Friday, February 06, 2004

Taking a stand

OK... I'm angry. I'll admit that. And disgusted. I'll admit that too. At whom, you might ask? Pretty much at most of the vocal members of what some have called "the online Feri-initiate's community".

I'm sure most of you know what I am talking about. Silence... Denial... Sexual abuse... Coercion... just to name a few of the juicy issues facing us right now.

Since the discussion has died down on the other lists, I have continued to receive communications from former and current students of one of the most prominent priests in our tradition. The stories have all been strikingly similar. He came onto them as a part of their training, in some cases encouraging them to leave their partners stating that monogamy is not a part of the tradition. This sort of behavior has gone on behind the scenes for more than 20 years now. Whenever individuals have come forward with their stories or accusations, it has been quietly (or not so quietly) swept under the rug. Reasons for this vary. Fear of being attacked. Denial that it is really happening. Perhaps even complacency. One thing is certain: most who have not had this priest do this to THEM are not interested in doing anything about it and in many cases have urged me to keep quiet. In one case I was told specifically that I needed to "keep this in the family". Sounds like cult behavior to me...

I have been contacted by initiates who left the community long ago... and by those who are still around. I have been contacted by students, both his and others, who are concerned. Not only that he is still doing this, but that the community that has known for so long about it has largely done nothing to stop it. The latest argument is that Feri isn't really a community and so I can't really blame them for not doing anything.


Here's what American Heritage Dictionary has to say:

Community:"A group of people having common interests." Such as the scientific community. Or perhaps a religious community?

So clearly Feri qualifies as a community. It's just not a healthy one. Community doesn't mean that we all get along and try to agree and have picnics together... what it does mean is that we are bound together by something... in this case by our Oaths, by our Gods, our history, and by the practices that we share. After that... all bets are off.

Meanwhile... I'm being told that I shouldn't expect that the community will ever do anything about it. I'm told that the best way to deal with it is to whisper behind his back and not confront him. All the while he is still there causing pain and fear.

I am told that in a community not everyone gets along, and that I need to accept that. THAT's the big advice that this religious community has to offer? That's the best they've got? Is that supposed to be enough? People are being sexually abused, manipulated, fucked-with... and *I'm* supposed to just sit back and accept that?

Umm... no.

This is not about not liking someone. This is not about theological differences. This is not even about politics. Don't get me wrong... all of those things are part of the mix, but the fact that he is coercing some of his students into sex trumps all of that. I have been told that my work... my art, my writing, my website... has attracted people to the Feri tradition. Now I am starting to feel that maybe that isn't such a good thing. Don't get me wrong... the *tradition* is a wonderful thing. I love these Gods and these practices... they are sound and they are powerful. So just how did the community get so fucked-up???

Some members of the community are mad that I have chosen to "slap" the community, saying that *they* are not part of the problem, and that they resent being implicated by my remarks. Um... actually they *are* part of the problem. A big part. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has known that he has been doing this but has chosen to remain silent (and yet also participate in the larger community in our shared spaces) is fulfilling the role of enabler. Good hearts and intentions aside, this is a reality of the situation. This is the karma that is generated. They, by their continued silence, are allowing the abuse to continue. That too must stop. While the community continues to debate and make empty suggestions about praying for peace or for healing, more and more people are being subjected to his abuse. Some of those who have been hurt have come forward. How many more will it take for them to listen?

Immediately there are those who will feel that I am blaming them for my problem. Except that it is not just my problem. In fact this predates my attendance in the Feri tradition by about 10 years. It's bothersome to me that this wasn't solved before I ever even found a Feri teacher. But beyond my involvement in this recent incarnation of this ongoing scandal, this is everyone's problem. As long as we have members of our community who are preying on others, it is our duty to stand against it. We are all responsible for this. All of us.

Let us look inside and face our own fears. I have had to do a lot of that recently. My biggest fear, it seems, was that if I came forward with this that no one would like me anymore. Now it seems kind of silly, but there ya go. I know that there are several people out there who have stopped just short of taking a stand because they too are afraid. Well, I understand that. Fear can paralyze us into taking the very inaction that will eventually destroy us. It is a cruel master.

But it is also a red flag, drawing our attention to that which is dangerous. "Where there is fear there is power", the saying goes. And Feri is both. Powerful, and dangerous. The perfect combination for something that is important.

So I ask that everyone look inside and find their fear and their power, for we will need both to guide us. Our fear will tell us when we are getting close to our power. If we are able then to act despite our fear (the true meaning of courage) then we will have found our true strength. Then our power can enable us to act in the face of our fear. When we wait for our fears to dissolve before we act, then chances are that we will not.

It occurs to me that, in part, this is also a gay issue. The vast majority of the recipients of this abuse (though not all) have been young gay men. I was told by one (straight female) initiate that my own experience with him amounted to a 'gay sex weekend gone wrong'. Aside from being completely inaccurate, it seems to hint at something deeper: that because we are all gay men, that somehow that means that we were automatically cruising for sex when we agreed to meet and study with him. Some women seem to think that because this type of thing happens to women all the time that we shouldn't be whining about it. There is a double standard here. Most often when a man perpetuates this type of behavior on a woman then we all react with concern for her and a conviction that 'no means no'. In this case I was met with 'you should have known better', and 'it was your own fault'. I'm surprised no one asked me what I was wearing at the time. ("Tight jeans? You were asking for it.")

I hold no ill will towards any of his students. I know that has been a concern for some. I have been contacted by some who have pleaded with me to not allow their association with him color my opinion of them. Let me be very clear: I do not feel that it is appropriate to blame the students for the actions of the teacher. But neither can I condone doing anything to support this man. That includes giving him money, attending his workshops, even allowing him into larger spaces where Feries gather. EVERYONE who supports him is allowing the problem to continue. That's simply a fact. I hold no ill will towards those who are his students because I see that they have little alternative. The initiates, however, do not have the same slack. No one can claim ignorance anymore. Now there is only denial that clouds the issue.

There are initiates who participate in the larger community who have spoken up about this, and I applaud them. There have been many in private, and even a few in public. Most notably Anaar, who was named Grandmaster by Cora Anderson this past summer. She has issued a public statement on this issue. You can read it on

Because of all of this I have removed myself from those Feri spaces where he is allowed attendance. I encourage everyone to boycott his classes and to not tolerate the blatant double standard that the much of the online Feri community perpetuates when it comes to him. In a warrior tradition I expected better. It's a shame... with such beautiful tools and powers one would think that more would have been able to confront their own fears and make a stand. Just know: this is not over. This issue will not be swept under the carpet. Not any more.


catbirdgirl said...

I admire your bravery and determination on this one, and your persistence. hang in there. what would you see as an adequate solution, out of curiosity?
feri is a least in my humble opinion. if not it wouldn't be so hard to get something done about things, because it becomes weirdly conflicted- like how to censure one of one's own people?
web from chicago
one of Thorn's students

theawfulcurse said...

Hi Storm,
Sorry to hear about this complication arising in the Feri online initiate community. If there is any consolation, pockets of incidents do happen in the Gardnerian/Alexandrian community as well. I think one of the main problem is that we are too afraid to air our 'dirty laundry' and as a community prefer silence than truth. I wonder how many mistakes are done and I wonder how many wounds are left unhealed, but I hope that with your testimonial they will do something about him eventually. Can anything be done at all other than boycott?

faerywolf said...

what would you see as an adequate solution, out of curiosity?
Well, I'd like to see him told that he is not welcome in our shared spaces. He shouldn't be invited to our meetings, or our rituals, or even to our email lists. Every time that we grant him access to our spaces we are condoning who he is and what he does. A lot of people are uncomfortable with that, seeing it as censorship. Well.. I'm uncomfortable with that, but I honestly feel that it is the only course of action. His actions are extreme and warrant such a response. It's sad, but then it's also real.
In the meantime I will just keep talking to whomever will listen. It's important, so I will do my best to continue.
Thank you for your supportive words! I appreciate them very much!

faerywolf said...

If there is any consolation, pockets of incidents do happen in the Gardnerian/Alexandrian community as well.
Well, I don't know if I am consoled by that, but at least it reminds me that the problem has to do with people and not necessarily Feri. So... thank you for that reminder.
Can anything be done at all other than boycott?
I can't think of a single thing. I think that the community needs to take a stand. Barring that then they need to stop whining when I speak up! ;) I took an Oath to protect my brothers and sisters of the Craft. The way that I understand it doesn't leave me any room to allow for the condoning of the abuse of students. It's quite simple... we refuse him access to our shared spaces. There is no need to declare that he is not a part of the tradition or anything else so absurd. (I'll leave those tactics to him, thank you.) But we do have a responsibility to protect those students who are coming to Feri. I have that responsibility and I will fulfill it to the best of my ability.
As for something being done... I think that is happening already. Here we are talking about it. That's a big step forward from what it was 20 years ago. I just hope that it's enough...

heartssdesire said...

You know, I think I was the one who made the initial point in the recent discussion, that Feri isn't a community. My reason for saying so wasn't to justify nothing being done about him. If somebody said that, it was somebody else pursuing the point in a different direction. Personally, I don't care what the dictionary says community means. I don't feel that we are a community. We are a bunch of small isolated enclaves of people who utterly fail to trust the other enclaves even though we all do share a common interest. I don't feel any sense of being able to rely on most of the Feri people for the things that I feel community should provide.
The point about us not really being a community wasn't that we don't have a responsibility to do something about him. The point was that we aren't a community because we haven't, and we CAN'T be a community until we do.
I don't know if we ever will be one. I'm pretty close to fed up, myself. Lately I have lost my desire to be diplomatic about things, I guess I just have nothing to lose.

faerywolf said...

I had forgotten that you had said that. Actually I have heard that same argument from several different people... each with their own spin on things. And I hear what you mean about Feri not feeling like a community. I would go with your heart before the dictionary any day.
What I guess I am really angry at is that initiate's list... *That* is a community, of sorts, and that is where I aired my grievance, and *that* is where I learned that most people are afraid of him. His fear is infectious and it paralyzes good people.
Lately I have lost my desire to be diplomatic about things, I guess I just have nothing to lose.
Oh, girl... I'm right there with you. Let's do lunch. :)

elnigma said...

I've got a lot of thoughts about this, so forgive me if it goes long:
Its not untraditional in Feri where people did sleep with each other - that in itself - even willing adult "students" and "teachers" together. Its not like college where getting a grade would be involved, and it shouldn't be everybody's business. I don't find it immoral for two adults to choose to get together, even if they are involved with each other on the magickal plane in differing experience. However, if you or someone else were under force or threat(coercion) that'd be grounds for dismissing the person who tried that from circles, I would think.
It makes a difference if its a personal witness or repetition of what someone has heard about someone else. About when others speak - I've seen outrageous claims made about people in a Feri group that were very disturbing to me, and found the persons claiming it had an axe to grind or was seeking attention for themselves. I went to be the hero for them, and found out they were lying.. and that was the real reason they hadn't themselves stepped forward and were seeking someone else to make their claim. Anytime someone complains but tries to firmly discourage me from talking with the other party, anytime they aren't willing to try to provide me with evidence, I start to think its suspect. The group involved is great, actually, magickal and ethical, and completely innocent of the insults they were given, but it doesn't have a correspondance course.
I looked into Feri cause of having met them.. I got online and saw worse pagan politics and conduct than I'd experienced with Thelemic groups - and that's SAYING something. Not something good, either.
I got some little more on some basics of Feri from my experience, but I withdrew, real life meeting with folks of other Faery trads definately much more fruitful (for me).
I have come to need to get to know someone pretty well to take their words for someone and go be their hero - and its usually only if they'll back me up. To me, people who won't also speak for themselves aren't up to doing magick. It takes gusto to be a magickal person, that means facing Fear just like you say. If there's someone who has been harmed through threats and force, they *do* need to do something other than whisper such things in "confidence" - that isn't the warrior way as I understand things either. I agree with you completely if threats and force been used, that needs to come out and dealt with in a strong manner = Severity is the balance for Mercy. See Justice done and a lot of problems go away. ;) If its happened to you and you told me what happened, I think you'd be right to tell your experience and should have the back of others interested in Feri. B*B*

elnigma said...

I was briefly a student of (leaving this blank out of courtesy to you). I left on decent terms. He's been polite towards me, never told a lie to me that I can tell, which is something I respect, and the other students in the group pleasant and friendly, and I like them. It would be quite painful I would think for them to have to choose sides or have to reject their teacher.
If not everybody hates what he is and what he does, no one would be able say that YOU condone what you think he is and about what he does.

elorie said...

has been telling his experiences, speaking up quite a bit, and in public. That is not at issue.
I don't say anything because I don't know Volde-...You-Know-Who personally at all, and what I do know of him online, I don't like.
I do however think there are bigger problems with a teacher having sex with a student than the possibility of a grade...especially since so many people really want to be initiated into a tradition and the decision on that rests with the teacher. That IS like giving a grade. You don't have to use force for it to be unethical.

elnigma said...

That would go under threats. "You have to have sex with me or I won't recommend you for initiation" I know is b.s. in the Feri Trad cause I asked.
Is that what happened?

elnigma said...

What are they afraid will happen if they speak up? I can't tell sometimes what others find scary.. I'm a Taurus, a Bull, I'm not easily intimidated. :-)

heartssdesire said...

Yeah. I just realized recently that nothing is really going to change. So I'm just ill with it and don't care anymore. I said what I thought in very blunt terms and I'm waiting for the backlash from the shushers.
I'll see you at the con, then!

heartssdesire said...

The deal with sexual coercion in a spiritual tradition is this. When a person who has the status of elder/spiritual leader/revered teacher (which the person in question does, very much so) tells you
"You need to do X because it's a critical part of the spiritual teachings and if you don't you'll be handicapped in your training, and I can't teach you without doing it" that is a very powerful form of subtle coercion. That, as far as I know, is the form of coercion that this person uses.
The thing about teacher-student sexual relations is that there CAN NOT BE full consensuality between two people with a fundamental power imbalance in their relationship. It's analogous to the reason why adults who have sex with children can't make the argument that the sex was consensual because the child said yes. Obviously adult students have more ability to make free choices than children do, but the underlying dynamic is the same--Free consent does not coexist with power imbalance. And power imbalance is fundamental to the teacher-student relationship just as it is fundamental to any adult-child relationship. Our ideals about how students should be fully autonomous, independent powerful people do not change the fact that power imbalance ALWAYS exists in these relationships and therefore full sexual consent does not.

faerywolf said...

It would be quite painful I would think for them to have to choose sides or have to reject their teacher.
I do not expect any student to reject their teacher based on my story. My story is truth for me because I was there... but for everyone else it is hearsay, and I do not think that hearsay is a good enough reason to reject someone. What I do expect is that people will listen to those stories. Pay attention, because this is not the only time that he has done this. Ask around. Talk to some of his long-time students. Talk to others in the tradition. Privately contact a handful of initiates and ask their opinion. Put it all together and see what you come up with.

faerywolf said...

I can speak only of what happened to me personally. I was told by him that I was making a mistake by not continuing a sexual relationship with him as a part of my learning the Feri Queer Mysteries. When I told him that I still wanted to study with him, but just not have sex with him, he told me no, saying that he was only interested in working with me sexually. He continued to pressure me for reasons why I had decided not to sleep with him, and one of the factors was that I do not find him sexually attractive. He responded by telling me that he had evolved beyond the need to be attracted to someone in order to have sex with them, and then insisted that the real reason that I was saying no was because of my husband. I was left with the impression that he thought me pretty daft, as he didn't even try to shroud his manipulation in spiritual wisdom. It was just so blatant.
Later, upon hearing the stories of others, I was struck by how similar they all were. This more than anything else told me that these stories were true. I have heard from way too many people for them to be otherwise. Even if half of them are lying, there are still plenty there to indicate that this is not an isolated incident, but the result of a dangerous pattern.

elnigma said...

I agree with you that the first scenario is unethical. Its wrong! anybody tells you have to have sex to be initiated or learn in Feri - I've been told that is incorrect and I believe it.
Feri tradition's past (and probably present considering some are organized into covens) involves students and teachers being involved sexually. Playing like this one guy is responsible for that all would be silly, its not true and it didn't start with him.. but attacking misuse of it, is actually a must.
I don't buy the whole free will adult-adult relationships particularly *outside of people who have the sick attitude displayed in the above scenario* are all going to be ANYTHING like a adult with a child - sexually. Infantilizing adults is not a game I'll play in regards to magic - to me magic involves learning greater responsibility for oneself, one's actions, one's choices, even in love partners.
Adults in relationships learn from each other. Also adults have free will and can choose whom they love as they will, even if other people think that wouldn't be whom they'd like. IMHO, of course

elnigma said...

You know, that this happened to you makes me feel very sad. You are doing the right thing to speak up.
I hope .. gets his act together, but somewhere else then where you want to be. Hurt from that sort of thing can last a long time.

faerywolf said...

Thank you for that... I appreciate your continued support. :)

faeryshaman said...

Excuse the random post.. i came across your journal through a friends.
And I just wanted to say I admire you for speaking out on how you feel. I can understand where you are comming from here... as i was one person used, abused {sexually and emotionally ), not by the person you speak of, but someone part of another non-related group.
Youve given me afew things to think about in regards to my own traumas and how i should possibly speak out about them.
What pains the most is that i know there are others out there who have been shattered by this person, and by dropping all contact with him, ive lost the ability to know if there are others being drawn in aswell.
Youve given me a lot to think about.

elfwreck said...

Re: speaking up
Some aren't afraid of speaking up... they just think it's pointless. It involves re-living painful memories or publicly airing their own deepest ethics--and for what? So that the controversy continues to rip through the community, with no resolution possible?
I know there are people on both (all?) sides of the conflict who are keeping quiet--not because they don't think it's important, but because they don't want to take part in a polarization exercise. Feri is happiest with a variety of beliefs, a myriad of practices, a rainbow of energies... not with any one issue as a central defining point.
(And I know others who are quiet because they don't think they'd get anything out of speaking--they've come to terms with reality-as-they-understand-it, and aren't interested in pulling themselves through the process of trying to change it. And yeah, that's somewhat the selfish take on things. But there's not much altruism in Feri, or in the people who've been touched by it.)

elnigma said...

Re: speaking up
I hope you don't take offence, but I think this sounds a lot like celebrating that there are people who do this (a rainbow of energies?), and that when it happens its (my quotes) "not a Feri problem" cause there's no "altruism" in it anyway, besides "what difference would speaking out make".. etc.. I can accept those are points of view. I just don't necessarily think they are worth following. If somebody harmed ME I'd want to have someone at my back cause I tend to be rather protective of those I care about. Not everybody thinks the way I do, and I know that. Actually, I like to know in advance someone's not planning to be help if I need it, that way I don't open *my* doors, either.
I admire Faerywolf's speaking out more knowing that is even less accepted than I originally thought. wow. B* B* :)

elfwreck said...

Re: speaking up
I don't mean that it's not a Feri problem, or that the events Storm brought up are "just part of the rainbow." I meant that people's *reactions*, their understandings and choices after Storm came out, are part of the diversity... and that some people don't want to polarize; it doesn't nicely condense into Side1 vs. Side2.
The "altruism" I was speaking of includes things like Storm's coming forward, which gave other people courage to come forward. I know some who aren't jumping into the debates--because they see no gain in it for themselves, just rehashing of painful history and diving into a controversy they'd rather not play out. Sure, it might help others--might help the community as a whole--if many more stories were shared, of all kinds... but not everyone is willing to share their stories.
And they don't have to be. Feri is bigger than a family now; it's more like a clan... and clanmembers don't all get along. They tend to unite against outsiders, but they can have small feuds that last for generations.
(FWIW, Storm's pretty clear on where I stand in this. I think. I've known him, off & on, for around 15 years--so I'm probably not phrasing things as carefully as I would for a stranger. I'm not clarifying my terms, and not describing the background behind my opinions.)

elnigma said...

Re: speaking up
No problem, that's clarifying what you meant for me a lot.

faerywolf said...

Re: speaking up
This gives me much to meditate on. Thank you very much for returning my attention to this perspective. It was never my intention to alienate or cast blame on those people who have already been hurt by him and who, for whatever reason, do not feel comfortable coming forward. I understand today the very real frustration that many, many initiates have expressed as the reason for their withdrawal from Feri community. I didn't understand it before, but I do now. I find myself feeling myself wanting to distance myself at times from the community. It makes me sad. I love Feri community. The exchange of ideas... art... rituals... practices... food... life... I think there are some wonderful people doing some wonderful things with this work. People *are* taking Feri tools and applying them to their own lives and we are seeing the end result. Wonderful art, innovation, magick, and ideas... That's what it's really about. But the crap has to be dealt with too. It's not all art and parties, although I want more of them. ;)

valerie_voigt said...

Taking a Stand
Like it or not, we are already * in * a power-over situation: sexual coercion, by definition, means the perpetrator has power-over the victims. We can either keep the power-over out of sight, hushed-up, and oppressing the innocent (conveniently, where we don't have to look at it ourselves), or we can make a new power-over that seeks to free the innocent from oppression. There's really no escape from it.
So what power-over do we have? Inside the Pagan community, rather little, really: ostracism, public condemnation, warning away potential victims, and the founding of support groups. We don't have prisons. The closest we have is binding spells, and it's my observation that bindings aren't too useful in these cases. Psychopathology seems to involve the person's impulses running amok, with the full power of Animal-self, but without benefit of supervision by God-self.
And if we cannot control the dangerous wild animal within the community, I posit that we have to turn to resources outside the community--often law enforcement or the civil courts. We are often loath to do so, because we look askance at these mundane institutions, aspects of a system that many of us want little part of.
But as the Pagan community grows, I think it will more and more be necessary.
And, you know, I still sometimes feel guilty that I didn't manage to fix the problem. I still sometimes wonder: what could I have done differently? And I always conclude: I did all I could. But did I?
Thank you for your courage, Storm. I appreciate your working to raise consciousness on this issue.

elemirion said...

I find it interesting to note that in one other community I am a part of, the Ren Fair community, there is also often a huge amount of looking the other way when it comes to sexual misconduct. About 5 years ago now, I found myself in the position to do something about it. We had this older guy in one of the Fair guilds who for some reason always had a number of under aged boys around him. Most all of them were from about 13-18 in age. I never saw actual misconduct in public, but it always left me with a creepy feeling when he came by. I had spoken with him often, as we all seem to do at the fair so I actually knew him some and knew that he was gay. One day I was having dinner next to a family who worked in another guild. We had been friends for years and I had watched their boys grow up, they knew me well, and had often told me that they were glad I was friends with their boys. One day the older boy came to me and told me that this one guy, who he had hung out with often at the fair, once he had turned 18, practically the day of his birthday, suddenly tried to put the moves on him. He told me he was shocked because his experience with me was very different. I was furious, and now was really beginning to see what was going on, and it explained the creepy feeling I had always had around this guy. I started hearing from other boys around the fair that he had offered to photograph some of them, naked, and made several other offers to them of even more sexual nature.
Then came the day that he was seen by a friend making a pass at an old friend's son. The boy was 13, but having grown up at fair, he knew exactly was was being said to him, and he ran. The witness to this came to me, to ask what I thought should be done. We went immediately to the boy's father, who just happened to be a counselor for parents whose children have been molested. I told him that he needed to go directly to the dirctor of the fair and make a formal complaint. He was told by that director, that since this was the only complaint made about this guy ever, he couldn't do anything else. But if there were more complaints even if they came as emails, he would do everything he could to get rid of the preditor. I got told this, and took a quick walk around to each kid who had been propositioned, or bothered by this guy, and asked them why they never complained. They said because they never thought anything would be done about it. I told them that now was their chance, so 6 other boys went to complain, and the predator was removed from the fair that same weekend. Unfortunately our directors wouldn't take it to the police, so he was simply no longer among my fair family.
I thought long and hard about this at the time, and I think the main reason they didn't want to report it to the law was that as soon as the law was looking into one thing at the fair, they would start looking into a lot more. Everything would be examined, and it would probably have closed the fair down for good. So they let one predator go to save themselves the hassle. I often wonder if many in the craft community don't say much about sexual indiscretion because they are worried about how much their own lives will be suddenly looked into as well. I could be. But if we were living up to a lot of what we talk about as ethics, maybe we wouldn't worry so much. Maybe I am being really judgmental, but then maybe not. I went through a lot with that particular teacher, and it took a long time to get to where I felt clean of it. I truly didn't know what to do then either.