Today, the revelation of accusations of child molestation against the late Ar nDraiocht Fein founder Isaac Bonewits hit the Pagan community.
This comes in the wake of the conviction of Kenny Klein, a prominent figure in Blue Star Wicca, ongoing concern about Pagan sexual culture provoked by the likes of the Frosts, and community discussion about violation of boundaries and consent at Pagan conferences and gatherings.
It is also, of course, currently in the context of the #MeToo movement, which has brought countless women forward with their own stories and acknowledgement that they, too, have been harrassed and/or assaulted…and concerns on the part of some about how, exactly, due process can be observed in relation to accusations against alleged abusers, when the allegation alone is enough to convict them in the eyes of much of the public.
It’s a thorny problem. I don’t pretend to have an answer to it. Certainly expectation of silence on the part of abuse victims is unacceptable.
I don’t know if the accusations against Bonewits are true. I met him a couple of times, but didn’t know him. And I know that those around him are saying that is not the kind of man he was. We will never know his version of events.
Still, his accuser was a victim of abuse at the hands of her parents, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen. Breen died in prison after being convicted of child molestation. It is hard to imagine why she would invent this story for the sake of a book.
It is also true that the accuser is a right-wing, anti-gay Christian who must certainly feel antipathy for Pagans in general.
It is hard to know where to land in a situation like this. I’m as baffled as anyone else. My predilection is to believe accusers; my sense of fairness says that those accused are innocent until proved guilty.
The takeaway for our particular community, however, is clear to me.
First of all, we need to root this shit out. It is simply unacceptable to have sexually predatorial behavior in our community. And that means clear policies at events and gatherings about affirmative consent, and firm consequences for anyone—ANYONE, no matter how revered or well known—who violates them.
But secondly, we need to formally bury the sexual values of our community’s roots.
Let me explain.
Modern Paganism’s roots go back farther than the 1960s, but it was during that tumultuous time that the movement grew dramatically, formalized in various ways such as the creation of organizations and new traditions, and acquired many of the recognizable names we now associate with Pagan leadership. The values of the so-called Sexual Revolution brought on by the confluence of the introduction of the contraceptive Pill and the counterculture’s rejection of mainstream puritanical mores deeply informed the Pagan upsurge of the late Sixties and Seventies.
And Pagan community was about as extreme in its sexual libertarianism at that time as any element of society we might choose to examine. Sex was good! It was healthy, it was freedom, it was…well, in reality it was a male-dominated free-for-all with nonexistent boundaries and little sense of responsibility. Under the banner of breaking with mainstream society as “sex positive”, Pagan circles were rife with unwelcome advances and outright assault (many of which may not have been recognized as such at the time).
This is where the Pagan community came from, in terms of sexual values, and that mentality persisted, pretty much, until the awareness of the ubiquity of inappropriate advances and the necessity of affirmative consent finally crept in starting in the 2000s.
That is where we got our start. Despite the rose-colored remembrances of those who lived through it, it was not a magical time of free and easy sex without consequences. It was a fool’s paradise, and sometimes a nightmare for women.
It is time to formally declare that the sexual values of the Sixties are dead. They weren’t idyllic, they weren’t victimless, and they weren’t of forward-thinking consciousness. We have learned a lot since, and it is that learning that needs to be the bedrock foundation of our community’s sexual practices and behavior.
Now, will that be less “fun”?
Only to those who are in the habit of harassment and assault.
Asking permission may seem awkward. It requires courage and a willingness to face rejection. But just steamrollering past the consent phase is abusive. It just is.
Let that be the “Pagan way”. Let the seeking of affirmative consent and the accepting of what we receive by way of an answer be what we mean when we say we are “sex-positive”. Anything less is being “assault positive”, and we have had more than enough of that.
And it goes without saying that minors can’t consent. Not to adults. I don’t have a problem with 16-year-olds discovering their sexuality together, but I have a BIG problem with a 25-year-old hitting on a teenager. Much less a 40-year-old.
Some have suggested that the inevitable endpoint of the #MeToo movement is a return to puritanical, anti-sex repression. I disagree. I think it’s finally doing the laundry, and clearing out the nasty stuff in the cupboards. And if we conduct ourselves with integrity, we will have far less abuse and harassment in our community going forward.
Now, does this mean that men who misbehaved because they thought it was okay are going to get strung up for things they did decades ago?
Yes, unfortunately, it does. And I can accept in limited cases (certainly not in cases involving minors) the plea that “it was a different time”.
But it’s a different time than that now.
The Sixties are dead, and good riddance.
Long live the 21st century!
Note: this piece was edited to correct a statement that Kenny Klein was a founder of Blue Star Wicca.