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.