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.

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39 thoughts on “Just People

  1. “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.”

    Cosette,
    No one, not even you, has contacted the BOD about the validity of any accusations. That is not responsible journalism at all. You don’t even bother to call it an accusation, you state is as truth.

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    • I said – and you quoted – complaints and allegations. An allegation is “a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof”. I did not contact the Board, but one such allegation was confirmed by a former staff member.

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  2. Here’s my problem with what Joy’s been posting on other blogs about something that happened 2 years ago. First, 85% of this issue is a personal problem between her and I but I’m not going to post that here. The other 15% is the actual issue in question.

    Now first let me make it clear that at no time did Joy ever send an email to the BOD about anything regarding a message that she got with from a friend of her exboyfriend (who, btw, is the guy she keeps referring to). She never sent it to me personally or to the board so whatever he said to whomever we were never made aware of. It was my understanding that they broke up because of something he had posted on Facebook, not because of a private conversation she was forwarded from someone else.

    Also, Joy did not have a dog in this fight. According to witnesses, she was not at the fire circle when this went down and had heard about it later from mutual friends on Facebook who had heard about it from someone who was there.

    The issue involving this individual’s behavior was brought to the attention of the Board during our Sunday morning meeting. Unfortunately for all involved, the Guardians did not wake a BOD member when the incident happened late the night before as they should have. It really pains me to say that the Guardians made a mistake because they sacrifice so much of their time and energy to keep us safe at FPG. However they, as individuals, are human and are prone to error like all of us. So the next morning at our 10am meeting it was reported to us that the person in question had been acting menacingly to guests at the fire circle and when one of the fire tenders attempted to intervene he threatened the fire tender. The Guardians then stepped in and brought him back to his cabin to sleep it off because he was drunk and we have a policy against allowing drunk people to get in their cars and drive off. Should the Guardians have gotten one of the BOD members when this was going down…absolutely…and we have since corrected that behavior with the Guardians.

    So what did we do when the Guardians reported the incident? We all agreed that he was to leave as soon as possible and that he would later be told he was banned from ever attending the festival again. Now, as his friend, did I protest? No. Did I ask for an investigation or for any reconsideration? No. As a matter of fact *I* was the one who told him to leave and later on *I* was the one who told him he was banned. It was not a pretty sight to behold…ask my husband.

    Also, had the situation or any situation been escalated to any kind of physical violence we would have called the police, as we have done in the very few times we’ve had to.

    In the end, thankfully, no one was hurt or assaulted. Also, it was only recently that the woman who he had acted menacingly towards came forward to reveal herself and I plan on addressing her privately to apologize for the way that the incident had happened, to tell her that we’ve taken steps to help prevent it from happening again and that the person who did harass her will never come back to FPG (and isn’t even in the country anymore and hasn’t been for over a year).

    Now, am I going to post this all over kingdom come, probably not. Why? Because we have a whole other group of people to consider when these rare incidents happen and that’s the victim.

    Do you remember back in 2007 when someone (I won’t name him here) blew up all over the mailing lists about how a new coven member of his was harassed by a female guest and that she had tried poisoning him with Ecstasy or something similar and how the festival didn’t do anything about it because we weren’t naming the suspect in the matter? We didn’t name the person because the VICTIM didn’t want the embarrassment of having his personal business splashed all over the internet and have to relive it over and over again. But, because his high priest made such a public thing about it, he not only left the coven…..he left the whole of Paganism but not before posting a very public statement telling everyone to leave him alone and not talk about what happened at Festival. He wouldn’t even tell the Board (which I was not on at the time) his statement about what actually happened. Everything was speculation from a person who wasn’t even there when his coven member was supposedly harassed. Hopefully that will give people something of an understanding as to why we don’t make personal business public.

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    • Thank you, Medea. Personally, I don’t expect any Board to publicly respond to every single accusation of misconduct that might occur at any festival. I think that’s unrealistic and inappropriate. I think the general public would like to know that there is a process in place for handling such allegations (as well as general feedback about things such as presenters), what that process is, and they want to feel confident in that process.

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      • FPG has been around something like 20 years. This has never come up before? All these years and the Board has never put a process in place for handling these kinds of situations? Well, it’s certainly time then.

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  3. This is not the first time issue with the Frosts has come up. It’s at least the third time that I can recall. Once last Beltane, and a few years ago a guy named Pagan complained about them.

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      • Every incident and every case is considered on case-by-case basis. The only way to be fair is to investigate what happened and from the information given to us make the best decision possible. Generally the practice is a warning, a festival off, then banishment. However, depending on the situation 1 or more of those can be skipped and go straight to banishment. the BOD keeps a record of incidents in meeting notes as they are reported.

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  4. No, there’s always been a policy, I meant that no one has asked us what that policy is. I’ve been with the festival for 14 years and I don’t recall a single time when anyone has asked “What do you guys do when X situation happens?”

    As for incidents happening at festival over the last 20 years, of course they have. Those kinds of things will always happen when you have groups of people together for an extended period of time.

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  5. I would like to know what policies are in place at FPG regarding complaints or concerns of misconduct of anyone (attendees, presenters, staff). This is unrelated to theFrosts. Does anyone keep written records of each, to see if there is a trend over the years? Many people do not attend every year, so I’m sure not every name and face is remembered, especially when there is turnover in staff. If there is a record of complaints/concerns, is there a written policy in place to determine how many is too many? Thank you.

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  6. You cannot possibly be saying “we know better. Please be quiet”. Because frankly, Medea, that is what I am reading. The issue here is one of the most serious and sobering our community can confront. The BoD should be responding with tremendous force. Instead, TEG deleted posts and later stood in silence with little leadership on the issue. It would be a sign of change if the BoD stood and stated the gravity of the situation and opened a full dialogue on the matter. It is long overdue that the community demand that elders stand up on certain issues to forge a stronger community of Pagans.

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    • And now you know why we don’t say anything…..because no matter what we say, we’re wrong.

      The Frosts aren’t coming to FPG, I’m sorry that it’s not for the reasons you want but since no one gave us any time to fix anything before someone else contacted the camp that’s what we’re going to have to deal with.

      TEG deleted posts because it is within our right to do so and we addressed why we did so. Our advertizing pages are just that…advertizing for our festival and that is all. Allowing guests to post is a courtesy and nothing more. We are not a group of elders, leaders, teachers, whatever….we’re just event organizers.

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      • Medea, the general perception appears to be that the Frosts were coming to FPG (had the camp not intervened) as that was the last statement issued on FPG’s Facebook page. You know there has been controversy surrounding them before. Are you able to comment as to why the Frosts keep getting invited back? Why are they viewed by the Board as an acceptable choice for presenters?

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  7. Medea, you will not be wrong. Taking a stance on this issue will simply mean you will open debate! This was an opportunity to TEG. It is true, the deleting of posts may be your right but you have cast a pall on your own work by resorting to censorship! Silencing people is not the way our community functions – it is what has always been used against us! And finally, you are not just event organizers- your are supposed to be leaders. This was- and I’ll say it again- an opportunity. What failed?

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    • And what of the people who didnt want their email boxes flooded with posts about the Frosts? Were they just supposed to deal with it, or do they not have rights also? And I noticed that no one said anything about all the posts not deleted, only the few that were.

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  8. Because we were democratic about it. 4 or 5 people saying they didn’t want the Frosts at FPG was paled by the 75 who said they did. However, we did say we wouldn’t have them as headliners again years ago. Someone asked us to reconsider for last Beltaine, so we did. But, since it did cause a problem we decided to not have them as headliners again. Since they’ve not broken any festival rules or any laws that would prevent them from attending and giving workshops.

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    • Oh and we did have a resolution where Gavin and Yvonne agreed not to teach their workshops and they offered to host a “The Frosts Tell All” panel where we were going to invite guests and the headliners to participate. Unfortunately the other thing happened.

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    • In this latest incident, there were several hundred people that signed the Joint Resolution to FPG Board and liked the Facebook Page not three or four, but the decision to keep the Frosts at FPG still held. Why? While the Frosts may not have been arrested or broken any festival laws, the material in their how-to book about Wicca and allegedly in their courses advocates a practice that is generally considered morally abhorrent and probably illegal if someone did actually do it. The questions of why keep having them back, doesn’t the Board see a problem with this, are not being answered in a satisfactory manner.

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  9. Not so, Medea. The numbers swelled to hundreds on the pages as you were deleting posts. You keep thinking this is about your rules of the festival and focusing on the small. This is a BIG issue. It like saying Rosa Parks should have paid attention to the sign. Your board seems so focused on the small that you have lost sight of what we CAN do together as a community.

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  10. I saw and many of those people were from out of the state as well. Hell, even our own page swelled 200 people. I’m not sure if you’re in Florida but the storm has quelled here and we’re looking for peace and reconciliation.

    We’ll be providing the forum at Beltaine for such discussion.

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    • Just a note, I live in California and have attended FPG on and off since it began, and the other pagan gatherings in FL before it began. I have friends from various other states that vend at FPG also. This is not just a local issue.

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    • I do not think you should be so quick to dismiss those that signed from out of state. When I moved here from Kentucky, I asked about different events. Two came up: FPG,and Phoenix. FPG does not live in a bubble, and many people from out of state attend these events. I’m sorry that you do not think those people are “relevant” but being in FL, I can say that this issue is not “quelled” just because you say so.

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  11. I am in Florida and I have attended before. I would share some advice: I would not be so sure it has quelled. That joint Resolution page has over 400 likes. There are things that remain unanswered: Why did the BoD hesitate on this issue? Whydid the BoD choose censorship over dialogue? Why has the BoD not come out with a strong ethical statement? And there are many unanswered emails to the BoD. This storm is not over from the posts I have seen on various sites and FB pages. The wind that you report as a breeze can rage like a hurricane again. Much light to you- I hope you and the Board find the strength to lead.

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  12. The BOD didn’t hesitate, we were given no time to work on anything. From start to finish the entire thing took 3 days during the week. We did allow dialog, just not on our advertising pages only in the comments of our actual statements where people can choose whether they want to listen. As for ethical statements and leadership roles: Again, FPG is a festival, a business, not a church, not a school and we, the BOD are nothing more than event organizers. We are not the needle upon which the moral compass of Florida Pagans turn.

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    • FPG may not be a church or a school, but religious events and teaching do take place there. What responsibility, then, if any, does the BOD have to the broader Pagan community, in your opinion, Medea?

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    • So what you’re saying Medea is that FPG is all business and that the BOD is absolved of all moral decisions concerning the community that they serve, or rather sell to? Wise leaders rarely seek to be leaders, rather it’s thrust upon them. The BOD might not want moral and spiritual responsibility for the local Pagan community but it’s clear it’s been thrust upon you.

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  13. Medea, with all due respect, you are revising history. You removed my post. Your FB is not an advertising page- look at the Terms of Service for FB. If that’s what you think it is, then you owe FB a whole lot of money. It is a communication page. The BoD went into a tailspin as the issue unfolded. FPG may be a festival but you are connected with Pagans as a faith. You keep insisting that your role is small. This is a SERIOUS issue. It is not a moral compass question: it focuses on the sexual initiation of children. You are hiding behind a corporate veil and saying “we wash our hands of this. Its not for us to comment”. Please read two sentences back again. I cannot imagine few more important issues.

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    • Then why does FB give me the option of not allowing posts by non-page owners if it’s against the terms of service?

      As for the Frosts, my personal opinion of them is my own but I think Gavin wrote the chapter to sell books, not harm children.

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  14. Our purpose and goal is you provide a venue where pagans can practice openly and safely and provide them with an opportunity to experience things in our pagan culture that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do so without a venue to host them.

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  15. That venue can still be provided – and strengthened- through the suggestions that I and others have brought up. What safety is built when censorship is used? What safety is addressed when abominable rituals are not condemned?

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  16. Medea, Might I give you a suggestion for the future, next time a controversy opens up instead of just deleting the posts. Create a private Facebook page .. and have the ability to invite people and make a forum to discuss it. Just deleting the posts does not build a warm and fuzzy feeling.

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    • Von, I certainly understand that feeling. We did explain ourselves but I also think that before people start condemning they might want to step back and remember that we’re people also who have the best intentions for our community (if we didn’t FPG wouldn’t exist as it does now). I think if we had been given a little more time to respond our actions would not have been as reactionary but alas, that’s in the past. Now all we can do is move on and do a better job next time.

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      • I’m sorry but you make this sound as if you were victimized. And the BoD wants to absolve itself of responsibility on the issue. I speak for many of in saying that we are grateful that TEG organizes the FPG. But with each post here an on FB, you/BoD keep confusing intention of organizing the event with your reaction on this incredibly important issue.

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  17. Medea,

    I appreciate your willingness to discuss the topic, albeit belatedly. Had you and the BoD been this willing to commumicate in the past, things may have happened differently.

    I am curious: You cite “Policy” regularly, as in “its our policy to use FB as advertising space only” or “this is our policy on abusive behavior” ( Im paraphrasing). I have to say your policies seem capricious, inconsistently enforced, and motivated by an effort to protect the festival and only tangentally protective of the attendees.

    Is this alleged “policy” written anywhere, or does the board make it up as it goes along?

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  18. With respect, this is not about next time. It’s about RIGHT NOW. What I don’t think some people understand here is this is not about the Frosts. This is about the conversations we all need to be having about how we want our communities to develop. It’s about the values and behaviors we uphold and value, and those we just won’t tolerate. It’s about creating an environment of healthy dialogue on sensitive and critical issues that impacts our festivals, our communities- how do we deal with victims, what message to we send about sexual boundaries, who do we want to give a voice to and acknowledge as leaders. It’s about talking about these sensitive and difficult issues, often emotionally charged, in order to establish a whole and healthy environment for the modern Craft to thrive in.

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