Compassion, Truth, and Bonesetting

Rift on the earth excellent background

I was taught that setting the bone is a crucial part of being a priest/ess, a leader. That sometimes we have to hurt in order to heal. And I was also taught that truth often hurts. We couch so many things in white lies to salve someone’s feelings, to soothe it over, to make it hurt less. But those attempts to ease pain in the short term often cause longer term pain. In essence–sometimes the deepest form of compassion is to say the hard thing. It hurts in the short term, but it heals in the long term.

I’ve written about the Frosts, and I’ve received a number of comments on my Facebook, and private messages, from people who feel that I lack compassion for Gavin Frost’s family by posting some reminders about their writings where they detail an entire chapter on sexual initiation of barely pubescent minors.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion, it’s that I’m not codependent. I’m not responsible for the feelings of the family members, and I certainly am not responsible for the feelings of those who support them somehow despite the horrific things the Frosts wrote. I am sorry that they lost a loved one, and I mean that sincerely. But I’m not going to lie about the Frosts just to make them feel better.

I’m reporting what has happened because it’s important to the broader community to not lie about Gavin Frost. You can’t ethically/honestly/journalistically write an article about a public figure and speak about the awesome stuff they did without speaking about the horrible stuff too. I’m not defaming the Frosts (or any other leader/elder I speak about), I’m speaking to things they wrote in their book or in blog posts, things they said in interviews.

Defamation means telling a lie, speaking an intentional untruth. It’s not defamation to speak the truth. And it’s not speaking ill of the dead to speak the truth of what that person did in their life.
My compassion is for the broader community, for the current future Pagans that need to remember our history so we don’t repeat it, so we don’t continue making space for leaders and authors that harm us.

I’ve not said anywhere that Gavin Frost sexually abused anyone, because I have no proof of that, so saying that would not be the truth. What I’ve said is that the chapter in the book by the Frosts (The Witches Bible and later, The Good Witches Bible) is a how-to manual for sexual abuse. And it’s a chapter, a guide, that Pagan/coven leaders have used or at least tried to use as a template. I personally know several people (and I know of others) who were harmed by coven leaders who were following the teachings of the Frosts.

My compassion is for the victims. My compassion is for all those who come after us who deserve better. My compassion and my love is for the community that (I hope) survives us. And my deepest hope is that this future Pagan community is not riddled with rape culture, misogyny, homophobia, nor with with unethical, harmful leaders. This goes far beyond the Frosts, but they are a part of our past, and sweeping what they wrote and said (and held to) under the rug is a lie.

I’m speaking up because people are eulogizing Gavin Frost without telling the whole story–or without knowing the whole story. What is remembered lives, and we must remember our failings as a community. One of our grossest failings collectively is failing to speak up when something’s wrong.

I don’t believe Gavin Frost was a completely bad person, any more than my ex was completely bad. People are complicated. The labels of “good” and “bad” aren’t really useful. People can do good things, and also bad things. People can be beloved teachers who helped you find your spiritual path, and they can also have taught and promoted some very harmful practices.

If you believe that I’m heartless for posting about the Frosts now, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But the way I was trained was in the magic of the bone-setting, of healing the longer term even if there is pain in the short term. That speaking the truth is healing, though it can hurt. There’s no way I can write about the topics that I do without hurting someone, but I do so with that intention of setting the bone, of longer term healing.

I don’t enjoy writing those posts about our harmful leaders and elders. Those are hard posts to write, and they lead to days of stress dealing with angry comments and hatemail. I lose friends when I post about these things. I lose paid teaching engagements. I don’t write these things without a cost to myself, but I write them because I love my community and I want to see it thrive. I want to see a healthy, sustainable Pagan community.

What is remembered lives, and we must not forget the mistakes of the past or we are doomed to repeat them.

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: Frosts, Gavin Frost, Pagan, Pagan community, Paganism, rape culture, sexual abuse, The Witches Bible

Book Release: Pagan Leadership Anthology

PaganLeadershipAnthologyCover_finalI’m very excited to announce the release of the Pagan Leadership Anthology. Taylor Ellwood invited me to co-edit this anthology with him almost two years ago, and it has finally come to fruition! Helping grow more resources for Pagan leaders is a passion of mine, and this anthology is priceless for all the collected wisdom it offers from many different leaders, many different traditions, and many different perspectives.

As I mention in the introduction of the book, sometimes the advice offered in one essay conflicts with what’s offered in another. The authors don’t always agree with each other, but you’ll still see some common patterns of experiences of what works and what doesn’t. The best part of this anthology, for me, was reading the experiences of the various authors. What they went through, the mistakes they made, and how they grew from them and came to learn better ways of leading.

Most of the authors have offered some version of: “I wish I’d had a resource like this when I was starting out.”


The Pagan Leadership Anthology: An Exploration of Leadership and Community in Paganism and Polytheism

Edited by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood

The words “Pagan Leadership” are often met with scorn and tales of failed groups and so-called Witch Wars. And yet, as our communities grow and mature, we find ourselves in dire need of healthy, ethical leaders. Most Pagans have seen what doesn’t work. But what does?  This anthology features over thirty authors, thirty essays, and decades of leadership experience sharing their failures and successes as leaders as well as showing you how you can become a better Pagan leader. Below is just some of what you will learn when you read this book:

  • Why personal work will help you become a better leader
  • How to become a better communicator
  • When to deal with predators in the community
  • How to resolve conflicts peacefully
  • Why you need bylaws when you build a group
  • And much, much more!

Pagan communities are evolving. To be an effective leader you need to know how to take care of your group and yourself. In this anthology you will get tools and techniques that work and help you become a better leader as well as enrich the overlapping Pagan communities.

The Pagan Leadership Anthology is available as an ebook and in print. Ebook: TBA  Print: $18.99 Immanion Press  | Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Topics include:

Group dynamics, conflict resolution, mentoring, egotism, creating community, burnout, communication, healthy boundaries, delegation, crisis, power, volunteers, personal work, leadership models, bylaws, sustainability, processes, responsibility, ethics, dual relationships, collaboration, scapegoating, visibility, transparency, fears, resentment, self knowledge, discrimination, ageism, exclusion, empowerment, respect, organizations, sovereignty, growth, vision, uprisings, triangulation, service, expectations, projection, betrayal, healing, restorative justice, longevity, tradition, innovation, dedication, teaching, ministry, pride, developing skills, learning, administration, authority, integrity, compassion, social skills, truth, blame, shame, hypocrisy, gossip, safety, harassment, avoidance, tension, problem solving, relationships, transformation, failure, success, strength, sacrifice, support, mistakes, forgiveness, organizing, event planning, outreach, education, transference, professional, self-care, instability, confidentiality, money, equality, partnership, politics, reflection, investment, controversy, challenge, social justice, values, privilege, unity, skill-building, vulnerability, judgment, attitudes, social norms, silence, assumptions, discomfort, accountability, cliques, punctuality, removing members, pedestals, control, weakness, consent, misconduct, infrastructure, fatigue, thriving, complaints, participation, stewardship, structure, confidence, fundraising, feedback, identity, stubbornness, rejection, discernment, inspiration.

Immanion Press is a small independent press based in the United Kingdom. Founded by author Storm Constantine, it expanded into occult nonfiction in 2004 with the publication of Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magick. Today, Immanion’s nonfiction line, under the Megalithica Books imprint, has a growing reputation for edgy, experimental texts on primarily intermediate and advanced pagan and occult topics. Find out more at http://www.immanion-press.com.

Filed under: Leadership Tagged: accountability, assumptions, attitudes, authority, avoidance, betrayal, blame, burnout, bylaws, challenge, cliques, collaboration, communication, compassion, complaints, confidence, confidentiality, conflict resolution, consent, controversy, creating community, crisis, delegation, developing skills, discernment, discrimination, dual relationships, egotism, empowerment, equality, ethics, event planning, exclusion, failure, feedback, forgiveness, fundraising, gossip, group dynamics, harassment, healthy boundaries, hypocrisy, infrastructure, inspiration, instability, integrity, judgment, leadership, leadership models, learning, mentoring, ministry, misconduct, mistakes, money, organizations, organizing, Pagan, Pagan Leadership Anthology, partnership, personal work, politics, power, pride, privilege, problem solving, processes, projection, punctuality, reflection, rejection, removing members, resentment, respect, responsibility, restorative justice, sacrifice, safety, scapegoating, self knowledge, self-care, service, shame, skill-building, social justice, social norms, social skills, Sovereignty, stewardship, structure, sustainability, teaching, tension, thriving, tradition, transference, transformation, transparency, triangulation, values, visibility, vision, volunteers

Aspecting, Trance Possession, and Theology

680723_xlI’ve had a few questions lately related to aspecting and trance possession, so I thought I’d do another couple of posts on the topic, specifically on how to approach aspecting/drawing down when you’re a pantheist, atheist, or generally working with deities as archetypes instead of as polytheistic gods. I also want to get into some of the ecstatic trance techniques I use and how those can be used with aspecting and drawing down.


I wrote a longer series of posts for HumanisticPaganism.com on my general approach to deity and archetype in ritual. I wrote the Pantheism, Archetype, and Deities in Ritual series in response to a request from blogger John Halstead, but also in response to technical/ritual facilitation concerns I had from this article on the Atheopaganism site. My issues aren’t with the theology of the author–they’re with the ritual techniques that work to get people into “the zone.”

But the post does bring up the struggle of working with deities as myths and archetypes when you have an atheistic/humanistic view, because it’s a challenge.

How do you work with these in rituals, how do you still have a powerful ritual, without betraying your theological and philosophical beliefs?

If you want more of a background on my theological approach to ritual, here are links to the whole series of posts. Part 3 goes specifically into my approach on aspecting and trance possession when we’re talking pantheistic archetypes vs. polytheistic deities, but I’ll repeat a bunch of it here in an abbreviated form for context.

I’m a pantheist/archetypist. I’m barely a theist; I have had mystic communion experience with the divine, and specifically, with deity forms, but I see these very much as masks/filters/lenses through which I’m connecting to that larger/incomprehensible whole. I see the archetypes/deities/heroes as stories with a certain amount of invested energetic power. As part of that larger whole. I can’t quite call myself an atheist.

When I teach ritual facilitation, I almost exclusively focus on logistics and techniques. I use ecstatic techniques because they work. Singing, dancing, breathing, drumming…these evoke a trance state. It’s just science.

When I facilitate rituals, I do refer to them as gods and deities, and sometimes by name if we’re working with a particular story, but I usually make it clear before the ritual starts that I don’t really care what someone’s theology is. People can join my rituals if they are polytheists and believe in them as distinct gods, if they are pantheists, if they are atheists who just see them as archetypes. I’m still going to use the word gods for ease of use.

Well–unless it’s a hero story like King Arthur, etc. But in almost all other cases, I’m comfortable using the language of myth and deity because it’s effective. For me, it’s important to let people know that I’m not really trying to teach theology. When I lead a ritual, I’m just trying to get people to “the door,” as it were. I’m not there to tell them what’s past the door, what it looks like. I’m not there to preach my own theology. I’m just trying to help them get to a state of consciousness where they can have a potent experience.

There are several terms for the function of invocation, and they have slightly different nuances. There’s drawing down or invoking, there’s trance possession, and there’s aspecting. Aspecting is a term more often used by Reclaiming, and some other traditions. Aspecting holds the connotation that the human aspecting the deity is in control of the process, and that they aren’t being fully 100% possessed. Whereas trance possession holds the opposite connotation, that the human being the “vessel” or doing the “horsing” is blacking out and not going to remember what the deity did while in their body.

There’s another word I sometimes use, “Embodying,” which is a lighter version of aspecting. I use this when I mean that someone is either doing a light aspect of a deity, or even just speaking (in first person) in the voice of the deity. And, this is something I do for deities (like Hephaestus or Brigid) or more gender-neutral archetypes (The Worker at the Forge) or for hero/story characters (King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake, Merlin).

Terminology is difficult. Even the word “invoking” has different meanings depending upon tradition. The way I learned it through Reclaiming and Diana’s Grove, “invoking” just meant “inviting that spirit/deity/energy into the ritual space” vs. horsing the deity/spirit in someone’s body. We called that aspecting.

Let’s Pretend

The Atheopaganism article offers the idea that atheist Pagans would make it clear that, even if they’re talking about a particular god or goddess, that they make it clear that it’s “just pretend.” My issue with the idea of clearly stating that we’re just pretending is that rituals, and in specific, engaging the trance state, doesn’t work very well with this. You’ll lose a lot of your ritual power if you keep reminding people they are pretending.

One of the most powerful pieces of ritual technique is engaging a trance state, and if you keep reminding people that this is all pretend, you’re going to keep yanking them up out of it.

There’s a ritual axiom I use; don’t use transitions like, “And now we’re gonna raise energy,” or, “And now we’re gonna talk to the mask of god that isn’t a real god, just a mask,” or something else that takes people out of the groove. I personally think that it’s sufficient to lay my own theology out on the table before I facilitate and empower people to make their own choices about how they work with gods/archetypes.

The anthropomorphization of deity, and connecting to those huge forces via a proxy/mask in ritual is incredibly potent. It’s why we have statues and paintings and shrines to deities. It’s why we have ritual theater, it’s why we have aspecting and drawing down in ritual. The science of it is in trance work. When you close your eyes and imagine an experience, your mind can make that experience very real. Hypnotherapists can use this to help people re-imagine and re-remember an old painful memory but with a different outcome. It’s transformative.

Chanting, Trancing, and Ecstatic Techniques

One of the reasons it’s important to work with what gets us into trance, and to not fuss so much about whether or not it’s “real,” is because it’s difficult enough to engage the trance state. If you’re trying to work with a deity or archetype in a ritual and trying to get the group to buy into the concept, if you keep yanking them back, no amount of ecstatic techniques will work because everyone’s going to be self conscious.

One of the major paradoxes of ecstatic ritual is, getting people singing and dancing is one of the most effective ritual techniques. And, it’s one of the most difficult techniques to effect, largely because modern people are so self conscious.

And if you’re trying to use singing and chanting in order to get someone trance possessed/drawing down/aspecting, and you keep pointing out that we’re “just pretending,” you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot.

But what if you want to use some of those techniques for aspecting work? How do you do that? What techniques will work?

I’ll go more into using singing and chanting, and other ecstatic techniques in aspecting in my next post, because that’s a complicated topic all its own.

Filed under: Facilitation, Leadership, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, chanting, deity, drawing down, invocation, Pagan, ritual, trance, trance state, trancework, trancing

Reblog: How To Spot A Spiritual Sexual Predator

I reblog this with some recommendations and some caveats. This post is an excellent overview of many of the red flags of predators within the Pagan community. This is something I’ve written about and talked about at length and I think it’s important for more people to be aware of these dangerous traits.

Here’s one caveat: Many of these red flags are not, on their own, problematic. It’s the constellation of red flags that are the issue, just as with so many other things. The author brings up that sustained eye contact and charismatic behavior is a predatory behavior, and that’s not exactly true; not on its own. So remember–just because some Pagan you know does some of these doesn’t automatically mean they are a predator. Use discernment.

Another caveat: The post is bigoted against polyamory and open relationships. For that reason, I hesitated to share this post, however, the rest of the overview of behaviors is so spot-on that I still find it an excellent resource on spiritual predators. Here’s the thing; just because someone is polyamorous doesn’t mean they are a predator. I’ve seen lots of ethically open relationships. Heck, I’m in one now myself, though it was unexpected. However, where I see poly being predatory is with these additional red flags: When the person is pressuring you to be poly and extolling the virtues of polyamory and how polyamory is better than monogamy, or when the person is telling you they are poly and they’re actually using that as a line to cheat on their partner. Again, use discernment. There’s a big difference between someone new to being polyamorous and enthusiastic about it, and someone who’s trying to manipulate you into a sexually coercive relationship.


 Link to article: How To Spot A Spiritual Sexual Predator

“It surprises me not an iota that a sexual predator would become a prominent new-age guru. The guru-student relationship is fertile land for sexual misbehavior to flourish in. There are too many guru sexual predators to list, but I’ll highlight a few who were exposed relatively recently: John Friend of Anusara Yoga, Bikram Choudury of Bikram Yoga, Eido Shimano Roshi of New York Zen Studies Society, Joshu Sasaki Roshiof Rinzai-ji, Swami Shankarananda of Shiva School Of Meditation And Yoga, and Doug Phillips of Vision Forum….”

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: abus, abuse, leadership, monogamy, polyamory, predators, sexual predators

Blogs and Resources Update

9312433_xlI have been woefully remiss in posting here. It’s probably not much of a surprise to many of you, but I have so many projects going on I tend to get overcommitted. In fact, I’m starting to call 2015 the year of digging out of my overcommitments and making my life more organized and sustainable.

While I haven’t been posting here, I have been doing a lot of writing. I thought I’d do a quick sum-up of some of the articles I’ve written that are available online, and a few other projects I’ve been up to and ways to keep posted on things I’ve written.

One of my personal/spiritual goals is to bring more joy into my life, so to get there, I first have to clean up my email inbox, finish up a lot of my “to do” list that is overdue, and feel like I’m at least somewhat caught up on the various active projects I have going on. I’ll likely be posting more about this process as I go along. I’m not currently at any risk of feeling caught up–however, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve had a number of books that I’ve been laboring on, and if all goes well, a bunch of them will be coming out over the summer and fall.

That being said, I’m still blogging and writing articles, just not always here. I thought I’d post some places you can find more of my writing.

Articles Archive

I’m trying to keep a fairly updated listing of all my published articles over on my main website. While many of these articles aren’t online, some are. Of course, it also seems to be the nature of the internet that as soon as I put up links to my articles, those websites change their site structure. https://shaunaauraknight.com/books/articles/


I am now blogging for a number of different sites:

Seeking the Grail (on the Patheos Pagan Agora blog)

Pagan Leadership (on the Witches & Pagans PaganSquare)

I’ve been a regular blogger on Pagan Activist though I’ll be blogging less frequently there just for sanity purposes. Don’t worry, I’ll still be crawling up on my soapbox when needed.

I’m also a fiction writer, and if you’re interested in my paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and epic fantasy fiction, you can check out my work at: http://shaunaknightauthorartist.wordpress.com

FB Groups and Webinars

I’ve started up several Facebook Groups over the past years, and these are a great resource for education on specific topics. If you’re on Facebook, I post articles and conversations on these groups. I’m also going to start hosting some webinars on Pagan leadership and ritual facilitation. While you don’t need to be on the FB groups to participate in those, I’m going to use the FB groups as a way to discuss the topics presented in the webinars. Kinda like…homework. Sorta.

Pagan Leadership Skills

Ritual Facilitation

Chants and Chanting

Pagan WritersIf you’re a Pagan author (fiction or nonfiction) and looking for resources on writing, publishing, promoting, or looking for a place to post calls for submissions, this is a resource for that.


Current Blog Posts

Here are my current blog posts on the Witches and Pagans PaganSquare. You can subscribe to my blog there via email or RSS feed there via a link/button on this page. The blog title is Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

Paganism and Problem Solving
Being a Pagan leader means dealing with problems. The challenge being, talking about problems are a bummer. Worse, many people join together in a group but have never discussed what the intention of the group is. Is it a small private coven/circle? Or is it a group formed to plan public Pagan rituals? This article addresses some of the issues around expectations and communication that can cause group conflicts before a group even has a chance at succeeding.

Identity and Leadership Failure
One of the core challenges in Pagan leadership is connected to our very self identity. Ego, egotism, arrogance, and shadow all keep us engaging in the same patterns that destroy groups, even unintentionally. Looking in the mirror is hard but crucial work.

Effective Feedback: Giving and Receiving — Part 1 and Part 2
Whether or not you want it, if you’re a leader, you’re going to get positive and negative feedback. First, leaders need to learn how to deal with feedback, their emotions around it, and discern whether or not the feedback is useful. That’s a skillset right there. Also, leaders need to learn how to offer better feedback, and how to solicit feedback that is constructive and useful.

Patheos Pagan: Seeking the Grail

Seeking the Grail: Why Begin the Quest?

Four Treasures: The Chalice, by Shauna Aura Knight

An introduction to Seeking the Grail, a column about spiritual seeking, personal transformation, leadership, and mysticism. What is the Quest for the Grail? How does the journey shape your heart? What calls your soul on this path?




Seeking the Grail: The Waters of Spring

a grail on a blue background bordered in goldOstara hasn’t ever been one of my favorite holidays, and yet I can’t ignore how the first breath of springtime air makes me feel. The rush of spring reminds me of my own Grail Quest to recover my creativity and inspiration after a major depression. What invigorates you? How can you invite in that breath of spring?


Seeking the Grail: Into the Deep Within

facebookbloggraphic_roots-01I sometimes wonder why I bother leading rituals. Why does religion matter? And then, in ritual, I hear the sound of two hundred people singing a chant together in harmony…feet pounding the ground as we dance. People laughing, weeping. People telling me that the ritual shifted something within them, that they felt the divine, that they spoke to an ancestor, that they released an old pain. That it made their lives better.

Mysteries of the Grail: Seeker, Shaman, and Sovereign – Part 1

featuresThe quest for the Grail is the process of moving from the knight, or seeker, into the initiate of the mysteries. But initiation is not enough; to become sovereign, we must take what we’ve learned back out to heal the Wasteland, heal not just our selves but our communities, our land, our world. Very often, the quest for the Grail is catalyzed by difficulties and challenges in our own lives.



Subscribe to my Email Newsletters

I’ll be posting more to these in the future, but I won’t flood your inbox. I’ll post everything from links to articles (like I’ve done here), new book announcements, and the occasional freebie. Subscribers to my fiction newsletter currently have access to one of my novellas for free, and soon I’ll be making a free ebook available to my nonfiction/Pagan email list as well. There are also likely to be the occasional contest and giveaway.

Nonfiction/Metaphysical/Transformative Arts

Fiction Newsletter


10394814_684544694976534_1963218394424402988_nCurrent and Upcoming Books

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I released The Leader Within and Ritual Facilitation. You can still buy those as ebooks, or print books, and that info is available on my website. I’m currently working on a followup book to my Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. It’s called Dreamwork: Underworld Journeys. I hope to have it finished and published within the next months. I’m also working on an expanded edition of my ebook Spiritual Scents, which focuses on the use of scent (or avoiding scent) in ritual. I have a few other nonfiction books I’m working on including Finding Your Personal Magic. I’m also working on some longer, more step-by-step books on ritual facilitation, Pagan leadership, and on general public speaking and facilitation.

Taylor Ellwood and I are finishing up edits on the Pagan leadership anthology, and we’ll be announcing a release date for that soon, probably this fall.

For those interested in my fiction projects, I’ve been mostly focusing on paranormal romance, though I have one urban fantasy story published and more on the way, and some epic fantasy in the works. My most recent release, A Fading Amaranth, is a vampire romance that also hints at my upcoming urban fantasy series. My upcoming release, The Truth Upon Her Lips, features a wereleopard, a Faerie lord, and a woman who has truthspeaker magic that weaves in some “real” magic. Or at least, magic as I see it. Though I do use some of the “whiz bang fireworks” magic popular in fantasy books, I like to weave in some actual magical and spiritual theory int my fiction stories.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Paganicon Schedule

Well, the lovely folks at Paganicon sure are going to keep me busy! I’ll be leading the main ritual on Friday night as well as showing art in the art show, facilitating three workshops, and sitting on three panels. Plus a book signing. I did tell them to feel free to keep me busy…

Here’s my schedule, for those who are interested. I’m making a note of several workshops I’d *love* to attend if I weren’t teaching at the same time. Oh, for a Timeturner.

Full Schedule: https://paganicon2015a.sched.org/
Learn more or register: http://www.paganicon.org/

Friday, March 13

Afternoon: Art show setup & ritual setup

5:00 PM Speed Friending

7:00 PM Opening Ceremony

7:30 PM Ritual: Return to the Root (Facilitating)

9:30 PM Panel: How Black Lives Matter Can Inform our Spiritual Practices (Panelist)

Saturday, March 14

9:00 AM Primal Mysteries — Donald Engstrom-Reese

10:30 AM Raising the Sacred Fire: Raising Energy in Ritual (Facilitating Workshop)
(though I’d also like to attend Paganism and Mental Health: Healthy Magic, and The Need for Ordained Clergy in the Pagan Community in 2015)

1:00 PM Sex, Ethics, and Power: Problems and Solutions (Panelist)

3:00 PM Book Signing
(I’d love to attend Beginning to Find Your Voice)

4:15 Cultural Honoring or Appropriation (Panelist)

That evening is the Equinox Ball, though I imagine I’ll spend most of the evening looking for people to talk with on ritual, leadership, and other “shop talk.”

Sunday, March 15

11:15 AM Keepers of the Flame: Pagan Leadership and Community Building (Facilitating Workshop)

12:30 PM Enchantment, Charisma, and Facilitation: Leading Workshops, Rituals & More (Facilitating Workshop)

2:15 PM Crafting and Guiding a Positive Volunteer Dynamic – Blodie

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Raising the Sacred Fire: How to Build and Move Energy in Ritual

DSC01798_smallAs I’ll be teaching a number of workshops on ritual facilitation at Pantheacon, ConVocation, and Paganicon, I thought I’d offer up one of my articles on leading rituals that is included in my book, Ritual Facilitation.

I’ve also created a Facebook group with the intention of discussing and teaching techniques for leading more potent rituals. Feel free to join up if you like!

Raising the Sacred Fire:  How to Build and Move Energy in Ritual

Together we are singing, moving, dancing, chanting, and drumming around the fire in the center of the circle. The energy builds and slows then rises up again. I move the drum beat, and the drum beat moves me. We draw closer; I look into the firelit eyes of people around me and we smile as we sing. We drop the chant down to a whisper, then bring it back up again. Our song is a prayer for transformation, a prayer for our individual gifts to be transformed on Brigid’s Forge into their highest potential. I am singing for my gift, and for the gifts of everyone there. Our prayer is singing, movement, rhythm, and our shared intention. The chant moves into a tone that rises and falls like a fire at the bellows until we hold the silence together.

Have you ever worked to build ecstatic energy in rituals?

Raising energy in ritual can be a difficult function to facilitate. Many ritualists get a chant going only to find the group stops singing it as soon as that ritualist pauses to take a breath. Despite the challenges, there are some skills, tools, and processes that you can use to help build potent, transformative energy in rituals.

Facilitating ecstatic energy is the ability to sense energy and the ability to understand the logical energetic flow of any event. Having talent as a singer, drummer, musician, or dancer can help; it’s perhaps more important to have a team of people that is engaged, excited, and willing to model the energy as an example. Excitement is contagious, and if you are invested in the energy, then your participants will be more willing to buy into it and commit their energy as well.

What is energy?

While some ritualists may be gifted with the ability to see auras and energy, I’m not among them. I sense energy more kinesthetically, and I also work with energy less as a metaphysical thing, and more as the life-force cycled from our bodies. Breathing in oxygen, there’s a chemical reaction and we exhale carbon dioxide; chemical reactions release energy. I can also see energy through the physical reality of body language. So sensing energy is largely becoming observant.

Think about the last meeting or class you were at. How were people sitting? Did people look interested or bored and tired? How about the teacher or facilitator, did their voice drone on, or were they excited? Now think about a concert or sports event. How did you know if people were excited? Were people standing up and cheering or dancing? When people applauded, what did you feel inside?

Notice the environment around you and how you can sense the energy level of the group. Energy comes across in our body language, movements, actions, how we are talking, and the look in our eyes. If I’m talking to someone and they’re not looking at me, I don’t feel like they’re really interested in me. But if I go to a friend with a problem and they’re looking deeply into my eyes, I feel like they are really present and connected to me.

Ways to add energy

Here are some ways to add my energy in ritual, broken down by element.

Earth—Body, movement, dancing. Whether I’m a great dancer, or just adding my energy by swaying back and forth to the rhythm of the chant, I’m adding the energy of my body. When I move, my blood moves faster. Calories are consumed, and energy results in my body radiating heat and the energy of my physical life force.

Air—Breath, speech, chanting, singing. In ritual, I add Air when I participate by speaking aloud an intention or wish, when I lend my voice to the chant. When we sing together, we are breathing together, harmonizing our breaths and our pulses. We don’t need to be good singers to still make a sound and add the energy of our voice.

Fire—Rhythm, percussion, drumming. Drummers can add some of the intense sound and rhythm to the ritual. I can also add rhythm by clapping, stamping, snapping my fingers, or through vocal percussion and making rhythmic sounds with my mouth.

Water—Connection, intention, emotion. I can connect to the intention of the ritual within the depth of my heart, and to others in the ritual through deep, sustained eye contact or through touching hands. If I’m emotionally invested in the intention, in the community, if I’m connecting to the divine and to the divine within me, then I am adding my emotional energy to the ritual. Even if I am not physically able to move, if I’m rhythmically challenged, or not comfortable singing, I can add my energy by holding the intention in my heart.

Energy Flow

Any ritual has an energetic flow, and what happens in the first few minutes of the ritual will set the tone for later on. In the rituals I offer, which are in the ecstatic tradition taught through Reclaiming, Diana’s Grove, and other shamanic traditions, I am working to get people engaged in the ritual and inviting participation.

Here is a typical flow of a public ritual in the ecstatic, participatory style. Usually these rituals are facilitated by an ensemble team, so each piece may have more than one person leading it.

  • Marketing/promotion: Emails and flyers set the tone for the ritual theme and helps build communal trust in the ritual team.
  • Arrivals/Greeting: As people come to the space, the ritual team works to greet the participants. Ideally everything’s already set up so that we can welcome people to the space, since welcoming makes people feel more safe, and thusly, more willing to risk singing and moving later. Having social time of at least a half hour before the ritual helps people transition from interacting with traffic into ritual space.
  • Pre-Ritual Talk: This session (15 minutes or less to hold people’s attention) addresses the theme, intention, and any ritual logistics. Give people a chance to speak, even if it’s going around the circle with names, as that sets a tone of participation and helps the group move from strangers into a tribe. It’s a good time to address basic group agreements of what’s ok to do and to teach any chants so that people aren’t stumbling to learn them later. Typically I will also use the elemental model (above) to let people know how they can add their energy.
  • Gathering: Instead of beginning with smudging or similar purifications that involve a long line, Diana’s Grove uses an energetic gathering. This is somewhat a purification of sound and rhythm as well as a way to get people from individual mind into group mind. The idea is to begin at the energetic level of where the group is and take them to a more collective place. You can have the group sing a tone, or you can get people clapping and moving and singing to build up some energetic fuel for later in the ritual.
  • Grounding: As much as the gathering is energetic and group mind, grounding, in this context, is about connecting more deeply to myself, becoming more present to the divine, and connecting to the theme of the work. A typical tree grounding can work just fine, or any meditation to facilitate participants going internal to get into a sacred mindset.
  • Casting a Circle: For the rituals I offer, casting a circle is less about an energetic barrier keeping negative energies out, and more about an energetic boundary acknowledging that we are here together as a tribe. As grounding is internal, circle casting takes us out of ourselves to connect as a tribe. The circle is the edge of our tribe for the ritual, and it’s important to establish connection and safety. This is the cauldron that will hold the soup. In ecstatic participatory ritual, one or two people facilitate the circle casting but the intention is to have participants add their energy to the process. The challenge is to do an inclusive casting, or invocation, in around 2 minutes or less to keep people engaged.
  • Invoking the Elements: The elemental invocations, similarly, are an opportunity to invite participants to lend their voice, body, movement, and intention, as well as to deepen the theme. In the rituals I work in, instead of facing the direction, the elemental invoker moves into the center and facilitates a process where the whole group invokes the element. An example: “Will you join me in welcoming Air? Will you take a breath together, will you make the sound that is the wind in the trees that blows the leaves to the ground, will you move as air moves? Air is the breath of life, can you feel how the change in the air heralds the change in the seasons? Welcome Air.”
  • Center: I typically work with center as the gravity well that draws the community together. What is the reason that people came? This is another opportunity to connect the group together as a tribe, and to the center that holds us.
  • Deities, ancestors, allies: We invite in whichever deities or allies we’ll be working with in as inclusive a way as possible. What each person participates in is more potent than them watching a ritualist do something. Liturgy and poetry can be powerful, but if you want the group to add their energy later on, give them some way to participate in every piece, even if it’s just closing their eyes and imagining the ancestors.
  • Storytelling: Often the working part of the ritual begins with storytelling or some piece to add context to what we’re doing in the ritual. This piece can be longer than 2 minutes, provided people are given a chance to get comfortable.
  • Trance Journey: Storytelling often transitions into a trance journey which takes the theme of the story and move it from a story about gods and heroes into a story that we personally can interact in. Storyelling, and trance journeys, brings people’s energy internal and will require a transition if I want them to come out of trance and be active.
  • Physicalization: As much as possible, it helps to offer experiences for multiple learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). If the trance journey took us to a place where we connect with the fire of our personal magic, then the physicalization might be inviting people to choose a stone to represent their magic. Or it might be to have them stand and go to an altar and offer their personal magic to Brigid’s forge to be transformed. A physicalization helps integrate the ritual intention, as well as transitions people from internal to external so they are more ready to participate in the energy.
  • Energy Building: A sustained energy piece is the fuel for the magic. Often it helps to start slow and build through layering chanting, movement, harmonies, vocal percussion, drumming, and more. The ritualist team should be fully engaged; if you aren’t willing to stand up and sing, no one else will be. The energy may rise to a peak of sound and rhythm, and after there is usually a moment of silence. A typical time length for energy is 8-10 minutes; 15 minutes may be longer than many people can chant. The energy, and the ritual, should have a defined ending. People can drum and dance more after ritual.
  • Benediction: Let people know what the ritual was about, such as, “Brigid, thank you for helping us find our personal magic and transform it in your forge. May we support each other in community.” This seals the deal on the working and leads to devoking the allies and elements. Opening the circle is a last chance for the group to connect as a tribe before opening.
  • Dessert/Feast Ecstatic participatory rituals tend to not use cakes and ale within the ceremony because of the energetic lag created by a long wait for food to be passed around. Post-ritual dessert or feasting is an intentional bonding time to grow community.

Layering the energy

To build up a sustained energy, it helps to layer in voice, rhythm, and movement. As each layer builds, gently bring in another layer, as that will feel more natural to the group and they will be more likely to participate. Drummers should follow the group’s energy rather than drive the group; building it too fast and the group may “check out.” If the energy spikes up too fast you can drop the chant down to a whisper and build it back up. You can invite group participation through eye contact, beckoning, or by asking, “Will you join your movement and voice to this ritual?”

Having a team of people willing to sing and dance models what behavior is “ok” to the group and creates safety. Watch a ritual where one person starts to clap; if no one else does, they’ll stop. But if a second or third person does, then others will.

If you have some strong singers, you can use a chant with 2 parts or harmonies to add another layer of energy. A basket of rhythm instruments is another opportunity for people to add a sound.

Working the energy is a balance of letting the group drive how fast the chant builds, and pushing the energy along. The energy will plateau, and rise again when you add a layer. At first it’s hard to sense if the group’s ready to be done, or if it’s just a natural plateau where another layer will build the energy back up.

Noticing Energy

Begin to take more notice of people’s body language. Are these people willing to stand up and sing? The kinds of energy you can build in ritual will depend on your team—do you have drummers and singers? How many attendees—10 or 100? What’s the chant you are using—is it cradling, or an energy-raiser?

Observe the rituals of different groups. What happens to the energy when 40 people smudge themselves or stand in line at an altar? How long do people speak? When is it boring? When are people invigorated, willing to sing or participate? When are glazed over?

While the skillset of building ecstatic energy in ritual takes time and practice, these tools should offer a way to frame ritual in terms of energy and begin to build techniques into your own rituals. With practice, you can raise the sacred fire of ecstatic energy in your rituals.


This article was first published in Circle Magazine Issue 105, Sacred Fire and also appears in Stepping Into Ourselves: An Anthology of Priestessing. It is also one of the articles collected in my book Ritual Facilitation.

CoverRitualFacilitationRitual Facilitation: Collected Articles on the Art of Leading Rituals

Pagans and practitioners of alternative spiritual path face the challenge of learning to lead compelling rituals with little to no training in techniques of facilitation, public speaking, or event planning. Many learn the theology of their tradition and then get frustrated leading ceremonies through trial and error. If you are called to lead rituals and ceremonies, learn how to create potent, powerful rituals that will inspire your participants.

Each of us can learn to create more magical, memorable rituals. Whether you are an experienced ritualist or brand new to ritual work, this collection of articles and essays will help you learn to facilitate stronger rituals. Techniques include ritual structure, handling logistics, common pitfalls, engaging participation, and helping new leaders to step into speaking roles.

Ritual Facilitation by Shauna Aura Knight
Available as an eBook for $4.99 at Amazon  & $15 for the hardcopy. If you need an eBook format other than Kindle you can buy direct from me, just comment here or email me at ShaunaAura (at) gmail (dot) com.

Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: ceremonies, community, Energy raising, event planning, facilitation, leadership, Pagan, Pagan community, ritual, shauna aura knight, transformation

Pantheacon and ConVocation Schedule

shutterstock_18656047As “Pagan Conference Season” draws near, I have gotten more and more invites to individual workshops and programming in hospitality suites at the two upcoming conferences, Pantheacon and ConVocation. I went through the process of figuring out my most likely schedule.

Those of us who attend such events also know the amusing axioms of any conference. We forget to leave time for things like eating, we wish there was something stronger than caffeine because we didn’t leave enough time for sleep, and we wish for the ability to bilocate in order to attend all the programming we’d like to go to. In fact, there’s one time slot where I could really use four of me.

Sadly, my magic is not that potent.

That being said, I thought it might interest–or at least amuse–some folks to see my anticipated schedule.

What I thought might be of particular interest is that many of the programming I’ll be attending or participating at Pantheacon focuses on social justice and ethical work within the Pagan community. One of the reasons I highly recommend that Pagans attend any larger event, but especially something like Pantheacon, is that it serves to be exposed to some of the broader issues that come up in Paganism. I believe that it’s crucial to have an understanding of these issues so that we can better work together and resolve our differences.

In some time slots, there are workshops I’d like to attend that would perhaps be more personally “fun,” and yet I feel a calling and obligation to attend the workshops that are about the topics near and dear to building healthier community.

At the end, I’m posting the descriptions for the specific workshops I’m teaching. Workshops, panels, or rituals that I’m facilitating or supporting are bolded. Enjoy!



12:00 PM Opening ritual
1:30 Patheos Pagan Bloggers
3:30 Connecting to the Wisdom of the Soul With Hypnosis – Brenda Titus
5:00 Furious Revels – River Devora
7:00 PM Designing Intensive Rituals
9:00 PM CircleSinging – Deborah J. Hamouris
11:00 Mahal EtnoFusyon in Concert



9:00 Sacred Kings and Priestess Queens – R J Stewart
11:00 Gods and Radicals: Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Pagan Practice – Rhyd Wildermuth & Alley Valkyrie
Merging Movement With Ritual – Tempest & Nathaniel Johnstone

12:00 pm Pagan media Salon Saturday, room 969
12:30 Lunch with Warding and Ritual panel

1:30 Turning The Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders & Embracing Change panel (panelist)
3:30 Warding and Ritual Safety panel (panelist)

7:00 Bringing Race to the Table panel (panelist)
9:00 Ritual Sonics: How to use Vocalization and Sound – Taylor Ellwood
11:00 Saturday Nite Drum/Dance Jam


9:00 Myth, Ancient Mysteries, and the Soul’s Journey – Daniel Gautier
11:00 Gender variant Pagans, Pandemos suite
Poetess and Prophetess: The Morrigan and Poetry – Morpheus Ravenna & Rynn Fox
1:30 Visioning for our Culture-Gender, Many Genders, No Gender  – Michelle Mueller and Gina Pond

3:30 Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference? – T. Thorn Coyle, panel
Restoring Sovereign Order – Christopher Penczak
A Thousand Ways: Exploring Devotional Rituals – Silence Maestas
Book Promotion for Authors – Llewellyn publicist Kat Sanborn.

5:00 Pagans of Color suite: Nurturing Young Leaders discussion
7:00 Leadership: Boundaries, Communication, and Groups – Shauna Aura Knight
9:00 Pagans of Color Caucus


9:00 Hypnosis for Deeper Trance Mike Sententia
11:00 Sonic Alchemy: The Well of Song – Sharon Knight
1:30 Deep Roots and Strong Branches: Essentials of Polytheism – River Devora
3:30 Closing Ritual

Leadership: Boundaries, Communication, and Groups

Poor boundaries are one of the most common causes of group dynamics and leadership issues. Who are you? Where are your edges? This is the essence of boundaries. Many difficulties in small groups can be connected to poor boundaries and communication. When do you pressure people to say yes? When are you afraid to say no? Your boundaries, and the boundaries of others in your group, affect the health of the group. Using the cycle of the moon, we’ll work with ways to improve healthy boundaries and communication to inspire more sustainable groups.


Designing Intensive Rituals

How do you design rituals with intensity, depth, and impact? Perhaps you facilitate group rituals to explore personal shadows, look into the mirror of souls, or to deal with Underworld or Ancestor issues. How do you break people out of their comfort zones to do deep work while ensuring safety? We’ll discuss choosing a ritual theme (seasonal sabbat, myth, fairytale, etc.), working with ritual techniques to draw people into the theme, and ritual structures that pull people into the deep magic. We’ll practice ecstatic/embodied ritual techniques that can be used to engage a deeper trance state.




1:00 pm Art show setup
7 PM Opening Ritual
8:30 Heavy Breathing – Lorrie Wood
Creativity in Ritual – Melissa Hill

10:30 Drumming and Dancing


9:30 Reconnecting with the World – Kerr Cuhulain
Self Realization through Post-Tribal Shamanism – Kenn Day
11:30 A World Full of Runes – Lorrie Wood
2:00 Designing Intensive Rituals – Shauna Aura Knight
4:00 Finding Your Personal Magic – Shauna Aura Knight, Taylor Ellwood

5:30 Dinner

8:00 pm I’m Still Standing – Kerr Cuhulain (Shauna/Ritual role)
9:30 Drumming


9:30 Ritual Arts: Facilitating Trance Journeys and Meditations – Shauna Aura Knight
11:30 Voices in the Community: Pagan Publishing – Taylor, Corvus

Lunch1pm (meeting)

2:00 PM Iron Ritualist
4:00 Mastering the Movement of Energy – Kerr Cuhulain
Songs and Tales of Wonder – Andras Corban Arthen

5:30 Dinner (writers meeting?)
9:30 Masquerade, Drumming/Dancing


9:30 Energy of Conflict – Meg Bourland
12:00 PM Carrying Traditions Panel
2:00 PM Closing Ceremony


Designing Intensive Rituals

How do you design rituals with intensity, depth, and impact? Perhaps you want to facilitate group rituals to explore personal shadows, to look into the mirror of souls, or to deal with other Underworld or Ancestor issues. Perhaps you want to help participants work past those barriers that hold them back. How do you design rituals that break people past their comfort zones to do the deep work while ensuring some measure of safety?

Finding Your Personal Magic
To claim your magic is to claim the World. In many fairytales and myths there is a magical item that helps the hero to achieve their quest. Often the hero must find or make this magical item. But, what is magic?  How does it work? Together, we will explore the magic that is uniquely yours. What are your dreams, goals, and gifts? This is part of the deep magic that is untapped within you, found only when you have gone down to the depths, faced impossible challenges.

We’ll explore techniques of meditation, music, trancework, artmaking, truthspeaking, and more to connect to our personal power. What will you risk to fulfill your Heart’s Desire? What is your personal magic, your power? What stories and wounds hold you back? Will you reach for your own deep magic?

Ritual Arts: Facilitating Trance Journeys and Meditations

Anyone can read a guided meditation…but how do you facilitate potent trance journeys and pathworking that deeply engage participants in a trance state? The most transformative rituals leverage trancework, bringing participants to profound spiritual places through words, voice, sound, and rhythm.

Explore tools for leading effective trances through presentation, discussion, and hands-on, focusing on techniques of dual voice, open language, rhythm/music/movement, ritual structure, and space setup. We’ll also address resources from educational therapy, Neuro-Linguistic programming, hypnotherapy, shamanic roots of trance, safety, and ethics.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Ritual Facilitation: Why I do it

DSC01624_SmallWhat has sustained me through long years of practice and training in the ritual arts is the desire to facilitate transformative work.

There is that moment when I’m leading a chant with a group of people, and we’re drawing in closer around the fire. They have tears streaming down their faces. They are feeling and connecting and I can see the rapture on their faces.

I have stood by a ritual fire with a black veil over my face while people told me secrets, old pains, things they couldn’t tell anyone else. They were telling the Dark Goddess so she could take their pain beneath the earth. “Will anyone ever love me?” “I left mom to go back home and then she died while I was gone, I feel so guilty.” “Will I be alone forever?” “I’ve gone through my whole life and I don’t think anyone has ever seen me.” “Why did they do that to me? How could they hurt me like that?”

The reason I’m constantly working to learn new ritual techniques, or explore multiple intelligences, or strengthen my voice so I’m a stronger singer, or practice frame drum, or learn didgeridoo…and the reason I’m constantly writing about ritual and teaching people facilitation techniques…is because it matters. Because I want people to have access to that deep-within, to the all-that-is, to that something larger. I want people to feel that the divine is out there, that they are not alone. I want people to be able to do the work that calls to their soul.

Facilitating compelling ritual is a lot of work, but to me it’s worth it. It requires those of us who facilitate rituals to not only learn technical skills of public speaking, chanting, and trance technique, but it also requires us to do our own personal work. If we cannot find our way to the well of divine water, we cannot bring that water cupped in our hands back to our groups. If we cannot face our own shadows, we cannot take our group to the mirror of souls. If we aren’t vulnerable first, we cannot bring the magic.



CoverRitualFacilitationIf you are interested in learning skills for facilitating ritual, you  might consider checking out my book Ritual Facilitation, which you can purchase direct from me as an ebook, via Amazon, or as a hardcopy. If you are looking to buy 5 or more copies for your group I can work out a reduced rate, and I offer wholesale pricing to stores and vendors.

Filed under: Facilitation, Leadership, Pagan Community, Ritual

Activism, Burnout, and Magic

shutterstock_18780682Sometimes bloggers will ask me to write a bit about my thoughts on a particular issue…and, being longwinded, I usually have a hard time coming up with a a concise quote. Tim Titus asked a really pertinent question and I had a lot of answer, so here’s the full text of what I wrote in response.

The issue is activism, overwhelm, burnout, and magic.

Tim Titus asked me:

“There are so many pressing social, environmental, human rights, and justice issues across the world right now that it can be hard to keep up. Many witches and other magickal people want to help, but the problems seem so widespread and so intractable that it can be hard to know where to start. Sometimes that leads us to just give up. How do you choose issues to take action on? Knowing that we can’t always physically lend aid, What magickal acts can you suggest to help heal some of the world’s most difficult problems?”


Here’s the original blog post on Tim’s site along with some great quotes from other Pagans.

This topic something I think about a lot. I’ve suffered various types of burnout not just as an activist but as an event planner, as an artist, and a writer. Specifically as an activist, I’ve learned to limit my focus. When I worry about all the ills of the world I get overwhelmed, stressed out, and I freeze up. In fact, as a kid I was so hypersensitive that seeing TV commercials with the starving kids in Ethiopia would make me physically ill. As an adult, I realized that watching the news stressed me out. In fact, I can’t even really watch TV shows about characters who are horrible people because I get too upset. I think about all the horrible people out there in the world and I want to just crawl into bed and hide.

While there are a lot of things in this world I’m concerned about, my activism in the past has primarily focused on environmental issues. While I’ve blogged and spoken about environmental activism to educate people how to live more sustainable lives, the bulk of my activism there has been through living more simply and reducing my own impact. I’ve also done a lot of what I’d call daily activism in the area of speaking up about privilege, bullying, racism, homophobia and transgender discrimination.

Impact on the Activist
Of late, my activism has focused a lot on supporting a sex positive culture and fighting rape culture, particularly within the Pagan umbrella. That’s a type of activism that works well with the resources I have at my disposal—social media, blogs, articles, and public speaking. I have written books, I have a following, and so I have a voice within the Pagan community/communities.

However, I’m the first to admit that this particular activism has also proven to be really emotionally exhausting. Whenever I put up a blog post taking someone to task or asking for accountability, and especially speaking up about sex and ethics issues, what folks might not realize is that I’m then dealing with days of intense comments. I’m dealing with the occasional hatemail, or even just long discussions with people who disagree with me. I value dissent, however, living my values and talking things out takes hours of time, and costs me in terms of stress and anxiety.

I also receive numerous messages from people who have been abused and who need someone to share their story with who will understand. Sometimes I’ll get a huge email from someone telling me about their story that they can’t speak up about because of the recriminations they will face. Other times people ask me to talk to them on the phone. And I’m honored that people feel safe checking in with me, but it is a lot of emotional weight to carry.

So every time I post one of those really intense articles or blog posts, we’re talking at least a full-time day of managing comments and emails, and about a week of what I’d sum up as emotional fallout.

What’s the impact on my life? Well, I’m mostly a hermit.

As an introvert, one of my primary coping mechanisms to avoid stress is simple; I avoid people most of the time. The more anxiety I have in my life, the harder it is for me to have the emotional resources to do things like simple social events. The impact on my life is that speaking up about these things and dealing with the fallout makes it hard for me to write, paint, or design–in other words, to do the things that bring in income.

The impact on my life is that the more stress I’m under, the harder it is for me to want to teach workshops at a Pagan Pride, or to organize a class or workshop in my local community, or even to go out on a date.

I value the work that I’m doing, and I acknowledge that activism is sacrifice. To build the world I want, I’m willing to let a little bit of my own blood. I mean that metaphorically in terms of my own energy. In other words, I’m willing to exchange some of my own life force to bring about the change; no change ever happened by everybody being comfortable. Someone has to sit in the wrong spot on the bus, drink from the water fountain, chain yourself to the tree, blow the whistle.

But, the various shaming, victim blaming, and other crap that I deal with has begun to edge toward “more than I’m willing to give.”

How Does Magic Help?
To the question of what magical acts I can suggest…that’s probably the toughest part of this question, because my relationship to the word “magic” is complicated. Or rather—I have struggled the past years to redefine magic for myself. I look at magic as understanding the mysteries of how the world works behind the scenes. I see magic as the power of transformation. Thus, I understand magic mostly in the sense of, determining a goal, and marshaling my resources (energetic, mental, and physical) toward that goal.

However, in the Pagan community, I experience that many people use the word “magic” to mean, “Imagining that I’m sending energy to something when I’m not willing to do the actual work to make it happen.”

So I tend to be leery of using the word “magic” in terms of activism.

Here’s the thing. Changing the world isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of work. There’s setting intention, and then there’s the physical work to do it. That’s part of magic too. While rituals and spells absolutely serve to set that intention, they also aren’t the whole package. You can’t say, “I want to heal the earth,” and then keep drinking bottled water and using resources the way most people do.

Once, years ago, I was asked to facilitate an earth healing ritual at a festival, and I likely will never do so again.Why? Because years later, the people of that festival leave piles of trash behind them when they return home. They eagerly discuss all year long all the extra camping supplies they’ll bring, and they load in tons of things like flats of bottled water and beer, and then they fail to even sort their recycling.

Maybe the ritual helped inspire some of them reduce their use of resources…but I think for most of them it was a way to fell like they were doing something to heal the earth, when they really weren’t. I think for most of them it was a “feel good” ritual.

Magic and Dedication
If you want magic, if you want change, it requires dedication. One of the daily pieces of magic that I do is speaking the truth. What I mean by that is, I’ve taken a vow to—as best I can—speak the truth. And that’s far more complicated than you might think. However, over time, this means that my words have more power, more magic, more ability to transform the world.

Here’s an example. Most people say, “I have to go do ___.” Do you have to? Or, are you choosing to? It doesn’t matter if the task is unpleasant and you’d rather not. Today I chose to go to the Post Office and spend $100 mailing out packages. I didn’t have to, I chose to. Many people say, “I have to go visit family for the holidays.” Or when asked if they can help with something, people will make up an excuse. “Oh, I can’t, I’m washing my hair.” We tell lies all the time.

I work to speak the truth, even when it’s awkward. I try to keep my tongue clean of lies and half truths. It not only builds up my personal magic, but my relentless honesty is part of what gives my blogs, articles, and public speaking their power. People believe me because they know I speak the truth. And–to speak the truth here, I don’t always manage it. I do my best to speak the truth whenever possible, but there are times when I slip up and speak the easy white lie or the half truth. But this is something I work hard at.

It takes daily commitment, and this is just one of my daily practices. Other consistent magical practices I engage in are relentless personal work and shadow work.

I suppose what I mean is, I think people mistake “magic” for “easy.” Magic is still work. However—what I would say is two things if you are finding yourself overwhelmed.

  1. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed by all the pain out there, you might need to take some space and work on your boundaries. You might need to say “No, I can’t help with that” for a while. And you might need to look at what activism to focus on, which is both looking at what you are most passionate about, and where you can have the most impact. There are a lot of different types of activism. I go back to the axiom, Know Thyself. Focus on what you care about, not on what you “should” be helping with. If you focus on the “shoulds” you’ll lose energy fast. Focus on where your fire is; your passion for the cause is your fuel. A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t piss you off, it’s probably not your calling.
  2. The other thing is that there is some magic that is really effective at transforming ourselves to keep our spirits up.

Magic for Centering
As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I admit I don’t always use the tools at my disposal. Some of the tools that come from magic and ritual that are excellent for centering ourselves and keeping our spirits up include listening to music, and especially singing along to music or singing chants, using singing bowls…sound is incredibly powerful magic and can help you shift your mood from sad/anxious/depressed and into a more focused head space where you are making better decisions. Light a candle, light incense, do some intentional movement like Yoga or Tai Chi or exercise or go out dancing, or other forms of meditation.

I call this “short term” magic; the various actions we perform when doing ritual, spellwork, or personal devotional practice aren’t necessarily going to change the world in the long term, but they’re going to help you to be able to center and keep your focus so that you can sustain doing the work.

Magic and the Vision of the Future
Overall, a lot of magic is about knowing what the goal is, and looking at how you will approach working toward transforming yourself and the world to support that goal. And—for some of the big activism, there’s the realization that you will die with the work unfinished.

Let me tell you, that one’s hard. I’m still working with wrapping my head around that one. Look at the goals, and look at what you can, as an individual, reasonably accomplish. Keeping focus may help you to reduce your overwhelm.

I wish I could say pretty things here. I wish I could say it gets easier, but the truth is, most activists burn out. The truth is, most activists end up pissing people off because they are vocal about what they’d like to see change and speaking up about issues. The truth is, many activists have a hard time sleeping because they see shit running through their brain and can’t shut it off. Many activists have a hard  time being happy because they are so sensitive tot he pain in the world around them. Because they see past the curtain. They see the Matrix Code, as it were.

I’m writing this at a point of some serious activist burnout on my part. Writing about sex and ethics and leadership ethics in the Pagan community and having so many people tell me they’ve been sexually abused…and so many other people say that they still support leaders/teachers who are abusive. Or people saying that if you take sexually abusive practices out of their tradition it’s destroying their tradition…seeing so many verbally abusive Pagan leaders out there…it’s wearying.

When I post a blog about the abuses I went through with my ex fiance, I will have people simultaneously message me and yell at me to say, “Quit defending him, you keep making excuses for him,” and others messaging me saying, “Quit your whining, you blame everything on him, I’m sick of your woe-is-me posts.” And far worse messages, and the occasional threat.

I’m not really doing a good job with this post on selling people on being an activist, am I?

However, here’s why I keep at it. Because if I don’t, who will do this work? If I don’t act, can I look at myself in the mirror? Can I look into the faces of the next generation and feel like I did my best?

Callings aren’t easy. But somebody’s gotta do it.

For another great post on determining where to focus your energy as an activist, and when to hold a boundary, check out my friend Lauren’s post on Pagan Activist.

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community

But I’m Always Right! Pagan Know-it-alls

9046121_xxlI’m on a number of Facebook groups, including groups for Pagan leaders. From time to time, I’ll see people make comments that are really condescending, but that also invite conversation on the topic. However, when people offer a different perspective, or ask what they meant by some of the terms, the person will launch into a heavy debate with them, often escalating into a personal attack. The underlying theme seems be a bait and attack from the perspective of, “You are all neophytes and of course I am right about everything.”

Not a day earlier, someone on a Facebook group for a popular Pagan festival was asking if it was possible for there to be an etiquette guide to prevent attendees at workshops from interrupting the workshop leader or worse, playing the one-up-the-presenter game.

The resulting conversation discussed how it is unfortunately common that at Pagan workshops, there’s often one attendee who will heckle a presenter, particularly a new or nervous presenter. It’s often someone who is an expert–or who thinks they are an expert. Last week I focused on facilitation techniques for how to deal with extreme situations where you’re being interrupted or heckled.

This article focuses more on understanding why someone’s interrupting, and techniques to prevent those interruptions.

I think that both examples above are talking about roughly the same thing. We’re talking about trolls and Know-it-alls. But, in some cases, we’re also talking about people who may have different social norms than we do. And in some other cases, we might be talking about someone on the autism spectrum. Knowing the difference is important.

This article addresses two main factors:

  1. Understanding the difference between social norms, intentional disruption, and whether or not someone is going to be able to be self-reflective about their behavior and recognize what is, and what isn’t, appropriate in a particular group.
  2. The other is, as a facilitator, techniques to keep Know-it-alls and other interrupters from taking over your workshop.

Fear of Hecklers
One of the reasons that I teach workshops on how to teach workshops is that many  of the newer/emerging public speakers that I’ve talked to over the years express that they are absolutely petrified of hecklers. Now, I use the term hecklers because, there’s a huge difference from someone who’s very experienced in an area attending a class, and someone who is interrupting the presenter.

I’m lucky in that in my early facilitation, I was in a supportive environment. But there was a time where, if I had been interrupted by Know-it-alls, I would have gotten flustered, totally lost my train of thought, and had massive anxiety.

Public speaking is especially difficult to step into; in fact, fear of public speaking is one of our most common fears, as humans. Why? Ultimately, it’s fear of rejection–if I screw up as a public speaker, then people won’t like me, moreso, they won’t value me, and they’ll kick me out of the communal cave and I’ll be alone and die. We’re talking to reptile brain here so it doesn’t have to make rational sense.

Facilitation is actually fairly complicated to get good at. I liken it to parallel parking; at first, you’re thinking about every little thing and you’re nervous as heck, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier.

I myself don’t get many interrupters, in part because I set up really clear agreements, and I have fairly confident body language. Paradoxically, newer, more nervous facilitators are the most likely to get interrupters.

Facilitator Pro Tip
One of the type of facilitation that is the most prone to interruption from a Know-it-all is the “pompous windbag” approach. And, newer facilitators are prone to this, whether or not they intend to be. There’s a huge difference between being confident, and being an arrogant show-off. Many workshop teachers become, themselves, a Know-it-all, and thus they irritate any potential Know-it-alls in their group.

  • If you’re standing up in front of a group and officiously talking at them in “expert voice” for an hour and a half, you’re asking to get interrupted.
  • If you’re approaching things from the, “My way is the One Right Way” approach, that also sets you up for disagreement.
  • If you have a really defensive personality/communication style, that actually invites people to attack you.

When you give people a short opportunity to speak and be heard, especially early on in your workshop, that derails a lot of Know-it-all behavior later.

Know-it-all-itis is fairly common, in my experience, among people who have poor self esteem. In the Iron Pentacle teaching tool that Reclaiming and the Feri tradition use, the idea is that you want to be in balance. Looking at Pride, for instance, or self image, we want to be confident. Iron is where we want to be at; iron is strong, solid. However, we often slide into the Gilded or the Rusted pentacle. Gilded would be arrogance, Rusted would be self deprecation.

Poor self confidence and self esteem are–in my opinion–an example of why Pagans and Pagan leaders often have such a difficult time working together.

In fact, the root of the problem with most Know-it-alls is that they want your respect and admiration because they know so much. Unfortunately, this is what most therapists would probably call an unsuccessful strategy to get their need for respect met.

Default Behaviors
Let’s look at an attendee at a workshop who interrupts, or even tries to one-up, the presenter. The thing is, we all have different cultural assumptions about what behavior is all right in a group. For that matter, we each have differing individual autopilots. There are folks who love to debate and who have no idea how offensive they come across to those of us who prefer nonviolent communication. There are folks who are stuck in the autopilot of “I have to be right” and have no idea that they are coming across in a way that is really pretentious or aggressive.

I’d say a lot of my work as a leader is trying to figure out if someone in my group (or my workshop, or whatever) is intentionally being a jerk, or is just clueless.

For instance, usually I teach in the Midwest. When I teach further south, I notice a lot of people will just light up a cigarette in the workshop. Nobody around Chicago would ever do that. They aren’t trying to be rude–that’s just a social norm there. My long-ago ex husband was raised in a household where people would smash their fists on the dinner table and enjoy a rousing debate, which I found tremendously aggressive and startling.

I think that one of the paths to leadership is being self aware of our own autopilot tendencies, and working on transforming them. I’m not going to be a very effective leader if I keep offending everyone around me. I think there’s a huge difference between the idea of changing ourselves to fit someone else’s expectation and then losing something of ourselves, vs. finding out what we do that’s really offensive and working to shift that behavior.

Example: Here’s a behavior I’ve worked to shift in myself. I used to be the control freak boss/leader who would do a crappy job of explaining what I wanted my employee or volunteer to do, and then when they failed to do it properly, I’d roll my eyes and say, “Let me just do it,” and practically take it out of their hands. Then, my boss did that to me and I realized how annoying it was. It’s still one of my tendencies, but, I’ve worked to notice when I’m doing it so that I can shift my behavior and not be a jerk. I’m a way more effective leader for it.

Identifying Disruptors
In Chicago I hosted a 3-day ritual facilitation intensive and there was one participant who really had no business being there. She was looking for people to do magic for her, not learning how to facilitate ritual. She was clingy with the facilitators and would bug them in the time before, after, and in between sessions asking non-relevant questions or chat their ear off talking. Every time we went around the circle asking people to comment on a topic or ask questions, she’d randomly talk about her family; it was a total non-sequitur.

Basically I tried to gracefully move things along to reduce her impact. At the time I made the choice to not kick her out of the class as I felt that would have been more traumatic and disruptive than minimizing her impact. However, I’d never allow her into an intensive again. Usually someone like that isn’t too disruptive in the 1.5 hour format, but over 3 days it can distract a group.

What’s usually more immediately disruptive is the person who jumps in to talk, or worse, corrects the facilitator. And it is unfortunately really common in the Pagan community.

Supporting a Weaker Facilitator
I admit it. I sometimes I attend workshops and then internally groan because I can tell the facilitator isn’t really knowledgeable, and then I’m stuck there for an hour and a half. Sometimes, I choose to excuse myself if it wouldn’t be horrifyingly rude. More frequently, I attend workshops where the content is good, but the facilitator is so nervous that it makes it hard to listen to them. I usually try to throw my whole focus to that facilitator. Energetically, this helps others to focus on the facilitator.

It’s particularly helpful at a festival where there’s lots of sound distractions.

The only time I would consider offering a comment to contradict with a workshop facilitator is if they are posing some things that are actually a little dangerous. Like, if I attended someone’s workshop and they talked about pressuring people into sexual situations, I’d probably ethically have to step up and say something against that.

But if someone’s teaching a chakra workshop and gets some of the chakras wrong…well, nobody’s going to die. They just might be a little confused when they pick up a chakra book later on.

Dealing with Hecklers
There are ways to facilitate workshops that both 1. reduce the interruptions you get, and also 2. handle the interruptions gracefully. However, these are also techniques that require some practice, and might be difficult for a very new facilitator to use. It’s a lot to keep track of, but it does get easier with time and practice.

I’ll admit, I don’t really have a lot of hecklers in my workshops, even though this is, unfortunately, very common at Pagan events. I do have people who occasionally interject and start taking up too much of the group’s time, or people who start taking things on a tangent.

Partially that’s because I’m a confident facilitator. And partially it’s because at the beginning of most workshops and rituals I set up clear group agreements.

Why You Need Group Agreements
Some groups need really strong facilitation and clear agreements. Others are really naturally polite or at least, share your social norms. It depends greatly on many factors. However, there’s a leadership rule of thumb that is especially visible in facilitation: If you want something, ask for it. If you don’t, then you can’t whine that you didn’t get it. I can’t expect people to read my mind.

For instance, the example I offered earlier about people in some areas who are used to being able to smoke at workshops. It didn’t occur to me to ask people not to smoke in my workshop because I’d never taught at an event where people did that. However, now I know to look at cultural norms; when I teach in areas with a lot of smokers, I ask people to not smoke in the workshop.

Years ago, I helped to bring together about 30 Pagan community leaders in Chicago to meet and network. For the first meeting, I laid out a number of specific ground rules so that we didn’t start some kind of a Pagan interstellar war. One woman later told me that she was offended that I set up those ground rules. “What are we, children?” she snarled at me. “We don’t need to be told to treat each other with respect.”

…….So at the next meeting, we didn’t set up any ground rules. The meeting ran 2 hours longer than we’d scheduled it, people were talking and droning on and on for forever, there was no focus, people got snarky.

At the end, I gently suggested that we might establish a facilitator and some ground rules, and that didn’t mean the facilitator was in charge, just that they were keeping things on track. Some rules we agreed to were things like:

“We come here together in mutual respect. And what that means is, we wait our turn to talk, we don’t have side conversations, and when we’re making a point, we don’t talk for more than a minute, maybe 2 if it’s really important/complicated.” Etc, etc.

Example Group Agreements
One agreement I frequently bring up is, “We’ve only got an hour and a half for this workshop, and it’s my job to keep things on track so I can teach you what I promised. So I might have to interrupt you or close down a discussion, even if it’s interesting, so that we can move forward. This isn’t a judgment, and we can always talk later. Does that sound good?” And everyone nods, so I have their consent on that, and on the rare occasions I do have to shut someone down, they tend to be more agreeable about it.

Now, in the case that someone’s being rude, I have no problems ejecting them from my class. I tend to do a 2-3 strikes thing. And it’s energetic–there’s a difference between someone who clearly doesn’t know that they are rambling on and taking up airtime, or taking us on a tangent, and someone who is being a know-it-all or worse.

I don’t generally need to say, “Nobody punch anybody,” but if I’m hosting a discussion night, I might say, “If you are really passionate about a point, please don’t lean forward and pound the table, or get in anyone’s face. Please do not engage in ad hominem attacks, and please do not shout.”

Here are my more standard group agreements for any workshop where we’re doing deep personal transformation work.

We all come here in mutual respect, and what mutual respect looks like is this:

  • I ask that each participant listen to others when they are speaking and not interrupt or have side conversations.
  • I also ask that you listen to what people are saying, but don’t offer suggestions or try to fix them. Just hear them.
  • I ask that each person speak from their own experience, or I-referencing; if you’re not clear on what that means, don’t worry. I may ask you to rephrase something and see how that changes the meaning for you.
  • I ask that each person take responsibility for themselves. That means if you need to get water or go to the bathroom, or smoke a cigarette, you can take care of that on your own. You don’t need to raise your hand, but if you’re going to smoke you need to be far enough away that it doesn’t drift here.
  • This also includes personal responsibility for your emotions. If we’re discussing an intense topic and you need to step out, you’re welcome to. If you are having an emotional response to something and you are crying, I’m not going to come over and try to hold you or fix you. If you need something, if you want a hug, you can ask for that, but I won’t make the assumption for what you need, and I ask each of us to do the same. Wait for someone to ask for what they need instead of assuming they want us to hold them or fix them. Yes, holding space while someone weeps can be uncomfortable. But, I can tell you that if you come over and make soothing noises and hug me, that’s going to shut down my process when I just need to grieve.
  • Please be aware of how much time you are taking when you speak. We’ll have several opportunities to go around and check in about various topics. Try to keep your responses short. We only have so much time here together, and I want to make sure that each person has an opportunity to speak.

Sometimes there are agreements that I add in as well, like confidentiality, and sometimes there are agreements I don’t focus on as much, like the emotional self responsibility.

The Problem with Late Arrivals
Pagan Standard Time is actually directly responsible for some of the challenges in facilitation. When I facilitate a class, it’s layered. It builds in intensity, and the workshop depends upon the growing trust of the group.

Part of what makes that happen is the first 15 minutes of the class.

  • Introduction (1-2 minutes)
  • Ground rules (1-2 minutes)
  • Check in (5-15 minutes) where each person mentions why they are there. In a large class, I may have to do it more brainstorming/popcorning, but I try to go around and have everyone at least speak their name into the circle.

So imagine someone’s coming in 5 minutes late. They’ve missed the ground rules. Which means I have to decide, as a facilitator, whether or not to take a minute and repeat them, or not. Knowing that if I don’t ask for the ground rules, I may risk the rules not being followed. And that happens all the time; often when I opt to not go over agreements, the late arrival is the one breaking the agreements.

Then imagine someone coming in 15 minutes late. They’re coming in while people are sharing why they are there but they’ve missed what everyone else has said. In some personal growth-focused workshops, my next step is to introduce a topic, and then have people share more about their own experiences. But, when a new person shows up in the middle, they don’t feel safe. That safety is built upon the structure of the workshops, layered intimacy and agreements.

It’s similar in a ritual; safety and intimacy and connection are built over time from people speaking and sharing within the safe container of a group with clear agreements.

Going Deeper into Behavior
As a facilitator and leader, I have read a lot on psychology, personality disorders, multiple learning modalities, and a lot of other related topics. In fact, most of the things that I teach with ritual facilitation is more based in the psychology of how we learn things vs. any one religious or magical tradition.

In other words, I work hard to understand people. And I have to understand the difference between someone who’s being a jerk on purpose because they like drama, someone who’s just clueless and who can learn that their behavior is inappropriate, and someone who is on the autism spectrum who may not be able to read body language.

The woman I mentioned in that ritual facilitation intensive seemed to have some of the behaviors of someone with a brain injury, or who is on the autism spectrum. Her behavior was absolutely not malicious, but she clearly had no comprehension of body language or appropriateness of her topic.

I’d welcome her as an attendee at a public ritual, so long as she wasn’t disruptive, but it’s not appropriate for her to attend a leadership class given the disruptiveness of her behavior in that context.

Poor Social Skills
Now, I’ve also had lots and lots of people in workshops and at events who were just unsocialized, or, who grew up with different social expectations. I mean, heck, I used to be a total shy wallflower who told stupid jokes. I couldn’t even make eye contact with people. I had no idea how to be social, how to be around people without sounding like a doofus.

And I’ll tell you my deep dark secret; when I’m around someone who makes me nervous, I sometimes default to that behavior. I notice it because I have a lot of anxiety and I start making stupid jokes to break the tension. So believe me when I say that I  have compassion for people who are just socially clueless.

At the same time, my responsibility as a facilitator is to make space for the whole group.

One-on-One Conversations
I might have conversations with people one-on-one about their behavior. This is in the context of someone who is a regular attendee of my workshops, rituals, or other events. This wouldn’t really work if it’s just a one-off workshop at a festival. If my energetic read of someone indicates that the person may just not be reading body language, or might be socially clueless as I once was, I’ll have a conversation with them about that behavior and how it impacts the group negatively, and give them a chance to work to address their behavior.

However, there are folks that I won’t have much of an impact with, no matter how great of a leader or teacher I am. I’m speaking of “trolls,” or in other terms, people who seek out drama and who enjoy stirring up trouble. There are also various types of personality disorders that either have no treatment, or that typically don’t respond well to treatment, such as sociopaths/psychopaths (now known as antisocial personality disorder) as well as borderline and narcissistic personality disorder.

I’m going to put my time and effort into people who are genuinely willing to work on their impact.

Making it Easy
The root of the word “facilitate” means “to make easy.” Facilitation isn’t necessarily easy on the facilitator, but it does get easier with time and practice. The more you understand people and behavior, the easier it becomes to set up appropriate agreements, and derail inappropriate behavior.




Filed under: Facilitation, Leadership, Pagan Community

Advanced Facilitation: Dealing with Problematic Behavior

shutterstock_187864790smOne of the more common questions I’m asked is, how do you deal with a disruptive participant when facilitating a ritual or workshop? In fact, one of the things many Pagans tell me is they are afraid to teach workshops because of all the heckling and know-it-all behavior they’ve observed as a workshop participant. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to go into why it happens, but to outline a few scenarios and how you might handle them. I’ll talk about workshops, rituals, and touch on behavior that comes up in longer-term groups.

Scenario: Know-It-All Leader
What do you do when a local leader, elder, or otherwise experienced practitioner vocally heckles you in the middle of a ritual? Maybe they are telling you that you called the quarters wrong or something else. Instead of taking you to the side after the ritual, they step into the center and loudly bully you. Not only do you have to deal with them, you have to somehow refocus your group and offer a ritual. 

When someone vocally defies the ritual setup and gets confrontational about it, that is probably one of the most challenging things to facilitate. Harder even than dealing with an altar on fire.

What I can honestly say is that if a facilitator has basic competence and confidence, and sets up their agreements for behavior, this type of thing rarely happens. Really rarely. I’ve heard some horror stories of it happening, but I’ll be honest–this hasn’t yet happened to me. And, I often facilitate rituals that might invite this sort of challenge.

The less aggressive version of this is the sort of standard heckling/know-it-all when facilitating a workshop. I don’t typically have that happen either, though in a workshop setting it’s a lot easier to shut someone down if they are interrupting. If I’ve set up the agreement asking people to not interrupt each other, and if I’ve set up the agreement asking people to keep their contributions brief…heck. Even if I haven’t set up that agreement, if someone is being contradictory, or playing know it all, there are really 2 ways to handle it depending on how aggressive they are.

1. If they aren’t really aggressive and are making a decent point, particularly if they seem actually knowledgeable, I’ll say something like, “You seem to know a lot more about the Occult ____ of tarot, and I just want to reiterate that for the purposes of this workshop, I’m working more with the personal growth aspect of Tarot cards. And there’s a number of exercises I promised I’d do as part of this workshop so I want to go ahead an move on to the next topic, but if you can stick around after the workshop, maybe folks who are interested in talking about Occult ____ can ask you some questions.” This one’s more of a, someone’s making a good point but it’s derailing the class.

2. If someone’s continually interrupting me or being otherwise rude in contradicting me, I will be a little more direct. Again, if I’ve set up agreements, this happens rarely but it does happen. If they are making a good point, I acknowledge it, but I would say something like, “So I just want to refresh our agreements here together for not interrupting. I hear that you ___person’s name__ have a lot that you seem to want to say, and I’m glad you’re excited by the topic, but the focus of this workshop is on ____. I’m going to ask you to hold your comments until the end and I’d be happy to talk more then about your specific ___issue/topic__. I have a lot of material to cover for this workshop and I want to make sure I cover what I promised.”

And, if they pull the KnowItAll/interrupting again, I’ll interrupt them–calmly. “I’m not going to address that at this point because ____ topic, and I again ask you to hold off on tangents so that we can keep on track for the workshops. I want to remind you of the agreements to not be disruptive.” Depending on the room layout, I might use body language, like standing next to that participant. Strike 3, I ask them to leave, but that hasn’t happened.

Ritual Interruptus
Typically, I hear of the ritual interruptus sort of thing happening when someone who is trained in a particular branch of Wicca has an issue with how someone is doing a ritual. I’ve heard of ADF druids having a local Wiccan priestess go off on them for failing to cast a circle. And I’ve heard of other scenarios that basically run out as, the ritual has started, and a well-known local leader literally steps into the center and loudly says some version of, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Again, I haven’t had to deal with this, and my response would greatly depend on the energy of the room and the hostility of the person. However, assuming that we’re at a public ritual with 50+ people, many that I don’t know, and they are all kind of shocked by this, and assuming that the person has just a vague edge of hostility…I might approach it like this.

Assuming it’s me they are interrupting and not one of my ritual team, I’d turn to face them, perhaps step closer to them (but not get in their face). And I’d say something like, “The ritual format I’m using is pretty common to several different traditions and I’m really confident that the way I’ve set things up are going to work for this ritual and for this group. But, I can see that this ritual probably isn’t going to work for you, and your actions are a pretty significant breach of our agreements here together for mutual respect. And with respect, I’m going to ask you to leave this space. Energy like this is not welcome here.”

(Depending on hostility, they might interrupt me before I get that far, of course.)

I’d probably ask everyone else to take a breath and take a step back, and then I’d escort the person out or engage some of my team members in doing that. Then, of course, there’s the work of re-centering and focusing the group. People don’t tend to emotionally deal well with conflict like that, but asking people to reconnect, take a breath. Re-stating the agreements. Asking people what they need to feel safe. Perhaps inviting them to sing a tone with me to help recenter. There’s a way to do it, it just takes time.

Most of the time, what happens is the person interrupting ends up being someone really intimidating, like someone who has been leading a group for 20-30 years but who has issues. And it’s usually a younger, less confident facilitator who is getting bullied. The key is to stay calm, project competence and confidence, and clearly state the agreements and the consequences for not upholding them. Getting angry and defensive just makes things worse.

What Wards and Safeguards Do You Use?
I don’t really use what most people would think of as wards. I work with. I tend to work more with here-and-now behaviors. If someone’s acting in a harmful way toward the group, then I have a responsibility to check in with them, and perhaps eject them from the group. The core of my warding is pretty mundane, but really darned potent. It’s setting up group agreements. The core of it is pretty simple–it’s letting people know what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. There’s an axiom, “If you don’t ask for it, you can’t be upset that you didn’t get it.” This is really true with group behavior. If I want people to engage in particular behaviors, and not in others, then I have to spell out what the accepted behaviors are.

There are typically some things I don’t have to state. “Don’t start punching each other.” That’s pretty well assumed.

Group Agreements
For instance, most of my events are dry (no alcohol), so I used to explicitly state “no drugs or alcohol.” In Chicago, I don’t really state that on emails/flyers because it’s never been a problem; in all my years of running events, I can only really think of two times someone has come to an event clearly drunk.

However, for any workshop or ritual, I’ll usually offer my standard set of group agreements. For ritual, that includes letting people know that while we are connecting together in a circle, people can go to the bathroom if they need to, or step outside for some air, as long as they come back with respect. The basic agreement is I ask for people to attend to their own needs; if they are cold, come closer to the fire. If they are thirsty, there’s where they can get water. If they need to sit, they can. The agreement is for self responsibility.

Agreements for Emotional Self Responsibility
Agreements for intense work include emotional self responsibility. Those agreements are more complex. Basically I might articulate the theme of the ritual/intensive. Maybe we’re going to the Underworld to release an old wound from our past. I ask people to not try and fix anyone–if someone’s crying, letting them have their process, not go over and try to hug someone and “fix” them. (It’s not actually fixing, it’s derailing both people’s process.) On the flip side, I tell people that if they are crying and upset and they’d like a hug, that they can ask for that. I offer that in my case, if I’m crying and someone comes over to try and hug me, it’s not going to help me, it’s going to make me feel like I need to stop crying.

Similarly, if someone’s focused on “fixing” me, it’s derailing them from doing their own work there in the Underworld. But, it points to how difficult many people find it to just sit there and be uncomfortable while someone else cries.

And then I follow it all up with the info that if someone’s curled up on the floor wailing, I’m going to assume that’s what they need for their process. I’m not going to come over and try to tend them. However–if anyone comes to the end of the ritual and needs a little help coming back, or processing anything, that I and other facilitators are there for that. But I do ask people to be generally self responsible and not do work that is too much for them to do in that context.

That’s a pretty specific, intensive example, but basically it follows the general axiom of, if you don’t ask for it, then you won’t get the behavior you want.

Additional Standard Agreements
I have other more general agreements, such as, asking people to be considerate about how much time they are taking up in a meeting or workshop during discussions or checking in, asking for mutual respect and not interrupting others, or not offering advice to someone’s check in unless they have permission, a few other things.

If people are behaving in ways that are aberrant to this, I might interrupt that behavior. Like if someone’s going on and on and I need to move on with a workshop or ritual, I’ll interrupt them. I give them the benefit of the doubt that they just lost track and were rambling, but, I also check in with them after and ask them to be more aware of how much of a chunk of time they are taking up.

If the behavior is significantly outside the realm of what’s ok in a ritual, I may try to find a way to keep someone calm during a ritual and address it after. If I really had to, I’d eject someone from a ritual. I haven’t ever had to, at least, not from an event I was running.

At an event where I was a guest facilitator, one guy had an episode during a ritual; he was medicated for anger management and he started swearing, rocking back and forth, seething, ramping up to get violent. My cofacilitator pulled the guy over to the altar/station I was managing and told the guy to give his anger to Brigid’s Forge (I was Brigid at the Forge) and in that case, it worked, but I wouldn’t have allowed that guy into a future ritual.

Poor Behavior in Longer Term Groups
With closed rituals and long-term coven practices, you have a lot of advantages, and one specific disadvantage. The advantage of the coven/closed group relationship is pretty specific–you know people more intimately. These aren’t just random people coming in for a public ritual, these are people you’ve worked with before. These people become acquaintances and even close friends, depending on the intensity of the work.

The disadvantage is that when we know someone well, we want to make space for them to heal, we have more invested in each other, and it’s harder to cut someone off. We get into that codependent dance with them–and it’s because we want them to be able to be involved. These are, I would say, the hardest people to cut out of a group, because it’s not that they’re terrible people. It’s just that their actions are consistently destructive to the group.

In my Pagan Activist blog post on mental health http://paganactivist.com/2014/04/09/pagans-mental-health-and-abuse/  in the first part of the article I offer the example of the group leader working with a woman diagnosed with Bipolar. She worked with that woman for 10 years to the overall detriment of herself as a leader and to her group–the woman kept on stopping her treatment plan, acting out in harmful ways, and one by one, other group members left over the years.

I’ve also written about some of the specific red flag behaviors that a group leader–particularly of a smaller more intimate group or a leadership team–will want to keep an eye out for: http://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/conflict-resolution-part-6-red-flags

Intimacy and Issues
While I’ve never been part of a coven, the monthly intensives at Diana’s Grove had a similar feel because, after attending events for a year, everyone knows who you are. Everyone knows what baggage you’re working with. Everyone knows each other, and even though the intensives were groups of 30-50, many of us became close friends.

With the advantage of knowing someone, and with the advantage of seeing someone’s behaviors playing out long-term vs. just at the occasional public event, you have the opportunity to address those behaviors with someone. This is especially useful for folks in that gray-zone of, doing some things that are somewhat inappropriate, but, they can probably address their behavior. Vs. the folks that are really acting out in ways that it’s pretty clear aren’t going to change.

Example: Having the Hard Conversation
A quick example–maybe it’s a group that puts on public rituals, or, a group that puts on an annual Pagan Pride, or even just a coven where different people are expected to take different ritual roles or do different organizing of rituals or classes for the coven. If there’s someone who frequently takes on a job and then drops the ball, that’s something where eventually a leader-type person will need to have a conversation with them and outline:

“In the past year I’ve noticed that you’ve taken on tasks X, Y, and Z, and each time you were very excited to step in and help, and each time you did not complete the task and someone else had to do the task instead. The impact that this has is that the people who have to step in and do the task have a lot less planning and preparation, and, they also already have other tasks they are responsible for. I’m guessing that isn’t the impact you want to have, so let’s talk about what’s going on.”

If you look at the “Conflict Resolution Part 6″ blog post linked above, there’s a lot there about behaviors that in and of themselves aren’t terrible, but added together they become a problem.

The idea is that with a longer-term group, folks are more close-knit and there’s more opportunity to see patterns in our fellow group members. The disadvantage is that usually this ends up being an exercise in enabling; people would rather excuse someone’s poor behavior than confront them about it.However, with the right group agreements and skilled facilitation, this can be more of an opportunity to work with someone’s behavior and express the impact of that behavior.

If the person can change the behavior they can become a stronger part of the group. If they continue engaging in red flag behavior, then it’s time to consider removing them from the group.

Confidence and Calm
There are a lot of scenarios that can come up that require leaders and facilitators to address conflict or a really emotional scenario. The key is keeping calm, and being confident. A confident (not arrogant) facilitator will face less heckling, and also will be able to keep more calm when attacked. A facilitator who isn’t confident and who has poor self esteem or other baggage will be more defensive. We defend our weaknesses. Defensiveness will just escalate the issue and cause more drama, whereas confidence allows you to stay centered and clear.

True confidence allows you to be really clear about the issues and keep calm. And, sometimes that’s just something that you need to build over time. If you are heckled and your first urge is to yell at the person and take them down a peg, you’ll want to take a look at why that’s your first response. Being angry at rude behavior makes sense, but also look at the long term impact you want to have. If you are trying to teach a workshop, and you dressing down the rude participant becomes the focus of the rest of the workshop, that’s probably not what you want.

Sometimes you can’t avoid it when someone brings drama to your door, but how you handle it will help determine whether or not you get to finish facilitating that workshop or ritual or if things break down into fisticuffs.

Pro-tip: It sounds cliche, but taking that cleansing breath (or three) before you speak to someone really will help clear your head. Breathwork (and chanting, by extension) are really powerful techniques to manipulate your body’s natural adrenaline response and to bring centering and calm.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Conflict, Mediation, and Victim Blaming

shutterstock_60329779Over the past weeks I’ve seen a number of Pagan leadership issues emerge in entirely separate communities. I wrote a bit about some of them in my Pagan Elders post. There are other communities that I’m aware of that have very similar issues, however. Specifically, I want to talk about that problem that seems to be the core of so many Pagan community conflicts. Namely, where Group Leader A and Group Leader B have a problem. Particularly the scenario where Group Leader B is acting in a particularly reprehensible way and Group Leader A is at a loss for how to deal with it.

In some cases, Group Leader A speaks out. Or asks for help from their peers. Now…sometimes this borders into the land of triangulation where one party is pitted against another, but sometimes it’s a genuine attempt to figure out how to resolve the situation. Either way, it’s heartbreaking to watch it play out. The conflict, in some of these cases, is not actually resolvable. Group Leader A speaks out, some people suggest mediation, others blame the victim. It’s so common I can tick off the phases of the process like clockwork.

I’ve seen it happen a few times recently, so I’m offering a generalized process based on a few different real life examples.

Local Leader Issue
Sometimes I get to hear about a local community’s issue with a particular local leader when I travel and teach. I can think of a few examples where I was teaching leadership workshops and, one by one, local leaders and group members would take me aside and say, “So, I have a problem with a local leader.” They’d outline the situation without naming the problematic leader in question, but–given I keep my ear to the ground, I figure out who they are talking about and I say, “Do you mean Group Leader B?” and they say, “OMG, yes. I didn’t want to badmouth them, but their behavior has been so difficult…we just don’t know what to do.”

Sometimes in a situation like that, I’ve had interactions with Group Leader B online or at previous events. Sometimes I haven’t. Either way, it’s like trying to pull together a portrait of someone from a rough mosaic of pieces. Sometimes the portrait is pretty clear, particularly when group leaders and members from various groups are telling a similar pattern of stories that are in alignment with poor behavior I’ve seen from that group leader either online or in person. While it’s all still “hearsay,” it gains legitimacy through consistency as well as through the lack of benefit to the people telling the story. If that many people come to me with a story about a leader, and they don’t have anything to gain by telling me, and in fact, they at first try to shield the identity of the leader they are talking about, that says something.

What Do You Want?
People usually want one of a few things at that point, either from me or just in general.

  1. How can I fix this leader and make them stop being abusive? or,
  2. Can you help mediate this situation and fix it? or,
  3. If there’s no way to fix them, how do I make them stop leading and hurting people? or, when it’s really desperate,
  4. Can you render a judgment against this leader so that they stop?

I’ll start with that last one first. I have no powers to render any judgments. I do use the power of my “bully pulpit” on occasion to speak out against specific leaders, but I typically only do that when I have the direct proof of horrific things they’ve publicly said or written, or, if I have some credible information including first-hand experiences. And, just because I speak out against a leader that I’ve named doesn’t mean I have any more power than anybody else does to “make them stop.” As I’ve said over and over–because the Pagan subculture has no hierarchy (since we’re a collection of hundreds of different religions and spiritual paths) there’s no “Pope” who can defrock someone, with the exception of a few specific traditions.

Therefore, the only power to remove anyone as a leader is really through the mob-mentality politics that run any poorly-managed consensus group, which is to say, the outspoken people, charismatic people, and the bullies all tend to have more power. Generally, it becomes a PR war and a popularity contest, the same as it does with government politics. It’s not pretty, and the “witch wars” of the past are part of why people are now so gun-shy about speaking up about a bad Pagan leader.

Fixing Them
As for “fixing” someone, there are really two basic scenarios, and it ties into mediation. Either the leader who is engaging in harmful behavior is doing so out of ignorance and, when they are confronted and they internalize the feedback, they voluntarily will work to shift their behavior. Or, the leader who is engaging in harmful behavior has some way deeper issues going on and they will never be able to change. Sadly, the latter type of leader will also have the tendency to engage the Jekyll/Hyde pattern common to abusers. That is to say, they may profusely apologize after they’ve done something harmful. And they may even mean it. But, they’ll continue returning to their default behavior.

Sometimes, you have to give someone the benefit of the doubt that they’ll work to change. However, knowing the pattern of abuse and the Jekyll/Hyde pattern, you can observe to see if things really are changing, or if they are just going back to their old patterns. Three strikes is generally a good rule of thumb.

For some of the leaders people have shared stories with me about, we’re talking 15, 30, 50 strikes. And that’s just the stories I’ve heard.

Red Flags
I have a whole series of posts on red flags here on this blog. Those posts are offered in a more logical order in my Leader Within book. But, it’s always worth talking about more to build awareness. Some red flags for me are how those leaders behave online. While I’m not in a position to diagnose a personality disorder, when I see a number of red flags of narcissistic behavior, that’s something I take note of.

It’s also worthy of note to me when I teach in a particular area and hear a lot of complaints about Group Leader B, and then out of the blue, Group Leader B contacts me (unsolicited) and starts complaining about Group Leader A, or a number of other members of their community. It’s also worthy of note when Group Leader B contacts me like that out of the blue and is suddenly very interested in talking to me only after I did a workshop for their “rival” group, and they have in the past ignored my attempts to reach out to them and talk.

Another thing that is worthy of note is when the people complaining about Group Leader B are doing so with compassion. They don’t want to harm Group Leader B, they just want to “fix” them. Or, if they’ve been around the block a few more times and have been harmed by the actions of Group Leader B, they just want the abuse to stop. They ask me,  “How do we stop them from abusing people?”

Observing Patterns
Again, none of these are things I can do a whole lot about other than observe and take note of the pattern. In some cases, the sheer volume of complaints about a particular leader does concern me. I tend to find that the truth points to itself, meaning, the folks that are doing unethical stuff tend to keep doing it and it creates a pattern over time.

But, I’m also not willing to speak out against someone by name without significant evidence.

For that matter, I have to hold an awareness of the difficulty when I’ve gotten to know the people on one “side” of an issue and I don’t know Group Leader B as well. However, when I get to know a group of people, I get a sense of their behavior. Actually, it can tell me a lot when a group of people complaining about Group Leader B are not, themselves, engaging in “red flag” behaviors.

There Are Two Sides To Every Story!
Well, yes, that’s true. And in many conflicts, both parties have made things worse. However, in situations where we have a Group Leader B who has engaged in a long-term pattern of abusive and narcissistic behavior, while Group Leader A may have reacted in ways that aren’t helpful and potentially exacerbated the situation, there’s no amount of “good” behavior on Group Leader A’s part that is going to fix the problem. Group Leader A coming to the mediation table with an open heart isn’t going to fix an abuser or a narcissist.

I have mediated/negotiated conflicts before where there was no “bad guy.” Where both “sides” were engaging in a downward spiral of behavior that just kept getting worse. Sometimes just as it helps in a relationship to go to a marriage counselor to get outside of the conflict and see how both sides are contributing to the problem, sometimes a mediator or negotiator can help point out those patterns from outside. Often the pattern is happening in all innocence. Nobody is Sauron/Voldemort/Darth Vader. It’s just a misunderstanding, layers of frustration and baggage, and anger resulting from that.

However…sometimes one side is, in fact, a repeat abuser. They may have also been abused, they may have baggage, they may have tons of reasons why they are doing what they are doing, but that doesn’t make it ok for them to continue to engage in the behavior.

Complain to Their Superior!
As Paganism grows more populous traditions, there are in fact groups that belong to larger traditions where, theoretically, there is a hierarchy that can censure group leaders under their banner. Here’s the problem. I’m aware of at least two big traditions that regularly fail to address problematic leaders. One tradition I know of likes to have a soft touch; they have eventually dealt with some of their leadership acting badly, but they let it go on for a really long time.

The other tradition that I am thinking of has had several direct complaints about some of their clergy, and they have refused to hear the complaints. I’ve heard of them berating complainers essentially saying that the complainer deserves the abuse for defying their HP/HPS, or that the complainer deserves the abuse, that the gods must have wanted them to suffer, things along those lines. I’m not currently willing to name those traditions as I’m still trying to gather more data. (If you have a story like that about a tradition you’ve worked with, shoot me an email please at ShaunaAura (at) gmail (dot) com. )

In many other cases, I’ve essentially heard from tradition heads that once a person is made HP/HPS or the equivalent, that title can never be taken from them. In my mind, that seems irresponsible…but, that’s how some traditions are run. I have heard on one occasion of a midwestern Pagan leader who was acting so poorly her HPS stripped her of her title and took on her students so that they could finish up their degrees. However, that is really pretty rare to hear of that happening.

But, Mediation!
I recommend mediation a lot, and people rarely actually do it. And–when it works, it’s a great thing. But here’s one problem that a lot of people fail to take into account. Mediation is not at all appropriate in situations of abuse. A mediation gives the abuser access to the victim. One of the hallmarks of abuse–whether physical abuse or emotional abuse–is confusion. The abuse victim is groomed and programmed by their abuser to behave in a certain way. The Jekyll/Hyde pattern of lashing out and then apologizing creates a triggered response.

I’ve fallen for this myself. In fact, it was after a mediation with my ex fiance that I got back together with him for round 2 of abusive relationship Bingo. I later found out that he lied at our mediation session to gain sympathy. It’s worth pointing out that, while mediation is ordered by the court in a number of divorce proceedings, mediation is not allowed in cases where there are allegations of abuse, because it just allows the abuser to suck the victim back into the cycle.

Don’t get me wrong. Mediation is a great tool…when it works. But mediation isn’t going to work with:

  • A repeat abuser
  • Someone with one of the major personality disorders or another untreated mental illness, alcoholism, or other addictions
  • Someone who is just a real jerk and unwilling or unable to look at their behavior

Victim Blaming
So here we come to the problem. When abuse victims speak up about Group Leader B, people who are sucked into Group Leader B’s charisma are going to defend Group Leader B. There are tons of reasons for this, and that’s a whole separate blog post.

However, people who are theoretically neutral are often going to dig into Group Leader A, or anyone else who speaks up about Group Leader B.

Here are some victim-blaming comments that are so common it’s like they come off a script. The sentiment isn’t always wrong–and often folks mean well–but in cases of abusive behavior, you can see where this becomes problematic.

  • “You’re just stirring up trouble.”
  • “If you’d only engage in mediation with them.”
  • “You’ve already made your decision, you aren’t coming into this with an open heart.”
  • “Stop tearing other leaders down! You are destroying our community!”
  • “There are two sides to every story.”
  • “You have responsibility in this too. Stop blaming everything on them.”
  • “I can see you’re not willing to give mediation a chance.”
  • “Why can’t you just get over the past?”
  • “Let bygones be bygones.”
  • “It’s time to move forward and stop blaming them.”
  • “You’re just engaging in a power play. You sicken me.”

As you can see, those sentiments on their own aren’t necessarily bad–and most of us say these things on autopilot. But, put yourself in the abuse victim’s hot seat. You know about the abusive behavior of Group Leader B, and you’ve just spoken up about it publicly because you feel you cannot hold your silence, and you don’t want Group Leader B to hurt anyone else.

Try reading these things out loud from that mindset and see how they feel to you personally.

But What Actually Happened?
So often, the problem boils down to the old “He said/She Said.” We can’t know what Group Leader B did…until we can. When we see a repeatable pattern of behavior, I believe it’s our responsibility as a community to bring scrutiny onto that person. To check it out, to see what we can find out about it. While Paganism isn’t a hierarchy, we deserve better than the justice of the bully/mob and a popularity contest. Our victims don’t deserve to be blamed. That’s not what I want to see in the broader culture, and it’s not what I want to see in my own Pagan back yard.

How do we get past this? Well…right now, all we have is accountability. And what I mean by that is, not looking away. Not saying, “It’s not my problem.”

When a group leader, teacher, or author has done something that is really blatantly reprehensible, like Christian Day, a reasonable response is to cut ties with them. To stop supporting them by buying things or teaching for that person. To stop putting money into that person’s hands.

When a local leader has continued to engage in some questionable behavior, it is worthwhile to try and find out more about what has gone on. Try to find out from multiple sources. I find that the best data comes from people who have nothing to gain; when it’s not “Rival Leader A” making the complaint, but group member C, D, E, and F, none of whom are going to gain any special benefit from telling their story. In fact, they’ll probably be victim-blamed if they speak up and yet are still willing to do so. It’s worth keeping an eye out for Group Leader B and watching them, watching the pattern of their behavior.

Don’t follow the mob, the court of the popularity contest, in either direction. Watch with discernment. Learn if you’re susceptible to the Jekyll/Hyde pattern of abusive behavior and apology. If you find yourself willing to keep making excuses for a group leader because of “all the work they’ve done” or just because they apologized, think about that for a moment. Does the positive work they’ve done diminish the harm they continue to engage in?

There aren’t easy answers for these questions. But, if we continue to talk about it, solutions will begin to emerge. I think right now what is most important is that Pagans become aware that there are these problems, and that no, there aren’t easy fixes. Mediation isn’t always the solution–even though I wish it were.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Pagan Elders and Abusive Dynamics

shutterstock_34345969Ironically, just hours after I sent in my quote to the Wild Hunt for their “Elders” post, I found myself in a position where I could either tacitly ignore a Pagan elder’s behavior, or I could confront it. I hadn’t quite scheduled a big confrontation into my day, but I found myself ethically obliged after someone messaged me to ask whether or not I supported that elder based upon that elder’s stance on something.

The words I had sent to the Wild Hunt in an email just hours before ended up being almost prophetic for at least four situations that hit my inbox and news feed, including “Big Name Pagans” like Z Budapest and Christian Day, or local Pagan community leaders behaving badly.

Let me see if I can sum up one situation I faced in a way that keeps names out of it, and yet describes a situation that you may have personally experienced.

There is a Pagan org that is fundraising for a good cause. However, their leader has a real temper. Now, I had initially made excuses for this leader because this leader–like me–is an activist. And I definitely understand that when you’ve been an activist for a long time, it can begin to feel like nobody listens to you unless you’re screaming.

This particular group (via this leader) has one particular stance on a community-related issue. I disagree with that stance, however, it’s in a gray area where I feel it’s a little beyond my pay grade. It’s part of a larger question of that gray area between inclusivity, civil rights, and a religious group’s sovereignty to decide who can join. I understand both sides of the issue from outside–meaning, it doesn’t personally affect me. My stance is different than this elder’s, and I had made that clear with this leader in the past. I believe that I had made my perspective clear in a polite way.

In retrospect, I realize that I had dropped the subject because this leader’s temper was getting riled up and I was a guest in their home, and I didn’t want to deal with a big fight.

What’s Stubborn and What’s Bullying?
Since that time, I had also come into private knowledge of more than one example of this particular leader engaging in a dynamic that could only be called bullying and abusive. The leader threw a temper tantrum, the leader used the excuse of past abuses they had suffered, the leader’s close followers soothed the leader, and the leader got their way. I’ve found that people walk on eggshells around this person.

I also had knowledge about an initiative that this leader had been involved in. Basically, this was a worthy initiative, and this leader had asked a separate Pagan group for assistance. What actually happened at that point is confusing. I’ve tried to gather information on both sides of the story but some of the information I have is vague. It sounds like the Pagan group did not offer assistance, possibly because of the temper/reputation of the Pagan leader I’ve been discussing.

(It’s worth mentioning that the other Pagan group also seems to have failed to effectively communicate at all, or apologize for failing to communicate, and that’s on them, not on this leader I’m speaking about.)

This leader claims to have asked several other notable Pagans for help and believes they were brushed off. I’m not clear on those details.

That particular situation was years ago, but the Pagan elder I mention has been going on and on and on about it–sometimes vaguebooking, sometimes directly attacking that other Pagan group. And it’s pertinent to their fundraising effort.

When Respect Gets Complicated
I had worked with this Pagan elder in the past; we haven’t known each other long but I respect the work they are doing and I’ve worked to find some ways to help them. Since we met in person, this leader and I have engaged in some really good conversations.

However, I’ve also witnessed this leader engaging in conversations on Facebook that get pretty tense/shouty when people disagreed with that leader.

Recently, the leader in question had posted something about their fundraising efforts and their anger at the Pagans/Pagan groups who had failed to support them or who had badmouthed them. Making a long story shorter, I have been asked by several people about the specifics of the ethical stance I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Now, I don’t feel comfortable lying and saying I agree with them, because I don’t. So I offered the information that I had and where I disagreed with them, but that I supported their fundraising. And then, because I value clarity and due diligence, I posted a polite comment on the referenced Facebook thread asking for clarification on their stance.

Lashing Out
The answer I got back was vague but angry at me for daring to question them. I reclarified that I was asking on behalf of others, and, I pointed out how I understood both sides. Specifically, I tried to point out how the “other side” on this issue might feel hurt and angry by this particular stance, and not be in the wrong about that.

More angry responses followed that were also rants to the point of being vague and unclear. Despite my having supported the org in the past and having a generally good relationship with the leader, I got the full temper tantrum.

The second in command of this group immediately private-messaged me to apologize for their leader’s actions.

I’m going to hit pause on the story here for a moment.

That right there is a significant red flag. If you are feeling the need to consistently apologize for the temper of your friend/lover/spouse/boss/leader, that’s a pretty good indicator of an abusive/codependent pattern.

Speaking Up About Abuse
Thus, to the second in command, I pointed out that everyone dancing around the leader and apologizing for them was 1. codependent and enabling abuse and 2. that their leader’s actions and temper were likely a significant cause of their inability to fundraise for the worthy cause. The second in command agreed especially with the latter, and said that they’d tried to talk to the leader about it and planned to again.

Moments later, the leader began messaging me. The writing was in an angry rant and talking about all the abuse they had personally suffered and essentially implied that that excused their stance on this particular issue. I took a breath, and realized that I’d already probably blown up my relationship with this elder, despite respecting their work.

I know that in a situation like this, confronting the person whose temper has gotten abusive isn’t likely to change anything. But, there’s that darned integrity thing, and I also at the core am an optimist. I always hold out that people might be able to recognize how their own actions are harming themselves and their group.

So I confronted the leader and pointed out that I was fine disagreeing with them and still supporting their org/worthy cause, but the temper tantrum and attack was something I had a real problem with. I went on to say that there were people who were afraid to speak up to the leader, and that the leader’s temper had caused them specific problems (I outlined those and the specific scenarios) and that I found their temper and behavior pattern to be abusive.

I pointed out that I had apologized for their behavior in the past, and others I knew had apologized for their behavior, and that this was not ok.

As you can imagine, that didn’t really go over well, though I did have a good conversation with the second in command of the organization.

Pagan Leader Shenanigans
I can’t often post about it when I go through something like this. I have rather a lot of days where I’m dealing with either someone coming to me with a story of abuse by a Pagan leader, or someone coming to me asking for help with how to deal with a group leader who is causing problems, or where I see a Pagan leader or elder acting in a way that is (I believe) harmful.

As I posted in my Whistleblowing article on Pagan Activist, people come to me with some heavy stuff. And, not having witnessed either side of what went on, it’s not like I can do much about it. It’s a rare circumstance where I feel that I can ethically post about a particular Pagan leader or group and something they’ve done that is harmful.

Even in this case, you’ll notice I’m not naming the organization or the elder in question.

Given that I have some direct experience of the poor behavior, wouldn’t it make sense to speak out about this leader? Honestly, I really ethically struggle with this one because I want this org’s fundraising to be successful as it’s for something important, but the leader tipped the scale into acting in a way that I absolutely can’t ethically support.

The sad thing is, many of the strong Pagan orgs out there have leaders with at least some emotionally abusive tendencies.

Strong Visionary Leaders are Stubborn
I have my theories on why this is. For some reason, only the strong or even bullying types seem to have a strong enough personality to create a lasting Pagan group. I think you have to be that strong to last through all the Pagan naysayers and people who will attack you for your success. But it sure isn’t the behavior we want to reward, and it’s not what I think any of us want in the long term.

I endured a situation like this for years when I was doing my training at Diana’s Grove. And I don’t really want to get into that in depth now, other than to say, I have experienced first hand a group that defers to the leader, and the leader is a charismatic visionary who is just dysfunctional enough that every once in a while they do something like throw a temper tantrum, fail to meet a crucial deadline, or engage in some emotionally abusive behavior.

And everyone on the leadership team would work to cover it up, to make it ok, to keep her on an even keel so she wouldn’t lash out.

Because, everyone on the leadership team knows the secret:
If we don’t make excuses for the leader, if we don’t calm everyone down and keep the peace, if we don’t keep the leader from blowing up in a temper, then we don’t get to have the group. Ultimately, Diana’s Grove sold their land and ceased to exist, and that leader’s dysfunction was a significant contributor to that.

Why Leadership is Important
Which leads me to why I write about these things with such passion. Because within myself I have the seeds of the ills of these leaders. I am the visionary who’s a bully enough to make the thing happen. I struggle with depression and I’m, at best, a moody artist. I have the long-term issues of self esteem that, when my ego gets poked, cause me to get defensive and lash out.

In short–I write about these things because I am petrified that this is what I will become. That I will continue that cycle of abusive behavior.

So when I write about these problems in our leadership, it’s not from my high horse. It’s not even from my soap box. It’s from a terrified place inside me. It’s from the part of me that has looked into my own dark mirror and seen what I could do, what I could become, if I don’t do ruthless personal growth work. If I don’t mitigate those behaviors.

Our communities deserve better than bully leaders. But, I don’t know what that model actually looks like, or how we get there. I get angry and frustrated that so many Pagan leaders doing good work also carry these seeds of egomaniacal, narcissistic, bullying, and abusive behavior.

And we reward it with our silence.

Consequences of Speaking Up
But, if we aren’t silent…if we speak up…there’s a consequence. Yes, we might stand in our integrity. Yes, we might stop one leader from abusing their group members. But–we also lose the asset of that group. And with so few Pagan community assets, most of us are unwilling to rock that boat.

And I have compassion for that. We’re in a precarious time with our first solid organizations that can really help Pagans.

Going a little further, we (Pagans) actually have no mechanism to remove a bad leader from power, except for the limited circumstances of Pagan leaders that are part of a hierarchical tradition where a leader above them can strip them of their title. And most of the hierarchical Pagan traditions take a hands off approach. Once a HP/HPS is initiated, they are on their own and their initiators/superiors will not take a hand in correcting their behavior.

There are really only a few mechanisms we have for removing a bad leader from power. One is if they’ve done something illegal that you can prove. That, too, is rare.

The rest of our options are pretty crummy and are based in mob justice. We can ignore the leader and shun them, and hope that they eventually give up. This usually becomes a popularity contest vs. any actual meting of justice.

In one scenario, it means that the other Pagan groups and group members in an area have to suffer through various ambient abuse from that abusive Pagan leader. And it’s a whole separate blog post to discuss the kinds of abuse that a Pagan leader–even one not involved in your group–can dish out to you and your group members. In short, that creates long-term trauma and that scenario alone can be the death of a group because they just can’t cope with the stress.

The other option that has been attempted at times but usually backfires is the full-frontal assault, wherein those who have been harmed by a particular group leader try to speak up. Except, usually there’s only one victim brave enough or angry enough to speak out, and they usually are shot down by an arsenal of victim blaming.

Because, the victim speaking up must be trying to stir the pot, right?

I’ll write an entirely separate post on mediation. Many people raise up the banner of, “Oh, but mediation, mediation!” And, when it works it’s beautiful. But, it typically doesn’t work with a leader who’s engaging in a repeat pattern of abuse.

Pagan Elders and Big Name Pagans

The connection between Christian Day, and Z Budapest, and the Frosts, and a few other situations of Pagan elders and leaders is that abusive behavior gets tolerated. Harassment gets tolerated. Bad things are said and it’s tolerated.Cognitive dissonance is the first line, it creates denial. “Oh, but ___ is a great teacher, they couldn’t have ____.” Or, “I’m sure they were just out of sorts.”It’s the same thing as the pattern of grooming. Nobody starts out being ok with being punched in the face. They keep making the verbal abuse “ok,” and then the light slap is excused, and then the punch.While this article specifically deals with abusive dynamics in relationships between men and women, try reading it from the perspective of the abuser as the coven or group leader. And you’ll start to get a sense of why people stay in an abusive group.

Perfection and Excellence
Here’s the thing–nobody’s perfect; gods know I’ve hurt people and made mistakes in my life. I try my hardest to learn from it, to do better. And I’ve worked with others who have made mistakes. I’m not saying, “Oh, you made a mistake, you are banished for life.” But–the consistent pattern of abuse, and the lack of intent to change that pattern, is a problem.

And when that’s happening, most people are still stuck in cognitive dissonance/denial/enabling land. I spent three years doing what I call the codependent shuffle with my own mentor at Diana’s Grove. Was she evil? Nope. She was brilliant, actually. And hardworking. And she built something beautiful. But, her dysfunction also led to the destruction of Diana’s Grove.

The economy was the trigger, but she laid the rotten foundation.

I watched a skilled, educated group of leaders dance around my mentor and make her dysfunction and dry-alcoholic abusive behavior “ok” for years. I stuck through it because I wanted the training. I knew the training was good, even if my mentor couldn’t live what she taught. And I’ve spent the years since that time trying to adapt the leadership training to make it actually viable.

We don’t need perfect leaders, but we do need leaders and elders who are working on their shit. We need leaders and elders who have ethics and integrity and are coming at things from a place of service. Not from a place of deep wounding and soothing their egos. Not from a place of severe and untreated mental illness. Not from a place of bullying to get the job done.

And that’s a tall order, but I’m an optimist.

Going Forward
As for the Pagan elder I mentioned at the beginning of this post, where am I at? Truthfully, I’m sad. I’d like to blow the trumpet and support their initiative, but given the way that elder is behaving, I have serious ethical qualms about it. I hope to sustain a good relationship with that organization, but I realize that in speaking up to the leader about their behavior I may not get to have that option.

I’ll be transparent. There are times that I will support a Pagan group or organization despite my ethical qualms about a leader’s behavior because I believe in what that organization can be and what it offers to the community

But, I also hold out hope that we can be better. That we one day won’t have to make those ethical compromises. That the Pagans out there joining groups will have the discernment to see their leaders not as being perfect, not as being up on a pedestal, but as real people. I want to see a community where we can forgive our leaders for their mistakes, but where our leaders are also held to a higher standard of responsibility and service. I want to see Pagan communities where we can speak up about abuse and be heard and not victim-blamed.

And–putting my big-time optimism hat on–I want to see Pagan leaders who can break through the cycle of their own bad behaviors to become more excellent leaders. After all, I believe that I can be better than I am…and so I believe each person out there can as well.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Reblog: The Curse of Pagan Niceness by Sable Aradia

Fantastic article by author Sable Aradia. I’ve been enjoying a number of her blog posts. Here are a few quotes from the article; check it out in its entirety.

“Many Wiccans, in my opinion, seem to use the Rede as a way to rationalize keeping their hands, noses, and consciences clean.  It strikes me as an excuse for cowardice, not as a genuine desire to not be “judgmental.”

I call it the Curse of Pagan Niceness.  We are terrible at delineating clear boundaries.  We want to be so accepting that we put up with all kinds of things we should not put up with.  And we can make our community dangerous for the vulnerable because, in our efforts to not be confrontational or judgmental, we let abusive people get away with it.”

“We saw things that worried us, but after we talked to them about it, asked questions and counselled them, we trusted that the high priestess and high priest of the coven, our initiates, were dealing with the situation, and at the very least they had their eye on it and were counselling the family and looking out for the safety of the girls.  We should have followed up and demanded to know what they were doing to intervene.  I especially was trying to be nice in that I didn’t want to step on the high priestess’ toes and undermine her authority.

Look at what all this “niceness” wrought.  A beautiful, intelligent young woman whom I greatly admire and respect was deeply harmed.  Our tradition, who should have protected her, failed her utterly.”


Here’s a brief author bio for those of you unfamiliar with Sable Aradia:

Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. A writer, musician and vlogger, she makes her living through writing, psychic readings, music, and by teaching workshops. Author of “The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft,” (Red Wheel/Weiser) she also writes a column called “Seekers and Guides” at Patheos’ Pagan channel. Her channel on YouTube features her music, instructional witchcraft videos, and her many projects in the world of geekdom. Born and raised in Vernon, BC, Canada, she has been actively involved in the Canadian Pagan community for a little more than 20 years.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Predators, Cheating, and Lying

20619462_xxlThis post is a tangent off of my series on Pagans and Predators. I want to talk a little bit about cheating, in other words, infidelity, and why cheating is 1. bad and 2. a red flag as far as the issue of predatory behavior in the Pagan community. Well–in any community, for that matter.

I hear a lot of Pagans prevaricate and tell me, “Cheating’s not so bad, you shouldn’t be so hard on people just for cheating. It’s not like it’s abuse or something like that.”

And in some cases they are right, and in some cases they are wrong.

So let’s look at what cheating is, and talk about different types of cheating. In any scenario I can think of, cheating is a lie. It’s breaking a promise. It’s breaking a contract you made with one (or more) partners.

So–I’m not talking about polyamory, swinging, or other forms of ethical non-monogamy. I’m talking about making a commitment to be with someone or someones, and then sneaking around and beginning a new relationship or having sex behind that person’s back and lying to your original partner(s) about it.

Before we go too much further into this, let me clarify that I’m not writing this as a sexual prude. I write erotic romance novels, I write articles about sexual pleasure, and I’ve been inn polyamorous relationships. I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality.

Apparently, we first have to talk about why cheating is bad. For me it’s pretty obvious; you’re lying to someone you made a promise to. You’re lying to someone you are supposed to love. But, I hear from so many Pagans that cheating “isn’t that bad” so let’s talk about why it is.

Lying is bad. Breaking agreements is bad. Exposing your partner to STDs they don’t know they are getting exposed to is bad.

Cheating = Empowerment?
Perhaps important to first talk about why people think that cheating is somehow positive. I have heard more than one person use the phrase, “What happens at a festival stays at the festival,” or, “What my baby back home doesn’t know won’t hurt them.” I’ve heard people–usually women–talk about how sexually empowering it is to come to a festival and be able to be free and have sex with someone new, even though their husband back home doesn’t know about it.

I’ve heard people spout a lot of stuff that’s a mishmash of sex positive, empowerment, and sexual freedom. “Let’s not be constrained by what the dominant culture tells us. We have power over our own bodies.”

Yes…that’s true. But lying is still lying, and if you made an agreement to be monogamous, for instance, breaking that is still lying.

I’ve also had people try to convince me that if Partner A is cheating on Partner B, then that’s just a sign that that Partner B is failing to meet Partner A’s needs and it’s logical for Partner A to seek out someone new to meet those needs. In other words, implying that Partner A’s not at all in the wrong for breaking agreements and that it all falls on Partner B for some kind of relationship failure.

Gray Area
Now–as with just about anything that I write about, it’s not clean. It’s not easy. And there is a heck of a lot of gray area.

Sometimes, yes–Partner A is cheating on Partner B, and Partner B is incredibly abusive and Partner A is acting out.

Sometimes, Partner A cheats on Partner B and in doing so realizes that the relationship with Partner B is really in its death throes, and that gives them the clarity to formally break things off with Partner B. Sometimes we’ll just stay in a dying relationship until there’s a catalyst like that.

Sometimes, Partner A is discovering they have sexual needs that Partner B cannot meet. Perhaps Partner A realizes they are gay, or realizes that they have a specific fetish. Partner A and Partner B aren’t going to be happy with one another and again, sometimes it takes a catalyst to realize what’s going wrong in the relationship.

That’s Not Poly
There’s a particular type of cheating that I’ve unfortunately been party to. That’s where the person–usually male–who says, “Oh, yeah, I have a girlfriend/wife, but it’s ok, we’re poly.” I have been with a couple of men who pulled this one on me. My ex fiance did this to me.

The first time this happened to me, here’s how it went. I went out with a Pagan guy in another city. A couple of months later he was going to travel to Chicago for business and he asked if he could see me again and stay with me. I said sure. During his six hour drive to Chicago, his girlfriend messaged me on Yahoo messenger. She begged me not to sleep with her boyfriend. She’d broken into his computer and found my contact info; apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d cheated on her and she was suspicious.

She, like her boyfriend, was Pagan. She thought I was actively aware that he had a girlfriend, and that I was party to the cheating. She had gotten incredibly angry and thought I was a total hypocrite. I was already starting to teach leadership at that time. She had decided that any group I was a part of must also be hypocritical, and she had (in her anger over all this) decided to not go to any Pagan events because all Pagans were hypocrites and cheaters. Obviously she was really upset.

The truth was, I didn’t know that he was cheating; he’d told me he was polyamorous.

I talked to her for about five hours and tried to help calm her down. We discussed her fears about STDs (women in her family tend to get ovarian cancer, which is often caused by HPV, and condoms don’t protect from HPV). And we discussed how often he’d done this and I observed that if he’d done it that many times, he probably wasn’t going to stop cheating.

When he arrived at my place, I informed him that he was welcome to sleep on the couch and I wouldn’t kick him out on the street, but that we were going to have an unpleasant conversation.

Lying About Abuse
Sadly, that’s not the only time I’ve been duped by someone lying about the status of their relationship. My oft-mentioned ex fiance and I got together while he was still with his wife. He’d described his relationship with her as being “in name only” just for the sake of raising the kids. For reasons I won’t get into, it seemed realistic. Only later I realized it’s because he was really good at lying, and I was really good at falling for it, to my deep embarrassment.

After a week or two, I realized that his wife was not on the same page with him on this and I confronted him about that. He broke down crying and “revealed” how abusive his wife was, how crazy, and that she tried to attack him whenever he tried to break up with her, or she’d threaten suicide or threaten to take the kids.

And…I believed him.

I told him that I couldn’t be with him until they were clearly separated. Weeks later he was, and she vanished from the city with the kids. He made it sound like she’d all but kidnapped them. I’m ashamed to say I believed his lies. In truth, his wife was at the end of her rope from dealing with his abusive, insane behavior.

Years later, that was me. I was hearing from women he’d flirted with to the point of sexual harassment. I was hearing from women he’d had sex with; he had lied and told them that he and I were poly. Months after he left, I started hearing from his next girlfriend that he’d already cheated on her. Gods know what STDs he exposed me to. I remember waiting to get tested, dreading what I’d find out. And then I thought about his ex wife, and how she’d gone through all of that, and how I had believed him, believed his lies.

The problem with cheating is, it’s a lie. And repeat cheaters seem very comfortable with lying in order to get what they want.

Flirting as Sport
I was a guest presenter at a festival where there was a guy who later told me he was flirting with me. I didn’t notice because I can be generally clueless, but I also kind of shut off any “flirt engine” when I’m teaching. He began flirting with me online. I asked him if he had a girlfriend and he said yes, but implied that their relationship was ending or that it may already have ended. The flirtation dialed back a bit, and then I didn’t hear from him for a while.

I saw him at another festival and asked him what had happened. He said that he was incorrect, that his relationship was not ending. I said that I had a problem with him flirting like that when he wasn’t yet clear of another relationship. He said, “Oh, my girlfriend’s ok with flirting as long as it stops there.” He went on to say that he found flirting to be a high art form and he was determined to become a master of it.

I pointed out that I didn’t really find I was getting the benefit of an art form, I was just being jerked around, and for that matter, was his girlfriend aware he’d been flirting with me or had he lied about that too?

While this just brushes the borderlands of cheating, it sure didn’t feel right to me. I also have some issues with the idea of flirting as an art form, and I’m having trouble putting my finger on what creeps me out about it.

I want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt–he’s a nice guy, fun to talk to. But this whole scenario just felt off to me. Maybe I’m overreacting because I’ve been duped a few times.

Covering for a Cheater
I’ve heard people tell me that if they are seeing someone who’s cheating, it’s not their responsibility, it’s the cheater’s. And I’ve also heard people tell me that they knew a friend of theirs was cheating, and they not only didn’t say anything to that person’s partner, they helped cover for them.

If you do this, you are complicit. You are a part of the lie. Think about it this way; if you help a cheater cover things up, and that person’s original partner contracts HIV because of the cheating, you bear some responsibility for that. How would you feel?

We Didn’t Have Sex, it Wasn’t Cheating, Right?
Just because two people didn’t have sex, doesn’t mean that there isn’t cheating. The core of the cheating is the lying. It’s doing something outside of the scope of your agreements with your partner(s) and lying. And, I include omission as a lie in this circumstance. Starting a relationship with someone new, even if it’s “just” online, is still cheating.

Now–I’m not suggesting that people in a partnership can’t have friendships. But I think most of us know when things are shifting from “just friends” to “sexual tension.” And yes, of course, just because we fall for someone doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes get attracted to other people. But there’s a big difference between acknowledging we think someone’s hot, and acting on it in a way that’s outside our agreements with our current partner(s).

And as we’ve already covered, there are those times when some folks might begin to establish a relationship with someone new, and in doing so, realize that their original relationship isn’t working for them.

When Cheating is a Useful Sign
I have two friends. Woman A was in the middle of a divorce, Man B wanted to be in the middle of a divorce but hadn’t broken things off with his wife. Now…when I met Man B, he was kind of a gregarious, flirtatious guy. He had represented his wife as his “ex wife” but I later found out that she wasn’t aware that she was his ex. Woman A and Man B are both part of the same magical/spiritual group, and that group has guidelines about dating within the group.

Woman A and Man B started having sex. They lied about it to their spiritual group and to friends for about a month before they fessed up. However, it took them almost another two months before Man B came clean to his wife.

Ultimately, this seems to have led to good things. Man B was able to finally break things off with his wife and move into his own place, Woman A finalized her divorce, and the new couple is very happy together. This was definitely one of those situations where it became a catalyst. Sometimes, marriages are just unhappy but it’s hard to break up.

I had something similar happen; when I was married in my early 20’s, my husband and I opened up our marriage so he could explore some kinks and fetishes. We got more distant the more time he spent with his new friends, that catalyzed me to end things. Last I talked to him, his boyfriend was moving in with him and things were good. Sometimes a breakup is a win win, and sometimes it can take that attraction to someone new to make it clear that the old relationship is over.

When it’s a Red Flag for Predators
On the other hand, a consistent, repeat pattern of lying is a pretty solid red flag. If someone is pathologically lying to their partner about who they are having sex with, I can’t really trust them in to be honest about other things in a position of group leadership. In some cases, the problem is compulsive behavior.

The phrase that gets tossed around a lot with cheaters is “sex addiction.” I used to refer to that with my ex fiance, but what I’ve learned from a friend of mine who is a sex therapist is that the actual therapy professionals who specialize in sex therapy don’t recognize sex addiction.

The best way I can put it is that the behaviors associated with what’s called sex addiction are often symptoms of something like a personality disorder or some other mental illness. People with Borderline Personality Disorder, for instance, can have very poor impulse control. They go on shopping sprees, they have sex without protection, they cheat, they shoplift, they drink or do drugs, or they cut themselves…there are a number of behaviors that they will engage in that are related to impulse control problems. The sex and cheating is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

That being said, I’ve found that some of the criteria for sex addiction (which you can find online with a little googling) are a good indication of when the behavior is problematic. As I’ve written about in my sex and ethics pieces–sex isn’t bad. Wanting sex isn’t bad. Putting your partner in danger by having unprotected sex and not telling them is bad. Seeking out new relationships compulsively because without it you have no sense of self is bad.

In essence–sometimes, cheating is just a sign that a relationship is over. And other times, cheating (particularly repeat cheating) can be a red flag for certain mental illnesses, or just bad behavior.

Bad Leadership
My former partner cheated on me several times during the course of our relationship, and I’m ashamed to admit that I kept making it ok. I’d tell him I’d stay with him if he’d go and do therapy, and he’d be contrite and go…until he stopped. I fell into that old, old relationship trap, “If he’d only see that he’s hurting me, he’d stop. He’ll change, if I’m patient.”

Him lying to me and cheating on me hurt me emotionally. It had the potential to hurt me physically. And it hurt some of the women he was with (some were students/community members, some were women he was counseling as clergy) and it hurt some of the women he was flirting with to the point of harassment (they felt they couldn’t come out to Pagan events any more).

Someone who is lying and harming their partner by lying, and repeatedly engaging in this pattern, is probably eventually going to make some really bad leadership decisions. Someone who is a repeat cheater is going to put themselves and their needs first whether that’s because they have poor impulse control, or because they genuinely believe that the people they pursue somehow owe them sex, or if they are just a jerk.

Taking Responsibility
Cheating is a crappy thing to do to someone. If it’s the cosmic clue-by-four that your relationship is over, ok. Take that and run with it and do the decent thing and break up with the person you’re with. If you somehow think that cheating is ok, then I’ve got a real problem with that. And people who are compulsive, repeat cheaters have no business being in a position of leadership because they can’t be trusted.

These days, if I’m dating someone who identifies as polyamorous, I do my due diligence to be sure that they’re actually in a polyamorous relationship and not lying to me. Because if I’m sleeping with someone who’s cheating on their partner, guess what–I’m party to the lie. I’m harming that person by my actions.

Cheaters are harming their partners. In some cases, it becomes emotional abuse and duress for their partner. Let’s not sweep cheating under the rug and call it being sexually free and empowering, let’s call it for what it is. It’s a lie. It’s a failure of integrity. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes things shift in a relationship, but if it’s happening over and over, that’s a real leadership red flag. If it’s happening in a way where the leader is sexually harassing people, that’s a clear sign that this is a problem.

If that leader is pressuring newbies, students, or group members for sex, or if that person is not taking no for an answer, then we’ve started to cross over from bad behavior and lying into potential assault and rape.

I’m not saying every cheater is sexually assaulting people, however, I am pointing out that sometimes there are patterns. And what I’m always asking for is for each one of us to keep our eyes open. Don’t look away. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t look away.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Challenges with Personal Transformation

1979075_xlThere are some inherent challenges with the process of personal transformation. To put it into geek terms, you are hacking your own programming. And it’s going to impact your life. In other words, there are sometimes unintended consequences.

I think that facing the shadow tends to have repercussions–we’re hacking our self identity. We’re saying, “Yes, I identify that thing as bad, and yes, I do that thing, and I now have to accept that as part of my identity.”

Our ego doesn’t cope so well with that.

So very often the work I do comes down to recommending that people explore themselves, helping them to know themselves and do deeper personal work. And yet, I have to be crystal clear that there are consequences to this work. That when we change ourselves…things are going to change. It sounds obvious, but I know that for my own process it was a shock when things didn’t work the way they used to.

Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better
In fact, there was a part of my personal growth work where I’m pretty sure that the work I was doing actually deepened my depression. I’ve written in the past about how, through my process, I cut myself off from a huge taproot of my own power and drive–my anger. At the Diana’s Grove retreat center, there was the subtle implication that anger like that was “bad.” Nothing anyone ever told me directly, but it was implied.

Before I intentionally worked to work “anger” out of my life, I used to get a lot of my “let’s plan an event guys” energy from my self-identity as an event planner. Specifically, I carried an old wound of rejection from my peers. And how it manifested was, “If I plan a really awesome event, then I’ll be giving the finger to all the people who told me I couldn’t, plus, all the kids that abused me in school.”

Of course that makes no rational sense, but the rage/showing off energy I pulled from that was pretty intense. When I cut that off, I lost a lot of my energy for doing things like that. I had to basically regrow a taproot.

And in the years following that shift, as well as some others, I went deeper and deeper into a depression. And I managed to do a pretty good cover up of the severity of my depression, because it was embarrassing as hell. Or at least, I thought I was covering it well. There were a few folks that noticed how bad I was feeling, but I didn’t know that until later.

When my depression got bad enough that I was reaching for help, my (now) ex partner berated me for it. I felt pretty lost and alone and stuck.

It’s not to say that all personal growth work like this has such a wretched process. Sometimes things just work really well. But I think that any of us doing work, especially work that shifts our identity, and work that shifts how we relate to others, we have to realize that there will be some growing pains. We can’t pretend like doing this life-changing work isn’t going to change our lives.

And sometimes it’s going to cost us friends, relationships, jobs, and other pieces of our lives.

Boundaries are another core area where deep personal transformation work can lead to big changes in our lives that we aren’t expecting. A lot of boundaries work begins as just self awareness. We become aware of who we are, and who the other people are around us, and how we are not each other. My desire for you to join my event planning team does not mean that you will automatically do what I want, because we aren’t the same person. Similarly, a friend’s desire for me to be more extroverted and want to go to more social events with them doesn’t obligate me to do that, because we aren’t the same person.

Here are some of my previous posts on boundaries in case you want to learn more:

But, boundaries becomes an interpersonal train wreck when we start saying “no.” When I say no to my friend or boyfriend or mom who want me to come out to an event that I don’t want to attend because I’m working on writing my book…they get hurt feelings.

No: The Great Rejection
Just because I’ve worked on my boundaries, doesn’t mean you’ve worked on yours. And in our culture, “No” is a great offense. No means I reject you, that I don’t even like you. I’ve worked for years to get better at hearing “No.” It’s still not easy, but  I can at least process it.

Boundaries work is crucial; we transform when we realize how much we are pressuring others. Or, how much we let ourselves get pressured. You can’t negotiate until you realize how much pressuring is happening. But, my awareness of my own boundaries doesn’t suddenly make everyone else’s boundaries better. Your family, spouse, boss, kids, teachers, friends…just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean anyone else will respect those boundaries.

So the rub is, you do all this personal growth work, often with the intention of reducing conflict and stress in your life–and then you’re suddenly causing more stress. When you start saying “No” to people, particularly to people who are used to saying yes, watch their stress and anger start to pop up. They’ll get agitated. They’ll bargain with you and bully you. They’ll rail at you for changing.

You did all this personal growth work to have better relationships, and then people start walking out of your life because you’re not their “yes man” any longer.

When we learn how to say no, we get treated like a jerk, and if we have always identified as the nice, helpful person, we have to rectify that with the new identity. We have to identify how much other people’s opinions of us matter, and decide how much of that we want to remain in our identity programming.

But when we remove that, there’s a backlash.

Boundaries and Betrayal
Sometimes it goes south really fast. “You betrayed me and did not live up to my expectations of you” can swiftly become, “You have always been evil and I hate you and will tear you down.” And all because we said “No” to someone who was used to us saying “Yes.”

Partly this is because most people are not very self reflective. And partly this is because people polarize really fast. While “splitting” is a term for people with Borderline personality’s tendency to see everyone around them as Good or Evil with no gray area, I personally experience that most people have difficulty holding a gray area, or holding paradox.

I can hold the paradox that you did this thing that really pisses me off…but, that doesn’t mean you are “bad” just because of that. I can hold both–that you pissed me off but you are still a basically good person. You pissing me off doesn’t require me to identify you as bad, forever and ever henceforth.

But gray areas are hard to maintain. People want boxes, a clear and final solution. Yes, no. Good, bad. We want to know what the right answer is, even if it’s an answer we don’t like. There’s also the challenge of cognitive dissonance–when we have an established belief, our brain literally fights us in challenging that belief.

So while we can work to shift our identity, and we can talk to our friends and family and other folks we know about how we are shifting our identity, that doesn’t mean that they will understand it or be able to support it.

What Now?
In the end, we can only continue to do our work, to become the best we can be. Sometimes the shifts we make will have an impact. And sometimes it might cost us in ways we aren’t expecting. I find that it’s better to be a little bit prepared for the reactions we might get from people. It gives me a little more patience with them–of course they are going to feel betrayed because I’m not doing what they want any more, or because my identity is shifting and I’m acting differently. And sometimes, if I can keep more calm while talking through things, it’s easier to find a solution.

But there also comes a point where I realize, even though I wanted a relationship to stay where it was at, if someone can’t respect who I am becoming, then I may indeed need to cut ties.

For anyone doing intensive transformation work–whether you call it personal work or spiritual work–I recommend having someone you can talk to, especially a trained counselor or therapist. I wish that I’d had that when I was doing some of the most grueling transformative work of my process, when I was stuck in that pit of depression. Having at least one person you can deeply trust to check in with about your process can really help.

This work is challenging, but that’s not going to stop me. This work is too important. I think about the world we could have together if we all worked to be more self reflective. If we worked to transform ourselves into our best selves…not denying our shadows but instead integrating them.

But that is the alchemical work of a lifetime.

Filed under: Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Reblog: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation

I’m reblogging this very excellent post by Lydia MN Crabtree. It was written in March and it continues to be relevant as I see the Frosts are still out there teaching, and many Pagan groups and organizations still need better policies and processes regarding abuse, harassment, and other issues.

The Fish Rots from the Head Down: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation


Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community

Leadership & Ritual Books: On sale for .99

CoverLeaderWithinFor the next 48 hours, my two ebooks The Leader Within and Ritual Facilitation will be on sale for $0.99 on Amazon. The hardcopies are still the regular price but the Kindle versions are reduced from $5 to $0.99. For those of you who have been thinking of buying them–or if you know someone who would benefit from either book on Pagan leadership and facilitation skills–they’re priced

I’m offering them at this price to celebrate the release of my new urban fantasy novella, The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves. The story follows Jack and Meredith, who meet at a Pagan festival around the evening bonfire. (more info below)


The Leader Within: Articles on Community Building, Leadership, & Personal Growth

This book is a collection of articles articulating thoughts and techniques for leadership, community building, and the deep personal work we need to build sustainable, vibrant communities. The articles constructively look at common problems in Pagan communities and explore leadership challenges in an understandable way while working toward solutions.

Kindle eBook:   $4.99   $0.99   Hardcopy: $20




Ritual Facilitation: Collected Articles on the Art of Leading Rituals

Each of us can learn to create more magical, memorable rituals and ceremonies. Whether you are an experienced ritualist or brand new to ritual work, this collection of articles and essays will help you learn to facilitate potent, powerful rituals through techniques of facilitation, public speaking, or event planning.

Kindle eBook:  $4.99   $0.99   Hardcopy: $15.00





Cover_WhiteDressSmallThe White Dress, the Autumn Leaves

What would happen if you dreamed your own death? Meredith attends her first week-long pagan festival. She’s not sure what to expect, but it certainly isn’t Jack, who plays in a band that’s performing there. After a few sultry nights they realize they are falling in love.

As Meredith prepares for their wedding months later, she’s haunted by visions. Tragically, her dreams come true, and Jack finds himself grieving his lost love at a Samhain ritual. Is it possible for him to heal? And is it possible for Meredith to contact him from beyond the veil?

This urban fantasy features a spicy heat level, love and loss, and a subtle magic.

Buy the book for $2.99 $2.49 |  Jupiter Gardens Press   | Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Smashwords

You can buy it direct from Jupiter Gardens Press on sale for $2.49





Filed under: Leadership Tagged: leadership, ritual arts, ritual facilitation, the white dress

Roundup: Sex, Ethics, Predators, #YesAllWomen

9046129_xxlSo there’s more that needs to be discussed on the sex, ethics, harassment, predators, abuse, and consent front. There’s the #yesallwomen movement, and there are a lot of conversations happening. I’ve written more blog posts on the topic–but I’ll be honest, I haven’t published them. Why?

Well…I know I tend to go raw with my posts, but the posts I wrote may be too raw. I’m not sure if I want to go there. Maybe I’m not sure I want to reveal that much, or be that much of a bummer. Maybe I’m sick of triggering people.

And yet, if we don’t talk about these things, how can we heal them? How can we build healthier community? How can we build a better world?

I admit, when I hear about people doing horrible things, I can get pretty depressed. I think, what’s the point if all these people are going to do these terrible things? But then my optimist rears its head and insists, we can be better. We must be better.

While I work out whether or not to post some further blogs in my Pagans and Predators series, here’s a roundup of a lot of other great posts on these topics. If you read all the source posts here (I’ve pulled some pithy quotes from each) I think you’ll have a pretty good idea of the core issues not just in the Pagan community, but in our broader culture, that contribute to making this a self-perpetuating cycle.


“At a drumming workshop, the instructor asked each person to individually play back a rhythm. I decided to pass on that particular exercise, being self-conscious about my sense of rhythm. When it came to my turn, I told the instructor that I would prefer not to and he was fine with that, but someone else in the class said “we’re allowed to not do it?”. It shocked me that those around me didn’t know that they were allowed to say “no” to something.

If we value consent as individuals and as a community, we will all develop the ability to lovingly enforce boundaries and respectfully step back if requested.”



“We failed his victims. It is an aching, glaring reality in the hordes of blog posts out there: there’s lots of talk about how we had warnings about Klein, but only the victims talk about how they were (mis)treated along the way. Call it rape culture, call it Peter Pan syndrome, call it Pagan fantasy culture at its worst – but also, call it our fault for not listening, for not paying attention, for dismissing instead of investigating.”

“But then real life happens: a woman tells you she’s been raped by someone you know – a guy you just had drinks with, a guy who’s on your trivia team, a guy who just helped you move.

Then believing her is a very different story.

Even after she gets the rape kit and the DNA proves something happened, you dredge up anything  that can make this not be so – even blaming her – to convince yourself you’re not the kind of person that would befriend a rapist.

Maybe she’s just trying to get revenge in a bad breakup, you tell yourself. You look for every fault she has. Something has to be wrong with her – because there’s no way you’d just let this happen, that you might have been a passive party to someone else’s violation….Or: look at how she wears baggy clothes and no makeup – why would anyone even want to rape her?

This train of thought is wrong – beyond wrong. It’s a complete moral failure.”



“Because if a woman says no she is a prude, but if she says yes she is a slut

Because when I worked as a waitress and a bar maid I was repeatedly slapped on the ass, pinched, groped, physically pulled, and cornered by male customers who thought it was ‘just a bit of fun’

Because body shaming and victim blaming are so common that women are told to just ‘get over it’”



“When allegations and discussions came up before, they were often isolated. Either by geography, fear, or by the nature of the early Internet, where different groups tended to circulate in a limited number of forums.”



“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.”



“Every woman I know has a story where, if she wasn’t assaulted, then was nearly assaulted. All have been stalked, at least once. My wife, my mother, my female friends, all have been subjected to fear in a way I can’t relate to. Every woman I know has a story where they didn’t feel safe because of something a man said or did to them. And no, not all men are bad. We’re not all “like that.” But how is anyone supposed to know that just by looking?

A major point of the #YesAllWomen trend was to show how women have to frequently deal with situations they aren’t in control of. This is lost by those opposing it. Some of them ironically say that these women are “out of control.” And that’s exactly what theyfear.

This also ties in to how people (men) think false accusations of rape happen frequently. The notion being that the woman is in control. All she needs to do is say it, right? “He raped me!” These men simply assume that this is easy to do, so it must happen all the time. Therefore, women are clearly lying about rapes.”



“Friend zoning, is, in broader terms, something bad that a guy who is not getting laid decides that the woman won’t fuck him is doing. It’s an incredibly self centered and self-pitying way to externalize one’s own mistakes or shortcomings, to blame the complex mystery of fickle human attraction on a woman’s agency, and makes about as much emotional sense as showing up to pick up your dry cleaning at 3 am and becoming so enraged that they’re not open that you throw a brick through the window.

But should something that originates 100% in the feelings of a man (note: women can be “friendzoned” too, but, according to The Internet, this happens much less often) perception be attributed to a woman? Probably not. That’s why, months ago, the ladies of Reddit came up with “girlfriendzoning” in the first place — it’s when guys “only see a girl as a potential girlfriend and not as a friend (or a human, really, in my opinion).”

Girlfriendzoning is not when a man is interested in a woman and is disappointed when her interest is not reciprocated; that’s a normal human way to respond to rejection. It’s the word for the pining blame men place on women for their own unrequited feelings, or for how some men completely lose interest in women as people once it’s clear she’s not interested in them sexually. It’s something done by a man who was never interested in anything but a sexual relationship in the first place, and tried to use faux friendship as a way to achieve sexual ends.”



“Associating misogyny with a mass murder would mean having to recognize just how dangerous misogyny really is and – if you’re partaking – giving it up. Some men want to believe that they can continue to call women “sluts” and make rape jokes without being part of a broader cultural impact. But they can’t: sexism, from everyday harassment to inequality enshrined in policy, pollutes our society as a whole and limits our ability to create real justice for women.”



You may think it’s unfair that we have to counteract and adjust ourselves for the ill behavior of other men. You know what? You’re right. It is unfair. Is that the fault of women? Or is it the fault of the men who act abysmally and make the rest of us look bad? If issues of fairness bother you, get mad at the men who make you and your actions appear questionable.

Here’s a bullet-point list of examples of rape culture.

· Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)

· Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)

· Sexually explicit jokes

· Tolerance of sexual harassment

· Inflating false rape report statistics

· Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history

· Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television

· Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive

· Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive

· Pressure on men to “score”

· Pressure on women to not appear “cold”

· Assuming only promiscuous women get raped

· Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped

· Refusing to take rape accusations seriously

· Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape”

More blog posts certainly to follow on this topic. Thank you for reading, and thank you for working to be a part of the solution.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: #yesallwomen, abuse, community, consent, ethics, harassment, healing, leadership, sex