Thursday, March 27, 2014

Predators and Pagans

Today’s news that Kenny Klein, Pagan musician and teacher, was arrested on suspicion of child pornography, raises an important issue that too many in the Pagan community seem to prefer to ignore, the existence of predators in our community.

Now, I’m not going to discuss, for the most part, whatever crimes were allegedly committed by Klein, but rather I want to focus on the bigger issue, which is the community’s response to things like this. We often hear stories of a pedophile being caught, or a sexual predator preying on susceptible victims at Pagan events, or of people leaving a coven because of the predatory actions of one or more of the coven’s leaders. Often the knee-jerk reaction is to say “obviously this person isn’t a real Pagan, or they’d never do these things”. Unfortunately this is, at best ignorant, and in fact it does much damage to the credibility of the community as a whole.

Worse is when the community, or the leadership of the portion of it most affected, turns a blind eye to the whole thing, or even worse still, when they defend the predator. I understand the fear involved – exposing the act invariably rebounds on the community as a whole, and the fundamentalist Christians have a field day, attacking us all and painting us all with the same brush. But ignoring or covering up these problems plays into their hands even more, because it looks like we condone those acts, accept them. It makes preying on the weaker members of our community look like normal Pagan behavior.

So I have a simple suggestion to make – let’s stop doing that. Let’s stop enabling the predators because of our own fear. Klein’s arrest is going to make him the poster-boy for fundamentalist attacks on the “evil Witches and Pagans”, because this time there is no hiding behind the “no true Pagan” defense. He is a highly visible Pagan, active in festivals and conferences, a popular musician, an elder of his tradition (Blue Star Wicca). Any time a predator is convicted or confesses, we need to find the courage to stand up and say “yes, they are a Pagan, and what they have done is wrong, and we condemn their actions and those of all others who betray the trust placed in them.” We cannot stick our heads in the sand, like the Catholic Church did for so many years with the pedophile priests. We need to deal with the pedophiles, the creepy folk who go to Pagan gatherings looking to get laid by forcing themselves on someone caught up in the magic, or a little too tipsy. We need to deal with coven leaders who demand sexual favors of students, while being careful not to get too puritanical on those traditions that use consensual sex as part of their craft.

Above all, we need to, for once, show a united front to the world, one that says that we will not tolerate this behavior in our ranks, that we will not tolerate those who condone, defend, or by their inaction, enable this behavior. Predators are found in all walks of life, so we need to stress that this is not acceptable in Paganism, but at the same time, we must not use the old feeble excuse of “he wasn't a real Pagan”. We have to own our failures as well as our successes.

I don’t know for sure whether Klein has actually done anything wrong – the article about his arrest stated that 25 explicit photos were found on his computer, and he admitted ownership, that he downloaded them and also distributed them to others. But at this point, he has not been charged, and certainly hasn't been convicted. To be honest, it is less today’s arrest that sparked my little rant here, but the comments I've been seeing online from people who say he’s been doing this for 20 plus years, while teaching  workshops for children and mixing with families. Some of those comments are from people who claim it happened to them. If the alleged actions are backed up by evidence, why have community leaders allowed continued access to children for so long?

In the past, I've heard stories of people who have been vilified in the community for exposing pedophiles. Now I realize that there is a fine line between making assumptions and having reasonable certainty, but when there is evidence, we should not shoot the messenger, and even when there isn't, it still bears at least taking a look. Somebody can be mistaken, over-cautious or over sensitive, but if they are sincerely concerned, the leaders of their group should look into the accusations as fairly as possible, and where there is evidence, there should be action. Instead we get people being ostracized and punished for “exposing the group to public scrutiny”… the same excuses the Catholic Church gave for moving pedophile priests to a different parish.

Ultimately, we are always going to be under attack from fundamentalist Christianity – nothing will change that. If in fear of providing them with ammunition, we try to hide the acts of these predators, we not only end up giving them more and better ammunition, but we are allowing our own community to become the victims of pedophiles, bullies, extortionists, frauds and rapists. Already the damage done by this is evident; the large number of seekers who shy away from covens and formal training because they've been burnt by a predator. When we fail to deal with predators, to remove them from our ranks and bring them to the attention of the authorities, we become their accessories, their enablers, and we become in part responsible for their actions, and that carries a heavy coin.


So if you are the victim of a predator, bring it to the attention of a leader and/or the authorities. If you are a leader, then do not turn away from those who claim they are victims – lead, and do what is necessary. We must be careful not to jump to conclusions, but must evaluate the situation, and decide if action is needed. Above all, we must not delude ourselves that if we ignore it, it will go away.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Positive Power of Negativity

When practicing any “flavor” of magick, it is easy to get caught up in what you are doing, and not notice the ripples of effect it has – that you have – on others around you. I suppose that is true of all sincere spiritual practice.

I used to think that my spirituality was undertaken in isolation, that nothing I did mattered to anyone else. Whether it was my ritual, my crafting, my writing, teaching, or even my podcast, I was convinced that while it had meaning and significance for me, it didn't make one whit of difference to anyone else. But when I was sick in hospital, my friends – and Facebook – made it clear to me that something I was doing was apparently resonating with a bunch of people, as healing, well-wishing and comments about how I had affected peoples’ lives came in from around the world. It moved me, and my spiritual work in all arenas has been greatly influenced since then by an awareness of the effect it can have, those ripples, spreading out and touching other lives.

I have always considered myself to be a very straightforward person – my motivation has always been, I though, pretty evident. In my own mind’s eye, I have always been exactly what I appear to be. I am, I think, passionate about exploring my Craft, and sharing the results. I have a driving need to teach, and, while I find myself in a leadership position because of the students I teach, and the books, DVDs, workshops and the podcast, I have no real desire to lead… it just sort of happened, almost in spite of myself.
But lately I’ve started to try to see myself through the eyes of others, because I think that I might learn something about myself. That isn't hard when listening to friends – the other day a good friend told me how remarkably talented I was at taking deep and complex subjects and teaching them in a user-friendly and understandable way, which was very easy to hear, despite my typically British embarrassment at hearing myself being complimented.

It isn't so easy to listen to the opinions of one’s detractors, however, though that is likely to be the more useful exercise. Ignoring the claims about me that are manifestly ridiculous, or projection from those who do what they accuse me of, how I am seen by those who do not hold me in high esteem can actually tell me things about myself that can help me be a better me… or at least, I think it can.

For example, I've heard that I am pompous and opinionated. Now I have no doubt that I am opinionated, but I've never thought of myself as pompous. I do know that the British accent I speak with can sound pompous to some, and I know that when I am on a roll, I can get very loquacious, which can make it difficult for others to get a word in edgewise. So I can sort of understand that one. But there are plenty of other faults that my detractors are keen to point out, that I find harder to understand.

It has been said that I am a Machiavellian schemer, power-hungry, and manipulative. These are the things that I find hardest to understand, and the most painful things that I hear about myself. As I stated earlier, I truly believe that my motivations are simply to learn and share. Some of this, considering the main source, may be  projection, but I've heard it from people who have never met me. No doubt, they were influenced by who consider me “the enemy” (pretty much the entire Pagan community of Salt Lake City, UT, apparently hates me, though less than a handful have ever met me), and that is something that I find puzzling – I try not to form an opinion on someone based solely on the opinions of others, myself – but it happens a lot in the Pagan community, unfortunately.

Ultimately, I find exploring these negative reactions quite useful, because it both spurs me on to be better than before, and it keeps me humble. On the one hand, everyone says that if you aren’t annoying somebody, then you are not “doing it right”, but on the other hand, it isn’t like I’m trying to preach the one true way. I love to share what I’ve learnt, but I am fine with people having different ideas, disagreeing with me, or whatever. As long as I can make them think, make them feel, make them as passionate about their art as I am, then it is all good. What is a little badmouthing compared to that?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saying Farewell to Rev Hyperion

Yesterday was a bittersweet day for me.

Last week we were shocked to hear that Eddy Gutierrez (also known as Rev Hyperion and Dr. E) had passed away after a massive heart attack. Yesterday was his funeral, and Linda and I drove down to attend.

I first met Eddy at PantheaCon, around five years ago. We had communicated via email and social media, brought together by our podcasts, but had never been face to face. His first words to me were “Chris Penczak is looking for you”, and for a moment, I thought that I had somehow caused offense and was now in trouble. It turned out that Chris just liked my work, and wanted to meet me. But those words were the beginning of a friendship that largely involved an annual beer at PantheaCon, and occasional visits here in Los Angeles, but a friendship that somehow became curiously close, despite the rarity of our actually getting together. I think that this was just who Eddy was – he developed these strong connections with people, and connected people with each other.

Never was this friendship more evident than on two occasions. The first was when I was looking for someone to help demonstrate guising techniques for the DVD I was filming, “Making and Using Ritual Masks”. Eddy and his then partner came up from san Diego to spend the day cavorting around our temple in various leather masks, demonstrating trance and ecstatic techniques that could be amplified by the use of properly prepared masks.

As a thank-you, I gave Eddy one of the masks I had made for the DVD, a stylized stag skull mask, which can be seen on the new cover for that DVD.

The other occasion was a little over a year ago, in September 2012. I had just had a massive heart-attack of my own, dying and being resuscitated several times on the way to the hospital. The doctors used an experimental technique, called Artic Sun, to freeze my body to preserve my brain function, while people around the world rallied to assist me with healing circles, prayers, and good vibes. It worked – after only seven days in hospital, I headed home, to be met by Eddy and the love of his life, Clayton, at our home. They spent a few hours with us, and Eddy gave me a healing Mojo bag he had prepared for me, along with a special oil to feed it.

Until I had my heart attack, I was largely unaware of the reach my podcasts, books and DVDs had – it never occurred to me that anything I was doing might make a difference, or even had an audience. I did it because I needed to. But lying in that hospital bed, I becan to hear stories about what was going on… how my condition made the Pagan headlines with an article on The Wild Hunt, and how people as far afield as Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone in England, Sufi groups in Africa, and even Christian churches in the Midwest were praying for me, working rituals, or crafting healing spells, each in their own way. The realization that people I never met cared for me hit like a ton of bricks, and I remember sobbing in gratitude and awe that people would feel that way about me. Standing there at my doorstep when I arrived home that day, Eddy became for me the face of all that support.

So when we heard the call for healing for Eddy, we did not hesitate, and I’m proud to say that I witnessed the Pagan community leaping into action once again. Sadly, for Eddy the time had come, and later that afternoon we heard that he had passed away.

And so, yesterday, Linda and I – dressed in the lightest clothes we possess (Lacumi funerals do not allow black or dark colors to be worn by attendees) – hit the road to see our friend off for the last time. We allowed for typical Los Angeles traffic that never materialized, so we arrived early, which gave us the opportunity to connect with Tommie Starchild, David Shorey, and some of the brethren of the Unnamed Path, the tradition started by Eddy for men who love men. The service was beautiful, with many memories invoked of this lovely man and the changes he wrought in people’s lives. His mother and sister were gracious beyond belief, making sure to greet every person with a hand held and an inquiry on how they were holding up. Eddy’s aunt sang an emotion-filled rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, several of the brethren spoke of Eddy, and Clayton did too. A moving video tribute to Eddy was played, then it was time to move from the funeral home to the grave-side.

It is only fitting that Eddy’s last ride through town was an adventure. We had quite a distance to cover, so the procession was escorted by a number of motorcycle cops. As a result, we were treated to the surreal experience of running through red lights, waved on by the cops, and powering down the freeway with hazard lights flashing, encouraged by the cops to drive faster to keep up with the rest of the procession. Eddy’s mother said that he would have appreciated all of that.

Finally, we all stood around Eddy’s coffin, physically connected to each other, to say our final farewell. It was a beautiful event, though one none of us ever wanted to happen. We finally got to meet people we’d only ever seen online… Rex Barbatus, Chris Black (who in addition to being a brother of the Unnamed Path, is also one of our remote coven students), and the others. We also cherished rare moments in the company of Tommie and David, and also Tony and Jo-Ann Mierzwicki… even in death, Eddy was still bringing people together.


Eddy, we may not always have agreed with each other on esoteric matters, but we always had respect for each other, and love. You have changed the lives of many, and your legacy will live on – we will honor you among our Ancestors, and you will never be forgotten!


Home from hospital after my own heart attack, with Jo-Ann and Tony Mierzwicki and their daughter Michaela, Sue and Jay Mayer, my wife Linda, and Eddy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rev Hyperion Passes Away

I'm sorry to report that our friend Eddy Gutierrez, also known as Rev Hyperion and Doctor E, passed away today from a heart attack. Linda and I send loving thoughts towards his family, initiates, and students (he was the founder and head of the Unnamed Path Tradition).

Eddy was a good friend, one of the first to respond when I had my own heart attack. We have had many an interesting conversation, and we will miss him.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

American Horror Story - and a Book on Enchantment

Now, I live up the road from Hollywood, and used to work in the industry, so I'm not making too much of a big deal about this... but I have to admit, it made my day yesterday.

One of my Facebook friends suggested that I watch a promo piece for season 3 of "American Horror Story". Now, I must confess that I've never watched the show - my wife is not fond of the horror genre, and I rarely watch TV alone - but after watching the promo, I might just have to watch season three...

You see, while the promo piece is mainly still shots of cast members (the brief video bit at the beginning does intrigue me...) while the host talks about it, one pic, at around 1:54, really caught my eye. You see, Emma Roberts, of Nancy Drew, Scream 4 and Hotel For Dogs fame, is pictured during a lunch-break on set with a copy of my book, "Enchantment: The Witch's Art of Manipulation by Gesture, Gaze and Glamour" in her arms - you can clearly see the title in the higher-res images.

 
 
Now this picture, and the others from the same set, have been popping up all over the place - this version is from the website Just Jared - but the photos can also be found illustrating articles about season three of AHS around the world, including the UK's Daily Mail newspaper. It is impossible to know exactly why she is carrying it, for it could be a prop, a guide to the gestures used in enchantment to aid her acting, or she could just like my books. But one thing is for sure - it made me feel really good to see it in the hands of someone who is portraying a member of a coven where the female characters are said to be portrayed as strong, independent and empowered. Also, the cast sounds like a great ensemble for this season. I just might have to watch it...
 
For the curious, here's a link to that promo video on YouTube: Season 3 Promo for American Horror Story.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Training Coven opens its doors to new students


A little over a year ago, the Ancestors made it clear to us that there is a need for us to provide a greater service to the Art, and against all common sense and sanity, we chose to comply with their requests.

So it is that we brought into being a new teaching coven, Agoriadau Tri, part of the Y Ffordd Wen Tradition of Welsh Witchcraft. This coven is a sister to Briar Rose, but is otherwise completely autonomous. As the focus of Briar Rose is to do the Work, so the focus of Agoriadau Tri is to teach the basics, to share the Mysteries of the Crooked Path to those who are willing and able to pass beyond Her Gates.

Having successfully completed the first year-and-a-day course, we are again opening the doors to a limited number of local and remote students. Membership will require a commitment of the traditional year and a day. But do not contact us directly to request that you be considered for membership – all such direct requests will be refused.

Below, you will find information on how those who are interested may make their desire known, and students will be chosen from those who follow the directions given. There are no guarantees of acceptance, and once accepted, no guarantees that initiation will follow – as the old saying makes clear, “many are called, but few are chosen”.


There will be a certain number of local and distance learning positions available in the coven, and those interested in studying with us can make their interest known by following the directions below. Please note that those accepted for training will be committing to the following:

  1. Attending all classes (for local students) and handing in all homework, unless a good reason can be provided
  2.  Maintaining the confidentiality of the Coven and fellow students
  3.  Reading the required reading material for each section of the training
  4.  A materials contribution of $10 per month will be requested of students. For local students, this will cover the cost of consumables used in teaching (candles, incense, refreshments etc.), and for distance students this will cover the cost of making the material available via live video streaming and other methods.

 

Local students will be invited to attend weekly classes and the eight classic Sabbats. Distance students will be required to study with the aid of written material and video and audio recordings, and will be invited to attend the eight classic Sabbats if they are visiting the Los Angeles area at the time.

 The Coven will be teaching material for the Crooked Path as practiced by the Y Ffordd Wen Tradition of Welsh Witchcraft. This involves the practice known by such names as “Traditional Witchcraft”, “The Nameless Art”, “The Cunning Craft” and “The Old Persuasion”, which will be expressed through the Myths and Lore of the Welsh Celtic Mysteries as found in the Mabinogion, though it can be expressed through the Mystery of any religion’s more esoteric aspects outside of Coven practice. In other words, we will be focusing on examples and Lore from Wales, but in your own practice it can be used with the myths and lore of your current spirituality.

 Please note that while this process is aimed at bringing students to initiation on the Crooked Path, there is no guarantee that if accepted you will achieve that aim. All students will be assessed on their merits, and those who do not go through to initiation in the Crooked Path will be assisted in finding where their path lies.

 In return for the commitment of the students, we in turn make the following commitments:

  1.   To teach the material to the best of our ability
  2.   To provide initiation to those who fulfill the requirements
  3.   To assist all others to set foot firmly on their Path
  4.   To maintain the confidentiality of all students

Directions

This is the way to make known your interest in studying with us. Approaching us by any other means will result in refusal.

·         Send an email to requests@crookedpath.org – this email address will be active until the end of August, so make your request before then.

·         If you are the friend of one or more existing members of the tradition, you may wish to submit your request to them, so that they can forward it to us with their endorsement. You should still use email, and follow the directions given below.

·         The email must include the following information:

  1. Your full legal name
  2.  Your address
  3.  Whether you wish to be a local or distance student
  4.  Any prior experience, training or coven work with any Witchcraft tradition, including Wiccan traditions
  5.  Your favorite books on Witchcraft (note: you do not get “extra points” for liking my books)
  6.  Why you want to study with us
  7.  What got you interested in Witchcraft?
  8.  Any other information you feel may be useful or relevant

·          Please be honest and do not exaggerate your experiences. Any untruths that are discovered will bring your association with us to an immediate end. You do not have to be already experienced, nor do you need to be a complete newbie – we just want to know where you are coming from.

·          After a period of reflection, those who are selected to move on to the next step will be contacted. All others will receive an email informing them that they were not selected. No other communication on this matter will be made – NOTE: If you are not successful this time, you are welcome to try again when we next announce openings. Not being selected does not mean you are not “worthy”… it is possible that we will receive more requests than we can accept, in which case we may have to turn away candidates who are perfectly suitable.

·         We realize that, to some, this process may seem exclusive and “elitist”, but the simple fact is that not all paths are suited to every person, and some discernment is required to ensure that the needs of both student and teacher are met. If you do not like the selection process, do not submit yourself to it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Books, PantheaCon, and the Joy of Teaching

we got back from PantheaCon on Monday evening, exhausted, but happy. For anyone who is not familiar with PantheaCon, it is a Pagan Convention held in San Jose, CA, over the President's Day weekend each year. It is the largest Pagan event in the US, with some 2,500 attendees, and a ton of fun.

This year, I launched my latest book, "Enchantment: The Witch's Art of Manipulation Through Gesture, Gaze and Glamour", with a workshop of the same name. Arriving fifteen minutes before the start, I almost didn't get in to my own workshop, as the room was full to capacity, and I'm told over 50 people were turned away. The workshop - an overview distilled from the four two-hour workshops I taught in order to put together and test the material for the book - was well received, and a large number of books were sold, both the new one and copies of my other books.

I also taught two other workshops over the weekend. My "Bringing Lore to Life" one was early on Monday morning, but despite that, it was still packed, and apparently I was in fine form, telling tales both classical (the story of Cerridwen and Gwion Back) and personal (tales from the year I carried Sacred King for my tradition). Once again, plenty of books were sold, including all of the remaining copies of Enchantment.

In between my two solo workshops, I had the honor of co-presenting "Working the Well of Magick" with Orion Foxwood. Orion told me that the only other person he has co-presented with is R. J. Stewart, so the pressure was definitely on, but the packed room (the biggest one in PantheaCon) responded well as we shared the art and philosophy of the Well from our different perspective - mine from traditional Witchcraft, his from Faery Seership and Appalachian Conjure. We finished with a group working, where all four hundred and some participants danced the serpentine around well and stang, and threw their coins in the well, and tied a rag or a sttring on the stang. Feedback afterwards was extremely positive, and both Orion and I are keen to co-present more workshops in future.

But PantheaCon isn't just about teaching and selling books... We enjoyed several workshops, notably Christopher Penczak's "The Mighty Dead", and our coveners were blown away by the Morrigan ritual. WE all had a blast listening to Wendy Rule, such an incredible singer! Most importantly, we immersed ourselves in the wonderland that was the vendor room, and spent plenty of time at the bar, people-watching and chatting with friends old and new. Besides time spent with Orion and his fiance Aubrey, we also got to chat with Dave Finnin, Ed Fitch, Dr. E (Rev Hyperion), Tommie Starchild and Dave Shore, Oberyn Kunning, Oriana, Chris Penczak, Mojo and Sparrow from the Wigglian Way, Faelyn, and I was introduced to Selena Fox. Jo-Ann and Tony Mierzwicki were there too - Jo-Ann is my layout artist and self-appointed slave-driver (she bugs me until I get stuff done), and her handsome husband is the best Pagan photographer around, when he isn't busy teaching his own workshops, on Graeco-Egyptian magick and related subjects.

Meanwhile, back at the covenstead, our great experiment with the training coven is doing well. So well, in fact, that it is changing our whole tradition. Now we find that we have a name for our tradition, Y Ffordd Wen ("The Milky Way"... the original crooked path), and several dedicants working towards initiation. The live video streaming for long-distance students continues to work extremely well, and at slightly over half-way through the course, we have had surprisingly few drop-outs, and comparatively little drama. And I can definitely say that we are learning from our students as much as they are learning from us!

Now to start planning for next year, PantheaCon's 20th anniversary!