Cult-Proof Your Coven: Discussing Ethical Sexual Conduct

Cult-Proof Your Coven: Discussing Ethical Sexual Conduct June 11, 2018

Is there anyone sexier than a Witch in full possession of their Divinity? Confidence, power, wisdom, attainment? Throw in the ethereal aesthetic, and it’s the package deal! <hubba hubba> As we know, with great power comes great responsibility. Sexual power requires the most delicate and stringent responsibility, which is why we should discuss our expectations for the ethical sexual conduct of our witching leaders.

Compass at Twilight
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Religious Authorities: A Beast of a Different Stripe

When witches, like any normal human being, meet other folks in the wild and romance blooms in honest and natural ways, that is a wondrous thing. Regardless if they are a priest/ess, a grand high Magister or a rank noob with stars in their eyes, or a muggle who could care less of spiritual things, and y’all get it on in a consensual way, more power to ya.  That is not what I’m here to address.

I’d like to discuss the situations when new students in a spiritual, magickal or religious tradition–the uninitiated–seek initiation under the tutelage of an “authority.” When folks are introduced via a teacher/student, or seeker/clergy relationship FIRST, and are working toward membership in that organization, that is a beast of a different stripe. So as not to risk back-sliding into cult-like abuses, best to think these issues through clearly before they arise, and put some guidelines into place.

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Sexual Exploitation: #1 identifier of a Baneful Cult

Cult:

  1. a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
  2. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
  3. a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.

There are many ways that ethical conduct in a neo-pagan context will look vastly different from those of the puritanical over-culture. Yet, for the same reason it was never OK for Catholic priests to sexually exploit altar boys, it will never be OK for a Wiccan Priest of Priestess to sexually exploit anyone, of any age. We didn’t go to all the trouble of escaping the evils of the old churches, only to allow it to breed in our groves.

If an authority of any sort in a religious community exploits their position of power – setting themselves up as the only gatekeeper to Divinity – they are a sociopath. “No one connects to the Gods, unless you sleep with me?”  Take them down.

If they manipulate the trust of those people seeking acceptance into their group, by funneling them like lambs to their own bed, they violate Divine Love, and their sacred commission. They are a sexual predators. Take them down.

Those are the obvious extreme examples. For the most part, the ethical considerations that face your average witchy priest/esses and students today are far more nuanced.

Seeking !Ultimate Cosmic Power!

There is a glamour of Divinity around that first ritual leader you circle with. When you are brand new to the Craft, and all you know is that when the Priest or Priestess called the Powers into the temple, all your hair stood on end, and your spine tingled, and your heart was blown open by the spiritual intimacy of the circle. A well-done magickal ritual is arousing in every possible way. I’ve found that it is a normal part of the seeking process to crush at least a little bit on that first person you see channeling what to your mind is !Ultimate Cosmic Power!

From the outside, it looks like that Priest or Priestess speaks with the voice of the Gods, they dance with Their feet. They must even crap golden nuggets of magickal righteousness. Do they also make love with the phallus of Adonis? These are the things you might want to know!

A new seeker may be craving a re-connection to Spirit so desperately that they are drawn in like a moth to the witch’s glorious flame. The allure can be so great that they may innocently desire to connect to THEM, through Their vessel priest/ess. They may mistake that spiritual longing as romantic desire for the person they see before them, when it isn’t really the person they long for at all.

So far, all of this is natural and innocent. Except, now the ball is in that authority figure’s court. How they respond to this situation is the defining test separating the wise and benevolent mentor, from the self-serving and baneful cult leader.

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Discretion and Self-regulation

If that priest/ess is unscrupulous, it could be way too easy exploit their way into a sexual relationship with their students. To take advantage of this vulnerable situation is profane, in my opinion. Even if their student is a full-grown, consenting adult who *wants* them desperately, a good teacher should know better than to allow the dalliance.

Once you’ve attained initiation or ordination, you’ve no-doubt realized that there is no difference between the sacred and mundane; all acts are magickal acts. A priest/ess is never “off-duty” from their commission as a Divine representative. To abuse sexual intimacy at this point is anathema to our very purpose, and I would seriously doubt your actual attainment, regardless of the credentials you’re touting.

Witches reclaim our sexual sovereignty as a healthy, sacred and necessary part of being human.

“For behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals. (1)”

We affirm our Divine right to have consensual sex with the adults of our choice, or NOT, as we desire. However, this does NOT imply we have an all-access pass to wanton coupling. Just because you can shag someone, doesn’t mean you should; discretion is the soul of witchcraft; self-regulation is a necessity for personal sovereignty. To claim otherwise is cult-like thinking.

True in love you must ever be, lest thy love be false to thee.
These eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill,
An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will. (2)”

What this passage in the Wiccan Rede means to me is that if you aren’t trustworthy and honest in how you engage others, then the powers of Divine Love will spank you back into right relation the hard way – YOU will be taught a harsh lesson in return.

How folks define “harm” can be subjective, so allow me to make my case for why romantic and sexual encounters between students and leaders in a coven can be a harmful thing.

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Dual Relationships and the Uneven Power Differential

Interference with the natural course of a student’s spiritual development is the problem. The initiatory experience of witchcraft (of any mystery tradition) is hard enough without also navigating a new sexual relationship. Romantic entanglement on top of the already complex student/teacher relationship is needlessly rife with social, emotional and mental peril.

To allow a romantic “dual-relationship” with your students, regardless of the subject matter, is verboten in civil society because there is an uneven power-differential between you.  If two partners cannot approach each other as equals, without any outside sway of power over the other, it cannot be a healthy relationship long-term. Even if both of you just want a short-term thrill, that is a distraction to the student’s progress.

A responsible mentor should instead be asking: What is the student avoiding within themselves by trying to seduce yme? What outside locus of control are they projecting onto the closest authority figure? To do that is a symptom of the old patriarchy (dominator culture) that earth-centered systems (a matriarchal cooperator culture) are supposed to reprogram.

“And thou who thinkest to seek Her, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee.(1)”

Sex *will change* the dynamic to an untenable thing – maybe not right now, but eventually.

Why? If you have any sort of say over how your lover advances through training, or initiation, or even membership in your group, then you have an unfair advantage over them. It will influence every other aspect of your personal relationship. It will also create tensions and doubt among the other members. Is there favoritism going on? Are their leadership decisions objective? It is a quagmire in every direction.

What if the student doesn’t want to continue the romantic relationship with their teacher anymore, but teacher has the power to axe them from the program? And then uses that leverage to try and control the student.

What if teacher wants to stay in the lover relationship, but knows in their soul the student isn’t well suited to this spiritual work they are teaching? The student just isn’t getting it, teacher knows they are not suited for the group, and now they have to play the “bad guy” in that student’s narrative. That rejection is going to put a damper on their home life, I daresay, so motives and objectivity are compromised.

What if there is an unscrupulous student, with ulterior motives, but they have teacher over a barrel because they need student to pay half the rent? Now they use their leverage to control the teacher. You know what you have to do, but dayum that is going to hurt.

I am not making these examples up – these things have happened to the witches I know. There is a reason most covens explode in the first few years, and I’d posit that sexual tension is the biggest culprit. Just say no to dual-relationships.

The Glamour will Fall

The glamour is an illusion.

Eventually the student’s growth allows them to see past the glamour of your sexy attainment–that is a vital initiatory step and it usually happens around 2nd degree. The priest/ess must be prepared to fall from the pedestal and disappoint them. This is actually a healthy thing, even if it sounds a lot like condemnation. I’ve written on this topic here.

I believe that it is imperative for a student’s full growth into their own position as Witch and Priest/ess to then fly from their former teacher’s nest and go their own way for a time. They’ll need some separation to establish their independence. To mentor a student through their initiatory process must be more like a parent/adult child relationship. To do otherwise has an incestuous vibe that I can’t get over.

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Extenuating Circumstances

But let’s say that both parties are just sure that their attraction is the exception to the rule. This isn’t just lust, or fascination, this is loooove. This is the holiest of twin-flame reunions across lifetimes and they’ll extinguish from heart-break to deny their carnal yearnings… Clearly, the distraction exists and to deny it is folly. This leaves only two options: have each other, or separate to wither, but the normal functioning of a teacher/student relationship is no longer an option. <witch drama is a clear and present danger>

If this is so, the only responsible move that teacher can make is to resign from any authority over the student. The student can choose to resign from the program and go find a different teacher. If it isn’t worth it to the leader to step down from their position of power so they may explore this romance with propriety, then the relationship wasn’t for their Highest Good anyway. If they aren’t willing to sacrifice all hubris for their love, it was never love.

Cult-Proof your Coven: Ethical Conduct Guidelines

The coven I co-founded has a mission of responsible mentorship of seekers. We work very hard to ensure that our “outer court” mystery school, as well as the “inner court” Coven that administers that program, remains a safe and ethical training ground. This is important to us, because as young seekers several of us ran afoul of unscrupulous religious authorities and we aim to elevate Witchcraft into something better than we found when we got here.

“Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside. (1)”

To that end, we wrote a charter with our expected rules of engagement. We vow to uphold that charter through our own conduct each year.  Should we fall short of our ideals, we have established methods for working through those challenges. We have outlined many checks and balances, and we expect that with greater authority we bestow upon our leadership, the greater the level of discretion and responsibility will be required of them. This level of democracy isn’t easy, but so far it has been worth it.

The following is our current year’s charter language concerning ethical conduct. I suggest your group write your own guidelines and then vow to live by them. More importantly, hold each other accountable and follow through in enforcing the rules when the need arises.

Section 7 – Ethical Conduct of Leaders, Teachers, and Mentors:

A. Romantic and sexual relationships are strictly prohibited between teachers, mentors, and ministers and anyone under their tutelage.
4. Members of Spirit Ministry (High Priest, High Priestess, Summoner, Maiden) are considered mentors of all non-initiates.
5. Prior established relationships are not subject to this restriction.
B. Confidentiality will be maintained between students and teachers barring any indication of injury or harm to self or others.
C. Any claim of unethical conduct should be made as soon as possible to any member of the Leadership council, who will convene a grievance resolution meeting among all parties.
1. Fire Minister, as parliamentarian, will conduct a fair and unbiased investigation into all claims of misconduct.
2. Should the Fire Minister have a conflict of interest in the dispute, the Summoner will act as parliamentarian.

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In conclusion:

In my mind, once a witch jumps the besom into their own vows of witchery, we all stand on equal ground. When witches have an equal vow to membership in a coven, with an equal vote, with equal rights, then all is fair game for potential romance.
These issues are complex, and require clear communication among all members of your group. The point is to have the conversation well in advance of any issues arising. Figure out your shared ideals, make them official, and then strive ever towards them.
In perfect Love and Trust,
~Heron

  1. The Charge of the Goddess – Doreen Valiente  Source at sacred-texts.com
  2. The Wiccan Rede – poetic long form  Source at Sacred-texts.com
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