Culture change and cat-herding

There’s always a difficult process when one group of people feels passionately that something needs to change, and another group of people feel that the status quo is just fine, usually (but not always) because they are not affected by the thing that the first group feels is in need of change.

What tactics should we adopt to try to bring about the change? An open letter? A declaration? A community statement? A petition? Or a pledge to boycott?

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You say you want a revolution? (Review)

Review: You say you want a revolution? At the V&A, London.

The title of the newest exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London comes from the Beatles song, Revolution. The exhibition tells the story of social change in the sixties through music, fashion, posters, propaganda, a very grainy video of the Moon landings, a piece of Moon rock, and much more. It includes album covers, clothes, furniture, a Wiccan sword, a goat head mask made by Arnold Crowther, The Lord of the Rings memorabilia, music, design, and architecture. They even have Woody Guthrie’s diary, open at the page where he wrote that he had painted ‘This machine kills fascists’ on his guitar.

The exhibition is on until 26 February 2017. As you enter, you are given a headset with sixties music on it, which adds a musical accompaniment to the different areas of the exhibition.

What struck me about the exhibition, and about the decade as a whole, was just how contemporary it all is, and what a radical transformation it represented. The sixties was a time of resisting authority, protest against the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, gay and lesbian rights, the Black Panthers, and an end to deference. One of the exhibits was the ten-point list of demands from the Black Panthers, which were entirely reasonable, as they included the right of Black communities to police themselves, to get the reparations they were promised after slavery ended, to have decent housing, and to get jobs.

The exhibition also showed the attempts of authoritarianism to push back against all this revolutionary change: the imprisonment of Angela Davis, the murder of Che Guevara, the suppression of the May 1968 uprising in Paris by the CRS (a special unit of the police with a reputation for brutality).

Ang

USA activist Angela Davis graffiti in the “Abode of Chaos” museum of contemporary art, in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, Rhône-Alpes. Photo by thierry ehrmannon Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Perhaps we no longer appreciate just how radical a shift the sixties represented. I remember Doreen Valiente’s speech at the Pagan Federation conference in 1997, when she recalled how repressive the 1950s were:

People today have no conception of how uptight and repressive society was back in the 1950s when Old Gerald first opened up the subject of witchcraft as a surviving old religion. You could not go into a shop then and buy a pack of Tarot cards or a book on the occult without getting curious looks and usually a denial that they stocked any such things. There were no paperback books on the occult, except such things as Old Moore’s Almanac and very popular stuff such as how to read tea leaves. Serious books on the subject were only obtainable second hand at very high prices. The mentality of the period was perfectly illustrated by the by the famous enquiry made by a distinguished lawyer in the course of the trial about the publication of DH Lawrence’s book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, when he quite seriously asked the jury, “Would you allow your servants to read this book?” There was a built in assumption that ordinary people were not entitled to read what they liked, or to think what they liked, and still less to do what they liked.

Before the 1960s, universities had rules in place where students were not allowed to have a member of the other sex in their rooms, and there was a curfew in place. In 1966, a woman could be refused a bank account if she didn’t have her husband’s permission to open one. Younger people were expected to defer to their ‘elders and betters’.

The sixties changed all that. We thought they had changed it forever, but perhaps each generation has to claim its rights anew. This exhibition is a timely reminder of the freedoms that the sixties revolution won for us, and how they were won through struggle and resistance, not through ‘natural progression’ from the old order. The young were the future, and the revolution had taken place in the minds of the young. Everything was in flux, and subject to change. You can see the excitement and optimism about the future in sixties design and writings.

The sixties was the decade that the Pagan revival really took off. This was reflected in the exhibition in a variety of ways – the Wiccan sword and goat mask, and the general atmosphere of a return to Nature, festival culture, the beginnings of rave culture, and a new-found reverence for the Goddess and for women.

There was a widespread fascination with the occult in the sixties too, and this was emphasised by the displays being interspersed with Tarot cards from the Hexen 2.0 Tarot by Suzanne Treister, which explores ideas ranging from computers, surveillance, the Whole Earth Catalog, Thoreau’s Walden, cybersecurity, ArpaNet, and cryptography:

HEXEN 2.0 looks into histories of scientific research behind government programmes of mass control, investigating parallel histories of countercultural and grass roots movements. HEXEN 2.0 charts, within a framework of post-WWII U.S. governmental and military imperatives, the coming together of diverse scientific and social sciences through the development of cybernetics, the history of the internet, the rise of Web 2.0 and increased intelligence gathering, and the implications for the future of new systems of societal manipulation towards a control society. … The project simultaneously looks at diverse philosophical, literary and political responses to advances in technology including the claims of Anarcho-Primitivism and Post Leftism, Theodore Kaczynski/The Unabomber, Technogaianism and Transhumanism, and traces precursory ideas such as those of Thoreau, Warren, Heidegger and Adorno in relation to visions of utopic and dystopic futures from science-fiction literature and film. … HEXEN 2.0 offers a space where one may use the works as a tool to envision possible alternative futures.

Somewhere along the way, the general optimism of the sixties turned into the ‘business as usual’ of the seventies. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and bigotry still stalked the streets. Much of sixties utopianism was blown away in a puff of marijuana smoke, or so it seemed. We realised that the dark side of the sexual revolution was the notion that women must be sexually available at all times. The counterculture still existed, but it hadn’t completely transformed the over-culture. The seventies were a decade of nostalgia, labour unrest, terrible fashion, and a realisation of the dark side of sixties counterculture. The eighties came in with Thatcherism, and the grim battles between striking miners and the repressive police state. In the USA there was Reagan and Reaganomics, Star Wars, and more neoliberal austerity. The UK Labour Party lost its way and succumbed to free-market economics and the doctrine that public spending is bad.

The You say you want a revolution? exhibition offers an immersive trip into the sixties, both counterculture and mainstream, and asks what we gained and what we lost. It’s like a happening, a sixties event where people would be immersed in mind-blowing imagery and music and ideas. Given the current pushing back of the civil rights of minorities under the paltry excuse of anti-terrorism, this is a very timely retrospective.

Colours of Paganism

Paganism is an umbrella term for a group of religions that venerate the Earth and Nature, and the ancient Pagan deities. These religions include Wicca, Druidry, Heathenry, Religio Romana, Animism, Shamanism, Eclectic Pagans and various other traditions. All of these traditions share an urge to celebrate life and to honour our connection with all other beings on the planet. Pagans often emphasise the cyclical nature of reality, and so enjoy the cycle of the seasons and the dance of Sun and Moon.

Green is the colour everyone immediately associates with Paganism. It is the colour of nature, of trees, and all growing things. It is associated with the Green Man, a symbol of our connection to Nature, and a manifestation of the life-force. Many Pagans also like the colour purple for its spiritual connotations (it is associated with the crown chakra). Interestingly, purple and green were also the colours of the suffragette movement.

The Long Man of Wilmington, Autumn Equinox
Photo by OceanBlue-AU [BY-NC-ND 2.0]

The metals are traditionally associated with the heavenly bodies: gold for the Sun, silver for the Moon and the stars, mercury for Mercury, copper for Venus, iron for Mars, tin for Jupiter and lead for Saturn.

The white, red and and black colours of the Triple Goddess owe a lot to Robert Graves’ seminal work The White Goddess. He derived it from the tendency of the Irish myths to declare those “otherworldly” colours in combination, such as the red-eared white cow that was Brigid’s only food as an infant, the red, white and black oystercatcher that is called “Brigid’s bird” or the red-eared white dogs that occur in so many stories as Otherworld animals.

The four elements are very important in Paganism, and different mythological systems associate them with different colours. Earth is associated with stability, fertility, strength and nurturing, and can be represented by green, brown, or white. Air symbolises intellect, the breath of life, and the spirit, and can be depicted as yellow, white, or black. Fire represents energy, intuition, passion and vitality, and can be orange or red. Water represents love, emotion, fluidity, and healing, and can be blue or green.

The rainbow is an important symbol for Pagans. To Heathens, it the symbol of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge between the world of deities (Asgard) and the world of humans (Midgard). For many Pagans, the colours of the rainbow correspond to the colours of the chakras (borrowed from Hinduism). It is also the symbol of LGBT sexuality.

Colors of the Rainbow
Photo  by Nicholas_T [BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Diana Paxson and her branch of Asatru (a Heathen tradition) associate colours with deities: Oðinn is black and blue; Thor red; Freya and Freyr green and gold, or sometimes brown.

White is the colour of light, and is associated with the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. It is also the colour most often chosen for Druid robes, because of its association with the Sun.

Black is the colour of darkness, but for Pagans, darkness symbolises a time of rest, dreams, and the hidden powers of Nature. It is also a symbol of the fertile earth, in whose dark depths seeds can germinate. It is also the colour of death and the underworld, but death is seen as part of the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and so is not to be feared. For some Pagans, black is the colour of the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess, and so represents the wisdom of old age. It is also the colour of women, of the cycles of the human body, and of those people considered “non-white.” Black speaks to our love of mystery, night, and the realms of the unconscious and “starlight” consciousness. It’s the color of soil, dirt, compost. It represents wholeness.

Important Pagan Dates

There are different Pagan festivals depending on which Pagan path you follow, but many Pagans celebrate the festivals of the Wiccan and Druid Wheel of the Year.

Samhain or Hallowe’en falls on 31st October, and is a festival of the ancestors and the otherworld. Its colours are autumnal: the orange skin of pumpkins, the rich reds and golds of autumn leaves, and the brown colour of the bare fields. Heathens celebrate the festival of Winternights around this time; historically this was a big sacrificial feast at which gods, elves and/or ancestors were welcomed. Nowadays Heathens make offerings of mead to the deities and wights (powers).

Yule or Winter Solstice is on 21st or 22nd December, when we celebrate the return of the light as the days begin to lengthen again. The colours of Yule are red and green for the holly and its berries, dark green for the evergreens that are brought into the house, the green and white of the mistletoe, gold for the returning Sun. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia at this time, which is where the customs of the Lord of Misrule and giving presents come from, as the masters had to serve their slaves and give them gifts.

Imbolc, celebrated on 2nd February, is when the ewes begin to lactate, and it is associated with the Celtic Goddess Brighid, lady of smithcraft, healing and poetry. The colours of Imbolc are white and red; white for the ewes’ milk and the swan, which is the bird of Brighid, and red for the new growth on the trees, and for the fire of Brighid.

Red Branches Covered with Ice
Photo by Juggling Mom [BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Spring Equinox usually falls on 21st or 22nd March, and is often represented as being darkness and light in dynamic balance, because the days and nights are equal – but the light is in the ascendancy. The goddess of this festival is only known from a reference by the Venerable Bede, but it has been suggested that she may have been a goddess of Spring and of the Moon, since hares are sacred to the Moon and are associated with this festival.

The Festival of Beltane falls on 30th April and 1st May, and celebrates life, love and fertility. Its main colour is green – the fresh green of the leaves on the trees. This is the time of year for Maypoles (traditionally decorated with multicoloured ribbons) and for leaping over the Bel-fire with your beloved.

Maypole Beltane
Photo by yksin [BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Summer Solstice usually falls on 21st or 22nd June, and its colours are yellow (for the Sun and for the St John’s Wort flower, which is the flower of Midsummer) and red (for the heat of the Sun).

Lughnasadh or Lammas is the Harvest Festival, and is celebrated on 31st July and 1st August. Its colours are the colours of the harvest: the gold of ripening wheat and the harsh light of the Sun, and sometimes red for the poppies that grow among the corn.


This post was originally published at the Colour Lovers blog on 14 November 2007. It was part of a series on colour symbolism in different religious traditions:

See also: The Colorful Diwali Festival of Light

Acknowledgements and Sources

Misconceptions about cultural appropriation

I have now written several articles on cultural appropriation. When people comment on articles on this topic, I have observed several recurring themes.

Silos,_Acatlán,_Hidalgo,_México,_2013-10-11,_DD_02

Silos, Acatlán, Hidalgo, México. Photo by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cultural silos

Frequently, people assume that talk of cultural appropriation means that no-one can ever use an idea from another culture.  This would rule out situations of cultural fusion, where two cultures which are on an equal footing come together to create a new amalgam of ideas, music, cuisine, or ritual. It would also rule out cultural exchange, where two cultures on an equal footing acquire new ideas, practices, or rituals from each other. These situations are clearly not problematic, because the two cultures are on an equal footing. The key feature here is theequality of the cultures.

People also talk as if those who are trying to draw attention to the issue of cultural approppriation are behaving as though culture is a monolith or silo, where nothing can ever be transferred from one culture to another. Obviously, this is not the case, and offering examples of cultural fusion or cultural exchange between cultures which are on an equal footing is not an argument for dismissing claims of cultural appropriation.

What makes you part of a culture?

Some people claim that what makes you part of a culture is that you are genetically related to the people who produced that culture. On the basis of this claim, the idea of cultural appropriation has been distorted by people with a racist or alt-right agenda, who want to keep people of colour out of revived European religious traditions. We should strenuously resist the idea that culture is genetically trasnmitted, as it is legitimises racism.

Culture is transmitted through acculturation, via books, films, conversation, storytelling, dance, and traditional practices. People who immerse themselves in another culture can become part of it, and can legitimately take part in its practices and rituals, though if the culture is a living culture, then they should approach living representatives of that culture in order to become part of it.

Culture is specific to time and place

Another recurring theme is the idea that culture is universal and somehow open-source. This is derived from two particularly pernicious ideologies.

The first of these is colonialism, which has taken many forms over the centuries, and consists of the dominant or hegemonic culture assuming that it is superior to the conquered culture, and therefore has a right to the goods, services, resources, lands, and ideas of the conquered culture.

The second of these ideologies seems benign, but isn’t. It is sometimes called the perennial philosophy, and sometimes called universalism – the idea that there is a universal essence of every idea or practice that can be extracted from it and re-embedded in another context. This is the idea behind Michael Harner’s “core shamanism” – the idea that there is a universal shamanistic practice which can be extracted from Siberian shamanism, and re-clothed in the trappings of another culture, and thereby can become the shamanism of the new culture.

However, whilst ideas from one culture can be transferred to another if proper care is taken, quite often they are transferred with little appreciation or care for the original culture from which the idea came, or cherry-picked whilst ignoring other aspects of the source culture which are too ‘difficult’, and become distorted in the process of transfer. The transfer of ideas becomes problematic and culturally appropriative when the appropriating culture has more power than the source culture.

Ignoring the power differential

Many people who struggle with the idea of cultural appropriation fail to see that it happens when the appropriating culture has more power than the source culture.

What does it mean to say that one culture has more power than another? When a culture is seen as normative (in the current context white, European, heterosexual, male, and cisgender are the “norm” or unmarked default), it has more power than non-normative cultures.

Cultures acquire normative status by conquering other cultures. In the ancient world, the Graeco-Roman culture was the normative culture, against which other cultures were measured and found to be barbaric or exotic. In the modern world, the Western culture of Europe and America is the normative culture against which other cultures are seen as relatively exotic or even barbaric.

Fraud, and why it matters

What is a fraud?

In the context of witchcraft, it is someone who deliberately and knowingly seeks to deceive others about the origins and nature of their tradition, or claims that they were initiated by a genuine practitioner of a tradition, but they weren’t. In other words, they lie about their origins to make themselves seem more authentic.

Examples include claims that a tradition calling itself Wicca, or possessing a Gardnerian book of shadows, is older than Gardner, or used the word Wicca before Gardner; these should be treated with extreme caution. (There are witchcraft traditions that are pre-Gardner, but they mostly don’t call themselves Wicca.) Claims that a tradition has an unbroken initiatory lineage back to ancient pagan times are also fraudulent. Claims to an unbroken initiatory lineage stretching back any earlier than 1900 should also be treated with extreme caution.

Why does this matter?

If you are going to trust someone enough to engage in transformative and powerful ritual with them, you want to be able to take them at their word. You want to be sure that they know what they are doing, that they have been taught a tried and trusted set of techniques, and that you are not going to be asked to do something that is massively outside your comfort zone.

If someone lies about something as simple as where they got their initiation from, or the origins of their tradition, how can you trust their word about anything else?

It has been observed that fraudulent claims about origins, and fraudulent claims of initiation, are often accompanied by abusive behaviour. I don’t think an implausible origin story should automatically be seen as a sign of potential abuse, unless it is accompanied by other warning signs of abusive behaviour.

It is advisable to seek external confirmation that someone’s story (either about their initiation, or about the origins of their tradition) is true. Get a vouch from other Wiccans.

In a previous article, I mentioned that the Frosts were never part of Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca. Indeed, they never claimed to be. However, Gavin Frost did claim to have invented the word Wicca before Gardner did, and the Frosts claimed to be running “the oldest Wiccan school in the universe” (if you don’t believe me, look at their blog, it is right there in the header).

What is not fraudulent?

Any tradition or group that does not lie about its origins is not fraudulent.

A tradition that cannot trace its initiatory lineage to Gardner or Sanders, but doesn’t claim to, is not fraudulent. There are many Wiccan and witchcraft traditions, particularly in North America, that do not claim lineage back to Gardner or Sanders, but do call themselves Wicca. That is definitely not fraudulent. Wicca is a useful term for ‘softening’ the word witchcraft in areas where fundamentalism is rife. It is not fraudulent to call yourself a Wiccan if you don’t have a Gardnerian or Alexandrian lineage – as long as you don’t lie about your origins, lineage, or initiations.

Some Gardnerians and Alexandrians object to anything outside their traditions being known as Wicca. That is a different argument, and should not be confused with fraudulent origin stories.

A person who has been lied to by their initiators, but believed the story, and repeats in in good faith, believing it to be true, is not fraudulent. A bit gullible perhaps, but not deliberately lying about their origins.

A tradition that possesses a Gardnerian book of shadows, and thereby believes itself to be Gardnerian, but doesn’t have a lineage back to Gardner, and doesn’t claim to – not fraudulent; not actually Gardnerian by the standard definition of the term Gardnerian, either; but not actually fraudulent, because it is not lying about its origins.

Witchcraft traditions that are not fraudulent include (but are not limited to) Reclaiming witchcraft, Feri witchcraft, Bread and Roses, 1734 witchcraft, Clan of Tubal Cain witchcraft, Central Valley Wicca, Georgian Wicca, Wiccan Church of Canada, Blue Star Wicca, Mohsian Wicca, Kingstone Wicca, Algard Wicca, to cite some well-known examples. None of these traditions claim to be much older than Gardnerian Wicca; they have clearly traceable origin stories, and don’t claim a lineage that doesn’t exist.

There are clearly some traditions of folk witchcraft that do pre-date Gerald Gardner, but not by more than fifty years, as far as I am aware. Claims of origins back in the mists of time should be treated with extreme caution.

Some groups are not entirely sure of their early history. In these cases, an honest answer to a question about origins would be, “We don’t really know for certain, but to the best of our knowledge and belief, what happened was this…” If new evidence comes to light which refutes the origin story, the members of the tradition accept the new historical information. For example, if contemporary Alexandrians and Gardnerians discover that Sanders or Gardner made something up, we admit it, and don’t seek to cover it up.

Once Ronald Hutton had traced the historical origins of Wicca (in The Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern Pagan witchcraft), the vast majority of Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans accepted the new information and stopped claiming older origins for Wicca. Subsequent research by Philip Heselton has shown that Gardner’s story that he was initiated into an existing coven was true (and they sincerely believed themselves to be reincarnations of nineteenth century witches). I believe that Gardner sincerely believed he had stumbled upon something really old, whose fragmentary nature he sought to supplement based on his reading of Margaret Murray’s work and The Key of Solomon.

Conclusion

A fraud is someone who deliberately and knowingly seeks to deceive others. If you can’t trust their word, it would be inadvisable to trust them about anything else.

Binary Thinking and Dealing with Abuse

“My friends can’t possibly be abusers – they are good people, they couldn’t possibly be sexual predators.”

“That person is an abuser – that means they are completely and utterly bad.”

I have seen both these statements over the last few days, weeks, and months, the first one from those who are defending abusive people, and the second from people who are condemning them.

It’s not just the outrage over the Frosts that gives rise to this binary thinking – it is all instances of abuse and rape.

Look at the judge in the case of Brock Turner – according to that judge, Turner was a “good person” so should not be punished for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Look at the letter that Turner’s mother wrote to try to get him off the hook.

According to the judge in the Steubenville rape case, the perpetrators were “good people” so should not have been imprisoned – but meanwhile, the whistleblower who brought the matter to the attention of the authorities could be given sixteen years imprisonment for the hacking that led to the crime being exposed. (Crimes against property are always more harshly punished than crimes against the person, especially if the person is Black, trans, female, or disabled.)

Look at the people who defended Kenny Klein – he was apparently a “good person” who therefore couldn’t have committed any crime. And those who condemned him rejected absolutely everything he did.

Or look what happened when Jimmy Saville was revealed to have been a serial abuser – any good that he did was immediately wiped out.

People tend to take the view that people are either 100% good, or 100% bad. This is obviously unrealistic, and leads to a very dangerous situation – that people strenuously deny that anyone they know could possibly be a rapist or an abuser, because they are “good people”. And once someone is revealed to have perpetrated abuse or rape, they are immediately cast out into the outer darkness, with no hope of rehabilitation, and people assume that they are 100% bad, and want to obliterate their memory.

Both these facts make it extremely hard to bring abusers to justice or to hold them to account, because the stakes are so high. That is why those who are defending the Frosts feel the need to assert that they did nothing wrong, or to claim that they repudiated their original position. That is why many people who are horrified by what the Frosts wrote about deflowering virgins with a wooden dildo preparatory to making them have sex with coven elders (which is abusive whether or not the virgin is over 18) want to vilify everything about them.

Life is complex

But life is more complex than that. People are a mixture of good and bad impulses and behaviours. That does not mean we should excuse their bad actions; it does mean that it is unhelpful and unrealistic to dismiss everything they did (though their bad actions may call the motives for their good actions into question – did they just do them to cover up their bad behaviour?)

The biggest problem with this binary view of 100% good people & 100% bad people is that people tend to take the view that preventing abuse and rape is simply a matter of getting rid of the “few bad apples in the barrel”. They think that if only we had a perfect means of identifying abusers and preventing them from getting in to the Pagan community, we would be able to fix this problem. If only we could eject abusers from the community once and for all when they were discovered to be abusers, they think. And surely the witchy intuition of coven leaders is good enough to prevent abusers from getting into covens, they claim. Ah, but what if the abuser is a coven leader? Pagan women are strong enough to protect ourselves from abusers, they reckon. (As if the onus should be on us to protect ourselves.) They also think that once we have got rid of these abusers (who obviously have an evil look about them so are very easy to spot), the Pagan community will be safe for everyone.

That is why abuse gets swept under the carpet, because people don’t want to face up to the fact that the “good person” they hang out with is abusing others, and they know that there will be no hope of them ever being rehabilitated once it has been widely accepted that they are abusers.

Sadly, we won’t get rid of abusive behaviour by getting rid of the few bad apples in the barrel. We live in a rape culture (a culture that creates the social conditions where rape is easy to get away with). We live in a society where violation of consent is routinely validated, approved of, and promoted. Where the existence of valid consent is constantly erased and undermined. The view of mainstream culture is that women should not have sexual desire. A woman who does have sexual desire is viewed as deviant and a “slut”. Because she is viewed as an object and not a subject, once she has become sexually available, she is therefore available to all men, and can be raped with impunity. A “pure” woman, on the other hand, has to be cajoled and persuaded into sex. Because she is seen as not wanting sex, she can only consent if she is offered an inducement – the security of marriage, a nice dinner, a few drinks, a compliment. (Obviously this is a caricature of mainstream society’s views, but you can see echoes of this as being the underlying attitude in many conversations and interactions.)

Paganism is a subculture that seeks to regard women as subjects and to validate women’s sexual desires. However, the attitudes of the mainstream can and do find their way into Pagan discourse, because not everyone is perfectly acculturated to the Pagan world-view, and because we are still subject to the influences of mainstream society. This means that it isn’t the bad apples that taint the barrel – it’s the barrel that allows the bad apples to rot.

So, if it is not a matter of finding and ejecting abusers – what is the solution? As with any complex problem, there is no simple and easy quick fix. It is something we are all going to have to work at.

Culture shift

In their chapter in Pagan Consent Culture, Kim and Tracey Dent-Brown present a four-part model, which is summarised below, though I would strongly recommend reading their chapter, as it explains in considerable depth how they arrived at this conclusion.

1) Reducing motivation to abuse — this needs to be done on a societal / communal level (what are the wider societal factors that promote abuse, i.e. rape culture?)

2) Reinforcing internal inhibitions (shame, knowing right from wrong, empathy for others, understanding what valid consent is) — “How can we all develop a state of mind that makes us more likely to take others’ consent very seriously.”

3) Strengthening situational barriers (procedures or systems that protect potential victims) — “This is the area most ripe for action, because it is where communities, groups, covens, organizing committees and so on can have influence.”

4) Reinforcing the individual victim’s own defences (to coercion, physical means etc) — “This is the last level of defence and if the rest of the pagan community does nothing at levels 1-3, this puts the potential victim in the position of being entirely responsible for defending themselves. Hopefully the more active the community has been at earlier levels, the less likely action at this level is to be needed.”

Creating consent culture

This is how I think we need to go about creating consent culture.

(1) promote consent culture within Paganism and wider society, e.g. run workshops about consent, promote conversation about what consent is, what consent culture is, etc.  Embed consent culture within the Pagan world-view by relating it to Pagan theologies and mythologies. (These were some of our aims in continuing and spreading the conversation about consent culture by editing the book, Pagan Consent Culture.)

(2) promote the Pagan & Heathen Symposium Code of Conduct, because what this does is to create a situation where both potential victims and potential perpetrators know that the event staff & organisers take consent and violations of consent seriously, and will act on reports. Obviously the Code of Conduct is not going to fix the issues on its own – it is only one prong of a multi-faceted approach, which includes holding workshops, writing articles, etc.  This approach worked really well in the SFF and IT communities – we didn’t invent it.

(3) educate everyone about consent and what it means, as this will strengthen individuals’ resistance to violations, and discourage potential perpetrators from committing violations.

(4) reduce our tendency to binary thinking, in order to prevent abuse being swept under the carpet. This would also allow those who have committed abuse to be rehabilitated – provided they made a full disclosure and agreed to be accompanied by someone who would keep an eye on them at all times. The possibility of carefully managed rehabilitation would increase the likelihood of abusers being held to account and prevented from continuing with the abuse. If those who protect abusers knew that they would not be regarded as 100% evil once the abuse has been revealed, they would be less likely to try to shield them from justice.

Further reading

Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow (eds), Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy. Asphodel Press, 2016.

Recommended Pagan articles

Creating consent culture

The issues

Recommended general articles

 

 

 

 

“Good” people do bad things: statement on the Frosts

There is absolutely no excuse, ever, for advocating the molestation of children.

Therefore, there is no excuse for the publication of chapter 4 of the book by Gavin and Yvonne Frost which claimed to be about Wicca, which (until it was modified in 2007) advocated for the sexual molestation of minors. If they had repudiated the chapter and apologised for its inclusion and tried to do something to make reparation for its consequences, perhaps there might be a reason to rehabilitate them, cautiously.

Even in the 1970s, when some people were apparently rather confused about the boundaries of what consent was, the majority view was that sex between children and adults was always wrong. I am informed by people who were in the Pagan scene at the time that the issue was discussed in the pages of Green Egg and other zines, and plenty of people stated that it was unethical.

But the Frosts never did apologise or repudiate it or seek to make reparation for it. (They did say that it didn’t apply to people under 18, but what they advocated is abusive even if it involves people over 18, and it was 40 years before they even did that, despite numerous people in the Pagan community strongly rejecting what they wrote.) So there is no reason to pretend it didn’t happen, or try to claim that they did good things other than that. They may very well have done – people can do both good and bad things – but unless and until they apologised for the publication of such an unethical ritual, it should neither be forgiven nor forgotten.

Many people have been put off of Wicca by reading that book, as they assumed it spoke for all of Wicca.

The Frosts were never part of either Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, and their organisation is not recognised by any legitimate Gardnerian or Alexandrian, nor by most other witches and Wiccans.

Legitimate Wiccans do not and never have engaged in sexual activities with minors, and consider such actions extremely unethical.

The Frosts also advocated sexual initiations at every initiation. Legitimate Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans do not include sexual intercourse as part of the first or second degree initiations, and it is optional at third degree and may be replaced with a symbolic ritual act.

Inclusive Wicca is a tendency within Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, and we strongly condemn abuse and molestation in all its forms, and seek to firmly establish a consent culture in our covens.

In my personal opinion, sexual intercourse should not form part of the third degree unless it has been discussed a long time beforehand, and enthusiastic and informed consent (which can be withdrawn at any time) has been established.

We also need to realise that “good people” and “nice people” do bad things. Being “nice” doesn’t make someone immune from being an abuser, or a racist, or a transphobe, or a homophobe, or an exploiter of slave labour in the third world. Far too often, people deny that someone can have engaged in abusive behaviour, because they are “nice”. But you only have to look at public figures who have been revealed to be serial abusers to realise that they too were previously considered “nice”.

I am very disappointed that several self-styled “elders” of the Pagan community have continued to defend the Frosts and try to excuse or diminish what they did. I am sure it is true that they also did good things – very few people are all bad – but that does not mean we can or should sweep this under the carpet.

This is why we need the Pagan and Heathen Symposium Code of Conduct for all events. This is why we need to discuss consent culture and strive to create it in our Pagan communities. This is why “big name Pagans” need to speak out and condemn those who advocate for or commit abuse, and refuse to invite them to events, or attend events where they will be speaking. We also need to stop seeing things as a binary (the idea that people are iether all good or all bad is extremely dangerous and makes getting away with abuse easier), and help to create a culture where people can retract a statement that they made which they might regret. We all make mistakes – but if someone calls you out on a mistake, the correct response is to acknowledge it and try to make reparation, not to double down on it and continue to advocate for abusive practices.

Some people may ask why I am mentioning this now. I honestly thought until now that people realised that proper Wicca does not involve these practices. It seems that some people thought that the Frosts spoke for all of Wicca when they advocated compulsory sexual initiations or the practice of deflowering virgins with a dildo. They absolutely do not, and if you come across a coven advocating such practices, run a mile.

Further reading

Living Traditions

Why cultural appropriation doesn’t work 

A culture, and a religion, is a massively complex system of interlocking ideas, philosophies, symbols, and practices.

If you take one of these ideas out of context and try to shoehorn it into another tradition, it’s like taking a complex part out of a clock, and trying to put it in a completely different clock, or even a completely different machine.

Prague Astronomical Clock. Photo by Steve Collis. CC-BY-SA2.0

Prague Astronomical Clock. Photo by Steve Collis. CC-BY-SA2.0 (wikimedia)

Or it’s like an organ transplant – the new organ may be rejected and you need to take lots of drugs to get your body to accept it.

The New Age, which has lots of different parts cobbled together, is basically Frankenstein’s monster.

Or it’s like looking at a completed jigsaw puzzle and taking one beautiful rose from the middle of the picture and trying to put it in a completely different jigsaw. No two pieces are exactly the same, and it doesn’t fit the picture in the other jigsaw anyway, and so you have to hit it with a hammer and file off the edges to get it to fit in the other jigsaw.


Thanks to Bob for the ideas of the jigsaw and the organ transplant.

My Polytheism

Syren Nagakyrie asked…

How do the gods move with and through you? How do you live your life as a polytheist? Where do you walk the knife’s edge and where do the labels blur so much as to be unrecognizable? That is where our power is found.

Gods move in mysterious ways

Some days I am flat and empty and feel disconnected from the gods. These are the days when I most need the solace of their touch. The days when I despair at social injustice, at the slaughter of Black, LGBT, and indigenous people, at the destruction of the environment, the loss of solidarity, and all the ills with which humanity plagues itself.

When I stop and remember to breathe, to be in the presence of the gods, to reach out for them, then they come to me. Some days I sit in the presence of a specific deity; other days, I wait to see who shows up. The other night, when I was wrestling with something particularly difficult, an unexpected deity showed up. I have felt that he wanted to contact me for a while but nothing definite has happened until now. I installed a small statue of him on my shrine and waited.

In Wicca, we invoke deities, and this can be a really powerful experience, as they inhabit your body and speak through you. It’s the most amazing feeling in the world.

Life as a polytheist

One of the things I really like about polytheism is its inherent plurality. Gods and spirits are not one single entity, but a multiplicity of identities, local and finite and specific and particular. They can be the consciousness of rocks and trees and water; or deified humans; or forces of Nature, spirits of place, emerging from the complexity of the universe (or multiverse).

I am a mystical polytheist, and as such, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about defining or describing the gods or indeed polytheism. The gods have managed to look after themselves all this time, so I am pretty sure I don’t need to defend them from people who think they are all one, or don’t believe in them at all. They speak to those who are listening, and sometimes to people who weren’t listening.

Walking the knife’s edge

It is in liminal spaces and places that we can find power. The interstices between day and night, between civilisation and wildness.

There are people who say you can’t be a Wiccan and a polytheist, because Wicca is supposedly duotheist. I am a Wiccan and a polytheist, so they are wrong.

There are people who say you can’t be committed to social justice and be a polytheist – but for me, gods and politics are the warp and the weft of my polytheism.

Things are frequently not either/or, not simple binaries – often they are both/and, or a multiplicity of choices: a spectrum, or a scatter-plot.

The knife of the witch cuts away illusion, enabling us to see into the heart of things. If we do not walk the knife’s edge, we will never enter the castle of the mysteries.

By NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar ObservatoryThe science team consists of: D. Soderblom and E. Nelan (STScI), F. Benedict and B. Arthur (U. Texas), and B. Jones (Lick Obs.) - http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/20/image/a/, Public Domain.

The Pleiades, by NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory. The science team consists of: D. Soderblom and E. Nelan (STScI), F. Benedict and B. Arthur (U. Texas), and B. Jones (Lick Obs.) – Hubble, Public Domain.

Find out more

See more posts exploring the glorious diversity of polytheism at MyPolytheism.com

 

On Being European and Scottish

Guest post by John Macintyre

Dear Friends,

The debate over UK membership of the European Union is drawing towards an end, or more likely to a very short interval. We vote on Thursday. It’s been a short and thoroughly depressing campaign in which the main issues seem to have been money, paranoia and xenophobia. An energetic, capable and downright admirable young MP, Labour’s Jo Cox, has just been murdered in what appears to be a politically motivated killing. I’d like to hope things can’t get any worse but that would seem to be tempting fate.

Though I don’t belong to any political party, I’ve always been interested in politics, hence these thoughts on the matter. Polling just now is hard to interpret in detail because the methodologies keep changing but the direction over the last few weeks looks consistent. If accurate and sustained it looks as though, across the four countries of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland will vote to Remain in the EU while England and Wales vote to Leave.

I’m strongly in favour of all the countries of the UK remaining in the EU. I respect the fact that some folk feel differently. I know there are good people on both sides for I’ve a lot of friends who’ll be voting Remain and a few who’ll be voting Leave. My feelings towards the leaderships of both the official UK Remain and Leave campaigns are, I confess, somewhat less open-hearted than that.

Harebells (the "Bluebells of Scotland"), by Chilepine (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Harebells (the “Bluebells of Scotland”, also known as “witch’s bells”), by Chilepine (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like most people I know, I’ve chosen how I’ll vote for many different emotional and rational reasons. The heart-reasons are simple and straightforward. While the European Union is not synonymous with Europe, nearly every European country outwith the Russian Federation either is a member, is in the process of becoming a member, or has other strong and formal connections through the EEA or EFTA. So I’ll be voting Remain because I’m a Scot and a European, because Scotland is and always has been a European country. The village I happen to have been born and raised in was founded by Flemish merchants & craftsmen under charter from the Scottish Crown, and Fleming is still a common local name. The old Burgh Muir our house is built on once provided fleeces for the Flanders wool trade.

The North Sea has always connected people far more than it divided them, and the marks of these connections to the rest of Europe are everywhere in Scotland’s history, language, culture, place names, educational system, architecture and law. As I sit typing this, I know that a few miles walk in one direction would bring me to the remains of the old Dane’s Dyke. A few miles the other way and I’d be where the first translation into any of the English family of languages of one of the foundational works of European literature, Gavin Douglas’s 16th Century Scots translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, was written.

Long before we were diverted into the British Empire (an enterprise we were at least as guilty of as England, and arguably more so), the Scottish Diaspora spread out across Scandinavia, Ireland, the Low Countries, France, Germany, Poland, the Baltic States, Russia and virtually everywhere else on this continent that an energetic, well-educated and not particularly scrupulous people could find an easier living. We have very deep, historical connections to the rest of Europe that are of even longer standing than our close, friendly ties to England and Wales. If you want to wax mythopoeic about it, and I’m prone to that even without drink taken, then for all our wonderfully diverse nations and cultures across this continent, and wherever we came from to end up here, and however tangled the skein of heritage, co-option, bastardy or adoption that holds us here, and with the greatest familial respect to all the many other parents we may rightly honour, we are all of us the children of Europa and Zeus. I think that matters.

As with any political campaign, Leave and Remain have been busily drawing up lists of prominent supporters to endorse their claims. I couldn’t care less about them because there are other lists of names that matter a great deal more to me, and I’m sure to many others. I’m a child of the 1950s & 60s. I remember the annual Remembrance parades at the Kirk gates, and the long lists of names on those gates. Names of all those from this one small Scottish village that died in the two Great Wars with Germany, and the same everywhere else across this island and beyond. We can now travel freely across Europe, working, studying, exploring, forging friendships and falling in love. Our young people embrace this even more enthusiastically than we do. These freedoms are not only good in themselves, they are a very real security in an increasingly fragile world.

It would be wrong to say that the European Union alone has kept the peace in Western and Central Europe since 1945, for there have been many other convergent factors contributing to that. But the EU has certainly been one of the major factors in maintaining peace and for that reason alone it is worth supporting. I do not think there has ever been a period of peace for as long as seventy years here before, and it is surely a welcome change. Given the bloody, fratricidal mess of our collective histories, it seems only common sense for all the sovereign, independent, states of Europe to pool some of their sovereignty in strengthening joint economic, political and environmental strategies, developing some shared educational, cultural, scientific and legal institutions, extending basic reciprocal rights to each others citizens, and generally deepening social ties. The EU has many faults but it is the closest Europe has come to this yet, and I hope and pray this beloved Scotland will become part it in our own right some day.

It would be understandable if many of us here in Scotland thought the EU referendum had little to do with us. In a country where every significant politician in every significant political party, all the trade unions, civic institutions and third sector bodies, all the universities and most business interests have lined up solidly behind Remain, and polling suggests most of us will too, it would be easy to grow complacent. I don’t think we should be at all complacent.

Over recent weeks, some leading figures in the Leave campaign – notably Michael Gove – have begun hinting that Brexit would mean more powers for the Scottish Parliament. This seems wildly implausible. The Leave campaign is led by politicians who campaigned against the restoration of the Scottish Parliament and have relentlessly sought to undermine and minimise its role ever since. They also fought tooth and nail against the increased powers negotiated in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. If we vote to leave, we are granting them even more power than they have already and it would be astonishing if they suddenly decided to use it for our benefit.

These people believe unquestioningly in the absolute sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. They are opposed to the EU for exactly the same reason they are opposed to any recognition of Scotland as a semi-autonomous country within the UK, and that’s because both the EU and our Parliament potentially challenge the sovereignty of the Crown in the Westminster Parliament.

A slightly more contentious way of saying the same thing would be that they see both the EU and the Scottish Parliament as an outrageously impertinent restriction on the right of themselves and their class to rule all the countries of the UK as they see fit and in their interest. I strongly suspect that if they win a majority in the referendum, both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are likely to be high on their list of follow-on targets.

I didn’t mention the Northern Irish Assembly there and there’s a reason for that. If the UK withdraws from the EU, that has very serious implications for Northern Ireland where the relative peace and stability following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is underpinned by common EU membership on both sides of the border. The politicians who lead the Leave campaign may not care about that but we should.

I know that some comrades from the 2014 Yes Campaign are still angry with the EU for its, and particularly for the EU Commissions’, support for “Project Fear” in the run up to our 2014 referendum. Please let that go. It was merely another aspect of the political knockabout that saw David Cameron begging just about every “world leader” from Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin downwards to speak out against Scottish Independence. As circumstances change, so do political opinions and the next few months are likely to be no exception.

If, as polling currently suggests (see previous caveats), Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to Remain in the EU but England and Wales vote for Leave, with the overall UK vote being for leave, that will create a very difficult situation. I hope this doesn’t happen because as several Scottish politicians have pointed out, the aftermath of a potentially very serious mistake by the countries that are our nearest neighbours and best friends would be a challenging time for us to be trying to negotiate for our own security and international relationships.

I don’t see another Scottish independence referendum happening any time soon in those circumstances. The Independence movement wouldn’t really want one because we couldn’t be sure we’d win. The polls haven’t moved significantly since 2014 and it’s probably going to take a lot more time to move them. The Unionist movement wouldn’t really want one either because they couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t lose. We did after all cut their initial 35% lead to 10% in 2014. The Long Game offers other possibilities.

Despite the impression given by the gutter press, the EU is pretty flexible when it feels it needs to be. Our Danish neighbours are a sovereign member state within the EU; yet Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, both of which are part of the sovereign Kingdom of Denmark, are not part of the EU and the sky hasn’t fallen, nor do hard borders cut across Danish territory. If Scotland votes strongly for Remain, then even if England votes to leave – and I truly hope they don’t – that would certainly strengthen the hand of the Scottish Government and Parliament in trying to negotiate with both the UK and the EU to organise some kind of “Reverse Danish Faroes-Greenland” arrangement under which Scotland (and probably Northern Ireland) remained in the EU while still under UK sovereignty. I rather suspect that significant English interests both economic and social/internationalist would see such an arrangement as very much in their interest, though far from their – or our – first choice.

One crucial difference between this referendum and the Scottish one is that in 2014, each side put forward a plan. The No side predictably wanted no change. For the Yes side, the Scottish Government put forward an outline (with strong confederal elements) of what domestic and international objectives it would aim to negotiate for in the aftermath of an independence vote. Each side had both a declared strategy for the future and a government capable of seeking to implement it if their side won. In stark contrast today, while the official Remain side may only have a rather insipid vision of the status quo, the Leave side has put forward no coherent, or even incoherent, plan for what it intends to do if it wins the referendum beyond a rather complacent assumption that on leaving the EU, all existing economic agreements will be rapidly renegotiated on more favorable terms for the UK and immigration will be cut to a fraction of its current level without any retaliatory expulsion of UK immigrants in other countries, nor is it at all clear what the composition of the UK government trying to negotiate all this would be.

If you’re concerned about immigration, ask yourself this. Slightly over half of present immigration into the UK comes from outside the EU. Successive UK Governments have always had the sovereign right to further restrict that if they wish. If they haven’t done so when they’ve always had the power to do so inside the EU, why do you think they’d choose to do so outside the EU?

If you’re concerned about the Scottish Fisheries within the EU CFP, please bear in mind that it was Margaret Thatcher’s UK Government that traded away potential Scottish fish quotas under the Common Fisheries Policy in exchange for other concessions that were of greater benefit to her party’s supporters. As with many other controversies surrounding EU membership, what many people blame the EU for turns out to have as much or more to do with the decisions of successive UK governments as it does with any EU institutions.

The European Union is not less democratic than the UK, and that is not intended as a compliment to either. Yes, there are legitimate issues with the EU Commission and some other aspects of the EU. To set against that, more than two thirds of UK voters voted against the party that won the UK general election last year yet it still gained an overall majority in the House of Commons and, barring internal dissent, can force through any measures it likes over this parliamentary term. The majority of Westminster politicians are members of the still-expanding House of Lords who are not elected by anyone. They are chosen through Establishment patronage, aristocratic birth or religious privilege, and while many are decent and capable individuals just as many HoC MPs are, their actual influence goes far beyond advice and revision. The House of Lords, the lack of proportional representation, the shadowy influence of the Crown in Parliament, and numerous other dubious practices make the UK ill placed to lecture the EU on its “democratic deficit”.

The politicians who run the EU are neither better nor worse than those who run the UK, and please remember that we contribute to electing both sets of them. With the UK in the EU, tensions between the two create opportunities for progressive movements to protect gains that have already been made and even to edge forward sometimes. Please remember that if Brexit wins on Thursday, then it will be an in-house revision of the present Conservative government that will have greatest immediate influence on how the UK adjusts to that. If you think Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove are the harbingers of a fairer, more egalitarian, compassionate, inclusive, prosperous and environmentally responsible society then I do have to respectfully ask how you can possibly have arrived at that conclusion.


John Macintyre is a Scottish Pagan with an interest in history & politics. He is a former President of both the Pagan Federation England & Wales and of the Scottish Pagan Federation, currently in his second term of the latter. He has previously featured in an interview on this blog.