Teach Me: Helping our Children Avoid Abuse of Power
Article ID: 14922
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: February 5th. 2012
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**I feel the need to preface this, as others have done, with what should be obvious: these are my personal experiences and personal opinions and truths, and should hold absolutely no threat to those with differing opinions or truths. There are portions of my life where Wicca was not a good experience; that does not mean it cannot be a good, fulfilling, and safe experience for others, if provided the right spiritual seeds. Aside from the academic and historical honesty portion of this essay, everything is opinion. There are facts that are indisputable, but I did not want this essay to focus on that - partially because BellaDonna Saberhagen has already hit that topic beautifully in her essay Don’t Put Wands in the Hands of Cavemen. Therefore, I’ve only mentioned those points briefly and anecdotally. I respect your right to be offended, but hope that you will read this with open eyes and an open heart, and hear the spirit of it, whether or not your faith agrees with my own. In addition, I have tried very hard to speak from a place of love, and not a place of condemnation. I am not, in this essay, condemning anyone but those who abuse their power with our children. Lastly, this editorial style essay is not aimed at those of you who have already discovered these truths, or already champion this cause, or similar – it is aimed at those who haven’t, and who ought to at least have the opportunity to consider the issue, and decide for themselves where they stand. I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few of the ones I do have that feel right to me. May your gods and ancestors smile on you. **
It surprises my fifteen year old daughter to no end each time she is forced to realize that I, too, was fifteen years old once. Like my daughter, I wanted to fit in – and if I couldn’t fit in with the mainstream crowd, then by gods I was going to fit in with the alternative one. I cried when Kurt Cobain died, listened to Pink Floyd in my dorm room, and did many other things unmentionable in mixed company. And my daughter, she will enact her generation’s cultural version of my own generation’s rebellion and undying desire to be a part of something. She will do this because it is in her blood as a human being to seek out human contact among those of her generation with similar goals. It’s in her biology, the evolution of our ancestors who needed, desperately, to bond with their own peers just so they could muster the teamwork to bring home the Elk, or nurture the children. But disturbingly, my daughter’s generation is doing something in even higher numbers and with more passion than even mine did: her generation is looking for a savior.
In modern day neo-paganism, that sort of seeking can be even more dangerous than their seeking a savior in the person of Jesus the Christ. At least at his feet she would have the chance, with the right guidance, to come to a true path of peace; that is not something I can say is true for portions of the neo-pagan community. There are two things I believe are imperative that we, the middle and elder generations in the pagan community, do to best nurture faith, and to keep our ‘children’ safe. By ‘children’ I refer to the teens and tweens thirsting for a taste of faith, yet knowing it only from afar in the guise of ritual, pageantry, and dogma; all three are too frequently every bit as firmly testified to as those of the Abrahamic religions. And as our children seek this faith, what they are too often being presented with is Religion, complete with a hierarchy of power, a creed, and a history that is often exaggerated, and at times an outright falsehood, backed up with no sound academic evidence whatsoever. And lastly, though I believe it to be a rare circumstance, they are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of those who hold power over them, when they instead should find safety in the hands of those in positions of not power, but responsibility.
I was fifteen when I first began feeling my blood calling me to something different. I had been raised with a hodgepodge of Christian beliefs, ranging from my maternal grandmother’s Roman Catholicism, to my mother’s backslidden Catholicism, to my father’s Evangelical/Pentecostal influences. The Celtic – and further, Welsh pride in our family was typical of my parents’ generation: it was nonexistent. When I began studying history, and further genealogy – and even more dangerously to the status quo, when I began asking questions – the answers led me to the place it tends to lead many young seekers: Wicca. There were books readily available on that. I didn’t have to decipher history or use critical thinking to tell facts from fiction; I was able to simply take it on faith that what I was being fed was food that would spiritually sustain and nurture me.
It didn’t. When I left for college at the age of seventeen, I had already passed my “Gardner Phase, ” as I termed it. I was well on my way to becoming an academic, and a critical thinker capable of conceiving, for myself, my own truth. Unfortunately, I was seventeen, and still naïve enough to want to believe – to believe in human kindness, to believe that most people were innately good, to believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I “grew up” (which I was, for the record, fairly certain I’d already done) . Even though I felt something off at the coven gatherings I went to, I continued to go, simply because there was no other alternative but Christ where I lived, and I knew enough to know his was not my path this time around.
The High Priestess of the local coven was a middle-aged woman who claimed just about everything but that she herself sprung from the Goddess as Athena sprung from the head of Zeus. This woman was capable of a charming, drawing presence, but also capable of a great, domineering nature that even my coven-mates at times found disconcerting. She reminded me very much of the Goddess she taught us of – the Morrigan – except that it didn’t feel right for a mortal woman to be punishing me, and claiming it was the will of the Goddess. Just about everything she told us to do was “the will of the Goddess.” This was it, and to brook any argument was to defy the very Goddess herself, and we earnest seekers were absolutely terrified of pissing her off!
Our High Priestess eventually crossed a line, as all abusers eventually do. She advised a minor that it was – yes, you guessed it, “the will of the Goddess” that the young woman leave home and come live with her. She picked the wrong prey. This prey had a Mama who, while supportive of her daughter’s choices, saw this woman for what she was: a perpetrator and an abuser. Our High Priestess feigned righteous indignation – she stormed, she wept, she all but rent her clothing in attempts to play the victim. For a few of us, it was enough. Supportive of our former coven-mate, who returned to a very healthy home life, we left the group and never turned back.
I learned the issue of abuse early, and thankfully without enduring any lasting trauma of my own. Next on the list of life’s big spiritual lessons was the issue of faith. As a growing academic I became fascinated by anything involving the history of medieval and dark ages Western Europe, specifically Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France. I studied some anthropology, some history, some English literature, and a little foreign language, and eventually decided that my path must be Celtic Wicca. I practiced for a while, with my own personal twist, until in my mid-twenties I began asking questions…again. Wait, why does the wand have to go here? Explain to me again why it’s so important I call the four quarters – because last I checked, the Universe could not so neatly be broken down or compartmentalized. And what, precisely, is a Watchtower of the North? There are castles in the otherworld? Awesome! (And we’re back to the preoccupation with all things medieval) . I wanted so, so badly to believe. My best friend – a man I still consider a piece of my very soul – was walking this path with me. When the questions became too great for anyone to answer to my satisfaction – when I began researching the origins of modern day Wicca – my heart became filled with confusion. If these things I’d been reading (and had never researched) and these things I’d been taught (even though they didn’t make a whit of sense to me) were not real, were the very gods themselves real? Or was I delusional?
I had a coming-to-the-gods meeting one night sitting outside watching the Leonid meteor showers. It’s something I’d done every end-of-summer as a kid, and it brought me comfort, and comfort was what I needed. But I wasn’t willing to trade truth for the easy-way, and I wasn’t willing to trade my soul’s journey to joy and love for a little comfort in the arms of people who truly did not live daily what they preached. And so I prayed. For the first time in many, many years I got down on my knees in the grass, put my face to the earth, inhaled its glorious life into my spirit and begged – gods, goddesses, ancestors, hear me. I don’t know what is right anymore – I don’t know who, or what to trust, and I’m on the verge of trusting nothing and no one that can’t be corroborated with evidence. Please – please. Help me. I need a teacher. I’m lost, and I need someone to show me the way.
I cried that evening for the near-death experience my faith was having, and the only life support I could find was the spark of something within me that wanted something more real – something sacred and beautiful to walk in every day, something that would grow me into the beautiful soul I knew I was intended to be. And it came to me as simply as this: you have it – something, not someone – and that something has already been blessed upon you, and it lives within you as surely as does your spirit. Recognize this. Honor this. Believe in this. And most of all stand up for this – the voice of intuition within you already knows who you are. You are beautiful, you have value, and you are not half as lost as you think you are. Stop over-thinking and stop reading, for a time, until you can do so for insight, rather than instruction. Instead, start living.
I went about the next day in faith that it had been the voice of the gods, the voice of my ancestors, the whisperings of the spirits of nature all around me, speaking truth. For the first time I set aside my books and I took it on faith that I knew how to kneel at my altar and pray, that I could set it up however I wanted, and the gods would be no less pleased with me. I took it on faith that some things cannot be taught by books or instruction; some things, like the value of your own voice, must be come by on your own. And that evening, beneath the still-falling stars, I met a woman who I would come to call teacher, mentor, and soul-friend. It took this act of faith to bring about that which I’d sought all along, and now that I’ve evolved into the person I am today (still up to her ears in life-lessons, I fear) I think I can say why: faith is an act of love. And this teacher, contrasted against the one I mentioned earlier, showed me how to come to the answers on my own, rather than feeding them to me and expecting me to simply regurgitate at ritual. I believe to this day in the deepest recesses of my spirit that my gods were patiently and lovingly waiting for me to come to these personal understandings before they presented me with a teacher who could formally educate me in the more tangible aspects of my faith – herbs, ancestral lore, Druidic traditions (of which we sadly know very little, historically, about) ; these things would have all been wasted knowledge, seeds sewn into infertile ground, had I not already come to know my own soul’s worth, and my own spirit’s voice – and believed, on faith and love, that I was cherished, teacher or no.
Our teen and tween ‘children’ have need of this message: Ritual can be a beautiful, deeply moving experience that connects you with your gods, ancestral and nature spirits, higher guides, etc; group affiliation can be a highly satisfying, safe environment, filled with people you are glad to call ‘family.’ Teachers, in and of themselves, are not to be avoided; indeed, if we avoided them, none of us would ever learn anything at all! There are all sorts out there – the kind who can teach you about herbs, stones, numerology, Reiki and other forms of healing. But please – dear loves, I say this to you with the same deep sincerity I say it to my two daughters: believe, first, in the power and value of your own voice. Worry less about how to set up your altar, and more about how you treat the people around you. Concern yourself less with following a set dogma and more with seeking truth and enlightenment from the world around you – it’s everywhere. Don’t give in to the superstition that if the circle is cast ‘wrong’ you’ll open a portal to hell whereby demons of every nefarious sort will come to claim your soul: if you walk in love, rather than fear, everywhere is sacred, and no darkness can stand in the face of light. Someone once offered me the anecdote that if you turn a light on in the hallway of your home, the light will illuminate the darkness in the dark rooms, but the darkness in those rooms will never make the well-lit hallway darker. Being me, I had to actually try it as an experiment, collect the data myself. It was true. And so was the spiritual message that was deeper than the data.
And lastly, to you, my friends, colleagues, and partners in paganism: we need to educate our ‘children’ to listen to that inner voice of intuition that tells them when a person is ‘off.’ Abuse doesn’t just happen at the hands of the Catholic Priests we’ve all seen in the media. It’s pervasive in every faith, because it’s pervasive in humanity. We need to teach them to love and honor themselves, and turn away from anyone who does anything less than the same. We need to teach them to seek safety in groups, faith in their hearts, and truth – of the academic sort – in education. We need to teach them that there is no savior to be had, but that they are capable of saving themselves. In short, we need to teach them the things we wish we knew back when.
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