An Earth-honoring religious path rooted in science

GUEST POST: Just Talk to Each Other (About Sex)

by Alexandra Palmer

Information about and illustrations of heterosexual cisgender vanilla sex are all many of us have in regards to formal education about sex. It is touted by some as the only sex one “should” be having unless they are at the very least a “pervert”. This hetero-cis-vanilla language we are given with which to explore our needs and desires leaves many of us feeling unwelcome and without a voice. The pressure we are under from cultural norms that disregard some sensations as valid forms of pleasure has been longstanding and influenced by history’s major religions.

Attitudes are changing, however, and people are beginning to see beyond their own narrow experiences. Only now are schools starting to educate students about LGBTQI relationships. But normalizing different sensations, wants and needs in sexual and nonsexual activity is still a very long way off in regards to being taught in schools.

Students are not being taught basic sexual literacy of how to navigate and negotiate sex for mutual benefit. They are only beginning to explore language around consent and how to effectively establish boundaries. But what about the grownups? Where can they learn about this new culture of respect and consent?

As you age the communication around sexuality dries up and gone are the days where you excitedly discuss your feelings and adventures with your friends. It is curious how the discussion fades and intimate whispers slip away and then this can morph into desires that some may bury out of fear of being “different”.

In the BDSM community, consent and communication are the primary focus, as opposed to an assumed afterthought. Carol Queen can be quoted here stating: “The BDSM players are among the only people on the planet who elevate sexual and erotic communication this way.” (Pfeiffer 2017.)

As to what is discussed: there can be hard limits (things not to be done under any circumstances), soft limits (with proper discussion preparation and mutual trust these things could potentially happen) to Kinks and Fetishes that the person desires during the scene (sexual act). There are thousands of kinks; from the very mild, such as an erotic affinity for stockings to the extreme: bondage and sadism. Nor are these preference locked in stone: one day you may be up for an intense sensation and the next you may prefer a much different type of play. People in the community see their own growth and tastes change as they become more familiar with themselves and their limits playing in a space where communication and consent are the highest priority.

By contrast, in a traditional encounter we see one party (usually a woman) say nothing and that will usually imply that the woman has consented to whatever is about to happen next (in traditional encounters its often hard to predict). In BDSM space a lack of an articulated “no” does not automatically mean a “yes”: it means that more communication is needed. At the end of a traditional encounter the act ends and often the people go their separate ways. In a scene there is aftercare that is determined usually by the sub on how they would most like to be treated after a scene. Some like to be alone; some they like cuddling; some weighted blankets. Such preferences are as individual as sexual tastes themselves.

Kink and BDSM have a place in our sexual lexicon. To ignore the healthy things that are happening in these communities because it seems extreme does not invalidate the lessons we can learn from the experience of these communities. If we all started to use these basic skills of respecting what is not yours and leaving it alone unless you have been given explicit permission to touch it. (This is honestly what it boils down to), we could create an environment of sexual safety and empowerment. We could be reinforcing those lessons just beginning to be taught to our children. We could be creating a happier and undoubtedly better and healthier sex life for ourself’s. Life is too short for bad sex. Communication and mutual consent should be in everyone’s tool kit, not just that of the kink community.

Abuse, the Pagan Community, and Our Commitments

Sarah Anne Lawless, who published these two revelatory articles on her experiences of being sexually harassed and abused within the Pagan community (mostly in Canada and the Pacific Northwest), has now published a third piece. In it, she reports the truly horrifying blowback she received for daring to name this problem.

Lawless has suffered financially, psychologically, and even legally simply because she had the unmitigated gall not to remain silent about abuses up to and including rape.*

I wrote on this subject awhile back. It’s one of my most-read articles from this site, and engendered passionate arguments both pro and con my thesis: that Paganism must root out the baked-in misogyny and sexual abusiveness that has characterized it from the days of Gardner, and was turbocharged in the later Sixties counterculture.

I believe Lawless. I believe her accounts. And I am appalled at the way she has been treated by sexual abusers and their defenders.

I want nothing to do with such behavior. And thus this post, the purpose of which is to articulate some commitments about how Atheopaganism will seek to reduce the opportunity for such abuses at our events and gatherings.

As Atheopagans, we have an inherent advantage over some other Pagan circles in this regard, in that we don’t believe in literal magic. Would-be abusers aren’t going to be able to promise prospective victims “secret or arcane knowledge” or power to lure them into being abused.

But beyond that, we don’t—and won’t, ever—offer any kind of “initiation to a higher degree” or elevation in status of any kind, so no Atheopagan can ever claim that some sort of sexual quid pro quo is required in order to receive such elevation. Ever.


I believe very strongly that power differentials are a primary driver of the sexual abuse problem in our community. Abuses of such differentials are created when opportunities to become “initiates” or “priest/esses” or what have you are dangled before seekers and promised at the cost of sexual favors.

So we simply won’t have them. We have Atheopagan clerics, but that is a service role, not an elevated status above anyone else. And anyone who embraces the 13 Principles can become legally ordained as one, free, at the Atheopagan Society’s website.

Next, all our events have and will continue to have written conduct standards explicitly articulating the expectation of affirmative consent culture and clear consequences for any who violate these standards.  An example of such policies can be found here, in the Atheopagan event planning guide. (EDIT 2022: the Atheopagan Community Guidelines for conduct, consent and so forth have been finalized by the Atheopagan Society Council and the broader community, and can be found here)

Although we acknowledge that some people may choose to engage in consensual sexual behavior in a private ritual context, and support them in that choice, we will never set forth any nonconsensual sexual or physically affectionate expectation—not even of a hug—in a ritual at an Atheopagan community event.

Finally, we will listen if accusations of abuse are made. We will take victims seriously, and we will respond promptly, sensitively and decisively.

This is my commitment to our community and to the public writ large.

There have been a number of people in the Pagan community who have taken on leadership roles in trying to create widely-shared community awareness and conduct standards around these issues. Particularly, I feel Shauna Aura Knight has been an articulate and compelling voice, Laura Tempest Zakroff and Misha Magdalene likewise. And I am pleased to note that events such as Pantheacon have implemented strong consent policies and conduct standards in recent years (as contrasted, for example, with another Pagan convention, Convocation, which has refused to do so and to which I will therefore not link).

To my mind, we need a community statement of sexual ethics which can serve as a sort of “seal of approval” for organizations and groups which sign onto it. People will then know where the safe environments are and where they aren’t, and can choose where they attend events accordingly. I know that one attempt was made a few years ago to develop such a statement, and it ran aground when resisted by advocates of sexual initiation.

Which, let me just make myself clear here, is NEVER appropriate. Sex as a condition for passing into some higher-status state is the clearest example of harassment there is. Even in traditions where you’re supposed to do your sexual initiation with your partner, or by yourself, there is that little matter of “supposed to”.

That’s coercion.

It’s wrong.


It is time for the community to try again with regard to a statement on sexual ethics, and this time, we should simply ignore the complaints of those who want to keep up practices that really are no longer defensible, if they ever were. If those who defend sexual initiation refuse to sign the statement, that will be a red flag for those considering joining their traditions or circles. Over time, people will know what the safe places are…and what the skeevy ones are.

This stuff is serious. It is hurting people and it can ruin lives. It needs to stop, and the creepers and abusers and rapists who have coasted for so many years in Pagan circles need to be rooted out and expunged.

Honestly, I don’t care if changing our culture as I propose puts a dent in the sexual “fun” at Pagan events. One rape isn’t worth that. Creating a hunting ground for predators and setting the stage for abuse and harassment isn’t worth that. And if conduct standards drive away hangers-on for whom “being a Pagan” just means sexual pursuit and partying, that’s no loss either, to my mind.

I want to be able to talk about my religion proudly, and while I feel I can do that about Atheopaganism, between the credulity and the abuse ickiness I am much more leery about such a characterization of Paganism generally.

We have house cleaning to do, and we need to do it.

*NOTE Sept. 2019:  Lawless has experienced so much abuse for her public statements on this topic that she has since pulled down her blog. 

Inclusiveness Starts with Your Ideas

One of the ways Atheopaganism differs from many other Pagan paths is that we don’t have to go through endless parsings of “what gods are” or “what gods want”, nor seeking to overcome biases baked into traditions that arise from times and cultures where bigotries of various kinds were the norm (be they ancient Greece or Britain of the 1950s).

I’m seeing much soul-searching in the Pagan community about this sort of thing recently: concern about the heteronormativity and gender essentialism of mainstream flavors of Wicca, for example. When you assert the existence of a (fully able-bodied, typically white, slender, young, heterosexual, cisgender and conventionally attractive) Goddess and a (similar) God as the gendered “poles” of your sacred story, it’s hard to avoid that kind of critique.

I’ve seen some ugly things in the Pagan world around these issues. Once, a prominent Pagan leader overruled the decision of his community to select a lesbian couple as the May Royalty for their Beltane festival, giving the honor instead to a heterosexual couple. And then there was the “biological women only” ritual at Pantheacon that stirred such protest by transwomen and their allies. Such actions are deeply hurtful to those they discriminate against.

They are wrong.

Atheopagans affirm that all humans are equal, and they are all welcome in our rites. We do not hold up any particular image of a person as a sacred ideal. Anyone can be and is an embodiment of the Sacred Universe.

I have made careful effort to ensure that Atheopagan materials relating to gender or sexuality or rites of passage are described in a gender- and orientation-neutral way (here is an example) that makes them pertinent to all*, and both here on the blog and in the Facebook group, we have carefully worked to ensure that our rituals and practices are as inclusive as possible. We say: sexuality is sacred, and we mean ALL of it so long as it’s consenting. Not just the procreative bits—nor are those bits “extra special” because they lead to new life. We celebrate all of it.

The Universe is Sacred, and takes all forms, including human forms. We shouldn’t need to torque our ideas of the Sacred in order for them to “fit” every single person.

We’re all Sacred, emergent manifestations of the Universe itself as thinking, feeling beings. When we look in the mirror, we see the very Cosmos looking back at us.

Whoever we are.

*Including identifying that some of these posts may not be pertinent at all for asexual people.

Loving the World: An Atheopagan Sex Magic Primer for May Day (NSFW)

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of sexuality, and is meant for adults. If you’re not one, please stop reading and go elsewhere.

Loving the World: An Atheopagan Sex Magic Primer for May Day (NSFW)


Spring is often thought of as the season of sex. Trees and plants are flowering, birds are nesting, and the weather finally warms up enough that people wear less clothing and thoughts turn to desire.

It’s now April, coming up on May Day, which is the Sabbath celebration the metaphorical meanings of which include sexuality, attainment of adulthood and celebration of sensual pleasures. This is a time-honored set of associations; for young people to go into the woods to “gather flowers” and spend the night away from prying eyes was known as “going a-Maying” more than a thousand years ago. And couples have been stealing away into wild areas at this time of year ever since for a bit of lovemaking al fresco.

It may seem to go without saying, but sex is a big deal*. It looms large in the human schema.

At root, it is the process through which multicellular life does what is built to do: make more generations of itself. And so nearly all of us are heavily wired towards wanting to mate—with whom is kind of a side question at this level—which is the engagement and stimulation of the elements of a person associated with reproduction.

That said, sex isn’t strictly procreative. For most of us, it is largely if not completely decoupled from procreation in the mind, and is instead a pleasurable and emotionally bonding end in and of itself.

The complex of acts that we categorize as “sex” can be thought of as rituals. They have all the elements: participants get into a state of hyperfocused arousal, and go through a series of physical actions and sensory experiences that lead to a transformation of consciousness. Typically, the intention of the ritual is simply to enjoy pleasure, and/or to share feelings of emotional intimacy.

All of which—presuming consent on the part of participants, of course—are good things. Ours is not a religion that chastises sexual desire and behavior as “sinful” or “dirty” or assigns a list of arbitrary rules stipulating what may be done, with whom, and when.

Only consent. That’s the one and only non-negotiable requirement. Which, inherently, means that minors and those who are in any way pressured or coerced are off limits.

So let’s say you wanted to take the ritual nature of sexual play into a more formalized direction, and actually make it into an Atheopagan ritual? That’s generally called “sex magic” by its practitioners, and it’s something that is as available to Atheopagans as to any other kinds of Pagans.

If you are so disposed, here are some steps that can add focused intention and ritual steps to sexual play:

Create sacred space by making a setting for lovemaking that is beautiful, comfortable, sexy, safely private and includes a Focus (altar) with symbols of the intent of your ritual. Music to set the mood is always good, as can be scents such as incense. If burning anything, be sure the Focus is safe from being knocked over during your ritual. You may want to include small tokens on your Focus which you and your partner(s) can carry with you after completion of the ritual. Be sure to practice sexual safety unless you are certain that all participants are disease-free and there is no danger of conception (unless that’s the point of the ritual).

To achieve Arrival, start with eye-gazing with your partner, and breathing deeply together in rhythm. Hold your intention in your mind as you exchange eye contact. If you have more than one partner, spend some time in eye contact with each of them. If you are performing the ritual alone, breathe deeply and regularly and use a mirror to make eye contact with yourself.

Invoke Qualities that you hope to be incorporated into the desired outcome of the ritual, preferably through foreplay activities. Qualities like freedom, and bliss, and mutual respect, and love are all fitting. Qualities may be invoked by reciting words, or anointing the body with scented oils, or exchanging sexual stimulation with eye contact and mutual reverence. Name the Qualities aloud as you invoke them.

When all participants are thoroughly aroused, continue to sexual play of whatever kind you and your partner(s) prefer as the Deep Play part of your ritual. Take your time. Try to keep the intention in your mind, but don’t obsess about it: it’s okay to get carried into the eroticism of the moment. Do not try to achieve mutual orgasm with partner(s) unless that is something you have been successful with in the past; it’s okay for each participant to orgasm at their own time.

Actually, it’s also okay for there to be no orgasms at all. Expectations aren’t helpful.

But if the participants are able to reach orgasm with one another, participants should hold the intention of the ritual in the mind as it is occurring. Otherwise, concentrate on the intention at the peak of physical activity.

As the intensity of sexual play subsides (whether or not orgasms have taken place), run hands over the body/ies of participant(s). Speak your Gratitudes for your partner(s) (if any), for the pleasure you have just received, and for the successful outcome of the ritual intent.

On parting, as a Benedictionexpress your love for your partner(s). Or for yourself, if working alone, gazing again in the mirror. And for Life itself: the abundant and generous World.

It is done. Believe me, you will now have the intention of the ritual vividly burned into your mind! Now act in accordance with that intent: do all the things that must be done in order for it to come into being. If you use them, carry the token from the Focus with you and take it out now and then to remind yourself of the ritual and its intention.

This may all sound really weird and alien. If you think so, maybe it’s not for you. But sex is a powerful human experience that—like music, or dancing, or art—can be structured in a way to align our minds with our dreams, desires and ritual intentions. If nothing else, the process above can be a fun experiment!

Whether or not the above is your thing, I hope you have a deliciously pleasurable May Day however—and with whomever—you choose to spend it. Happy May!


*For most, but not all, people, I should acknowledge. But if you are among those for whom sex is not a Thing, this is probably not a post you will have much interest in reading.

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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