Paganism Loses Its Innocence

Every day for a week now, I wake up and the world in my view wears the adornments of anger, guilt, fear, and shame as the story of Kenny Klein's arrest unfolds, new stories emerge, heated debates arise, and once again the Pagan community is given the challenging task of coming to a new level of maturity, as Stifyn Emris notes. 

So much thoughtful reading and healthy conversation is emerging from this, and with every passing day I continue to direct my energy toward restoration for all victims, Justice, and ways for our community to come to a stronger place of integrity around the issue of sexual predation. I have been grateful for Shauna Aura Knight's blade of discernment around being well-boundaried as well as sex-positive. I had a lot of respect for T. Thorn Coyle's choice to show a rarely-seen glimpse into her own past and some very strong statements. I found great value in Tim Titus' perspectives, and call to action for each and every Pagan event to have a powerful statement (with actual teeth!) against sexual misconduct, at least for starters. 

There is a miasma of deep discomfort that frequently derails otherwise solemn discussions of sexual misconduct everywhere in our society. People tend to shy away from the topic, and handle it badly. Mention the word "rape" and watch the room clear. Or worse, the horrible jokes start trotting out in an immature response to discomfort. I have written about this before, and how the phenomenon speaks to a larger problem in our cultural attitudes toward sexuality.

But what makes this more difficult is that so much of modern Neo-Paganism is rooted in an imaginary world that is a mishmosh of slippery mythic tropes. Festivals are supposed to feel like a sort of cinematic riot of colorful fairy folk with body modifications having sex with nymphs and fauns in a forest-like RenFaire setting where everyone is glamorously beautiful and smells good, even when they don't, right? Even when we are in a stuffy hotel full of polyester, recycled air, and plastic trinkets, right? 

When we speak up in those spaces, or limit ribald jokes about breasts and maidenhood, or ask everyone to adhere to a strict policy of respectful sexual conduct, or anything else that places a clear boundary on certain activities, well, it kinda pops the bubble on the illusion, doesn't it? It doesn't quite mesh with the fairytale vibe, where everyone is free and everything is pure and safe, and oh-yay-we-are-now-far-away-from-that-other-world-of-rules-ensconced-in-our-plastic-or-woodland-illusion.

When we are living in that world of make-believe as individuals, it then seems easier to do something, or allow something to be done to you, that you would not otherwise permit. 

When we are all only ever living in that world of make-believe as a community, it seems easier to allow someone's magnetism, magical presence, lure of lore, or other sleights-of-hand to impress us sufficiently to make allowances for behaviors we might otherwise deem "odd" or "creepy."

Because it's all just imaginary, right? 

No, it's not. Maybe it was, or is, for some. But Paganism and this community are actually my life. And your life. Our real lives and real selves. And we need to bring all of ourselves to the table. I like to be playful as much as the next person, but I also know when playtime is over and when I need to engage some other aspect of my consciousness, like boundaries, discernment, courage, contracts, and ethics.

The world of make believe can actually be very dangerous when these other aspects of consciousness are stifled. Yet, as Starhawk notes in The Spiral Dance, part of magical play is engaging child consciousness and allowing ourselves to think beyond the scope of evidentiary or phenomenal reality. Occasionally, and for some frequently, this is backed up by direct experience. For some, it causes a kind of madness, a disconnect at a fundamental level.

So how do we connect with the magical Inner Child without losing sight of boundaries, discernment, courage, contracts, and ethics?

How do we, as a community, choose to put aside the illusion of innocence of the fact that sexual predation is a very real issue that affects more of us than we care to acknowledge?

We grow up. We learn to play like adults. We learn to set aside make believe when what is at stake is the safety of the vulnerable. We learn to see past the illusion of the imaginary fantasy world to the leering carnies running the machines, and to stand up and say, "NO."

What I see emerging here is a collective disgust that Kenny Klein led people like rats to the river, playing into one of our very deepest cultural fears and woundings, and that he did it all by being a Pied Piper. He literally chose to live one of his fairy tales to the fullest, worst ends.

I do not want to be led to the river like a rat, nor like an unsuspecting child, and I refuse to be taken in by the imaginary when it comes to sexual ethics in our community. I base my view of reality on direct experience and facts. I base my mythic consciousness on stories. I know the difference. I act accordingly. I do not worry about being a drag, a wet blanket, or a prude. I do not worry about what people will think of my insistence upon safety criteria in magical environments, particularly for the vulnerable.

In CAYA Coven, though we are a very accepting, open, and welcoming community that appreciates the divinity in everyone, we will still kick someone out if they act in a sexually, verbally, or physically abusive or predatory manner. This policy has teeth. We have used it. It has meant that, at times, I am called a bitch, an ice queen, and overly authoritarian. I am able to stand there and take it.  Any of us is, if we are committed to holding safety for the vulnerable at our center and refusing to budge on that issue.

We also learn ways to connect safely with our magical selves, our Inner Children. We learn to acknowledge them from our Now Selves, and cultivate healthier relationships with them. My Inner Child at this time is no longer the wounded victim endlessly repeating and reliving a cycle of abuse in my relationships. My new Inner Child is the Maiden that never was, in a way, because the first time I was molested I was 4 years old. Under the guise of someone telling me we were playing pretend. 

There is a kind of dirty feeling that you get as a child when this happens, a loss of innocence, and there is hardly ever any relief from it in this life unless you choose to hit a very clear reset button on your consciousness. I decided as an adult woman that I wanted to experience the feelings of innocence that I had not enjoyed as a child, and I set up a series of practical and magical activities in my life that gave me safe access to those feelings: crafting projects, tea parties with friends, picnics in the children's cemetery. In other words, I deliberately programmed myself over time to have a happier Inner Child than I used to have. My former Inner Child was afraid of everything, with good reason.

I have the luxury of a cultivated innocence, but it is only a part of me, and I do not abandon any other part of myself when I chose to engage that. Paganism itself will do well to do the same. 

My Inner Child also knows when it's time to go take a nap and allow my Now Self to do the work required to keep her, and all beings around me, safe.  I keep the Mother's watchful eye over my Inner Child. In fact, there are times when I keep the Queen's Guard watching over my Inner Child. There have been times when my inner Wise Crone took my Inner Child aside and said, "Honey, don't disrespect yourself like that. Put your clothes back on and leave. Now." 

It's a different kind of innocence that I have created for myself, as an adult. It is not a world where the fairy tales drive my narrative and where I cannot trust what should be trustworthy. I envision, and actually work toward, a world where the adults create sustainable, appropriate,  safe spaces for magical play for themselves, and their children, mindfully. It is a place where boundaries, discernment, courage, contracts, and ethics are present in the ground of being, and fairy tales are mutually-agreed-upon enjoyments rather than the heart of the work. It is a place where we play AS we also REALLY do the work.

I wonder if the Pagan Community is willing to go ahead and lose its innocence, this fairy-tale illusion, for the sake of doing the work, laying better foundations, and thus creating REAL MAGIC in the world...namely, creating a world, at least among ourselves, where no one is sexually subjugated or violated and where the vulnerable are protected.