Bad Advice and Goat’s Blood

Yesterday, Slate.com’s advice columnist, journalist Emily Yoffe (aka “Dear Prudence”), tackled the issue of a Christian woman married to an “atheist” who has recently embraced Wicca. Here’s what she had to say.

There are several troubling aspects in Yoffe’s advice to the “devout” Christian wife, starting with the assertion that her husband has “radically underwritten the rules” of their relationship because he’s shifted from atheism/agnosticism to a theistic belief system (albeit not Christianity). Despite the fact that “Kent” is described as “sweet, attentive, and loving” Yoffe seems to sympathize with the wife’s concern, describing Kent’s newfound Wiccan beliefs as “sacrilegious incantations” and that if Wicca has become the “organizing principle” of his life he may have broken the “spell” of the marriage. Alongside this advice are satirical animations that portray the co-worker who introduced Kent to Wicca as a devil pouring out “goat blood,” implying a Satanic or cultish tone to the change.

I can't see how this would offend anyone.

I can't see how this would offend anyone.

I’m not sure what sort of ideological (or theological) blinders Yoffe is wearing here, but an alternate reading of this tale is apparent to anyone who is a member of a minority faith in a predominantly Christian nation. The wife was fine with Kent’s lack of faith so long as it appeared that he might someday convert to Christianity (He would occasionally go to church!), but once he became interested in a belief system that was not Christian, what was professed to be a blissful marriage took a dark turn. In reality, being married to an atheist should be no harder than being married to a Wiccan, at least from a Christian perspective, both reject the salvation of Christ and the Church. This seems more about the wife’s unsaid expectations, not about Kent’s sudden embrace of Wicca.

This video is an important examination of how far modern Pagan faiths have to go. While people have heard of terms like “Wicca” they still seem to connect it with fantasy depictions, demonic imagery, or cult-like descriptors. People like Yoffe don’t seem to know that Wiccans and Pagans still live in fear of losing their children in custody battles, or that Wiccans had to fight for a decade to have the Wiccan pentacle engraved on government-issued headstones and markers. It doesn’t connect with Yoffe that Wicca is a serious belief system, one that has spread worldwide, one deserving the same respect as any other faith she may be familiar with. I think this advice would have a very different tenor if Kent had become Jewish, or Muslim, or even a Buddhist, but it seems that Wicca is still beyond the pale, at least for Yoffe and the devout Christian wife.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

    I wonder how the wife feels about the flippant way that the question was treated, especially with respect to the animation.  Maybe someone writing into Ask Prudence isn’t expecting brilliant personal therapy and couples counseling, but I’m struck that she seems to want to strengthen her relationship with “Kent” once more and the treatment of her question turns that desire into a sensationalized, semi-scandalous thing.

    • Twilightscales

      I feel for this couple and anyone who consults a so called media based counselor. People don’t understand that it less trying to truly help the people who write in and more about ratings for her column and paper.

  • Guest

    This Slate columnist is nearly always flippant like this and is immune to those reaching to get more sensitivity.
    And generally her advice stinks, too. Some of the commenters say things more interesting and helpful. I think that’s the real target when people send in their stories.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000894589681 Edward Menten

    Bangs head on keyboard 

  • Fionnbeith

    In the near “death throes” of my former marriage, my ex became a x-tian fundie (which she never displayed an inclination for in all the seven years I had known her). She knew I had always been some flavor of Pagan. It only really bothered her when we seperated and she was getting similar advice from her fundie cowgirl friends. My ex literally threw a bible at me in the bedroom while she was on the phone with one of these friends. She demanded I read specific scriptures. I mildly attempted to placate their  wish and read… two pages in I had to point out a flagrant contradiction. Neither of them liked or even accepted the blatant contradiction and continued to rant. They spewed more chapters and verses to “save” me. I was done. We both knew the marriage was over before, however, this episode truly sank the boat completely. The ex has never shown that side since.   

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Few people are brought up atheist. The wife should have known that “Kent” was a spiritual seeker, and those folks are liable to return to seeking.

    Here’s what the wife should be pondering: Did “Kent” return to seeking because he’s bored with the marriage? Or because he became secure enough in the marriage to be willing to risk spiritual experimentation? Has he gotten closer to the co-worker who introduced him to Wicca and, if so, what does that portend? (Particularly if the co-worker is female…) Worry about your marriage, dear, and let the theology sort itself out.

    • Eagle Eye

      Indeed. A new interest, a new friend outside the marriage….it’s an old story that has little to do with Wicca or paganism.

    • Guest

      She tried to get him to become a Christian by taking him to church, only it didn’t work out as she’d hoped.  I’m not surprised — nothing drives people away from Christianity faster than hanging out with Christians.  It sure worked that way for me. 

      Even if their relationship is still a good one (and I don’t believe being a seeker is a sign of boredom — in a marriage or otherwise), she is going to ruin it quickly if she believes she has a right to tell him what to think and what to believe.

  • Shakti_Mandrake

    I also hate that events like this create a further hurdle to coexistence and doming allegiances with the christian community. The partner was atheist which wasn’t a problem.but now that the partner chooses to believe in deity its deemed wring because its not the Christian god? C’mon seriously. Its not like the his and said he was wanting a new.wife or something drastic its just a shift in values which has no impact in his ability to be a partner.

  • Thelettuceman

    A 24 hour, drive through, goat blood dispenser? 

    OH MAN.  WHERE CAN I GET IN ON THIS?  Does it come with Purple!Satan, too?

    • http://www.facebook.com/Zac.Strix.Nebulosa.Kolb Zachary Kolb

      No doubt, is there a complimentary icon of Baphomet or can we bring our own for blessing? And is Purple Satan like Green Tara? If so will he accept an offering of dark rum and medium rare beef? 

      :p

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186404199 Crystal Hope Kendrick

         ”And is Purple Satan like Green Tara? If so will he accept an offering of dark rum and medium rare beef?”   This needs to be a meme.  It’s brilliant!

    • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

      Yeah, I thought Purple Satan was kind of funny too. Insulting, but almost too funny to offend. 

      • Thelettuceman

         I google searched the image, and it’s a stockphoto used on various automotive websites.  That’s somewhat amusing to me, too.

  • happydog1960

    I’d really like to hear what Emily Yoffe has to say in response to some of our questions and statements. I think it would be good to confront this head on, if she’s up for it. If not, we know where we stand with her. 

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I’ve written to her asking for comment, it remains to be seen if she’ll actually engage with us.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    One wonders how Emily Yoffe, who is herself Jewish (she is prominently featured in this profile of Jewish advice columnists), would respond if someone gave similar advice to a person whose spouse had embraced Judaism? Obviously that would be a career ending mistake even for a faux-journalist like Yoffe.

  • Info Cvpp

    Wow she is so far off base and so sadly careless about this woman’s marriage. And talk about TOTAL ignorance! and utter arrogance. This is pathetic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Toni-G-Engle/1449022856 Toni G. Engle

    What a fucking dumbass!! Because he’s discovered a spiritual path that works for him, ‘Kent’ has suddenly wrecked the marriage and broken with the ‘faith’ of their relationship. WTF?? Does this woman seriously think that Wicca is so evil that it will undermine their love? I rarely use this word in public but I feel the need: Emily Yoffe is a dumb cunt!!

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Yoffe is having her ass handed to her in the comments section, and it is all being done in a very civil, well-reasoned, but appropriately-outraged way. Everyone should go there and join in the fun!!!

    • Greenflame

      Thank the Gods for that.

  • Amy_blackthorn

    Please feel free to email her your thoughts prudence@slate.com

    • The Bony Man

       Did, and I made sure to let her have it, in a civilized and respectable tone, of course!

  • http://andrewbwatt.wordpress.com/ Andrew B. Watt

    The vast majority of Christian women married to Pagan men became saints (in the Roman martyrology, no less!) upon their deaths.  I would say that Yoffe is way off base.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

      Having read some of the lives of the saints, I would take this as a strong argument for divorce. Most died pretty grisly deaths. 

  • kenneth

    Has anyone seen this “Prudence” in real life? When something this ludicrous comes along, it feels like it was calculated from the start just to kick the hornets nest of comments and page hits. I think maybe we’re all being “punked” by Sacha Baron Cohen again. I the photos I’ve seen of Yoffe, she is lanky and long-limbed like Cohen, and the facial structure is pretty close too. For all the nationalities and characters Cohen pulls off, drag would be a cinch…..

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    Wicca is actually fairly compatible with a naturalistic worldview (a.k.a. atheism, but note that Yoffe used the a-word, not her correspondent) so this may not really represent a shift to a “theistic belief system” for Kent. He might relate to the God and Goddess as metaphors or archetypes. Just thought I’d point that out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1401994030 Gene Monroe

    As the former Wiccan husband of a Catholic woman (she passed away, we were not divorced) I think I can speak to this. I understand the prevailing POV here; that Kent’s wife is uncomfortable with his new-found faith – but I also wonder if Kent is not making her uncomfortable with enthusiasm for his new-found faith and his desire to have her share his faith. Kent, to me, sounds like a man who has had a revelation (atheist to believer, of whatever kind) and may be just a bit overwhelmed by concepts that are new to him. I think Prudence missed the ball here – Kent’s wife needs to tell him that what works for him doesn’t necessarily work for her, but that she’s very glad he’s found a path that *does work for him. And Kent needs to respect his wife’s beliefs as strongly as she respected his non-belief. We do not proselytize, after all – we let the students find the teacher.

    • Mojavi

      I can see your point, however, she should then speak up and tell her husband that she’s uncomfortable and he should backoff in regards to involving her.

  • http://sari0009.xanga.com/559083265/dualism-polarization-polarism-gigo/ Karen A. Scofield

    Bigotry is not a family value.

  • http://godsrbored.blogspot.com/ anne johnson

    I thought Slate was supposed to be a serious site. If so, there shouldn’t be anything this offensive published therein.

  • http://www.facebook.com/havok.incarnate John Titus

    “One that has spread worldwide” implying that the core tenants of ‘Wicca’ don’t preceede Christianity  by thousands of years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/havok.incarnate John Titus

    Religion shouldn’t have bearing on anything in the real world.  All these issues amount to is a schoolyard fight between two wimpy kids who think their imaginary friend can beat up the other’s.  Pure, unabashed, stupidity when people let these things come between their relationships.  CASE(s) IN POINT:  My wife and I are happily married, she is a Jehovah’s witness and I follow Asatru.  My father in law is a wiccan, and his wife is a devout southern baptist.  Both of our relationships have lasted for years with not a single religious based fight. 

    In short, it only becomes an issue for those who lack the ability to separate their faith from their lives.

  • Kilmrnock

    I can speak to this as well . My ex wife is Roman Catholic . When we married i was Agnostic ……hadn’t been a practicing Christian for many years . Then after a near death experience and alot of soul searching i discovered Celtic Paganism . This did place a large wedge between us , altho she never openly accused me of satan worship or any of the usual stuff . She didn’t respect me anympre or my new religious path .We grew apart and eventualy divorced . I only stayed in a dead marriage as long as i did for my daughters behalf . In many cases a devout Christian just can’t deal with or accept a partners pagan path , particularly when the path change ocurred after they met .I hope these two can work it out , but i am pessimistic based on my own experieceThe other problem i have is with this ” Dear Prudence ” advice columnist. Seems she clearly has a RR bend in all of this .Such a person shouldn’t be giving advise to anyone , and may have ruined a salavable marriage . Her comments about him radically underwriting the rules of their marriage and anti pagan comments and videos is a bit disturbing .Not to even mention inappropriate .The wifes comment on being a devout Christian does not bode well for the marriage either . But i do wish them well and hope counciling will help .But if the wife cannot accept her husbands new path as my ex couldn’t they are doomed .        Kilm

    • Hotstreak12

       it was probably a kind of double wammy in that she maybe expected your near death experience to have taken you to meet “god” and when it didn’t and you sought another path it made her uncomfortable.

  • http://sari0009.xanga.com/559083265/dualism-polarization-polarism-gigo/ Karen A. Scofield

    Disclaimer, the following is a fictitious letter created to make a few points. It does not claim to represent or dictate to the couple in question.

    Dear Prudence,

    My wife is concerned because I’ve found religion, which would be Wicca in my case.  When we got married, I was an atheist and my Christian wife was fine with that. Kinda…

    When I became Wiccan, however, she wrote to some advice columnist who, in response, even created disparaging video complete with Satanic depictions of Wiccans with a large container of goat’s blood (Satan exists in monotheistic theology, not Wicca’s, by the way). That advice columnist not only demonized
    Wicca, quite literally, but stated that becoming Wiccan meant I was sacrilegious and that I had radically underwritten “the rules,” as if any bigotry and purposeful ignorance (a.k.a. “a bad faith decision,” pun intended) toward my religion was my fault; I ruined everything and now provide a target for mass media.

    Well, everything was just “fine” as long as I remained atheist and perhaps might come around to my wife’s beliefs, a conveniently unspoken and unshared understanding!  That type of “understanding” is  deceitful and deceit better not the basis for marriage!  No, sorry, I don’t accept this supposedly normative
    understanding of modern marriage; it sounds more like it’s leading into a “culture”
    war screed than anything else.

    I’m really surprised at this Prudence for supporting any creedist marital wedge controversies. Oh wait, that’s you…

    Signed, 

    Wiccan Husband of a Christian

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DJEQ6KPVHSKNB7IXI34RU4CBS4 John

    It looks like Prudence is showing some prudence; the letter doesn’t show up on her launch page, and the text page shows a big blank under the ‘hubby goes wiccan’ heading. 

  • Mojavi

    I emailed her and got a response.

    “I am not responsible for the animation.

    However, I stand by my point that sometimes two people with deeply held
    but wildly divergent religious views will find it hard to be a couple.
    If the husband wants the wife to explore paganism and she disagrees
    profoundly with its basic tenets, then the marriage is in trouble. Thank
    you for writing.”

    I wrote back asking how is him wanting his wife to explore Paganism any different than her bringing her husband to her church to explore Christianity? No response yet.

  • Northern_Light_27

    Offended over the video, annoyed about the advice. Sounds like the husband has “shiny new thing!” syndrome, where the thing is so awesome and shiny and new of *course* he wants to share it. This is what makes converts annoying (it’s also what makes people with a shiny new fandom or a shiny new hobby annoying, and that’s speaking as someone who’s been annoying in just that way), but it also means it’s a phase. Not the Wicca itself, but the jumpy-puppy reaction to it.  I’d think more responsible advice would be to work on boundaries, and each side being willing to talk about what it means for their relationship.

    I worry about a counselor, though. IME neutrality when it comes to Paganism (or kink, on a different subject) is something that’s often lacking in therapists.

  • BryonMorrigan

    This reminds me of my first marriage, which lasted less than a year.  We got married, just out of high school, and just prior to me shipping off to the Army.  She was, at this time, completely non-religious.  Well, as soon as I got out of Basic Training, and into AIT, I started getting letters/calls from friends back home, telling me that she was sleeping with “Jody.”  (I’m using a fictitious name here, that all Veterans will understand…)  I trusted her completely, and told my friends there was nothing to worry about, and that they were mistaken.

    A few months after we both set up house at my duty station, she suddenly started wearing a cross necklace.  I inquired and was told that it was a gift from her mom, and that’s why she was wearing it.  A little bit after that, she told me she wanted a divorce, because she couldn’t be married to a “devil worshiper.”  So we get divorced, and it’s final the same week of what would have been our 1 year anniversary.

    Now here’s the funny part: A female acquaintance of mine was working at a retail establishment, and my ex’s mom comes in.  Since she knew this woman knew me, she starts talking about how horrible I am, and how her daughter got away from me because I “worship Satan.”  My friend then said, “Oh really?  I thought it was because she was f$%^ing Jody?” and then walked away.  (Note: They really were, and later got married.)
    :D

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      This reminds me of the old joke about Mickey Mouse and Minny Mouse in divorce court.

      The judge looks sternly at Mickey Mouse and declaims, “Mr. Mouse, you cannot get a divorce just because you claim that your wife is crazy.”

      To which Mickey replies, “But Your Honor, I didn’t say she was crazy. I said she was f%^&ing Goofy.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=585826544 Adam Birch

    The question itself seems rather fabricated and is possibly a total porky pie.

    If, on the other hand, it’s the actual situation, notice that the problem lies not with the Wiccan dealing with a Christian spouse, but vice versa and that being portrayed as a “deal breaker”.

    My view as a pagan has always been that if people don’t like me and what I am, they have options, not the least of which is removing themselves from my life and presence.   When I came out as pagan, my Christian friends were very good about it, hugged me and told me that they knew that I was still essentially the same person.

    It would be interesting to know, if the case in the video is real, how the situation played out.  Divorce on the grounds of religious differences?  Don’t think that would float favourably…  Just sayin’.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    Dear Prudence, my wife has decided she is gonna convert to Islam.  I’m mortally terrified that she’s gonna start wearing a Burqa in public, and turn into a suicide bomber…

    Dear Prudence, my husband, who thought he was African American, just found out that his grandfather is white.  I’m concerned that he’s gonna start craving mayonnaise sandwiches and watching NASCAR.  (This being accompanied by a video of friend in a Klan uniform pouring Pabst Blue Ribbon for the husband)

    Now that I have you attention… I’m willin’ to bet that the advice columnist would not DREAM of printing any letter that shows overt prejudice and negative stereotypes in this manner, let alone making a video about it.

    • http://www.meetup.com/wildthings11209/ Genexs

       Hysterical. Thanx, I’ll have a Pabst Blue Ribbon with Frank Booth and cover my altar in blue velvet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Yashendwirh Marena Hoskins

    My first issue is the assumption that non-religious = atheist, which is a step both Yoffe and the commenters here are making. The letter never in dicated whether or not he was atheist, or theist, just not religious. He might have been personally spiritual, but never really meshed with the idea of dedicating to one specific religion, for whatever reason. Maybe he finally found something he liked, Wicca, and decided to feel it out?

    Myself and my husband share different beliefs. He was raised by a family where one half was definitely christian and the other half was loosely native american spiritual. 
    Both of us are rather orthoprax, but are open to  religious ceremonies, going to church/temple/worship, learning, experiences, etc. We overall defend the religiosity of the individual and I guess we are both personally spiritual and share a loose perennial philosophy belief…  My whole family is christian, and I’m some weird blend of agnostic hinduist paganism. I definitely migrated away from christianity as a teenager and even felt animosity when i was a teenager about it, but now that I’ve grown up a bit, I see that kind of animosity as somewhat sophomoric and associate it with teenagers and immaturity and the general desire for the individual to rebel against the organised status-quo. That said, I really hope this woman gets serious answers. Yoffe did have a resolution, but it was surrounded by sensationalizing rhetoric and animations.

    Let me paraphrase it as I saw it; Maybe your comfort with his lack of religiosity encouraged him that you would be supportive while he tries out other spiritual paths as well. If he’s decided this is a permanent commitment for him, and it’s not a commitment you feel comfortable with, it might be time to move on when your interests and needs are bisecting too radically. 

    Oh, yes, for all the bible-haters out there, that are also wiccan, I’d like to remind you that the reason there are several branches of Wicca is because Gardner and several of the original Something-wood coven had disputes when he tried to commercialism, sensationalize and go super public what what was originally a very private and personal practice. There was plenty of what you could call “making shit up and contradiction” within Gardners’ writing and claims, from the coven he was originally initiated into by Dorothy, to him suddenly writing up restrictive roles to the High Priestess and her abilities whenever Doreen started to become quite unhappy with the publicity seeking Gardner was doing. In addition to said historical contradictions, an practicing kitchen witch or spell caster can attest to the number of contradicting correspondences with herbs, colors, imagery, scents, times and so on when trying to construct a spell, considering sourcing such information is heavily reliant on cultural reconstructivism. When’s the last time you read a spell/ritual/instruction book that actually told you where they got their coorespondence data from and why they are, other than some other famous pagan/newage author claiming to know the accuracy and historical value of said correspondences?

  • http://www.meetup.com/wildthings11209/ Genexs

     Dear Prudence:

    I am a Christian, and my husband–until now–was agnostic. This has never been a
    problem in our realtionship. However, my husband recently took a bus trip to attend a collage-town of Innsmouth and he returned smelling like fish. He seems to have picked up this strange shuffling gate. Our sex life has always been good, but now he won’t come near me unless our bedroom is covered in seaweed. Even then, he sometime he just stares at me and doesn’t blink. Up till now,  my bible readings and the parishioners of my church have been a great comfort. I’ve tried to encourage him to attend our worship services, but my husband just keeps talking of Y’ha-nthlei, some mythical city he now believes in. Worse yet, now he wants to send our daughter to Oberlin College–where he went to school!  Is this the sort of school that will instill the good Christian values our country so needs?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=723245847 Bex Badger Hallihan

    Just imagine if the question was about a formerly atheist husband who had converted to Judaism, and the video contained anti-Semitic imagery from say, Nazi Germany….

    • Obsidia

      Exactly!  To put it into a context of a different religion highlights the insulting nature of the images of the video.  It belittles us and shows us as something much different than we are.  Thank goodness for this website and other sources of TRUE information about Wiccans, like “The Witch’s Voice.”  And these are easily found for people who want to know about us.

  • http://www.meetup.com/wildthings11209/ Genexs

    Dear Prudence:

    My agnostic husband, an antique book dealer, has been acting strange lately. I always held out hope that he would turn to God and Christ, and this year my heart leapt with joy when he burst in on our congregation during Midnight Mass. But he started shouting “CUTHULU’S DAY IS NEAR! SOON WE WILL ALL BE CRUSHED IN HIS TENTICLES!” Everyone found this upsetting, but my son especially so. We all got down on our knees and prayed. But what’s more is the odd effect this has had on my son. They’ve grown even closer after this!  They’ve been building something in the woods behind the house, where there’s this big pile of funny looking rocks. At first I thought this was a blessing, just like the Boy Jesus, helping his carpenter father Joseph. But one night, I saw them heading out back in the middle of the night–dressing in black robes.  I’m not sure, but it looked like my husband was carrying one of his books. Prudence, who is this Cuthulu fellow? I can’t find him anywhere in the Bible.