Killing the Sixties: Abuse, Consent, #MeToo and the Pagan Community
Today, the revelation of accusations of child molestation against the late Ar nDraiocht Fein founder Isaac Bonewits hit the Pagan community.
This comes in the wake of the conviction of Kenny Klein, a prominent figure in Blue Star Wicca, ongoing concern about Pagan sexual culture provoked by the likes of the Frosts, and community discussion about violation of boundaries and consent at Pagan conferences and gatherings.
It is also, of course, currently in the context of the #MeToo movement, which has brought countless women forward with their own stories and acknowledgement that they, too, have been harrassed and/or assaulted…and concerns on the part of some about how, exactly, due process can be observed in relation to accusations against alleged abusers, when the allegation alone is enough to convict them in the eyes of much of the public.
It’s a thorny problem. I don’t pretend to have an answer to it. Certainly expectation of silence on the part of abuse victims is unacceptable.
I don’t know if the accusations against Bonewits are true. I met him a couple of times, but didn’t know him. And I know that those around him are saying that is not the kind of man he was. We will never know his version of events.
Still, his accuser was a victim of abuse at the hands of her parents, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen. Breen died in prison after being convicted of child molestation. It is hard to imagine why she would invent this story for the sake of a book.
It is also true that the accuser is a right-wing, anti-gay Christian who must certainly feel antipathy for Pagans in general.
It is hard to know where to land in a situation like this. I’m as baffled as anyone else. My predilection is to believe accusers; my sense of fairness says that those accused are innocent until proved guilty.
The takeaway for our particular community, however, is clear to me.
First of all, we need to root this shit out. It is simply unacceptable to have sexually predatorial behavior in our community. And that means clear policies at events and gatherings about affirmative consent, and firm consequences for anyone—ANYONE, no matter how revered or well known—who violates them.
But secondly, we need to formally bury the sexual values of our community’s roots.
Let me explain.
Modern Paganism’s roots go back farther than the 1960s, but it was during that tumultuous time that the movement grew dramatically, formalized in various ways such as the creation of organizations and new traditions, and acquired many of the recognizable names we now associate with Pagan leadership. The values of the so-called Sexual Revolution brought on by the confluence of the introduction of the contraceptive Pill and the counterculture’s rejection of mainstream puritanical mores deeply informed the Pagan upsurge of the late Sixties and Seventies.
And Pagan community was about as extreme in its sexual libertarianism at that time as any element of society we might choose to examine. Sex was good! It was healthy, it was freedom, it was…well, in reality it was a male-dominated free-for-all with nonexistent boundaries and little sense of responsibility. Under the banner of breaking with mainstream society as “sex positive”, Pagan circles were rife with unwelcome advances and outright assault (many of which may not have been recognized as such at the time).
This is where the Pagan community came from, in terms of sexual values, and that mentality persisted, pretty much, until the awareness of the ubiquity of inappropriate advances and the necessity of affirmative consent finally crept in starting in the 2000s.
That is where we got our start. Despite the rose-colored remembrances of those who lived through it, it was not a magical time of free and easy sex without consequences. It was a fool’s paradise, and sometimes a nightmare for women.
It is time to formally declare that the sexual values of the Sixties are dead. They weren’t idyllic, they weren’t victimless, and they weren’t of forward-thinking consciousness. We have learned a lot since, and it is that learning that needs to be the bedrock foundation of our community’s sexual practices and behavior.
Now, will that be less “fun”?
Only to those who are in the habit of harassment and assault.
Asking permission may seem awkward. It requires courage and a willingness to face rejection. But just steamrollering past the consent phase is abusive. It just is.
Let that be the “Pagan way”. Let the seeking of affirmative consent and the accepting of what we receive by way of an answer be what we mean when we say we are “sex-positive”. Anything less is being “assault positive”, and we have had more than enough of that.
And it goes without saying that minors can’t consent. Not to adults. I don’t have a problem with 16-year-olds discovering their sexuality together, but I have a BIG problem with a 25-year-old hitting on a teenager. Much less a 40-year-old.
Some have suggested that the inevitable endpoint of the #MeToo movement is a return to puritanical, anti-sex repression. I disagree. I think it’s finally doing the laundry, and clearing out the nasty stuff in the cupboards. And if we conduct ourselves with integrity, we will have far less abuse and harassment in our community going forward.
Now, does this mean that men who misbehaved because they thought it was okay are going to get strung up for things they did decades ago?
Yes, unfortunately, it does. And I can accept in limited cases (certainly not in cases involving minors) the plea that “it was a different time”.
But it’s a different time than that now.
The Sixties are dead, and good riddance.
Long live the 21st century!
Note: this piece was edited to correct a statement that Kenny Klein was a founder of Blue Star Wicca.
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I could name a lot of names — in fact, most of the male Big-Name Pagans from the 60s through the 90s seem to have had fantasies of building their own harems of sexy witchy girls (or boys, depending on their preferences). Caradoc, Aiden Kelly, Oberon Zell — this is sort of how the would-be gurus of the time rolled. (There was a time when I would have pulled punches and not named names. #TimeIsUp.)
It was pervasive enough that my husband and a few of his friends (many with military, law enforcement, or martial arts backgrounds) formed a secret posse that tasked itself with keeping up a permanent creep-watch at Bay Area Pagan events. They kept track of who the bad actors were, protected the new crop of sweet young things, and generally held space and quietly set boundaries in an environment where boundaries were often non-existent.
Which brings up the larger point: sexual libertinism was one aspect of a larger problem within early Paganism, which was the lack of boundaries generally. (We put up with this because of the sense of infinite possibility that came with it — the source of a lot of very intense magick, if we’re being honest about it. But while we acknowledged the positive power of stepping beyond the known boundaries, we very determinedly minimized and denied the very grave dangers.)
If we’re building a new Atheopagan ethic, conscious, willful boundary-setting needs to be somewhere near the core of it. Get that part right, and the correct sexual ethic will follow.
Excellent. One point. Kenny Klein is not a founder of Blue Star Wicca. Blue Star was founded by Frank Duffner and Lady Pamela…Not by Kenny and Tzipora.
Ok–I will correct.
They say that if you can remember the ’60s you weren’t there, but I can and I was. Sure, there were plenty of men who jumped into the counter-culture, and dawning Paganism, in hopes of persuading gullible girls (or boys) to put out for them — most notoriously Charlie Manson. Frankly, they were nothing compared to the exploiters who used Christian, Hindu and even Buddhist trappings to get into girls’/boys’ pants. And never *mind* the tricks the right-wing “patriot” types used!
Remember, a big part of the counter-culture and its spin-offs was *opposition to the war* — and, following that, opposition to *all* violence. Anyone who tried to force his intentions on an unwilling partner was going to be more than denounced by the community once the victim spoke up (do you know what a “curb sandwich” is?). Therefore, the sexual exploiters had to *persuade* their victims, and this was not always easy, as I can attest. Sexual freedom did *not* automatically mean that women (or younger men, or children) became sex-slaves to whoever could talk a good line. Feminism too was dawning in those days, along with women’s athletics, women’s body-building, and the fashion for Oriental unarmed martial arts. In fact, precisely because the cops in those days were less likely to believe a woman who complained about rape, the ’60s counter-culture was a safer place for women than any modern “feminist” enclave; we had to settle our problems ourselves, and we *did*. In those days we didn’t just run tearfully to the nearest “authority” because of some “micro-aggression”; we had no compunctions about punching out any creep who made himself obnoxious, and we believed we had a perfect right to, if not a duty.
So no, let’s *not* forget all the lessons of the ’60s. They weren’t just free sex for men only.
I’m probably giving away my age, but *I was there*: not just in the ’60s, but in Berkeley in the ’90s. I did know Isaac Bonewits, and I knew the Breen/Zimmer/Bradleys, and the Pagan movement back then.
To be blunt, none of these charges — except Walter Breen’s perversity — are true. I hate to say it, but Moira Breen was then and is now a compulsive liar and hysteric, who accused everyone in the Berkeley Pagan community of rape and/or perversion. I and my then-roommate, Don Simpson, were marginally brushed by one of her pernicious fantasies; fortunately, we didn’t believe a word of it, and thus were spared.
It’s said that what put Moira over the edge was that she walked in on her father in bed with her boyfriend. She admits that she was the one who called the cops on her father. Why she spread her resentment to the rest of the whole community I have no idea, but she’s been slandering the whole lot of us for the last 30 years and more. Quite simply, don’t believe her. Not a word.
Yes, I knew Isaac — he held one of his smaller ceremonies in front of our living-room fireplace — and I can tell you that he didn’t have an aggressive or misogynist bone in his body. He not only adored his Phaedra, but he was a little afraid of her. He was also in fragile health for a very long time. The idea of Isaac harassing or assaulting any woman, of any age, is ludicrous.
As for the “evil” sexual liberation of the ’60s, especially in the Pagan community, bear in mind that this was the same time as the rise of Women’s Lib, the beginnings of Gay Lib, and (not coincidentally) the growing popularity of unarmed martial arts. The sexual liberation was more for women than for men, especially after the widespread availability of The Pill — and of martial arts schools. The ’60s were also the dawn of modern women’s body-building, and the popular icon of The Kick-Ass Chick. In brief, the ’60s were the decade when women stopped believing that they were natural weaklings who had to be constantly protected from men. I find it disgusting that modern so-called feminists have turned that revelation on its head.
I agree with this, todays paganism in todays environment is and should be way different
Great article, Mark. Thank you.
As you can tell by my logon, I am theist. I liked your excellent article because it does go to the heart of the problem. The “DNA” of the Pagan movement does unfortunately include predatory males and their ideas of “free love.”
One point that I do want to make – the drinking and drugs. I vended in the Greater Wash. DC area at various festivals. If the festival was a public place, people were more circumspect in acting out. If the festival was at private campground, it depended on the owners. One campground, which shall be nameless, was rife with drugs, drinking and sex. What I gathered was that the permissiveness also included getting high or drunk, which also leads to predatory behavior as well.
Yes, that is certainly so…if not predatory, than at least unconscious and selfish.
Yes, all this.
Another aspect not being discussed is the coven model, which breeds predatory behavior and a culture of abuse. For some time now, I have believed that the coven model itself is toxic and antiquated and should be left behind as we embrace change and awareness within the Pagan community.
Certainly we still need our Pagan families and models for learning, but surely we have the tools now to create those without the hierarchy and secrecy of a coven where sexual violence, coercion, abuse of power, manipulation, and predators thrive.
In our technologically modern times, free and easy access to knowledge makes secret coven membership obsolete as the sole way to attain ancient and esoteric knowledge. Who is really leading a coven today who has such special knowledge that can not be found in dozens of books, schools or online? Covens no longer serve the same purpose they did fifty years ago- so why do we keep them around?
Sure, plenty of covens are not engaged in bad behavior, but does this outweigh the harm done by the ones who do behave badly? The ones we’ll never know about? The coven model creates a safe-haven for the predator, whether intentionally or not, and it’s time we call this out and work to dismantle this outdated practice, that, in my opinion, does more harm than good for young and naive Pagans.
I certainly agree when it comes to covens that have “leaders”. I’ve been in one for 27 years, but we are an egalitarian group and none of us would tolerate for a second if one of us started acting like an authority.
Degree initiations and roles of “high” priest/ess inherently create the kinds of power differentials that can be abused. Stir in some narcissism on the part of those who gravitate to being a “high” anything, plus some lousy boundaries, et voila: abuse.
Some yes, some no. None I was ever a part of tolerated predatory behavior to my knowledge, and when one member was sexually aggressive with an attractive visitor, we refused to work with him. He was the BF of our HPS, and when she refused to back us because (I think) she was in love, the coven split, and most left and created a new one. Generalizations about covens are 100% B.S.
My circle is entirely egalitarian, so we have never had any of these issues. I believe the problem is with hierarchy.The very nature of power differential creates the opportunity for abuse.
This is an interesting idea. I had not really thought about this before. Certainly, there is no reason for a coven to be more secretive or hierarchical or whatever than a book club might be, at this point. It is probably worthwhile to consider more of how we can create social and religious groups that discourage predatory behaviors, rather than create circumstances that might foster them.
I am actually about to publish a piece on hierarchy in Pagan community and why I have deliberately proposed no “degrees” or “priesthood” for Atheopaganism.
Power differentials foster abuse. That’s just a fact.
Wendy, I think you’ll enjoy the piece I published today, “No Gods. No Masters. No Priesthood.”
I for one am eager to move forward learning how to improve and provide safer spaces in our community.
The 60’s and 70’s were the Wild Wild West neo paganism and a lot of people were hurt. I really wonder how much we are will to face or are we just in the process of shifting around the jargon….
I came into Paganism in the 80s when it was still the Wild West, and I see a LOT of difference now. The community conversation is about consent, boundaries and agency, not just “do what you want”.
Additional point: Breen was not convicted of molesting Moira, she did not admit that until after her mother’s death.
There is reason to doubt that Breen engaged in incest, particularly with females, and his tastes were not known to extend to prepubescents.
Reblogged this on The Spiral Grove.
Having lived through a lot of this, most of the grabass activity was done in the 80s including Kenny. But a lot of big name pagans were just as guilty of harassment of all sorts. And I could name names having had it happen with many men at Harvest Moon here on LA when we were putting it on. And being an out lesbian at the time didn’t put you off limits
Yes. Apparently, NOTHING put you off limits.
Nothing, does Aidan Kelly grabbed my butt while sitting next to his wife. And it was my job to keep the special presenters happy so when I asked Oberon if he needed anything he volunteered that he didn’t like Lesbians because we weren’t available to him. He was sitting next to Morning Glory.
Years later (meaning, like in 2005), Oberon overruled the choice of the Anwyfn community for May royalty because it was a lesbian couple. It was a travesty, and drove many people out of that community entirely. I challenged him on this decision, and his reply was, “I started this tradition. If you don’t like it, go found one of your own.”
And that’s just 2 examples
I’m another one who had an unfortunate experience with the Church of All Worlds crowd. Elfkat, nothing surprises me.
I find this peculiar, since all I ever had to say was “no thanks” to any such offers within the Pagan community. Elsewhere, I occasionally had to use my fist, but not often. It’s amazing how much men respect women with big muscles and the willingness to use them.
The 60s (which really extend into the 70s) were a complex time. On the one hand the dominant patriarchal attitudes towards men and the legitimacy of their (our) sexual desires without much concern for how women thought about it was certainly present. As it had been for centuries. Millenia. But it was also when women first obtained a degree control over their bodies they never had before via the pill. It was when feminism (first wave morphing in time into second) arose from the sterile 50s. It was when the largest peace movement since the Mexican American War arose, as did a revitalized civil rights movement. For us Pagans, it was when Wicca gained a popular following where women were in charge as high priestesses. Without denying the problems of that time, which were quite real, to talk about “Killing the Sixties” is stupid and foolish.
Your last sentence has no support in the prior paragraph, Gus. In context, it is clear that what is meant in the title is killing the Sixties sexual mores. That is neither foolish nor stupid, although to suggest that it is may be.
Nice try Mark. The headline was negative, the article was negative, and no context was supplied. What the article and you object to was where the 60s did NOT mark a change from what preceded it. The 50s were not a time of patriarchal self-restraint, if you bother to take a look at that period. What I mentioned was where the 60s began laying the groundwork for the transformation of that society into something better, for women among others – and as it did its implications were quite different from what preceded it.
Gus, your initial comment made it clear that you didn’t even read the article, because it states clearly in it that what needs to be “killed” from the Sixties is its sexual mores.
Your refusal to acknowledge this is obviously more about your having a bee in your bonnet about me than it is about anything else. Your characterization of the Fifties flies in the face of pretty much everyone’s analysis of that period; arguing that sexual repression was not a part of that period’s character is frankly laughable.
Your general defense of “the Sixties” is OFF TOPIC. The topic is the *sexual mores of the Sixties*. The fact that you refuse to see this or to acknowledge what everyone knows about the Sixties counterculture points clearly to your insulting posts not being about the content here, but about your problem with me.
Kindly go somewhere else with your axe to grind.
Another nice try Mark. I read the article. Twice actually. The sexual mores that were abused were where old habits still persisted. Male abuse of women happened in the 50s. A lot. In addition, in the 60s male predators took advantage of young people’s naivete, as in the sad story of what happened to Haight Ashbury. But to say they were symbolic of the 60s is like saying Charles Manson was the logical end of the hippie counterculture.
Sexual repression was a feature of the 50s and sexual freedom was a feature of the 60s, and unless your inner Presbyterian has conquered the rest of you, please tell me what is incompatible between sexual freedom and respect for your partner. If you are right that shouldn’t be hard to explain.
Again, nice try Gus but you appear to have a problem with reading comprehension.
For example, you missed this:
“Asking permission may seem awkward. It requires courage and a willingness to face rejection. But just steamrollering past the consent phase is abusive. It just is.
“Let that be the “Pagan way”. Let the seeking of affirmative consent and the accepting of what we receive by way of an answer be what we mean when we say we are “sex-positive”. Anything less is being “assault positive”, and we have had more than enough of that.”
Your latest straw man is that I am arguing against sexual freedom. I am not, and anyone other than you reading the article knows that I am not. I am arguing for consent culture. Sexual freedom can and does thrive inside consent culture, but that is not what the Sixties-style free-for-all looked like. Read the comments thread, both here and in the many places on Facebook where this article is being discussed. What you will see is woman after woman describing her experience of what you call “sexual freedom of the Sixties”, and not in glowing terms.
“Inner Presbyterian” indeed. You know goddamned well that doesn’t apply to me at all. Your faintly-veiled insults are becoming tiring, and if your next reply contains more of them, I will simply unapprove the comment and move on.
Mark, I am saying your suggestions, which I agree with 100%, are not in conflict with what the 60s brought to this culture. Why is this so controversial?
You know a number of mutual friends of ours, men and women alike, both exemplified 60s and Pagan values and were not sexual predators. That predators existed is true. To mention another- think of “____ Walks Between Worlds,” who was looked down on by everyone I knew who talked about him at all. These people exist in every dimension of society and have done so long before the 60s. They use whatever line a culture makes available to them to manipulate and coerce their chosen prey into their clutches. It is the equating of the Paganism of the 60s with sexual predation that I am taking issue with.
Okay. I simply disagree. What many–especially women–describe of their experience of the “free love” Sixties was a context of continual harassment. That came in as a major cultural thread with the 60s counterculture, and it has to go. That’s what I’m saying.
We also know people who came into Paganism at around that period (late 60s/early 70s, which is generally what people mean when they say “the Sixties”) who were and ARE harassers and abusers.
I have not “equated the Paganism of the 60s with sexual predation”. I have equated the **sexual mores of the Paganism of the 60s** with sexual predation, and a chorus of women validate that claim. Perhaps as a man you are simply unaware that that was the case.
We are apparently coming closer together. Our disagreement seems to be the following. I say, sadly, there was nothing unusual about sexual predation- only that the openness of the 60s, and the relative naivete and idealism of many young people in it gave predators, (who would have been predators whatever their context), a bigger opportunity than before. Again- look at Haight Ashbury. Once the word got out, the scum arrived.
I am defending the counter culture ethic of the 60s as a historically transformative and on balance very good period that laid the foundation for what is best today. But it was injured in part by the mores of the society within which it arose and against which it strove.
You seem to be saying that the relation between the 60s and predation was closer and more intimate than that. And I honestly do not get it.
Most of the predation happening in the context of the Sixties counterculture–given how utterly widespread sexual harassment appears to have been, per women’s reports–was clueless men mashing, not sexual predators per se. Yes, predators would have worked their way in there, but a lot of unwelcome advances were just horny young men groping in efforts to get laid. They weren’t “predators” so much as entitled and clueless and disrespectful of the agency of women.
Men acting as if they are sexually entitled, and women falling for it, are hardly unique to the Pagan community. They are in every community- and some communities are more accepting of them than others. Evangelicals, women and men alike, give them standing ovations and elect them president. The Catholic Church, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the list goes on and on and on. This should be a pretty clear signal that the mores of the Pagan community were not and are not the problem.
We are looking at an ongoing process of cultural transformation, starting with where people begin, which was not a place of Pagan sexual mores. What says something about a community’s impact on its members is how it changes them over time. What irks me are what I regard as overly broad generalizations, especially when they do not mesh with my own experience of over 25 years.
If you talk to Pagan women who have been in the community for a long time, they will tell you that harassment was (and often still is) SOP in Pagan circles. If you investigate the sexual “rules” proposed by those who were male BNPs in the early Neopagan movements of the 60s/70s, they include NOTHING about seeking consent; rather, all they do is talk about how great sex is and how everyone should be doing lots of it.
You seem to be arguing that other cultures were not also affected by the counterculture of the Sixties, which makes absolutely no sense to me. They were, even as some of them railed against it. But Paganism in its modern incarnation AROSE within that counterculture and is more deeply stained by it than, say, Quakerism. This is obvious, and I don’t see why you are arguing against it.
I don’t get your point about BNPs and other cultures (now far above where I type). I rather explicitly said that other cultures of the 60s were affected by the counter culture but the second wave FEMININE dimension of it was particularly tied to the rise of NeoPaganism. Along with Wicca I would point to Reclaiming, a late 70s direct offspring of 60s NeoPaganism. In neither case, BTW, were men at the top of any hierarchy.
Second wave feminsm did not start with the White and Black radicals (they long had the attitude – do the mimeographs and spread your legs), not the music scene (groupies), etc. The radicals changed to some significant degree- but mostly first wave- (do your own damn mimeographing and our voices matter as much as yours at meetings) Feminism most certainly did not emerge from the pot/LSD culture.
The liberating message regarding sexuality back then was – sex is good and OK. Gotta start somewhere and that was a good place to start.
That opened the door to the deeper message sex between equals is good and OK. In my experience that ethic applied in the Pagan circles I was most engaged with- and they were largely Wiccan. I know nothing abut CAW here.
That message in turn opened the door to the many subtle ways formal equality can be manipulated, which we are still exploring as a community and as a larger culture. This is a complex issue for both genders- as evidenced by the many women who supported Trump. We are making progress, due I think disproportionately to women, most recently through “MeToo,” and what it triggered. But I think
I am saying *specifically* that the freewheeling sexual mores of the Sixties combined with ubiquitous sexism to render a context in the counterculture generally and Paganism specifically that tolerated widespread sexual harassment and, to a lesser but still significant degree, abuse. Most of the people who committed this harassment and abuse probably didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, but **that’s the nature of sexual mores**: they set the tone and acceptable behavior standard in relation to sexual behavior.
I don’t disagree that the Sixties brought some beneficial changes in society. But it’s no surprise that feminism was the big movement of the 70s: countercultural women had had more than enough of being trivialized and sexually objectified.
I’m saying that feminism, especially second wave feminism, was implicit and more than implicit in 60s Paganism in a way it was not in the music culture as such, or the drug culture, the political culture, or even the hippie culture. First wave feminism held that women could be just as good as men in masculine terms. Second wave feminism held that women were just as good as men and feminine values were the equal of masculine values.
Goddesses were not men with tits. They exemplify the divine feminine as equal to the masculine, and for some Pagans, superior. From a Pagan foundation this thread spread into mainstream religions, as many Christians and Jews have written when discussing their own turn to the feminine as sacred. It was a far deeper challenge to traditional society than was first ave feminism because it probed more deeply at its underlying value structure.
Traditional covens were always second wave, and were officially run by women. I know of no equivalent practice elsewhere at the time. I think second wave feminism is deeply intertwined with the rise of Pagan sensibilities. I discuss this in some depth in my book “Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture War and the Return of the Divine Feminine.” An atheist would have little problem with any but the final chapter.
All of that may be true, but the sexual practices of the community at that time belied the supposed ideology. Women were hit on constantly. Sometimes they were coerced. Underaged girls were very much considered fair play by many, including early Pagan leaders. Whatever the rhetoric may have been about the sacred feminine, the *reported experience* of women who lived it was not one of healthy sexuality and freedom: it was of being under seige.
How is it that the loudest and most authoritative experts on what really happened in the 1960s are always the ones who weren’t there?
Plenty of women who WERE there have weighed in on this piece to say it reflects exactly their experience.
One clarification- I mentioned how the Pagan community I encountered- post 60s but mostly we were all of that era, did not tolerate predation and gave a personal example. So while not denying such happened (I gave AWBW as an example) it was not the mores of the community, it was people taking advantage of its mores.
When mores tolerate certain kinds of behavior–like blatant serial sexual harassment, as has been observed in so many Pagan men–it is fair to say that those mores foster that behavior.
Let’s bear in mind that a lot of the names being brought up by women in the context of this conversation are major figures in Paganism and certainly would have set a tone by modeling what others would see as “normal” behavior in the community.
I knew AWBW, btw, and was in the Church of All Worlds when he was there. He was no worse in his ongoing attempts to screw every woman he possibly could than were some of the hierarchs of the Church, and that set the tone for the entire community.
I never heard him mentioned in any terms other than that he was a manipulative shit who likely got what was coming to him. I was and am a Gardnerian, not CAW. However the CAW people I knew spoke of him the same way.
What I saw is that he fit right into the cesspool that was the CAW sexual culture at that time.
One other thought, Mark. CAW was hierarchical in a way Gardnerians are not. Our top authority is a coven’s HPS. That’s it. And that was always a woman. Every coven is independent. I wonder whether the different experiences you and I report are not based on this simple difference?
Well, maybe. But the major voices of Paganism in the Sixties were people like Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, and Aidan Kelly, and Gwydion Penderwen, and Caradoc, and ALL of those have/had lousy sexual boundaries and were always on the prowl. When your most visible figures share this in common, it is not unreasonable to state that this is a part of the culture of that time.
Gus, I hope you will leave this discussion with the admission that you are not speaking for the whole of the Pagan community and especially not for CAW itself, seeing as up thread I mentioned obliquely I’ve had my run-ins with CAW too. Before CAW, all the literature I read on modern witchcraft emphasized sexuality ( no punning) top to bottom, whether literally performed or proxy in the Great Rite. My initiation was in a Coven that used actual sexual acts and the HP’s were teenagers in 1970. I’m nearly 50 now.
Every Pagan I met was influenced by Gardnerian and Alexandrian streams.
I can’t go along with some of your arguments here. The sex and drug fueled 1980’s also had a part to play in all of this despite your insistence it was all to do with the 1960’s.
I never said I was speaking for the whole of the Pagan movement and it is bizarre that you think I was trying to – I said my experience did not fit Mark’s description and gave examples. I did not make broad generalizations- those I criticized were. BTW, CAW and those associated with it were not the entire Pagan movement either.
Literature and teachings emphasizing the positive role of sexuality was a major dimension of most Pagan traditions, and I see no problem with it. You seem to. Nonconsensual sexuality was never accepted to the best of my knowledge. Practices like polyamory are not for everyone (they are not for me) and some men used it as an excuse to (consensually) bed many women while freaking out when their partners decided to do the same. But I also know of polyamorous couples that have been together for many years.
Sexuality with minors did happen, and should be condemned when an adult engages knowingly, but to say it was a major part of Paganism is B.S. To say that Pagans in general approved or did not care when this happened is also B.S. To give one example I have long heard about, a group in another tradition than mine broke up because it happened, even though the young person involved was well developed for her age and hid that age so the person claimed he did not know. Did he? I dunno, I wasn’t there. But the group broke up over it, whether he did or not.
I suspect the failure of some who knew to expose the culprits was more due to fear it would be used to discredit Paganism by its enemies rather than any approval. This is a universal pattern in organizations of just about every kind, especially if the environment is hostile. People as a rule cover for their organizations even when they disapprove- and this is true for EVERY kind of organization. Cops, the military, corporations, unions, sports teams, the Catholic Church and probably all other churches, and the list could go on at length. But since I did not personally know of any such thing, I am guessing.
Were there people seeking to take advantage of Paganism’s acceptance of sexuality? No one has suggested otherwise. For years I have said every spiritual tradition has its own abusers who seek to take advantage of people, and in Paganism they are those promising magickal power in return for sex. When speaking to groups that include newbies about learning Pagan spirituality or magick I always emphasize this point. No other Pagan has ever criticized me for doing so. There have been insightful discussions of these issues here by others as well as me.
If you want to continue simply saying the Paganism of the 60s (or later) was in some sense discredited by the fact that some took advantage of naivete by newbies or abused their reputations for sexual hits, well, if it makes you feel more virtuous, go ahead. I will not waste my time here.
I will stand on what I have already said and personally experienced. Wicca and Reclaiming as a whole do not fit your generalizations, even though there are some individuals in both that do.
That’s the whole point. Abusers are never the “norm”. Creating contexts that minimize the opportunity for abuse is not a guarantee that there will be none: merely less.
But having a culture that rejects abuse and harassment and is firm about how it deals with those who commit it WILL reduce its occurrence. Seems pretty self-evident to me.
In my Wiccan circles that seemed usually to be the case. Nothing new. As I said, a coven in which I was long a member dissolved over the issue because the guilty party was the HPS’s boyfriend and she could not bring herself to admit he did what he did, and kick him out- which is what the rest of us wanted done. So most or all of us left (can’t remember which- it was many years ago). We formed a new group.
The predatory behavior within almost every facet of Paganry has been rampant and has needed to guarded against by those of us that believe the practice is more important.
I’ve been in several Communities both on the East Coast and West Coast since 1995. I have had to step in to stop so many predatory males, in many cases preying on the new females right in front of the High Priestess.
There is no Order, no Belief System, no Movement that is immune to this because people are people, and some of them are bad. We have to be ever vigilant as Community Leaders and understand that not all people, not all Pagans, not all believers are there for the Spiritual experience. Some of them are predators, and they are there for just one thing…. and they will dress the part, talk the part, and act the part in order to get what they want.
We are very good here in Phoenix at spotting the ones that are there for reasons other than participating, and we continue to chase them out every chance we get.
If anyone feels their belief system is above reproach just promise the rest of us one thing, you will not turn the blind eye that so many did years before when they KNEW Marion Zimmer Bradley and her Husband we up to no good.
Your pride in your own belief system is no excuse to turn a blind eye towards anybody.
Those who do not remember what happened before are doomed to repeat it.
I will never forget
I agree that predators can show up anywhere. But I am talking about the structural set-ups that facilitate harassment and abuse. I am NOT saying that it will be impossible for abuses to happen without hierarchies, merely that hierarchies make them more likely.
No one should ever be permitted to act in a leadership role where they can make decisions about abuse and harassment in secrecy.
Fortunately it’s becoming almost impossible in the age of social media to maintain secrecy. A few years ago when they tried to sneak Gavin Frost into an event program, other members of that board went public.
I find nothing at all wrong with the sexual liberation of the 60s. I am never going back from the sexual revolution and neither is any part of the Pagan movement worthy of its name. The problem was, and remains, toxic forms of masculinity. I embrace the ethos and practice of the “freewheeling” sexuality of those times, but with a culture of positive consent.
If it includes affirmative consent, I’m fine with whatever sexual behavior adults want to conduct. I haven’t said anything contrary to that. What I oppose is the male-dominated, unconscious, woman-objectifying nature of the 60s counterculture.
Agreed. But none of those things were special or even primary products of the counterculture. They were all deeply ingrained in mainstream culture and thrived just as well there.
In the Pagan community, however, they were represented as “liberation”, when the permissive culture was just as screwed up in its way as was the mainstream culture.
“Killing the 60’s” is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The freedom we have to talk about these issues; the reason the #metoo movement was able to grow the legs that it has is *because* of what came out of the 60’s. The 60’s birthed the kind of sexual freedom that was extreme, unfettered – as are most young, wild things that are released from a cage. Today is the more matured, reigned-in version of that but, we still have some growing to do. We need to focus on moving forward, identifying the boundaries, defining appropriate behavior and calling out inappropriate behavior; refusing to tolerate it either as a victim or an observer, and creating a culture of body autonomy without shaming those who are looking for someone with whom to share a sexual experience.
I completely agree with your last point. Killing the sexual mores of the 60s is a means to that end. Consent culture isn’t just a continuation of Sixties sexual practices with some tweaks–it is a completely different model of interaction.
To be more succinct… what people do in their sleeping bags afterwards is NOT part of the Pagan experience spiritually or otherwise.
To equate the ‘Hookup’ with the practice of being Pagan should NEVER be the point of any argument for or against the belief system itself.
I am a Druid; following a Celt-Iberian focus since 1982.
This has no bearing upon my sexuality, my political preferences, or current job.
None of the other things are connected; they never have been, and never should be.
This is not about anything more than “doing the right thing”, and in the case of the 60’s…some of it was and some of it was not, ‘right’. In Isaac’s case specifically he had some beliefs that got him into trouble occasionally. In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s case (especially in regards to her husband Walter) they had beliefs that landed Walter in jail.
To be clear, in order to be Pagan I just need to be Pagan…. I do not have to do anything with, to, or for anyone else for any reason under any circumstance. The biggest take-away from the movement was “everyone is their own Priest”.
People in Power will sometimes let that power go to their heads
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Experienced Pagans need to watch out for inexperienced ones to ensure they are not taken advantage of by others who have other agendas (…especially those who are there for the purposes of ‘being in charge of something…or worse yet…the ‘Pagan Hookup’)
To say that there is not a sexual aspect to Pagan culture flies in the face of reality, Mark. There is.
Moreover, I am skeptical of the degree to which one can devoutly follow a spiritual path and yet have it not intersect with one’s sexuality, career choices, or politics. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that.
Than Mark Green, that is the problem isn’t it?
If we continue to equate a link to our Gods and our Ancestors with the fact that there is an expectation of the ‘Great Rite’ in the sleeping bag somehow connected to it we will continue to have the unwary or unaware feeling compelled to do something that has no bearing on their connection to any of their Deities.
My Deities and my Ancestors and the Spirits of the Land IO stand upon have no bearing and feel no compulsion towards me to have any kind of sex with any other human being.
Moreover, none of those three compel me to take on any job or choose any politician.
Since we human have such a difficult time understanding what our Deities are saying to begin with, I will NEVER listen to a spiritual leader telling me to vote in any particular fashion .
That, in and of itself, is a violation of everything I hold as my sacred duty to those who may follow even a single one of my beliefs.
Reality is what is happening now, and the Sexuality you speak of is there…and it should not be.
The occurrence of something ‘wrong’ does not make it ‘right’, nor does it legitimize it even in the smallest degree. Even if we make this sexuality neutral…. (not connected or disconnected), it STILL does not make it ‘Necessary to Spirituality’.
If anyone requires a sexual release of any form or degree to make a connection with their Deity, then I have to question how ‘legitimate’ their practice really is.
Ive done this openly sine 1982 when I declared my religious belief as I joined the US Army.
I run a 501(c)3 Religion organization and connected with two more here in Phoenix
I am a long standing member of two separate groups; one Druid, one Heathen.
I have 500(+) Pagans in regular attendance at the events I attend and those that I run.
I’ll speak for all of them when I say
Sex has nothing to do with any of our Pagan Practices or Beliefs.
If it is part of yours, then I would probably have an issue attending or participating on your Rite in any degree….if it involved children under the age of 18, I’d be honor-bound to at least the children to speak up and to do whatever is necessary to ensure their safety.
My Deities do not require a ‘Sexual Sacrifice’
Cf my post on the blog, “Is Atheopaganism Political?”. https://atheopaganism.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/is-atheopaganism-political/
I agree with mark that there is no realistic separating Paganism and sex. Not because of ritual sex or some cultural imperative to have particular sexual encounters. But religion, spirituality, any world view of any substance informs how we view sex. And everything else. Theology is real, and it matters. Christianity has very particular theology of the body and sexuality. So do modern Pagans. It’s very diverse, but our theologies of sex are radically different from Christianity. Our theology is built on a core assumption of personal autonomy, a rejection of sin and beliefs that sexual expression in all of its forms is beautiful.
The problem is not our theology, it’s our failure to live the balance between freedom and everyone’s bodily autonomy.
Lets put the Deities and Ancestors aside and deal with the underlying reason I posted….
It is not about what you personally do or believe in but rather what happens to anyone else that is exposed to the ‘spirituality’ presented with a sexual undertone. this is not about any of us writing or reading, but those who are exposed to the potential predators we all know exist within our ranks.
The assumption is that both sides are consenting adults, but the issue at hand with the Issac Bonewits claim specifically (and the sexual predator in general) is that ….during the time period we are talking about… the practice of Hebophilia was accepted as “okay”.
Specifically, if both sides consented, and both were at least 13 years old… then it was okay.
The thought process, as twisted as it was, was that … in ages past….13 years old was considered an adult and therefore it was okay… even though it was illegal… the counterculture claim was that it was “sexual freedom”.
If you are defending two consenting adults rolling in the sleeping bag I personally dont care
..and to be clear, both are of sound mind, and not under the influence of anything else
If you are saying that Hebophilia was okay, then we have a much greater issue
But don’t tell me that you need to get your jolly’s off in order to have a spiritual release.
The two are not connected…. a ‘Great Rite’ is nothing more than Crowleyism that is long past necessary, and was never more than something he knew he could get away with. It is not a “part and parcel” of anything more than sex. If you need a chemical or a sexual release in order to get the job done… you may have other issues at hand. If either adds to something you already have, then you are probably onto something you should continue.
This is not about Polytheism, Polyamory, or any other kind of spirituality.
The issue the woman brought into the light was a 30 year old taking advantage of a 13 year old and rationalizing it out … and it is not a concept that has any legal, rational, or moral standing. They were not looking for a spiritual connection, they were looking for a hook-up with a starry-eyed child… and it has now come into the light. Walter Breen was caught in the process of it, Marion Zimmer was accused but died denying it… and now Isaac stands accused…
I don’t disagree with any of this, Mark.
Mark, first of all, this is the Atheopagan website and all materials are from an Atheopagan perspective. Whatever you may think your deities and/or ancestors “want” really isn’t germane here. We credit no deities with existence. Ours is a path based in the concrete material reality of life on Earth, and given the times we live in, such an orientation requires that we be political (and that means far more than just selecting a candidate at election time). You apparently don’t think so, so I must conclude that your value system is not about the Sacred Earth, but rather something else.
Secondly, you really seem to misunderstand what sexual culture means. It’s not about anyone being “required” to do anything, in almost all cases. It’s about sexual interactions, flirting, banter, and behavior, which ALL human societies short of the Shakers definitely have, and that is true of every Pagan gathering I have ever attended. You’re beating a straw man here.
I will go so far as to say that any spiritual systems, including Paganism, which does not extend beyond ritual to touch all aspects of living, including sexuality, is worthless. It is just LARPing in the woods.
That is cruelly stated, but for my own part, I agree. A set of practices and beliefs that lives in a neatly compartmentalized section of one’s life and doesn’t touch the others can’t be much of a guide to living, nor a moral compass.
I would prefer to characterize it as brutally frank rather than cruel. I’ve participated in and observed the Pagan movement at some depth for about 15 years. From what I’ve seen, ethical and theological shallowness have been some of the main drivers of our failures to engage with not only sexual abuse and harassment, but many other serious problems – racism, transphobia among them.
We’re a non-dogmatic, even anti-dogmatic movement, which I think is one of our greatest strengths. But at the extremes, people interpret that to mean that nobody can judge anything anybody is doing or ground any sort of moral decision within Pagan belief. For years, we have had leaders and whole traditions which felt they had no right to condemn racism or cult-like manipulation or sexual initiation of underage girls because it was supposed no Pagan had a right to deny anyone “their own truth.” For the sake of unity and diversity, we insisted that we must accept any idea or practice as being as valid as any other. For too many of us, our Pagan identities were something we left in ritual or in jewelry designed to announce our rebellion to society. The gods, if they existed at all, were there to run our magickal errands and affirm whatever we decided to do. Tough value judgments were for suckers and Christians. That was the source of the rot.
I still believe the sexual revolution of the 1960s (of which Paganism was a truly microsopic part), was positive. It WAS liberation. The revolution wasn’t a lie or a failure. We failed to carry it fully through so that everyone was liberated. That is where you and I differ, I think, but we converge on more or less the same point and see consent culture as the missing piece.
I broadly agree with the other Mark’s underlying point. There have been predators and manipulators who groom newbies (usually young ones), to believe that one needs to be sexual on someone else’s terms to be a good Pagan. Of course that’s rubbish and we must no longer allow it cover. It does not follow, for me, that Paganism has nothing to do with sex. My Paganism, my gods, do not “demand” sexual sacrifice, but nor do they refuse it if offered honorably. My Paganism celebrates straight, queer, cis-and trans-gender. It celebrates polyamory and swingers and kink. It celebrates the men and women (yes there really are), who of their own will want to screw everyone at the festival. It also celebrates the monogamous and the asexual the asexual. It celebrates nudity at festival and ritual, but also those who remain garbed or even opt for a veil.
Frankly, I agree with nearly all of this, Ken. And the parts I don’t we can agree to disagree on.
You are clearly not saying this, but it bears mention that an organization that is non-hierarchical in governance is NOT automatically immune to predation. As many of us have discovered to our dismay, maintaining a truly non-hierarchical organization requires continuous effort and monitoring; what happens all too frequently is that a covert hierarchy (often a cult of personality) develops. Those covert hierarchies can be at least as damaging as the overt kind, since they are unrecognized and unregulated, and therefore lack accountability.
Inevitably, every Pagan organization (not just those founded in the 20th century) is going to find itself in the position Blue Star Wicca and WiCoM were and ADF presently is, struggling to cope with similar accusations. No one had better assume their group is immune because they have the right kind of politics, or because “we’re all good people.” It’s time right now for every organization to accept responsibility for its own members and craft a proper conduct policy for the present and future, and to decide how to respond usefully to the baggage of the past. On second thought, it’s at least a decade past time, but there are none so blind as those who will not see…
I agree. Predators are going to predate; the reason that I advocate elimination of gatekeepering is because it creates a climate ripe for abuse and one predators are likely to try to infiltrate to exploit.
Atheopaganism has Principles which outline conduct standards, and our events such as Moon Meet spell out those standards clearly. I agree also that every group should have such standards by this point.
Step One, in my opinion, is to never fall into fandom or worship of other people.
Whether a HP or YouTube witch/pagan/Wiccan or author, I’ve seen way too many people fall into this fanaticism where the person in question can do no wrong. Dare point out a mistake, or dare post an opposing viewpoint, on a popular pagan YouTuber video, and see what I mean.
You will find many fans flock to “defend” the person, as if they were somehow above simple human mistakes.
And when you cannot look at someone with a critical eye, well, that’s when you give that someone the power to do what they want without question. It’s insidious.
You bring up a very good topic which I hope the community can discuss.
Yes. There is a situation with a longtime prominent Pagan in the SF Bay Area who is now being accused of abuse by dozens of people, and who has rallied her cult of personality around her and denied everything.
This is why I say we are better off without hierarchies and “priesthood” in Paganism, but rather pursuing a steady course of egalitarianism, recognizing people for their gifts and skills but never elevating them to be “HP/S” or the like. My post “No Gods, No Masters, No Priesthood” discusses this.
Very well written! I couldn’t agree more!
dr kolawole of hamilton convicted of numerous images of child pornography on his computer. three months prior to his arrest on this conviction, he was arrested in hamilton ontario for soliciting two girls, ages 13 and 15 and was required to register there as a sex offender.