Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Good Knowledge, Bad Teacher: Part 2

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Lesson 2: How to Recognize the Warning Signs of an Unsafe Group.

The intent of this post is to contribute to the discussion on how to have a safe community. 

Recently the pagan community has been discussing this topic as a result of publicity over the arrest of Kenny Klein, a news story summarized here: 

Some posts by pagans and heathens either in reaction to the news or about how to have a safe community: 

Do I Have to Have Sex to Be a Witch?
The Community Reacts to Kenny Klein 
Evil Thrives on Secrecy 
Abuse creates spiritual taint (contains some foul language) 

There are some legitimate traditions that have hierarchies, and there are some traditions that reserve certain secrets and mysteries for higher levels of the group. Because there are such traditions, it’s hard to tell from the point of view of a prospective student whether the existence of levels and secrets indicates an established tradition or a means of dangling a carrot in front of the student to get student to keep doing what Bad Teacher demands. If one of the things student is expected to keep secret is that Bad Teacher is getting sex from student, that’s a clue that things are not well. 


Some warning signs of an unsafe group:


A.  Initiation and Oaths Before Meeting the Group Members 


 Demanding a kindred oath, a blood-brother ritual, or any other serious tie before student knows the other members of the group is a huge warning sign. This was a common practice back then. Fortunately, the pagan and heathen communities have largely learned this lesson already, and it is much less common now. 


 B. Oaths in Foreign (or Invented) Languages


Requiring an oath in a language student does not understand is a generally bad practice. It’s a red flag because demanding this level of “perfect trust” is really about obedience to the leader. Obeying Bad Teacher without question is a sign of a group run as a cult of personality. 


 C. Constant pressure to have sex


 This sounds like it should be obvious, and indeed the pagan and heathen communities have come a long way since then and have recently begun embracing consent culture. Back in the early 90s, though, pagan and heathen festival culture included so much pressure to have sex that being pressured for sex with Bad Teacher felt like the normal experience of being around other pagans.


An article on Consent Culture: 

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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