Pagans and Prison

You know how sometimes you’re thinking about topic A, you start to move to related topic B, and then you quickly run through the alphabet, and end up somewhere only distantly related to A? That’s how this entry came about.

There’s been so much in the Pagan webosphere lately about predators and safety in our community: Robin Fletcher here in Australia, the arrest of Kenny Klein for possession of child pornography, debates over the Frosts presenting at Florida Pagan Gathering, and child sex abuse allegations surrounding fantasy novelist Marion Zimmer Bradley.

I’m really glad to see ongoing conversations about safety and consent in the Pagan community. It’s a good and much needed conversation. How do we set and maintain boundaries within our groups and at our festivals? How do we respond to allegations of abuse? How do we support victims? In thinking of all this, I eventually got to wondering about perpetrators.

I don’t know how many Pagans there are in prison and I don’t why they are there. Like many people, I struggle with ideas about what rights or privileges prisoners ought to have. It’s easy to think a person should just be locked up and the key thrown away, but I also know that the criminal justice system is imperfect and not always all that just. And what happens when they are released? Is there a place for them in the Pagan community? What does that look like? How do

I’ve never been moved to do prison ministry so I thought I’d ask someone who is.

M. Macha NightMareM. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien) is an American Witch and Priestess. She has a long list of accomplishments including being among the founders of Reclaiming Tradition and NROOGD, a well-known member of the Covenant of the Goddess, and involved with Cherry Hill Seminary. You can learn more about Macha at her website and her blog Broomstick Chronicles. She has also been writing more on Creating Sacred Space with Pagan Prison Inmates over at Witches & Pagans. You can read parts one, two, and three here.

How long have you been doing prison ministry?

About a year.

Why did you get involved with prison ministry?

Because I was asked and the prison is close enough to my home for me to do it.

What are the goals of your ministry?

My goals are several. One is to assure that Pagan (in this case, Wiccan, tho I myself am not Wiccan, per se) inmates are allowed to meet. Another is to give them some knowledge and skills that they can use anywhere they find themselves — in a cell, in a stress situation, out in the world if they’re paroled or released.

Why should Pagans support Pagans in prison and/or prison ministry?

Well, I’m not so sure they should support it — I resist ‘shoulds’ — but I do know that there are Pagans in prison and that they need support they’re not getting, for the most part. In California, religious groups need to meet under supervision. So if they need someone and no prison chaplain is available, I can help. I’m supervised by the Native American chaplain.

One thing I do know is that, unlike Xtians and other Abrahamics, Pagans don’t have institutions to provide study materials and tools (rosaries, for instance). I’ve received donations of tools, supplies, books, and other items from private individual Pagans who trust that I’ll use the money for that purpose (if they give me money) and/or who have some compassion for the inmates and want to see them well served. But we have no system. We have no institutions. I, and by extension the Wiccan circle at San Quentin State Prison, have received monetary, books, and other donations from ppl who know me personally and feel that this work is worthy of their support. For instance, one prominent supporter does so because his father was incarcerated for much of his childhood and I suppose he knows how grim prison life can be. That supporter is Pagan, but not Wiccan, and I doubt his father was Pagan.

What place do former inmates have in the Pagan community?

This is a question I’ve asked myself a lot. I don’t have an answer. What I do have, however, is one inmate just released to a halfway house in Los Angeles who asked me if he could email me when he got out. I said yes, but didn’t give him any contact info. That said, I’m easy to find. Another is due to be released in the SF Bay Area in a matter of weeks, and he’s very interested in seeing who’s out there in Pagandom. I’m guessing he’ll find open circles to check out. I like both of these men, but I don’t know them outside of the inmate circle. I don’t know what crimes they were imprisoned for. We volunteers are not permitted to be personal with inmates. In other words, I don’t feel I can vouch for any of them if someone were to ask. Of course, they can use my name and say they know me, and ppl can take that as an endorsement or not, without checking with me. Nothing I can do about that.

So you see, Cosette, more questions than answers.

Review: Maleficent

Maleficent

Warning: The following may contain spoilers.

Aside from the well known mythology of historical pagan polytheistic cultures, Contemporary Paganism, particularly Wicca and Witchcraft, have some modern myths as well. One of these myths tells us that, once upon a time, there was an egalitarian, matriarchal, earth-based way of life, and it was usurped by the warrior, patriarchal, mountain men. A similar myth posits paganism against Christianity instead of matriarchy versus patriarchy. We’ve seen these themes on screen before with films such as the Mists of Avalon 2001 TV miniseries, Agora, and the 2009 Czech film The Pagan QueenMaleficent presents us with similar themes, but whereas most of the time, it doesn’t go well for the women or the pagans, Maleficent gives us a feminist, pagan-friendly story with an ending we can cheer for.

Since 1937 with its release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney has been largely giving us characters that have been clearly good or evil. It introduced some complexity with Beauty and the Beast and finally gave us a book-loving brunette heroine, but a story about a woman who falls in love with her beastly captor is not without its problems. But since then, Disney has been delivering more interesting, smarter, and tougher female characters such as Esmeralda, Megara, Mulan, and Merida, and movie goers and critics alike have been hailing Frozen as Disney’s most progressive animated film yet. Scott Mendelson of Forbes wrote, “Frozen is both a declaration of Disney’s renewed cultural relevance and a reaffirmation of Disney coming to terms with its own legacy and its own identity. It’s also a just plain terrific bit of family entertainment.”

It’s not just in animated films that Disney has been exploring what it means to be good and evil and what it means to be a woman in the enchanted forest and beyond. Its ABC series Once Upon a Time successfully blurs the lines between good and evil, has given depth and complexity to the Evil Queen and Snow White, subverted Disney’s typical fetishization of true love, and given us more nuanced looks at motherhood. Maleficent achieves similar accomplishments.

In Disney’s new fantasy, live-action film, Maleficent is a fairy resident turned queen of the nature-oriented Moors, a magical realm bordering a human kingdom. She befriends and falls in love with Stefan, a peasant boy from that human kingdom whose ambition for its throne overshadows his love for her and, ultimately, leads him to betray her in a horrific way. He becomes king and the next bit we know.

Maleficent is never far as Aurora grows up raised by the three fairies and, despite her initial dislike of the child, grows fond of her, but there’s that little problem of the curse and of Stefan, who is so obsessed with Maleficent that he doesn’t seem to care that his wife is dying, and later dismisses Aurora when she finally returns to the castle. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that this is not the kindly Stefan and the evil Maleficent we thought we knew, and that it’s certain now that Disney knows true love isn’t necessarily romantic, heterosexual love at first sight, and fairy tale traditions be damned.

Maleficent is a feast for the eyes and I couldn’t imagine anyone other than Angelina Jolie playing the title role. She is not only beautiful, but powerful and mysterious, and she lends subtle emotional richness to the role.

For years, we’ve been bemoaning the negative ways in which Hollywood depicts witches, as nearly always evil hags, women as prizes, and nature as something mysterious and dangerous that needs to be conquered. Disney defies all those stereotypes with Maleficent. Is it safe to say that Disney has entered a new era when it comes to good/evil and its female characters? I hope so.

A Beginner’s Guide to Honouring Ancestors

Getty Images /  Space Images / Blend Images

Getty Images /
Space Images / Blend Images

Friends in the Northern Hemisphere are celebrating Beltane, but Samhain looms here in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the final harvest for Wiccans, the harvest of blood, the time to honour our ancestors.

I believe we should honour our ancestors year-round, but if you don’t and would like to, now is a great time to start.

What does it mean to honour our ancestors?

Veneration of our ancestors is generally based on the belief that the dead have a continued existence and may have the ability to influence the living. Even people who do not believe in a continued existence after death may still honour the memory of the dearly departed. This is not an exclusively Pagan belief or practice and is widespread in a secular sense. Consider Anzac Day.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli (in modern day Turkey) during World War I. The day features dawn services with hymns, prayers, laying of wreaths, a period of silence, and the national anthem. It is not specifically a religious event nor is it thought of ancestor reverence, and yet that is precisely what it’s for, and it is perhaps Australia’s most important national occasion. Other secular ways in which we honour the dead is by naming children after them, displaying their photos, visiting their graves, and creating impromptu shrines where people are killed.

While it may look the same for all intents and purposes, ancestor veneration is not the same as worship to those that engage in these practices. While respect, honour, love, and devotion may be involved in both, “worship” is generally an idea applied to deities not ancestors.

Why should we honour our ancestors?

If we believe in a continued existence after life, then our relationships with the people we love do not end at death. Generally speaking, we honour our ancestors in order to maintain our relationships with them, to ensure their continued well-being, to remind them that they are loved, and to aid their continuing spiritual evolution. Other reasons include to honour their memory, to maintain family histories, to carry on family traditions, and to discover more about ourselves. At the very least, consider that, because of those that came before you, you have a body, blood, DNA, knowledge, freedoms, heritage, and so forth.

Like most healthy relationships, our relationship with our ancestors is reciprocal. If you care for your dead, they will care for you. In Santeria, ancestor reverence is extremely important. It is the foundation for a healthy spiritual practice and for a stable home. Many people will go to their ancestors first before going to the orishas with their needs. This is because orishas are enormous, powerful, sometimes chaotic, forces. Oshun is love and sexuality; Ogun is war; Oya is the hurricane. But our ancestors are just like you and me and they are said to better understand our daily human struggles. They understand what it means to struggle financially, to be out of a job, to have a relationships fall apart, and so forth because they likely experienced these as well.

Who are my ancestors?

An ancestor is most commonly defined as a person from whom one is descended. However this definition can be and often is broadened to include people in our adoptive lineage. In Santeria, we also include our spiritual lineage. I also include my Wiccan lineage. You might also include family of the heart (dear friends, pets, mentors, etc.).

What if I don’t know my ancestors?

You don’t need to know your ancestors in order to begin a practice of honouring them. First, it’s impossible to know all your ancestors anyway. Even if you can trace your lineage a few generations, eventually the data ends somewhere. Second, they all know you and, as you develop your practice, your ancestors will step forward and make themselves known to you.

How do I begin a practice of honouring my ancestors?

My egun shrine.

My egun shrine.

Create an altar. In Santeria, we have two types of shrines. The first is rooted in traditional Lucumi practice and involves setting aside a space on the ground in which offerings are made to the egun, our family ancestors. Offerings typically include a white candle, flowers, water, and food and drink offerings our ancestors may have enjoyed (commonly coffee and rum in Cuban Santeria; cigars are often included as well).

The second type of shrine is the bóveda, which is rooted in Spiritism, and is generally for non-ancestral spirits. It involves an altar covered with a white cloth upon which several goblets of water are placed along with a white candle.

Your altar doesn’t have to be large or elaborate. If you have photos of your beloved dead or family heirlooms, you can place them there. You can also add items that represent special people or your cultural ancestry (e.g. a Celtic cross, a coat of arms, a particular type of flower, etc.). Avoid placing images of living persons on your altar.

Although your altar can be established anywhere, keep in mind that it is a place where energy dwells in a concentrated way. You might consider setting up your shrine somewhere out of the way and in a room where you don’t sleep. A fixed space is best, but sometimes that’s not possible. One portable method I’ve heard is to use a box. Keep your items in there, set it up and close it down as needed. I recommend that your ancestral altar be a separate space from where you worship your deities.

Make offerings. Offer your ancestors the kinds of things they may have enjoyed in life – flowers, food and drink, incense, etc. Water and a candle are often found on ancestral altars not only because they are easy offerings to make, but because water is a conduit, is cleansing, and refreshing, and a candle offers light and warmth.

Talk to them and practice active listening. Direct contact with your ancestral spirits is cultivated through ritual action. Visit your shrine regularly and talk to your ancestors. These are your family, your friends, your guides – spirits that love you. Share with them the good things that happen and don’t be afraid to pour your heart out. Your ancestors are an important part of your support system. The challenge won’t be getting them to respond, but rather trying to distinguish the mental chatter from direct spirit contact. This refinement comes in time with a balance of faith and scepticism.

If you’re not sure how to get started, one good method is to announce yourself. For example, I would say, “I am Cosette, daughter of Marta, grand-daughter of America…” and keep going as far back as you can (this is my maternal line, but you may also use your paternal line or a combination of both). Keep it simple and heartfelt: “I come to honour my ancestors. I make these offerings.” Invite your loving and protective spirits in, ask them to be part of your life, and let them know they will be cared for. If you know the names of specific people whose love and energy you want to invite, call to them.

What about people I didn’t have good relationships with or that were unpleasant in life?

Spirits are not necessarily any more perfect than we are, but there may be some that are especially difficult to work with such as abusive family members, angry spirits, restless dead, and people that may have committed serious crimes or even atrocities.

There are various opinions about how to proceed with them. Here are two. One is that you don’t have to honour those ancestors. The second is that we should work with troubled ancestors; they need us the most, helping them evolve spiritually helps us as well, and may open new channels. Working with troubled ancestors can be a healing journey for both the spirit and you. There are some interesting techniques for working with troubled spirits, but I reserve these for a later blog entry. I think beginners should start with establishing a regular practice and nurturing relationships with loving, protective spirits.

How often should I tend my ancestral altar?

As often as you like. I recommend at least once a week.

A few tips:

  • If you follow a particular historical paganism or pantheon, I recommend you do some research about how the people of those cultures honoured their dead.
  • Consider days that are meaningful to your beloved dead such as birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Be patient. Ancestor reverence is simple, but not easy. It can take time to feel connected and engaged.
  • Use your favourite divination method to learn more about your ancestors.
  • Talk to your living family members to learn more about your ancestors.
  • Consider a genealogical DNA test to learn more about your ancestry.

Have you ever worked with your ancestors and other spirit guides? If so, what has your experience been like? Do you have any tips you can share? If you haven’t worked with ancestors before, why not? Do you have any questions or concerns not addressed here?

Ethics Roundup

Getty Images franckreporter

Getty Images / franckreporter

The arrest of Kenny Klein for the possession of child pornography has prompted lot of discussions about sexual misconduct, safety, and general ethics in the Pagan community. It can be hard to keep up with all the discussions and even harder to stomach some of the comments so I have collected some of my favourite writings on the subjects, pieces that I feel avoid gossip, conspiracy theories, and unreasonable opinions, and focus instead on support and what we can do to keep our communities safe.

Cat Chapin-Bishop’s guest post at the Wild Hunt, Responding to Abuse in the Pagan Community, is the most thoughtful and compassionate piece I’ve seen on these issues. Cat has more than 20 years of experience as a counsellor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She looks at what we know about perpetrators and victims, the effects of abuse, how we can support survivors, and how we can make our Pagan gatherings safer.

Those who prey on children are also friends, family members, wage-earners… And sometimes they are artists, musicians, teachers, or members of a spiritual community whose work is missed when they are removed from those communities.

It is dangerous to caricature offenders as all alike, easily spotted, or wholly monstrous.

The trouble is, if we begin to believe that all perpetrators of child sexual abuse are like comic-book villains, we risk becoming blind to the cases that don’t fit that simple picture. Our communities may begin to make excuses, to minimize, rationalize, and deny the abuse. We say to ourselves, “But she was a teenager—she could have stopped it,” or “He’s not like those other perpetrators—it was only because he was drunk (had just lost his job/ had been divorced/ was depressed.)”

And then we may not pick up the phone and make the report—or we may not enforce a community statement that says we have a “zero tolerance policy” around sexual abuse. Or we may try to “fix” an abuser through compassion and good intentions, without understanding that those are not the tools needed for this particular job. To prevent that, we need to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, and understand the real world of perpetrators and their victims.

In Sex, Ethics, and Paganism, Shauna Aura Knight talks about what it means to be sex-positive and how we can build a healthier sex dynamic in our communities.

Sex positive does not mean I should be pressured to engage in experiences that I’m not comfortable with. In fact, that’s quite the opposite, that’s peer pressure and shaming. Being sex positive means, I support someone’s choice to not dress in a way that is sexy, not get naked, not have lots of sex.

Christine Kraemer describes how we can create a culture of consent in our Pagan communities in her piece, Consent Culture 101: Basic Practices and Teaching Games.

Building consent culture involves confronting issues of power and vulnerability. It requires that both the initiators and receivers of touch improve their communication and listening skills. It calls us to deepen our empathy and bring mindfulness to all our interactions.

In Addressing Safety at Pagan Conventions and Festivals, Cara Schulz looks some of the best practices adopted by teachers and festivals.

David Salisbury, whose books and workshops are often geared towards teens and young adults, says he is rethinking everything in relation to how he presents to minors. Although he feels he has a good system in place, he is making one important change, “I will not teach youth without one or more other adults present.” He also plans to spend more time explaining to adults why he does this so it becomes a more commonplace practice.

Here is my own piece on Safety in the Community.

The Integral Options Cafe blog has an very good 2010 entry, Ethical Guidelines for Clergy and Spiritual Teachers, that looks at how the Zen community responded to issues of sexual misconduct by a teacher. It includes the ethical guidelines that the Zen Society adopted and an FAQ from the FaithTrust Institute on sexual misconduct by clergy/spiritual teachers.

Sexual contact or sexualized behavior within the ministerial relationship is a violation of professional ethics. There is a difference in power between a person in a ministerial role and a member of his or her congregation or a counselee. Because of this difference in power, you cannot give meaningful consent to the sexual relationship.

Geek Feminism Wiki has excellent resources to help organizers develop anti-harassment policies at conferences. Although aimed at open source, computing, or technology-related conferences, they can be easily adapted to suite Pagan festivals and conferences.

And, finally, I strongly recommend taking a look at the Youth Protection program of the Boy Scouts of America. Although the Boys Scouts have not been very progressive in certain areas, they realized years ago that a youth organization is a perfect place for perpetrators looking for access to children. It has developed a balanced and wise approach to tracking issues, training leaders, and protecting children.

Review: The Legend of Hercules

The Legend of Hercules

Even if you’re not familiar with classical mythology, you may have heard of Heracles, or Hercules, the Roman name by which he is more popularly known. The son of the mighty god Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene, the strength and adventures of the divine hero are, well, the stuff legends are made of. Too bad director Renny Harlin didn’t go with any of those legends in his disappointing action fantasy film The Legend of Hercules.

Classical mythology is incredible. That it has provided subject matter for all forms of art as well as pop culture and even scientific naming is a testament to its enduring power. Hercules has not been given much cinematic regard, which is a shame, because his story is remarkable, and any one of his Twelve Labours could make for one terrific film. So, we have the material, and the bar for cinematic approaches has been raised by the likes of Gladiator and Rome. We know Hollywood can do better than the typical sword and sandals flicks of the 1950s and 1960s. Someone should have told Harlin.

The Legend of Hercules begins in ancient Greece, in a land ruled by King Amphitryon. Tired of her husband’s warmongering and thirst for power, Queen Alcmene prays to the goddess Hera, who tells her that she will bear a son by Zeus, and he will be the saviour of her people. The boy is named Alcides by the King, who rejects him as the son of another, and is secretly called Hercules by his mother. Twenty years later, rivalry erupts between Alcides and his despising and jealous older brother Iphicles over the affections of Princess Hebe, who loves Alcides, but must marry Iphicles for political reasons. To get him out of the way, Alcides is sent to join a campaign of soldiers in Egypt. Soon, he finds himself captured and sold into slavery. He must make his way back to Greece, to his kingdom and to his love.

You couldn’t give Hercules a more generic treatment if you tried. It actually gets worse, but I don’t want to completely spoil it for you.

The movie was filmed in Bulgaria and looks and feels like Eastern Europe. I was never convinced I was looking at ancient Greece or Egypt. The actors don’t look or sound right. The clothes are wrong. It delivers a lot of muscular guys in skimpy armour fighting and roaring in digitally-enhanced battle sequences, but that’s not quite enough to save this clichéd and boring clunker.

The Legend of Hercules is rated PG-13.

Just People

Getty Images / DrAfter123 / Vetta

Getty Images / DrAfter123 / Vetta

There are situations in life that push people into not quite a spotlight, but more like an X-ray machine, and a deeper part of them is revealed, a little something of their insides. The last few days, the period over which it was revealed that Gavin and Yvonne Frost would and would not appear at Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG), has been one of those situations. I learned a few lessons and was reminded of one very important one: Pagans are just people.

It was not a great Pagan people week. As if the arrest of Kenny Klein for possession of child pornography wasn’t bad enough, people began coming forward to claim that they had experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour from Klein at festivals, and nothing was done about it. When it hit the Pagan webosphere that the Frosts would present at FPG, similar stories emerged not about the Frosts, but about FPG, and how the Temple of Earth Gathering (TEG) Board of Directors did not act rightfully on complaints of sexual misconduct, allegations that have been confirmed by FPG staff members themselves.

The Frosts will not present at FPG. They will not be in attendance at all. This is not because the Board listened to the concerns of its community. It is not because the Board decided that, in light of the current discomfort and conversations going on in Pagan communities about predatory behaviours and ethics, it was simply not appropriate to host a couple of Witches whose how-to book on Wicca advocates and contains explicit instructions for the sexual ritual initiation of children. According to a statement made on FPG’s Facebook Page, the Frosts won’t be at Beltane because the camp owners learned of the controversy.

It was brought to our attention this afternoon that certain fringe members of the movement to prevent the Frosts from attending FPG left disparaging and callous remarks on the camps social media pages. This in turn caused panic for the parents of the children who attend the camp during the summer months to believe that their beloved campsite was home to a group of Pagans who supported pedophilia. It wasn’t just FPG or its board who was painted with that brush, it was all of us.

Our hearts goes out to the children and the families who were inadvertently affected by our community’s issue. They did not deserve that, nor did the owners and governing body of the camp which graciously allows us to call their land our home. For that we are truly, truly sorry.

Originally, we had a resolution where instead of hosting workshops there was going to be an open discussion with the Frosts where the stance they have held for 40 years regarding the contents of their book would be addressed. Its purpose was to allow the community to address them in person, face to face and promote communication with between all parties concerned.

Unfortunately with the attack on the camp, and its owners, we cannot, in good conscience, allow the Frosts to come, even as private guests.

So, while the goal of not having the Frosts at FPG was met, it was a hollow victory. The only apology the Board made was to the non-Pagan families who use the camp and apparently to the camp owners who are unlikely to read the statement. There doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement at all that having the Frosts present at FPG is inappropriate and that they need a better process for handling feedback about presenters as well as for allegations of sexual misconduct.

As for the Frosts, they don’t need FPG to address concerns over the material published in their 1972 book. To show as much, they presented their own side of the situation at their blog. It is full of justifications and bizarre explanation, no apologies, no withdrawals.

In the midst of all this, I was disturbed and saddened to discover that so many Pagans support the Frosts and that one major reason that the Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse was never completed was over the issue of sexual initiation. Brendan Myers, who helped write the statement in 2009, explains:

There were a lot of angry voices who continued to demand the right to perform sexual acts as part of initiation ceremonies, even when the inductee would not be warned in advance about the nature of the ceremony, and even when the inductee was legally a minor. The most common argument in favour of that position was an appeal to tradition; which is normally a fallacy of logic. Some said that initiatory surprise was an important part of the drama and the power of the ritual, and that therefore initiatory surprise had to be preserved, even when it involved a sexual act. Some also justified it by saying that if they were disallowed from performing such a ritual, that would be an unjust limitation upon their personal freedom. Some people even went so far as to claim that the utterance of any moral statement, or even ordinary moral indicator-words like “should”, constitutes oppression on someone, somewhere, somehow. Even when the “should” was a condemnation of sexual abuse. Some voices really were that absolute with their rejection of all ethical propositions.

Even as all this was going on, enough to make you shake your head and walk away from the Pagan community forever, I saw a lot of good, decent people doing the right thing. Hundreds of people supported the Joint Resolution to FPG Board. FPG staff members resigned. Festival-goers, presenters, and vendors began to pull out and request refunds. Beyond this, great Pagans continued doing great work. My friends Andras Corban-Arthen was rubbing elbows with the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and representing Paganism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions; Selena Fox and her crew were taking care of the land at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve; and Crystal Blanton was walking her social justice talk at the National Association of Social Workers 2014 Annual Legislative Lobby. Many more Pagans worshipped and celebrated and continued talking about ethics and how to improve our communities.

And so, Pagans are just people.

Some will avert their eyes and pretend nothing is happening. Some are lazy and will back down at the slightest amount of work or conflict; signing a virtual petition or clicking a Facebook Like is as far as they will go. Some will attempt to deflect from the issues by attacking concepts of political correctness, activism, and equity. Some will hurt people, even children, and some will think that’s okay. Some are fundamentalists, overconfident, and arrogant, fancying themselves more enlightened simply because they are Pagan. Some are angry and bitter and have questionable mental health; all the tools in their Witch’s toolboxes and all the great wisdom found in pagan literatures and bodies of mythology are not enough to bring balance, stability, and joy to their lives.

But for all the predators, unethical people, and other dubious characters out there, we have brilliant, creative, strong, courageous, charitable, honourable, generous, compassionate Pagans; people who believe in justice and moral excellence; people who will do the right thing, protect, and defend, when it’s hard, even when it’s dangerous. Those are the ones I choose to surround myself with and create both friendships and working relationships with.

A Frosty Florida Pagan Gathering

In 1972, Gavin and Yvonne Frost published a book titled The Witch’s Bible. I read it in early 2007. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. At the time, Pagan author-turned-Catholic A.J. Drew was spearheading a campaign to have Gavin and Yvonne Frost ostracized from the Pagan community. Drew’s websites have since closed, but the Wild Hunt blog still has the story in its archives here, here, here, and here (and here is a 2009 article worth reading as well). Drew’s hostility towards the Frosts was over content in The Witch’s Bible.

The Witch’s Bible, or the Good Witch’s Bible, as it was reissued in 1976, is a difficult and problematic book. Very little in it resembles modern Wicca or even older material on Wicca and British Traditional Witchcraft. The most controversial parts of the book involve children and initiation. According to the Frosts, children may become full members of the coven when they reach puberty and initiation involves ritual intercourse with a phallic object by adult sponsors.

Lest we toss this up to the swinging lifestyle of the 70s, in his 2007 Amazon.com review, Archdruid Emeritus of the ADF and Pagan writer Ian Corrigan, said that the book wasn’t well received then.

When this book came out in the early 70s, it was considered abject nonsense by the few folks who had any actual knowledge of Wicca in those days. The Frosts came out of nowhere, appropriating the term ‘Wicca’ for their own version of what religious witchcraft might be. Their synthesis bore almost no resemblance to the traditions of Wicca, either in ritual or theology, and certainly not in the grotesque suggestions about the sexual upbringing of children. It was a different age in those days, as ‘swinging’ emerged as a lifestyle and many folks hoped for a real revolution in sexual mores – too bad the Frosts chose to add their wacky ideas to something that they chose to call ‘Wicca’. This book was an embarrassment in 1972, and it’s an embarrassment now. It should be ignored by anyone interested in learning witchcraft or wicca.

The Witch’s Bible is thankfully out of print. To say it’s an embarrassment to the Pagan community is an understatement. With its statements about the sexual initiation of children, it’s morally reprehensible and advocates an illegal and abusive practice that has no place in Wicca. No publisher would print this book if it were penned today.

As far as I know, the Frosts have never recanted these statements. If anyone has any information to the contrary, please do share in the comments below or contact me privately. It is worth nothing that, again, as far as I know, there have never been any charges of misconduct brought against the Frosts. Again, if you have any information to the contrary, please do let me know. I have spoken with some Pagans who know them personally and others who have attended workshops with the Frosts. They have all said that although the Frosts are a bit kooky, they are delightful. They are “old school,” some say.

But that’s not good enough.

We need to hold our spiritual teachers to a higher standard than this. If the Frosts are not willing to issue a public statement that they no longer hold this belief regarding children and initiation and apologize for any hurt they might have caused, they should not be welcomed as teachers or respected Elders at any Pagan event.

A spiritual teacher must not create harm through sexuality even if that is only through speech and not actual sex. A spiritual teacher should speak what is true and useful. A spiritual teacher fosters goodness. A spiritual leader empowers and inspires. They do not exploit. They do not abuse their positions. Our High Priests and High Priestesses may be representatives of the gods, but as human beings, they need to admit when they are wrong, apologize, and make amends.

Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG) is one my favourite Pagan festivals. I ignore most of the workshops and have never attended any of its main rituals, but the time I have spent there sitting around the fire sharing mead and laughter with my friends from all over Florida and beyond – well, that’s the only reason I went to FPG at all. I am deeply disappointed that Gavin and Yvonne Frost will be presenters at FPG at Beltane.

It’s not the first time the Frosts appear at FPG and they’ve met controversy before, but in light of Kenny Klein’s recent arrest over child pornography, the Pagan community is currently far more on edge. During this time of anger, confusion, and community self-reflection, having the Frosts present at your festival is, to say the least, not a very wise decision.

Pagans are voicing their concerns. They have emailed Temple of Earth Gathering Board of Directors asking it to reconsider. They are beginning to request refunds for the event. Staff members have resigned. But the Frosts will go on. A statement issued on FPG’s Facebook Page says:

We want to assure everyone that FPG and TEG never has, and never will condone assault of any nature, be it verbal, physical or sexual. When our guests and staff are at FPG we work with our Guardians and fellow staff members to keep everyone as safe as possible and we respond to threats immediately. We will never allow anyone to be harmed, or continue to be harmed while at our festivals. We have not now, nor have we ever had threats of violence made against our event and we do not expect that there will be.

It’s hypocritical and repugnant, TEG, to say you don’t condone assault and then host, as privileged and influential presenters, two Witches whose beliefs remain unaddressed. Again, until the Frosts come forward and state that they no longer hold this belief regarding children and sexual initiation and apologize for any hurt they might have caused, they should not be welcomed as teachers or respected Elders at FPG.