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Evil Thrives on Secrecy

Many of you will have already read that long-time Pagan leader Kenny Klein was recently arrested for possession of child pornography. If you have not yet read this news, you can do so here. I was already aware of certain allegations against him stemming from a problematic incident in the 1990s, but the information came to me third-hand, and so I was reluctant to credit it. However, the way the information came to me - via someone who said she was breaking a coven oath to impart it - left me thinking about secrecy in the Pagan community for a long time afterward. More recently, Kenny himself posted a blog entry to the PaganSquare community about the issue of secrecy in magical communities that I thought was a good exploration of the topic, and I commented with a link back to my own discussion of secrecy among Pagans when speaking with non-Pagans.

In the coming days and weeks, I expect there will be a great deal of public conversation among us around Kenny's arrest, what the community knew or believed about his character and what the press might make of his faith. And while I am indeed using him as an example to re-introduce the topic of secrecy in the Pagan community, I am not willing to speculate in this entry or in the comments about his guilt or innocence. Rather, I want to have a conversation about silence; the kind we offer one another as Pagans and the kind we visit upon outsiders.

I am a reluctantly graying Pagan who came to the faith in the 1980s and lives in a conservative, Gàidhlig, island community now. So silence about my faith has always been a matter of active negotiation for me. That said, I believe in a certain level of transparency and accountability within the Pagan community, which is another kind of active negotiation, one that involves us all. I wrote about that negotiation some years ago for PanGaia's "Toe-to-Toe" series, and I am reprinting that article below because I think the discussion is timely. I encourage you to seek out PanGaia #46 for commentary on the subject by fellow contributors Alex Bledsoe, Nicholas Graham and David C. Webb.

Evil Thrives on Secrecy

I’ve been Pagan for more than twenty years, and in that time I’ve observed many fellow Pagans engaging in behaviors that were damaging to themselves, to their inner circles of friends and family, and to the Pagan community in general.  Some of these behaviors were egregious in nature, and I’ve often found myself shaking my head in disbelief or shaking with anger at what I’ve witnessed.  On more than one occasion I’ve responded to these behaviors with varying degrees of tact - proportional to my age and wisdom, as you might expect – and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself at loggerheads with various members of my community out of a sense of personal outrage, or duty, or whatever I was calling it at the time.  I’m not very good at the “shut up and sweep it under the rug” thing, you see.

But even though I’ve matured over time and learned to express my righteous indignation more diplomatically, I’ve never regretted the impulse that drove my younger self to right the wrongs I found in my community; to encourage mentally-ill friends to seek professional help, to report fellow Pagans to the proper authorities when I knew they were abusing their children, and to stand up to those leaders who used their influence improperly. I love the Pagan community; it was my refuge from the dark corners of my youth, it taught me almost everything I know about honor, and it brought me to a deep and abiding reverence for life.  I believe in fostering the same refuge for others who need it, and that isn’t always easy.

However, I’ve also observed – and been subject to – what happens to Pagans who speak out against the inappropriate behavior of other Pagans.  Often they are accused of inciting conflict whether their concerns are legitimate or not.  Moreover, those people who are charged with inappropriate behavior often hide behind the pretense of conflict avoidance and thereby escape censure whether they are guilty or not.  This is not appropriate, and over the years it has left me wondering why our community appears to favor conflict avoidance over straightforwardness and accountability.  It’s a hard question, and I think it demands that we look at the reasons why we avoid conflict in the first place.

One possibility is that because we have had to fight hard for a long time to be recognized as a legitimate faith path in the eyes of non-Pagan culture, we want to put on the very best face we have for the public eye. Internal conflict mars that public face and makes it more difficult for us to interact with non-Pagans. Therefore, it is possible that the Pagan community has, in its desire to be seen as positive and life-affirming, sought to quash dissent rather than deal with those problems illuminated by dissenters.

Another possibility is that our desire to foster diversity makes us hesitant to question people whose behavior bespeaks a need for intervention when they insist their activities are integral to their path-working. Many of us know people who use psychotropic substances to facilitate visionary experience; who are we to determine how much is too much? Many of us know people who are nurturing non-traditional romantic and familial relationships; who are we to determine whether or not those relationships are equitable for all parties involved? We exist in a community full of radical and experimental forms of expression, and most of us know that we can’t possibly understand them all. Perhaps we are worried that we might not understand them enough to know when the line between progressive and problematic has been crossed.

A third possibility is that many of us come from broken places and have brought our psychological baggage with us into the Pagan community. Conflict is sometimes personal and painful for people even when they are not directly involved in it. As previously mentioned, a number of us sought refuge here in the hope that we could recover our strength and thereafter make positive contributions in the lives of others.  Therefore, it is certainly possible that some Pagans simply have little tolerance for discord.

But whatever the reasons for this ethic of conflict avoidance, the consequences are the same. We decay from within when sick members of our community do not seek wellness, and we enable their sickness with our silence. We are viewed negatively by the outside world when we do not censure members of our community who have harmed others. And most importantly, we fail to do the spiritual and environmental work the multiverse brought us together to do, since that work can only be done in a spirit of perfect love and perfect trust.

We all fall ill and make mistakes from time to time. I am not suggesting that we punish the imperfections of our fellow Pagans by permanently excluding them from our community. However, I am insisting that we overcome our fear of conflict and demand that our fellow Pagans seek help when they are ill and account for their mistakes. Our community is important and good and holy, and we all need to be healthy and productive together if we are to survive, thrive, and be a place of safety for our members.

"Evil Thrives on Secrecy." PanGaia Apr. 2007: 12. Print.

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C.S. MacCath is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry whose work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, Murky Depths, Witches & Pagans and other publications. Her poetry has been nominated twice for the Rhysling Award, and her fiction has received honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. Ceallaigh's first collection of fiction and poetry entitled The Ruin of Beltany Ring has been called 'wonderful, thoroughly engaging, always amazing', a book of 'tiny marvels' and 'well-worth reading'. At present, she's working on a science fiction series entitled Petals of the Twenty Thousand Blossom and a second collection of fiction and poetry.  


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