A Choice for the Erinyes of Victimhood

A Choice for the Erinyes of Victimhood June 18, 2014

A reader recently commented on one of my blogs dealing with sexuality that I was being pursued by the “Erinyes of Victimhood” (a felicitous phrase), who certainly were never going to believe anything I might say. I have been accused of “mansplaining,” of being a “leering chauvinist,” and so on. I do not believe any of my wives or lovers have ever thought of me that way.  Perhaps he’s right, but I hope I can bring a message to those who are still suffering: there is a solution. I hope they can believe that they have the power to end their suffering. Perhaps a man cannot fully understand the trauma of rape—even though men get raped also—but I have tried. What I do know is that no person need let a trauma in the past determine the quality of all future life.

Soon after my abrupt and spectacular expulsion from being a Catholic at age 14, I found Leland’s Aradia. I was fascinated by the concept that the ultimate deity was a Goddess, specifically, Diana.  Later I wondered why Apollo’s sister, the Virgin Huntress, came to be considered the Queen of the Witches. A clue lies in the myth of Actaeon, killed by his own hounds as punishment for spying on Artemis; the clue is that Artemis was bathing to renew her virginity, which shows that she must have lost it, which shows there is another side to her.

When I had the immense privilege of taking the Sather seminar from Walter Burkert at UC Berkeley, one day we viewed a surviving Greek painting, a scene having to do with the Mysteries. In it were two identical young women holding torches. After much discussion, we agreed the picture was equating Artemis and Hekate, the Goddess of Witches in Greek belief, who guided women’s souls to the underworld, as Hermes did for men. As Sappho wrote,

When golden Hekate, handmaid

To Aphrodita, leads me

Into Persephone’s dark bedroom . . .

 But what was Artemis doing? Regrowing her hymen? Changing her social status? Let me suggest that virginity is not a physical state or a social status, but an attitude toward oneself: you are a virgin because you believe you are. In many chauvinist societies, a woman who has never had sex is a commodity. In many other societies, unmarried women, like Pocahontas, have been free to have active sex lives (a fact not even hinted at in the Disney movie, of course), and only married women were expected to be monogamous. In such societies, often a man would not marry a woman until she had borne a child, thus proving her fertility in a world where most children died before age five, where the survival of families and society depended on her fertility.

When I discussed this curious story about Artemis with one of the most talented Witches I know, she commented casually that restoring one’s virginity was a traditional power of a Witch, and that she had done it many times. When I asked if she was free to tell me any more about that (it certainly sounded like a Third-Degree Secret to me!), she said it was simple, not secret, but also not easy: after every relationship and every trauma, she let go of all the old feelings, gave them to the Goddess, and began with a clean slate. What an astonishing concept! I thought, because letting go of all such connections is almost impossible for me.

The psychological event that expelled me from Catholicism also disentangled me emotionally from my narcissistic mother, but by age 14 my personal boundaries had become like a semipermeable membrane, as is typical of women in America, not like the hard edge that most American men develop, that causes them to clash like rams butting heads. Many men find it hard to discuss emotions at all or to feel intense empathy, where the latter is far easier for most women—and for me. I merge with people all the time, especially with women. When I make love to a woman, it is the psychic openness, bonding, sometimes even oneness that is the greatest and lasting pleasure, far more so than the fleeting pleasure of orgasm. As a result, I have at least a tenuous psychic bond with every one of my lovers—but with some still a powerful one.  That has not always improved the quality of life, but life certainly has been interesting. And as another result, I don’t understand how rape is possible, at least not for me. I cannot reach orgasm if the woman is not enjoying it or is psychically blocking me. I could not even achieve an erection if a woman were terrified. I also think far more men are like me than many women want to believe.

To believe that all men are potential rapists is pathological, is a symptom of the endemic mental illness that Wilhelm Reich called the Emotional Plague and that I prefer to label Aphrodiphobia, “fear of sex.” It is just as pathological as the millennial Christian heresy that sex is evil, which is why the Catholic Church was teaching (until Vatican II) that having sex was always a sin, unless you were married, and even then it was a sin to enjoy it. I am sure that was not what Rabbi Joshua the Nazarene taught, because all Rabbis have believed they must fulfill the very first commandment in the Torah that God gave to humans: Be fertile and multiply. Since sex is the only way to fulfill that commandment, sex is not in itself a sin in Jewish theology. The negative attitude toward sex actually came from the dualism of the pagan Greeks, whose general attitude, as the Orphics phrased it, was the “The body is a tomb.”

Any belief or attitude that prevents one from fully and freely enjoying sex as a gift of the Gods is a symptom of that pathology. Certainly being haunted by the trauma of rape fits that definition. No matter how badly we have been hurt, no matter how low one has sunk, we are always free to make the decision to change, to stop being addicted to our own suffering. Perhaps you do not believe in the concept of free will, but I do. You can be free of that suffering by making a 100% unconditional decision to stop suffering, and then actually stop, by turning your will, your life, and all the baggage of the past over to the Goddess, the Gods, or however you conceive of your Higher power.

When my third wife, Lady Epona (who first connected with me because we have the same AA birthday), was explaining the Steps to some young men Witches in Palo Alto, they objected, “I can’t turn my life over to anyone!” she replied, “What do you think you did at your initiation?” The reply was usually, “Oh!” (She is also the author, under her non-Craft name of Nora, of “A Pagan/Polytheistic Interpretation of the Twelve Steps,” which you can find online.)

Of course, you cannot turn your life, etc., over unless you believe the Gods are real, that Someone is there who is willing and able to accept it and to do the impossible for you. If you think that the gods are fictions created by humans, or that the Ultimate is an impersonal force (impersonal means “not caring”), or perhaps that the gods are finite spiritual entities with limited powers, then it won’t work. But actually you need only be openminded and admit that you do not and cannot know much about the Gods at all. Face it, women have the right and the ability to enjoy sex as much as, or even more than, men do. If you are still suffering, if your sexuality is not a source of power for you, that’s because you are choosing to suffer and because your faith is weak. It is your choice whether you cling to your addiction, or whether you give all the suffering of the past to the Goddess, take your own power back, and become as innocent, virginal, optimistic, and energetic as a teenager again. If you do not yet know how to do that, then you have not mastered your Craft.





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  • Cat lover

    It sounds as if you are saying that if a person can’t “get over” a trauma they are not “enlightened.” I find that a dangerous and insulting idea, whether we are talking about rape, oppression, the death of a loved one, or devastating illness or accident. I don’t believe that people truly “get over” these things. They integrate them into their Selves, sometimes in a healthy way and sometimes not.

    • Roi de Guerre

      I agree with Cat Lover. As someone who been a care -giver to victims of rape, it is my experience that your comments on recovery and choosing to get over it largely miss the mark. Your comments about not having enough faith and choosing to live in misery are very like the drivel that spouts from the pulpits of fundamentalist Christian churches.

      I don’t think you meant to come across that way, but your last paragraph is tantamount to victim blaming.

    • Sunweaver

      You’re absolutely right. At best, the trauma (any sort of trauma) can be integrated into the Self in a healthy way. That’s a years-long process and, while healing from trauma can be part of your pathwork, one’s ability to “get over it” should not enter into the evaluation of one’s abilities as a witch or priest/ess. Something like PTSD is not something you just “get over,” even with the most carefully crafted and clever rituals. I know very capable witches who have never “gotten over” certain traumas in their lives.

      As a side note, “fear of sex” already has a name. It’s called “genophobia.”

      Perhaps Mr. Kelley would find his readers more inclined toward positive responses if he were to write on subjects with which he has direct experience.

      • Robert Mathiesen

        Hmm … Maybe a normal, healthy person does not have just one self, but a multitude of them, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. If so, mostly just one of these selves is awake at a time. Part of my own Craft is knowing what my most useful selves are (not all of them are useful), and knowing how to wake one up and put another one to sleep as each new situation requires. If one does this wisely, each self is aware of all the others that have ever been awakened and proven themselves useful. [My family’s view was that a newborn has no self at all, but develops many of them over time. At first the newborn’s parents and other adults shape a slef, or several selves for the baby. With time, the child seizes more and more control over the process. Guiden by wise adults who have done the same thing themselves in the past, the child may succeed in turning the process into a kind of art, in which the works-in-progress are the individual selves that one has grown in one’s body.]

        • Robert Mathiesen

          Sorry for the typos. “slef” is “self,” “guiden” is “guided.”

        • Deborah Bender

          When I introspect carefully, what I observe is something like that.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    So it may be a generational thing (I’m part of the Silent Generation) and even a regional thing, but I’ve never been able to understand where the notion comes from that people can and should expect to live physically and emotionally healthy lives. — Easily 75% of the adults I knew growing up in the ’40s and ’50s had been more or less crippled and stunted by past traumas, and within my own family it was 100%. Medical treatment was still primitive and painful, antibiotics (even penicilin) were not easily available, and psychotherapy wasn’t even on the radar. So you sucked it up, all of it, as much as you could; you endured and shut up about your pain. If you really couldn’t shut up and endure, you were shunned and cast out by society at large, sometimes even by your own family. And so some of us, the luckier or smarter ones, figured out ways — dodges, if you like — to fix ourselves up. (Aidan’s elder witch sounds like one of these.) What worked best for my family was the notion that a life can be a work of art, where the actual person is three things at once: the artist, the clay to be shaped, and the work of art. Others used other dodges. To be sure, they’re more or less equivalent to pulling out one’s own diseased tooth with a pair of pliers from one’s workbench. But in the end, the diseased tooth is out, or one has learned to shut up and endure one’s pain as if it were one’s own responsibility to do that, and no one’s else. — So where *did* that strange notion come from anyway, that notion that one has some sort of a right to live a physically and emotionally healthy life? (That is a serious question for the folk who have commented on Aidan’s post. I’m genuinely puzzled. Something shifted there between my generation and the later ones. What was it?)

    • Roi de Guerre

      With respect, there is a shift. Although I disagree that most folks feel they have a right to an emotionally and physically healthy life, rather its hope of one.

      Basically what has happened is that we (humanity) built on the work of earlier generations and have a better understanding of cause and effect for a larger catalog of traumas. Because of that there is a slightly increased ability for individuals to seek and receive help in overcoming those traumas.

      I find that knowledge leads to experience, experience leads to understanding, understanding leads to compassion, compassion leads to empathy, and empathy leads to healing.

      If we have increased our knowledge, then it is reasonable for people to expect an increase in healing.

      So yes, there is a slightly reduced amount of suck-it-up (though still quite a lot) required today compared to then. That’s not a bad thing, and we all owe a debt to those who suffered through with less help in the past; their experiences paved the way towards healing.

      • Robert Mathiesen

        Hmm, maybe! I’ll have to think about your answer some more. I tend to think that substantial progress in some area of human life is always accompanied by substantial regress in some other area, that there cannot be any brighter future toward which humankind might be progressing o evolving. But I might take too grim a view of life, the universe and everything. I like your caution when you speak only of a “slightly reduced amount” of sucking it up.

    • Deborah Bender

      My older brother’s a year younger than you and he’s always been buttoned up. We didn’t grow up together and neither of us understands what makes the other tick.

      I think it’s just an example of the truism that you don’t miss your water till the well runs dry. Growing up middle class in the 1950s, I took material abundance and physical security utterly for granted. Healthy emotional interaction was harder to come by. I had to get through a long period of emotional isolation and adolescent psychic awakening on my own resources and in silence. That toughened me in some ways and crippled me in other ways not fixable without more drastic measures than I’ve been willing to try.

      One thing that differentiates homo sapiens from other animals is the length of the time during which the young animal learns and gains skills through play. If that’s truncated because of lack of parental care or outside threats, the youngster can’t fully develop. For humans, the natural ending of that period is probably around age twelve, and after that, most of us should probably go to work and start adult lives as our ancestors did. As an adult, you play the hand you were dealt, as skillfully as you can.

  • Deborah Bender

    “You can be free of that suffering by making a 100% unconditional decision to stop suffering, and then actually stop, by turning your will, your life, and all the baggage of the past over to the Goddess, the Gods, or however you conceive of your Higher power.”

    The way you phrase that makes it sound as if one makes this shift by exercising one’s will. In fact, the Twelve Steps begin by acknowledging powerlessness and surrendering the will, as you say.

    Serious emotional problems certainly can’t be fixed through will power: “Snap out of it!” Although surrendering to a higher power worked for you and may have been the only thing that could work, and although it has worked for others, it does not follow that it works for everybody. You, sir, are proselytizing.

    I do see a more general principle. In order to shift out of a deeply ingrained emotional pattern, it is probably necessary to face up to it while in an altered state of consciousness.

  • Deborah Bender

    I’ve added a long comment to Aidan’s previous post, proposing that the Wiccan ideas about rebirth may have a Jewish origin.

  • Volcheka

    Schrodinger’s rapist is what I think you are referring to in this
    “To believe that all men are potential
    rapists is pathological, is a symptom of the endemic mental illness that
    Wilhelm Reich called the Emotional Plague and that I prefer to label
    Aphrodiphobia, “fear of sex.”.”

    Schrodinger’s rapist is not the belief that every man is a potential rapist, it is the knowledge that a person can not tell if a given man is a rapist, especially not early in their acquaintance. It is not that every man is a potential rapist, it is that there are potential rapists and they don’t necessarily look or act any different, right up until they do.

    Let me change the scenario just a bit, maybe analogy might help with understanding.

    You know that there are or were antipersonnel landmines planted in a field and there may be some left behind after the war ended. Are you going to go, with no precautions at all, and plow that field or are you going to do everything in your power to try to make sure nothing blows up in your face?

    We know that there are rapists out there, and that they don’t have horns or a tail so as to be easily told apart from the one’s who have empathy and honor.
    So you tell your best girlfriend where you are going when you are out with a new guy, you arrange a call at a set time, you make plans that don’t involve being alone and vulnerable because that’s better than having a mine blow up in your face.

    Don’t take it personally that we don’t trust you immediately because you are a “nice guy” who would never do that sort of thing pr because your aura is so pure or whatever it is that should be obvious to all of us. Successful predators develop mad skills at getting up close to their prey, and sugar, I’d rather hurt your feelings than be raped.

  • lizzysimplymagic

    If you want the Furies to leave you be, don’t go out of your way to rile them.

    I don’t believe you should equate “fear of sex” with “fear of being raped”. I also suggest that one should hesitate to equate losing one’s virginity with being sexually assaulted. Your friend re-virginizing herself after every consensual relationship, however traumatic, is not the same as what a rape victim goes through to heal.

    You seem to be under the impression that women who have been sexually assaulted simply hate sex, which is a gross oversimplification and a tad insulting. Women who have been assaulted or abused still have libidos, we just may have some baggage too. We need a safe place to explore both our wounds and our sexuality without shame – not judgments about how weak our faith must be because we struggle. I don’t know why the Victorian notion of woman being anti-sex keeps slipping into modern conversations, but it always seems to be men making that assumption! I am here to tell you: women like sex. Most women I know just hate BAD sex, and sex that reminds you of being attacked tends to be bad. But I guess that’s our weak faith showing again, right?

    You said letting go of connections was “almost impossible” for you and that you cannot imagine rape, as either victim or perpetrator. So how is it that you’ve, with no direct experience or insight, discovered the ability to be cured of the trauma of sexual abuse?

    Even women who haven’t been rape victims are wary of strange men, because… facts. Volcheka put it well. Even women who haven’t been assaulted outright may have experiences of been leered at, stalked, menaced, propositioned, or casually groped. My personal experience has included all of the above, plus. And several of the men who did these totally non-rapey things were NOT strangers – they were men I knew at work or through friends, who considered themselves “nice guys”. Being “nice” doesn’t guarantee my safety.

    Finally, it should be stated that many Pagan women left other patriarchal religions behind so we could stop being told how to feel about sex by men. Lets not repeat the mistakes of the past, and instead recognize that women have the right to our own opinions about sex, and we really, really don’t need men to tell us how we should feel about rape. We got this one, boys.

  • Maeva

    That was almost a good article. However, rape is trauma; an attack on personal sovereignty (!the Morrigan!); not the same as giving away your virginity and then renewing it. After any attack on personal sovereignty, you must rebuild you own sovereignty, not just ‘let go’.