I wrote this three part series after teaching at the wonderful Florida Pagan Gathering several years ago - 2009, I believe. They've been sitting in my old LiveJournal account. Given recent events, it seemed prudent to offer them a more visible home. I would likely write them differently today, but will leave them as they are.
Also, this recent piece felt like Feet of Clay (part 4). We all have feet of clay. Myself included.
Thank you for reading. I hope this series is useful to our ongoing discussions about ethics, both personal and in community.
- T. Thorn Coyle, April 2014
Feet of Clay parts One and Two.
Feet of Clay part Four.
Edit: I link to the contested text in an addendum at the bottom of Part 3.
The Frosts are old school. In a few ways, they remind me of Victor Anderson. And even though people may disagree with their take on it, they have a deep love of the Craft. Gavin also has a strong anti-Christian bias which comes out in the podcast, and I overheard Yvonne talking of "that dirty Gregory" meaning Pope Gregory of Gregorian calendar fame. You know, the one many of us currently use. They also don't seem to like to explain themselves. Victor was this way too, never wanting to tell whether he got this idea from Margaret Murray or that one from his own spiritual explorations. We had to figure it out on our own, or take everything at his word. He was also a trickster teacher. I don't know if the Frosts are or not, as I have not studied them very well.
There is also the outsider status they seem to promulgate. In the podcast, you will hear Yvonne speak of "locking our shields" though I am not sure against what or whom. I can respect this, given where they have come from and the trials they must have faced over the years. I also don't think it is the reality most of us live with these days, as Paganism has become one of the fastest growing religions in the US and Australia and even Christians are marketing videotapes with breathing exercises. We may still be discriminated against, but in many other ways, the culture war has been won.
All of this maundering is simply me trying to put together the complex picture of these people who have taught thousands and remained on the very fringes of Paganism for all these years because so many just don't want to deal with them. Some people no longer even know who they are, yet others go to hear them speak at festivals. The only reason I am writing about them now was I happened to be at a festival with them and then decided to invite them onto the panel.
I am struggling with the Frosts. Struggling because it would be too easy to do as others have which is to demonize them or relegate them to the "sweet old couple." They are something far more varied than either of these. Some people want to sweep them under a rug, but I do not think they should be ignored.Why? We need to figure out our theolog(ies). We need to know where we stand on sex. Many of us would still rather just suppress it like the overculture teaches us, because abuse may happen otherwise, or we may need to deal with our own demons. I say that abuse happens because of the suppression. Our demons grow stronger the more we constrict around our fears. Abuse happens when we don't deal with our own sexuality, and we don't teach our children about their own. And abuse sometimes just happens. And if nothing else, we end up prey to the media that uses degraded sexuality to attempt to coerce us into buying more things out of insecurity. And we are made to feel badly about our glorious bodies because we do not have airbrushed thighs and six-pack abs.
Many of us would rather just suppress sex in favor of the cleaned up phrase of "life force" because we don't want to deal with our own complex emotions around pleasure, and sexual wounding, and emotional pain, and vulnerability and the very real, potent power that tapping into love, lust, sex and life force brings. Sex is not just genital pleasure, but it is not just the trees rooting into earth, either. It is all of this, and more. Our orgasms sing along with the stars in the sky. We are all part of the processes of creation, destruction, and rebuilding.
If sex is sacred, we need to figure out how that translates and is reflected in our own lives, and in how we pass on that teaching.
And this is why, Gavin and Yvonne, as two people who have taught many others, I wish you would explain. Or I wish you would retract. Or I wish you would apologize. We could use discerning words from you instead of simply a shut down or blustering defense, or the insistence that those who disagree with you are "plastic".
Gavin, when you brought up AJ Drew on the panel, you said you stand by what you wrote 30 years ago, and this troubles me as much as his plan to ritually sacrifice your images did. It is why I mumbled a sleep-deprived non-sequitur about consent in there somewhere - because I had no desire to derail the panel into an off topic shouting match about sexual ethics. Though come to think of it, that might have been entertaining. But shouting matches are not what I'm about. I would rather engage in dialog. But I do not know if you are interested. Are you? I asked you two about your controversial nature over dinner because I was hoping to hear something in your own words, but felt like things got a bit cagey. So I'll ask a couple more questions now:
What do you really think, today, about the sexual education of children? Is sex between adolescents with adults really the best way they should learn these mysteries? How did you teach your own daughter to appreciate the powers of sex, love, and Nature?
I know what I hope your answers are. I hope you will say that those words written almost 40 years ago were a thought experiment that you have since rethought. That children should be taught their bodies are sacred, should be talked with about sexuality, pleasure, and reproduction in various age appropriate ways, and then left to sexual exploration with others of their own age group, with parents around to answer still more questions when the time does arrive. Oh, and that heterosexuality is not the only sacred option.
And how about the rest of my readers? What do you think about your own relationship to sex? To magic? To life force? To our process? To mistakes? To feet of clay? To your own regrets? To the sacred? To teaching our children?
Thanks for bearing with me, and reading to the end of this long, three part post. We need to embrace the challenges that face us. There is, as always, a lot more that could and perhaps should, be said. There is a lot of conversation to be had about leadership, holding teachers accountable, and about sex, theology, and training in general. Hopefully we have a long time to help each other figure some of it out.
[Edit: I should mention that recent editions of this book now have a brief introduction to the chapter in question in which it is stated: "No formal initiation into a group that practices the great rite should be done before the candidate attains the age of eighteen." However, as an author myself, I feel that a thorough explanation of why they would have included initiatory instructions for pubescent youths in their book in the first place would have been merited. Or, as an author, I would have stricken these pages from later editions of my book. To have done neither feels less than responsible to their students and readers. My apologies for not mentioning this before, but because of the layout of the book, I completely missed this brief introduction upon first reading.]
Addendum: The recording of the panel can be found at Elemental Castings. Scroll down to #19.
Addendum #2 (April 4, 2014):
For those who want to read the contested text for themselves without buying the Good Witch's Bible (formerly the Witch's Bible) I found it online. While the latest edition has a brief chapter disclaimer saying that no one under 18 is to be initiated, the Frosts have still not retracted or changed these chapters that clearly advocate sex with minors: