Safe Words, Safe Spaces (Part Four of not too many more, I hope)

With the recent controversies regarding the Klein arrest and the re-emergence of the Frosts, several highly visible Pagan organizations have issued statements about their reasoned and official policies regarding participation by minors. I reviewed Mother Grove’s policies as well as our Ethics statement. I suspect that most organizations are either reviewing existing policies or drafting new ones. All of this is very good and is a hopeful community response to these difficult situations.

But it begs the question–if these statements and policies already exist then why is this still happening, why is safety a concern in our communities? Is this a question of non-enforcement of existing rules or is something else going on? Or are these random events, outliers?

My non-scientific opinion is based on the conversations I’ve had over these many years about the silencing of complaints and the shaming of complainants. There’s a group in our area that used to be quite active and is now significantly less so. This group would regularly bring in new students and then demand all sorts of things of them that had nothing to do with practicing a religion. They had to clean the house, bring food or smokes or booze, etc. And many of those students come to me years later to talk about their terrible experiences with this group.

When the larger community began processing through the Klein arrest and those of us have been around a while started to recall all the Frost controversy from years past, I got several calls and emails from people that I know. They wanted to talk. They wanted to process their terrible coven experience from years past, an experience that they had tried to fix, to work through at the time.

But instead of listening to their concerns, the people “in charge” locked down, shamed the complainers, threatened to blackball and even hex them. No one will ever circle with you again!

Amazing.

What the Hel is wrong with us? These folks were talking about different parts of the country and different covens but the experience was pretty much the same. One happened in the 90s, another in the early 2000s, the other fairly recently.

How do we make our circles safe for those who seek to join this oddball collection of spiritualities? There is often a mocking disregard for those who have learned all they know about Wicca from a couple of books but how safe is it to look for a teacher, when we won’t tell the truth about the bad apples?

Is it any wonder that so many Pagans are solitary practitioners? No, I don’t think so. We need to do some deep searching into the motivation behind these toxic expectations for new Pagans–something that didn’t just happen in the wild and wooly 80s but continues to plague our communities today. Isolated instances of sexual abuse and more frequent tales of bad teachers and leaders have to bring us to a new way, a healthy way of organizing people and treating people.

We are a collection of outcasts and nerds and freaks. And we have to find a way to speak the truth about the people we know to be problematic.

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8 thoughts on “Safe Words, Safe Spaces (Part Four of not too many more, I hope)

  1. Well said. If those in Pagandom who speak out are silenced and nothing changes, the victims of unacceptable behavior (or even abuse) will be victimized all over again by what is supposed to be their community. It happened to me, and it hurts.

  2. I think I’m glad that I don’t have any media but this one, and selective at that. I heard whisperings about the Frosts but I think they were before my time, and I don’t know a thing about Klein. No wonder Paganism has such a bad rap, then! I’m glad, sometimes, that I just diddy-bop along, doing what I’m doing, and being the best me that I can.
    Good gracious. What a bunch of awful. One bad apple and all that, huh? 😦

  3. I practiced as a solitaire for many years, and now that I live far away from my home coven, I still, for the most part, do so. I feel blessed that I have found a base of people in this community with whom I can safely share ritual, and as time allows I hope to become move involved.

    The why of these things still happening in our communities is only slightly different from the why of them happening in any other community. That difference may be a result of our need, as a community, to present a pretty face to the more dominant cultures, which often already look at us in a negative light. Furthermore, many of us still must keep our spiritual path hidden from our families, employers, and neighbors. It is easy for ugly truths to thrive in dark corners.

    There is so much I would and could say, but it all comes down to this: we are each responsible for shining a light into the dark when we have the opportunity to do so. Perfect love and perfect trust are not just elements of Circle. When a novice asks questions or seeks guidance or expresses fear, be honest and forthright in your responses.

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