This Dusty Earth: Witchcraft in the City

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Public Abusers in Paganism

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Yesterday I heard the news about Susun Weed: that she was arrested for choking one of her students, that her abusive behavior is apparently nothing new. I've never really followed her work, so I didn't know about her reputation for hostility; when I followed the news and read all the accounts, old and new, of her mistreatment of students--when I saw that behavior justified and rationalized on her very own website--I immediately thought of other abusers in witchcraft, pagan, and earth-based communities. (Ahem.)

Some abusers are very good at crafting public personalities that mask their behavior in private. "What?" people claim when the allegations come out. "So-and-so would NEVER do that! They're so warm and kind and gentle!" Other abusers, though, lack that skill. They can't help but engage in very public, very visible abusive behavior: lashing out when they're challenged, screaming at people in rituals and classes, belittling their followers, enforcing corrosive hierarchies. Yet what should be obvious red flags are explained away. "Well, she's very passionate about her work." "He's calling someone out because he cares about justice." "They've got a warrior's spirit!" "Oh, she's a crone, don't take it personally." And here's the thing: even if, for some reason, you're okay with violent behavior in public, public abuse is usually only a taste of the abuse that's occurring in private, where power dynamics can be twisted in the abuser's favor. Think of 45: was anyone really shocked to learn that he's a violent rapist when we all heard him bragging openly about grabbing pussies?

Now, everyone acts unwisely sometimes; we all say things we regret, or hit Publish when maybe our righteous blog post needs another set of eyes, or act out of anger instead of compassion. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about leaders with consistent, reliable track records of hostile behavior. Leaders whom you feel you can't question, lest you get attacked. Leaders whom you know to steer clear of at public events.* When I read account after account after account of Weed's appalling treatment of her students, I thought wearily of the leaders who are still celebrated by our communities as I write this post, whose disturbing behavior has been whispered about in back channels but never openly questioned. (I don't feel safe naming names, but feel free to contact me here  or DM me on Instagram  if you want to talk.) Perhaps earth-based spirituality needs its own #MeToo moment.

Perhaps this is the beginning.


* I use the term "leader" here loosely, of course.

Image by Louis Prado.

 

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Asa is a sliding-scale tarot reader, intuitive, and witch blending pellar craft with animism and earth-based Judaism. Instagram: @tarotbyasa

Comments

  • Tyger
    Tyger Friday, 10 August 2018

    I read her books, but I had no idea she was personally violent. I have read other accounts of 'spiritual leaders' from the pagan community that seemed out of line for me. There is never a good reason for badgering your students or apprentices.

  • Cristina Potmesil
    Cristina Potmesil Saturday, 11 August 2018

    That website "explanation" was disturbing. :o

  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper Saturday, 11 August 2018

    What struck me was why put it on her website and have people focus on it? It is a red flag to a casual observer that this person is someone to avoid, if they have two things about how their anger is a good thing.

  • Cristina Potmesil
    Cristina Potmesil Saturday, 11 August 2018

    All abusers have to justify their behavior. Most often it is by projecting blame onto the other person for a baffling assortment of crimes and sins. Coming early to class will get you Angry Susan? I assume the reverse is true as well, arriving late to class will get you Angry Susan. How early is too early? How late is too late? It's a no-win situation; you are always wrong. Being yelled at in no way honors you as a person.

  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper Sunday, 12 August 2018

    As a parent, I was told to never yell at my children. Yelling was useless. It was also a sign that the adult gave up. Yelling was also something that hurt children. Better to understand and work with the child. Teachers are trained not yell either.

    So what's Susun's excuse?

  • Asa West
    Asa West Sunday, 12 August 2018

    Right?? I've been an educator for over a decade, I've studied and presented on various learning theories and pedagogical approaches, and "do exactly as you're told or you'll get yelled at" has NEVER been considered useful or valid pedagogy. So not only has Weed hurt and traumatized countless students, but she's actively thwarted their learning process by shutting down any critical thinking or experimentation they might have done under better circumstances. We've probably lost some really talented herbalists to her abuse.

  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper Sunday, 12 August 2018

    One more comment, this was discussed in another forum which featured a writing from Weed. In it, she compared herself to Baba Yaga in her anger. As with all things, she does have her defenders. Sigh.

  • Asa West
    Asa West Sunday, 12 August 2018

    Working with "dark" deities can be a really transformative experience if you undertake that work mindfully and with a commitment to balance, but I've learned to steer clear of people who use those deities as an excuse to lash out. Baba Yaga gets to be Baba Yaga. Humans don't get to be Baba Yaga.

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