Predators in Paganism (Trigger Warning)

163 Comments »

.

“If we were starting over, we wouldn’t call it child pornography,” says Ernie Allen, president of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “This is different. This is not pornography. These are crime scene photos. These are photos of the abuse of a child.” from He Was Supposed to Take a Photo by Nicholas Kristof

 

Many people are writing about author, musician, and photographer Kenny Klein. I’m not going to. Not in specific, anyway.

There are issues surrounding dangerous and abusive behavior in our communities. I’ve written on this topic before, and hope you read my three part essay on the Frosts and sexual ethics. There is a lot there, touching on questions for communities such as:

What are our responsibilities to ourselves and to one another?

What are our sexual ethics?

What are our ethics around consent?

This piece is now about to get long, so I hope you have a cup of tea or take breaks when you need to.

I have two stories that relate to Kenny Klein, one that is about a leader and teacher, and one that is about a predator.

 

The Teacher:

There was a teacher in one of my communities who had sex with his students. He had sex with me when I was 18 and only two years into studying the Craft. He was my first formal teacher. I left off studying with him when my skin literally felt like it was jumping away from his touch. Was the sexual relationship consensual? I certainly said yes to it, but there was a skewed power dynamic, both because of age and because I was student to his teacher.

He didn’t understand that. Years later, we had conversations about it – there were many years when I refused to talk with or deal with him, and other times when I would feel more generous. I won’t get into the ins and outs of either my compassion or my anger toward him. There were good reasons for both.

One time, we were arguing on the phone about him having sex with his students when I got it: He felt unlovable and not sexy. Therefore, these people – mostly men, but sometimes women – that he was having sex with were in the power position in his mind. I tried to talk to him about the fact that he was the one in power. I think he died not getting that.

How did I deal with this in community? I talked with his students if they came to me for help. When people asked me about studying with him, I would tell them that he and I had very different sexual ethics and that he sometimes had sex with his students.

For me, he crossed ethical boundaries. In other people’s minds, he did not. Did I err on the side of not doing enough? Perhaps.

Abuse can happen anywhere. To anyone. It is up to us to not give in to fear or complicity. To be aware. It is up to us to listen, and let others know it is OK to speak.

 

The Charming Man:

A young man came to a workshop I was co-teaching in a small town in the middle of Illinois. He was around 16, and had a permission slip from his parent to be there. He was precocious and charming. After he turned 18, he studied with me for a couple of years, at a distance. At our weekend classes together, I never sensed anything wrong.

I didn’t see him for many years, barring one hour-long visit while he was in college and I was in town. Even after he moved to Northern California with his pregnant partner and got involved with a local community, we weren’t in touch. He started a photography business.

Then a series of events happened in quick succession. I’m not even certain of the proper order.

He’d been helping at a Pagan teen camp and later tried to set up meetings with a thirteen year old from the camp. Steps were taken. Parents alerted. I think the police were called. He was barred from that community.

Then came a Child Protective Services case, which I can’t really talk about, which ended in tragedy, and was the cause of huge upheaval involving three communities. People were writing and calling me, asking for information about this person they had known, or been friends with, or who had come to rituals, or had taken classes, or asked for initiation. I was under a gag order and forbidden to talk about it. All I could say was “Tread carefully.” So he was able to continue to influence people into thinking he was a nice guy who was being wronged.

He wasn’t. He was and is a very sick man.

I asked a psychotherapist how I had been so fooled by him when he was young. She replied that there are certain diseases that lay dormant until hormones change in a person’s early 20s. Perhaps that is what happened here. Or perhaps I wasn’t yet savvy enough as a teacher to notice. Or perhaps there were other reasons.

All I know is: from the minute I saw him again, outside the CPS hearing, before knowing details about the case, it was clear he was deeply disturbed. He may have sensed I knew it, because he could barely look at me, though he was greeting others. By this time, his late 20s, it was clear to me something in him had twisted.

During the course of the meeting, he was thoroughly unmasked to me. The words that came out of his mouth struck me as the classic reasoning, blaming, and deflections of an abuser. Why would I think this? I heard enough similar things in my family of origin.

Some people said they knew for years something was wrong with him. I didn’t. Nor did other people much closer to him than I, though by more recent years it had apparently become clearer to some that he was disturbed.

But not so clearly disturbed that a local community didn’t offer him the chance to assist at a camp for teens.

Not so clearly disturbed that people didn’t still defend him, including someone else at the same meeting I was in.

Not so disturbed that he couldn’t move back to Illinois and begin affiliation with a magical lodge.

Not so disturbed that he couldn’t run a successful photography business. One that enabled him to take school portraits. 

 

That is the job that, thank the Gods, led to his arrest.

He was caught in a school bathroom taking surreptitious camera photos of boys urinating.

He is currently in prison and a registered sex offender.

 

I could have let this ride. I could have not written about this. But he gets out of prison in 2018, unless he is eligible for parole, in which case release could be sooner. He has already affected at least three communities I know of. He may be back.

So I’m telling you now: his name is Benjamin K. Sangraal. Sometimes known as Sabre. He is handsome. Sometimes charming.

 

And like Kenny Klein, I wouldn’t let him near your children. And I would never let him take your photograph.

 

[Edit: projected parole date of Benjamin Sangraal is September 12, 2015]
________________________

Addendum:

After the CPS hearing,  I wrote a letter to the caseworkers that I was told ended up being read in court.

I’ve edited that letter for content and am posting it in case others may find it a useful template to start community discussions on ethics and boundaries, to help us get clear on what we believe, or to use should, Gods forbid, the need arise in any official matter. Please adapt it for your use. I recognize that the words below do not reflect the beliefs or practices of all Pagans. Please keep in mind that I was trying to write for people who knew nothing about Paganism and doing so under extreme circumstances at short notice.

 

X Tradition and Y Tradition are subsets of contemporary Paganism, which is sometimes called neo-Paganism. Pagans try our best to honor Nature as sacred, and divinity as immanent to our cosmos (meaning that the Divine is here with us, all the time, not off in some distant, transcendent place). We find Divine expression in the natural world, in humans, animals, sun, sky, and in various Gods and Goddesses as well. There is a variety of belief and practice in Paganism, which can make things seem confusing. But just think of the variety of people who call themselves Christian, and that might help.

1/ Our religion does honor sexuality as sacred. Sexual coercion is not allowed. Anything that smacks of sexual coercion is an aberration. Therefore, sex between children and adults, for example, would be anathema to anyone of our religion who is in her or his right mind and ethically sound.

2/ Personal power and autonomy are also cultivated. Any relationship that would seek to put one person under the thrall of another would also be an aberration. No one has authority over another, all we can do is attempt to guide others.

[Edit: I removed one non-essential and confusing sentence from #1. #3, below, dealt with some particulars in the CPS case and certainly would not be useful in many cases. I leave it here in case someone ever needs this sort of statement for any reason.]

3/ Our religion has no strictures around medical care. There are those among us who are Registered Nurses and research scientists as well as those who are herbalists and acupuncturists. Therefore, saying that a medical procedure is against our religion would not be true, and would only be a matter of personal conviction. Personal convictions, of course, are often informed by people’s religious backgrounds or spiritual inclinations.

In summary: Anyone who abuses a child or adult, or says they cannot do some medical procedure because of their religion is not speaking on behalf of X Tradition, Y Tradition, nor of Paganism in general. They are speaking simply from their own personal convictions or in some cases, from their own personal emotional imbalance.

 

______________________________

Addendum #2, March 30, 2015

Note about comments:

Most comments coming in have been respectful – people sharing personal stories, resources, and ideas. Thank you all. 

Comments that can be construed as personal attacks will not be unscreened.

I will no longer unscreen comments about Kenny Klein. There are enough of them floating around already.

Let’s keep the focus on ideas regarding boundaries, ethics, and community responsibility. 

I do not agree with all comments and opinions posted here. 

If it starts to feel like I am spending too much time fielding comments, I may shut down further commentary. I don’t want to do this, but I have other work to do as well. 

Thank you all again. 

 

Comments are now closed. Thank you all for your thoughtfulness. Let us please continue these discussions in our homes, groves, lodges, covens, festivals and other groups.

(there are a few comments pending right now for various reasons, so a few more may be unscreened.)

I have reposted my old LiveJournal entries on the Frosts here at my blog, because they feel germane:

Feet of Clay (part 1)

Feet of Clay (part 2)

Feet of Clay (part 3)

And this post itself feels like Feet of Clay (part 4)

 

 

163 Responses to “Predators in Paganism (Trigger Warning)”

  1. Dominic Elemirion

    Very well said Thorn. as one other who had a very trying imbalanced relationship with that same teacher, I applaud you for speaking about this. I have always felt that there needs to be some way to police the community against these sorts of people. I don’t know what the answer is but when someone comes forth and is told to shut up, not talk about it, or that they are over reacting, there is something deeply wrong. Thank you for speaking about this,

    • Thorn

      Dominic, I agree with you. Those who can speak, need to be supported.

      In my opinion, the more things are allowed to fester underground the more likely it is that the false accusations some people talk about will happen. Not that every situation needs to be dealt with in public right away. But we need to practice discernment: when is this important to deal with closer in? When does the larger community need to know? When is it important to tell people more publicly? These are some questions to add to our discussions.

  2. Alicia

    Unfortunately, many predators do not seem like predators. This makes them more successful. I have, as a parent, chosen every babysitter with the best care I can, knowing full well that I could be completely wrong. And I’ve been wrong. The most important thing you can do (once you’ve removed yourself and your children from said situation) is let others know, to prevent it from repeating. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Rory

    You note that “She replied that there are certain diseases that lay dormant until hormones change in a person’s early 20s. Perhaps that is what happened here.” Which diseases, if I may ask?

    • Thorn

      Rory, I would need to ask again, for fear of getting the exact pathologies wrong.

    • Tony

      I was in community with him during the period when apparently he changed, as I found him very difficult to work with and hold accountable, but at the same time I had no idea of any of this until I heard about the charges. At worst I might have accused him of arrogance, lack of empathy, and narcissism, but I did not notice anything that felt like a warning of this potential.

    • nekosensei

      Schizophrenia is one of the mental illnesses that can appear when a person is in their late teens or early twenties.

  4. Kayla

    I really wish pagans would stop writing about Kenny publically (Even stories like this one that refer to him only tangentially). The fundies will see this stuff and use it as ammunition against our community.

    Additionally, I would like to remind you that in America, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, and “confessions” are often coerced.

    • Thorn

      Kayla,

      I am not willing to sweep abuse under the rug for fear of another religious group, particularly not religious fundamentalists of any stripe. Sex and abuse scandals happen in *every spirituality and religion*. We need to talk about it.

      The person I outed here was convicted. Regarding Kenny, having read the stories from some of the people who had issues with him – including his former wife – it seems that communities are right to feel concerned about his behavior, regardless of whether or not the pornography charges stick.

      I got backlash simply for talking to people about my former teacher in the way I did: strictly factual, and non-inflammatory. People *don’t* want to talk about impropriety or abuse in public and therefore it continues. As a child from an abusive household, I know this well. “Don’t talk about it” is always implicit and always enforced.

      So on this, I must disagree with you.

      • Toya

        I disagree. I think it needs to be talked about. Yes he is innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. But he admitted to the pictures on his computer as his.

        We need to not silence others who have had dealings with some one touching them inappropriately.

        Yes us pagans are supposedly open minded. But we still have predators in our midst.

        We need to make sure we have safe places for men and women to come forth and let the community know something isn’t right.

        JMHO YMMV

        • Irene

          I absolutely agree that it needs to be talked about. I grew up in the Catholic Church and their mode of silencing people is not something the Pagan community should emulate.

        • Carolyn

          I know people are uncomfortable talking about this but it has to be said. we had something like this in kc and no one said any thing and the child ended up pregnant.at 14 so when will it be comfortable to talk about never but it has to be done or we are no better. If we let this go on and say nothing are we not just as guilty for not protecting our own. We live in a society were this kind of thing happens more and more. It could be because no one wants to talk about that which makes them uncomfortable but if we do not.Then are we not sending the wrong message about our community anyway.It has nothing to do with which path you follow but what is right and wrong. And do what you will but harm no one does not mean keep your mouth shut and say nothing.It means stand true to those words and deal with what is at hand to protect someone and for the betterment of all.

      • Michael Smith

        Thorn, you are absolutely correct. We are either concerned with the attitudes of other religious extremists toward our religious and spiritual beliefs or we are not. It matters not at all the subject matter.

      • Nicci

        Thorn,

        Thank you for your blatant honesty. You are most correct in that our society sees abuse as ‘taboo’. Why should victims continue to be victimized by the public by sharing their stories? We are trying to educate the masses, not a particular group or faith. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes. They wear the most beautiful or horrific of masks and hide in plain sight. Sometimes the only thing that protects the next victim is the outcry of former victims.

        Again I thank you for this article and your candid approach to this topic.

      • Joseph Carriker

        Also, let’s be honest – if we aim to form a community based on dignity and integrity, we owe it to ourselves to speak plainly, though justly, about these things.

        Yes, The Fundies might just seize on them, but who are we kidding? They’ve just as many skeletons in their closets, only their culture insists on keeping those things hidden, as a shame-based culture.

        We must refuse to accept that notion.

      • Stephanie Rivière

        “I am not willing to sweep abuse under the rug for fear of another religious group, particularly not religious fundamentalists of any stripe. Sex and abuse scandals happen in *every spirituality and religion*. We need to talk about it.”

        Exactly what Thorn said here.

        This is not about us, innocent people practicing a non-Christian religion. We are adults, and we can make ourselves and our beliefs known to other adults on their own grounds. This is about stopping a man who was accessing child pornography. He is being charged with *25 counts* of it. That not one or two, or an accident (to me)..

        You’re right though, that he’s innocent until proven guilty. But that doesn’t mean pagans and polytheists should be quiet on this matter. We should never be quiet on the matter of adults abusing young children.

        • TommyElf

          “You’re right though, that he’s innocent until proven guilty. But that doesn’t mean pagans and polytheists should be quiet on this matter. We should never be quiet on the matter of adults abusing young children.”

          Exactly. As well, the commentary here, while it may be roundly ignored by a Christian seeking an item to bludgeon our various Paths with, shows that we as a community are willing to not only admit that we have people such as this amongst our midsts, but that we are also willing to discuss what to do about such problems. (Aside: That was one heckuva run-on sentence, eh?) Too often, we lament the fact that the Churchianity members of the Christian faith are constantly sweeping their dirt under the rug, so to speak. Here we are, discussing it in the open.

          As for Kenny (I met the guy once many, many moons back), his issues are noted in the newspaper article detailing his arrest. The fact that he was arrested and no mention of his beliefs does not make him any less (or more for that matter) a part of the Pagan community. Sure, he’s innocent until proven guilty in a US court of Law – but his arrest certainly opens the door to a very dark (and in my opinion very ignored) part of the Pagan environment. Its a topic that SHOULD be OPENLY talked about. Kenny’s arrest is merely the item that ignited the conversation.

          –TommyElf /|\

      • Priscilla

        I have heard, so many times, that we shouldn’t “air our dirty laundry”, supposedly because it gives strength or ammo to the enemies of paganism. This is just another way to silence those who speak up, be they victims or just people who notice something is wrong and say something.

        About a decade ago, a friend of mine was sexually assaulted at a Council of Magickal Arts gathering. I waited to see how it would be handled, and when it was handled poorly (swept under the rug), I spoke up publicly about it. I was harassed and attacked by other pagans for just speaking the truth. I lost a friend over it, she was one of those who said I shouldn’t have said anything because it “made CMA look bad.”

        My friend who was sexually assaulted never reported to the police. She also never went to another pagan gathering. She wanted to put it behind her and never think about it again. Silence and conspiracy to silence aids the predators (who go on to hurt other people) and it hurts the victims, who become afraid to speak up.

      • Aesc

        Yes, a lot of Pagans are talking about Kenny Klein right now. A lot of Pagans are shocked, and scared, and concerned about the potential of someone in their immediate community potentially harming the vulnerable people in that community. And so, we talk about it. We talk about signs, about discernment, about ethics – about ways to safeguard our community from those who would prey upon the vulnerable.

        Perhaps fundamentalists from another religion might start waving this case around, yes. But I guarantee you, anyone who would try to use this case as a sword would find it cuts both ways. Every community needs to be aware of the dangers of predators, and religious communities doubly so, simply by the nature of the perception of power inherent in religion. Even religions that teach fervently and continuously that no one /inherently/ has power over another, nor should they.

        The idea that we should keep quiet, shouldn’t talk publicly… this is the sort of thing that protects predators. Better, I think, to speak openly, let the light and the open air cleanse and heal the wound, however severe it might turn out to have been by the end of the Klein case. Let us be an example to those of other faiths of how to handle such things in our community. Let us talk about this in terms of prevention. In terms of victim support. In terms of helping everyone in our community to feel safe in celebration, to feel safe with their teachers and students, to feel safe raising their children in their faith community.

        • Christopher Blackwell

          I agree, it is far healthier to protect our own from predators and be an example to other religions on how to handle the matter. To protect our most fundable we cannot afford to keep it secret but instead to discuss what we can do.

    • Fourge

      Kayla,

      Other religions that persecute will use anything to bash another. It could be simple. It could be true. It could all be lies. Again, they’ll do anything to hate another if that is their will. Bringing to light someone who has hurt people on the basis that others will use that against us . . . in my book, that is not enough to shut me up from warning people of such a person and such behavior, something that needs to be addressed and widely known in our very, and sometimes blindly trusting community, so that, Gods willing, it does not happen ever again. Like Thorn said above, this happens in *every spirituality and religion*.

      When you have a chance to protect others, why fear being ill-spoken of?

    • Don

      Kayla, I have to strongly disagree with you. Let us remember that children are innocent over all in any case where abuse may be perceived. We have a morale obligation to speak up, yell and more importantly protect our children. An abuser is an abuser no matter what their faith is and everyone should be informed. This subject hits home with me personally, so maybe I am a little jaded. I was abused sexually for 9 years starting at the age of 4. No one said anything and years later I found out that many in my family knew that my uncle was capable of this, because he had tried with young girls before. So my sister was never allowed to be around him alone. My uncle has since passed, but he died in a time period when I was going through a deep depression, because what had happened and how I found out people knew or thought that this may be happening. I was never able to close this deep wound , because I could not confront him in any form. I will carry this with me forever and all because no one said anything.

      • Thorn

        Don, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m sorry this happened to you. I hope you are surrounded by support and love.

      • Keechy

        (((Don))) I have a stepfather still in the world and one day he will die and I will dance on his grave. I have no way to get him convicted. I just hope that whatever woman he is now lying to and using has no young children. He was a master at using or breaking the law when it suited him, and he was so charming that even people he had ripped off still liked him and believed what he said. Those sorts of people are very hard to combat. I did write him a letter, though not send it, and it did give me a little comfort to get it out of my system onto paper. The plan is to burn it but even just the act of writing it stopped some of that endless letter-writing loop in my brain. I do think these things come up in layers and need reworking with over again. As they say, when you abuse a child you change who they will become forever. I see his influence in every aspect of my life, though I do my best to overcome it and in some ways it was him who has made me into such an honorable person because i refuse to be anything like him!

        • Thorn

          Keechy, thank you for sharing this. I am sorry this happened to you. I wish you continued healing, and increased love and support. May you be blessed.

    • Jehr MacBrigid

      I strenuously disagree! That kind of thinking is what has led to the rampant sex abuse cover-ups in the Catholic church. As Fourge said, the funies will strike at us whenever they want with whatever weapon they want, be it legitimate or not. It is distasteful, I agree. Discussing these things puts a truly foul taste in my mouth, but keeping silent and hoping it magically goes away is doing a disservice to our community. http://youtu.be/3Uc5eNNG60o

    • Helen/Hawk

      It appears to me that Thorn is very specifically NOT talking about Kenny Klein.Yes. his current legal circumstances generated this piece. And it brings us to an essential conversation reguardless how KK’s situation turns out (responding to your “innocent ’til proven guilty”)

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      Unfortunately, this attitude of “don’t talk about it, or Christians will have a field day” is one of the reasons that abusers take so long to be taken to justice, and that’s only considering the ones who do. This mentality you advocate really isn’t that far removed from “ignore it and hope it goes away”.

    • Aine Llewellyn

      I place the safety of victims and the people in our community over worrying about our ‘public look’. I’d rather the public see we’re taking this seriously and aren’t sweeping it under the rug (which is what you’re asking for).

    • JezabelleDisreali

      If they toss stones, toss them back. Evangelical Christians are currently in the middle of their own sex abuse scandal with Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips. It’s super awful, but every religion has it’s creepers, rapists, and pedo’s. We need to focus on what can be done to stop it, rather than on how we can keep it from people who don’t like us.

    • Riverstone

      The Zen Community suffered scandal and tried covering it up. This resulted in further abuses while a governing council was aware. All in order to save a growing community from hanging its reputation upon harm. The same happened with Catholic Priest. I believe that it was not intended for further harm to be caused by those who wanted to shut the dialogue down. When I was young and naive I dreamt that Paganism was the answer for a natural, human expression of tenderness, without abusive authority. I was wrong. This is however not a failing of any one community, as it is across boundaries that these abuses are occurring. We are in need of a warrior vulnerability and fearlessness. One that does not shrink from our human power. Hiding is the problem.

  5. Toya

    Crap sorry Thorn. That comment was suppose to go to Kayla not you.

    • Thorn

      No worries Toya. Thanks for your input. I particularly like this: “We need to make sure we have safe places for men and women to come forth and let the community know something isn’t right.”

      • Toya

        We truly do. Sexual predators are like an elephant in the room. Everyone may know about it but NO ONE is willing to point to the elephant and start talking about it.

        Sexual predators come in many forms and most victims don’t know they are until well after the fact.

        We as a community need to start listening and following up when it comes up. Sweeping it under the rug does harm to everyone involved and leaves us unprotected.

  6. Storm Faerywolf

    Thank you, Thorn, for speaking out about this, both in general and in specific. As you well know I also had an unhealthy relationship with the same teacher you mention, and while I certainly learned a lot about myself as a result, I would not have wished that experience on anyone. It left me pained and uncertain of myself for so long that when I finally was able to take my power back it was a huge bloodletting –not just between him and I– but involving an entire community.

    Sabre was a shock to many of us. While I only knew him marginally, I did meet him on a few occasions and I never had any bells or whistles go off. I don’t think we can blame ourselves for not seeing something… predators work very hard to conceal what they are. The only real failure would be in not acting once we *do* see.

    We need to talk about these things openly because we need transparency in order to have true responsibility and accountability. Too often predators have been able to hide the shadows of doubt and the community’s desire to “not make waves”. Secrecy in the Craft has also been used a means to further hide wrongdoings. We really need to take a good long look at what our collective values are. Are we trying to build a healthy, viable community? Or are we feeding our ego with romantic notions based on half-baked ideas about a “Burning Times”- era counterculture? Surely we can find a way to honor our past without sacrificing common sense and any hope for a healthy future.

    • Thorn

      Storm, thanks for sharing your story.

      That last paragraph really encapsulates so much of the problem. Thank you for stating it so clearly.

      It reminds me of Cora Anderson saying there were really only three secrets in the Craft. Near the end of her life, she talked about how yes, we used to need to hide, but no longer.

  7. web/robin

    I knew Sabre well. I knew his wife less well, but was there when they met. I always felt there was something broken, but never knew it was this broken. His change, and what happened, broke my heart and still, many years later, leaves me shaking my head. I recommended that he get counseling, but I never could get him to do so. I loved him dearly, and I miss the Sabre I thought I knew. The Kenny thing is ripping off all my scabs. I didn’t know him well, but as a baby Witch I brought him and his ex to my college for a concert, people in my first Pagan group knew him, and I played his music a lot in college. I feel like I should have seen something, somewhere, sometime. Both of them were difficult, yes. But, this ill? Sadly, yes. Sometimes its hard to shake a vague feeling of responsibility, a wish that I could have pushed him harder to get help.but thats not my responsibility.

  8. Shauna Aura Knight

    Thank you for posting this. I only just yesterday found out about Sabre’s conviction. When I heard that, and when I read the further details in your blog, I had a sickening lurch. I knew him, and I found him incredibly difficult to work with. He’s one of the reasons I kept my distance from Chicago Reclaiming when I moved back here, because he was just too difficult to work with.

    And–his attitude isn’t necessarily a warning sign in and of itself. And Matt Sweet has offered that info here, that there isn’t always a way to tell, and I know Cat Chapin-Bishop has been posting about that on the Wild Hunt blog about that as well.

    What deeply disturbs me is one piece of information I had way back. I was new to the Pagan community–I was heading to my first Witchcamp at Diana’s Grove. I was in a convoy of cars. I was in a car with a man who eventually became a Pagan Reclaiming teacher and, my understanding is he also (at least once) did the “sleeping with the young vulnerable student” thing in an Elements class.

    Three folks were in the other car, including Sabre. My (new) friend was driving the car. At a gas stations, she came over and said, “I wish we could switch out the cars, that Sabre is creepy.”

    I asked how so. She said something about how he was talking about how he had sex with another guy, and she guessed they were talking about BDSM stuff because apparently he was talking about a sexual act that was causing pain to his partner and how he told him to just deal with it.

    I recall that I figured it was something related to BDSM, which I wasn’t really very familiar with at the time. During that same trip, I had indicated I was terrified of spiders, and Sabre launched into a detailed description of some spider horror stories. When one of our traveling companions said, “She just said she’s terrified of spiders,” he just kind of gave me this cruel grin.

    Now…none of that on its own makes any pattern other than, I opted to keep my distance and I didn’t trust him. Did I think he was going to be abusing minors, from that? No.

    I guess what I’m saying is…I was so new to that particular group, and there wasn’t really a hierarchy. Sabre made me very uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t define. But where could I have gone with that? Who could have addressed that? Yes, it’s true that predators don’t always have red flags. But when there are red flags, what do we do with those? When nothing illegal has been done, or there isn’t proof, it just gets swept under the rug.

    • Tony

      I remember hearing about that sex act with the nonconsensual pain now. And I remember the teacher who ended up sleeping with a student. I remember that we tried to address it privately among the cells and I don’t think I was very helpful in the process, and I don’t think we were ever able to bring that to light through community process.

      • Shauna Aura Knight

        Tony, if it helps, I have used the particulars of that example with the teacher when I teach leadership classes. Not naming names, but the general sketch of the situation as an example of what should be clearly not appropriate, and yet, what was allowed to happen. It has opened a few eyes.

  9. Jill

    I think the problem with any “fringe” group is that it’s made up of people who are, or consider themselves, outcasts. As such, they tend to overlook or excuse worrisome behavior within the group because “Hey, we’re all outcasts here.”

    By that I mean people feel they can’t think someone is acting freaky because everyone has been accused of being a freak at one point or another.

    So, behavior that an outsider might automatically peg as creepy, freaky, or unhinged might get excused by insiders. Or people who can’t excuse it keep mum because they don’t want to come across as aligning with the villagers with pitchforks.

    • Rosa

      I agree with this comment. I grew up on a commune, and there was a pedophile who was part of the community, and our commune was not unusual. Communes were great for predators. It’s the challenge we have to grapple with: how do we remain welcoming to those who have no place in the mainstream because of their differences when those differences are positive and/or benign, while being able to discern and bar those who’s differences mean they present a danger to member of the community?

      One key is to really normalize and popularize consent culture, starting with our kids but also among all of us who are already grown. so that we can recognize manipulation and coercion when it happens.

      • Thorn

        Rosa, yes! Consent, consent, consent. And it must be *active* consent, which means we also teach people how to own their ability to say yes, which also means owning their desires. Some people think consent just means not saying no. I want boys and girls, women and men (and all genders) to be able to say “yes!” and really own it.

        Of course, conversations about consent need to include power dynamics.

        Part of dealing with the question of being welcoming to outsiders and freaks (I am a freak, so I’m using that word fondly) is truly treating each other with respect. I had to learn this working at the soup kitchen. Sometimes respecting someone means holding them accountable and expecting that they adhere to some social rules. If they can’t, they cannot stay, and there may be other consequences besides that. Otherwise, community is broken.

      • Aesc

        I love what you say here about building consent culture, starting with kids.

        How many people do you know that tell children to give so-and-so a hug?

        I help run a public group in my community, and am constantly amazed by the people who will clearly and unambiguously direct their children to hug all of us acting as clergy for the rite. I get some very strange looks from parents when I tell the children just as clearly that they don’t *have* to hug us.

        It seems like such a little thing, doesn’t it? It’s just a hug, after all. What people forget is that it’s bodily autonomy. It’s a boundary. It’s personal feelings of safety.

        I can’t tell you the number of times *as an adult* I’ve experienced someone “accidentally” groping whilst hugging, or witnessed someone hugging the busty women extra close. And it gets tolerated, because we get those boundaries eroded by cultural fiat from an early age.

        If we normalised and popularised consent culture, from cradle to grave, we would empower everyone to feel comfortable and safe saying “no”.

        What a wonderful, liberating thing that would be!

        • Cat

          That bugs me too. Children need to know that their personal space is worthy of respect.

  10. Bonnie Lansing-Seaman

    I also met Sabre at that training. Throughout the years we grew more distant but when I first heard the CPS story the first reaction was denial…. I would have known he had slept at my home with my children. Now I am a therapist in a community in Illinois that serves the area around that school, I have had no contact with those boys and professional ethics say I never will but the reverberations are still being felt and the lack of remorse and basic understanding of right from wrong he showed in court makes me Ill.

  11. Joy

    Thank you for drawing attention to a very big problem in our community: sweeping it under the rug and in so doing, actively aiding predators and failing their victims. If only more of us acted with their hearts instead of their egos, the world would be a better place.

  12. Shauna Aura Knight

    Apologies for the long comments. I’m very, very glad you posted about your experience with your teacher. What really struck me was this: “He felt unlovable and not sexy. Therefore, these people…were in the power position in his mind.”

    I had a relationship with a man who is a Pagan teacher. Mark Mandrake. While he and I were on an even power dynamic when we met, he used his position as a teacher to seduce his students, members of our community, or people he met at festivals. He did this while cheating on me, and he did this when we were no longer together. After he left me the second time, women started coming forward to me.

    I’ve written about him before as “my former partner” in some of my recent sex/ethics blogs, and I’ve posted about him publicly in the past. There was a point where I had to stop posting about him using his name because I was getting too much pressure on the “You are starting to sound like the crazy ex” front. I was feeling the victim-blaming kickback.

    So I switched to just calling him “A former partner.” For a while, he stopped teaching at festivals, and by his own actions got banned from a couple of events. However, now he’s out there teaching again.

    Is he molesting children? No. But–he has used his position of authority to get students and vulnerable people into the sack, and (from what I know of him and his patterns) it’s very much what you describe about the dynamic with your own teacher. He feels unloved, and only when a woman approves of him by having sex with him does he feel “good” about himself. He lies, he cheats, he pressures vulnerable people into having sex, he emotionally abuses his partners. He emotionally abused me and stole rather a large sum of money from me that I cannot prosecute him for because I gave him my pin number.

    And what I’m struggling with–and working up a blog post on–is some of my continuing guilt. I enabled him for years. I helped him build up his reputation as a Pagan teacher. I got teaching engagements and brought him along with as a co presenter. I had the hubris to think, “He’s just going through a leadership adolescence, he’s just acting out.” And later, when we were in couples therapy and he was trying to get help for sex addiction, I thought, he can get past this. Anyone can be healed.

    The first Pagan festival he and I headlined was in Louisville, Kentucky. The night before we were supposed to do the 8-hour drive, he introduced me to a woman he’d begun a relationship with and demanded that I agree to polyamory or it was over. The next morning, I decided that I couldn’t renege on teaching at the festival, and agreed to let him into the car. I thought I was being a professional. Ultimately, I just kept enabling him. As it turned out, he later ended up in a relationship with the organizer of that festival.

    What I am struggling with right now is–what do we do with the gray areas? It turns out that many people had (alleged) bad experiences with Kenny Klein, from his egomania to him inappropriately hanging around with and touching teenagers. His (now ex) wife came forward about abuse but couldn’t prove it.

    How do we take these concerns seriously–particularly concerns that are icky but not illegal–without turning things into a witch hunt?

    • Thorn

      Shauna, all of these are questions we *must* grapple with. So many of our core tools are about teaching and strengthening our discernment. Yet too often when things get gray, as communities we give up. Too early. Too soon.

      I would love to hear other people’s thoughts. I would like to see conversations on these topics at festivals and conferences, as well as in more intimate spaces.

    • Tracy

      Shauna – You talk about it by sticking to the facts, not labeling and working with others of similar experience. If anyone has told you that by talking about these experiences you sounded like the crazy ex, they were either not close enough to the situation to know what had happened or they were seduced by his charm enough to believe that you were flat out lying. Now, you and I have not always seen eye to eye, but it was precisely at the moment that you started talking about it that my trust and respect of you increased. I thought the crazy part was going back to him in the first place. I understand that you were hurt, pissed and likely embarrassed and that may have colored some of the way you spoke about those events, but not speaking about it or keeping it anonymous doesn’t seem like the right choice either. I am not happy about a lot of people’s behaviors around those events but I saw way too many people I care about not only get hurt but be encouraged into some really bad behavior that hurt others as well. What is the good in not talking about that? Indeed, in order to take your part in things and make apologies where needed, you HAD to talk about it. Just because people don’t want to have any uncomfortable conversations that doesn’t mean that you should keep your mouth shut. I was actually surprised that there was as little talk about it as there was. So many good things were destroyed and so many people were hurt, always with your ex at the center of it. Darn right I think others in the community should have the facts surrounding that. They can make their own choices at that point. Indeed, it seems to me there was a point in which he almost had everyone believing that it was you at the root of everything, which greatly impacted your ability to participate effectively as a leader and teacher. However – in talking about it you have to stick to events. Even what you say here about him emotionally abusing his partners is just an accusation. I feel you gave a very solid example of his lying and cheating but not so much about his pressuring vulnerable women into sex or emotional abuse. Are situations open to interpretation and do we each have our own “truth”. Sure. But the more you can focus on what happened without judging it – and the more other people corroborate or have similar stories the more people can see a more complete picture and protect themselves accordingly (or as they see fit). I personally saw enough from the periphery to doubt your analysis, but others did not. There are three kids of people when you have a situation like this. Those who absolutely believe everything you are saying, those who will never believe what you are saying and those that may or may not believe what you are saying. Don’t waste your time with the folks who will never believe you. Recruit the believers to share their stories and then send the message you need to in order to let the rest of the folks make their decisions. Stay honest with your own crap at the same time. If I know you, I know it is important to you to protect and nurture the community that you love. Neither ignoring what happened to you or focusing on it too strongly (i.e. witch hunt) will serve you in doing just that.

    • Rose

      Shauna Aura Knight: Thank you for sharing your story. It is very similar to mine and my current struggle since this issue came to light. Blessings to you. And thank you Thorn for sharing as well, and this safe platform.

    • Tzipora

      It was valid enough for a Protection from Abuse order in the state of PA.
      Just saying…..

    • Callista

      I remember talk about Kenny Klein being inappropriate with teens as far back as the 1990s. It always amazed me he was welcomed in community after that.

      And yet, he was.

      • Tzipora

        Callista,
        Keep in mind it was a very different time when this all began in the community. People did not want to believe that our community was no different than any other. So, now we need to learn from the past and establish sane and safe ways to communicate danger when needed and most of all, keep potential victims safe harm.

        • Christopher Blackwell

          The past is unchangeable, we can do nothing about it, but the present is changable and the future is more so. So the question becomes what can each of us do to make our community safer. Note each of us. I cannot control any othert person in he world, but I can become more alert and note things and bring up things that I have personally experience, and I have full responsibility to do so. If each of us felt and acted the same way then none of this would have gone on as long as it did. Our lack of action, our staying quiet was an importnant part of what happened as well. Look how long it took to start talking about sexual predators and adult women, before we starting talking and deciding on action. We may never stop the predator, but we certainly can make sure the predator is discovered far earlier than has happened in the past. As the Heathens say we are or actions, or our lack of actions.

          • Tzipora

            Christopher,
            Well said. If people take personal responsibility many tears will no longer be shed. I could not agree with you more.

            • Christopher Blackwell

              Tzipora,

              I am a tiny part of the Pagan media, ACTION, but I think the media, especially the Pagan media, has a part to play as well and that part is to give those hurt the right to decide when they want to talk and when they want to stay silent. The media do great damage we start claiming some sort of public right to know. The best thing we can do is let those that have been hurt get back to having some control over their lives and not become part of the problem. You and your children have right to that control and any media that does not understand that deserves to be permantly cut off from you. It must be on your terms or not at all. You need our support, not our harassment. Best of luck to you, your children, and all other people who have been hurt by predators. If I can eve be of service let me know, but it will always be on your terms. I take rather seriously the ideal of harm none. When that is not possible then it implies a duty to limit harm in any way possible.

              • Tzipora

                Christopher,
                I keep hoping that the arrest of KK will be the motivation and wake up call for the community to begin meaningful and productive dialog to seek solutions.
                One of the points that continues to frustrate me is the confusion that so many people have on what is morally, ethically, or legally correct. While my case never made it to a court of law (with the exception of a Protection from Abuse order) it does not mean that the claims of my children were any less real. There may not have been a legal recourse here, but I still think that ethically and morally the community did everyone a disservice to not hear us and the many others that have come forward.
                I don’t know how much more public I will be become as a result of these events, I sit on the fence of wanting to do something to help (and I have been spending hours in emails and chats with other survivors offering what I can) in the larger community or if once this is replaced by the “next big thing” I will quietly slip back into a very private life again. Time will tell and I’m not making any predictions.
                What I will say is that if you ever feel that my voice can help, or my energy will increase the effectiveness of helping survivors or crafting language to explain how to protect the most vulnerable, I’m here to help.
                Please feel free to PM on FB if you’d like to discuss this “offline” as well.
                Blessings in Healing and Peace

                • Christopher Blackwell

                  Tzipora,

                  I would be happy to interview you on the subject of what needs to be done, but it must be under your terms, and your control. I will not even use the perps name. Nor do I think we need to dig up the details about the deed. There is also more than one kind predator in our community that needs to be taken down.

                  But the fact is we have not made a lot of progress in eliminating this problem, shortening the predator’s reign of terror, or given those hurt people a fair hearing or a way to bring force against the predator,to get justice, much less healing and support for those hurt by predator.

                  Anything that you can come up with as solution needed for those hurt I would be happy to pass on, either in an interview or even in an article written by you. I will try to get in contact by way of Facebook and we can see where this can go. But always at any point you have a right to change you mind.

                  Meanwhile could thre be a place fr a Pagan surveyor group of some sort? I am sure there is no shortage of a need for some place to get information for survivors and a survivor’s support group. Perhaps a place for suvivors to empower themselves.

                  • Tzipora

                    There are people from the Green Egg and CAW that are working on creating something to that end. I’ve been asked to help, and how could I say anything but ‘yes?’
                    We’ll talk more later.

                    • Christopher Blackwell

                      I am glad to hear that CAW and Green Egg are working on something. Pedators are a old problem and an on going problem that will not disappear, so women, men, teenagers and children need to know where they can find information and support. I will be interested to find out more as will the other Pagan media. Not to metion that I doubt it is only a problem in the USA. I have readers in England parts of Europe and Eastern Europe, including some in Russia, and in South Africa and sometimes Australia and New Zealand. So the idea can be and probably needs to be spread. This is where te Pagan information networking could be important. May I suggest that also The Wild Hunt and Witches Voce might be of use in getting out information. I will be happy to help with ACTION when there is some information to put out.

  13. The Parent

    Hello Thorn,

    This is a difficult post for me to read because I am the parent of the teen you mentioned in the piece. In a continuing effort to keep my child’s name out of this and any future posts, I’m listing my name as “The Parent”. I will not refer to my gender or my child’s gender.

    I appreciate your post. I appreciate the tactful way you described the situation without certain names and details. I am extremely pleased that you mentioned one name in particular. It’s a name I rarely speak, but when I do I make sure that the proper amount of venom seeps through. I do speak about that person and his character and will continue to do so long after his release date.

    For those of you interested. My child was never actually touched or photographed. The process of seduction had just begun. It was via social media platforms and it was caught, thank the gods, before it got too far. My child’s accounts were monitored, changed and they were removed from any further contact. They themselves have expressed a wish to keep their name out of this, not because of shame or embarrassment but because they are an active me,ber in the community and don’t wished to be labelled “that child”. Words like “victim” and “survivor” do not enter into their vocabulary. They are making college plans, have great grades, have had healthy relationships since and recognize with great wisdom the bullet they dodged.

    But hearing this brought up again, brings back tough memories and shadows. I have to stay out of the blame game. So many people, some who have commented here have said “we knew”, “we sorta knew”. “we said or did nothing”.

    The camp you mentioned is terrific. Changes were made instantly. Other parents were notfied. Vetting happens and no amount of “well, I know them and they seem ok” is considered when contemplating a teacher/mentor for this camp. The local community. elders. tee, myself and my child acted swiftly, decisively and appropriately so that we could do everything possible to make sure this never happened again.

    Am I glad you wrote this post? On the one hand, It’s kind of fucked up my Friday plans. On the other hand – of course.

    If you know something, say something. if no one listens, say it again.

    • Thorn

      Parent,

      One thousand blessings for writing in. It is great to read more of the story as well as your point of view. I’m so glad your teen is doing well.

      Writing this post kind of fucked up my Friday plans, as well, but the push grew really strong and I couldn’t avoid it.

      I wish you and your family love, health, strength, joy, and success.

      May we all continue to learn, to grow, and to support one another when that is needed, to protect one another when that is needed, and to call one another out should it become necessary.

      “If you know something, say something. if no one listens, say it again.”

      Yes.

    • Tzipora

      Parent,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I know all too well how it feels when those ancient memories surface. I hope you find peace in the midst of all this turmoil.

  14. Thorn

    Gentle readers, I’ll be signing off soon for my Friday evening plans – so if you write in, know it might take until tomorrow morning for your comments to get unscreened or responded to.

    Thank you all immensely.

    • Thorn

      As I get ready to sign off, I notice that a couple of commenters are naming other people as part of telling their own stories of abusive or predatory behavior.

      I want to respect everyone’s stories. Telling our stories is a powerful and liberating thing.

      I also need to say to that I have no way of verifying any of these stories – I am not a journalist, not a social worker – it isn’t my job. As Shauna pointed out, how do we talk about all of this without starting witch hunts? I’ve no interest in that. I also have no interest in shutting down people who feel they have been treated ill, or abused.

      So I’ll say this: the other people that are getting mentioned in these comments? I don’t know them and I have no personal opinion about them. My hope is that we use this comment space to talk about how to deal with the issues at hand: fostering healthy communities and establishing practices and dialog that enable us to support one another in personal and community growth, in honoring our Gods and Goddesses, and in safeguarding this beautiful planet. Sometimes this means we lance wounds. Other times this means we find better ways to patch them up so we can heal.

      • Thorn

        Another note regarding comments:

        Thank you to everyone for keeping a respectful tone. That is key to being able to have this conversation at all.

        There are some comments here I disagree with. That is OK.

        There are a few comments I haven’t unscreened yet – one feels off topic and I don’t want to derail the conversation. So please, new commenters, don’t use this forum as a way to talk about whatever it is you think is wrong with the world or Pagansim. This is not the place or time.

        Other comments tread a little too close to breaking my own efforts at confidentiality. I’m trying to negotiate with these commentators to see what can be done.

        Before you comment, ask: does this feel helpful? Am I speaking from *my* thoughts or of *my* experiences?

        A few comments were removed at the request of their originator. I didn’t censor them. Just wanted to mention it in case some of you were wondering where they went.

        When this conversation began, I was keeping up and responding to all comments. As you see, I won’t be able to do that anymore, but will respond where I can.

        Thank you all again.

        many blessings – Thorn

  15. Raini Frühling

    Thank you for being awesome. As a pedagogue working to become a psychotherapist for children and adolescent, I talk about this more or less regularly. I applaud your bravery.

    In talking about sexual ethics and maybe a bit off topic: Something I find helpful is to draw a line between sex and violence along the lines of consent. I call everything that looks like sex, but is without consent or with a person unable to consent (minors and people entrusted to my care), sexualised violence – violence that has taken the semblance of sex but it not the same. Whereas I call every act made towards arousal or sexual satisfaction, even if it looks like violence, sex if it is done in consent (and only with people able to give their consent). I find that distinction helps me to be clear in talking about sexualised violence, because violence is what it is.

    • Thorn

      Raini, thank you. “Sexualized violence” seems like it can be a useful term.

      It is why the quote I began this piece with stood out from the rest of the linked article for me: child porn isn’t porn, rather, it is a document of violence and abuse.

      • Raini Frühling

        Yes and no. I agree with the notion of it not being Porn (which I understand as a product of consenting adults showing sex or a sexualised performance for consenting viewers). But to call it a “document of violence” for me would fall short of its impact. From what I know, the documentation and distribution of said violence multiplies the pain and damage it causes, because what deeply shamed you is out there for everyone to see and you will never again be able to take back control of that part of your life – the material can not be taken back.

        I would say it is a documentation AND perpetuation of violence and abuse. Every consumption and sharing is again violating the consent and boundaries and therefore part of the violence.

        I hope I am not taking this to far of topic. I am also sure you are aware of what I said. I was merely aiming for finding the right terminology for such unspeakable things.
        Thank you for holding space for this conversation.

  16. Kim McDonald

    I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school. There was a priest, Father Elliot, who waa close to my family. He stayed in touch with us even when we moved due to my Dad being in the military.
    When I was in high school he stuck his tongue down my throat in my house while my Mom was in the next room. It was a very long time before I told anyone. This was years before the Church sex abuse scandal came out and I waa raised to believe priests were infallible and that to question was blasphemy. This same priest had told me earlier in the visit I aaa a blaaphemer and a heretic for asking questions.
    I lost my faith, turned my back on the Church, questioned my sanity, and dealt with years of guilt. I felt lucky nothing worse happened to me, but I’m sure other children were probably victimized.
    Paganism healed my relationship with Divinity and this experience is one of the reasons I work with abused children. However, I will never forget.

    • Thorn

      Kim, thank you for sharing your experience with us, and as always, thank you for the work you do.

  17. Annika

    Thank you so much for writing this, Thorn. As a newcomer to the Pagan community, I have been observing these conversations in wonder. We are not immune to the ills of larger society, and yet the willingness of leaders to speak out so clearly and courageously is different from any community I have ever experienced. It’s hard to watch this community I have come to love so much wrestle with the most recent horrors. And yet I can’t help but experience gratitude for the many voices of integrity and compassion weighing in on the conversation. Thank you, Thorn, and thank you every one who has spoken out so openly here.

    • Thorn

      Annika, thanks for bringing this perspective. It feels important to read that the willingness of leaders to speak out is different. Sometimes it grows easy to only see he ways in which we are still falling short. It is nice to have clear reflections of the ways in which we are showing up.

  18. Shaun Miller (Symbian)

    Brightest Blessings Thorn – Thank you for This Blog Post – It IS Needed – and I thank you for the vulnerabilities and passionate disires you muster to post it – – Just to comment for a sec on the brief mention of Gavin and Yvonne Frost – I was a Student of theirs “Correspondence” program – where I – after a Year and a Day – made my way to New Bern for my Samhain Full Moon participation and Initiation into “The Craft” – Both Gavin and Yvonne were both very Sweet and Unconditionally accepting of this dedicant to the craft called Shaun Miller- I was in “Bliss” mode – it was a very Beautiful Initiation which led to my initiation into a priest role. They sort of set a bar that by my own evolution – I ended up re-setting many times- I suppose I was such a dedicated and devoted student -that the wiccan teaching wove into my fabric – with one very beautiful and interesting difference … well maybe two -firstly- I believen that ALL Paths are valid and that we takeour Lessons and Learning from a myriad of sources roviding we have the awareness to acknowledge them as valid sources – and secondly – a student is an impressionable empty sponge – so the responsibility of ethics and Honour concerning “Sacred Sex’ should be definatly made clear between Student and teacher – My own inherent moral fiber dictated that Students and their Mentors or teachers should NEVER Breach that respectible calibur and rapor by having intimate sex togeather – concentual or via a “Manipulation” an Honourable version of The “Tease” involves building energy and Anticipation – but under no circumstances -should a Teacher allow themselves to sucumb to that temptation – I have always felt that the rapore between a Student and Teacher – and between Student and student should be as “Symbiotic” as is Paganly possible – for me – THAT is a Given – I have a little red flag the goes up when I sence a teacher has either “Cult” type qualities – or would have a tendency of breaching the Ethics – My “Creep’O’Meter” goes off the Scale !- My empathy also gives me a very early warning sign of the potential for manipulation – I am lucky that way – but many many students are not so intune with their empathy, of are having soo much trouble navigating throuth it – that they become easy targets for the type of people that have been earlier mentioned – “The Preaditors”- I was taufgt very early that “All Acts of Physical Emotional and Empathic Exchange – be they sexual in nature or not – IS SACRED ! -and being associated with the Divine aspect of it -the relationship should not be made “Base” with that low a vibration -so – as a priest – It is Something I will ALWAYS be on the look out for ! -and be very careful toGive the Witchcraft teaching the Initial integrity that I was origionally taught – No Sexual relationship between a Dedicant, member and The Priesthood should be tollerated, it has “Spoiled soo many traditions and Destroyed many students in the process- – – Anyway – I must thank you for allowing me to post my 2.5 cents worth about it . I do have a final question for you though – Was the interview between you and the Frosts ever recorded as audio as a MP3 file – I would love to listen to it in whole from start to finnish ! – Huggs and Brightest Fae Blessings to you and The Thorn Clan and Tribe ! ♥

    • Thorn

      Shaun,

      thanks for talking about your take on ethics, coercion, and the student/teacher relationship. These are all important things for each of us to ponder.

      Episode #19 of Elemental Castings has the panel with the Frosts and others at the Florida Pagan Gathering: http://www.thorncoyle.com/videos-podcasts/podcasts/ Scroll waaaay down.

    • Shaun W. Miller

      Thank you Thorn !- The Future rests in how well we educate our children – about ALL forms of Spirituality there is to choose from, I aggree that we should give them all the choices we have knowledge about AND Educate them about those that target impressionable Students and Dedicants – the “Preditors” and Trolls see the vulnerability and “Play It” – I became a “Sollitarry” because I saw too many “Priesthood”, mentor, and teacher roles that were corrupt – trying to control and manipulate the sexual dynamic, saddly – I have no children of my own to help to pass the knowledge on to, so I try to help any “Seeker” in an unconditional way – no strings, not drama or control issues, just knowledge for the sake of a better respect for the planet and spiritual future – and while it is not an “Adgenda” so to speak – it IS a Motivation and a Love of a Rich Integrated Future.

  19. Sea Serpent

    Amen, Thorn! Kayla, I highly disagree with you too. We really shouldn’t sweep issues like this under the rug just because of what some warped, demented fundies might say about us; especially when they probably have tons of sex offenders hidden in their own ranks. They’re going to criticize pagans anyway; no matter what pagans do. We can’t let stupid little mudslingings deter us from supporting the victims and figuring out how to protect people – especially children – from these molesters.

    There is a book I highly recommend called Predators, by Anna C. Salter, a psychologist who interviewed a lot of sex offenders. It is not a fun read, to put it mildly, but very informative. According to her, the overwhelmingly vast majority of sex offenders never get caught. Often they come across as very charming and likable, and are very good at passing themselves off as people parents can trust and feel their kids are safe with. That is how they get away with what they do. In her interviews, Salter found that these predators were perfectly aware that their transgressions against those kids was wrong, but didn’t care. If anything, they often enjoyed the excitement of getting away with what they did to do those kids, and fooling everyone else around them in the process, and knowing no one would likely believe the kids if they told. A couple of people spoke about Kenny Klein getting “help.” Counseling will not help predators. They may pretend they feel remorse over the way they victimized those kids, but they really don’t . If they get incarcerated, and are released due to “good behavior,” including manipulating prison counselors into believing they’ve “fully reformed,” they will be back on the streets doing just what they did before with kids; only they’ve become much more adept at hiding it.

  20. Kim McDonald

    It is important for people to know sex abuse isn’t always about violence and sometimes there doesn’t even have to be sexual penetration.Alot of victims may say we never had sex but the person kissed, hugged me, touched me, took pictures, talked about sex and made me uncomfortable. That’s sex abuse. It’s about overstepping boundaries and manipulating someone physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.

  21. Judi

    I was the midwife for the one you refer to as Sabre and his girlfriend and, was integrally involved the whole time. I was the one informed (by the person who took on the responsibilty of reporting Sabre’s bragging about the camp teen and fantasies of other sexual abuse scenarios). I was the midwife for this person’s partner and have cared for other Feri families. Sabre was far beyond difficult. He was narcissitic and paranoid. He was controlling towards his partner and there are so many crazy things he said and did that I can’t repeat them all. What I want to understand is why so many of your spiritual community chose not to believe the reporter of these actions. I learned, during the TDI hearing the craziest accusations about the teacher of which you are all referring to and, somehow his connection to the reporting member of your community. This seemed to bias people’s beliefs & cause them to question his integrity and his motives. This reporter, his partner and I suffered together through the experience and I can say it was pure courage that caused him to report these behaviors. He was so worried about the well being of the teen, He was terrified for the child about to be born into this dangerous family (little did he know). I understand that he was vilified and ostracized by his community for being responsible for “secrets being spilled” about your religion. These secrets were more important than the actions of this “perpetrator”. In the TDI meeting, Sabre basically admitted to his inappropriate behavior and STILL, he was being believed to be innocent and a victim of someones else’s manipulations.

    • Thorn

      Judi,

      I think you’ve hit upon many things directly related to how and why abuse is so often covered up, particularly in minority communities. In many abuse stories that come to light there is always the repeated issue of people not listening to or believing either victims or reporters. That happened here. Thank the Gods this reporter you mention persevered.

      My hope is that these communities, and all communities, will continue to learn and grow and will do much better in the future. And apologize for not responding sooner. The events were tragic. Thank you for trying to make the situation better, for doing your job under difficult circumstances, and trying to make things right.

      Sometimes we cling too hard to secrets, to our detriment. Abusers thrive on secrecy. However, there are also sacred trusts that sometimes need to be kept. Sometimes it feels difficult to discern the difference. I will continue to try to discern.

      I was blamed by many for teaching Sabre all those years ago. There is always plenty of blame to throw around. What I’m trying to do is to hold myself accountable for my current actions and to move forward in integrity. What was done cannot be undone. What we and I can do is try to make sure things go better in the future.

      Even then, we will likely still make mistakes.

      Thank you for telling your story.

  22. An Elder Apprentice

    Thorn, this is a terrific post about terrible events. Thank you!

    All these stories emerging today are about such deep betrayals and stories of betrayal terrify me as there is no more horrible emotion then betrayal. Sexuality seems so central to the Pagan path I have embraced. A wild ecstasy is cultivated as the basis of a hopefully ethical way of being, a complete path of connection between conscious minds, free connections that serve all life, mine and the other. My metaphors become sexualized and I find your dispassionate description of Paganism in your letter to the social workers hides a furiously intense spirituality. Am I called to live my life as if I am making love to all, and being made love to by all? Sexual abuse is pervasive in our society, effecting everybody, all paths and those not on any. What hurts in reading these stories is that these crimes in our community, be they caused by conscious malfeasance or deep illness, betray the essence of our spirituality. I guess I hold the ideal is that we Pagans understand sex, embrace desire and refine it as a good, and thus improve the world. When we a Pagans fail either by being the abuser or sweeping it under the rug it cuts to the quick, it betrays the essence of who we are.

    • Thorn

      This is so heartfelt and well stated, Elder Apprentice. Thank you. All the world is indeed a riot of life force, of sex. We are part of that. We should treat that fact with honor.

      Sexual misconduct and abuse was the only time I can think of when Victor and Cora of blessed memory would talk about things being ‘dirty’ or of ‘throwing pearls before swine.’ Nothing made them more angry than misuse of sex.

      • An Elder Apprentice

        Sex is wonderful yet as you said is it also a ‘riot’, totally untidy, chaotic and tied to everything I experience or want to experience as a human both wonderful and terrifying. Sex brings out my psychological cleavage points and fault lines.’Sexual Misconduct’ includes being an a-hole, behaving dishonorably, even where there is ‘enthusiastic consent’. And behaving honorably takes consciousness and work. Making it joyous work that is worth striving for, but very hard.

  23. Cat

    Thorn, thank you for writing this.

    I was privy to a situation many years ago where young women in a particular community were frequently targeted for sexual attention by men 10-20 years their senior. Some of these women were not of legal age but still being encouraged to ask their parents’ permission to begin magical training (sex being, of course, a part of magic that they could learn about if of legal age).

    Those who were opposed or questioned the ethics behind these actions were labeled prudes, bad Pagans who needed to let go of their hangups, et cetera.

    The whole situation reeked of manipulation and unethical behavior. Outsiders were informed that it was all perfectly legal since no one had sex with under-18’s. The fact that they’d been groomed to be sexual partners to older men since age 15-16 was ignored.

    Leaving off my location since I was one who called out louder than most about it, it was a rather stressful time in my life.

    • Thorn

      Terrible. Just terrible. I feel at a loss… this wasn’t just a sick individual, but a group. That feels like an even worse betrayal of what is holy.

      Thank you for sharing it.

      • Cat

        It was. I talked to some of the elders who made excuses for the behavior even many years later.

        They still defend the behavior. It was a final straw for me, I won’t have anything to do with that group anymore.

  24. Macha NightMare

    Thanks for writing this, Thorn!

    Thanks to Hawk for alerting me to it. Thanks also to Storm, Jill, Rosa, Parent, and especially Madelon for your comments.

    I cannot tell you how long and difficult this problem has been in the SF Bay Area Pagan community, particularly as it overlaps with scifi/fantasy communities. Back to the late 1960s, I would guess. Sabre gravitated towards a subculture that fostered his proclivities, IMO. (both Reclaiming and Feri) Notwithstanding the fact that his mental illness came to full flower around the time of the CPS matter.

    Specifically, he seemed to admire the teacher with whom you had your unfortunate experience. (For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to this person as “CaC.”) Who, in turn, seemed to admire an older man (also deceased) in the Pagan-scifi/fantasy scene (also a prominent person in NAMBLA), whose cover was facilitated by the fact that he was married to a prominent author.

    CaC and Sabre were enabled, in many ways, by the obsession with secrecy as well as cult of personality.

    One chapter of this saga actually involved a mysterious death that remains unsolved. To this day I get an occasional email from one or another of this young man’s high school friends who wonder at the strange circumstances of his death. I sat on an ethics hearing concerning CaC’s flaunting of outdated credentials to law enforcement, reporters, and other Pagans when questioned about this death. BTW, he told all three different stories. (I know that some of you who are reading this probably know more than I about this matter.) This was in 1984 — and it wasn’t the first time local Witches were bemoaning this man’s predatory behavior.

    The late Alison Harlow surely is rejoicing that this is now being talked about. She tried many times to address it. So did the late Judy Foster, and more than one young male friend of her then-high school-aged daughters. So did I. The problem for me was that I myself was never one of his victims. I’ve had people come to me seeking some sort of — well, I think just be heard and believed. There was not anything I could really do. I could only listen and sympathize. I couldn’t report anything to secular authorities. There was no CPS back then that I knew of. There was an unhealthy over-emphasis on secrecy, and on resolving disputes between members of a trad or coven within those groups, and never reporting them to outside authorities. I agonized about this for 30+ years.

    I’ve admired Thorn’s way of dealing with this when seekers have asked her about CaC. She was able to do that. I only had the word of other parties, and I believed that to pass that information on would have been irresponsible. Why? Because I had no way to check its veracity, tho I did indeed believe these accusers, and because I’d been told in confidence. Besides, what Craft training then ever addressed the matter of mandated reporting? Otherwise, I’d be acting on rumor. “Hearsay” is not admitted in a court of law. In fact, trying to figure out how to deal with this kind of dysfunction was one of the motivations for my undertaking the “Growing Pagan Elders” study I did.

    Sabre began courting my favor in Michigan before he relocated to San Francisco. I say “courting” because it felt much like that. I accepted his attentions based on the fact that he was part of a local Reclaiming community there. But I’m always suspicious of people who seem to want to cultivate my good opinion. I wonder if they really like me, or if they’re just sucking up to me because they think I’m important somehow.

    For the first time I’m saying publicly, here, that I, too, bear scars from a syndrome, for want of a better word, that has affected several communities in which I’ve been active over the years. (Not like the scars of victims, to be sure, but disheartening and painful nonetheless.) It was I who was alerted to Sabre’s post-teen camp maneuverings. I was really pleased by the seriousness with which the matter was treated, and the speedy and definitive way it was handled.

    I have worked for years to help us Pagans achieve some kind of positive visibility and respect, in the context of other religions and in general. I’ve also been privy to various “intra-Pagan” efforts to address lots of similar transgressions (some sexual, some fiscal) in other parts of California and in other regions of the country. So this has been a constant thorn in my side. (No pun intended.) I’ve felt helpless to rectify anything.

    So when secular authorities became involved, a lawsuit was filed, and I was subpoenaed to testify, I did. I meditated, prayed, and even consulted three other trusted elders before I took this step. In the end, I chose to do so, including the production of documents. There are people who disdain me for having done this. I’ve been subjected to incredible nastiness, mistrust, disrespect within one community, to the point where I’ve withdrawn. I’m thin-skinned, both literally and figuratively, so this really hurt. Still, I cannot tell you how relieved I was!

    I’m even more relieved to have been alerted to Thorn’s fine post, and to have shared some of my long-held frustrations with you here.

    May truth be heard. May Justice prevail.

  25. Colleen

    Thank you Thorn this is really important. I was in the two year training with Sabre and noticed he had some sexual comments/fluidity that pushed my buttons. I took it as pushing me to expand my edges. I took it as his being younger and having a more radical sexuality than me. When my partner was pregnant nine years ago, Sabre contacted me to encourage circumcision. Again, it pushed my edges but I took it as good information about me. This guy is more radical than me I should really carefully consider his perspective. I chose my pagan tradition as a source to build opposing power to the injustice in the world. Even as I believed in the interconnection of all, I never deeply understood that if we are truly circles within circles, “all” of the broken, sick, fucked up world will be part of all of our circles. Its in all of us. Please hear that I am not saying we are all predators. I am not saying we can’t build worlds of safety for our children and each other. I am saying we cannot ignor injustice and “evil” because we cannot create a world immune from it until we erradicate. I know evil is a loaded word that has been used against many beautiful things. Before I started seminary, I did not believe in evil. People are being and have always been tortured, abused, and forced to live in inhumane ways. I don’t know a better word than evil for some of that. Here’s what is keeping this third year seminarian student up at night over this–what do we do with injustice? If we are all interconnected circles within circle what are we doing with evil when we find it? Predators can be cast out of one circle, but where do they go? It makes me think of the way we toss out the trash without always considering it’s impact on the rest of the worlds. No one should be exposed to evil. But it is present. Perhaps the conversation you raise Thorn is an open wound right now–making my comment seem untimely and insensitive. On a much smaller level than evil predators, we all encounter “difficult” people and for a long time I’ve been chewing on the idea that answering some of the bigger questions of how to build a safe, just, world starts with having better tools and systems for conflict and difficult people. Hope my early pre coffee rambling makes some sense.

    • Anna H.

      Colleen, I think you raise some amazingly clear and relevant points about our “circles within circles” and also the point about what do we do with perpetators when we find them? That’s all got to be part of the equation. I hope everyone notices your comments and includes these points in their thinking and discussion.

  26. Christine Hoff Kraemer

    Thank you so much for sharing these stories. I think they, and your letter, help to lend some clarity to these issues.

    The one line I would tweak in your letter is “There is no way a person in a situation of power imbalance can agree of his/her free will to sex.” There are power imbalances in all relationships, particularly in the most common romantic relationship in our society, heterosexual partnerships (because even though feminism has greatly increased women’s power in society, there are still a number of ways that women are disadvantaged in their relations to men). A certain degree of power imbalance has to be acceptable or we could not have sexual relationships of any kind. I agree that the more imbalanced the power dynamic becomes, the more likely it is that the relationship will be exploitative or abusive (which are not necessarily the same thing).

    I wrote extensively about the ethics of touch in relationships of power imbalance in _Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective,_ especially in the introduction, where there is a long section on consent, here: https://www.academia.edu/4925652/Eros_and_Touch_from_a_Pagan_Perspective_Divided_for_Loves_Sake

    Ethicists in other religious traditions are also addressing this issue. For instance, I’m currently reading a book called _Erotic Attunement: Parenthood and the Ethics of Sensuality between Unequals_ by Christian feminist theologian Christina Traina, who takes the relationship between parents and children as her case study of the ethics of touch in a relationship of power imbalance.

    I hope these resources might help the Pagan community think clearly about touch ethics in a world where no two people are perfect peers.

    • Thorn

      Thanks for the resource link, Christine. I will consider changing that sentence.

      Another resource that was mentioned to me – for abused people and survivors – is ViolenceUnsilenced.com. I don’t know about it but it came recommended.

      • Phaedra Bonewits

        Thorn, I hope you do think long and hard about changing that sentence. It troubled me so much when I read it yesterday that I gave myself a day to think about it before I made a comment. I am so glad someone else picked up on it.

        My sexual ethics were forged in a very different time, as I came to my sexual maturity between the start of Second Wave feminism and the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. In my youth and since, I have had more than one lover who was considerably older than me (also some younger), and more than one who might be considered to be in a position of power over me (a college professor, for example). But as hard as I examine these relationships, I cannot in truth say that I felt exploited, used, or coerced in any way. I entered into them with enthusiastic consent, and with most, maintain fond memories and friendly relationships.

        So to hear “There is no way a person in a situation of power imbalance can agree of his/her free will to sex,” it feels like a negation of my lived experience. When I read it, it felt like a slap in the face. My May/December relationships (whether from age or status) were pretty darn good, and I am quite confident I entered into them out of my own free will.

        The fact that such dynamics are open to abuse simply cannot be used to say that all such dynamics are abusive. As we are implored to listen to the victims, on this issue perhaps it is also important to listen to the successful.

        Or, as was once said to me, “Always remember, never say ‘never’ or ‘always’!”

        • Thorn

          I already deleted it, Phaedra. Thanks for chiming in with your experience. As I said, I wrote that letter in one night before leaving town, just so the caseworkers would have more info.

  27. Ryan M.

    Thank you for writing about this. As a spiritual community that is openly affirming of sexuality, it is all the more important that we emphasize issues of consent and speak strongly (or act, when necessary) against abuses or sexual impropriety.

    • Dave

      Thanks Sylvia! I too have felt that I didn’t fit in because of my vanilla flavored sexuality and lifestyle. I really felt like this at witchcamp events. I was there for Sabre’s first workshop in Central Illinois. I thought him an odd duck but was attracted to his intelligence and adventurous spirit. It’s sad to think of how he ended up; what he did. There were many layers to him that were hard to fathom.

  28. Sylvia

    My very first experiences of pagan gatherings 30+ years ago had kind of a naked Woodstock hippie vibe to them – though in retrospect there were definitely some creepy people there. But by the time I finally left all organized pagan religions, right around the time the situation with Sabre was unfolding, everything seems to have shifted to this relentless emphasis on kink and BDSM in the name of “sacred” sex. Oh, how I wanted to fit in! One teacher told me how she had finally learned to break down all her sexual barriers by having sex even with people she considered to be repellant. Oh how I wanted to break down my sexual barriers and be cool and fabulous like everyone else! I found myself trying to hide my life as a fiscally responsible, monogamous person with a job and family because it was so uncool, so vanilla, and in fact took some very self-destructive steps to undermine that life. With all due respect, Thorn, I recall the time you yourself said during one of our Feri gatherings that you had made a conscious decision not to become a “breeder,” and the discomfort I felt – I was an uncool breeder! Now, in retrospect, I can allow myself to feel offended, though my sense is that you too have evolved since those days and would probably never use such an expression publicly.
    What I think is that many of us, having grown up in sexually repressed families and religions, were naturally drawn to something that felt freer and less constricting. But it’s swung awfully far in the “all sex all the time” direction, which is just as unnatural as the “sex is dirty” stuff we came from. Interestingly, the shadow sides of both of those attitudes seem to have similar results.
    I doubt that there are more predators in paganism than in other religions or maybe even in society as a whole – they probably just operate a little differently. What could be different for pagans is dealing with it openly, though I think there are many hidden power structures within paganism that will powerfully resist this.
    One last thought – many of us first met Sabre when he was only 2 or 3 years older than the kids he ended up preying on. I know nothing about his history, but I wonder if he was emerging from some damaging experiences himself. That’s pure speculation, of course, but still food for thought.
    Thank you, Thorn, for opening up this pungent can of worms! These things need to be spoken aloud.

    • Thorn

      Sylvia, I apologize for my insensitive comment all those years ago. I wouldn’t use a pejorative term like “breeder” these days. That word was an un-examined vestige from my teens when I was figuring out my queerness.

    • Madelon Wise

      Thank you, Sylvia. How interesting that some of our private conversations have now become more public. I particularly appreciate your comments about how the pendulum has swung too far. I think this often happens. You know? I’m just done feeling bad about being “vanilla” and uncool. I like who I am.

      • Anna H.

        My husband and I have begun to avoid gatherings and such because we, too, feel marginalized because the kink/swing/BDSM scene is not part of our lifestyle. He came of Pagan age in the 1990s and remembers when there was lots of sex at gatherings, but also lots of workshops, feasts, rituals, etc. His perception is that the balance has swung to the point that everyone else seems bored with the workshops, rituals, etc. and just wants the party cabins and tents to open. It’s been hard to talk about this without sounding like we’re prudish, anti-sex people which is emphatically not the case.

        • Thorn

          Anna, that is interesting history.

          How long ago did you stop attending gatherings? I only ask because at the gatherings I have been to – Pantheacon, PSG, FSG, Sacred Space, Between the Worlds – there have been many people interested in workshops and rituals. There are always folks who stick to their encampments at the outdoor events, I think, but I see plenty of people engaging in community in other ways. And at the “hotel” events, the classes are always packed.

          I wonder if there are regional differences too, or if communities go through phases…

          I’m sad to hear that diversity might shrink because people feel like there isn’t space for them anymore. I wonder how communities can open up conversations around all levels of diversity, so we have healthier community spaces all around. Monoculture isn’t good for anyone long term (though sometimes we want sequestered spaces for awhile).

        • Tzipora

          Anna,
          My daughter has remained silent about the recent events, but I wanted to share with you what you have just described is something that feels very strongly about as well. Her perception in looking back now is that the open sexuality did not help her understanding of what her therapists have labeled as a “healthy exposure” to sexual behavior. This is of course on top of the abuse she also suffered. She expressed to me over the weekend in one of our marathon family discussions that she felt if she said that clothing optional spaces for children who are not already living in that space full time, orgies where children can clearly hear the sounds, and the touchy/feely “it’s okay they were just being friendly” all distort and confuse what children are capable of processing. She was and remains afraid that to speak out about this will only get her railroaded into heated debate and right now that’s the last thing she or any of us need.

          I guess I wanted to do two things in my reply, first validate your statements and secondly tell you that a young woman agrees with you completely that wanting to protect oneself or ones children is not being a prude.

          It is an interesting side note that there are conventions in the East (Wicked Faire and Twisted Faire) that do embrace the BDSM/kink/poly lifestyles and have children present. The difference is that those activities are removed from the main flow of the event and you must prove that you are over 18 to enter those areas. I think this community should take a lesson from that and do the same.

        • Christopher Blackwell

          To pressure anyone into any type of sex that they are not comfortable with is preditory behavior. Only you can decide what you want to do and then stick with that. That is not being prudish, its your right as a human.

  29. Joyce

    This is my viewpoint. Sabre tried his hardest while he was in Chicago to build a coven out of Reclaiming. He was pressuring a friend of mine to join his coven and I repeated the story (see Shauna’s post) that I heard about him and told her to check with our mutual friend who had told me the story if she wanted to check its veracity). Being a forthright person, she told Sabre what I had said and asked him about it. Now it becomes doubly creepy. I don’t recall what he told my friend, but he immediately went on the defensive. Since I am one of the moderators of the of our on-line presence he e-mailed me an abusive e-mail about how I was incompetent and that I should give up my moderating duties (to him, I believe was the suggestion). He had e-mailed me off list. When I responded, I responded to the entire list with his attached e-mail. There was a flurry about his e-mail by the community, but his next move was to send me a highly abusive e-mail. It began with “Joyce, you stupid, F*()*, B#&$#” and went on to list what my shortcomings were, etc. etc., Mind you, I have never really met this guy. We were at the same Witchcamp once, but our paths never crossed.

    I do not like confrontation, but I detest a bully. I contacted my friends and talked to them about this. We showed up at the next Moot (he had been badgering the Moot Committee, into more meetings, more rules, more ways of controlling things).

    He started being abusive. He was shut down and then went into the mode of “oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize, it wasn’t my fault, I was misinformed”.

    I did not believe him then, neither did my friends. He was and is a manipulator. Hearing the rest of his story only confirms my belief.

    There are some people in life who are evil. He is one of them.

  30. Talia

    Thank you T.Thorne for this posting. Its a terrible and difficult subject, but one that is very important. The greater discussion needs to be how we as a community can provide security and support to the victims; and accountability to the perpetrators. I’ve seen so many comments in the last few days about how the press and public discussions are “casting our community in a poor light”. Its important to remember – and many people have already said here – this is not a reflection of our community. The shame of abuse belongs solely to the abuser. I can only hope that this situation further implores Pagans to bring transparency and open discussion to our practices. These creeps only survive in the shadows.

  31. web

    I wish this had been able to come to light earlier. I actually went so far as to find a free pagan friendly therapist based on some things I knew about him and some things I suspected, before any of this happened. He would not go. I know he had addiction issues from watching him talk about drug use and alcohol and how he operated around sex. He also talked around abuse issues….never quite being clear about them, but I would be surprised if he was not harmed as a child himself. This is mostly conjecture at this point. I worry about the fact that I still care and sorrow over this, and try to humanize him for the rest of the people who did not know the Sabre I knew. I worry that I am an apologist. Nothing under any conditions excuse his behavior. And remember to separate the teenage shallow milennial jerk from the monster he became eventually. I still worry about his wife and child. I am not in touch with them.

    • Tony

      Web, I have some conflicts about this as well. In my day job I work with convicted sex offenders and part of that job is helping them to find housing (which can be a nightmare) and create a life after conviction. I don’t want to excuse or minimize their actions, and at the same time I see firsthand that they do not disappear when we throw them out of community or put them in prison. I’d rather there be a community that knows and is monitoring them… and I think some people might always need that level of accountability and oversight. I honestly don’t know the answer.

      • Thorn

        Tony, thank you for mentioning this. It is an important part of the conversation. We are learning rapidly that there is no “away” to throw things – whether it is nuclear waste, mounds of plastic…or human beings we don’t know how to deal with. We have to learn, somehow, to deal with it all.

  32. nekosensei

    Many teachers and social workers (anyone that is a required reporter of child abuse) often receive training on how to identify potential child molesters who might pose a risk to children. A lot of people say that they never can tell who might be a predator because they’re master manipulators and great at making people think that they’re normal. On the other hand, if you’re informed on a child predator’s typical MO (aka trying to get access to children, preferring the company of children to adults, grooming children and adults around them, etc. etc.), it makes things a whole lot easier to call people on their bullshit. I’ve been in this situation twice before. One tip? It helps to listen to both what the “predator” is saying and what the kids around them say. I’m not advocating that we start a witch hunt, but it wouldn’t hurt if more pagans in community receive this training and speak up when something seems a little off to them.

    This website, by the way, is a great start, but honestly, it doesn’t take the place of a workshop or training session: http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-a-Pedophile

    • steward

      nekosensei mentions “required reporter of child abuse”. In some jurisdictions, that is not limited by profession.

      In Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah, *any person* who suspects child abuse or neglect is *required* to report it. In all other States, territories, and the District of Columbia, any person is permitted to report. These
      voluntary reporters of abuse are often referred to as “permissive reporters.”

      More information at https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.pdf

      • Cat

        I’ve given a lot of thought to what it would take to make my state a mandatory report state.

        Seems a worthy project.

  33. Evoe Thorne

    All of this discussion of Pagans and predators is bringing up old stuff for me. I wish I could say that I am uniquely qualified to speak on the subject, but our communities are rife with people who use and abuse. I live in a different part of the country from people in the current conversation, but it’s the same story.

    You are asking what we should/could do in our communities to cut down on abuse of power. I think it’s as simple as listen, believe, and act. Listen to your gut and listen when other people express discomfort. ALWAYS believe a child who reveals abuse. Take whatever actions necessary to protect yourself and those in your care.

    Most importantly, choose your Pagan community very wisely. Look at how the people in charge manage their own lives and energy. How is conflict resolved? What are the values and priorities of the group? I learned this lesson in the hardest way possible.

    I’ve never told my story publically, but 15 years ago I was married to pedophile. Over the course of our marriage I slowly came to realize that he was a danger to teen girls. At that time, we belonged to a large Pagan church where I was a teacher, a priestess, and the family coordinator. I tried to talk to Elders about my concerns about my husband but I was told that I was “letting my own background color my judgment,” “being too sensitive,” and that I couldn’t do anything unless he “acted on his perversions.” Basically, I was being told to ignore my intuition.

    Then my husband groped a teenaged girl at a large Pagan festival sponsored by the church. When the girl and her father came forward, I was the only one who believed her. The Elders insisted that she must have misunderstood or been mistaken. I was furious that nothing was done to help and heal the child.

    As my own daughters grew older, I became more and more anxious and my husband got more manipulative and abusive. I was still not believed because I couldn’t prove it, and my husband was respected in the community. I resigned from the Pagan Scouting program that I had founded as part of my work. I left him although it meant that I lost nearly all of the support of my community. I left the church. My ex, however, stayed.

    I continued to try to warn people that my ex was a danger to children, but people still dismissed me as vengeful, and allowed him to be alone with teen girls. I confronted him and he admitted that he was a pedophile. He agreed to go to treatment but never did. I couldn’t keep our children from him, but I did my best to supervise his time with them. Eventually I failed and he molested my daughter.

    Because she had been taught what to do, it only happened once. She came right to me and told me about it. And I made sure that he went to prison – mainly because it turned out that he had a huge quantity of sexually explicit photos of children on his computer. Through the whole thing, members of the Pagan community stood by him, even gave him legal aide. The elders were gravely concerned that if my ex was sent to the best sex-offender treatment facility in the state, it might disrupt the Pagan church’s prison ministry there. My family was not offered support. To this day, I do not know how many other teens my ex preyed on while active in the church.

    Never join a group who supports child molesters over children. I should have paid attention to the fact that prison ministry for pedophiles was a top priority for this organization. After these sex offenders completed their time in prison they were welcome to attend events where children were present. Even today pedophiles are allowed authority in this church and many people don’t even question it, or let it go with a mild protest.

    But it’s not a matter of people who abuse power being drawn to Paganism. Sadly, abuse of power happens everywhere. I do think that as Pagans, we might be better able to listen to our bodies, to our inner wisdom. Forget about “being nice” because psychopaths take advantage of that. Ultimately, get out of any relationship that feels uncomfortable, any way you can. It doesn’t have to make sense and you don’t have to apologize, just find safety.

    I would say that Anna Salter’s Predators book should be required reading for anyone in a position of power, including parents, in the Pagan community or anywhere. As a community, it is not our job to condemn or commit anyone, but it is our job to make sure that the safety and integrity of the group is maintained. Guilt is for the legal system, clean energy is for the coven.

    Since I left that church, I’ve found another group where I feel safe and respected. I’ve had a couple of instances where I’ve encountered individuals who made me uncomfortable or set off my squick meter, and the coven has treated those people fairly but sent them elsewhere. This level of safety has let me open up to explore deeper mysteries, including my sexuality, in a comfortable and healing way.

    I love that sex is sacred in my spiritual path. Teaching enthusiastic consent is part of my life’s work, but I’ve noticed that Pagans are not any more skilled at discussing sexuality than non-Pagans. Going from everything being taboo to sex being sacred does not necessarily help anyone feel less vulnerable about their own sexuality or talk openly about sexual matters. We do not always know how to listen to the voice that tells us when something is wrong. We often feel shame and anxiety, so we often just don’t talk about it. And that leaves the door open for sexual predators.

    This is a little long-winded, but I am relieved to see this discussion happening. The most frustrating thing in my whole life has been knowing that something bad was going on and feeling powerless to stop it. I understand why many people don’t want to believe anything negative about someone – but the children are innocent, and we MUST protect them.

    • Rose

      “Forget about “being nice” because psychopaths take advantage of that. Ultimately, get out of any relationship that feels uncomfortable, any way you can. It doesn’t have to make sense and you don’t have to apologize, just find safety.”

      Yes. Thank you.

    • Tzipora

      I am so sorry that you were not believed. It is one of the worst feelings in the world, especially when all you’re trying to do is protect the children.
      I hope that you have found and continue to find strength and healing.
      Blessings

  34. Joanna

    I’m a Christian who found this post through the FB page of a Pagan Friend. I’m writing because of the concerns that were expressed about Christians using discussions like yours as excuses to denounce Paganism. I have been involved in some painful and awkward discussions about how to deal with the reality of sexual abuse in the faith communities of my tradition, and how to balance awareness of and protection against this danger with the kind of mutual trust and openness to the Spirit that comes with true sacred community…. I am glad to hear this tender and thoughtful discussion of the same subject in someone else’s faith community, and I wish for you all the healing and courage and wisdom that I wish for my co-religionists.

    • Raini Frühling

      Thank you. :)
      Healing, Courage and Wisdom to you and yours too.

    • Thorn

      My request regarding this is that people not discuss details of the case in these comments.

      I would rather stick with: how do we deal with these situations moving forward?

  35. Christopher Blackwell

    Thorn I’m so glad to see this subject brought up and talked about. As they say it can and does show s up in all religions. What helps it hide is the idea that our people are special therefore would not do that. Every religion that has the problem also have the problem of not admitting that it is even possible.

    Having been in Wicca for thirty years, over 29 years in the Alexandrian Tradition I have long worried over the fact that people, religions and even civilizations rarely learn anything from the faults of those that went before, thereby forcing themselves to make the same mistakes, and the only hoping that they learn from their own mistakes. If we Pagans pay attentions to the short comings that have happened in other religions in the past we will see the very things that we must be careful to avoid. We are not special so yes we an make the same mistakes and the rules apply to us and we will pay the price for what we refuse to learn. That is true of us as individuals, groups and religions. But if we pay attention, we might suffer from less of those problems and grave errors.

    It is one reason that I don’t like bashing of Christianity, because we could easily allow those same errors in our own practice and that is what we should be doing making sure those things do not become part of our religion or cleaning up our own house as needed.

    Editor of ACTION
    Official newsletter of Alternate Religions Educational Network

  36. Linda Koprin Pardue

    I didn’t read all of the other comments so it’s possible someone else brought this up – but as the sister and victim of a predator from a young age, I can perhaps give an insight into how one can miss the signals. In isn’t just that they can be charming. It’s that many are truly pathological liars. The lies they tell themselves to justify their behavior when it obviously goes against what they internally KNOW to be right are the same lies they tell the victim. They convince themselves first of the lies – and a truly convincing liar can even fool a polygraph test when they have convinced themselves of the lie. Hard for ANYONE to see past that, especially if you aren’t given any reason to look.

  37. Aeptha

    Thank you Thorn for so clearly articulating a difficult and important reality. Lets keep the conversations going.

  38. medusawink

    Hi Thorn, thank you for opening up this issue in such an even-handed and level-headed forum. I don’t know if this is on topic or not but…I am addressing the issue of paedophiles specifically here (rather than sexual predators in general). A paedophile is a paedophile first and foremost – everything else in their lives is geared to feeding that addiction (for want of a better word). They seek out jobs, positions, and communities that will give them access to their victims. So often we hear of the scout leader, sports coach, teacher, counsellor, priest, instructor, shop- proprietor who turned out to be be a sexual abuser of children. They didn’t take up these jobs by accident – the jobs were carefully chosen because they gave the paedophile easy access to an array of potential victims. They carefully cultivate an aura of charm and credibility that allows them to dismiss or talk their way around accusations and suspicions. This is why we must be extra vigilant in who we allow to have access to our children. And why we MUST listen to our children when they say that they “don’t like ” the teacher, photographer, babysitter, coach, uncle etc. Children lack the confidence, the knowledge to understand socially, the vocabulary to express that something bad or terrible is unfolding, or being done to them. But they do know that they are being violated in a way that terrifies them. We must learn to listen and decode what they are saying. We must not dismiss them, or wave them aside as having “childish fears”.
    And we must learn to scrutinise our leaders – blind faith? I don’t think so. So when it comes to my child I’m going into everything with both eyes open and a ferocious suspicion of everyone. It may not be the most comfortable way to do things, but until we as a greater society (as well as microcosmic societies) come to grips with the breadth and depth of this depravity (could we call anything else?), and formulate measures that enable us at assess and report situations as a matter of course, then vigilance must be our watchword.

  39. Amy Etkind

    Thank you, Thorn, for writing on this subject. Respectfully, I would also point out that there are professional victims among us. I know one person in my community (I use that term loosely. We CT Pagans seem to be an odd and contentious lot) who is either pulling the “I’m the greatest thing to happen to Paganism since the Goddess Herself” and “I’m a VICTIM! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND? EVERYONE VICTIMIZES ME!” often in the same sentence. This person and their now-former, at the behest of another, started spreading rumors of someone else having abused a child. It never actually happened, but they spread the rumor far and wide. Then the spouse was sat down by yet another person, informed of the ACTUAL situation and was grown up enough to apologize and cease spreading the false rumor. Our Professional Victim didn’t like that at all and turned on the spouse. PV had always used the “Ain’t I something and if you disagree, you side with my attackers” for many years before this, but PV snapped. PV starts saying the spouse had been sexually abusive, had stolen documents related to a festival PV ran, etc., etc. We tried to help PV. My coven really did try to help. But PV and their friends would lie and swear to it all over the place. The alleged sexual abuse wasn’t reported for over a year and, when the authorities politely informed PV that there was simply no evidence, PV went back on a rampage. PV was specifically asked to rejoin our Pagan Pride, but PV HAD to stop spreading the rumor of the third party, and that the PV and Spouse mud-flinging show was really getting annoying, so keep that out. But we INSISTED PV stop spreading the other rumor, since it had no basis. Even the alleged victim of this third party and their parent were issuing public cease and desists, but PV kept on going. And if you don’t agree whole heartedly with PV, you’re taking the side of their ex-spouse/attacker and the never arrested, never convicted, it never happened, its been investigated to death and there’s no “there” there so called pedophile. PV proclaims that they are always the wronged party and everyone else is out to get them. This is the other behavior we have to be on the watch for. Yes, all claims should be investigated, especially when they involve kids or other vulnerable people, but we also need to be wary and on the look out for the Professional Victims among us. We have to find a way to develop our discernment. Or better hone our BS detectors.
    And what of our PV? PV is being investigated for various frauds and thefts. PV says that everyone is. once again, attacking them and taking the side of rapists and pedophiles and “Don’t you know who I am? I’m really quite important” followed by “I’m a VICTIM!”

  40. michele w

    Thank you for a clear and poignant explanation of your own experiences. I worked in child welfare for 11 years and am well aware of the problems with that system, as well as the legal quagmire that encourages them. The largest problem (which most people don’t seem to understand) is that the system is heavily reliant upon physical evidence (which is almost NEVER available for a variety of real reasons) and the victim’s testimony. Its shameful and sad that our system is structured this way, but is a demonstration of our ‘inalienable rights’ and our sometimes archaic legal perspective that children are property or assets more than people, and certainly ‘unreliable’ as witnesses.

    All of that aside, I especially appreciate that you bring up the power differential between those who teach or mentor in any manner. Yes, it is usually a consensual experience. Yes, we’re talking only about circumstances between adults. However, a teacher has a level of power that cannot be dismissed. I am a teacher in my profession, today. Sleeping with my adult students would be ethically (while not legally) abhorrent. I have knowledge and power, especially if I’m the one determining when, how, or whether they may be initiated into the tradition or method I’m teaching them. As a matter of ethical behavior, we would not engage in a relationship of a sexual nature with a student.

    Our community, understandably, resists sexual direction or ethic as dogma and restriction. I understand this. And, while my personal opinion is that we shall always return to the ideal (regardless of tradition) that we shall do no harm, I do understand alternate practices exist between consenting adult parties and will occur. I wouldn’t deny them. Instead, I would stress personal accountability — what energy am I putting out into the world? What energy may I respect to return to me as a result? What good/useful purpose am I serving? Am I working from a place of compassion or from a place of ego?

    I so appreciate your beautifully written essay. My own group is looking at your template as a place to start with our own bylaws. Thank you.

  41. Beth Guarneri

    This article is so very important and I am glad you wrote it.. I have your book the iron pentacle and I am thinking of digging it out and rereading it. Now I am going to share both a past and recent experience.
    first is the pastcand ive never told any of my pagan friends this.. when I was 19 I had just become sexually aware..I had a great relationship with someone I loved deeply.. but because of the physical and emotional traumas I endured with my mother I choose to keep it a secret… then one day I went to work for an orthodox jewish employer… over a 2 week period back in 1990 he proceded to isolate and touch me inappropriately.. I am lucky I was not raped.. but I wont get into the other details..thats not to be repeated here.. I will just say that he was a disgusting human being that eventually met his karmic return… but at the time both my parents and the mahwah police department downplayed and dismissed his actions because they forced me to admit I was newly sexually active.. they somehow made it to be my fault… years later my mom still loves to bring it up.. ive told her that I have healed a long time ago from that experience. However, the fact that she will bring it up 24 years later is like rubbing salt into closed scars.. I refuse to let my experience define me.. and I think it even drove me to leave the jewish religion and become wiccan.

    now fast foward 24 years. I recently have had words with two male members of my community.. I am no longer friends with them.. a few weeks ago they were posting inappropriate pictures of people on Facebook and making fun of them.. when I look back at the first set of pictures..I can only say they needed to boost their own sense of self esteem with the comments they were making.. the next set of pictures was a girly looking thing with thin legs fishnet stockings and heels.. I thought it looked like the legs of a child and I tried nicely to point out this was probably not the best picture to post..a) I found it deameaning to women and girls in general. It was demeaning to female witches and it was borderline inappropriate in general.. what I got was a firestorm of even more inappropriate facebook posts and attacks.. simply for standing up for what I believed was right.. furthermore I have a teenage daughter.. she is 16 now.. this is not the image that she or any strong minded girl should have to put up with.. now I am not saying these guys participate in anyway in the activities that are going on now.. I certainly hope not!!! But I do believe their behavior online was negative, disrespectful and extremely childish. Thats why I thing its so important to share this article. They thought they were being funny. But as a pagan parent and a woman I think its very very important that our girls are taught frim day one that our bodues are sacred and to be honored.. we are certainly not toys or playthings.. I left that kind of chauvinistic thinking years ago.. I can only hope sharing this article wakes our community up..we cannot condone child abuse or sexual assault, rape and pornography no matter where it comes from.. we need to be the example..not the image that other religious communities mistakes us to be.

  42. Stems and Pieces… | Footsteps on My Path

    […] Early this past week, the news came out about Kenny Klein having been arrested on several counts of child pornography. Initially the conversation rolled along about Kenny and the details of his alleged (he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law) crime. However, in some corners, the conversation has started to become more productive and has moved into an arena that I find to be far more necessary. How will the Pagan Community handle such allegations going forward into the future? How should the Community deal with predators that we do find among us? After all, false allegations can easily be made against a person for nefarious reasons – the allegations can be dropped, but a recovering a reputation spoiled by those allegations is next to impossible. Currently, the most intriguing parts of conversations leading along this road that I have found are over at T. Thorn Coyle‘s blog on this post. […]

  43. Lily Shahar Kunning

    The issues with Sabre, specifically:

    You say that some blame you for bringing Sabre into our midst. I have told you that I feel that way in person, several years ago. I still feel this and this article, while obviously heartfelt, does not have enough of a mea culpa for my taste. You brush aside what you specifically did to say “that you could not have known”.But you “knew” him enough and judged him worthy enough to say he was qualified to study this tradition?

    Your job as an initiate is to protect and uphold the tradition- and by teaching en masse you spread the trad to not only folks that were NOT selected by the Gods, but to people that are sick and twisted.

    Teaching The Craft should be an intimate affair. The reason it has been historically taught one-on-one or in small covens is not a mere historical anecdote. We simply cannot know our students well enough when we have dozens or hundreds. We cannot vet people properly or do actual check-ins on progress. Teaching long-distance or in a classroom model or online does The Craft a huge disservice. And this time, and probably several other times, it brought the wolf to the door.

    Sabre was able to justify his bizarre controlling and sociopathic behavior by saying “that’s what Feri priest does”. He had *just enough* information from his classes to make it sound plausible to outsiders (because we all sound nutty to them anyway).

    Perhaps you “could not have known”, but if you had been teaching more selectively, you might have. We honestly will never know. I do know that the moment I met him, over Samhain, he was seriously messed up. Are you saying that you did not see him between then and the CPS hearing? Because it was incredibly obvious to me and several others while he was here. You have such discernment on so many things, I am bewildered that you could not see it, especially in that time frame.

    • Thorn

      Lily,

      I am not beyond criticism, that is certain. There are many things I could be criticized for, and many things I try daily to do better, and with greater integrity.

      I understand that you and others feel that public teaching is problematic. It is a reasonable thing to disagree on, this debate of public vs private. I have stated in the past, and will state again, that I teach publicly for what strike me as good reasons – the world is in need of what magic has to offer. More and more seekers are attempting to find help to make sense of the sacred, to strengthen their practices, and to find ways to honor themselves and their Gods. I no longer teach Feri, for various reasons. (Those interested, may read this.)

      Sabre would have preyed upon people no matter what. Do I wish I had known much sooner? Yes. Of course. Do I feel deep regret and sorrow that anyone may have been hurt because they were brought into contact with him because of my classes? Yes.

      I’ve known several people who were trained one-on-one and initiated, and still went crazy, or had their addictions win, or manipulated people.

      I’ve been taught in groups, and I’ve been taught one on one. I have found great value in both.

      What I can do now is what I am doing, which is to try to learn from mistakes, and to try to help others going forward, to the best of my ability.

      • Thorn

        To those who may wish to respond to this exchange, I want to say that I prefer that all discussion center around the original post and topic: how to deal with predators in our midst.

        Let’s keep it respectful and thoughtful. If there are any personal attacks, I will shut this down.

  44. Thomas R OFS

    Thank you so much for posting this. As someone from a tradition (Roman Catholicism) that handles such things in an absolutely horrid manner as a whole, I was glad to read this. It appears that there is a great deal of conversation going on about the allegations toward Kenny Klein. That is GOOD. Keep talking, discussing, debating, and even arguing about it.

    And keep doing it in the light of day.

    Pax,
    Thomas

  45. Edie Weinstein

    I don’t know Kenny Klein personally, who was mentioned in the article, but I have an eerie memory connected with him. A year or so ago, he posted some photos of a teen aged girl, rather scantily clad, who was smoking. I made a comment to him about that and he replied that the girl’s mother was there and she was ok with the clothing and the smoking. I had an ‘ew, ick, I want to take a shower’ feeling after that interaction. I believe that anyone in a power/teaching position who imposes themselves on students/clients is unethical. In the social work field it is a big no no to have ‘dual relationships’ with clients and former clients.

    • Tzipora

      Edie,
      You bring up something that is rattling around in my brain and I think the connection is ready for articulation:
      There is a HUGE difference between what is morally, ethically, and legally correct. Often the legal issues (especially in cases of abuse) are hard to prove in a court of law but that does not make them less real. Now the community needs to decide for itself what is morally and ethically correct in these cases because we know from history that legally may or may not always support the other two.
      I hope you were able to shower away the ick and that these events are not bringing back that same feeling.
      BB

  46. Gareth B.

    First, there are many professions besides nurses who are represented in Paganism. I happen to be a physician, and I’m not the only doc I’ve met in this world.

    Second, it is no surprise that predators of all kinds are charming people. It’s an attribute of con artists of all kinds, financial as well as sexual. The greatest thief in the USA, Bernie Madoff, is reputed to be a charming person, for instance. The important thing is to be sure that any neophytes seeking teaching of any kind, in any realm whatsoever, understand that trading sex for teaching is anathema for any reputable teacher — whether it’s spiritual teaching, acting lessons, or whatever. Mutual consent is really insufficient here, because it can’t really be relied on — the mutuality of consent must come from the equality and independence of the people involved, which is compromised when one has a power position. There is no equality in an adult abusing a child, sexually or otherwise, hence that particular offense is especially repugnant.

    No one should resent the permanent expulsion of a pedophile from the Pagan world. I’m glad that your gag order has been rescinded. This situation needs to be clear to all potential leaders and teachers. Manipulating people for sex should never be tolerated for an instant.

    — Gareth B.

  47. Madelon Wise

    This has taken all the energy I have today, but I felt I must speak. I posted a comment here previously and I heard from a friend yesterday that some people appreciated it. I am somewhere in the middle of being in and recovering from a very severe illness and my thoughts are not terribly clear. After I put up the first comment, I found I had no ability that I could discern to edit it. I am a writer, Mercury is my chart ruler, and precise words are essential to me. I just felt that I did not express myself as clearly as I could have.

    And I got scared. Really scared. I was unable to sleep the night after I had posted the comment because I was so frightened, and the next day I asked Thorn to take my comment down.

    This post and this subject, which is so very layered, complex, and contentious, has brought up incredible grief and sorrow for me. I thank the gods that I have some dear friends with whom I have had some long conversations in the last two days. They understand my position, affirm my feelings and experiences, and have been able to sit with me in my darkness and pain and make me feel less crazy.

    Everything I said in my comments was true, even if I felt I did not express my thoughts in the best way. I was particularly concerned that my comments did not appear to be casting aspersions on Thorn. The marginalization that I felt when I was a part of her training and ongoing mystery school were not because of Thorn; they were the behaviors of the students and a part of the overall gestalt of constant sexual behaviors and talk that are so predominant in neopaganism in general and the ecstatic traditions in particular.

    Therein lies an interesting part of this conundrum. I follow an ecstatic path. That’s been pretty hard without a group, as my coven disbanded over a year ago and my connections with any wider “community” are long gone. I have recently begun to facilitate ecstatic dances again, but I am doing it in a very controlled and private container. I still do some magic with a couple of close and trusted friends. I am trying to find ecstasy in nature and my every day life.

    My desire for ecstasy is why I was drawn to Reclaiming/Feri/Morningstar. These traditions were enchanting for me until I started to look under the surface and until I began to admit to myself how disenfranchised I felt by the predominant social mores in these traditions. And certainly I recognize that sexuality is a huge part of ecstasy. I just have a lot of discomfort and pain around how sexual matters have been allowed to play out in the pagan “community.” I have many thoughts probably too complex to express here on this matter, but we cannot take what goes on in paganism out of the context of the overculture, which to me has become increasingly and sickeningly oversexualized.

    All I can say is that we need to apply some critical awareness to the expectations and identities that we both accept and claim and that are thrust upon us from outside ourselves. And we need to examine who profits from those expectations and identities. And by profit I do not mean monetary only (although think about the beauty, fashion, cosmetic, diet, sex toy, and pornography industries for a start). But consider profit in these terms: I mean, who has the most charisma? Who do people think is the coolest? Who’s in the in crowd? Who is perceived as being an authority? Are they an authority because we think they are cool, because they have integrity, or because they have credentials? Or because they are incredibly manipulative and we haven’t caught on yet?

    I find what happened (what little I know) with Sabre to be unspeakably tragic. I have no doubt that he was a victim as well and learned his pedophilia as a child. All I ever heard about him was how amazingly charismatic and charming and cool he was. These comments on this blog are the first negative things I’ve ever heard about Sabre and they make me wonder further about our criteria around what and who is cool.

    It’s been said here already: if I am supposed to be tolerant, accepting, and even supportive of sexual choices other than my own, then I would like the respect of receiving that same tolerance back. I am not a prude. I am an extraordinarily sensitive, introverted, empathic, and private individual. Believe me, I understand how it feels to have to hide parts of yourself. I understand how it feels to be an oppressed minority.

    But I feel great distress when some people take the “oppressed minority” or “sex positive” card as their apparent right for making those of who make different choices feel wrong. Do they mean to do that? No, I don’t think so. But we’ve read enough here to know that marginalization has happened for many of us who have had to swim in this constantly sexualized soup for years.

    Yeah, I’m a breeder and a grandbreeder at that. And I consider my highly conscious and difficult choice to have tried my best to break the generations-long cycle of abuse with my child and grandchildren to be the greatest work of my lifetime. That and planting gardens are about as sexy as I get. And I really like that about myself.

    My first post talked about my being forced out of and shunned by a Madison, Wisconsin, pagan group. My possibly radical point is to say how egregious sexual abuse can be between women: http://www.matrifocus.com/SAM06/review-nonfiction.htm

    I will say again for the record that the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess (RCG) is one sick institution. I met some great women there. I learned some things, much of which I wish I didn’t know. I recognize that the outfit has benefitted some women and that they feel a strong fealty toward the organization. I will also say that many of them are in deep denial and are turning their consciousness from some hard truths. At first the strongly feminist line in that tradition was incredibly important to me. RCG seems to work fine for women who are willing to be categorized and toe the party line. Although RCG claims to be for all women, the only thing they want from all women is their money. But to be truly accepted and valued, a woman needs to be a lesbian separatist who questions nothing, none of which I am.

    I still have a couple of close friends who are a part of RCG, and we just agree not to talk about it. I have more close friends who were, like me, driven out and shunned by this organization. And every single one of us shunned ones experienced a strong element of sexual manipulation and abuse. And these many years later, we’re still talking about it. We’re still trying to figure out what the hell happened to us. For the record, I never engaged in sex with anybody from RCG, although it was not for lack of trying on their part. For those of us who refused to follow the covert rules, Jade River and her sidekicks Lynnie Levy and Mary Pierce made our lives a living hell, up to and including spying on us and directing malevolent magic at us. I have no fear about saying this because I cannot imagine anything that RCG could do to me that they haven’t already done. Also, nobody from RCG is likely to read this blog because men might be on it.

    My fear and my decision to remove my first comments was much more around things I said about Reclaiming/Feri/Morningstar. My town of Madison, Wisconsin, is deeply and I believe irreparably fractured. This is partially because of politics and history between a Reclaiming coven and witch camp and my former coven. It is also around events that took place here several years ago when a couple of us attempted to organize a local and regional support and learning environment for those of us who had completed Thorn’s 2-1/4-year training. We felt adrift after the trainings and wanted to provide service.

    It’s too long a story to explain here, but our efforts at “community” came apart in ways that were incredibly painful for me. Part of it, in my opinion and perception, was the general arrogance of Feri: some very cruel things were done and said in “black heart moments.” But mostly it all came down to the same things we’re talking about here: sex and power. Lines were drawn. Sides were taken. I lost many “friends” whom I had known for years. No explanation; they just faded away. I cannot express how devastating this has been for me.

    I am invisible. Strangest of all to me is how years after we disbanded the local and regional groups and stopped organizing workshops, certain individuals continued to back stab and disparage certain former members of the former group. This makes no sense to me. If we don’t have the wherewithal to step up to the table and talk about what happened like adults, can’t we just call it a noble experiment and move on? Thus my fear about speaking out. I do not want to give anybody any more ammunition to further pathologize me. Anything I say can and will be used against me.

    Although this doesn’t sound like it, I am not a paranoid person. I have lived and continue to live a very courageous life. Ordinary courage, in Brene Brown parlance. I used to feel fearless. I am the one in community who tends to see things first. I have not been afraid to say the truth. Now I am.

    Yes, it’s high time we started talking about this. I thank Thorn for opening up this dialog, deeply disturbing though it’s been for me. As I told Thorn in a private email, I have been talking about this for 8 years, and I feel I have been severely punished for doing so.

    I bless and honor any of you who have the courage to take this on. It’s way past time. Me? You can find me in my garden or with my grandchildren or with my very small but trusted circle. I am one powerful and experienced Witch, but I am done with “community.” It is true that paganism eats their leaders alive. I refuse to be on the buffet table any longer.

    • Christopher

      Madelon,
      This is an extremely old problem as I recll even thirty years back the pressure of if you were not doing enough sex or enough different kinds, then you were not Pagan enough.

      The pressure on women was enough to cause Isaac Bonewits made it part of many of his workshops back in the early 1980s right along with the idea of paid clergy. Back then almost no one would talk about it and it was not taken as a serious problem by most of the men at the time. That made it hard for the women to get any results when they brought it up for discussion. Yes tere was a certain hippy like fascination with having sex ust to be doing it. You just brought another area of pressure, but I am not surprised.

      Any for of pressure to have sex is predatory as is any form of suggestive touching. No one should feel it is necessary to be part of the community or part of a tradition and it is not part of Wican training or any other kind. It is as natural to limit sex to what is right for you as the other end to test the boundaries, provided you do not pressure anyone.

      One does not have to be a Pagan to have an orgy, I recall a couple as a young man. But over time it became unfulfilling. But in all cases I have believed that a person has a right to change their mine and say no at any stage, that includes in bed. I have had that happen, while I may have been disappointed there was no question in my mind that, without free open particpation of the other person, it would not be worth doing.

      So yes this is a subject that should be brought with all new people, regardless of gender or sexual persuasion. We need to teach our children too that no one has a right to touch you anywhere that you don’t want and that saying no to an adult is their right in such matters because their body is sacred and to report back to the parents anyting something bothers them. Then we must listen and pay attention and support and protect them.

  48. Galatea

    Hey Thorn- Thank you so much for writing this. The Sabre situation shook me to the core: Almost a decade ago, he and I were intimate friends and occasional magical partners. He was one of my witchy go-to people and somebody I cared for deeply. Around when the problems everybody noticed started, our relationship got strained, mostly because I directly confronted him about how I was disappointed in how he was treating his partner and it didn’t go well. When all these terrible revelations happened, I felt sick and cold knowing that I had let such a damaged, predatory person into my life, my energy, and my body. It shook my faith and frankly I haven’t quite recovered, even though it’s been a few years now.

    An important part of moving past it personally, for me, I think, will come to be seeing it acknowledged in this way. Thank you for that.

  49. Sylvia

    Talking about all of this with an old friend who left paganism 35 years ago, partly because of an abuse situation, I remarked that this stuff seems to occur across all strata of society, all cultures, all religions. Why do humans have such a hard time dealing with sex and sexuality? And she said she thought it was because it, like birth and death, is a mystery, and unlike other animals, we are conscious of that and we don’t know what to make of it.

    Maybe this is a stage in our evolution, as we are faced with the creative/destructive power of the universe. Or maybe I am just having a moment of futile optimism…

    • Riverstone

      I had a most powerful experience in my Solitary practice. I would latter learn it was the equivalent to Kensho in Zen and it had touches of Tibetan Tantra. These things occurred because of my honest, genuine practice. The moment I allowed “other” Pagans in. I found dogmatism, a lack of respect for individual direct experience, “fluffy bunny” name calling. In essence, abuse. I had never met such mega-neurosis. Yet in truth this fundamentalism was on the rise within all aspects of our society. I was wounded by Paganism because I expected better. It is good rich soil to talk of these things. I was saddened and deeply wounded by Pagan zeal and dogmatism. Since 1987 I have been on my own path. Nothing fruitful happens until the ego shields crack, and sometimes that only happens on the brink of disaster. May you all know the trembling fear and peace offered by vulnerability. May you all know peace and kindness. It takes a warrior to be vulnerable.

  50. Sara Amis

    OK, first off I want to say that I appreciate you posting this, I appreciate the letter you sent and appreciate the ways in which you intervened in the situations you mentioned. You could have stepped back, but didn’t. You deserve credit for that.

    However, I would also have to say that some of your comments in that situation also cast doubt on the most credible witness to Sabre’s behavior we had. The behavior and comments of some other people…a couple of whom have commented on this post…can only be described at silencing. People were told in so many words to shut up, be quiet, to not bring the issue to the rest of the tradition. As you mentioned, at least one person who was at the hearing defended him…but that person wasn’t the only one.

    I think your instinct to talk generally about how to address such issues going forward is a good one. But in order to do that, we have to acknowledge the truth of what happened, and not gloss over it. I don’t see the usefulness of bringing up the behavior of a dead man who, whatever his flaws as a human being, is beyond accountability from us. I’m rather more interested in the accountability of people who are now, as we speak, still presenting themselves as leaders in the community. I’m most particularly interested in keeping the kind of scape-goating and rug-sweeping which went on at the time from happening again, anywhere. I have some thoughts about this which are too lengthy for a comment on a blog, but they boil down to this: Rape culture is a real thing, and it’s a cultural pattern so powerful that people can find themselves perpetuating it even with the best of intentions. The only way to keep that from happening is to learn to recognize it when you see it, speak up against it when you can, and acknowledge it when you fail…you as an individual, or you as a community. I would describe the situation with Sabre as having mixed results. People did intervene, and he did eventually go to jail. But a whole lot of bad behavior (including some silencing and rape apologetics) was on display in the meantime, from a group of people who surely should have known better. But “should have” butters no bread. How do we, as a community, learn to know better?

    • Sara Amis

      To clarify: I am not suggesting you shouldn’t have brought up your own experiences. I am speaking of the attempts by others to somehow blame someone who was never Sabre’s teacher and who was deceased by the time this all happened for Sabre’s behavior. If anyone can be blamed for his behavior other than Sabre, then that would be the people who actually DID teach him and bring him into the community…in some cases, hiring him to do work and recommending him to others.

      • Thorn

        “I am not suggesting you shouldn’t have brought up your own experiences. I am speaking of the attempts by others to somehow blame someone who was never Sabre’s teacher and who was deceased by the time this all happened for Sabre’s behavior.”

        Thanks for clarifying, though I actually got that from your original comment. I agree with you, Sara. Much was said and done that obfuscated what was actually wrong, IMO.

        One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in these discussions, as far as I know, is how do we as individuals get clear on how our personal emotional needs can muddy up very serious situations? I know the ways in which I attempt to do this.
        Talking to people in the throes of their own emotional triggers or agendas can feel difficult if not impossible, which makes accountability and helping one another see when boundaries have been crossed or actions/words are anti-helpful a more difficult process.

        • Sara Amis

          Well…we’re witches, aren’t we? Ground and center. Feel where tension in your own body mirrors what is being said. Know yourself well enough to know that you may not be reasonable on some subjects…and what they are.

          I am one of the people who felt there was something seriously “off” about Sabre, before he demonstrated it for everyone. Did I know he was a pedophile? No, or I would have called the cops. But I found him sufficiently off-putting that I disinvited him to the online chats I was having at the time. He pinged my crazy-ometer, basically, and was self-aggrandizing in a way that sent up big flappy red flags. For one example, the handle he gave himself was “feriborn” and he would talk about being “fated” to be one of us. Now, lots of us talk that way at times…we feel a strong pull to the tradition or we wouldn’t be here, and I’ve noticed that a super-strong identification with the tradition seems to be a stage that people go through. But there was zero acknowledgement that this might be a common experience or feeling, and also a strong sense of entitlement. Even more wary-making, he talked as if his conviction that he “belonged” in Feri should automatically and obviously be shared by anyone he met. It went beyond the normal egotism of a 20-something into the realm of unhealthy narcissism.

          It’s possible I am more attuned to how people reveal themselves in how they speak because analyzing rhetoric is part of what I do for my day job. It’s also possible he talked that way in front of me because he didn’t think I was anyone “important.”

          Some people at the time opined that he must have had encouragement in order to confide in the people he did confide in…in other words, they must have been guilty too. I think all he needed was to feel like he had more power through the friends he had made, that his confidante wasn’t “important” enough to hurt him and wouldn’t be believed. Fortunately, he was ultimately wrong. Less fortunately, he was almost right.

          One of my friends (who is a clinical psychologist) made the observation recently that situations like this often revolve around dysfunctional power dynamics, which are of course endemic in society. We do have tools to address that, at least, if we will use them. But it’s hard, and doesn’t stop being hard.

  51. Christopher Blackwell

    On recent perps and crimes in our community

    Our reaction may more important than what happened to catch our attention. How we choose to react can make things better or make them worse. The crime is more important than the perp who committed it, the victims of the crime are more important than the perp, and the question of “What can I as an individual can do?” is the most important fact of all.

    First and foremost those victims need to be granted the right to make all the decisions on how much they talk about what happen and how much they choose to stay quiet. With a predator their rights have been horribly violated. So we have to allow them to be silent when need be and to listen when they decide they must talk. But it must be on their terms.

    The blame game solves nothing and we will face this type of situation again. So the question is what can we do to stop it sooner, and to get the perps banned from our groups and festivities to protect other naive people?

    Second what can we teach or new people to help protect them? I would start with telling them to be just as careful of any stranger in the Pagan community as in any other community. Meet in a very public place, have your own transportation, and if anything feels wrong leave. Preventing the trouble from happening will always cost less than healing recovering after it happens. Never do something that makes you uncomfortable in the name of learning your religion or traditions. If the first meeting goes well but a later meeting makes you feel uncomfortable, then leave, don’t second guess yourself.

    We need to give support to all that are hurt. This includes actual victims but it also includes what the military call collateral damage, innocent bystanders. That will be family, members of the groups the perp was in, even those in the religions and tradition they were in. It is time to circle the wagons with our support of everyone in the community that was hurt. We have to pull together and protect the innocent.

    Now we can start paying more attention to what is going on around us. If something seems wrong, ask around and see if anyone else feels something is wrong and decide what to do about it. What bothers me most, about the cases coming to light, is how long people kept quiet, or sweep the problem under the rug in the name of protecting the community. That protected the perp created more victims and did the most damage to our community possible.
    You will note that I will not use a perp’s name. Why? Because from what I have seen most criminals love to read about themselves, enjoy the fame regardless of the crime. So I believe we should ignore the perp beyond mentioning the arrest, then the sentence given out by the jury, then never mention the perp again.

    I don’t want or need to know the perp’s life history, I don’t care about how the perp might have had a rough life, or may have been mistreated when the perp was younger. None of that justifies the crime. We all have bad stuff that has happened to us, but that does not excuse doing bad stuff to others, we are not required to spread the bad around and by not doing so, we make the world a bit better place.

    Again the only important question is “What can each of us do to either prevent such things, or end them sooner, and provide support where needed? That is our job as members of a community? Without that personal responsibility, the word community is a joke.

    If anyone finds any idea that is useful or even the entire quote, feel free to pass it on.

    Blessed Be,

    Christopher

  52. Swansister

    Thorn, where can I find your three essays on the Frosts? I saw mention of them but did not locate them on your old LJ blog.

    Thanks,

    Swan

  53. vs-f

    Like many others in our community, I came to Paganism from Roman Catholicism. It was there that people who are dear to me became victims of predatory priests and were again victimized by the clerical power structure that did everything it could to protect the perpetrators, all in the name of “not scandalizing the faithful.”

    I can only speak from what I have observed in those who were targeted by predators. That abuse is like a pebble dropped into a glassy pond. The initial event ripples outward in all directions, bringing hurt and damage not only to the individual, but to that person’s family members, friends, and the institutions to which that person belonged. I have seen injured persons be so filled with bitterness and suppressed rage that family bonds have been destroyed in the process. I know some who cannot tolerate even the most peripheral mention of such things as religion, faith, church, priests, liturgies and the like. Those of us who love those victims can’t make it better and often our reaching out to them simply triggers more pain in them.

    That abuse also occurs in our Pagan community grieves and angers me. I’ve heard people say that so-and-so was just being his eccentric self and why get uptight about it. Back in my Catholic days the phrasing was a little different — oh, it’s just seminarians horsing around with the boys at summer camp, or oh it’s just Father O’Malley being extra friendly to those Jones boys whose parents are divorced — but the reality was the same as what is presently being discussed in the Pagan world. And, I fear the downstream effects will be the same.

    Sometimes people in my circles get tired of my talking about boundaries all the time. But boundaries are important and so is respect for them. If we have events where children and other potentially vulnerable people are participating, then we do need to have good boundaries in mind. And we need not to be afraid to police those boundaries as needed and let those who breach them know they are no longer welcome.

    I often speak of Paganism as the “big tent” religion, which often attracts people who cannot find a home elsewhere for a whole wide range of reasons. I’m glad there’s room in the tent for you and me and other seekers. But I don’t want this big tent besmirched by some who would take advantage of our sex-positive ethos and use it to justify predatory behavior.

    • Tzipora

      Thank you. We need to have more discussions about healthy boundaries. Many, many, more.

  54. Douglas Helvie

    I wish to insert some thoughts here. On the flip side of all of this publicity and discussion there needs to be something else inserted into the conversation. Over the years I have seen good teachers and leaders in the Pagan/Wiccan community accused of unethical and sometimes illegal things and it all is retribution for the person being dropped from a coven or other training group do to unsuitability in that group only to accuse the teacher (usually) a male of inappropriate advances etc. As a matter of fact here in eastern, NC I and my wife used to sponsor two annual Pagan/Wiccan events via our Wiccan church. We had them on land owned by a woman that was a 3rd Degree in our tradition. Her and her sister that were co-owners of the land was approached by a woman who accused another male practitioner of raping her at a swingers party of all things. Well needless to say the two women believed the woman over the man (even though there was never a police investigation or anything against the man) They just figured that their female friend could not possibly lie because pagan women are not capable of that. And had the man barred from taking place in gatherings on their land. Well needless to say, the little liar finally admitted to her lies. And of course the women still stuck up for her and even allowed the liar to continue coming to the gatherings on their land. Well needless to say my wife and I pulled the sponsorship of our church from these annual events because we actually have the unmitigated gall to believe someone is actually innocent until proven guilty. So the final comment I wish to say is that if we are going to clean up the Pagan/Wiccan community them lets do it from both ends and also ban the drama ridden people that like to lie about people and stir up shit.

  55. Soli

    I will start by saying I have not read all the comments here, but wanted to add something I have been pondering for the last few days. When is greater pagandom and polytheism “big” enough that it is OK to talk about the bad seeds in the community? Something which came to me later is that when we’re at that point, we’re also big enough to sweep it under the rug, a la any mainstream religious community. With the rug removal of the past week it’s becoming clear how much was already under there.

  56. Thorn

    One comment I was waiting for finally arrived. Oberyn Kunning, the person who reported Benjamin Sangraal/Sabre has told his story over at his blog.

    You may read it here:

    http://bigpapafae.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/the-ordeal/

    Oberyn, I thank you for your perseverance and for telling this story. May truth continue to come to light, illuminating us all.

    • Thorn

      Reminder: I have been thanking everyone for telling their stories, whether I agree with everything in the story, or not. Whether I see things the same way, or not.

      These stories need to come out. I don’t agree with everything in Oberyn’s statement, just as I don’t agree with many things in many other comments I’ve allowed to stand in this space.

      We all feel these wounds, in some way or another. My hope is that letting a variety of stories see the light of day, the sunlight will help us to disinfect and heal.

      Deep thanks to all of you. To all of us.

×

Comments are closed.