knew many “famous, big name pagans” and listened to the stories they have to tell of arguments around the exploitation of teenagers and “initiating” them into the sexual aspects of life as a “rite of passage.” Gerald Gardner has often been describe by many who knew or met him as being a “dirty old man” (to be clear a dirty old man when it came to adult women).  Allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against most of the cornerstone names in paganism today. Gavin and Yvonne Frost literally wrote the book  (now out of print) on sexual initiation that allegedly includes minors. When I personally asked them about this at a gathering, the response I got was, “Well, we are still around and still selling books.” The Frosts run with wild support of the general pagan public and teach through their church and school. If they have retracted or clarified their comments around sexual initiation of minors, I have yet to hear of it (if so, by all means, please let me know).

The Frosts aside, several years ago, I attended Pantheacon where a discussion around what elders, leaders and high priests and high priestesses were bound to reveal or not reveal when persons come to them in confidence. I specifically brought up my personal experience of a man and woman who had utilized pagan groups to exploit minor children and explained that when I tried to warn other leaders, I was ostracized and reprimanded. As I was doing research for this article, I found a link to a Wild Hunt article. I believe the couple I had had experiences with in Tennessee moved and were later arrested for similar behavior in 2012, years after I had initially worried that I may have helped run them out of my community only to unleash them into another unsuspecting community.

We, as a pagan community, are suffering from what my favorite author, Susan Scott, calls a serious lack of Squid Eye (Fierce Leadership; Susan Scott; Broadway Business; NY, NY; Kindle Edition, location 195). Squid Eye is the learned discipline of being able to see things others do not see, the ability to see the tells that will reveal where the squid, using his superior art of camouflage, is lying in wait to spring into action and blindside everyone else.  Scott contends it is an organization’s ability to ascertain and face potential threats and address them that enables longevity and grace in the face of unforeseen issues. In essence, Squid Eye is the antithesis of “You get what you tolerate.”

The other issue Scott identifies as a problem for organizations is the practice of anonymity (Fierce Leadership; Susan Scott; Broadway Business; NY, NY; Kindle Edition, location 825), the idea that it is easier to keep quiet than to speak. Scott suggests that those who speak up about difficult issues are shunned in organizations because they have broken the unspoken rules around anonymity.

An Example

When I was involved in a large group in the south, I began to notice incongruences in word and deed. The leaders of this group had known each other a long time and had adopted a protective stance toward one another. I admired that they seemed to have each other’s backs no matter what. Then I noticed behaviors unbecoming High Priests, High Priestesses and Elders. The elders would preach about the inappropriateness of having sex with students and engaging in sexual conduct that made others feel uncomfortable. Yet when faced with the commitment to monogamy that my husband and I share, a High Priestess approached me and told me she was going to have my husband to prove to me that she could. At the time I was considered a neophyte, as was my husband.

This particular High Priestess’s behavior continued to be incongruent with the words and alleged teachings of the group. When I confronted another elder the response was, “Oh – that is her sacred spiritual path, so we have to make allowances for her behavior.”

It wasn’t just sexual misconduct that concerned me. Drugs were explicitly forbidden at these events. One morning I woke to find a group of people spilling out of a tent filled with marijuana smoke. All were drunk and/or high. These were volunteers for the group, and everyone laughed about the incident. I began to feel like the “rules” were more the “*wink & nod* rules.” The rules were applicable only when the persons in charge wanted them to be. Poor and unethical behavior was often whitewashed by “sacred spiritual path working.” Persons who professed deep love for one another simply put up with abusive and dangerous behavior in the name of love.

Then I was brought before a council of elders to answer charges that as a neophyte, I did not display the appropriate reverence for my elders. The lack of consistency between written rules, professed teachings, and application had bothered me prior to this, and after my dressing down by persons I believed were unprofessional at best and unethical at worse, I made a heart wrenching decision. Despite the fact that I had volunteered to lead a series of gatherings, I finally decided that I could no longer tolerate being part of the group. My only source of Wiccan/Pagan teaching, my place where I had learned so much, had become rotten. In my letter of resignation I wrote, “I believe that to say all behavior is acceptable if it is someone’s ‘sacred spiritual path’ is to begin a slow descent on a slippery slope from which there may be no return.”

I was labeled an oath breaker by this group. I was disavowed by teachers. The love I had was crushed under the overwhelming force of condemnation I received. I was emotionally devastated. Still, I walked away because my Squid Eye told me something wasn’t right.

A few months later, I received a phone call from a High Priestess who had long been associated with that group. She told me through tears and anguish that the leader of the group I had just left had done something horrible. Ten years prior, a man who was a convicted child molester allegedly came to her and told her of his conviction. The High Priestess gave him permission to attend the family-friendly events held by this group while allegedly posting secret guards to follow this perpetrator when he was at the events. She did not notify other elder members of the group. She did not get any input or direction from anyone else.

It is my understanding that after participating in the group for years, this man decided that pedophilia was his sacred spiritual path. Since the group was accepting everyone else’s sacred spiritual path, he was tired of hiding his path and wanted the same acceptance as everyone else. He posted this missive on the group’s Facebook page in an open letter to the community. For a letter from an objecting former elder of this group – read this post.

“Looks like you got out just in time!” the High Priestess said to me.

Squid Eye

Crystal Blanton’s words resonated with me: “We as pagans excel at attacking the micro issues and fail at attacking the macro issue, the systems that enable the micro issues to exist.”

Squid Eye demands a look at the macro issues around sexual misconduct and paganism. Here are some guidelines that the pagan community might want to consider.

No One Gets A Pass

“The fish rots from the head down,” a Turkish proverb exclaims. The meaning for the Turks is that if a servant has unethical conduct, it is because his or her master is unethical.

It is far past time that we start holding all pagan elders accountable for their teachings regarding sexual initiation and children. We must demand that they teach in accordance to the law. Laws clearly state that it is rape if a child under the age of 18 has sex with someone over the age of 18.

Then we must hold them to an ethical law, a law that says that coercion in the name of “spiritual enlightenment,” “initiation,” “dedication,” “magic working,” “rite of passage,” and/or “coming of age ritual” is a far worse type of rape. The coercion into sexual intercourse by holding promotion of degrees, joining into a group, or as a rite of passage is a rape of the spirit, soul, mind and body. It is the same ploy used by sexual predators and should be categorically excised from pagan practice.

Elders like Gavin and Yvonne Frost who have allegedly upheld these practices as right and proper should receive the same treatment as persons who are caught in the act. These leaders and elders’ teachings are green lighting the behavior and disparaging the name of paganism and Wicca. If you wouldn’t invite a convicted child molester or someone who collects child pornography, then you cannot invite elders, teachers, high priests, or high priestesses who wink and nod that sexual initiation of minors is okay. If you wouldn’t buy a child molester’s books, then you must not buy these elders’ books. If you wouldn’t patronize an elder’s ministry after his conviction, then you cannot patronize the ministry of elders whose teachings include a normalization of sexual predation.

There must be a unanimous and clear disavowment of anyone who supports, creates, and cultivates a pagan view that this behavior is acceptable. No one gets a pass.

The Time for Silent Objection is Over – Now We Must Act

In all the uproar around the current issue, has anyone stopped and wondered what would happen if we really talked about these issues? A panel on sexual misconduct and paganism where elders really talk about ethical and legal ramifications of harboring persons who have been convicted of child molestation? A webpage where persons can post warnings (not anonymously, but openly) about sexual predators that have come across their paths?

Could we have elders more willing to reveal those whom they know are sexual predators, no matter how famous or well known those persons may be? A willingness to say not only to those persons, “That is not ethical,” but a willingness to warn other elders about those persons who travel and teach unethical sexual conduct in the name of paganism?

Could we have a committee that gets together and spends time looking into the research and the statistics around pagans and sexual misconduct? A group that conducts a study to find out the depth and breadth of sexual predation in the pagan community and then issues a list of recommendations for groups and gatherings to address the issue at the grassroots level?

At the grassroots level, could we have people willing to give a Safer Sex practices class at the beginning of any convention or event, coupled with a dedicated “Sex Fairy” who keeps free condoms and is available for counseling or the reporting of misconduct that may take place at an even?. Rites of Passage that discuss with those coming of age the legal and spiritual ramifications of sexual intercourse and other acts of sexual intimacy? Rites of Passage classes at large pagan events geared toward teenagers to discuss the issues of sexual predation, empowering sexual experiences, and ethical dating and coupling practices? Better guides to parents about understanding that pagan gatherings can never guarantee an entirely “safe environment,” so children should not be unattended? Better education to parents about sexual education at the appropriate ages and social skill levels?

When We Act, We Must Proceed Ethically

If our history of witch hysteria has taught us nothing, then we are bound to create further hysteria. I refer to Lady Spider’s letter again. She identified the facts, chronicled both sides of the issue and then laid out clearly what she would do.

Lashing out at an elder because they know someone who is a child molester is irrational, hysterical and counterproductive. I was born to a pedophile and rapist, and I am no more responsible for his behavior that other pagans who may have known or circled with the most recent offender. The question is, did an elder, high priest, high priestess, or pagan leader KNOW someone was a danger to the pagan community and not WARN that community?

Further utilizing a shocking revelation like this to further a personal vendetta is unethical. Squid Eye would insist that behavior that takes advantage of this type of opportunity to disparage other people, further divide the community or whip up hysteria should be a sign, a warning to everyone that something isn’t quite right with a leader who engages in such behavior.

Proceed with caution and compassion and transmute personal pain, anger, and fear into empathy. Be cautious when information comes forth. Ensure that you utilize only credible sources. Employ compassion that springs from an understanding that molesters, rapists, and abusers generally come from a history of molestation, rape and abuse. Although such a past cannot justify such violations, it can soften your angry heart and avoid allowing fear, anger, and bitterness take root, destroying all that is good within you.

Compassion also helps us better direct the fear, anger and bitterness of others. It allows us to see those in the immediate scandal zone as victims. People who have been caught by the shrapnel of a world they thought was one way, exploding in their faces causing damage to their feelings of safety and sanctity and trust.

Above all, we are pagans who transmute energy. Now, at this moment, we have an opportunity to transmute this pain, anger, and fear into empathy and understanding. We can develop Pagan Squid Eye and start identifying the little breaks in ethics, the inconsistencies in a person’s words and deeds that may notify our community that something is wrong. We can transmute our feelings of betrayal and helplessness into solid action.

Call to Action – What Will You Do?

I have written and mailed a letter to the Frosts via snail mail asking for a renouncement, if they haven’t already done so, of the chapter on sexual initiation of minors from the book published in 1972 and securing an agreement that should the book republish, that chapter be omitted.

I am going to find out who has supported them in the past and write letters to them as well, asking that they not support any teacher or elder who promotes pagan teachings that legitimize the victimization of children in the name of pagan spirituality or the use of sexual intercourse as a manipulation by withholding degrees, dedications, initiations, magic working or coming of age rituals.

Once these efforts have resolution, I will determine how best to fight this continued acceptance of the link pagan spirituality seems to have with sexual exploitation. My efforts will continue in workshop suggestions, writings, letters to leaders and presentations.

What Will You Do?

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Spear of Athena: Relationships are Relationships, or I Need a Break

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