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 3

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

 Lesson 3: Getting Help When You Have a Bad Teacher


 A. It Is OK to Say "No."


In the early 90s, meeting another pagan or heathen at a festival, one of the first questions people would ask was, “Who’s your patron god?” When I answered, “Freya,” the respond was often, “Then you should practice free love because she is the love goddess.” They were wrong; I know now that what Freya wants for her women is to own our own bodies and have agency over them, and that the ability to say no is just as important as the ability to say yes. 


The pressure from total strangers to have lots of sex often included physical touching. It was so common it felt normal. So it was hard to identify the pressure from Bad Teacher as being wrong at any level except my being personally uncomfortable. Back then, sexual harassment was not a phrase many people knew, nor was it illegal. These days, I hope when today’s student asks other pagans for advice on how to handle such pressure, today’s student won’t be told there is something wrong with her for not wanting it and that she should go ahead and have sex.  


There might very well be something wrong with student; student might be a survivor of sexual abuse or rape, or have a medical condition. That’s not a reason to dismiss someone’s “no.” It’s still OK to say no even if there actually is something wrong with you. 

B. Secrecy Must Not Be Used to Protect Abusers


 My experience trying to seek advice about how to deal with the poisonous secrecy in the group was that other pagans would refuse to listen when I mentioned secrets. I think they thought I was talking about magical secrets. I meant the kind of secret where Bad Teacher is leveraging sex in return for instruction from more than one person and doesn’t want them to know about each other, even though they are in the same magical working circle. It never occurred to me that the people I spoke with thought I meant tradition secrets, because the Law of Silence does not exist in heathenry. I did not even know what it was until last year when I read about it in a book I was reviewing. I finally understand why Wiccans and Wiccanate pagans shut down and refused to hear me when I tried to get this kind of help. This is a lesson the pagan and heathen community is already starting to learn. Recently, several other people have started talking about secrecy and sexual exploitation and how to create a safe community. 


C. Leaving An Unsafe Group is Difficult and Dangerous -- But It Must Be Done


Even once a student wakes up and realizes being a member of the group is unhealthy, it’s as hard to walk away as it is to walk away from any other abuser. Just like an abusive spouse, Bad Teacher may employ threats, including threats of violence or suicide, gaslighting and other forms of emotional control. Bad Teacher may employ stalking, either personally or via another group member. Bad Teacher may enlist the other students by revealing that student was trading sex for knowledge, opening her to being targeted by other students either out of sexual jealousy, a desire to rise socially in the group via statements intended to make the victim feel shame for having had sex outside of marriage, or attempts to protect the leader from being accused of sex crimes. Bad Teacher may create a scenario in which student becomes convinced student is being targeted for violence by someone else and that Bad Teacher is the only one who can save her. Bad Teacher may convince student to come back to him, demand student apologize for “disrupting the group” and use that to further demand more things from student and use those things against her. Just like with trying to leave an abusive spouse, it may take more than one try to leave Bad Teacher. 


All the usual permutations of trying to leave an abusive spouse or parent come into play, with the added twist that student is warned not to go to the police because giving Bad Teacher’s name to non pagans is ethically wrong and that if student “outs” another pagan she will never be welcome in the pagan community again. At the time, that was a fully believable threat. Hopefully, the pagan and heathen communities are reaching a point at which reporting a crime like stalking to the police will not be seen as a moral wrong by the victim.

My fellow survivors, there is help out there. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, operates a hotline and also can direct you to local resources: 

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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.


  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Monday, 19 January 2015

    Thank you for your wise and courageous words. May spiritual mystery and manipulative/exploitive secrecy never be confused one for another!

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Tuesday, 20 January 2015

    Thank you!

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