Danger at Home
Article ID: 13290
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,698
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Author: Midnyte Hierax
Posted: August 23rd. 2009
Times Viewed: 2,857
I recently became acquainted with three wonderful people, two of whom escaped from a cult not long ago. It is difficult to surprise me, but the stories they tell shocked even me. They were fleeced for a great deal of money, brainwashed to accept their leader without question, kept on a short leash, isolated from the greater community, and emotionally traumatized. It is a wonder they are recovering so quickly from the poor treatment they received at the hands of their “family” of faithful ones.
Why, you may ask, should you care about these people or the cult that sucked them? What has that to do with you, or with the Pagan community at large? The leader of this cult claimed to be a thirteenth level of the third degree Wiccan family tradition high priestess.
Now, for those familiar with terminology and history, there are a few things you should already recognize:
1. “Family Tradition” (fam trad) means a person was raised by their parents (who were raised by their parents, who were raised by their parents, and so on back into infinity) to know magic, herbs, folklore, and rituals to help with daily life. There may be religion involved, including ancient deities, but not always; most often, it is only the folklore and magic that has stood the test of time and persecution to reach the modern era. True fam trads are few and far between; it is rare to find anyone with a truly unbroken line of Witches that can be traced back with hard evidence. I have met one person I believe was a fam trad in 29 years, and I cannot be sure because she kept her practices and family details to herself, much like any fam trad I have heard of.
2. Wicca is a religion first introduced by Gerald Gardner, and brought further into the public eye by Alex Sanders and Raymond Buckland, all of which occurred in the mid-1900s—1950-1970. Gardner, the founder of this religion, did not use the term Wicca himself to refer to it; that came quite a bit later from other practitioners and authors.
3. Fam trads are, by definition, not Wiccan. A true fam trad has a lineage that predates Wicca and maintains its own code of ethics that is not based on the Wiccan Rede or Threefold Law. Fam trads may charge for the spells they do or charms they make for others, but they will only teach the Craft to their descendants because it is literally a bloodline secret. They are Witches but not Wiccan, unless they converted during their lifetime to Wicca and now follow the tenets of Wicca, particularly the Rede.
4. British Traditional Witchcraft, those traditions with direct, initiatory lineages that trace back to Gardner through any given branch, do indeed have three degrees of priesthood—and are the only branches of Wicca I have come across that do. Third degree High Priestesses or Priests are also few and far between; it takes a great deal of time, study, dedication, and acceptance of responsibility to reach that level. There are, however, no differentiating levels of the top degree, at least within the Alexandrian tradition, which is very similar to Gardnerian. An individual who is a third degree High Priest/ess is an expert in their craft; they will always continue to learn, but a leveled system of learning is rather pointless since they already know what their tradition teaches, and are focused on expanding their knowledge above and beyond the tradition. No one can measure that sort of progress except the Gods themselves.
Vocabulary and history lessons now over, let’s return to the story. My partner and I first met our new friends through a monthly discussion hosted at a Pagan shop on a variety of Pagan topics, one of many such public events we attended to introduce ourselves to the Pagan community at large when I first hived off and began my own coven. For all that the discussions were advertised as public events, the two of us were the only people in attendance who were not students of the leader. Each discussion with this particular group went virtually the same way: the topic was introduced, the leader would go on at length about it, a few people would ask questions that the leader would answer, and the “discussion” was over.
When my partner and I began to answer questions that were being asked, or interject an opinion contrary to the leader’s, she did her best to talk over us or minimize everything we said—including inferring we were wrong or amoral. We got tired of it, and decided we could spend our time better elsewhere, although we did note in our memories those individuals who asked specific questions of us that pertained directly to our areas of specialty (traditional Witchcraft and ceremonial magic) , and before we stopped attending we made sure they knew where to find us should the need arise. Our city is not all that large, and the openly Pagan community within it is small, comparatively speaking; for all that we would not seek them out or interfere with another group, we knew we would run into those individuals again.
Several months later while attending a public Pagan charity event with a good-size contingent from my coven and my partner’s magical fraternity, to which we each both belong, we ran into the cult leader and some of her students (some of whom, we later learned, were now former students) . We were polite but distant from the leader of the cult, and interacted normally with our own members and friends, making our own good time. Within days, we had an online message from the young man interested in ceremonial magic telling us he was amazed at how close we all appeared to be at the event. I was a bit confused, since we were just being ourselves—talking, laughing, hugging, poking fun, etc., things that friends do—and the message led to a three hour conversation at a coffee shop with him and with his friend who had asked questions about traditional Witchcraft, which led to the full truth behind the cult. The reality was as bad as we suspected, and in some cases much worse.
It seems the followers were told not to attend rituals or classes hosted by other group—and were seen as betraying their coven if they went anyway—, forbidden from reading books on magical topics that interested them if they were not on the “approved” list, and forbidden from seeking their own information sources in general about any topics of which the leader disapproved, despite her assertion of being practiced in those areas herself. Each class cost $20 or more to get information readily available in books or on the internet and maybe, if they were lucky, a handout to take home, and while coven members got a discount on the price, they still had to pay and were expected to attend every class lest they disappoint their teacher. Copious amounts of alcohol, a substance long known to enhance suggestibility, were consumed prior to the start of nearly every ritual, including “initiations”, to the point where some rituals are not even remembered after the fact. Gossip and backbiting were allowed to go on, if not outright encouraged in a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest manner, and severe disputes between members were gossiped about and encouraged by the leader rather than mediated as is the duty of a high priestess from any tradition.
The two with whom we spoke were guilt-tripped and made to feel like betrayers when they went of their own volition to another occult shop in town and asked questions on a variety of topics. The leader gave them an ultimatum: either you’re with us, or you’re against us. Apparently, it was a surprise to the cult leader when one broke the brainwashing and walked away at that point. The other was kicked out for continuing a friendship with the one who walked away. Then the cult leader chose to air the coven business to all and sundry in the Pagan community, informing people that these two were betrayers that she “banished” from the coven—much to the disdain and disgust of the other local Pagan leaders I have spoken to since, all of whom heard about the situation each in their own way, either from the leader’s own public statements, from one of the escapees, or from an unrelated, third party source who saw the events occurring.
The eclectic solitaire I used to be was appalled that human beings could be treated this way, and amazed that they are recovering so well. The Alexandrian High Priestess I am now is disgusted that someone who claims to be a leader could come so close to ruining such good people, and proud of them for rising above. They do not want revenge, or even justice; they just want to move on with their lives and get back to living a truly spiritual life—and hopefully find some good friends while doing so. They also wish nothing but well for their friends who are still under the influence of the charming and manipulative cult leader.
I write this article as a reminder that cults do indeed exist, and contrary to popular belief, they exist within the Pagan community as well as the Judeo-Christian communities. Every person exploring alternative religions and spiritualities should keep this in mind, and keep handy the Cult Danger Evaluation Form created by Isaac Bonewits (found in the archives on Witchvox, or at his website) . If you are considering joining a group, ask plenty of questions and see how that group rates on the evaluation; the higher it rates in numerous categories, the more likely it is that you are looking at a cult rather than a trustworthy Pagan or spiritual group. If they refuse to answer your reasonable questions (i.e., do not expect to get oathbound material out of an Alexandrian or Gardnerian prior to initiation, but whether or not an eclectic group works skyclad should be fair game) , be suspicious. Any group that forbids you from learning, claims to have all the answers to everything, forces you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable, or that attempts to take away your free will in any other way should be considered dangerous and should be avoided for your own safety and well-being.
As a High Priestess of my tradition, I have a duty to uphold the integrity of Witchcraft of any variety and to protect those who seek my assistance. As a Magus of a magical order that stands for freedom, truth, and light above all, I cannot ignore a situation, particularly in my own community, where one individual seeks to take away the free will of others through coercion, misdirection, and outright lies. It is doubly my responsibility and fully my honor to call out the truth hidden behind the façade of a charming exterior, despite the backlash it will likely cause among the local Pagan Politicos.
I am honored that our new friends have all jumped happily into classes and rituals with both groups my partner or I lead, as well as conversations, rituals, and activities with others in our local occult community. It would have been far easier to avoid all groups after their experiences, but they are allowing their hunger for knowledge and enlightenment to overrule their distrust of groups and designated leaders. That shows that they are truly healing.
And while they will not seek justice, it will come anyway: already, many in our local Pagan community know their story and have the utmost respect for them, and come Pagan Pride Day, they will be with us—the respected friends, students, and members of a Greco-Alexandrian coven numbering nearly a dozen, a magical fraternity that regularly gets between one and two dozen people at monthly rituals, and the Divine Entities and Lwa each group works with. All our people stand by all our friends and members, initiated or not, and we will continue to stand for truth, respect, freedom, free will, and Light whatever the cost may be.
By Hekate’s Light and Babalon’s Love, blessed be.
High Priestess, Owl Wood Circle
Magus, Covenant of Horus, Isis Temple
The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame:
http://www.Witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usny and c=basics and id=2877
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