Abuse Within Paganism - A Taboo Topic?
We must make those who think that Paganism tolerates abusive, controlling behaviour aware that they have no place within our traditions.
If you are a member of the Pagan community (whatever that means to you - we'll discuss community later), then you may well remember when a well know witch published a blog post that talked about the abuse she'd suffered from within the Pagan community. The post did cause a little bit of a stir. It made the snippets of the popular Pagan outlets, and aside from a few private blog posts from other Pagans and witches, not much more was said.
That woman was Sarah Anne Lawless, and you can read that particular blog post here.
Sarah's story kind of touched a cord with me. You see, many years ago, a close family member of mine was herself in an abusive relationship, and I guess I saw a few similarities between Sarah and my family member. Both are strong, fierce women. Fiery and quick to speak their minds. I would hear people question why my family member would stay with the woman beater? She's a strong woman, why did she put up with it? Why try to hide it? Maybe she likes it, you would hear people say, even other women. And so when I saw those same things said or implied about Sarah, it made me realise, though I suppose I already knew it anyway, that this topic is one that spans all divides.
Curious to discover how things had turned out for her, I recently called Sarah, and we had a chat about what's been done since first airing her experiences.
And the truth is, disappointingly little.
In fact, that wouldn't be the worst of it. Not only has Sarah been all but shunned by those communities she thought she was a member of, but her businesses have been attacked, with anonymous reports to various agencies about the products she makes and sells. The platforms which enable her to sell those items have also received anonymous reports and have even been suspended in some cases.
And all because she dared to highlight her instances of abuse within the Pagan community, by some of those within it.
I asked her what kind of reaction had she gotten from others, generally speaking. She replied:
“It's been a bit of a mixed bag. Some have been sympathetic. And from others, mostly men, I've either had complete denial or a misunderstanding.”
I also asked if other victims had reached out to her.
''Yeah, many have, sharing their stories with me. Only one other came forward to the police though, but here that's not enough to carry forward an investigation. But I also get why others didn't come forward, look what’s happened to me. And who am I or anyone else to try to force these women to do something they don't want to, especially after the trauma they've already faced. If it helps them, sharing their stories with me, then that's a good thing.”
And she's been all but ignored by Pagan media outlets too.
''I've been in touch with a couple of different places, but after initial contact, I haven't really heard back from any of them.''
Indeed, here in the UK, it's not been much of a story. It's almost like there's a wall of silence, or perhaps a wall of ignorance around the whole affair, and for me, this must lead us to question why.
Is there a Problem? What can we do?
So is there a problem with Paganism and how we respond to abuse claims? I think there is, and there obviously seems to have been many issues and problems in Sarah's case.
I find the biggest problem is that Paganism seems to operate in its own atmosphere, away from the general rules we might ordinarily apply in real life. So, in the everyday world, if a woman, or anyone else for that matter, came forward with claims of abuse, those claims would be investigated. We would expect them to be.
I also think the fact that the word 'community' doesn't really cover what it actually means to be a Pagan. The draw for many is the lack of uniformity, the freedom and independence to believe and worship however they see fit.
Take a moment to consider the many differing forms of Paganism, and then all the subsets and categories and regional differences and that's without considering those who might be solitary or eclectic. When we consider Paganism in this way, it becomes understandable as to why defining a Pagan community becomes difficult. There is no one set of beliefs. There is no right or wrong way to worship.
And so if there is no community, how then can we begin to tackle the issue of abuse? By calling it out, whenever we witness it or are made aware of it, that’s how. And from that call out, investigations must occur, and then the appropriate action taken. We must not close ranks, afraid that any truth may corrupt our beliefs. Instead we should root it out so it doesn't corrupt or spoil the hard work and dedication that others have put in. We should expel it like the pestilence it is.
And abuse can be insidious. It can be incorporated into the very foundations of an order or tradition. There's nothing stopping anyone from setting up any kind of group, and I really do cherish that freedom, but with it comes the responsibility to call out and report abusers. If an abuser happens to be an elder or someone with a respected position within a tradition, this shouldn't exclude them from any investigation or punishment if necessary. They should not be allowed to slip off the grid and start up elsewhere.
We should not excuse shitty behaviour because the one being a shit also happens to be some sort of leader, or someone with that kind of power, or has followers who look up to them. If anything, it is imperative that such types are called out and reported. We should call out fakelore where we see it, and let's be honest, you come across it quite often in the Pagan sphere.
We also need our Pagan writers and journalists to not fear tackling such subjects. Of course there is that line, that is to not portray someone as guilty when they have not been convicted and all of that, but we must also tackle those stories and bring those issues to the fore. We need writers and journalists who are unbiased and tell the truth. We need publications to talk about these claims when they arise, and also about the issues that may arise because of them.
I will take a moment to just say a word or two about those accusations that are false, that are made out of malice and badness, that are untrue and told to inflict maximum damage. As damaging as they may be, those false reports do not detract from the truth of most claims. Those who make those false claims should also be held to account, but then it all comes back to taking the time to investigate thoroughly all abuse claims.
We must make those who think that Paganism tolerates abusive, controlling behaviour aware that they have no place within our traditions. Doing so will only strengthen them. Doing nothing will lead to their fall.
We are witches and occultists and brujas and so much more. We have the power to make our crafts and traditions what we want them to be. Let them be places where abusers find no solace. Let's do ourselves justice.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
You can follow Emma on Facebook.