From the public downfall of Kenny Klein and the unsettling truth about Marion Zimmer Bradley, to multiple blog posts by Scarlet Magdalene, Sarah Anne Lawless, and many others – there has been a necessary call to examine abuses both of the past, as well as current practices and personalities. I have been pondering what are some concrete ways to address sexual abuse in Pword communities including: how prevent it from happening or continuing, healing the survivors, and how to help newcomers spot the signs.
There is no way I can address everything completely in a single blog post. Nor do I have all of the answers or think there’s any one right approach. Frankly, a lot of this subject has been circling in my head for over a couple years now, and I’m still working at drawing it out. But I think it’s time to put some words down as best I can for now. I’m also sharing a couple of group sigils that were just made on tour that others may find helpful.
Today & Yesterday
Talking to teens through 30 somethings today at events and online, I gather that the younger generations have a LOT more information at their fingertips. As a result, they are more aware of how to spot a multitude of warning signs. It’s harder to get ensnared when you know what to look for, and aren’t likely to be lured in by someone outside of your age/social group. I don’t fear the future, I stand in wonder of them and their potential.
My generation and the several before haven’t been so lucky. It was harder to find good books and accurate information, not to mention groups and events. We often made do with what we had because that seemed like the only way to find out more. (“Older meant wiser and more knowledgeable right? And OMG, this older person is showing interest in *me*!” easily ensnared many folks of our time.)
When I look back upon my path and my early experiences as a Witch in the mid-90’s, I was relatively lucky. My personal encounters with sexual predators within Paganism has been rather minimal. Though my describing it as minimal is not to be confused with trivial or non-existent. Thinking back, I had several key factors that helped me be more wary and steer me away from potentially dangerous situations when I saw them:
1) One of the first serious books I read regarding modern Witchcraft and Paganism was “Drawing Down the Moon”by Margot Adler. It gave my young mind an insight into issues surrounding certain groups and traditions, particularly how to look out for telltale signs of sexual abuse, power plays, and other manipulation.
2) In 1998, I had formed a large open-path group and co-founded a tradition, and essentially was in charge of managing both. I wasn’t interested in joining other groups/traditions at that point, so no one could dangle that in front of me as bait. I was largely mistrustful of supposed elders, especially those who I could see clearly engaging in unflattering behaviors and practices.
3) From 1996 onward, I was in a monogamous marriage. It became less healthy as the years went by, and a side-effect was that it was harder for me to have any kind of relationship with other people, unless they were approved. A silver lining in a shit cloud I guess. (I will note, nothing about this relationship had anything to do with Paganism or Witchcraft – and in fact it also pushed me away from public practice for a while too. Different kind of abuse, but I digress.)
BUT there was a brief window before all that when I was first venturing online and into the world in general, where being young and relatively naive could have gotten me somewhere else entirely. And I had that very window flung open in my face again in recent years.
Not too long ago, I was having dinner by myself at an event, and I was thumbing through the program. It was there I saw the name of a person who had attempted to lure me into a relationship and travel to his city/country when I was 17-18 years old – and he was more than twice my age back then. Back then, we never ended up meeting in person because I got into a relationship with someone else and stopped talking to him completely. I found out shortly after that he had also tried this tactic with other young women in our online social group. I have never forgotten his online handles or his real name.
It was the second time in twenty years I was facing his name again – the first was about a decade earlier when someone tried to connect me with him as possible contact/promoter for a dance event. I ignored the suggestion altogether at the time and booked elsewhere.
As I saw the name, I felt a rush of shame, discomfort, and then anger rise up from my younger self. Nothing physical had ever happened in person since we never ended up meeting. But there were long phone conversations and chats that seemed enticingly taboo and exciting then as a teenager, but now I have a much clearer view. I honestly don’t know if this person is still baiting young women, and/or if he’s using a veil of Paganism, fantasy, or fandom to do it. Maybe someone already called him out on the shit he was doing into his early 40’s. I don’t know. I just know was caught off-guard when presented with the past unexpectedly, and even more unsure what to do with it.Moving Forward
What I do know I refuse to let that past have power over me or my path. I truly know there are far many more good people out there than assholes and abusers. I know we are watching old and damaging ways die out with their supporters or go up in flames – while a more conscious, inclusive, and aware community is taking root. We heal ourselves by reclaiming our personal power, releasing ourselves from the shame of others’ actions, and working to help each other.
Of the many things I’ve pondered, one of the things that comes to mind for the upcoming generation is being clear about what is problematic, and what to look for. On my website, back in the late 90’s, I put up several “Warning Signs” to watch for, including:
“The-Great-Riter” This type of Pagan is more than happy to toss off their clothes just for the purpose that “sex under the eyes of the God and Goddess is more sacred!” Sex is NOT a mandatory rite in any ritual, and neither is being skyclad. Be wary of any person you’ve just met who wants to get in your pants because of religious reasons.
I think that’s still good advice. I would add these points to make sure that they are clear (and I’m sure there are many more others would add – this is my list):
– Your body is your own, no one else can make it more sacred or special, no matter what they say.
– No one person is the gateway to magical secrets, nor is sex the only way to get through that door.
– You don’t have to have sex with someone else to work magic, yes even “sex magic.”
– Initiation into a tradition doesn’t happen through sexual intercourse.
– Exercise caution when someone is much older than you expresses unusual interest in you.
– Being told “This is secret, you can’t tell anyone” should set you off running immediately.
– If you feel uncomfortable, you are absolutely and completely within your right to say so. The proper response to this is an immediate cessation of activity, an apology, and acknowledgment of your position. Continued action, persuasion, or shaming is NOT OK.
– Sex is a beautiful thing when it is based fully in consent and mutual understanding between adults.
Sigils for Healing
I want to share two sigils that were created this fall in my Sigil Witchery workshops, that I feel can be helpful to those working to recover and heal from sexual abuse and give more power and support to survivors. These are intended to be tools to assist and help bring about effective change, along with other physical and metaphysical work.
The first one was created at Sacred Hearth Sanctuary in Reno, Nevada on September 21st. It is called the Healing of Wounds Sigil, and it can be used for many kinds of wounds – spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. Use it as a tool for meditation, draw it on the body, use it as a tool for washing/cleansing (carved into a bar of soap), carve it into a healing candle, etc.
Built within this sigil:
The second sigil is the Survivor Support Sigil, and it was crafted at The Curious Cauldron in Ft. Myers, Florida on October 25th.
Built within this sigil:
Use it in protests, put it into correspondence regarding rights, legislation, funding to aid survivors, and promote education. It can be etched into candles, applied with oils, placed on your altar, etc. Follow your gut.
These sigils are just two ways to aid in the process healing. There are many more ways. We heal by telling our truths, our stories, our experiences – and being heard and acknowledged. So even if you don’t have something to say yourself, you can be there to listen to someone else. Healing happens through changing patterns, saying no to abusers and those who are caught up in the cycle of it. Probably one of the most difficult things is working to forgive ourselves: the survivor relinquishing the pain of shame and anger associated with the abuse; for others, it’s the complicated feeling of helplessness or frustration of ignorance for not knowing or preventing it. It’s a tangled mess, but it can be unraveled and released.
The End, Not Really.
In conclusion, this is just the beginning, barely a drop in the bucket. Change doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it perfect. It takes many, many steps. The most powerful change happens at the roots, focusing on the present and on into the future. We can’t change the past, but we can seek to make a difference now. We can’t undo the wrongs that have happened, but we can work to comfort, heal, and strengthen. We don’t have to make do with old broken bones, we can build with wisdom and potential.
We can do what Witches do best: weave change within ourselves, changing the world around us as we work. It’s usually messy, underappreciated, and hard work, but worth the effort nonetheless.
The more I think about it, the more I feel the upcoming generation of Witches are way ahead of us in many ways – it’s up to our generation (and those who have come before us as well) to heal ourselves, clear the debris of the past, and to make room for their potential.