Monthly Post

An Older Tradition

Over the last few days I’ve been watching yet another lurid sexual scandal explode in the Neopagan community. There have been quite a few of those over the last few years—fewer, let’s be fair, than in Hollywood or the Roman Catholic priesthood, but the same ugly habits of coercion, exploitation, and hypocrisy that earned their share of headlines in these latter cases can also be found all too widespread in the modern Neopagan scene, and the same wholesale turning out of skeletons in closets we’ve seen elsewhere of late is affecting the Neopagan community as well.

The scandal du jour this time around centers on the late Isaac Bonewits, in his time a major figure in the scene and the founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF), a Neopagan church still very active in the US and elsewhere. I don’t propose to go into the details here; they’re pretty sickening, and they’re also irrelevant to the points I want to discuss in this week’s post. The various reactions from the Neopagan community range in the usual fashion from honest disgust through sanctimonious posturing to weasel-worded evasive maneuvers—again, this is nothing new, in or out of the Neopagan community, and again, it’s not that relevant to the points I have in mind.

During the twelve years I put in as presiding officer of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), I was several times asked to comment on the latest sexual scandals in the Neopagan scene. I consistently refused to do so, as AODA under my leadership made rather a point of staying out of Neopagan politics. I’m probably going to have to say something this time around, though, for a simple but inescapable reason.  The late Isaac Bonewits identified as a Druid; so do I.  Our spiritual paths have nothing in common except the name, but there is that name, borrowed separately from a long-extinct tradition of the distant past.

Ironically, one of the best witnesses I can cite concerning the difference between our traditions is Bonewits himself. He spent most of his public career saying quite a range of nasty things about the Druidry I practice and teach, insisting among other things that we—the old-fashioned, white-robed, sickle-carrying Druids of the Druid Revival—were horrible antiquated Mesopagans, not good modern up-to-date Neopagans like him. I saw, and see, no reason to disagree with him, in that what made us horrible in his eyes was apparently that we keep our robes on during ritual and have no interest in signing on to his various political, religious, and sexual agendas.

In case it isn’t obvious yet, I’m not a fan. I met the man only a few times; we were both civil to each other, but we never talked at any length; had we tried to do so, I’m not at all sure we would have had much to talk about. He came out of one spiritual movement and I came out of another, and to judge from his books (I’ve read them) and the church he founded (I joined many years back, found no common ground between its interests and mine, and soon left), we had no more in common than a Zen Buddhist has with a Southern Baptist.

A little history may help clarify things, and it’s not recent history, either. It starts with a man named Thomas Taylor, an Englishman of humble origins, born in 1758, with a wild passion for the philosophy and religion of the ancient Greeks. Raised a Christian, he read the writings of the Neoplatonist philosophers, went through a classic conversion experience, and became the first public Pagan in the English-speaking world since the Dark Ages. It helped that he was a self-taught scholar of unusual brilliance, who translated every scrap of surviving ancient Greek philosophy into readable English; and of course it helped that he hit the zenith of his career during the Regency era, and made friends in the British aristocracy who were quite willing to help support a philosopher and his charming and equally learned wife, and shield them both from the potential downsides of being known as worshipers of the gods and goddesses of Olympus.

Through his translations, Taylor had a massive impact on the cultural life of his time. In his wake, classical Pagan spirituality stopped being a straw man to be beaten enthusiastically by Christian preachers and turned into a live religious option again. As Taylor’s influence spread, his writings—and the classical Neoplatonists whose works he unleashed on the British and American reading public—came into contact with two other traditions already in existence.

The first of them was the secretive subculture of occultists who passed on the heritage of the great occult revival of the Renaissance. A recent book, The Myth of Disenchantment by Jason A. Josephson-Storm, has pointed out that it’s simply not true that magic was ousted by science, as there are still plenty of people who practice magic in the industrial world today. He’s right, but the myth isn’t completely wrong. Back in the Renaissance, astrology, magic, alchemy, and their sister arts were widely accepted parts of high culture, things that intellectuals discussed freely in public; by the 18th century, if you were interested in those, you existed in an underworld not that different from the one inhabited by gay men and lesbians in those same years, a world of who-you-know and carefully guarded secrets that could bring social ruin if revealed.

Since the Renaissance occult revival also drew heavily on classical Neoplatonism, the occultists of Taylor’s time pounced on his translations with glad cries. Until then, occultism had been heavily Christian, with borrowings from Judaism and the Greek monotheism of the Corpus Hermeticum; afterwards, a revival of Pagan polytheism within the occult scene got under way.

That was the first tradition. The second was launched by the white-robed, sickle-bearing, horrible Mesopagan Druids mentioned earlier. That got started in the 18th century—claims in the Druid Revival identify 1717 as the date when the first modern Druid organization was founded, the first documented Druid groups were meeting in London by the 1740s, and the movement was a going concern across the English-speaking world by the time Thomas Taylor hit his stride. Why did so many British eccentrics during those years find the fragmentary records and legends of the ancient Celtic Druids a source of spiritual inspiration? That’s a good question with only hypothetical answers; the fact of the matter was that the thing happened, and ever since then Druids have been an enduring part of the British cultural scene.

The Druid Revival has always gone long on intellectual diversity, not to mention a degree of syncretism that puts magpies to shame. Thus Thomas Taylor’s books found an enthusiastic welcome in Druid Revival circles; the belief, common in those days, that there was a primal wisdom shared by all the world’s wisdom traditions made it seem perfectly sensible for Druids of the Revival, who were reassembling the shattered fragments of an ancient tradition, to borrow useful bits from all over.

So you had Druids, and you had occultists, and you had Pagans, which in the language of the time mostly meant worshipers of the same Greek gods and goddesses to whom Thomas and Mary Taylor burnt incense and poured libations of wine in their back garden. The degree of overlap between these movements varied dramatically, but by the early twentieth century you had a significant number of people who were all three: whose Druidry embraced magic and the worship of Pagan (usually Celtic) deities, whose occultism had a Druid and Pagan flavor, and whose Paganism was magical and full of the eccentricities and insights of the Druid Revival.

Then you had another—well, you can’t call it a movement, except in the context of ribald jokes.

Back in the heyday of Victorian sexual hypocrisy, women who wanted to engage in unfettered sexual activity faced a very awkward double standard. Men who had sex out of wedlock, as long as it was with women, suffered no social penalty; women who did so faced catastrophic social consequences, and often legal consequences as well. Among its many other difficulties, this left women vulnerable to blackmail, with their male partners the most likely perpetrators of that act.

I’m not at all sure who came up with the perfect solution to that problem, but sometime in the 19th century some bright person figured out that there was a way to even the scales: set up a sex club under the guise of a deviant religious cult. Men could shrug off accusations of sexual impropriety, but belonging to a bizarre cult was quite another matter, and suitable documentation dropped on the desk of a man’s employer would have consequences for him just as cataclysmic as the ones a woman faced if her extramarital activities came to light.

That was what drove the rise of one of the most distinctive institutions of the English-speaking world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:  the sex cult, a voluntary social organization that used socially unacceptable religious practice as a protective measure to facilitate casual sex.  It offered men and women alike sexual freedom in an atmosphere of perfect love and perfect trust, backed up by the threat of mutually assured social destruction.

There were a great many such organizations during the heyday of the sex cult. Some of them had actual occultism or non-Christian religion mixed in with the more horizontal activities that were their mainstay—for example, the Tantrik Order in America, launched by Oom the Omnipotent aka Pierre Bernard aka Perry A. Baker, actually taught quite a bit of Hindu philosophy to cash in on the Theosophy market, and ended up morphing into a chain of yoga studios once the bottom dropped out of the market for sex cults. As a result, as the sex cult industry spread, it—er—interpenetrated with the occult scene in various ways. Readers who recall The Secrets of Dr. Taverner by Dion Fortune may remember lurid hints about the sinister “Chelsea black lodges”; those were sex cults—though the occult scene in those days included a broad range of attitudes toward sex, from the promiscuous to the Puritanical. (For what it’s worth, the Druid Revival scene was pretty consistently on the moderate-to-tame end of things; those occultists interested in mixing slap-and-tickle with their magic generally went elsewhere.)

But that’s how matters stood when the first tentative draft of the modern Neopagan movement made its appearance. That was Gerald Gardner’s newly invented Old Religion of Wicca, and—let’s be frank here—it was a fetish club.

I mean that quite literally. Wicca started out as a standard sex cult with a sideline in flogging, “the English vice,” and a little more ritual than most.  Oh, I know, it marketed itself as the world’s oldest religion, handed down unchanged from the Neolithic by a long line of third degree grandmothers blah blah blah. That kind of malarkey was standard practice in sex cults at the time.  The Tantrik Order in America claimed that its founder had been initiated into ancient Tantric secrets by a genuine Hindu Tantric adept who somehow turned up in Lincoln, Nebraska; the Ordo Templi Orientis—another sex cult, until it got reworked by Aleister Crowley as a vehicle for his messianic ambitions—claimed to be descended from the Knights Templar, and so on.

I have it on good authority that in at least some traditional Gardnerian covens, members are still obligated to have sex with any other member of the coven who requests it. (That was standard practice in most sex cults, to ensure that members had no shortage of partners; if you didn’t like it, you could always quit.)  The fetish-club form of Wicca was the form that spread through the English-speaking world, and until a specific day—October 31, 1979—it was the Neopagan mainstream, the model that every other budding Neopagan organization imitated: a great deal of casual sex with a modest amount of ritual and magic on the side.

This wasn’t a secret, either. Read early works on Wicca or other pre-1979 Neopagan offerings, and if you know the mildly coded language of the time, it’s not hard to tell that you’re reading a prospectus for a sex club. I’ve been told by people who were there that Wiccan covens as late as the mid-1970s routinely advertised in swingers’ newsletters. For that matter, if you frequented mail-order occult supply houses at that time, you could pick up manuals on how to found your own Magic Circle—that is to say, local ritual-themed sex club—with all the details of protective mutual blackmail laid out right there in print.

Then came October 31, 1979, and two books published that day—Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, and The Spiral Dance by Starhawk—redefined Neopaganism completely as a life-affirming feminist religion of Nature in which sex played only a peripheral role. Both books were huge bestsellers, and both attracted a torrent of people to the Neopagan movement who had no clue that they were joining a collection of sex cults.

Half the crisis over sexual behavior that’s been roiling the Neopagan scene since then is a direct result of the massive miscommunication that resulted from that redefinition. Do sleazy things happen in sex clubs? You bet, and in the days before issues of consent were as sharply defined as they are now, the sleaze factor could get very high indeed. The fact remains that back then, everyone understood that they were joining an organization for the purpose of having casual sex with lots of partners, and a certain degree of consent could be assumed of those who joined and didn’t just turn around and walk out the door.

Once Neopaganism was redefined away from its origins as a collection of sex cults, though, a very large number of people joined who were there for the spirituality, not for the sex. The difficulty was that too many members of the older generation of Neopagans, who got involved in the scene before it got redefined, either never got that memo or crumpled it up and threw it in the trash. That’s why the Neopagan scene has been roiled repeatedly by problems with elders who act as though another person’s presence at a Neopagan event still amounts to tacit consent for sexual advances, no matter how loudly the other person says “no.”

Of course there’s more to it than that. Victorian sexual repression was a disaster, but the sexual revolution did a fine job of demonstrating that the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea. For a while there it was embarrassingly common among the supposedly liberated to see sickening abuses such as pedophilia and “corrective rape” held up as praiseworthy steps toward total sexual freedom. Since the Neopagan movement in its pre-1979 form was by and large on board with the far end of the sexual revolution, a number of people active in the movement in those days did some pretty appalling things, and that’s been a major source of the skeletons that have come tumbling out of broom closets in recent years.

The late Isaac Bonewits got involved in the Neopagan scene in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960s, when it was still very largely about sex. To give credit where credit is due, he played a more than minor role in the redefinition of Neopaganism in the 1980s.  His most famous book, Real Magic, helped begin the refocusing of ritual as something other than a means of foreplay and a source of blackmail fodder, and whatever may be said for or against the Neopagan church that he founded, ADF, it’s emphatically not a sex club.

The fact remains that he was one of the people who apparently never got the memo mentioned above. It may be sheer accident that every single time I was around the man, without exception, he was busy trying to put the moves on a younger woman who didn’t want anything to do with him, and he showed no interest in taking no for an answer.  Based on everything I’ve heard from other people who spent time around him, though, it was probably par for the course. (Mind you, that says nothing about the truth or falsehood of the far more serious allegations recently made against him, but I’ll be honest, the experience didn’t give me any reason to think well of him.)

Ultimately, though, that’s neither here nor there. It so happened that a variety of people in the Neopagan scene, Bonewits among them, decided to borrow the word “Druid” for themselves, in exactly the same way that the founders of the Druid Revival did rather more than two centuries earlier. The Neopagans have as much and as little right to the name as the Druid Revival does, and while the result is an unfortunate confusion between two movements with radically different histories and interests, that confusion is unavoidable at this point. All any of us can do is explain what kind of Druid we are, and what that means.

Me, I’m squarely on the Thomas Taylor side of the line, connected by my initiatory lineages as well as my interests and attitudes to the Druid Revival of the 18th century, the inheritors of Renaissance occultism, the Neoplatonist polytheism that Taylor revived, and certain modern traditions descended from these. Partly because my position as Grand Archdruid of AODA required it, partly because my publishers thought it would help sell my books, and partly out of ordinary curiosity, I dabbled in some corners of the Neopagan scene for a while, but what very limited interest I had in that scene trickled away a while ago, and I don’t expect to go back.

I don’t claim to be any kind of ethical paragon, and traditional occultism, Neoplatonist polytheism, and the Druid Revival have no corner on moral superiority; quite the contrary, they’re as much a mixed bag as anything else human.  That said, there are things they pretty reliably don’t stand for, and just now that seems like a worthwhile thing to me. I wish Neopaganism well; I hope the movement gets its act together, and finds constructive ways to deal with the awkward aspects of its heritage, but when it comes down to it, it’s not my circus, not my clowns and monkeys and dancing bears.

My path lies with an older tradition—you know, those horrible antiquated Mesopagans that Isaac Bonewits denounced with so much vitriol for so many years.  That path, to the extent that I understand it, leads into distances that haven’t been explored much since Neopaganism grabbed the limelight. In posts to come, we’ll be talking about that a good deal more.


  1. The history here is fascinating. I seem to recall a prediction you made back in August that there would be a major religious scandal. Is this Neopagan “#metoo” hitting the national news in the USA? If so, this might fulfil it. Which would be a pity; we all in the commentariat were hoping for the religion of Progress to be the one to take the hit. It would fit with your earlier comments on the decline of neopaganism, however.

  2. First comment – I am SO glad I never heard of Wicca or neopaganism until Yule, 19*8*9, and came into it with a longer history in the feminist movement. I badly needed a Goddess, but the scene sounds as dangerous (at least to someone like me) as the Hashberry in the late ’60s. And our local neopagan ‘church’, CASHEW, used to struggle all the time with jerks who showed up at Beltane and treated it – and the women attending it – like a fraternity beer bust. Thank you for the background history; it explains so very, very much!

    Having trained in Wicca as practiced in Albuquerque in the 1990s-present, I’ve decided (several times! Perhaps every other day?) to stick with it as I was taught, with little tweaks here and there for whatever group I’m in or whichever group is running a public ritual, but (shakes head) Dion Fortune, Doreen Valiente, et. al are good enough for me right now. As for the other – I did realize early on that if some of these self-styled leaders (ran into one early on; the entire group of trainees walked out on him) were the last person on Earth, I’d sooner sleep with my cat.

    For fiction fans, one of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman murder mysteries (Trick or Treat) presents one in full, disgusting detail which Corinna sums up as “puerile.”

    This also may partly explain the aberrations of the s/f author I mentioned last week.

    Again, many, MANY thanks, and muchas gracias.

  3. Reading the history section triggered a question: was there any overlap between the “spiritual explorations” of the time, and the works of William Blake? He seems like such a unique figure, but there may be undercurrents that I’m not aware of…

  4. Good post.

    Speaking as someone who’s on the sexual-liberation side of most things (I haven’t been to many sex clubs/in the “kink scene” that seems to have taken the place of the aforementioned sex cults because I’m a cranky introvert, and because, much like the nude parties in my college days, all the people who go seem to be people I’d give my right eye not to see naked*) I totally agree with the taking-things-too-far aspect.

    Another wrinkle along that line is the, I don’t know, transitive property of sorts: the assumption that someone (particularly a woman in my experience, though my POV is by nature somewhat biased) who is open to casual sex has to be open to casual sex *with everyone*. You mention a version of that as a feature of most sex cults/Gardnerian covens, and it seems like it’d drive a lot of people away: while I don’t need or want A Relationship to go to bed with a guy I like, if I wanted to spend fifteen minutes of tedious interaction with someone who did nothing for me, I could ask an Amway salesman to come by. (This aspect seems to have vanished from the modern secular scene, at least as an explicit principle–though plenty of people seem to have internalized it anyhow, alas.)

    Conversely, in another bad-idea-to-other-bad-idea pendulum swing, I do see a lot of pearl-clutching and Oh Heavens No about any hint at sex or sexual magic in what I’ve experienced of the Neopagan-specific scene, even when everything is consensual. (q.v. the aforementioned Victorian horror expressed by Fortune, and the recasting of Crowley in a certain type of fluffy feminist fantasy as a vortex of Unspeakable Evil, when as far as I’ve ever been able to find the guy was guilty of nothing worse than mildly kinky sex and being an unpleasant little git.) (Also possibly some fraud.) Which in turn gives cover to people who *are* “sex pests” (wonderful European phrase) or worse, because then they can point to that as Puritanism…and back and forth it goes, I guess.

    That said, I kind of want to see “Rituals descended from the Knights Templar” as a category on FetLife now. 😛

    * Good luck to ’em and all, subjective beauty standards, blah blah blah, and yet: no, not on a bet.

  5. Thanks, JMG. In the novel, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” by Tom Robbins, the character, The Chink, (from Okinawa, but the Native Americans he encountered, and who nicknamed him, had only seen Chinese in their western environs) tells the main character, Sissy Hankshaw that she needs to get in touch with the Western roots of spirituality, instead of the infatuation with the Zen and Taoism, etc, that was the fad in most of the twentieth century (and continues to this day). Sissy protested that she wanted nothing to do with Christianity. The Chink, called Sissy a twit, I think, and told her that Christianity, also, was an Eastern Religion. I began researching western spirituality and one of the results was that a few years ago, I came across the Archdruid!! Anyway, although, this post was about issues of sexual excess, abuse, and misunderstanding, you hit some important points about the lesser known and misunderstood Western Spirituality. Thank you, you horrible, antiquated Mesopagan, you!!


  6. I really enjoyed learning about the occult history of organizations that served as lodges and sex clubs when you wrote about it in your old blog. It was interesting to hear more about it.

    It seems like news of sexual assault and discussions of consent are everywhere you look lately. I actually just launched a youtube channel and my first video deals with how I plan to educate my son and daughter about consent. The channel will deal with a range of topics. I really want to inform more people about issues like peak oil and the problems with promises of techno utopias. But I also plan to talk about more topical issues, as well as some things I have on my mind about our culture. If you don’t mind the self-promotion here is a link. Further down the line I would like to use the channel to facilitate discussions with different writers and thinkers. I like hearing interviews, but those are plentiful and I would like to see more diverse ideas cross pollinate.

  7. Hey, I’m one of the first to post! I met P.E.I. Bonewits back in the mid-eighties. He was a BNP (Big Name Pagan) which meant he was constantly surrounded by people wanting to hear his wisdom and be noticed by him. And like JMG I noted that he always had a young female companion, sometimes more than one. Of course, he was younger then and his book was a big hit so they seemed more than willing.

    If the secondary accusations are true that is truly sad.


  8. Come to think of it now, it is a real shame that the Christians endeavor to co-opt J.R.R. Tolkien and his work. If anything, the Silmirillion reads like a Sacred Text of a New Religion altogether. Are you familiar with the entire conception of Mythopoeic fiction, I wonder? Sometimes, though, I tend to think that others seem to desire to ruin things.

    I remember, when around 11 years old, I read both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” At that time, they seemed really fun to read, too.

  9. Like many readers not familiar with the individual you named at the beginning of this post, I Googled the name and was predictably made almost physically ill by what I read. The only thing I can think of to say about this is, that in an atmosphere of extreme sexual repression such as the one in effect until relatively recently in history, nightmarish expressions of sexual dysfunction, deviance, and excess will very likely abound until things can change and start to balance themselves out. And believe me, I’m very glad to have been born in a year shortly after this rebalancing began!

    I hope you won’t mind my veering a little bit off topic, as I have made an astrological observation that I would rather not wait to spring upon you. It seems to me that every summary I’ve read or heard of what Pluto is about astrologically has been inadequate to convey the true flavor and intense power of this odd little dual planetoid. (It’s “moon” Charon is actually more of a partner-planet, as they orbit one another around a barycenter fairly close to but still well outside Pluto-proper.) The thumbnail summary “personal power and spiritual transformation” is adequate as far as it goes, but there’s just so much more to Pluto than that. I should know, having a very Plutonian personality myself with my ruling planet Venus squaring the Uranus-Pluto Conjunction in Virgo in my natal chart!

    So here’s my thumbnail summary of what Pluto is all about: The energies of the Lower Astral Plane and how they are discharged. This is not to say that Pluto is inherently bad, because the energies of the LAP have their place on this plane of existence, and attempting to deny this place will only make those energies disproportionately more powerful (as you pretty much said in your post about “hate being the new sex”). Rather, it’s how we deal with and discharge those LAP energies that makes for “good” or “bad”.

    I think this explains why Pluto is almost always a byword for “mysterious and scary”, and why such a little body has been riding so very high in the astrological saddle since about 1840. Industrial society has created many imbalances, after all, that have caused the cloggy build-up of LAP energy that is has been in its crescendo this decade and will likely soon discharge explosively in a way that will precipitate the next major economic (an also socio-political) dislocation. I know that you think Pluto’s influence is declining, but I really think Pluto is far from done. However, once this explosive discharge occurs, I can imagine Pluto’s relative influence quickly waning in a manner one might describe as a “terminal decline”. Hopefully this will also mean a decline in the compulsive sexual pathology that seems to make its way into the news so much these days!

  10. John–

    Are there any particular writings of Taylor’s (or related authors) that would be useful introductions to pagan revival thought in your assessment?

  11. Dusk Shine, the year’s not over yet, and the Religion of Progress may have its scandal waiting in line.

    Patricia, you’re most welcome and thank you. Yes, it does very much explain said aberrations — the SF/fantasy author in question was a major figure in her local Neopagan scene from very early on. There was a lot of overlap between science fiction and Neopaganism before the rationalist/CSICOP crowd muscled in during the 1980s.

    Dwig, bingo. The author you want to read is Marsha Keith Schuchard, who documents Blake’s involvement with a wide range of colorful esoteric movements at that time.

    Isabel, thank you for this. Exactly; what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, or for that matter the semiprivacy of their own sex cults, is entirely up to them, but the words consenting and adults deserve highlighting there. As for sex magic, I didn’t happen to know that that’s become the evilest evil that ever eviled in some circles — how silly. Crowley was a vortex of unspeakable pompous silliness, but that’s about it.

    Mac, you’re welcome. I’m good with people getting into Asian spiritual traditions if that’s what they want to do; I’m good with anybody doing anything that doesn’t involve cultural theft from people who object to it — again, there’s that little issue of consent — but we do have some very rich traditions right here in modern Anglo-American culture, you know, and maybe those deserve a bit of attention from time to time.

    Greg, glad to hear it.

    Twin Ruler, I can recommend a very good book on that subject! As for Tolkien, well, keep in mind that the guy was a very devout traditional Roman Catholic, so I’m not sure it counts as co-opting if the Christians claim him. The books are worth reading, though.

    Mister N., interesting. I’ll be doing a post about Pluto in a bit, as I’ve come to some unusual conclusions about it.

    David, Taylor’s essay on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries is a good place to start.

  12. I do the best I can to know what and who I choose to align myself with, which made the road to a pagan faith long and, at first, scary. Exploring nature based spirituality, first Wicca, then witchcraft, I have read many references to Gardner and Bonewits. You articulate what I had suspected. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight.

  13. @JMG: Yeah–I read Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters books for popcorn fun, and there’s at least a few passages about “the horrible rites practiced by Crowley and his people” (rough paraphrasing), which, lord, there were more “horrible rites” going on backstage at any given rock concert in the eighties, I’m pretty sure. (Albeit KISS had better lyrics than most of Crowley’s poems.) The statements I’ve heard about sex magic per se were less “evilest evil” and more the implication that That Sort of Thing Is Just Not Done and people are terribly materialistic and corrupt for even thinking of it, and/or fictional narratives where the only people who do that kind of thing just happen to also be morally dubious.

    And quite welcome! Consent is important; frankly, partnered sex without not just consent but also enthusiasm seems rather pointless, as response is just about the only concrete advantage a human partner has over even the most primitive technology. ;P

    I think the movement away from “everyone gets a turn” to “everyone gets to ask, politely” has been more of a PR thing than any serious moral issue: a sex cult/kink scene/etc where boinking everyone who wants is mandatory is going to attract fewer people who’d otherwise be objects of desire now that the mainstream culture is more accepting of casual sex as a whole. So we’ve moved from consent on entering the society/scene/etc to consent being more up to the individual case, or such is my impression.

  14. Additional note: IDK what Starhawk’s background is, but I seem to recall from an autobiography of Adler that she’d be either asexual or demisexual today, which correlates well with her de-emphasis on sex re:pagan traditions.

  15. Sally, you’re most welcome.

    Isabel, oh, gotcha. I once drafted a parody story, “Flaming Koolaid” by one B.M.W. Flunkey, that was basically a smack at Lackey’s habit of making all her protagonists Wiccans and all her antagonists ceremonial magicians. (It featured a telepathic Care Bear with big blue eyes and a pentagram on its belly who turned into Aleister Crowley in the final scene, if that tells you anything.)

    And you’re right about Crowley’s poetry. I have a tape around here somewhere of Crowley reading some of his own poetry; he sounds like Winston Churchill on cocaine, and the verses are right up there with Vogon poetry (or, ahem, Pagon poetry). It’s an infallible cure for depression to put that on and listen to him bloviate.

    As for motivations, I read a while ago — I’ve long since lost the reference, alas — that Adler admitted publicly that her act of redefinition in Drawing Down the Moon was entirely deliberate. She had an idea of what Neopaganism could be, which was emphatically not what it was, and she chose her examples and wrote her explanatory prose to push the movement in the direction she thought it should go. Whether that had anything to do with her sexuality or not, I have no idea; it certainly had a lot to do with her political and social opinions, and her desire to see Neopaganism champion those.

  16. @isabelcooper Thank you for “sex pests!” That’s a wonderful descriptor. I often find myself searching for a way to get across the ookiness and importunity of some people without the criminality and menace implied by calling them “sexual harassers.” (Of course, if they are actually criminal and menacing, then accurately labeling them as sexual harassers is the least of what they deserve).

  17. I think that you opposed Southern Baptists to Zen Buddhists up above, which would make me think I’m in just about the right place but for your frequent comment that the opposite of one bad idea is often another bad idea. The San Francisco Zen Center, however, did an admirable thing in the early/mid 1980s when they fired their leader for sexual misconduct and financial exploitation of members. In doing so, they saved the organization. Admirable!

  18. On the topic of sex cults, I wonder whether most sex magic was actually practiced for results (and continued because it worked), or if it was mostly based on a simple desire for more sexual pleasure which got mixed into magic in a weird way. Seems like the later is more likely.

    Historically, has sex magic been shown to be very effective? (I haven’t done much reading on it, so I’m pretty much just musing )

  19. Your post ilustrates that sex is an important component of the religion.

    A blogger called Pedro Bustamante shows, in practically all of his posts ,how in the inner core of our society and our religion there are rituals of sacred sex and human sacrifices. He thinks that these rituals are necesary for the life of al societies.

  20. Twin Ruler– As JMG pointed out, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and the Silmarillion is a great work of Christian Neoplatonism. I have also been re-reading it, btw, and one of the first things I thought of was how easy it would be to construct a ritual of either the SoP or pentagram type with the Valar set at the quarters.

    Notice the role of Illuvator though, as creator of both gods and men (and elves). That’s the role that God plays in Plato’s Timmaeus and Christian Platonist works like the Cosmografia of Bernardus Silvestrus. And in Christian occult works such as Agrippa’s Occult Philosphy. And also in Saint Augustine for that matter– in the City of God he refers in his discussion of Platonism to the beings “that the Platonists call gods and we call the Holy Angels.” In the same way Tolkien writes that the Valar are the chiefs and captains of men, rather than their masters, since both are children of Illuvator (God.)

    If I might go on for just another minute, you also see this weaving together of traditional Christianity with a reverence for the powers and cycles of Nature in the Lord of the Rings. The story begins in the Autumn Equinox (Bill’s birthday), when the darkness begins to overtake the light. On Christmas day light and hope are reborn, as the company sets out from Rivendell. There soon follows three days of darkness, calling to mind the Paschal Triduum, which ends with the Rohirrim breaking the siege of Minas Tirith as Jan Sobieski broke the siege of Vienna in 1683. The Ring is then destroyed on the Feast of the Annunciation, and Aragorn amd Arwen are wed in Midsummer’s Day.

    So it isn’t that Chrisitans are appropriating Tolkien. Rather, Tolkien himself gives us an image of a Chrisitanity at once very old and very new, embedded in the natural world and reverent of Nature’s gods. I increadingly find that this is the direction my own spirituality is moving in, as I can deny neither the Catholic tradition I was raised in nor the animistic paganism that’s always come naturally to me. And there are more people out there like me than you might think!

  21. Dear Archdruid,

    Excellent post! I recognize a lot in what you wrote.

    Back in April of 2017, on the AODA forums, there was a thread discussing how we saw ourselves as Druids. I never felt comfortable with ‘heathen’ or ‘pagan’. I just didn’t feel like I belonged to those communities in any way (I suggested, tongue in cheek, calling it sylvanism instead).

    To me, druidry is a quirky, intellectual, nature-based spirituality, where we find meaning (and some of us, divinity) in nature and the passing of the seasons. I was drawn to druidry by a youth full of spiritual experiences in nature. But it was the initiatory tradition that convinced me to join the AODA, and the links to esotericism and magic. For the same reasons I later also joined the DOGD.

  22. This was a very informative history lesson!
    It seems to me that sexual initiation in any society is intertwined with long-term generational issues– ie., Ya gotta have sex going on, unless you want to end up like the Shakers. At the other end of the spectrum there are sex pests and sexual predators a bit further out. You want to guard against these, since sex is powerful and the bad effects from its misuse are long-lasting. It is at least as dangerous (and beneficial) as, for example, using knives and axes.

    SO…Are there any branches of Druidry and/or Paganism that, while sexually permissive, have rules?

    I remember in Boy Scouts that no scout was allowed to use an axe or pocketknife unless he had gotten his ‘Totin’ Chip.’ This was a patch that was sewn onto the pocket of the Scout uniform. After a safety course in which the Scout demonstrated safe handling of knife and axe, the patch was awarded in a public ceremony (“Court of Honor”). Even after receiving my Totin’ Chip as an 11-year-old, there were constant challenges to keeping it. If I was observed using a knife or axe incorrectly or unsafely, I could lose the Totin Chip. Part of it was to be aware of each others’ knife and axe technique. The Totin Chip could be revoked by anyone, at any time, and also re-awarded after retraining. It was hard for 11-year-old me to get, and helped me remember to be careful with the sharp stuff without needing to lose fingers, at an age when paying attention did not come easily.

    So I can imagine a sort of Druid Bar/Bat-Mitzvah where an adult of consenting age is awarded their sexual ‘totin chip,’ a revokable license to seek consenting partners within the community. Not sure what the certification program would involve, though the instruction of the older wives in the linear marriages described in Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) comes to mind…

    Is there already something like this, somewhere?

    It’s probably a bit off topic, but you did not mention the increased risk of STD’s with permissive groups; Might be a good idea to include regular STD testing somewhere in that totin chip….

  23. @JMG I’m sorry to hear of another scandal in yet another religious community. Power abuse is so easy sometimes I wonder what can be done so that humans get better at self-managing and at recognizing dangerous behavior in others. I guess that’s a pretty tall order.

    Thanks also for the ritual from last week. I can’t wait to try it! I’m waiting to have some private space to do it in – right now it would be either the bathroom at the hostel or in my car LOL What do you think of doing something like this outdoors, like at the beach? It seems kind of not what it’s suited for …

  24. Was reading “A dangerous method ” by Kerr about the work of Jung and the other fin de siecle avant gard psychologists . He talked about the two different types of sexuality , the procreative progressive life affirming ( right hand path) , and the infantile , incestuous regressive archaic, ( left hand path)

    I am just riffing but i have studies the links between the so called ‘ new age ‘ countercultural, drug addled licentious LHP and the intelligence services looking to usher in the age of postmodernly neo liberal realitivist consumerism .

    You , on the other hand seem more Thomas Taylor RHP conservative , traditional , rational , restrained & creative , while still remaining progressively future focussed , definitely not on the tram of the Nietzschean postmodern chaos superman.

    Its not always easy to tell the two streams apart , one can pose as the other and vice versa , here it seems we have the twins , the dark and light druids , coiling about the Schopenhauerian caduceus, both in their own way components of a higher synthesis ?

    No doubt i am over generalising here, i myself force myself toward the RHP while feeling & knowing my core of life experiences to be otherwise inclined. I suspect one could end up as a fascist if too closely identified with either of these snakes, while repressing the other ?

  25. What Good comments here! The post reminded me of “Jude the Obscure”, by Thomas Hardy which I read as self chosen homework from the old blog.

    but to be brief, I’m not good at typing, don’t want to be, just want to say this time around, thanks infinity for the image of Winston Churchill on cocaine.

    one other thing though, it occurs to me that this town I live in doesn’t have an Astrologer ……. who knows anything about Pluto …….. I’ll need an ephemeris ………

  26. There does seem to be quite a history of men creating religions that happened to give them greater sexual access to women. Neopaganism is far from alone in this.

    I can see the appeal of some of this, of course:

    “What do you do at your church?”

    “Well, we sing some songs, do some standing and kneeling, and then a celibate man tells us how terrible we are. What do you do?”

    “Mostly drink and have lots of sex.”

    “I see…”

    I appreciate the Druid Revival, particularly the honesty about its (relatively) recent origins. In years past, I was more familiar with the “these beliefs were passed down over the millennia, unlike upstart Christianity” approach. I didn’t buy it, though I also found it sad. I hate the idea of knowledge being lost.

  27. Phutatorius, I didn’t oppose Southern Baptists and Zen Buddhists because I think one of them is evil and one good, you know. (I’ve known Southern Baptists who were literally some of the most compassionate human beings I’ve ever met, and Zen Buddhists who were world-class jerks, as well as vice versa.) My point was simply that if you sat them down and tried to get them into a conversation about religion, there would be basically no common ground, because their understandings of even the most basic religious concepts are so different.

    Ross, sex magic can be very effective, but it takes enormous discipline to keep it from losing its magical focus and becoming a somewhat elaborate set of excuses for ordinary sex. By and large, in my experience, it’s better to keep the two separate.

    Anselmo, er, that strikes me as a bizarre overstatement impossible to justify without a lot of special pleading. Our species being what it is, sex gets into just about everything we do, but “sacred sex” is usually just an excuse for common or garden variety nookie, and human sacrifice? Um, no.

    Brigyn, exactly. I know a lot of people who worship the Norse and Germanic deities who are similarly unwilling to be lumped together with Neopagans, and for good reason — a lot of them use the term “Heathen” for themselves, to differentiate their traditions from the Neopagan scene. In exactly the same way, Druidry is Druidry, and it’s not Neopagan — it’s much older, far quirkier, and to me, at least, much more interesting.

    E. Goldstein, Druidry isn’t a culture. It’s a philosophical-spiritual tradition within modern Anglo-American culture, and one thing that sets it apart from (say) evangelical Christianity is that it’s not mostly about telling other people how to behave. We also don’t do a lot of rites of passage — again, that’s not what we’re about. So any project of the sort you’ve sketched out would need to come from the culture itself, not from Druidry.

    Aron, if you can find a private place outdoors, that should be fine. I’ve practiced the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram in a lot of hotel bathrooms — when you travel, and your spouse tends to sleep later than you do, that’s the polite thing to do — so you might give that a try!

    MeinVater, I haven’t read Kern yet, but I have my doubts about any dualistic analysis (“right hand” vs. “left hand”) of the sort you’ve described. I’d tend to see sexuality as a complex landscape in which there’s a dizzying array of more and less functional ways to relate to any given part of that landscape, and lumping those together into just two paths obscures more than it illuminates — but of course that’s my way of seeing things, and your mileage may vary.

    Shane, you’re easily surprised, then. Given some of the other things that have been mentioned here, are you really that startled? 😉

    Mark, you’re welcome. Get busy about Pluto, if you want to specialize in it; if I’m right, it won’t be a significant influence for that much longer.

    Christopher, you’re welcome. Anybody who tells you that any religious tradition has been passed down unchanged since the dawn of time clearly doesn’t know squat about the history of religious traditions!

  28. @JMG: Hee! That sounds hilarious. (I admit that I would probably find Pentagram Bear cute. Crowley, not so much.) I hadn’t noticed the ceremonial/Wiccan opposition when I first read the books, being thirteen, but looking back…yeah, there’s a real sense that anything elaborate or symbolic is, at best, not the way, and you should just go with what’s in your heart, maaan. I blame the nineties, or maybe the sixties.

    Also, I really want to hear that tape now.

    @Jen: Thanks! Europe is helpful sometimes, and yeah, I love the distinction. I also daydream about carrying around a little spray bottle of vinegar and water and spraying annoying guys in the face, like I hear one is supposed to do when training cats not to take a leak on the couch.

    “Hey, baby, you’d be so much prettier if you smiled!”


    @Ross: Sex is the goal of magic for me half the time, but not so much the method. 😛

    @Anselmo: While I agree with JMG, I am also reminded of my English teacher in eleventh grade, who said that everything is about sex, death, or religion, which is itself largely about sex and death. Interesting man.

    @Shane: I’m here to help! 🙂

  29. Dear Mr. Greer and the Commenteratiat


    As I read your descriptions of the ‘sex clubs’ in pre-sexual revolution West, I couldn’t help but think that things are very similar where I live (Pakistan). Coercion, hypocrisy, and double-standard towards women are the norm, and the relations between the sexes are umm, ‘f’-ed up. I don’t know if someone has tried it here, but I personally wouldn’t mind acquianting myself with a sex-club that can blackmail its members by worshipping anyone who is not the One True God. Does any one know any detailed literature on the subject, available on the web?


  30. Hi John.
    I’m pretty sure that we here at Tower 440 of the Green Wizards Benevolent and Protective Association are generally trending towards your suggestion of becoming a fraternal body centered around disseminating ecotechnic ideas and information. Obviously, we want to avoid being a sex cult or a support group for practitioners of hollow ritual. Any ideas on how to do these things without reinventing, retreading, or recycling all the old bad ideas?

  31. Hi Everyone,
    That was an interesting post.
    On the subject of sex magic, I have tried it, but in a very AODA sort of way. I live in the country and have a very private flower garden. I convinced my husband to come out for sex on the lawn. I opened a Grove and performed a Sphere of Protection and then we had sex in the Grove. I was attempting to magically increase fertility in the garden. I am not sure it worked but having sex by the nodding flowers and being overflown by hummingbirds was very pleasant. I don’t think sex has to be especially kinky to work good magic.
    Max Rogers

  32. Interesting post, JMG, in terms of the history of traditions. I can be a smidge more informed when I tell someone that I follow your blog, and describe you (among other things) as a Druid – and when the semi-suppressed eye roll follows, I can add, “It’s cool, man – he’s a Mesopagan!”

    Your post of course is grim as well, reminding us that sex scandals are not always restricted to the charismatic leader taking advantage of a wide-eyed follower, but sometimes cross over into the far, far more dark side of abusing a child. It’s enough to make me want to believe in Hell, with that Hell having a special corner where the pedophiles receive a little worse punishment than the rest of us Heathens.

    It’s unfortunate that the media will focus on religious scandals of this type, when of course they can occur in any organization where adults have unsupervised (and often trusted) access to children. Similar incidents are sometimes used to unseat a politician or minor official, or a few conspirators in a cover-up (ie, the Sandusky-Penn St affair), but when a religious institution is involved, the reporting seems to be more wholesale blackwashing of the faith versus calling the specific guilty parties.

  33. I can’t say much to this week’s discussions of Neopaganism vs other traditions, since I mostly plough a lonely row and unfamiliar with the concepts that would either unite or divide people around names to call themselves.

    However, since it is topical, I would like to mention that I have often thought that a dark magic must be involved in some of the sexual activities one could call “predatory”. PUA “techniques” for example are aimed at achieving at least a temporary change of consciousness [to one that won’t resist or believe they are able to refuse] in a prospective target.

    Also, people I know who have suffered abuse or rape, often describe the difficulty they had in “finding a way out” of, not just the physical facts of someone intruding upon their body in an unwanted way, but the whole mental morass that seemed to prevent them from finding effective ways and means of expressing themselves at all, or asserting their will, as if somehow ensorcelled or spell-trapped.

    I’m not going anywhere in particular with this, but it seems that magical self-defense is as important to practice and teach as martial self-defense.

  34. I have read about gurus who were quite respected who turned out to have deviant behaviour in secret. Others were more open about this like Osho. Charismatic figures seem to have lots of energy, need lots of confirmation, like clinton and similar. Religion generally sems to be a regulation of relations between the sexes, family relations from birth to death. I have read in ancient times in small tribal groups that shared consensual sex was normal but with property and larger populations this became impracticable. Greek Dionysus cult was sex cult, wine cult. Personally I get squeamish thinking of sex. I suppose in a very small community as in ancient times, a hippie commune where everyone knew everyone for years and years mutual sharing of partnes would be ok but for passing acquaintance of moden average relationship it is negative. First thing is to develop relationship. Sex is good to reduce tension between man and woman. Men play sports, go to war to reduce tension between themselves.. It is like war between sexes escalates to a seething point then either a massive argument breaks out or sex or one leads to the other. This repeats. Just going somewhere to have sex without all this tension, relationship existing would be terribly wasteful as exactly this positive spiral makes for spiritual development in a relationshiip. Meaning that two grow into a single unit where you end each others sentences. I suppose men might have much more sexual energy than their spouses and be frustrated or couples who are swingers find their partner’s personality limiting and feel that trying other people out grows their personality. Particularly in this area absolute rules cannot exist. Making a religious sex cult like dionysians seems practical, if not cynical solution to a personal societal problem like nudism, legalized prostitution,swinger’s clubs. These practices protect those not involved from all that unwanted attention by overeager males. Social peace and balance might be acheived. Scandals are of course to be expected, abuses. Right now we are in conservative cycle where this is all tabu but in 25 years a new hippie spiritual free love era will come. Thank God we can be focused on our spirituality in a countercyclical manner, meaning, when society is not into that, so we avoid abuse and focus our energies to best use.

  35. Hello JMG,

    This week’s post retracing the history of Druidry gives me the opportunity to ask a question I asked for the last Magic Monday post, but that went unanswered because I posted it after you closed up shop.

    My comment was:

    “Shamanism doesn’t seem to be among the occult subjects you write frequently on. So my question this time regards the relationship between it and Druidry. It seems to me that there is a strain of Druidry that approaches Celtic spirituality from a distinctly shamanistic perspective. The books I’ve read on Druidry are yours and by a few other authors mostly connected with the OBOD, but I have seen books by others that explore that side. (Here in the UK, The British Druid Order seems to privilege that approach.)

    Shamanism is generally associated exclusively with indigenous people from other continents. But there are very deep roots in the Western European tradition too, and I am starting to explore those roots. (The next books on my pile is ‘Shamen and Ancient Rome: The Romans and the World of Magic’ by Leonardo Magini.”

    What place does shamanism have in the WE tradition, and in Druidry in particular? Is it a valid path?


  36. JMG:

    I too study Taylor’s translations. They in my opinion are an ark of philosophical and theological coherency written in readable but fancy English. Taylor did not fear long sentences!

    Do you have a favorite work of Taylor’s to study JMG? I’m drawn to Proclus so I tend to study Elements of Theology and Theology of Plato. The Oracles of course get my blood pumping too but Proclus didn’t compose them!

    This glossary from the estimable Prometheus Trust will certainly help those who aim to study the true wealth in Taylor’s works:

    Saturn’s Pet

    @ Robert Mathiesen:

    Thanks for that information about Universal Public Friend that you dropped in last week’s comment section! I overlooked it until my ladylove showed me.

    I hope you find it thrilling and chilling to learn that in the last few weeks I’ve had odd experiences during some spontaneous scrying with a name similar to UPF. I’m becoming inclined to use this name for my primary musical persona.

    You, JMG, and I seem to me to be involved in a synchronous New England Connection. lol. That goes to show you the power of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!

    Coincidences are sometimes fun little clues to stop and smell on these long and often hard roads of learning.

    Saturn’s Pet

  37. Johh, you sparked a thought…

    “My point was simply that if you sat them down and tried to get them into a conversation about religion, there would be basically no common ground, because their understandings of even the most basic religious concepts are so different.”

    And yet, somehow, members of each group manage to be both “some of the most compassionate human beings I’ve ever met” and “world class jerks.” So, is it such a leap for an atheist to conclude that neither ideology (or any other religion for that matter) has anything really concrete or unique to offer when it comes to the pursuit of wisdom, compassion, or justice? If every single religion / ideology leaves in its wake a mis-mash of “compassionate” and “jerks,” why pick one over the other? Why claim one or the other as one’s own? Given that the so inclined can grow into value and maturity even when “their understandings of even the most basic religious concepts are so different,” why the assumption that someone who dismisses all the gods as but expressions of human mythology, (i.e the atheist) are the only ones who are fundamentally “wrong”? Why is it that the only common enemy among all of the religious traditions is the “materialistic atheist”?

    There are, of course, materialistic atheists who are jerks. But very often, we are categorized as such only because we don’t worship a god. When it comes to every other aspect of being human we are as diverse a collection of “compassionate” and “jerks” as any other group.

    Mythology is, to me, the collective wisdom garnered by human kind over the millennia distilled through cultural and social histories. It is available to anyone who cares to use it in the pursuit of wisdom, and can be abused by anyone in the pursuit of power. The latter unfortunately, at least from my point of view, is far more common. The demand for worship and obedience to the gods (arbitrated by the leadership of the religion) is the avenue used in the pursuit of power.

    The fact is I’m not interested in worship. About the only thing I think of as being worse than worshiping something is allowing one’s self to be worshiped. I don’t worship nature. I am an integral part of nature, and more like the wave standing in a stream than a mountain. Should I ever stumble across a Nymph or Dryad (not my experience) it would not occur to me offer worship in order to curry some kind of favor. It is likely, if such expected worship in order to tolerate my presence, I would tend to think of it as a “god that is too small” and look for more enlightened company elsewhere.

    My personal world view isn’t much materialist in the sense that I envision the cosmos as the constant flow of various expressions of energy, with the analogy of it being a thought more accurate than the analogy of it being a machine. (Such is completely reasonable since matter and energy are expressions of the same thing.) But it is also helpful to remember that both are analogies, an attempt to understand that which is both illusive and mysterious. That illusiveness and mystery are likely so due mostly to the limitations of the senses, imagination, and intelligence inherent in being human. Limitations that apply equally to our mythology and religions.

  38. JMG, can you recommend a book on the “Marian Cults”, as they are called by Catholics? My father’s side of the family was devoutly catholic, but I was never interested in poor Jesus on his cross. I am much more attracted to the goddess aspect of Mary, mother of Jesus.

  39. I call myself “pagan” because it’s easier and technically true, in the same way that I tell people I grew up in Santa Barbara or live in Boston: outsiders aren’t interested in the distinction between the city proper and a smaller town/village a half-hour’s drive away. But if I was going to be technical about my beliefs, it’d come out something like “polytheistic occultist”: I don’t identify with neopaganism for a number of reasons.

    @gandalfwhite: And here’s where I think JMG’s comment about an “array of more or less functional ways” to relate to sex comes in: while I know and love many long-established couples at the finish-each-other’s-sentences level of closeness, the notion of being part of a “single unit” myself leaves me not just cold but slightly nauseous. As you say, no absolute rules here, except “treat other consenting adults with respect, and leave non-consenting people or non-adults the heck alone”. And maybe “know thyself,” because being confused about what you want leads to a lot of the unhappiness I’ve observed around sex, in or out of relationships.

    (It’s also noteworthy that I have a number of female friends who have or had significantly higher sex drives than their male partners, particularly as we all hit our mid-thirties and above.)

  40. Six years I’ve been hanging out here waiting to get invited to a wild heathen orgy and this is what I get for my effort…😉

  41. Isabel, if I were to rewrite “Flaming Koolaid” at this point I’d doubtless make the pentagram-bearing item a My Little Pony knockoff, just to make the Valdemar references a little more excruciating. Oh, and the whole adventure took place in the magic kingdom of Wall-de-Mart. (Mostly in Aisle 6, which is where you find cheap Pagan statuary and bad poems.) I’ll see if I can scare up the tape — it got packed for the move and I’m still not precisely sure where it got to!

    Lordyburd, hmm. No. my exposure to the details came from a book I got from Ty-Rad Publishing quite a few decades ago, which I no longer have. I’ll see what I can find!

    Rusty, my book Inside a Magical Lodge actually covers a good share of the details. I don’t currently know of another good source.

    Maxine, true enough. For best effect, sex magic should involve activities that the participants can do while concentrating on the purpose of the working, and the more complicated sexual activities tend to interfere with that. Nor is there anything wrong with simply enjoying lovemaking in a natural setting!

    Drhooves, one of the things I appreciate about the concept of reincarnation is that there’s every reason to think that people who do really heinous things go face first into the brick wall, over and over again, until it finally sinks in why what they did was a really, really bad idea. I don’t envy Sandusky his next life…

    Scotlyn, emphatically. Yes, there’s a certain amount of cheap corrupt magic out there along the lines you’ve sketched out, and the way women are traditionally raised in many cultures makes them more vulnerable to that than they ought to be.

    Gandalfwhite, I don’t expect it to take another 25 years, but yeah, it’s a cycle.

    Gigoachef, a lot depends on what you mean by shamanism, as the word gets used to lump together a lot of different practices, some impressively powerful, some remarkably vapid. Some Neopagans who call themselves Druids use the label “shamanism” for their practices. I don’t know of any Mesopagan Druid Revival tradition that does so. I don’t practice shamanism in any form, so if you want to know about it, you’ll have to ask somebody else.

    Pet, it really does vary from time to time, but The Theoretic Arithmetic of the Pythagoreans has been a reliable favorite, as a source for my study of sacred geometry and the other magical disciplines of the quadrivium.

    Tim, funny. That is to say, you’ve wrenched a comment of mine out of context, interpreted it via a set of presuppositions that apply only to the Abrahamic religions, jumped on the result, and turned it into a convenient straw man to whack on, so that you can jump in here with an off-topic comment and evangelize for your belief system. Let’s take a few moments to pick apart the fallacies in your argument.

    Outside of the Abrahamic religions, religion is not about becoming a more moral person. I think I probably ought to repeat that, on the off chance that it might sink in: outside of the Abrahamic religions, religion is not about becoming a more moral person. The notion that belonging to a religion ought to make people, in your words, wiser, more compassionate, and/or more just, is peculiar to a particular set of Middle Eastern religions and those other faiths that have imitated them more recently.

    From an older and far more widespread perspective, religion is the traditional toolkit by which human beings interact with the intelligent, disembodied (or differently-embodied), superhuman beings we call gods and goddesses. As C.S. Lewis had the old high priest say in his tremendous novel Till We Have Faces, “Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”

    It’s not about becoming a better person. It’s about interacting with a realm of life and power you know nothing of, because you’ve turned your back on it. That’s your choice, of course; as you say, you aren’t interested in worship. (Did you know that the word “worship” doesn’t have to mean “groveling self-abasement,” by the way? It was originally “worthship,” the recognition of great worth or value.)

    Outside the Abrahamic religions, furthermore, the fact that one tradition’s approach to its objects of worship differs from those of others doesn’t disprove anybody’s validity, because the objects of worship are usually different. You might as well argue that if the rules governing electricity differ from those governing running water, that proves that neither electricity nor water exists! There are many gods and goddesses; each of them have their own characteristics and their own requirements, and if you want to interact constructively with a given deity, you need to shape your behavior in and out of worship to conform to that deity’s requirements and preferences.

    Thus the Southern Baptists have worked out what they need to do in order to relate properly to their god, and Zen Buddhists have done the same thing to interact with the rather more complex set of Buddhas and bodhisattvas they revere. Each approach gets results, but they’re different results. All roads do not go up the same mountain; au contraire, there are many different mountains, and the one you choose, to extend the metaphor a little further, depends on the view you want to see.

    Finally, about why it is that so many people consider atheists to be jerks until they prove otherwise — well, have you noticed that nobody’s jumped into this discussion to proselytize for Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Druidry, or the worship of the Greek gods Thomas and Mary Taylor revered? On the other hand, you apparently felt the need to jump in here to proselytize for atheism. The kind of pushy evangelical fervor you’ve displayed here isn’t exactly an advertisement for your claim that atheists aren’t jerks, you know.

    Mind you, I also know atheists who are very pleasant, friendly, compassionate people, who wouldn’t dream of elbowing their way into a conversation on an unrelated subject to try to shove their belief system on others. If you want to change the public perception of atheism, you might consider learning from them…

  42. Danae, there I can’t help you. I’ve had only very limited interactions with the Catholic church, as its teachings don’t appeal to me, and I haven’t really followed the various trends within it. Can anyone else offer some suggestions?

    Isabel, I’ve ended up settling on “occultist” pure and simple, since “Pagan” carries so much Neopagan baggage. Still, do what keepeth thou from wilting shall be the loophole in the law!

    Tripp, well, there you go. You should have joined a sex cult instead! 😉

  43. Some of the history laid out here by JMG sort of reminded me of his contrast in “After Progress” between the long-lasting Shaker commune and the ephemeral counter-culture communes of the 1960s and 70s. Clearly, the Shakers moved in a sexually-repressive direction more radical than most of us could abide, but that turned out to be less dangerous, in terms of the survival of an intentional community, than radical moves in the other direction. Perhaps this same dynamic comes into play with regard to religious movements that do not evolve into communal living arrangements. And perhaps this is part of what’s keeping today’s evangelical Christian intentional communities (like Simple Way) cohesive and functional. Please forgive the repeated plug, but “After Progress” is one of JMG’s most under-appreciated gems, a book that all who engage with him would enjoy reading and pondering.

  44. Hi JMG,

    thank you for the fascinating bit of history and context – possibly one of my favorite posts. I can’t say I’ve ever had anything to do with any Neopagan scene or sex cult, and frankly, after reading your tale, I think that’s probably just as well!

    The way I see it, the problem you described has a pretty simple solution: see your lover as holy, and your sexual union as a merging of divine beings. Oh wait – except that to actually be able to do that would require a change in consciousness several orders of magnitude greater than the massively creepy person you mentioned here would likely have been able to cause in himself.

    I’m hopeful that this guy was not representative of the entire Neopagan scene. Like some others here, I also went to read more about him, and needless to say, didn’t get very far before turning away in disgust. Not to speak ill of the dead here; I guess I would aim that sentiment at anyone who might want to follow in this guy’s footsteps, so to speak. It’s probably important to identify what one is actually looking for when participating in any ‘scene’ of this type. Is it actually Self-Knowledge one is after? Or is it something more like escape? Is it to give a boost to one’s identity and self-image? I imagine many groups which start out with the supposedly serious aim of the pursuit of occult knowledge wind up descending into mere opportunities for socialization and identification. In the cases you’ve described, this apparently got taken to the extreme!

    I think there must be an energy or entity (entities?) that exists on the Lower Astral plane which ultimately causes people to commit such atrocities. This is not in any way said to excuse or condone this type of behavior, but more with the intent to understand where it may be coming from. It’s almost like an energy which takes on a life of its own and stalks around unseen, passing from generation to generation in families. I think we all theoretically have the power to change and escape from the influence of such an entity, but it seems like it is difficult. Some people have been incredibly much more harmed than others – almost like they’re starting life from a deep pit out of which they have to try to climb. Someone mentioned last week about how people from an abusive family ‘choose’ to perpetuate that behavior in their own family when they grow up, but I would argue this is not really a conscious choice they’re making. I wouldn’t say anyone would ‘choose’ to act this way, but rather that this malicious entity or energy which is below conscious awareness has latched on to them and is causing them to behave horribly to others. It might be worth considering that if one comes from any kind of abusive family/childhood situation, there is a very good chance that the influences one picked up as a child will be passed on to one’s own family in the future. It would probably be worth learning a bit about how to free one’s self from those influences; otherwise one will perpetuate the exact same behavior and wind up harming others without being able to do anything about it.

    I kind of learned about that the hard way, coming from not the most emotionally pleasant family environment. Nothing at all close to the severe abuses many people have suffered through, but bad enough to make me wake up and realize I was going to do the exact same thing to my own children if I didn’t figure out how to stop myself.

    One more train of thought here – sorry, this post seems to have inspired a lot of thinking for some reason – I think it is majorly selling yourself short if you sleep around. Love and sex should not be handed out to everyone and anyone who comes knocking at the door, so to speak, but be something that you guard like a treasure and reserve for the person that will love you and honor you well, and you can love and honor in return. That sounds hopelessly old-fashioned I suppose, but perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the post. I definitely plan on teaching that to my children. Yet another thing I had to learn the hard way!

    Thank you very much for all of this JMG, and I’m curious to learn more about where your path will lead you in the future.

  45. Hi JMG,

    The person that you’ve commented on it just the latest in a series of influential figures in any number of arenas around the world who has been brought down recently. Over the last 12-24 months, I’ve been watching that list of people grow around the world and have been wondering if it represents part of a generational shift?

    Previously that behaviour was enabled, tolerated, or just allowed due to fear of the influence that that person wielded. But we kept educating successive generations that people are to be treated better. Now we’ve reached an age where those who had the influence and power are waning, their numbers and ability to protect each other are decreasing. More importantly, people who have been taught better are now reaching an age where they will either be listened to, or in position to listen and act on what they hear. Plus the growth of social media has removed the information gatekeepers, so these stories can’t be hushed up.

    The skeptical part of me wonders if this is just a tactic to move the aging power mongers out of the way and let a new set in, or if it represents a true growth in how we treat each other? My wife tells me that the casual sexism that she experiences in the workplace has decreased over time, but it is still present in some parts of the leadership that she encounters. So maybe we are actually growing and just need to keep getting rid of the dead wood.


  46. Danae,
    While it isn’t specific to Marian cults you might find Caitlin Mathew’s book ‘Sophia, goddess of wisdom, bride of God’ a good read.

  47. @Tim Akey

    Tim, I’m not certain where you managed to get this sense of persecution that drove your comment. I largely self identify as an Atheist*. I’ve followed JMG for a number of years across his previous ArchDruid Report blog to here and I’ve yet to experience any treatment of atheists here as a group as “the common enemy”, as opposed to individuals or sub-groups who bring it on themselves. That is true of any of the belief systems that John mentions – even Catholics 🙂

    Too many members of various belief systems, including Atheism, are near zealots who seem to presume that they know the “One True Truth(tm)”. Whereas JMG has gone to great lengths to repeatedly state the opposite. Its one of the things that keeps me reading when he covers subjectively religious or mystical experiences. To me, every person experiences the universe as a unique series of signals interpreted by their brain that they then organise in a way that helps them interpret and interact with the universe. Absent neurological damage or pharmaceutical effects, I’m not going to deny to someone else that their experience is Right or Wrong because it differs from mine. I believe (Credo!) that the most important part of experience is to keep an open mind. Reading JMG and his many commenters is a useful insight into an area of the human experience that I subjectively don’t seem to share, but objectively am interested in.

    *Atheist – a friend once described me a Isolationist Humanist for my belief that everyone’s experiences are different and thus no one genuinely shares a religion, not even atheists 🙂 I argued this would technically make me a Gavin-ist (and thus, you a Tim-ist)

  48. I really appreciate the history lesson.

    One of the things that attracted me to your writings was an honest acknowledgement of the checkered past of the pagan, or occult movements, as to their historical underpinnings. An open admission that Druidry (or modern paganism) is an “invented” system, while focusing of its value, seems to me to be a strength, not a weakness.

    Gardner’s story, that he was secretly given the secrets of the Old Religion by a hedge witch never struck me as true. It always smacked of nonsense.

    And yet, I had this affinity for a Nature Spirituality that ran smack dab into the 1st Commandment.

    You openly acknowledge Iolo Morganwg’s fabrications, whilst seeing what truths are still relevant to how we live right here, right now.. How refreshing.

    Anyways, many of my friends from school were Wiccans..

    It was not until I read this essay, that the light bulb went off. Roots in a sex cult. I think it is no accident that a good friend of mine was brought into Wicca, by her beau, who was into B & D.

    She eventually found meaning in the Neopagan scene, but I could never shake the feeling that her honey was in it for kicks and kicks only.

  49. Dear Mr. Greer,

    I highly appreciate the clear-sightedness of your untangling of the different strands of modern Paganism; having been in a position to observe that world since the early 90s (as a Heathen, and therefore part of a rather different world that overlaps somewhat in membership and interests), it all generally rings true to me. As part of that overlap, while I did not know Isaac, I did meet his brother “Doc” on numerous occasions; mostly, he seemed put out that I and the other Heathens present did not know who he or his brother were.

    If you were ever to try to tease out the different strands of Heathenry, I would be very interested in your insights – understanding, of course, that you might not have had as much opportunity to observe those strands from close up, as it were.

    Thank you,

    Nick Ritter

  50. Tim, I have taken to worshipping the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. (Counting down hours to the Black Panther movie!) As a general rule, I don’t grovel at her paws and beg for favors, nor do I receive orders from her. (Why bother to invoke Bastet? *She won’t come!*) Occasionally I just look at her statuette and visualize her as a big mama cat, and say to her, “Thank you for letting your best little daughter come to live with us. We sure are grateful to have [Fuzzbutt].” It reminds me that [Fuzzbutt] is herself a little miracle of the universe, as by extension are other living things – and a loan, not a gift, not to be taken for granted. And I do love the thought that a portion of the spiritual side of the universe might personify the elegance and charm of Cattitude, and would want to feed it love in the hope that it would remain among us.

    Yes, I am a crazy cat lady, but with only one cat.

  51. Thanks for this history. This may explain some of what I experienced in a Wiccan coven back in the 90s. They supposedly had a strict prohibition against romantic connections, but some people hooked up anyway. They would invoke deities like Pan, summon sexual energy, and perform the symbolic Great Rite (put the athame in the chalice…), yet expect nothing else to take place. I don’t know if the coven existed before the shift you mentioned, but the mixed signals seem consistent with the conflict between the two eras.

  52. I wish I could agree with you about terminology, Loremaster, but, to my mind anyway, the term “occult” is even more loaded with negative connotations than “pagan.” That is, from the perspective of a recovering Southern Baptist, I have a very hard time with the ‘O’ word. It’s still a living (and self-evidently evilly evil) term within the evangelical church, where “pagan” and “heathen” are used in more of a joking way. As in, a descriptor that doesn’t really apply to anyone alive today. At least that’s how it was when I was still going to church a quarter century ago.

    Therefore I personally am WAY more comfy using the term “pagan” than “occultist.” But again, that’s just me. One baptist cum atheist cum polytheist wannabe Southern U.S. Gen-Xer among 7 billion or so souls on this planet…

    Truly there is no way to label someone who believes in gods, goddesses, nature spirits, (good) magic, tree souls, personal pantheons, egregors, and the like, in a way that is not offensive to folks who believe in The One True God and holy writ. So, as you suggested, I guess we just use whatever label keeps us from wilting.

  53. Danae–

    For an orthodox Roman Catholic take on Mary, a great resource is Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. De Montfort also presents a 33 day consecration to Mary which seems to me to be an extended invocation similar to the Abramelin ooeration. For an Orthodox perspective, the chapter on Mary in Sergei Bulgakov’s Sophia: The Wisdom of God is very good.

    If you’re willing to step outside of orthodoxy– and I suspect you are– you might look into the treatment of Mary in the Liberal Catholic Church or the Apostolic Johannite Church. Both are sacramental churches with valid orders and apostolic succession; neither is in communion with Rome. They are thus free to be more expansive in their theology, and both give Mary a prominent role. Both are also magic-friendly.

  54. I was wondering if sex magic can work like poop magic: if you focus the thing you want to release into the thing being released, and then when it is released, it is gone?

  55. Thanks, John. I ordered Inside a Magical Lodge. Just from the product description, I learned a new word (egregore) and found more light in Blue Lodge. SooOoo… GWB&PA Towers as working lodges? Rusty

  56. On a mostly unrelated side note, and in the spirit of giving credit where due, congrats (so far) on your bitcoin call. Your post on 12/13 warning the bubble was ready to pop was quite timely. Bitcoin peaked on 12/17 ($19,458) and has since fallen to today’s value on 01/18 ($11,264) by 42%!

    Now some Druids may focus their magic skills around sex, but for others who use it for making predictions, why, “there’s gold in them there hills!”

  57. Gigoachef, I can’t help you learn more about shamanism as such, but it occurred to me to recommend a movie to you, The full movie is on YouTube.

    Take a look for a film called “Khadak”, which deals with the forced settlement of nomads in Mongolia. It features Mongolian shamanism as a plot element – interesting because it’s from a country where shamanism is still influential, and everyone involved in the film’s making would be familiar with it to some extent, so it’s not a Western ‘imagining’ of shamanism.

    The trailer is here.

  58. I met Issac sometime in the early 2000 decade, at the dawn of the new millenium at a neopagan retreat. I liked him and didn’t get any sleazy vibes from him and neither I nor my wife at the time noticed anything sexual, except that some of the participants were the folks who invented the term polyamory. I also like Phaedra, his partner at the time. I would be surprised if he pressured or forced any women to do anything. Not every claim of impropriety is true. And I think his ABCDEF (Advanced Bonnewits Cult Detection and Evaluation Form) is pretty ingenious and useful.

    The whole metoo campaign seems to have gone too far into a kind of puritanical lynch mob. I remember fondly a Beltane ritual I attended with my ex-wife where a couple was tied to the pole and started copulating, with the intent of procreation. They went into the woods for more privacy as things got more heated and the crowd was cheering them on. I also remember post ritual hot tub sexuality with some of our friends, but my wife was monogamous and so we didn’t really get into it, though I felt tempted. I wish more people could all be more aligned with Bacchus/Dionysus instead of the puritans. I wish we could reclaim feminism away from puritanism and more in line with “all acts of pleasure are Her rituals” (maybe the word consensual should be inserted in there).

  59. JMG, I’m intrigued by Steve T’s suggestion above that the Valar could be invoked in a Sphere of Protection or Pentagram ritual. Would this work? Wouldn’t it matter that Tolkien’s deities are ‘fictional’ compared to the ‘non-fictional’ deities invoked by religions throughout the ages?

    The idea of following a religion based on the theogony of the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings strikes me as appealing. I’d never realized that it was similar to Neoplatonism, but that could go a long way toward explaining its power and beauty, to me at least.

  60. Newtonfinn, thank you. I’ve noticed that consistently the books of mine that I consider my best work are also my least commercially successful, and After Progress is one of those. (The two other that come to mind are A World Full of Gods and Inside a Magical Lodge.)

    Stefania. fair enough. My take is that sexual needs and capacities differ from person to person; there are people who are well suited to enthusiastic polywhatchamacallit, people who are well suited to serial monogamy, people who are well suited to monogamy pure and simple, people for whom celibacy is the best option, and so on. One size emphatically does not suit all! Thus your take on sleeping around is valid, no question, for those who have the same emotional and sexual needs you do…and not necessarily to others.

    Gavin, that makes a lot of sense.

    William, when I became Grand Archdruid of AODA, one of the first things I said to the other (and much older) members of the Grand Grove (the national leadership) was that it was time to be honest about our origins. They were horrified — they were convinced that nobody would join if we explained that, no, we’re not descended from the ancient Druids — but I talked them into it…and we immediately got a rush of new members who were delighted that for once, somebody was being honest about such things! Three hundred years of lively eccentrics is ample heritage…

    Nicholas, I simply don’t know much about Heathenry. I have great respect for the Aesir and Vanir, and have participated in a modest number of blods and sumbels as a guest, but it’s not my religion, and it’s sufficiently different from my religion that I’d worry about making a fool of myself.

    Leo, that sounds about par for the course.

    Tripp, of course your mileage may vary. I don’t live in the rural South, after all!

    Shane, not so much. If you’re doing it with another person, your energies are joining, and that point of fusion between the energies becomes a vehicle through which various kinds of creation can take place.

    Rusty, sounds like a plan to me!

    Drhooves, let me tell you my secret .Anybody who reads John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929 and remembers the drivel used to market the 1929 boom, which Galbraith chronicles with mordant glee, simply needs to listen for a repeat of the same drivel. It’s usually word for word, and when you hear it, you know a spectacular crash is not too far off. Got it? Now you too can be an infallible prophet of bubbles and busts. 😉

    Iuval, I know what I saw — repeatedly, as noted in the post — and what quite a few people I know have also seen, over and over again. We’re talking about the guy who once paraded through a very large Neopagan event wearing boots, a cape, and nothing else, and confronting every woman he encountered by pointing to his erection and saying, “Look what I’ve got!” I admire the courtesy of the women at the event. None of them apparently looked at him and said, “What, gonorrhea?”

  61. @JMG: Thank you for that, yeah. I’ve been sexually active, casually and not, for about twenty years now; the only points at which I felt I was “selling myself short” involved being or trying to be in long-term serious romantic relationships, especially monogamous ones. Everyone has the thing that works for them, and they’re often not the same–and often, I think, a matter of wiring/essence/nature of the soul–so, y’know, as a non-parent, I’d keep in mind that, whatever you teach your kids, they might be wired the other way, and might feel bad about it.*

    Also, re: the Bonewits boner parade: a) ew, and b) yeah, I’m surprised that nobody responded with either the STD joke *or* a deeply uncomplimentary estimate of his endowment *or* the observation that this must be a pretty rare event for him if he’s being so enthusiastic about it.

    Far as metoo goes, the only reports I’ve heard (with the exception of Keillor if his account is true) do seem to involve genuine bad behavior–and I, as per the above, am nowhere near a puritan. There’s a significant difference between public sex in a setting where that’s accepted and, say, whipping it out in front of any woman who doesn’t actually tell you off, in private, or continuing to pester a date after she says she wants to slow down, or whatever. (Not all the incidents I’ve heard of are criminal, but all of them are on a level of sleeze I’d not want in my social circle.)

    FWIW, one of my first SF cons involved me getting cornered in the dealer’s room and listening to a monologue about how $DUDE would really like to give me a backrub and how he had great sex with a woman once even though she was a lesbian and blah blah blah. He was likely in his sixties; I was seventeen and looked (as people at the time kept telling me, to my great frustration) twelve. It wasn’t traumatic, but it was awkward, and definitely makes me think less of the guy in question–and of the community, as that was neither the first nor last time such a thing happened.

    @Tripp: See, now, the possibility of getting up the nose of the Moral Majority crowd kind of makes me want to switch to “occultist” now. (“Pagan” also has the unfortunate “Madeline Bassett with pentacle jewelry” associations I’ve mentioned elsethread, and I’d really rather people thought I was evil given the choice, so I may need to think further about this.) But I’m stroppy by nature, and also live in the northeast, where there are no real consequences to that sort of thing.

    * I was lucky: Mom doesn’t understand but accepts, and the only time I ever talked to Dad about it when I was seventeen. He asked how I’d feel if he and Mom had an “open relationship,” air quotes included, and I said that it wouldn’t disturb me any more than them having sex with each other did, which was plenty, and he laughed.

  62. On the topic at hand: Isaac Bonewits puts in an appearance in Moira Greyland’s horrifying memoir of abuse– of which I’ve been able to stomach about 5 chapters and probably won’t be reading more. But the book is available on Kindle Unlimited, and it’s a simple matter to search inside the book for “Isaac Bonewits.”

    JMG– Have you ever read George Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal? He (very condensed version) posits that a Trickster archetype-force is present wherever the paranormal, including psi phenomena and therefore magic, are found. Included in the Trickster are elements of anti-structure, liminality, boundary-crossing, trickery and deceit and sexual deviancy– as defined by the culture in question. Hansen examines everything from new age and occult organizations to parapsychology to stage magicians to post-structuralism and, comically, the Skeptic movement and CSICOP. From his perspective, sex scandals and the like should be common among alternative religious movements and regularly turn up wherever contact with the “otherworld” is found.

    For a long time I’ve thought Hansen’s ideas were plausible, in part because they lead to accurate predictions– if a movement or organization has x qualities (anything touching on the paranormal), y phenomena are likely to accompany them (trickery, hoaxing, sexual deviance, fluid social structures, relative lack of fixed organizations or permanent hierarchy). But they don’t account for similar phenomena occurring in more “mainstream” areas of society, like Hollywood, Congress, the CIA or the Penn State football team. What do you think?

  63. I knew Isaac Bonewits and occasionally circled with him and Sally (wife #3). Attended his wedding to Selene (#2). He could be kind of sleazy at times. But I never saw him behave inappropriately with a child. I think this current attack is the product of a young woman who fails to recognize that the opposite of one stupid idea is usually another stupid idea. I have every sympathy for Moira Greyland’s evil treatment at the hands of her mother Marion Zimmer Bradley and the pain she suffered watching her stepfather Walter Breen abuse young boys. And I admire her for the steps she took to end that abuse.

    However, she has now allied herself with the alt-right blogger Vox Day and seems to be intent on attacking all LGBT people for the sins of her parents. Some of the comments on the Wild Hunt post on this topic think that Greyland should not be disbelieved because her publisher and editor is a person with vile ideas. However, there are many old adages about being known by the company you keep. Lie down with hounds and get up with fleas, etc.

    It now politically incorrect to disbelieve any claim of sexual abuse–but when the supposed victim chooses to ally with the alt-right, with their demonstrated disregard for objective truth, it seems to me to be permissible to ask questions and expect straight answers. The bits of the attack on Isaac that I have seen in various articles deem to amount to innuendo carried to a high degree. She does not describe an actual incident but drops hints that imply some sort of oral sex. It is pretty low to attack a person who is dead and cannot defend himself. (Not that he would be allowed to defend himself in the current climate of ‘guilty if charged’.) Diana Paxson has stated that the times in which Moira lived at her house or spent large amounts of time there did not overlap with the times that Isaac lived there.You will also note that there has not been a chorus of “me toos” in this case. Yes, I know that Greyland claims two other victims, but there have been on direct statements. Yes, this matters. Mob rule and lynch parties are ugly and dangerous. And witch hunts are too.

    There were definitely sleazy operators and ill-considered sexual encounters and specious excuses for all of the above. But it wasn’t just in the Neopagan community. This was the 60s-70s, the Pill had just been invented and women were enjoying, or at least experimenting with, the first era in which their sexuality was not irremediably tied to reproduction. It was also pre-AIDS. “Don’t worry, I don’t have anything penicillin won’t cure” could be a true statement, not a sick joke. Neopagan festivals tended to feature a great deal of nudity, and especially in the early years when there were few children present, some public or semi-public sex. Some of this was sheer self gratification and some was motivated by a hope of building a new society which would not treat the human body and it’s functions as a dirty secret. However just as there are reasons for protective garments, pot holders and welding masks in dealing with fire, there are reasons for taboos and caution in dealing with sex. A lot of people in this period committed the sexual equivalent of that unfortunate man who ran into the fire at the 2017 Burning Man Festival.

    As for sex magic–if the aim is to sacralize sex, try mentally offering up one’s pleasure to a god or goddess of your choice. (Don’t pick a virgin goddess). Christians are encouraged to “offer up” their suffering-although why anyone would think Jesus would appreciate more suffering, even second hand, escapes me. But offering up pleasure seems far more friendly. It doesn’t require the concentration that sex magic does, just a thought along the lines of “join me in this joy, Aphrodite” at the moment of release.

    William Fairchild –Gardner did not claim to have gotten the Craft from a hedge witch. He claimed to have met a group of people who were part of a Rosicrucian influence theatre group in the town in which he settled. There has been a fair amount of research by Philip Heselton to substantiate these claims. Of course, that still leaves the question of where they got the material they taught him. Given all that John Michael describes in the way of occult groups of all kinds in England for the previous 2-300 years, it could have been any number of sources. And people could pass on a completely made-up tradition without being aware of it, if their teachers were the ones who made it up and passed on claims of great antiquity. I belong to the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, a witchcraft group that was created in the 70s in the San Francisco area, and admits it. But occasionally we encounter people who are using our rituals under the impression that they are ancient, handed down material, because that is what their teacher told them.

    Rita Rippetoe

  64. Also on the subject of a scandal in the religious world predicted by the eclipse forecast…

    I wonder if this doesn’t actually refer to the ongoing sexual scandal in Hollywood.

    I was talking to a friend today about the impact of movies on the imagination. I said that if you visited an indigenous tribe in the Congo and you found their children dressing in masks made to represent characters from their great mythic cycles and pretending to be those characters, you would probably guess that you had found the tribe’s religion. Meanwhile, while I was raised Catholic and my friend Evangelical, neither of us pretended to be saints or apostles. We both pretended to be characters from Star Wars. Or if not Star Wars than some other Hollywood product. X-Men, Ninja Turtles, whathaveyou.

    I wonder if the houses and aspects that seemed to affect “religion” actually affect “collective shared mythological visions” or something like that, whether or not people “believe in” them on a rational level?

  65. Shane – the question I’d have of what you propose is “where has it gone?” I do not want to become the “receptacle” for what someone else is trying to rid themselves of… You would need to be very certain of your “aim” I think…

  66. JMG said:
    “Tripp, of course your mileage may vary. I don’t live in the rural South, after all!”

    Somehow I feel like you’ve very kindly left out a (thank the gods!) type phrase at the end of this statement…

    As for your favorite of your books, I have “After Progress” and “A World Full of Gods” on my shelf! Love them both, and will commit to a reread of both this year, and will order “Inside a Magical Lodge” (and “The Great Crash 1929”) as soon as we get through the 6 weeks of want.

    “Retrotopia” is pretty high on my list too…

    I shared your post about Bitcoin with a friend of mine who is into crypto and was summarily ignored. Wonder what’s going on in his head right about now.

  67. While that kind of behavior seems a bit too forceful and disrespectful for my taste, it could also be seen as trying to shed light on our collective Jungian shadow of masculine sexuality, which is seen as vile and dangerous (not unlike the gonnorea you mention in a rather Freudian way). I’m surprised he was able to maintain an erection in a public space, as there is a strong taboo against it. I tried it myself at a nude dance once and was unable to do it (after asking my female neighbor dancer and being granted her permission). Anyway, why beat a dead horse? The man was great in some ways but like all of us he may have hurt some people too. He can’t apologize or make amends now that he is dead, though I suppose it could be helpful for any victims to get support by bringing to light what their experience was.

  68. @JMG, Stephina,

    Do what thou wilt and all that, but I think a good case can be made that Stephina’s attitude ought to be the default option (as it was for most of Western history, and many societies before), with toleration of alternative life-scripts around the edges. That would, I think, be the least damaging.

    In my class (hip, educated liberals, natch), bisexual polyamory is the ideal. Progressive ladies swoon at the thought of it: “So brave! So true!” — but don’t quite manage the practice, of course. High-velocity, buffet-table serial semi-monogamy is most common among the young. (so-called ‘hookups’) This has led to a number of very, very messed up individuals whose souls were suited to monogamy, and damaged themselves following the fashion. Sometimes, it can cause deep-seated psychological harm, because if you’re really strongly wired for monogamy, once you stray from that path, you never quite feel right about yourself. (As it is, amongst the ‘hip’, you’re tolerated but looked down on as boring and old fashioned, especially the extreme ‘for better or worse’ lifetime monogamists. Asexuals have it even worse.) Those wired for serial monogamy do fine; those wired for polyamory would do well, I suppose, except for all the closeted monogamists ruining their group relationships with misplaced jealousy, causing a great deal of suffering.

    So, of the four groups, the set-up I describe only really works for serial monogamists, and actively harms everyone else.

    Now, contrast that with a society whose default is long-term monogamy. Monogamists, obviously, do well and need not suffer spiritual damage. Serial monogamists will have no problem for a period of time in their lives, but eventually will start to feel cramped in their monogamous default relationships. How damaging is that to the soul? I would contend less, and anyway, divorce laws exist. They can discover themselves and have their series of relationships within a system that defaults to long-term monogamy, though more-or-less social opprobrium may follow. (As above, tolerated but looked down upon as not boring or old fasioned, but unstable and ‘fast’). Asexuals will do fine; the spinster or bachelor was always a fixture in monogamous societies, and was beloved or pitied depending entirely on time, place, and personality. Polygamous/polyamourous individuals find this all very stifling, but they can form sex cults, as we just learned.

    So, of the three groups, this traditional scenario works for everyone, if we apply a little more toleration than is commonly supposed to have existed in the past. Even without toleration, polygamously-wired individuals were apparently able to survive the Victorian era by way of neopagan sex cults.

    I’m afraid there has to be a default — ‘try this first’– and so it ought to be the least damaging one. The burkean answer is that it is probably the one passed down by hallowed tradition, and that indeed seems to be the case.

    (One might argue that defaulting to asexuality is the safest option, but defaulting to something that works for less than 1% of the population is unstable — and even if it wasn’t, it can take many years for some people to throw off the default, leading to great suffering for women wired for motherhood who miss their reproductive window before they discover that about themselves and find a suitable partner.)

  69. May I ask some clarification – I not trying to pull some sort of “gotcha!” or whatever, I am simply trying to understand better – about your claim, in your response to Tim’s post, that “Outside of the Abrahamic religions, religion is not about becoming a more moral person”?

    I can parse it in two different ways, one of which – it seems to me – applies to Abrahamic religions as well (and suffices to answer Tim’s criticism, I think) while the other seems just false to me; but I am guessing that perhaps you mean something different from either.

    The first interpretation would say that religions cannot be reduced to mere moral systems, and their value does not consist solely in the degree up to which they can make their adherents virtuous (for whatever definition of “virtuous” applies to that religion). I certainly agree; but it seems to me that this is true of all religions, including the Abrahamic ones. If the whole point of – let us say – Christianity was to convince people to be generous and forgiving and humble and all that, it would be strange indeed that many forms of it carry such a baggage of metaphysical claims regarding the Trinity and the effects of the Sacraments and the exact relationship between Jesus’ divine and humane natures and so on, or that Christians have always given such importance to these matters.

    In effect, I cannot think at the moment of any major internal conflict of Christianity that was due to disagreements in matters of morals. Sure, conflicting Christian groups often accused each other of gross immorality, but unless I’m mistaken the actual causes of disagreement were generally fairly non-trivial points of Christian metaphysics (together, all too often, with rather vulgar motives of politics and power) rather than different solutions to ethical problems.

    A second possible interpretation, which I really do not think was the intended one, would be that non-Abrahamic religions do not contain moral elements and do not attribute any worth to the moral development of its adherents; but yeah, that’s not true – one could mention classical examples of divine punishments for oathbreaking and rewards for generosity and so on, but there’d be little point since you mentioned your own belief that reincarnation will force those who commit heinous acts to come to terms with the consequences of their choices…

    So what is, in your view, the difference between the role of morality in Abrahamic traditions and its role in non-Abrahamic ones? Personally, I am not convinced that such a clear-cut distinction exists, but I might be wrong on this.

  70. JMG, I apologize. I should know better than to tack on a semi-formed thought to the end of a comment that was perhaps overlong to begin with. Apparently, I haven’t yet mastered the Law of Limits with respect to my own writing. I should be constantly reminding myself to write with first-person perspective – that is, “I” and not “you” or “they.” After all, that is what I’m writing about here – my Self, and at this point, I don’t really claim to write about anything else. I have long used writing as a means of processing my inner life. But, not anyone else’s inner life, and my intention is not to prescribe behavior to anyone else, nor to judge or condemn others. Again, I apologize if you or anyone else who happened to read that part of my comment took it as a judgement about their personal sexual expression.

    Quite frankly, I care little about how others choose to express their sexuality, as long as they’re not trying to assault me or anyone else. It is entirely up to each individual. With respect to my own children, I do feel the responsibility to guide them along the path to their own sexuality, and help them to understand it and express it in a hopefully healthy way. That’s where my comment was coming from, I suppose. When I was growing up, my parents told me exactly zero about sex. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I learned more about the finer details from the back of a tampon box when I was eleven than I ever did from them! That would be almost funny if it weren’t so sad. My dad didn’t really talk to me much about anything, except to judge or criticize my behavior in general. My mom was so afraid of her own darkness and sexuality, like many women in our culture, that she just couldn’t find it within herself to talk about it with me. And it wasn’t just sex they couldn’t bear to talk about, but drugs, rock and roll – pretty much anything you’d think a parent would talk to their kids about before letting them loose on the world, if only to help them stay alive and/or avoid jail time.

    So I was handed the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and unleashed upon the world with no real instruction manual. Being a healthy 18-year old with a pretty strong sex drive, things went pretty much the way you might imagine. A lot of the time, it was just plain fun to explore myself and my sexuality in that way. But often times it wasn’t so emotionally healthy – on a couple of occasions I tried to use sex as a way of manipulating others, with predictably and disastrously bad results. Not to the point of the behavior described in your post, but with perhaps the same underlying motivation, which isn’t a good one. It wasn’t healthy for me or anyone else who got caught up in it all. And let’s not talk about how it on occasion landed me in some very compromising situations that could quickly have turned dangerous. I consider myself lucky to have avoided sexual assault, unwanted pregnancies (sort of), STDs or, well, let’s just say the unintended consequences of casually throwing around my sexuality. I would say I made it out fairly unscathed, although I’m not yet sure if I will be able to fully heal all the wounds before they scar, so to speak.

    With my son and daughter, I would just like them to be a lot more informed about the risks and rewards that come along with the expression of their sexuality, and their Selves in general. Sure it can be fun, but it can also be like playing with fire, which needs to be talked about – ideally ahead of time. I would like them most importantly to realize what they are really sharing in the act of sex – not just their bodies, but their true Selves, which is what needs to be carefully guarded and treasured and given to the right person at the right time. That may well wind up being different people at different stages in their lives, as people so do surely grow and evolve as they move through life, and relationships don’t always grow to meet the needs of both partners, as Dion Fortune outlined in her book on sex and marriage, the name of which is escaping me at this moment. At the barest minimum I would like to keep the lines of communication open with my kids, as my own family growing up was a culture of silence, where the darkness was not allowed to be talked about. That of course led me to deny a big part of myself which I have been slowly working to get back. For in that darkness lies truth, power and honest expression of feeling. I have finally allowed myself to feel my own anger and resentment at my parents for trying to deny me of this – my life, my sexuality and my Self.

    I don’t really know if you were expecting someone to show up and use your blog as a way of processing her inner life in this way. It has, not coincidentally, been magic that has brought a lot of this up for me in a powerful and quite unexpected way, which quite frankly, has been a lot to process and integrate all at once. I’m not apologizing for that though, for at this point, I can do no other. Your feedback has been so welcome and valuable, and I do thank you for that.

    Hopefully I’ve made myself more clear.

  71. Guilt or innocence in a case like this would be pretty much impossible to prove. However, I do think there are some things here that point towards topics you’ve raised in past posts. A perspective I have yet to see in this situation is the idea that someone can have a mixed legacy. I had a lot of issues with Isaac, both in terms of his general arrogance, his attitudes towards the Druid Revival, and some things he said regarding sexuality that made me distinctly uncomfortable (especially in his Men’s spirituality book). And if these accusations are true, he also did some truly abhorrent things in his younger days (though there are some really fishy things about the context in which those allegations were raised). However he also achieved a lot of things worth honoring, created institutions that I personally do feel offer something valuable and even at his most annoying his ideas were engaging and thought provoking.

    The reactions I’ve been seeing of late have amounted to suggestions like purging ADF of every idea he ever had, removing his name from history, and refusing to acknowledge him as an ancestor… erasing the entirety of his memory and legacy from the world. It seems to me as though we ought to be able to honor the good someone achieved while also condemning their flaws, and the idea that someone’s sins merit a complete erasure of their entire legacy, that the worst of someone’s crimes should be all that is remembered even long after death is reminiscent of the Christian idea that one’s sins merit eternal damnation and one’s virtues are meaningless. I can think of many people throughout history who were both morally condemnable for various reasons and yet also did things worth honoring.

    As for the idea that the Druid Revival and Neopagan Druidry not only have different approaches but no room for overlap, compatability, or common ground and are as different as Buddhism and Protestant Christianity, I am a little confused. I had always felt that the Irish Tuatha de Dannan and the medieval Welsh gods were as much a part of the Druid Revival as the strictly Druid Revival era deities, and that honoring the ancestors, gods, and nature spirits, and celebrating the high days throughout the year were something that was very much a part of both sides of the Druid fence. The biggest difference in my practice has always been that the ADF side of things doesn’t serve my needs for personal spiritual development while the revival orders offer personal and solitary practice and spiritual development but not a public sanctuary to go to every Sunday and worship with others (and both are legitimate spiritual needs). There are definite doctrinal and ritual differences, but those at worst seem more comparable to the differences between Baptists and Anglicans than between Baptists and Buddhists

  72. sgage, I’m also a sylvanist.

    The casual sex stuff is just symptomatic of a more general failure of intimacy and love. And then the whole conversation gets derailed by moral posturing of one sort and another (slut!, prude!, etc.). The main reason why I’m a sylvanist is because I’ll only trust someone from the deep woods. Everyone else is just far too easy going and their understanding of intimacy is stunted to what they can get from one another with no regard to the quality and depth and deep difference of “other” as such. (Love begins when we sufficiently bracket our own stuff long enough to seriously engage with the other as such.) At least the trees don’t play these games, so I call them my fellow parishioners.

    My dog is also a sylvanist. As churches go, we’re pretty committed to diversity.

  73. @Stefania: That makes a lot of sense, absolutely. The sharing-of-Selves thing isn’t always my experience of sex (short form: for me, it’s like food, wherein you can have a deep and meaningful holiday meal* or Holy Communion or grab gas-station pastry and coffee or anything in between, and you just have to be aware of what you’re doing and not pretend it’s anything else) but I totally agree about the risks. (For example, one of the things I do appreciate my mom telling me, other than the purely biological stuff, is that sex with a new partner, and especially the first time one performs a given act, can lead to more attachment than one expects, and to be careful about, essentially, mistaking NRE for long-term compatibility.) I think an emphasis on treating partners with respect and courtesy, whether one-night stands or long-term commitments, and on believing yourself deserving of the same, is an excellent way to go.

    I also really like the “That may well wind up being different people at different stages in their lives, as people so do surely grow and evolve as they move through life, and relationships don’t always grow to meet the needs of both partners.” The advice I got was blunter–“You won’t be the same person you are at seventeen, if you’re lucky, and you probably won’t want the same things or people either”–but I think the same at heart, and very sound: my experience has borne it out both first and secondhand.

    @Dusk Shine: I agree that people shouldn’t feel compelled to follow a given trend in their relationship models, and also that many to most people are wired for *some* form of monogamy, whether that’s one partner for life, one partner serially, or what gets called “monogamish” these days (one primary emotional and social partner, with a little what-happens-in-Vegas, just-don’t-bring-it-home, celebrity-or-friend-freebie-list flexibility).

    That said, I don’t know why there needs to be a default for sexual relationships any more than there needs to be for sexuality itself, or religion, or hobbies/careers/etc. Yes, people try particular models first, but youth is a time of experimentation, and having a relationship or two go non-abusively sour in high school or college is a good learning experience. I think it’d be better to say, okay, all of these are valid models; read some books, do some thinking about what you want, try out whatever seems to work for you and your partner (s) at the time, and you can always change your mind later.

    …I have a lot of thoughts on these topics, obviously, and also a slow day job at present. 🙂

    *Although hopefully this metaphor doesn’t extend to having your obnoxious cousins present.

  74. Mr. Greer,

    If it helps, “A World Full of Gods” is the book I consistently recommend to people outside the pagan/occultist world who want to understand my religion (the short version of which is “Heathen,” and the expanded version of which is “agnostic Heathen with Buddhist tendencies”).

    – Ann

  75. @Eric: Yeah, the whole “separating art from possibly skeezy artist” issue is one I’ve been contemplating a lot lately in terms of both mainstream media and the LARP community. Where I’ve found myself is that, if I’m not directly giving money to a living person who’s awful, then I feel okay consuming the bits of their work that aren’t tied to said awfulness, though there’s often some unpleasant resonance. For example: I won’t buy non-used books by Orson Scott Card, but I have no moral qualms about reading Lovecraft in whatever edition; I’ll only watch Polanski films on Netflix or similar services (and even then, knowing too much about him makes me have questions about how he intended certain bits in Rosemary’s Baby, say); and so forth.

    Were I in the ADF, I’d likely be fine using Bonewits’s ideas and presenting a full and frank biography of him. Honoring him…maybe not so much…and I’d feel weird about using him as an ancestor if ancestor personalities were supposed to come through in magic. (That’s one of the bits I always feel odd about in general–I don’t tend to do stuff that invokes my personal ancestors except in very extreme cases, because as far as I’m aware they’re all Very Respectable WASPs and Boston Irish Catholics, who would likely lovingly disapprove of everything I’m doing at best.) I do think that a certain level of bad deed outweighs any good ones that a living human can possible accomplish, but ideas/products have some level of separation?

    Then again again, I’m not in the ADF, so this is all very abstract for me.

  76. @Isabel:

    “But I’m stroppy by nature”

    You know I’ve noticed that, Isabel. It’s one of the things I like about you! 😁 I don’t catch every post every week, but I never skip yours.

    I’m really not so stroppy…wish I were more so. I have a lot of those infamous staircase moments…

    You know, I’m pretty familiar with Madeleine Bassett, and Jeeves and Wooster generally, but I can’t really place your take on her. She just seems like a world-class airhead to me. Maybe you could explain what I’m missing?

    Just to satisfy my curiosity, are you both Isabel Cooper AND Isabel Kunkle? Picture is the same, I would assume so. Gemini??

  77. Just for the record, as the term “casual sex” has been bandied, it seems worthwhile to draw a distinction between treating sex casually and treating people casually. It is easy to conflate these things, and risk a whole lot of misunderstanding.

  78. John Michael Greer said:
    I’ve noticed that consistently the books of mine that I consider my best work are also my least commercially successful, and After Progress is one of those. (The two other that come to mind are A World Full of Gods and Inside a Magical Lodge.)

    I think you said once that Monsters is your most commercially successful book.

    It would be unfair to say it is bad (I own the other three books too). But Not the Future We Ordered was more palatable to my former ‘skeptical’ (read this as angry atheist) self. And Monsters is one of my favorite books, I consider it an excellent gateway book into the occult.

    Then I started the process of personal initiation, following the Monsters’ Annotated Bibliography, which provided me a lot of entertainment. Somewhat echoing the experiences of John Keel and Gustav Davidson, I also got my share of uh, experiences while I was getting the fae books–and unfortunately, some Lower Astral Hell now that I’m getting the demon books. But I digress…

    Eventually I got to The Folklore of Ghosts by Davidson. That was possibly the most instructive book of the bibliography. Reading on how the facts get distorted to tell moral lessons, finally convinced me that the path to the truth would be direct personal experience, that is, practice of ritual magic.


    Part of me still believes in magic as a kind of system to access the irrational parts of the mind. Upon reflection, I realized that I am actually terrified to start practice and getting to the point where the house falls, and Things That Should Not Occur In A World Of Dead Matter happen, and I get inescapable, rational mind-shattering personal experience that woowoo is a part of reality.

    Reading all the thread this week actually helped a bit. I am somewhat annoyed for being a life-long (emphasis on long) solitary type. A partner would be a hindrance, and with all this minefield setup in the current climate of everything is rape, looking for a relationship is not worth the hassle.

  79. William Fairchild – the 1st Commandment says “Thou shalt have no other gods *before me*. Which does leave room for paying due honor to lesser beings, whether Sylvan Pan or Francis of Assisi. This suggestion – from fiction, alas, but still a word of wisdom – an Anglo-Indian character notes that she doesn’t have a statue of St. Jude, but her Hindu manservant has one of Ganesh, which will do quite nicely as a substitute.

  80. This post sparked a memory for me, JMG, and helped set it in a much broader context. Thank you!

    I lived in Seattle from the late sixties through the 90’s, and fondly remember the U Dub’s Experimental College. One of the many courses I signed up for was a women’s day retreat out in the foothills of the Cascades, with a white woman whose theme was Native American spirituality. She clearly understood something of the cultural theft aspect, and cautioned us all to remember that we were white, and take turkey feathers, never eagle feathers, to a pow wow. She also cautioned us that just because a medicine man or other group leader wants sex, doesn’t mean we are obliged to provide it. Quite something to hear for this naive then-young woman.

    I didn’t pursue it. Culturally it wasn’t a fit, and the thought of unwittingly exposing myself to the horny and entitled sealed the deal.

    One of my colonial-era grandmothers was a Narragansett Indian, but of course that does not make me a Native American. My homage to that segment of my ancestry is doing beadwork. Meanwhile, I can make pretty things, honor my ancestors while doing so, and have exactly zero discomfort from the implications of cultural theft, as well as zilch probability that some so-called leader is going to upend my peace by making sexual or other demands.

  81. Skolymus, since every culture needs to inculcate behavioral standards and humans naturally learn from stories, I would expect every culture to have tales of people, including legendary characters, who behave badly and suffer for it. But my impression has always been that a Roman temple rite (or, as far as we can know, a Pagan ceremony) would have been about praising the gods, not about discussing which of the audience might be deserving of their wrath.

  82. Sorry, but this picture of pre-American Wicca does not tally with the reality, and it needs correcting. I’m actually shocked to see it coming from the keyboard of someone who I had throught was a fair-minded neopagan himself.

    Some context: Gerald Gardner’s Wicca was not, and is not, a ‘sex cult’ or a ‘fetish club’, and no serious historian of it has ever taken that claim seriously, for the simple reason that it is evidence free. There is no evidence whatsoever of Gardner having any sexual ‘fetishes’, and the use of the scourge long predates Wicca. The painting of traditional Wicca as sexual fetishism is a propaganda claim pushed by the more extreme followers of Starhawk, Susanna Budapest and other West Coast American neopagans, who took a lineaged, broadly conservative mystery religion and repackaged it as a New Age, individualist, feminist one. Their real complaint was that Gardner’s Wicca was broadly politically conservative, and went in (and still does) for hierarchies, secrets and initiation – all of which, to 1970s Californian hippies, were anathema. What Americans call ‘Wicca’ is now largely unrecognisable to Europeans as a result of this repackaging.

    Speaking as a Brit who practices Garderian Wicca, and who has had much contact with older Wiccans here, I know none who have anything but scorn – or sadness – for the claim that Gardner started a ‘sex cult’ which had to be rescued and repackaged by Americans. No Wiccan here would take seriously the claim that ‘in at least some traditional Gardnerian covens, members are still obligated to have sex with any other member of the coven who requests it.’ It’s a serious claim, this, and if you are going to make it, JMG, you need to back it up, else you are helping to smear an entire religion. I expected better of you. Like your other ‘evidence’ here, I note this is simple hearsay.

    As for pre 1970s (ie, pre-American) Wiccan writings looking like ‘the manifesto for a sex club’ – again, any evidence? Can you quote the relevant passages from the books of Doreen Valiente, Gerald Garnder, Stewart Farrar, Raymond Buckland or other British Wiccan writers of the pre-US movement? Because I have read their works and found nothing like them.

    Traditional Wicca is a serious pagan religion, every bit as deserving of attention as your beloved Druidry (which has, of course, been subject to similar smears throughout its history) and a good deal more heavyweight than much of the fluffy, New Age puff that passes for ‘Wicca’ in the Americas at present. For a serious, unbiased and fully referenced history of what Wicca actually is, and how it developed, I recommend Ronald Hutton’s book ‘The Triumph of the Moon.’ As for JMG: it’s just surprising to see this kind of smear being rehashed by someone who I had assumed, until now, really knew his onions.

  83. In favor of the tesis of the blogger Pedro Bustamante, afore mentioned, who states that the inner core of the religions and of the societies is based in sacred sex and human sacrifices, I present the following indicies:

    An example of human sacrifices in he inner core of the religions can be the moment of consagration in the catholic mass when is celebrated a simbolic death of christ and after , in the comunion , the fidels eat meat and drink his blood .

    An example of simbolic sacred copulation is several manifestations of cult to Virgin Mary in wich the fidels, only men, push ones to others fighting for to touch with his hands the mantle of a statue of Mary.

    An Ufologist called Salvador Freixedo claims that the aliens are the present day´s equivalent to the ancient gods and demons because acording the evidences ,all of them are very fond to blood and sex. The “good” aliens that some witness dclares to have seen would be the equivalent to the angels of the past times

  84. @Stephania:

    I was a late bloomer myself, waiting until I was all but 19 to get busy, but after that I truly made up for lost time. When I got off the merry-go-round and married my wife – after 8 years of bartending – I had an almost embarrassingly heavily notched bedpost to sleep under! 😝

    I too wondered how it was possible to come out of those promiscuous days so largely unscathed. It certainly wasn’t due to my prophylactic tendencies! Partly I have to feel lucky, blessed, or whatever, but partly – and this was the heyday of AIDS awareness – it was due to a genetic gift passed down from my European ancestors.

    See, AIDS attacks human cells the same way the Black Plague did (does). Every person alive during the Plague days inherited a pair of alleles – one from Dad, one from Mom – that determined how susceptible they were to the trickery of the Plague. Think of it as a pair of doormats laid before the doors to your cells. A “normal” person had 2 such doormats, and the Plague very kindly wiped its feet on both and came in and made itself at home. That person was dead in short order.

    (For some reason I have the “bring out your dead!” song from Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail” stuck in my head…)

    Anyway, those individuals who received one “normal” doormat from one parent and no doormat (a genetic “flaw”) from the other got sick but usually recovered. Those lucky folks who inherited the “flaw” from both parents, and had no doormat at all, were completely immune to the Plague and never even got sick.

    Those were my forebears. And presumably yours too. They lived to reproduce millions more like them, where their genetically “normal” neighbors didn’t. So AIDS, at least, never stood a chance with me, no matter how hard I tried to catch it! Not that I knew that until after I got married and settled down…


  85. @Tripp: Aw, thank you!

    La Bassett, re: neopagan: more specifically, I feel like, had the stories been a few years later, she’d have been one of the crowd spelling “woman” with a y and urging us all to be friends with our wombs and whatnot. That kind of…sticky, glurge-y sentimentality is something I associate with my early experience of the hugging-and-crying, just-do-what’s-in-your-heaaaart-man, add-extra-consonants-and-capital-letters-to-make-things-more-mystical version of neopaganism. (And the poetry. Oh, God, the poetry.* I would personally sacrifice several goats not to ever read another mangle-sentence-structure-in-order-to-get-singsong-rhymes ritual text.)

    I am indeed both, though astrologically I’m a bizarre version of Libra. (All horoscopes I’ve read about that sign give me some version of “romantic, social, and peaceful,” which…I guess if you interpret those words *extremely* broadly, maybe?) But Cooper’s my middle name, and when I started publishing romance, I used it as a pen name (my then-editor said that Kunkle sounded a little too harsh for the field) so my blog’s under that, and I never remember which version I’m logged in as at any point. 🙂

    @Scotlyn: This, exactly.

    Which isn’t to say you have to care deeply about the backstory and hopes and dreams of the person you go to bed with, any more than you have to care about same from your waitress or boss or the person next to you on the train. Just recognize that, and don’t do the sexual/romantic equivalent of yelling at the barista for giving you milk when you said half-and-half, especially if you weren’t looking up from your cell phone to order…this metaphor has gotten away from me slightly.

    * For LARPing reasons, I’m trying to find incantations focused on either dealing with chaos in a “have a drink and go with the flow” way or helping power through mental illness. A Google search on “magic spells for mental illness” did not produce anything I’d ever say, particularly not with witnesses, but did help my January diet considerably. Blech.

  86. Dylan, I have no idea whether it would work or not. There’s an adequate number of four-letter divine names among the Valar and Valier to make it work, and you’d probably want to do the Circle of Presence in the name of Elbereth. You can certainly give it a try and let me know how it works out.

    Isabel, exactly — one size emphatically does not fit all, and different people have different needs when it comes to every dimension of sexuality. One of the reasons I appreciate polytheism — well, other than the fact that it does seem to be true! — is that it opens up space for that kind of diversity. I’m brooding over the possibility of doing a post on what I think probably needs to be called polynomism (from Greek poly, many, and nomos, law), the recognition that there ain’t no such thing as one right way for everybody to follow: in Blake’s terms, “one law for the lion and the ox is oppression.”

    Steve, I haven’t read Hansen, but my first thought is that scandals of the sort we’re discussing happen just as often in organizations that have absolutely nothing to do with the paranormal, so I’m not at all sure his argument stands.

    Rita, I have no idea whether Bonewits did what Moira Grayland accuses him of doing. As I noted, I did repeatedly witness him getting very pushy with much younger women who didn’t want anything to do with him — to the point of running flat out the moment the elevator door opened, in one case! — but none of the women I saw him subject to that kind of treatment appeared to be underage. Still, as I noted in my post, the charges as such are not that relevant to what I was trying to talk about.

    Steve, an interesting possibility. It would be worth watching the ninth house ruler in other ingress and eclipse charts, and seeing if its condition was reflected in Hollywood there, too.

    Tripp, not at all; the times I’ve been in the South, I’ve enjoyed it a great deal. The summer heat-and-humidity combination isn’t my favorite, and it’s actively bad for my wife’s health, but that’s about the only objection I have.

    Iuval, I suppose “forceful and disrespectful” is one way to put it. “Sleazy” is the word that came first to my mind, though.

    Dusk Shine, I see no reason why there has to be a default. I’d suggest instead sitting down with your kid as puberty comes crashing in, and say, “Different people have different needs when it comes to sex; here are some of the options; don’t let anyone push you into doing something you’re not comfortable with.” That’s what I would have done with my son if he’d lived. But then I suppose you have to read the literature of the age of mandatory monogamy to realize just how many blighted lives, and how much utterly unnecessary human suffering, were caused by the insistence that there’s one and only one right way to deal with sexuality…

    Skolymus, nah, you’ve picked two extreme interpretations and missed the one I had in mind, which lies between them. Your interpretations, if I may sum them up succinctly, are (a) “there is nothing in the Abrahamic religions but morality” and (b) “there is no morality in non-Abrahamic religions,” and as you quite correctly point out, neither of these extreme statements are true. Equally, though, neither one follows from what I’ve said. What I’m suggesting, rather, is (c) “moral issues are far more central in the Abrahamic tradition than they are in other religious traditions.”

    We can use Greek Pagan polytheism as a convenient example; while there’s a moral dimension to it — Zeus is among many other things Zeus Dikaios, the god who watches over judgments — it’s far less important than, say, the dimension of fertility, and nothing like the role of the rhetoric of moral righteousness in Christianity. You wouldn’t approach Aphrodite, Pan, or Dionysos as exemplars of moral virtue, would you? Nonetheless these deities received a great deal of reverence. Nor does salvation after death in the Greek Pagan imagination relate to righteousness; it depends, rather, on establishing an appropriate relationship with certain deities through the celebration of their Mysteries, as at Eleusis. I trust that makes things a bit clearer…

    Stefania, quite a few people end up using the comments page on my blog in some such way; I think it’s because there are so few places on the internet where it’s possible to post something like that without being trolled or otherwise harassed. Yes, first-person language is crucial; you can always say “I feel” and “for me,” and keep a conversation from straying into person A telling person B what to do.

    Eric, as with so many things, what doesn’t overlap in the abstract routinely overlaps in the lives of individuals. There are, for example, quite a few Christian Druids — people who are at one and the same time devout Christians and participants in Mesopagan Druid nature spirituality — even though, strictly speaking, Christianity and Druidry don’t overlap. In the same way, if you personally find that Neopaganism and Druidry both appeal to you, you have every right to do both, and indeed to combine them, just as Christian Druids practice Christianity and Druidry, and combine them in various ways.

    Ann, thank you. The Heathen community has been the one consistent bright spot when it comes to A World Full of Gods; I’ve heard from a fairly large number of Heathens who find that it’s helped them make sense of their religion, and that’s something that delights me.

    Scotlyn, that’s a very good point.

    Packshaud, I’m glad to hear it. I certainly wouldn’t say that Monsters is a bad book. It was a lot of fun to write, and it was highly entertaining there for a while getting fan letters from fourteen-year-olds (not least because I was just as giddy about monster lore at the same age), but I don’t think of it as one of my best. Of course an author is not always the best judge of his own work!

    Ottergirl, sounds like you received some very good advice. No question, the Experimental College was an amazing resource in its day; I’m not sure what happened to it, and I wish something of the sort still existed.

    Hermes, a fine thumping rant! Since this was a blog post rather than a 60,000-word book, it does indeed lack footnotes et al. I’m quite aware that Wicca redefined itself as a serious religion in Britain as well as America, and did so rather earlier — Doreen Valiente, to my mind, is perhaps the most important figure in that transition on your side of the pond, though of course there were others. But the sex-cult subculture I referenced briefly in this post was a significant social reality, one that can be traced quite readily in contemporary sources, and identifying Gardner’s original Wicca (or, as it was at first, Wica) as another example of the phenomenon isn’t particularly hard to justify. (The details will be in a forthcoming book.)

    As for Druidry, it’s got plenty of bizarreness in its origins and history — enough to make a mere fetish club look pretty sedate. That’s par for the course with alternative religious traditions; they sprout in strange soil and their roots and branches tangle with all kinds of oddities. Thus the mere fact that Gardner’s Wica started out as a fetish club doesn’t mean that it stayed that way, or that it doesn’t provide valid spiritual experiences to those who practice it. It simply helps explain why, especially over here in America where the sexual aspect stayed central much longer, the Neopagan scene has the persistent problems it does.

    Decliveenergetico, that is to say, with enough effort, you can find something to identify as human sacrifice and ritual sex in anything. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that’s what was actually going on. You can interpret anything as anything with enough ingenuity.

  87. There should be a “recognize that they are people with all those things” in my reply to Scotlyn. Friday brain!

    @JMG: Pretty much! There are some things that are wrong for just about everyone, I’d say, but that gets into a “right to swing my fist ends at your face” place. Sort of makes me think of what I know about the Greek afterlife as per your comment to Skolymus: there was some ethical-related punishment, but you had to do pretty egregious stuff to get it (killing your guests, making the gods eat your son, kinslaying), and everyone else was sort of left to do their own thing, either celebrating the appropriate mysteries, going to mill around in Hades, or really annoying the gods and getting turned into a spider or a bear or a spiderbear. (I guess you could also become some variety of immortal if you really impressed the gods, but that usually involved having divine blood already.)

    So you get maybe half a dozen or a dozen (depending on how specific you want to get re: plain old murder versus kinslaying versus cannibalistic weirdness, for example) things that are really super bad and nobody should ever do them. (Nor would it occur to most people *to* do them, IMO, any more than it would seriously occur to any of us to go Hannibal Lecter.) With everything else, it comes down to paths and relationships, and the actions necessary to sustain the ones we want.

    I’d really like to see that post, in other words. 🙂

  88. Wow! It wasn’t my intent to spark such impassioned responses, or say anything insulting. I don’t believe I suggested than anyone abandon their religion and embrace an atheist or agnostic point of view. I only asked why cling to one religion or another if all of them produce basically the same result, some good people, some bad people, and mostly people just bumbling along an average path. My comments didn’t explicitly dwell on the sexual abuse part of the original post. To be honest, that it played such a big part in pagan religious history was a bit of a surprise for me. But it was also (I thought pretty clearly) an explicit example of how often and how easily religion provides an avenue for the pursuit of power, rather than the pursuit of virtue, wisdom, enlightenment, or whatever phrase one prefers that covers becoming a better human being. It didn’t seem a hijacking of the original post at all, particularly since the offender claimed to be a Druid that John was pretty emphatically calling out as poor example of what being a Druid should mean.

    The suggestion that eastern religions were never intended to provide a path to some more elevated nature also came as a bit of a surprise. My understanding is that Buddhism, Confucius, and Hinduism have a very solid moral imperative at their core. One can’t really claim to be a follower of any of them without the stated goal of gaining some degree of moral maturity. Ideologies not distinctly religious have similar moral foundations. Stoics see wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance at the path to eudaemonia (human flourishing). Epicureanism, even with its fundamental materialism, suggests that the path to tranquility involves tempering one’s desires and shrugging off the fear of gods and death. Perhaps not the moral imperative of the Stoics, but certainly not neutral when it comes to maturing as a human being. Even Skepticism, if one looks a bit closer, isn’t about disbelief. It is about leaving superstitions, misinformation, and wrong thinking behind and focusing on ideas and actions that are evidenced to be beneficial for both the individual and the extended human family. (Which sounds very similar to John’s claims for true conservatism.)

    Christianity, with its core teaching being that every person is a member of a fallen species doomed to hell; whose only hope lies in the forgiveness offered by a god (so long as the supplicant offers the proper incantations and rituals) would seem to be the one most lacking in a moral core. That doesn’t prevent some Christians from gathering up a good bit of wisdom or reaching a high moral standard but such is not implicit, or even necessary, to have the gates of heaven opened for them. That is, of course, not the only interpretation people claim for Christianity, but it is a common one.

    Anyway, is it really the case that pagan religions fall into a similar category, their only real offering being that of a way to placate the gods to some personal advantage? That doesn’t seem consistent with the general claims of a nature based spirituality, or of learning and gaining understanding through repeated trips through the human experience. Perhaps it is another case of varying and conflicting interpretations? But it seems that is a debate for a different place and time.

    John, honestly, if you really think I have stepped over some line somewhere well, it is your blog. This is your tribe. I, on the other hand, am not really part of the tribe, making it easy for me to offend without any intent to do so. It is never my intent to thump around in someone else’s garden and, clearly, I keep stepping on the flowers in yours.

    I’ll stay outside of the fence from now on though I hope you don’t mind if I peak over the walls now and again. I really do enjoy the place.

  89. JMG, That makes sense

    Isabel, a worthy goal! 😜 Magic for sex is much easier to focus on than using sex AS magic, and seems rather more effective as a result (never had much luck with my limited experiments for sex-as-magic)

  90. Very interesting. I’m reminded of a description of Romans in the latter days of the empire who went to live among the western Barbarians. As it was told to me, one of the things these [often high-ranking] Romans admired about their more simply-living neighbors was their ‘chastity’. Probably not a coincidence that the new Druids are similarly oriented.

    Steve, regarding the idea of the trickster and the paranormal you described – I would think it depends on how broad one’s definition of ‘sexual deviancy’ is. By most accounts the early Christians were the most powerful magicians around, while also being rather serious about monogamy. Having less sex than the norm might also be an act of deviancy, and from much of what I’ve read is often closely linked with the paranormal. The modern phenomenon of ‘nofap superpowers’ is a fun example.

    On that note – I would personally welcome a ‘free love era’ to occur in under 26 years and I know more drastic changes have happened in less time. But I have a very hard time imagining it. Weird how one finds these blind spots sometimes. I’ll set myself the challenge of visualizing how that kind of change could take place, but if anyone wants to help me out by describing their own idea of the transition could go… I’d be grateful for the perspective ;-).

  91. “Nor does salvation after death in the Greek Pagan imagination relate to righteousness; it depends, rather, on establishing an appropriate relationship with certain deities” – could not one say the same about certain forms of Christianity? You know, the whole “it does not matter how good you try to be, unless you formally accept Jesus as your saviour and perform certain rites you are going to suffer forever”? Some of these forms even pull an Euthyphro and say that good is defined as “whatever God approves of”, thus explicitly *reducing* righteousness to “establishing an appropriate relationship with certain deities”…

    It seems to me that both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions are far too varied for such distinctions to hold generally; and, as an aside, there are passages in Christian/Jewish myths (and Islamic too, I suspect, but I do not know enough about it) which I find every bit as troubling, if taken literally, as any Greek myth…

    As an aside, if you do not mind, I am curious about your own beliefs on the topic. You mentioned before that climbing the Chain of Being (perhaps “Tree of Being”, since it branches?) depends on learning certain lessons, and that people who commit terrible actions can count on having to face consequences after their deaths; but what are these lessons, specifically? Is it a matter of establishing certain relationships with certain entities of the upper levels (some of which might approve or disapprove of certain types of behaviour, but that do not at all agree on a common code of morality)? Or is there some sort of fixed law according to which only people who know certain things and did not commit certain acts can ascend?

    If someone asked you what to do in order to best ascend the chain of being, what would you suggest them?

  92. Hi John Michael,

    You have mentioned the origins of the neopagan movement before and I’m not sure whether to be amused or saddened by them. However I support your skewering of them, because sometimes you need to pull out a sword and swing it around and smite your enemies Conan style – even if the sword is a pen in this instance.

    On your suggestion I read the novel Year of the Unicorn. I quite enjoyed the book, although it took my reading ear a little while to adjust to the prose. The ongoing plot of the protagonist Gillan and how she viewed the world was not lost on me. In some respects it is very true and we live in a strange world. I often wondered whether the Were Riders eventually fall prey to their own illusions? Anyway, it seems to be a common fate that. :-)!

    I had a very distressing dream this morning. In the dream I met my recently deceased dog in the hallway of the house. We greeted each other and he was looking well and had his full winter coat. He promptly turned from me and toddled down the hallway and turned right into the study and was gone. I walked down the hallway and peered into the study and it was blank and dark. I woke up and wept from his passing on but to be honest it was I that was distressed and not him.



  93. By the way, still on the topic of reincarnation and possible consequences of heinous acts: one possible issue I see is that there seems to be no universal agreement to what constitutes a “heinous act”.

    For instance, I would argue that lust for power is as vulgar as any other form of lust, if not more, and that – just to make an example – conquering half of Asia, sending a ridiculous number of people to their deaths in the process, in order to appease it is at least as morally unacceptable as mass rape. But others clearly disagreed, so much that they even created cults in honor of the person who did all that…

  94. JMG wrote: “Our species being what it is, sex gets into just about everything we do, …”
    And for Scotlyn: “Yes, there’s a certain amount of cheap corrupt magic out there along the lines you’ve sketched out, and the way women are traditionally raised in many cultures makes them more vulnerable to that than they ought to be.”

    True enough. This has caused me to meditate a bit further on ‘gender’, which is a bit different, but like sex similarly pervasive. It also brings to mind ‘instinct’ (a very complex subject) as expressed within cultural milieu; the latter also found widely across the Animal Kingdom. The context for expression of instinct appears to arise as a combination of ‘drives’ (?) encountering appropriate learning (or modeling) in the right developmental order. A lot can go wrong. (Animals must recapitulate an awful lot of biological evolution during development.) I take the following thought from a broad anthropological assessment that supposes that although we are primates, our human breeding strategy seems more akin to that of certain birds – It is likely that rather erratically, we would as a species tend to inhabit breeding colonies of mixed families with a default tendency to monogamous bonding. This strategy presumably conferred selective advantage in our particular ecological niche during biological evolution. (There are of course other serious biological differences with our primate relatives to ponder over.)

    Humans seem easily disturbed during development in some behavioral milieu, including those developed during more recent ‘cultural evolution’. These disturbances might have at least a temporary epigenetic component contributing to their perpetuation This concept of ‘disturbance’ during the acquisition of behavior with its instinctive component probably applies also to other animal species, especially perhaps social mammals. Our latest culture, arguably more than some others treats some of our most sensitive and critical developmental moments with a cavalier disregard for our animal nature, perhaps accounting in part for alarming results. We would expect disasters of one kind or another if we did it to our domestic animals.

    The malfunctions referred to above of course cannot be used to ‘explain’ individual monsters, but ‘we’ and the malfunctions we propagate are the garden in which monsters grow. Just now, bring back Carl Jung to take a measure again across the collective pressure cooker!
    Phil H

  95. Re: scandal in religion,

    (This pertains more to broader discussions of Ecosophia, and is somewhat off topic. There is some relevance to this week’s post and so I post it, my apologies for any improprieties on my part.)

    About a week ago I finally got my library system’s copy of _Where the Waste Land Ends_ and over the course of three days I read it. Now, I’m in the middle of my second reading of _The Weird of Hali_

    A thought that struck me is that it isn’t unreasonable to state that the mythic figure Man, Conquerer of Nature has been…unconcerned with the formalities of consent. If we look at vivisection laboratories or the plastic in the ocean, or what have you, Man never asked if he could, he just went and did as he pleased regardless of how many lives or ecosystems he ruined.

    Perhaps, the #metoo hysteria has a certain resonance with the stars being aligned for a religious scandal. Man, Conquerer of Nature is a rapist, to state the case mildly. Figures that have acted as his “priests” are being torn down from their positions of authority, tarred and feathered. The entire worldview of Bacon and Newton that Blake was so critical of is being revealed to be a hideous, through the actions of its sorcerers, to be a Frankenstein’s monster of pure reason, rationality and mathematical precision that cares naught for the inner world of others. If you do not care for the inner world of others, if you deny the existence of the soul how can you not violate others egregiously? This, I believe, is perhaps of the the deeper religious subtext of the #metoo movement.

  96. @JMG, Isabelle

    No need for a default? Now that’s an interesting idea. What does that say that it did not occur to me? It just does not seem to be the way human minds work, in my experience.

    Looking back, that scenario was rather more prescriptive than necessary, so let’s step away from it. If one is to embark on experimentation is there not usually a starting point? A sometimes-implicit sense that one should try one thing first, and attempt other options after? Now I’m talking more generally, not in terms of human sexuality.

    Let’s look at vehicles. The default varies by place and class, as with most things– but for some people, it’s (for example) a pick-up truck. There’s no conscious thought in anyone’s mind that “because of who I am and where I live I need to buy a truck to fit in, regardless of weather I ever haul anything larger than a lunchbox” — but implicitly, it’s there. In this town, it’s trucks for the common man. That’s the default. The people who don’t drive trucks are either in a different class or have considered or tried the default pick-up and decided it’s not worth it to pay for gas, or to deal with the poor handling, etc.

    Now, if I show up in the factory, mine or mill parking lot in a Toyota Prius, I’m not going to be ostracised. Maybe an odd look or two, perhaps a joke, but there is almost complete tolerance of deviation. Complete tolerance, no compulsion — but still, there is a default choice.

    I am afraid I cannot think of an example where fashion and culture don’t provide this sort of default, however gently put forward.

    How do our world-views differ? Is it simply a matter of terminology, where you don’t see the ‘nudge’ as a true default position if it isn’t coerced? Am I seeing ‘nudges’ others do not? Or is there something different about relationships and sexuality I missed?

  97. John–

    I hope this isn’t too far of topic, but your reply to Decliveenergetico above contained a phrase that strikes at the heart of one of my core struggles.

    “You can interpret anything as anything with enough ingenuity.”

    One of the themes in your work is the shift from either/or to both/and in terms of understanding and interpreting the world(s) around us. My reflexive (?) need — which I still battle on occasion — for a single objective reality comes from the confusion produced by that observation you made. If I can interpret anything as anything, then how can meaning exist in any meaningful way? If something can’t be said to mean “this” and not “that”, what is the basis for any interpretation? I’ve gotten more used to the idea that there is no Truth out there by which all things are measured, but I still have difficulty with the resulting metaphysical fog at times. And that phrase encapsulates the problem very nicely.

  98. Hi JMG, I’m going to try to say this in the kindest way possible. I’m a very long-time reader of the Archdruid Report (from about 2006) and now this blog and dream width. The change in focus here is beginning to sadden me a bit, since I, like probably quite a few other of your readers, have little to no interest in Druid politics or magic. When you had the Well of Galabes, I mostly didn’t (couldn’t in fact, since I had no idea what you were talking about) read it, although very occasionally I found something of interest. But that didn’t matter, since I found more than enough wonderful, thought provoking, inspiring reading on the Archdruid Report. I approached the idea of “ecosophia” with optimism however, but recently I have begun to find so much of Galabes on here that the rest feels like an afterthought sometimes. Almost certainly many might disagree with that, but it’s how I feel. My heart sank when I saw the topic this week. With other types of topics, I read through all the comments avidly, but with these types of topics, I barely glance at them. It seems that with your “Magic Mondays” in the other blog, people would have plenty of opportunity to go into the many arcane details of Druidry and related topics. And it also seems to me that the topic of “Ecosophia” could cover many areas besides that. Again, I know many others may feel differently, including you, but I imagine I’m not alone here. I hope that this blog will not turn into Galabes redux, but will give equal time to your incredible insights into so many other areas. Thank you for all that you do.

  99. violet: I am not convinced that we could blame the modern technological attitudes for sexual abuses in religious organizations. Such things, sadly, have always happened with dismaying frequency: for instance I remember reading, I think in Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus, about Plotinus denouncing “philosophers” who claimed that having sexual relations with pupils was a way to transmit their wisdom…

    For all of its other faults, I cannot think of any other culture that took matters of consent as seriously as our current culture does. There is plenty of room for improvement, obviously, but in regards to this we are not doing that badly, comparatively speaking…

  100. Isabel, basically, yes. I’ve always appreciated the Norse idea (also, oddly enough, found in late Greek Neoplatonist polytheism) that each of the gods and goddesses has his or her own heaven, more or less, and those who worship that deity and uphold whatever that deity favors end up there. I suspect the afterlife is considerably more complex than we imagine — perhaps more complex than we can imagine.

    Tim, my response was a bit over the top, wasn’t it? My apologies; it’s not your fault that I’ve fielded a lot of similar comments, and been irritated by them. The point I was trying to make seems to have gotten lost, though, and I suspect I may have to address it at much more length in a post. The very short form? If I understand correctly from what you’re saying, you think that religions can be about (a) gaining moral maturity, or (b) seeking personal advantage. I’m trying to point out that this way of thinking about religion neglects most of what goes on in religion.

    Consider the act of falling in love. What is that about? Yes, in some cases it can lead to moral maturity; yes, in a good many cases there are personal advantages involved — but it’s not about those things, not at its best: it’s about a relationship with another being. That’s what religion is, too, with the difference that the beings we relate to in a religious context are the powers that define the universe of our experience. In nature-centered religions we enter into personal relationships with the powers of nature — relationships that can be just as intense and just as transformative as any head-over-heels love affair. That’s the heart of religion; the rest is side effects. More on this in a future post.

    Christopher, I’d hardly hold up Druids as an example of chastity! We tend to put a lot of emphasis on honesty and fairness, but I know people in the Mesopagan Druid community who occupy every point on the spectrum of sexual options from asexual to enthusiastically promiscuous — and that’s fine, so long as it’s all a matter of freely consenting adults making their own decisions about their sexuality.

    Skolymus, did you by any chance go to a Catholic high school? Some elements of your debating style remind me forcefully of the people I know who did that. For example, the blurring-of-distinctions gambit is classic: here is a very large apple, here is a very small watermelon, they’re not too different in size, therefore can we really say that there’s a difference between apples and watermelons? Why, yes, we can; the fact that you can find a few outliers that more or less overlap doesn’t erase the broader difference. As one of many measures of the broader difference we’re discussing, I’d encourage you to do a word search of the Bible and find out how many times the word “righteousness” appears there, and then do a similar search in, say, the works of Homer — which had as close to a scriptural status in classical Greek Paganism as anything did — and see how often the same word crops up!

    With regard to your question, that’s quite valid. The teachings of Druidry hold that before we can pass from Abred, the realm of material embodiment, to Gwynfydd, the realm of illuminated existence, it is necessary to be all things, to know all things, and to suffer all things. By the time you reach a human mode of existence, you’ve done all the animal things in every possible combination — you’ve mated and fed, killed and been killed, engaged in social and antisocial interactions, developed all the capacities of your soul that can be awakened through the entire animal creation — and as a human, your job is to develop the reflective self-knowledge that can integrate and guide those capacities. That reflective self-knowledge eventually leads to ethical awareness, among many other things, but the ethical dimension is a side effect.

    To my mind, the supreme mistake of the Abrahamic tradition is that it takes that side effect as the thing that matters most, and so often tends to fixate on trying to force obedience to moral codes rather than cultivating the inner capacities that cause ethical awareness to emerge naturally. From our perspective, that’s putting the cart before a whole stable of horses. You can follow the strictest imaginable moral code with absolute, rigid, unthinking obedience, and — again, from a Druid perspective — that won’t get you anywhere spiritually; it’ll just make you rigid, unthinking, and (usually) vicious toward those who don’t follow your code. What’s more, history reminds us that the return of the repressed is a constant feature of such schemes — the more strictly you impose a code, the more extravagantly even the most frantic defenders of the code will end up flouting it in secret, and the more riddled your community will become with hypocrisy, cruelty, and unacknowledged nastiness.

    If someone asked me what they should do in order to ascend to Gwynfydd, then, the answer is quite simple: start practicing discursive meditation every morning. (If you’re not familiar with the kind of meditation I’m discussing, you’ll find a primer here. Other spiritual practices can also be helpful. If you’re interested in living a more moral life, that’s another matter — it’s a worthwhile goal, and I tend to recommend the classical Stoics as a guide there, but it’s not a religious matter, or for that matter a spiritual one. (That’s why in classical times, you went to a priest or a priestess for advice on how to worship the gods, to a mystery school to seek initiation, and to a philosopher for moral advice; they’re three different things, and the Abrahamic habit of running them all together hasn’t worked that well.)

  101. Chris, it may have been your dog. The most common kind of ghost phenomenon — something like a third of the population have experienced this — is the appearance of someone recently dead to one or more of their loved ones, and yes, it does happen with animals as well as with human beings.

    Skolymus, another classic gambit! I trust you’re aware, though, that I didn’t intend the term “heinous acts” as a marker for a crisply defined category which can then be picked apart; it’s simply an ostensive label for something that, like most human concepts, depends on a tacit understanding between speaker and audience. (Gameplaying around tacit understandings frames a lot of debating tricks — I wish Michael Polanyi, in his book on tacit knowledge, had developed that further.) Every action we perform, whatever label we put on it, has consequences in terms of reincarnation; some of those consequences are considerably less pleasant than others, is all.

    Phil, there are also primates who form monogamous pair bonds, so human habits aren’t as improbable as all that. You’re right, though, that the complexities arising from the balky interface between a primate body and nervous system superbly adapted for an environment most of us no longer inhabit, and a recently evolved, intermittent, and rather bug-ridden capacity for reflective thought perched unsteadily on top of that body and nervous system, are responsible for a lot of human suffering and confusion.

    Violet, fascinating. I’ll want to reflect on that.

    Dusk Shine, and yet in your own example, you get to choose what kind of vehicle you drive, to suit the people you want to hang out with. That’s all Isabelle and I are suggesting. If you want to choose long-term monogamy, here’s your Buick; if you want something else, well, there are plenty of other options — and yes, that’s going to have an influence on which parking lot you park in!

    David, good. Meaning doesn’t exist in any objective sense. Meaning is always the act of a conscious being. Something doesn’t just mean this or that; it means this or that to someone, and the someone who experiences the meaning is a full participant in the act of creating the meaning — not the only participant, to be sure, but fully engaged in it. Without the engagement of a conscious being, meaning doesn’t exist, and yes, different beings can extract different meanings out of (or put different meanings into) the same set of experiences.

    What differentiates this meaning from that one? Usefulness in a given context. It’s useful for you to interpret these black squiggles on your screen as markers for vocal sounds, and the vocal sounds as markers for thoughts and fragments of experience, because that allows you to do things with them (for example, understanding what I’m trying to communicate) that another meaning won’t let you do. Those other meanings aren’t false, they’re just less useful for the purpose you have in mind. Does that help clarify things a bit?

    Lydia, the difficulty is that I said everything I had to say about the future of industrial society, and a giddy assortment of related subjects, in eleven years of every-Wednesday posts on The Archdruid Report. I simply don’t have anything else to say about those topics, while the topics that were central to The Well of Galabes — which are just as important to me, if not more so — are things I was just starting to say when it became necessary to ditch the Blogger platform and go to a new blog. I know that’s a disappointment for readers such as you, who came for the sociopolitical stuff, but I’ve watched some other peak oil bloggers turn into broken records rehashing the same insights until they become dull, and I don’t want to go there. As the man said, you can’t please everyone; my rule of thumb has always been to write about the things I want to write about, for the benefit of those who want to read about those things; I appreciate your participation and your many comments on my past essays, but if you decide I’m no longer writing things that interest you and head elsewhere, hey, these things happen.

  102. @ Skolymus, in regards to intra-human consent, point well taken, but I think you miss my main point entirely. I am not speaking of individual cases of sexual misconduct, I’m speaking of the mythic construct of Man, Conquerer of Nature, and his various spokesmen. While intra-human consent is definitely of at least nominal importance to this culture, what about the consent of an animal being vivisected? Or a rat with electrodes put into its brain to control its actions? What consent is there to the felling of old growth forests? These may be the words of witches and madmen, or the words of the unconverted native, but I cannot dismiss this viewpoint in good conscience.

    According to Oswald Spengler in his _Man and Technics_, Francis Bacon himself compared nature to a witch that must be tortured with science in order to force a confession of her secrets. These concepts are of central importance to the current worldview, and speak very poorly of consent. Indeed, they institutionalize the worst sorts of violation. From this historical perspective, I disagree forcefully that we are doing well vis-a-vis other cultures in the importance we place upon consent. Perhaps, in regards to intra-human relationships, but not beyond that. I go out into the forests and listen to the trees and they disagree with your analysis root and branch as it were. Ask a stream or a hill or the soil what they think of our culture’s approach to consent and if you listen with your heart I assure you will get answer that is not favorable to your premise.

    My apologies for how strongly worded this is; this topic arouses strong emotion in me, which is nothing personal against you. Again, I think you raise an interesting point about the importance placed among intra-human consent in this culture, and, more generally, I thank you for engaging with me about this.

  103. I agree that, in the circumstances, it doesn’t matter whether Isaac or any other specific person committed certain acts. But it does matter very much to the community how we handle such accusations. Accusers can be very convincing. I recall that back during the Satanic Panic the Zells (Church of All Worlds) were supporters of a young woman who claimed to have been the victim of a Satanic cult. They expressed concern that the Pagan community not turn its back on real victims while defending against false accusations. In that case the accusations were unfounded (I think the woman claimed to have been a breeder of babies for sacrifice but proved never to have given birth). She was a convincing and manipulative person who fooled naive and well-meaning people. And, of course, the entire idea of widespread Satanic cults sacrificing hundreds of children, etc. was pretty firmly refuted by sociologists and law enforcement.
    I believe that “always believe the accuser” is a morally irresponsible position. It is possible for people to lie; it is possible for people to be honestly mistaken; it is possible for for people to be delusional. Of course, “always disbelieve the accuser” is equally morally irresponsible. I don’t want to see my community fall into a mob mentality.

    On other topics, Wicca as a sex cult would certainly account for the persistent hostility to homosexuals in some traditions. I remember reading a British newsletter in the 70s that ran listings for covens with openings. One such listing had the memorable line “perverts need not apply.” I assumed that was code for “homosexuals.” OTH, the allegations that Gardner himself achieved sexual release through flogging were spread mainly by Aiden Kelly, whose published work displays an amazing lack of logic or use of evidence. For example, he claims that many upper class Englishmen became addicted to flogging in boarding schools. But Gardner never attended such a school. In practice, the use of the scourge in Wiccan ritual is not linked with any sexual aspects of the ritual–i.e. the Great Rite in symbolic or actual form. I am also aware of covens in Los Angeles in the 70s that distributed printed material detailing procedures for “sacred concubinage”–i.e. a student voluntarily serving their priest or priestess as a sexual partner for an agreed on period of time. No idea whether this actually took place. I know that the leader of another group, in N. Calif., talked of a circle of nine priestesses and one priest (himself), and made efforts to recruit young women to the priestess positions.

    It might be well to recall that early Christians were subject to the same set of accusations that had been made against earlier cults and that they later turned against Jews, heretics, witches, etc. Indiscriminate sex, including bestiality and incest, ritual cannibalism, eating or drinking disgusting substances: these are accusations that seem to turn up in many times and directed against many groups, as documented by historian Jeffrey Russell.

  104. Thanks, JMG, and I certainly understand about you wanting to write what you are interested in, but I do remember a number of topics that you mentioned writing about that haven’t yet materialized: such as education, philosophy and others. Recently you mentioned–I think it was you–doing a post on climate change from a different perspective. I actually do think you have more to say about our society, if not directly about the collapse of industrial civilization. I won’t be leaving, will hang around and at least skim what doesn’t interest me so much, but hope you’ll consider some of those many things that in times past you’ve said you must do a series of post about…..

  105. My High School was secular; but to be fair, I went to a Catholic primary school, my extended family is very Catholic, and I am a Catholic myself (not necessarily a very enthusiastic one, to be honest – I follow the required rituals, and when I am visiting my parents I like that we can pray together, but the myths do not really speak to me and there are certain frequently debated matters concerning which I think that the Church is plainly wrong).

    But, with respect, I do not think that I am the one that is changing the goalposts here. You first claimed – I quote – that “Outside of the Abrahamic religions, religion is not about becoming a more moral person”. Then, after my question, you told me that this was to be interpreted as “moral issues are far more central in the Abrahamic tradition than they are in other religious traditions”. And now, I am told that this means that *usually* this is the case, although there are outliers. I am still not convinced that this is the case, and it seems to me that there is such a variation among Abrahamic or non-Abrahamic religions that the effect, if it exists, would be largely drowned by the noise anyway; but in any case, I am sorry but that does not seem at all the obvious interpretation of your original claim to me.

    About your other answer: I am not sure how asking for clarification concerning possible difficulties counts as a “gambit”. I am not here trying to win some sort of debate, I am just chatting about religious topics because I think that these topics are interesting. If some acts bring unpleasant effects in the afterlife and others do not, it is mildly important to find out which is which, and different cultures seem to have different perspectives. This is not unique to your beliefs – it was not that long, comparatively, that plenty of Catholics believed that killing Protestants made God happy, and vice versa – and pointing this out is not an attack against them.

    I mentioned that because I was curious about how you would comment about different cultures having different standards about “heinous acts”. For instance, one possible answer that I was thinking about was that, since there are “branches” in the chain of being whether an action makes one “ascend” or “descend” depends quite a bit on what’s meant by “up” (so, for instance, the effects of Alexander’s conquests on Alexander’s soul might be considered “positive” if you consider conquest and might more important than compassion or justice – for you as well as for other – and negative otherwise).

    Thanks for the link about discursive meditation. I do not wish to come across as confrontational here – I rather like your posts, whether or not I find myself in agreement, and the discussions afterwards are generally fascinating.

    As an aside, do you know anything about when the paperback edition of The Doom of Hali: Kingsport is supposed to come out? I am very much looking forward to it!

  106. Oh man but wow – the trails this post has led down. Sorry I been busy elsewhere. Having read most comments, I think that there needs to be, in relationships with both spirits and people, worship. <— JMG def

    Worship is acknowledgement and respect, in essence. It need not be blind obeisance or sublimation of self; in fact, those two things are often bad for either party.

    I think there is a breakdown in looking at other people as they are now, instead of viewing them as 'works in progress', which we mostly are (albeit a few are locked, as someone said, smashing headfirst into the same wall, for now). When one looks at "sex pests", for instance, the thing that glares back at me is that people are looking at the shell and not the soul within. Otherwise, a bit more empathy or even pity might be on hand. It is clear to me that these 'sex pasts' are clearly ones "smashing themselves into a wall", repeatedly.

    Were I 'God', having everyone bow and scrape and make worship noises in my direction would likely be extremely tiresome. Anthropomorphic maybe, but a being requiring that would be one that essentially sucks your spirit away, continually. I don't feel that in special glades or near special trees and such. I don't get that sense reading things attributed as coming from the lips of Jesus either, yet do sense it coming from everything written around his person.

    As we are all on the same hamster wheel of spiritual development, it seems to me that acknowledgement and respect for spaces, souls, essences , etc. would do little harm. It might also provide opportunity for some of us to gently get people off of their current trajectory towards that same blood spattered wall, and perhaps turn a 'sex pest' towards a more fruitful expenditure of energies (example only).

    I know that in my life, many times, I have been nudged, either pre-sex or post-sex, into another path for examination by a thoughtful partner. Similarly, I have been pulled into helping people I would normally avoid, urged by something, into confronting them about their current "blood spattered wall". Daily, we choose how and what we experience with little forethought.

    Respect and acknowledgement, worship, of things, places and people is a goodness from where I sit. There are many ways to grow, but nothing happens without making the effort and taking the experience in hand, for good or ill.

    As to the current "#metoo" things, I have always felt that much of this is simply caused by Victorian attitudes long cherished in the west. Little of this would even make the news in other countries (say Japan), where sex is more openly discussed and tolerated. It is exactly as JMG says – we rebound the wall of excess directly into the wall of abstinence. Double bloodied simply because we refuse to acknowledge that we are all in the mix and on our separate paths. The baby is often in the bathwater, and nobody is looking into the slop bucket…

  107. I have been thinking along similar lines to Violet. I too wonder if there could be a “deeper religious subtext of the #metoo movement.” I would not be that surprised if a significant part of some modern populations (mostly the female part) instituted a kind of informal ‘Lysistrata’ to deal with the offending part (mostly male). It could be an even more drastic ‘movement’ than the classical one, and not wholly female. The potential religious effect going forward would then seem enormous. It could go global. One reads that many Japanese young people are already opting out – “sex too troublesome”. This would not be chastity as we previously thought of it.

    As Violet suggests, soul and inner life need priority. Sounds far-fetched but perhaps this could be a forthcoming religious sensibility?

    Phil H

  108. @ Rita (and any and all)

    You may be correct in your assertion that Gardner got his knowledge from Rosicrucian organizations.

    BUT, at least in the alternative circles in CO, in which I ran, that was most definitely NOT how that tradition was Marketed.

    Most practicing witches I knew traced their lineage to a mythical “Old Religion”. That story, of the hedge witch, wise grandmother, herb woman, passing on secret knowledge to Gardner et al was repeated more times than I can count.

    IMHO, this need to make the experiential, ancient, and therefore valid, is self-defeating.

    That does not mean that the experiences themselves are unreal.

    I always liked the line that a myth is something that never happened, but always is.

    Very Best Regards,


  109. Re: Reincarnation and Karma

    Since this has come up again, I suppose I can give the Michael Teaching’s take on the subject. Whether you find this either interesting or useful is, of course, your business.

    To create a karmic ribbon, that is a situation that must be repaid in some lifetime or other before being able to leave the wheel of reincarnation, requires three things: intensity, imbalance and interference with choice. While all three are required, the biggie is the third item: interference with someone’s choices. To quit creating karma means learning to quit interfering with other people’s choices.

    It is as simple as that. There is no code of morality involved.

    For some reason, people find it amazingly hard to learn.

  110. Chris
    Your dog found a good way to say goodbye.
    It is a very long time ago but I remember my cat who came to me in a dream one morning just before I woke. It was a complicated world for me back then and I did not know he had died until I saw him in the dream. He was an old cat by then but in the dream he bounded toward me as he had done as a youngster on his first lawn; on his way out, as it were.

    very best

  111. Violet, you wrote ” If you do not care for the inner world of others, if you deny the existence of the soul how can you not violate others egregiously? This, I believe, is perhaps of the the deeper religious subtext of the #metoo movement.”

    I found this very apt in the perspective of whole systems and the Mystery Teachings of the Whole Earth. Those who are not aware (persons, religions, nations, what have you) are a problem and no mistake.

    In my limited experience I have come to believe that myth and religious belief (no matter how deeply buried in a person’s psych they are) will guide their actions and lead them blindly through the most difficult of barriers or sensitive situations with out a scratch to themselves, but untold damage around them. No logic or evidence of harm would move them from their course either. Thanks much for your post, I found it shed some light on things in the dark.

  112. JMG, re: polynomism, yes please. There’s definitely a pressure to think in terms of “right ways,” even with issues where one might hope it would be easy to acknowledge that individuals simply have different needs and tastes, and that pressure is still there after you’ve decided it doesn’t make sense.
    Reincarnation and polytheism have become themes around here, and if one is willing to use those as part of a framework to make sense of the world, then some kind of “polynomism” would follow pretty obviously, necessarily even. If you and I are here for different reasons–need to have different experiences and learn different lessons–then what’s “right” or “wrong,” helpful or not, meaningful or not, for each of us could differ radically. A notion of the world as a venue for experience, where a vast range of experiences is possible and any individual might have come for any particular combination of them, helps explain–or at least make space for– a lot of realities that are troubling from within other common worldviews, esp. the one that says you must live the one right way and you only get one chance to do it.
    With that comes a lot of questions, though. Rather than ask them all here, I’ll just say yes, I for one would like help thinking through the implications of the realization that there’s no one right way for everyone.
    Thanks, as always.

  113. If I may enter on the very interesting discussion about morality and (non-)Abrahamic religion:
    I won’t venture any opinion on the overall positive or negative impact of Judaism, Christianity and Islam on the world (I’m reading Ivan Illich’s Rivers North of the Future, which has made me think a lot about this, and I am not yet finished reading nor thinking).
    What I would like to add is that the inner logic behind linking worship, initiation and morality is quite simple: God as described in the Hebrew Bible (especially, but not exclusively, the Prophets) and the New Testament (and, I think, in the Quran) loves and appreciates ethical behavior, and even more, compassion, towards other human beings. How could you come near such a God without learning to conform to this appreciation? I think that is the simple basis of the connection. Any specific rules for behaviour are derived from that and actually (following Illich) are a dangerous substitute for the immediate relationship. Ama et fac quod vis.

  114. JMG, I hope you’ll allow me to interject a little off topic note, as I noticed you made a reference to the Norse Golden Dawn project on last week’s comments page. I actually endured my brief hiatus with little ill effect, and have been churning away at the material since well before Yule. I have also had several opportunities to battle test the new rituals against a selection of hostile entities together with a few new recruits, and I’m pleased to say they’ve performed to spec on every occasion. I’d have sent you a new update sooner, but I figured you were pretty busy with moving and all that. You’re still using the same e-mail address, right?

  115. @Tim Akey,
    You have expressed my thoughts on religion most exactly. Thank you from another non-believer/ non-worshiper who nevertheless is very aware of the bigger cosmic mystery and the impossibility of comprehending it through our limited human senses and intelligence.

  116. @Dusk Shine: Sure, there are nudges. But especially in a culture which is (hopefully) coming to accept that people have different options, those nudges aren’t as big a deal as one might think: for example, the most common sexual pairing where most people live is hetero, but plenty of folks are gay, and realize that fairly early in adolescence these days, if not before.

    Much like buying a car, you (ideally) see a lot of different sexual/relationships before you embark on your first. You read some books, see some movies, spend some time with your own daydreams, and so you generally have a clue what appeals to you and what doesn’t–I started fairly early, but I was pretty sure I liked boys even before I could test that hypothesis in the field, so to speak. And then, yeah, you try a few things (often depending on who’s available that you like and what they’re into), and many of them don’t work out long-term, and you learn.

    I think where we differ is that I think experimenting and running into a “…actually, NOPE” situation is not horrible, and even is valuable. If someone is so fragile that an early trial of Relationship Model X ending in the realization that it’s really not for them is going to do permanent damage…well, I would argue that the problem isn’t the experimentation, and I’d have very little sympathy. (I tried monogamy and girls, twice each. Not for Izzys, either of those. I had some awkward conversations and a rather dramatic breakup that probably would’ve happened for other reasons and was definitely for the best; I had a drink; I took a shower; life went on.) If someone tries a form of nonmonogamy first and doesn’t like it, then they’ve learned something and can take the appropriate actions in the future. Same for monogamy.

    (I *do* think, and I think this would go a long way toward preventing both damage and a lot of wasted time, that we as a culture could stand to stop conflating “relationship doesn’t work out” with UNSPEAKABLE TRAGEDY AND WOE, or with acting like someone in said relationship has to be “unhappy enough” to leave or change things. If hypothetical-you feels like you’d be happier single than in the current state of affairs, that is really, as the man said, all ye need to know.)

    It’s also worth remembering, when we discuss the “tradition” of monogamy, that complete sexual monogamy is *way* less traditional than the images in popular culture, even in the most respectable, family-values periods of history. Not for everyone–some people were wired to be monogamous and lucky enough to marry those with the same or compatible inclinations–but the Victorians had a whole set of rules regarding when married people could start sleeping around (after you get an heir and a spare, is the short version). In the era of Leave it to Beaver, well, Don Draper spent a lot of time “working late” or “on the road,” and Mrs. Taylor used a lot of ice whenever her husband was away.*

    @JMG: Yes indeed! One of the things that makes me side-eye pop culture’s depiction of Norse culture/mythology, relatedly, is the paring off of all afterlives except Valhalla for the fallen-in-battle and Hel for everyone else, whereas from what little I’ve read on the subject, it is, as you say, far more complicated.

    In re: Druids v. Romans, BTW, I suspect that a great many things would look “chaste” in comparison to some of the things that went on at the higher echelons of Imperial Rome. Although a lot of the historical sources were writing with a bias, there was reportedly…a lot going on there, and a fair amount ranged from non-consensual to proto-serial-killer (gaaaah, Nero).

    *Meanwhile, the home-delivery options for philandering housewives have really gone downhill: burly icemen to clean-cut milkmen in uniform to the spotty freshman who delivers pizza or the plumber and his dubious jeans. Makes me glad I never went in for domesticity.

  117. Isabel,

    it sounds like you majorly lucked out in the mom department! I would have given a lot to have had that kind of relationship when I was growing up. It would have saved me having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak!


    wow, I never even considered it from the genetic side of things, but that makes a lot of sense! Definitely some dumb luck and providence in there too for sure…:)

  118. I note that the Stoic virtues are also four of the standard Seven Cardinal Virtues, the other 3 being faith, hope, and charity. So it seems Christianity picked up something pretty good from the Stoics, unless those virtues were already widespread in classical ethical theory.

  119. Former member of ADF here. Not surprised at all. In spite of my attraction to ADF’s encouragement of rigor in research and continued development as a framework for Pagan ritual, etc. – cannot be part of that organization for two reasons: 1) Isaac, 2) Bonewits. “Fruit of the tree.”

  120. Gavin:

    The skeptical part of me wonders if [the raising of all these sexual abuse scandals] is just a tactic to move the aging power mongers out of the way and let a new set in, or if it represents a true growth in how we treat each other?

    A fair enough concern, since many of the men being pushed aside are older and have long passed their peak marketability (especially notable with the 75 year old Garrison Keillor, with the (relatively mild) charges leading to him being fully disappeared from the Public Radio realm – makes me think Minnesota Public Radio was itching to update their programming and Garrison’s presence wasn’t helping in the least). Many, however, were still potent and had irons in the fire before their outing (Louis C. K. comes to mind).

    Problem is, the targets still seem relatively easy, focusing on areas where women already have strong effect (entertainment and extending to politics) and targeting older men who could be cleared out relatively easily. What I wouldn’t mind seeing happen is the movement to punish sexual abusers take on some harder cases. One case that comes to my mind (due to me having attended the University and lived there for a few years afterwards) is the Michigan State Athletics program. As much as it would pain me (Went there for a few years, lived in the area for a few more, all of them spent learning stuff), I wouldn’t mind seeing the whole athletic program being shut down for a few years – the innocent as well as the guilty, from Football to Men’s Diving to Women’s Slow Pitch Softball – thanks to the Larry Nassar scandal (google him, then answer when you stop puking).

  121. I can appreciate why you felt the need to write this post, but having read your material for quite a long time, it seemed a bit repetitive and didn’t really cover much new ground. You have anatomized the fallout of Victorian sexual repression and the sexual revolution, as well as how those consequences have interacted with the occult scene, several times in your writings. What I am curious about, and you might know something about, is what caused Victorian-era sexual repression to come into being in the first place? Why did the English-speaking world lose their minds with respect to sexuality in the second half of the 19th Century? Maybe a topic for a future post . . .

    One other comment in response to the comments about a default pattern of relationships in a society: Although I am personally very sympathetic to the notion of not having a default pattern, that is probably a disastrous plan. The reason is, that absent a socially-imposed default pattern, the default pattern that humans (and other social primates) fall into is resource polygyny, The problem with that system is that it is bad for women, children, and low-status males, and is an identifiable source of violence and instability in many cultures. For more on this, read this article: This is a long piece, but is thought-provoking and well worth the read.

    Just as groups of people that attempt to conduct all their affairs by “consensus” and “non-hierarchical decision making” tend to end up practicing baboon politics, as JMG has described elsewhere, my feeling is that a society that attempted to eliminate having a default pattern of sexual relationships would end up with baboon mating practices, namely polygyny, and all of the destructive consequences that flow therefrom.

  122. JMG, regarding your critique of Abrahamic religion in your response to Christopher:

    Contemporary Western society has lost touch with how to deal with the marginal. If the center oppresses the marginal too brutally, the marginal will destroy the center. On the other hand, making the marginal the new center leads to the old center becoming the hostile marginal.

  123. @Lydia (If I may),

    I actually first read JMG coming from his magical (Golden Dawn style magic and originally, Monsters) books. When I found he had an on-line presence, I was disapointed that his blog (ADR) was about the future of industrial society as opposed to western spirituality and magic. However I did read it from time to time and although I had much the same response as you had to his Galabes stuff, but in my case…”What the heck is he talking about? Peak Oil?” It inspired me to look into something I had no idea was a thing or issue if you will. I eventualy caught on. Galabes began a few years later so I was delighted to read his perspective on both subjects, but for me I realized both seem to complement the other, and Ecosophia for me at least is a great fusion of both. I realize that magic is not for everyone by any means, but I guess what I am saying is that if you are willing to try to understand or reseaech his esoteric writing it might complement your understanding of his ADR writings. At least that was my experience, the other way around. Does that make sense?

  124. Rita, I suspect another part of the hostility to gay and lesbian people in some traditional Wiccan circles comes from Dion Fortune, who got a lot of attention from the early Wiccan scene, and who had the typical prejudices of her time about sexual variation.

    Lydia, so noted! We’ll see if the fit strikes me. 😉

    Skolymus, fair enough. I don’t happen to know when Kingsport will be out in paperback, but I’ll put in a question to the publisher.

    Oilman, yes, exactly. A little more respect, a little more forbearance, a little more tolerance, a little more patience with what we don’t instantly understand, would erase about sixty per cent of the miseries that crowd around so many people these days.

    Phil, that’s the sort of thing that motivates the emergence of a new religious sensibility, no question.

    Jonathan, I’ll give it serious consideration.

    Matthias, of course it makes sense within the tradition. I’m looking at it from outside the tradition, and noting the downsides.

    Sven, delighted to hear it! I’m glad that you’re still working on it — there’s a lot of potential there. Yes, the same email address still works.

    Isabel, I would cheer heartily if Thor were to smite Hollywood with Mjolnir and reduce all those involved into paste as a reminder of his entirely justified wrath. Norse mythology is glorious stuff, and to see it turned into crapulous commercial sludge is highly annoying.

    Patricia, the Neoplatonists borrowed them from the Stoics, and the Christians borrowed them from the Neoplatonists.

    Hew, I get that.

    Roy, we’ve been without an effective default in the western world for quite some time now, and polygyny remains pretty rare. Human beings share some features in common with baboons, but mating patterns aren’t among them — you can tell that at a glance by considering the much smaller level of sexual dimorphism among humans. (It’s very nearly a hard and fast rule in evolutionary ecology that the bigger the males are compared to the females, the more consistent the polygyny.)

    Justin, nicely phrased.

  125. John–

    Re the meaningful meaning of meaning

    Yes, that clarifies things a good bit. Meaning not as a function of the object, but as a function of both object and subject. It also reveals the challenges of establishing shared meaning since there is no common output — any shared meaning must itself be created and maintained and renewed. That makes a lot of sense.

  126. @oilman2: For me, whatever might happen on the spiritual level, on an interpersonal and social level, what you do *is* who you are. (The Universe in its majesty and oneness might very well see little difference between you and I and Charles Manson or that POS in Vegas, but the Universe in its majesty and oneness may also kill us with gamma rays, so clearly our roles are different here.) If someone wants to stop being a jerk, they can…stop being a jerk, and either find a new crowd that doesn’t remember them being a jerk or wait until people in the current crowd realize the change sticks.

    And I’m not particularly interested in pitying grown adults who aren’t willing to do the work of change, especially when remaining the way they are annoys or actively harms other people. If Sex Pest McGee or My Friend’s Vile Ex-Wife or Richard Dawkins wants to re-examine their life and make changes, there’s plenty of information out there; if they want to keep slamming their heads into brick walls, I’m going to step out of the way, help other bystanders out of the way if possible, and then watch while humming a jaunty tune. If someone *else* wants to try taking the hands of grown men and women and trying to gently get them to see that they’re awful people…well, I guess there are worse windmills to tilt at, but I’m not saddling up for it.

    @Stefania: Thanks! I really did hit the jackpot re: parents, a fact that became clear to me to some degree in boarding school: watching a number of girls in my dorm go fetal because they didn’t get into Johns Hopkins/Harvard/etc and their parents were going to react badly was an experience, for instance.

    @Roy: As well as what JMG mentions re: primates*, I think it’s also noteworthy that the societies cited in that article (as well as those like the FLDS) are those that were codified before reliable birth control (and in a world where infant mortality and agrarian life meant most people actually wanted very large families) and which (likely relatedly) place a lot of emphasis on procreation and family as the way to be adult men.

    I think, and bear in mind that this is pre-caffeine, so we’ll see how well I articulate it, that in a way greater societal defaults–“you don’t need to have five children to make sure two survive,” “women are independent people and can make their own livings and/or choices of sexual partners,” “sex has a place outside of reproduction and family life,” and so forth–mean we don’t need to instill monogamy as a default in order to do away with resource polygyny.

    @JMG: Seriously.

    I liked the Marvel movies, but a) they’re pretty explicit about the “these are weird extradimensional aliens who got mixed up with our gods way back,” b) they’re clearly not set in our world, and c) I would enjoy a three-hour documentary about rust prevention in Ford Pintos if two of the main actors were involved. As a friend of mine has observed, I have certain elemental weaknesses. 😛

    * Also, chimps may have harems, but they’re multi-male, multi-female harems, with occasional “swapping”–and female chimps will more-than-occasionally mate with “subordinate” males on the down-low. And this doesn’t even get into bonobos, which are just as closely related to us and are female-centered, egalitarian, and prone to solve everything with orgies.

  127. Violet,

    Thanks for that Man the Conqueror bit. Well spotted.


    Violet may have capitulated to your point of intra-human consent being at an admirable level among Americans, but I beg to differ. I think what we have in America is a culture of awareness, not necessarily of action. Everywhere you turn you have breast cancer awareness, you have transgender awareness, conjoined twin myslexia awareness…the list of awarenesses is literally endless.

    Has that changed anything about anything on the ground? Not as far as I can tell. From where I sit, for example, cancer – the whole suite of cancers – is an environmental problem. It has a solution. But that solution isn’t as technological as it is ecological.

    A hundred years ago cancer was far more rare than it is today. What’s the difference? Well, the air was cleaner, there were lots more, and larger, healthier trees helping us out with that. The water was drinkable. The topsoil wasn’t loaded with hundreds of noxious agri-chemicals, or silting-in rivers, marshes, and estuaries downstream. There weren’t giant islands of plastic trash floating around in acidic, steadily-desertifying oceans. Of course cancer rates have gotten scary.

    But “awareness” of the situation isn’t the same thing as action toward a solution. Because the solution for any symptom of a deeply compromised environment is to…un-compromise said environment. And spending more money, more energy, more resources on “solving” the cancer problem is only adding fuel to a long-since out of control wildfire.

    In fact, one could say that the actual tools of awareness – the internet, smartphones, millions of periodicals – are one of the biggest parts of the problem. (Yes, I am “aware” of the incredible bind I’ve gotten myself into by attempting to raise awareness of the ultimate problem via the internet!😄)

    So yes we have a very aware #metoo culture in America that, like the cure cancer crowd, wants to rescue all the persecuted. But not if it affects their lifestyle. What Americans want is for someone to come up with a fix – “they” preferably, not me. We want to bark, and fuss, and be all self-righteous, we want everyone to be aware that there’s a problem, but most importantly, we want people to know that WE personally are aware of it.

    As if that somehow makes up for our lack of meaningful action. So being aware, being hyper-aware, that consent is important doesn’t mean our actual on-the-ground experience matches up with that awareness. And we have an awful lot of crimes against persons in this country that don’t jibe with your assertion. I might even suggest that the lack of consent among human interactions is likely pretty consistent with the lack of consent regarding our crimes against the biosphere.

    Just my .02

  128. Roy Smith asked “what caused Victorian-era sexual repression to come into being in the first place? Why did the English-speaking world lose their minds with respect to sexuality in the second half of the 19th Century? ” The answer I once read about boiled down to STD’s. Sexually transmitted diseases were causing havoc in the 17th and 18th centuries, and married women felt the need to protect themselves from being infected by their husbands, so the Protestant churches that came down heavily against breaches of monogamy became more and more popular. There were other reasons for their popularity as well, which just reinforced the cycle.

    Then as the 19th century wore on, the strictures became more and more elaborate – the “hedge about the law” which Judaism has been familiar with for centuries – as repressed desires were projected onto everything around the edges of sexuality, which then became became sexualized. Of course, something had to give. The resulting explosion gave us the Roaring 20s* and the rest is history.

    *World War I seems to have been the trigger, at least in Europe and England. Not surprising.

    Anyway, that makes a lot of sense to me, having seen how everything new on any scene gets badly overdone while all the possibilities are being explored until a revulsion of feeling sets in and gives way to the next trend.

  129. Just a further thought on Violet’s comment:“deeper religious subtext of the #metoo movement.”

    Violet suggests soul and inner life need priority, especially understanding other persons’ inner lives. I missed out the latter emphasis in my previous comment. I am now inclined to think this is the key. If we pay close attention to the inner state of others (rapport ?), we might get a better take on what is going on in our own heads? That would be, as vernacular has it these days, ‘awesome’.

    Phil H

  130. Tim Akey @ Jan 18 2:51 pm

    Many questions, can’t resist.
    No, it is not reasonable to assume, just because religions don’t “fix” people, that they have nothing unique to offer. These are really two separate issues. Broadly, Christianity offers soul purification and Buddhism offers something rather different. Buddhism is highly abstract and while it does not attract me, I admire it greatly for its rather fearless truthfulness. Buddhism has done analysis of the psyche and how it functions, which western religions barely look at. I think all religions suffer from corruption as you mention, but some are worse than others and all can help in certain ways while actually discouraging progress in other ways. But in the end spiritual progress takes several lifetimes (my opinion of course) and therefore people are not always sincere, nor do they see straight, and most hide from reality anyway. Religion can be the best place to hide from one’s conscience while pretending that one has the spiritual aspect of life handled. Sincerity is the real key. Religions are tools that one makes greater or lesser use of and not all tools are best at the exact same tasks.

    As to your claim that atheist materialists are always the greatest enemy and the most wrong, while I don’t feel that way there is some truth to that idea of being more wrong. Basically, we either live in a universe without mind, consciousness, soul, spirit, God or gods, or any purpose, or we live in a universe in which reality includes what we refer to as the spiritual. (In fact it is all one reality, we divide it up like that because with our bodily senses, most people have very little ability to perceive in the farther ends of the spectrum.) So there are differences between religions, but they are in the west arguments over who has the correct story, and in the east they are a bit more nuanced, with Buddhism being very vague as to any God but nonetheless it is a spiritual universe. Hinduism is not really that different than Christianity except for having far more wisdom and truth (my favorite religion).

    But since religions are just tools, what matters is the individual and their arrival at certain spiritual realizations. So an Islamic Sufi and a Christian mystic or an Indian mystic, even a Buddhist mystic are all going to understand one another very well, say basically the same things, and be more attuned to one another than they are to their own religious comrades who are not advanced. And as one advances like that one also becomes far more independent of one’s religion and sees through its sillinesses.

    I think I better post this and make another entry.

  131. Tim Akey part 2

    The word is elusive, by the way. So the answer to your question is that while people may argue over differing beliefs about religion, at least they all perceive that we live in a spiritual universe. So the atheist lives, in my opinion, in a very decreased reality. So that would mean that they are more wrong in that they actually miss a very large chunk of what’g going on and actually don’t perceive reality very accurately. Again, I have to recommend Bernardo Kastrup as he comes out of the modern, scientific educational and cultural program, and he works hard to refute materialism, and in my opinion does a fantastic job, so much so that he basically said that it’s a done deal and the evidence is overwhelming. But he also said that people who are brought up in this paradigm (pick it up from the culture or perhaps at college) have a blockage that does not allow them to see. There has to be an openness to something greater or you tend to be stuck.

    But I also think that while our culture has this terrible narrative that is discouraging and depressing, taking time or even a lifetime to be as you are may be just a needed step on your soul’s path. I do not find atheists at all to be bad people, in fact they tend to be pretty decent people with good ethics, and that is because it takes a certain personality to become one, and like I said, it is a stage of development which may be for the purpose or shoring up one’s logic, cooperativeness,and jettisoning some BS that may have plagued one in previous lifetimes. Your questions are ones of clarification. Because lots of religious people do indeed believe nonsense, as well as damaging things, and are often hoodwinked by charlatans. So throw the baby out with the bathwater, hit the reset button, and come back in older and wiser.

  132. Tim,

    Oh, I forgot to say that there is a big difference between considering someone wrong versus an enemy. If someone considers those without belief in God an enemy, it means they are insecure in their own belief system and don’t want to be in the presence of someone who might examine it. Most or all belief systems are at least partially false, and people like it when others confirm their beliefs and dislike it when others doubt their beliefs. And this goes for politics, climate change or what have you. Unfortunately, two of the Abrahamic religions have locked themselves in to an unfortunate dogma that makes it imperative for every soul to join only their religion. This is one of those beliefs that in my opinion is terribly malicious and causes the adherents to be unable to progress much. Christianity at its best is about achieving a state of universal love and then certain teachings shoot that ability in the foot by making it extremely difficult to extend love and respect to anyone outside their narrow fold.

  133. Re: @Lydia

    JMG, please carry on doing what you are doing here (I know you will, anyway, whatever we pesky commenteers say). I am a disillusioned sceptical Christian and have no intention whatsoever of taking up the occult or becoming a Druid or joining a magical lodge or a coven. But this blog and its comments section offer the nearest I can think of in the modern world to sitting down to a long fruitful discussion with Plotinus or Porphyry or Hypatia, or maybe even Merlin. I also see Ecosophia as the Archdruid Report on another plane, as it were, addressing the philosophical and spiritual roots of our ecological crisis. This is most important. Activist culture is so spiritually shallow and consequently plagued by self-righteousness and burnout….

    Alan Paxton (fomerly posting as DaddyHardup)

  134. Gavin & Godozo…

    SWMBO is a coach. I had children long invested in swimming, and neighbors invested in other sports. Gymnastics, swimming, and most other sports have always had their predators. This is nothing new, and the governing bodies are constantly trying to root out these individuals without seeing a massive exodus of families from programs and teams.

    The public school sector is rife with pedophiles compared to private sector sports like gymnastics and swimming. I say this because I have seen it many times, by both sexes, married or single, in coaching environments. The public sector schools will do most ANYTHING to deflect or scuttle or otherwise whitewash pedophilia. It is this attitude, rather than one of purging wrongness, that facilitates continuance.

    I know of one female basketball coach who went from being ‘caught out’ and fired at one university to 5 more universities – leaving in her wake some tragically confused, damaged and maladjusted young women. This is NOT uncommon, because these universities refuse to acknowledge when their coaching selections have been damaging to students – they simply do not tell ANYONE they unknowingly hired a pedophile or a predator of young adults. They do not want to be involved in any legal action, so they hush it with vigor. They quietly pay them severance and send them away, not answering background calls when they come in.

    Until there is more consequence to pedophiles (death or removal of testes/ovaries, etc.), this will continue. The recidivism rate is near 100% so there is no fixing it with any type of psychology or counseling. These people should be placed on an island somewhere, or in their own special prison. Parole should not be an option, not with the rate of recidivism these people exhibit. We had leper colonies to protect people – I think that pedophilia easily qualifies for something very similar.

    I am sorry if this sounds harsh to anyone, but my experience with this is close and personal – and these consequences reflect the fact that once someone goes down this dark path, there is no known way out.

    The #metoo thing is a different kettle of fish, but anything that shines light on the pedophile community (and it IS a community, replete with auctions) is great by me.

  135. Chris,

    I don’t see your dream as distressing at all, but as a visitation. Probably you were sad when you peered in the study and he was not there…but of course he was not there as he has passed on, just stopped by to let you know he’s okay but he’s gotta go…

    I think his visitation was done with finesse, which I admire in the dead.

  136. Dear Skolymus, I also happen to be a Catholic, although raised as an atheist. Now, my knowledge and understanding are necessarily imperfect as I have not intensively studied ethics or theology, but I seem to recall a doctrine of seven virtues, four cardinal, borrowed from Aristotle perhaps, and three theological. The way I think of them, my understanding being imperfect as I said above, is that the four cardinal, which are temperance, courage or fortitude, wisdom or understanding, and justice are the qualities you need both to live well among others and to establish a just society, while the three theological, faith, hope and charity (in its full original meaning), are paths to salvation. So, in this view, if I understand the matter aright, ethical behavior would be a prerequisite, necessary but not of itself sufficient. I would invite other Christians to note that wisdom, in particular, is considered a necessary quality for a good Christian life; The Lord doesn’t love fools. I think perhaps it is neglect of ethics, and in particular giving in to the sin of pride (that sort of egotism which is deadly sin, not healthy self-confidence, a modern name for the virtue of courage) which turns faith to fanaticism with the horrendous consequences and evils about which we all know.

    Dear Lydia Grey, I also was more interested in our host’s thinking on matters of political economy. I read the present blog selectively, not wanting to spend time on or insert myself into matters which don’t concern me. I take our host at his word as to his reasons for ending the former blog, but I will add that surely you recall that towards the end the ADR had begun attracting some rather persistent trolls from various directions. If you spend much time on either political or gardening fora–surprising, I know, about gardening, but Big Ag is intent on preserving its’ profits and monopolies by any and all means–you learn how to recognize them. Their purpose, always, is intimidation and disruption, not conversation.

    As for the present discussion, I am afraid it rather confirms, for me, the suspicion I had had that the various faiths gathered under the rubric ‘New Age’, for want of a better term, are mostly unlikely to be appealing for those of us who are, if not quite asexual, still extremely reticent in such matters. My complaint against the Protestant churches I have attended is that the congregations simply don’t respect the privacy of others, nor is it apparent to me that what I would call emotional privacy is held in much regard in Judaism or Islam, if the public behavior of many if not most adherents of those faiths whom I have encountered, either in person or second hand through public writings and appearances, is any guide.

    My parents, both dead now, were decent, industrious, law-abiding, people who maintained high ethical standards who also happened to be atheists. If atheists nowadays are assumed to be “jerks”, it may be in part because some quite famous self-described atheists–I surely don’t need to name names here–were just that and widely known to be so.

  137. “Outside of the Abrahamic religions, religion is not about becoming a more moral person…From an older and far more widespread perspective, religion is the traditional toolkit by which human beings interact with the intelligent, disembodied (or differently-embodied), superhuman beings we call gods and goddesses.”

    Point taken, but doesn’t interacting successfully require moral growth, and isn’t this more than just a ‘side effect’, as I think you mention in a later comment, but something central to the process, one of developing empathy and an ability to transcend the self and egotistical desires? If I am a laddish young man and I fall head-over-heels in love with a woman who reciprocates my affections, then for our relationship to deepen and flourish I need to learn to interact with her as a being, a woman, with her own needs and interests, not just as a source of laddish pleasure and status. Similarly, if I am drawn to heathenry and begin to worship and interact with nature spirits, if done seriously this is going to transform my relationship with non-human nature – no more can I see it as mere resources, dumb matter to be exploited for human profit, the characteristic response of industrial society.

    It is noticeable in this connection that interaction and relationship with the Divine are central for many Abrahamic traditions. Augustine of Hippo and his ‘my heart is restless till it rests in you’ comes to mind here, as does Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou’.

  138. John, I am glad you appreciated my thumping rant! I have appreciated many of yours over the years, and my admiration for much of your work is the reason I was so disappointed to see your characterisation of Gardner here.

    I don’t hold a candle for Gardner as a person, despite him having started my tradition. I do not go in for gurus, and neither do any Wiccans I know. Doubtless he was as flawed as the rest of us. Nonetheless, unless you have uncovered evidence that no other Wiccan, or historian of witchcraft has yet uncovered – including Ronald Hutton, who has had access to Gardner’s papers, and who literally ‘wrote the book’ on Gardner’s Wicca in ‘Triumph of the Moon’ – I do not see how you can justify your words here. And speaking as a fellow ‘pagan’ – if we must use that word – with much admiration for druidry, including the kooky bits, I am concerned about the impact your words will have, given your status. There are already people in this comment section assuming Gardner was just some old pervert and pre-Starhawk Wicca was a swingers club or the basis for sexual abuse. Frankly, that’s a travesty.

    I’m not sure how you can square it at all with what we know. Garder’s interest in the mysteries is long-attested – he spent many years travelling, exploring tribal traditions and studying anthropology. Whether or not we believe his claim to have ‘uncovered’ an ancient witch coven in the New Forest (which most of us probably don’t, these days), the fact remains that he constructed the edifice on which Wica – or Wicca – of all varieties is built today: the Goddess and her consort; the coven run by the high preist and hers; the mix of hermetic tradition, freemasonry and cunning craft; the wheel of the year, etc. His original coven, Brickets Wood, still exists, and its members will attest it was never a ‘sex club.’ Hutton explores their early history in depth in his book, and is quite clear on their religious fervour bck in the fifties.

    What Wicca was, and still is, of course, is a fertility religion, at least in its Gardnerian and offshoot forms. It contains ritualised sexual elements – the great rite, the fivefold kiss, athame and chalice – which rarely if ever manifest as actual sex, now or back then, by all accounts, and even when they do, do so in private between consenting adults who are usually a couple. Of course, Wiccans do also perform skyclad rituals. All of this allowed the tabloid press throughout the 60s and 70s to paint Wiccans either as sexual deviants or devil worshippers.

    Neither were true then, and they are not true now. Gardner did not start a ‘fetish club’, and it is not right that his name should be blackened; especially given the unfair kicking he has already been given by some ‘Wiccans’ and neopagans in the States in particular, keen to blacken his name so they can sell their brand of ‘Wicca’ as the real thing. I don’t get involved in any of this; it is the work that matters. But I have to speak up when I see someone of your calibre spreading this rumour. Unless, as I say, you have startling new evidence for the Wiccan community – in which case, please present it, so we can all see what is happening. Until then, I hope that you will reconsider. The facts as we know them today speak for themselves.

    Gardnerian Wiccans tend to have a lot rof respect for Druids; we regard you as our staid older cousins 🙂 I would like to think this could be reciprocated.

  139. It’s interesting, Lydia–the late Bill Pulliam thought this blog was TOO political, and wanted it to go in a more esoteric, magical direction…

  140. Let me offer a bit of Berkeley (and personal) history as background to all this ugly mess that Moira Greyland has rightly dragged out of the dark corners into public view — not to excuse any of it at all, but just as a partial explanation. One can’t keep a thing from happening again unless one understands why and how it came to happen in the first place.

    My family came to the San Francisco Bay area in the 1870s and 1880s, and settled into Berkeley not long thereafter. It is my hometown, though my youngest years (during WW2 and a few years thereafter) were spent on the East Coast. Berkeley in the 1950s was a quasi-totalitarian town-sized experiment, and it had been one for decades before I was born.

    These were the decades of the Technocratic Party’s greatest influence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their program, in an oversimplified nutshell, was simply that the power to govern should be placed wholly in the hands of trained engineers and scientists, who would dispassionately and impersonally apply scientific principles to create the perfect society, the first real utopia ever.

    In 1905 the town fathers of Berkeley appointed a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, August Vollmer, as Town Marshall, and then in 1909 as the town’s first-ever Chief of Police. Vollmer had already become something of a heroic figure in Berkeley for his strength, physical fitness, courage and self-discipline. More to the point, he was a pioneer in “scientific policing.” He required all his police officers to have earned college degrees. He mounted them on bicycles and motorcycles, and he set up a system of call boxes for them to keep in touch with one another and with headquarters. He also created and maintained extensive card-files on all the residents of the city and all their activities. (Chief Vollmer retired in 1932 due to failing eyesight. Later, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and facing his own incapacity, he killed himself in 1955, the year I turned 13.)

    My family returned to Berkeley when I was 10, and I continued my schooling in the public school system there. To my childish surprise, all the boys in the 5th and 6th grades in these schools were organized into units that had an hour of military drill once a week on the school playgrounds under the command of a uniformed police officer. This was to teach them unquestioning obedience to authority. (The girls were organized and separately trained in units, too, but I wasn’t interested enough to ask one of them about the details.) As a part of our training, we children were also given to understand that our own selves, our very bodies, did not belong to us at all: our bodies and lives belonged to our families, our towns and cities, our State, and our Nation, to use — and even use up! — as necessary.

    Beneath this authoritatian lid, however, Berkeley was also a bubbling cauldron of non-conformity and deviance. Esoteric teachings of every sort flourished, generally a little out of public view. Only slightly more hidden from view were all sorts of sexual and political deviance and eccentricity, and even outright organized criminality. These things had flourished in Berkeley long before the town fathers took a technocratic approach to town government, and they had already had amassed more than enough real power in the town that some mutual accomodation had to be made between them and the technocrats. By the time I graduated from high school in 1960, even I had become vaguely aware that there was, for example, a hush-hush organization for gay men and boys (the Mattachine Society) and something similar, though even more out of sight, for women and girls.

    This delicate balance in Berkeley was somewhat upset during the McCarthy era, and especially by the events of May, 1960, when the House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in San Francisco. There was a rather restrained (by today’s standards) public protest against the hearings at the San Francisco City Hall, which was dispersed by over-the-top police action, followed by draconian criminal charges brought against the protestors — among whom were some of my own academic-track classmates at Berkeley High School. Eventually, due to a great deal of pressure from influential parents, most of the charges against my classmates were dropped, but a pattern was set for confrontation in Berkeley between increasingly nervous authorities and increasingly assertive members of what would soon come to be called the Counter-Culture. About four years later, during the academic year of 1964/5, the old mutual accomodation beween the two sides of Berkeley was finally shattered beyond repair by the tumult of the Free Speech Movement, and then (secondarily!) by protests against the Vietnam War and against the military draft for that war. And so Berkeley became a battleground for decades.

    In 1964 I left Berkeley for graduate school in New York, and in 1967 my wife and I moved from California to Providence, RI, a city every bit as eccentric as Berkeley, but quieter, because I had found pleasing employment there on the faculty of an obscure (to Californians!) local university called Brown. I had just missed all this tumult in Berkeley, and I was glad to miss it.

    So I never had a chance to cross paths either with Isaac Bonewits or with Marion Zimmer Bradley and her family and friends at Greyhaven. They moved to Berkeley right after I left. But the sexual abuse and harassment that Moira Greyland recently revealed does not surprise me at all. Among the many toxic utopian ideas in the air during the ’50s and early ’60s in Berkeley was the radical “Freudian” (as it was then regarded) notion that all social dysfunction was rooted in sexual repression, that all sexual repression was due wholly to toxic cultural norms and had no basis in human nature whatever, and thus that the surest road to a brave new world was to start exposing every child to as much sexual activity as possible from the earliest possible age onward.

    Combine this toxic sexual notion with the above-mentioned political notion in Berkeley that people’s bodies did not belong to themselves, but to the authorities under which they lived, from the family all the way up the ladder to the State and the Nation — and you have the perfect pestilential recipe for all the sexual abuse and violence that Moira Greyland was forced to experience as a child in her own family circle, or the sexual harassment and abuse that many other young Californians were experiencing in the Counter-Cultural and Pagan scene in Berkeley from the later ’60s onward.

    I was (and still am) very glad to have missed out that scene. That is why, if now and then circumstances compel me to decribe myself, I use such round-about descriptions as “old-line Californian magical pantheist/polytheist” rather than “Pagan.”

  141. As someone who’s tastes run to the adventuresome sexually, even though I’m not necessarily successful, I’m all for old fashioned manners, good tastes, and discretion. Consent, in my mind, is also consent not to be exposed to something one doesn’t want to be exposed to. What happens in the dungeon, sex club, Folsom St. Fair/Dore Alley, leather bar/contest STAYS there. A time and place for everything. Within kink, there are two norms: Safe, Sane, and Consensual and the more adventuresome Risk Aware Consensual. Key word in both is CONSENSUAL. I think that sexual interests should be semi-private, only to be shared w/like minds, and I have no problems keeping it out of the public eye for the good of social cohesion. I think if more people were willing to observe this idea of semi-privacy and unwillingness to proscribe sexual norms, we’d all be better off. Keep in mind that our closest biological relatives, the bonobos, are generally not kept in zoos because they’re so graphically sexually adventuresome, and use sex for a variety of social reasons. JMG, do you have any good resources on the old sex cults? A lot of gay males in the “old guard” leather community are interested in reestablishing the old exclusionary, by invitation only, vetting, secret society community, this time not to protect ourselves from Freudian psychology and Victorian prudery, but social justice warriors who find it “trans-exclusionary” that penises are a BIG part of sexuality for many gay men. Sigh. The absurdity of it all. I’ve already told them that parliamentary procedure/Roberts Rules of Order must be a big part of keeping the groups from getting hijacked…

  142. Re: religion and morality: I’d be inclined to say that, in eighty or ninety percent of cases, spending some time really thinking about things bigger than the world immediately around you, and how beings into it relate to each other on both material and immaterial (spiritual, social, emotional) levels gives someone a sense of perspective and balance that goes far toward making them a better person.

    (In the other ten to twenty percent, you get L. Ron Hubbard or John Jones. So it goes.)

    I’d say part of a true sense of balance/perspective is realizing that different faiths/practices work best for different people, and picking the one that matches what they need—but of course I would. 😉

    It’s less that any one religion promotes morality as such, and more that the form of religion for you often helps you realize your potential. Like exercise: some of us are talented batters, others fast runners, but going out and doing something is probably good for you.

    @oilman, re:child molesters: on that, I am in total agreement. There are acts you don’t get to come back from in this lifetime. (And if it were up to me, they’d spend the next life as male praying mantises.Or female bedbugs.)

  143. @Oilman2:

    If you have not read about it, you may find the history of pedophilia’s definition and diagnosis by the APA interesting. It is, in my opinion, a painful study in science vs. social norms and the problems that can fester when those who are informed choose to remain silent on issues for the sake of convenience. For several decades, researchers have known that in every respect, pedophilia bears the hallmarks of a true “sexual orientation,” from the way it manifests during pubescence to how it remains a sustained lifelong attraction – thus the high recidivism rates for the convicted. In spite of this, it wasn’t until the DSM-5 was published that the APA tried to introduce this idea by hedging their way into two definitions: 1) pedophilia, 2) pedophilic disorder. I never imagined that they would dare to do this, but they did and the backlash from the public was severe enough that they have replaced the terms “sexual orientation” from the diagnostic criteria and replaced them with “sexual interest.” From my point of view, the APA’s retreat on this serves to continue the true problem of pedophilia – that it cannot be treated or cured by socially acceptable means.

    I’m sure that anyone who reads your “Island” comment before will be uncomfortable with it’s use, because it is a catchphrase that has been applied to other groups that are now deemed socially acceptable, but a point must be made. That being, that victims who have the courage to speak out (usually only to protect others) should be given fair hearing, and not dismissed, and that the everyone needs to understand that pedophiles cannot and will not stop, using all means to continue and conceal their sexual behavior towards children.

    What does this have to do with swinging sex cults? Not much, other than that they should only comprise of consenting adults, and that the usual parental vigilance should always be applied when children are present at events. As a child sexual abuse survivor, and loving father, nobody has to tell me to watch out for my little ones. Creeps beware.

  144. I have some reservations about considering the perpetrators of western civilization’s rape of nature to be male and the innocents to be female. To be sure males are more action oriented, more aggressive, are more able to get up close and personal with violence, but does this let the women off the hook? Many of the things men do are for the purpose of bringing booty home to the women. How many women train their sons that rape in any circumstances is unacceptable? How many women are aghast at their sons who sign up for wars of aggression? Women are more passive to be sure, but they have their influence also and if they do not, then they aren’t very conscious in the first place.

  145. @ Isabel Kunkle…

    I may need to check….yep. YOU used the word GENTLE, not me, WRT trying to get folks out of looped behaviors.

    I am more in favor of the “shock & awe” approach to getting people to stop smashing their heads. I have not the time to play Daddy or Mommy or caring clergyman. You might want to read my views on pedophiles in the comments here – am not at all averse to helping people reap what they have sown, but there ought to be moderation for less heinous social gaffes.

    And I do appreciate that you seem to prefer not getting involved – many people do. I tend to feel both put out by and feel pity when I see things like we are speaking of. My reaction is often an attempt to jar them out of it, if there is a propitious moment. They are allegedly adults, but everyone is on their own path. Some take very winding roads to change, no matter how hard you point them to a shorter path. But it is THEIR path – you know….lead horse to water…etc.

  146. IDK, but I seem to recall that JMG once said that sexual repression is the handmaiden to industrialization, or vice versa, and that sexual repression wanes as industrialism wanes (witness the sexual liberation in the wake of the 70s, the US first bout of deindustrialization)

  147. BTW, Truvada has revolutionized sex in the gay male community much the same way that the Pill revolutionized sex for women. It’s like the 1970s all over again for a lot of the gay male community, though, as JMG would note, all this activity has an evolutionary effect much the same as antibiotic use, and is probably putting HIV in overdrive to develop resistance to Truvada. Only a matter of time before it loses effectiveness due to evolution.

  148. There have been a spate of sexual scandals also hitting the Tibetan Buddhist community over the last few months. I wonder if there is anything in the stars. On the more mundane level, I think more than the “#metoo” thing is social media allowing news to spread past the PR censors which would have held them at bay even just a decade ago.

  149. @Dean,
    I come from the opposite perspective. I found the ADR, became enchanted, then wanted to know more about what was behind JMG and how his beliefs came to be. So the ADR and JMG opened me up to nature spirituality, the occult, and magic.
    Regarding consent,
    I think things can go TOO far, speaking on a personal level. There have been many times when I have relinquished control, been somewhat apprehensive about what may happen, but in retrospect, have thoroughly enjoyed what happened and valued the experience, even though I may not have wanted to do or have done to me what happened. There are just so many levels of intimacy and bonding that can come from things that may not require explicit consent, sometimes, in the community, we call it “consensual non-consensual”, kinda the equivalent of a sexual trust fall. Of course, it goes w/out saying that you don’t do this w/just anyone, and for safety’s sake, you better know the person very well and trust them before you do it

  150. JMG,

    You wrote at the end of your post, “That path, to the extent that I understand it, leads into distances that haven’t been explored much since Neopaganism grabbed the limelight.” Could you give an indication of what those distances are as I’m still trying to get my head around Mesopaganism and what the potentialities of Revival Druidry are, especially in the United States. And what are the potentials that mesopaganism has that neopaganism doesn’t?

    Also, piggybacking on the back-and-forth on religion vs. spirituality vs. morality, could you define what the primary goals of spirituality are? And what are the “other things” that reflexive self-knowledge leads to?

  151. I am truly interested in knowing where you draw the line between pagan polynomia and Abrahamic focus on morality.

    Does Stoicism count as pagan? Stoics, as far as I can tell, valued virtue above all else. Is there a great distinction between the four Stoic virtues and Jewish, later Christian righteousness (zadikia, hesed and emeth)? I know many Stoic writers used the name Zeus to refer to the God, though of course I am aware they did not conceive of a divine person in the same way that Christians would, and the idea of an afterlife did not play a great role for them. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazi regime, stated, in a similar vein, that one should only speak of bliss in heaven after acknowledging that it was worth living with God in the here and now without expecting an afterlife, just as had been the case in an earlier phase of Judaism.

    With regard to Neoplatonists, I have only read Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae, which most modern commentators regard as expressing a purely Neoplatonist philosophical position without traces of Boethius’ (whether earlier or ongoing) Christianity. He certainly speaks only of one God, and in one of the most beautiful songs of the book, he proclaims that Love sustains the whole universe. Would you describe such a view as common to Neoplatonists of his time, or was that simply Boethius? Again, while De Consolatione does not seem particularly Christian, it does seem monotheistic.

    By the way, today in an Anglican service we sang a hymn by Synesius of Cyrene. I think it was Toynbee who wrote that in the case of Synesius, it seems pointless to ask if he was a Neoplatonist or a Christia.

    You wrote above that in Antiquity, philosophers were responsible for teaching ethics, not religion, but I wonder how many ancient philosophers would have admitted that worship of Aphrodite or Dionysos was just as important as practicing virtue.

    PS: Till We Have Faces is one of my favorite books!

  152. @Hermes,
    I don’t really appreciate the sex negative language, sex is not something “dirty” and using terms like “blackened” is offensive. There are plenty of magical people who simply get bored with all the many forms of conventional, materialistic, mechanical sex and look for something transcendent, and it’s not necessarily bad, evil, dirty, or otherwise. Your sex negative judgments are not appreciated here.

  153. @ Hew…

    Your comment does not surprise me, although I hadn’t read up on it. I regard the APA as a band of predators, which explains why I do not delve into their doings. I have a son who was “diagnosed” as schizophrenic because he spoke to himself at age 5 while thinking. It took a lot of work to get him off the track that some APA whackjob set him on. His real issue was Aspergers, and he went on to graduate secondary school at age 14 and is now a lawyer. There is now little trace of Aspergers in him, other than social reticence in distinctly physical social situations.

    These same APA whackjobs have made active children into ‘hyperactive’ children, while the school system has reduced play time and recess to zero. Again, it is APA types colluding with education organizations that have deprived young children of freeform play, of natural playgrounds, and now is struggling to group them into various random “genders” based on some truly crazy criteria – in particular, how they “feel” about being a boy or a girl. At age 3-4-5-6, why would ANY adult try to decide a life course for a child, much less take a young child’s answers to questions to be some type of guideline?

    As an example: During a “what do you want to be when you grow up” session for age 4-5, most had policemen, superhero, teacher, mommy. etc. as answers. One small girl answered that she wanted to grow up and be a horse. Soon after, another child said he wanted to grow up to be a cat, and another a tree. Egad – what if those answers were taken seriously? Well, today they are taken seriously, from a child whose brain is not even completely matured!

    I am NOT against gender identity being other than physical gender, but as usual, we have gone from too little into the realm of overkill WRT gender. If the average person cannot even keep up with all these definitions, what use are they? What and who do they benefit? How did society function without this alleged “knowledge” previously? Are things improved socially with this new “knowledge”?

    To me, it seems the APA has broadened their definitions of everything to increase diagnoses, in order to rope ever more people into the category of ‘not normal’. This is really good for their business, yet really bad for the rest of us. From where I sit, their definition of what is considered normal has shrunk so far as to make all of us mentally ill in some fashion.

    Again, we have gone from looking at obvious mental issues and trying to correct them to the opposite extreme, where normal is now so narrowly defined as to be useless as a baseline.

  154. @oilman2: Good point, and my apologies! I tend to associate pity with gentleness/forgiveness/letting people get away with things, but that may well be on me.

    Definitely moderation, and consequences should be appropriate to the act and the circumstances. Sometimes someone’s behavior merits prosecution; sometimes public shaming; sometimes merely throwing a drink in their face and never inviting them to social events. For me, there’s really no point where it merits a second chance–but I do not, as a general rule, do redemption arcs or second chances, and “forgiveness,” for me, for anything actually large, consists mainly of becoming a different person from the one who did the original thing, then proving it. (And part of that is accepting that some consequences will still last.) People *can* change, but I think it’s a waste of time and energy to hope they will, or to try and get them to do so.

    That said, “shock and awe” is probably the best way to go about it. That Person never changes out of the goodness of their heart, as far as I’m aware.

    @Shane W: Agreed (with the note that, as with all things, it can go too far–my theoretical fundamentalist neighbor might complain about being “exposed to” my miniskirt or the fact that I have different men in my apartment on various nights, but they can suck it up and deal), and I think the lack of discretion is a symptom of the age in general, not just sexually. Another poly girl my age and I were having lunch last week and talking about how we didn’t feel compelled to discuss our various partners on FB–partly because I think we have different structures from those who do, but partly because we’re generally less prone to talking about our personal lives on social media. Even my monogamous acquaintances can sometimes, IMO, overshare about their marriages–and then there was my friend from HS who had a kid and posted unwarned pictures of the placenta.

    As per the “one bad idea is the opposite of another,” I think it’s a reaction to a culture of never talking about anything, even the important stuff, and I *am* glad that people feel more free to discuss their identities or not keep painful subjects secret, but…TMI, as my generation used to say.

    In re: subject matter: if we’re keeping count, I find the political essays interesting, but I came here initially for the magic stuff as well!

  155. To the various people who have replied to my post to JMG about being disappointed in the direction this blog seems to be taking at present, please allow me to clarify a few things. I didn’t say that I wanted the blog to be “more political”. For example, I “voted” for the nature spirits post, and was quite happy with it. What distresses me now though, is the possibility that it may evolve into a mostly Druid conversation blog. Now, given that JMG is a retired Archdruid, I certainly can’t fault him for going in that direction if he wishes to! It would make perfect sense. But speaking for myself, I can’t really see the politics of the Druid scene, sex magic, and various arcane practices in Druidism being terribly relevant to the idea of working towards a world of “ecosophia”. I CAN see that a general orientation or belief system around Druid spirituality could be a part of building ecosophia, but I think it goes well beyond that (hence my interest in nature spirits, which are certainly not limited to those of a Druid persuasion). I also just plain miss our host’s wonderful insights into so many other areas of experience other than magic, meditation practices, and Druidry, including but certainly not limited to politics. From the comments so far, it doesn’t seem that many others share my viewpoint, although perhaps that’s because those not so interested in this post are not reading the comments right now.

  156. Though I might be only talking to myself, on second thought my comment above about “sylvanism” was not entirely accurate. In addition to the local forest, there is another congregation I attend. Every Wednesday I put on my Sunday best, comb my hair and fuss with the whiskers, and take a seat up front for JMG’s weekly sermon. This excellent community, these excellent and earnest discussions, yes this is also my church. If only we could pull off a pot luck!

  157. Alvin:

    There’s plenty in the Tibetan Buddhist community’s past – especially of the nonsexual variety – that’s been hidden from plain sight that people willing to dig around can find, and while I appreciate some of the practices I could easily see how the Chinese invasion and incorporation of Tibet was actually a good thing. Sometimes the sexual scandals do the work that the rest of society is unable (and that the groups and people suffering the scandal were unwilling) to do to keep the groups/people honest and working.

  158. Hermes, where in your history of Old World witchcraft does Sybil Leek fall? She claimed to represent a Traditional practice, and like the Gardnerians Rita cited, she insisted that gays must be excluded because polarity. If I recall correctly (it’s been thirty years since I read her), she thought a circle should contain equal numbers of hetero males and females, effectively paired, not counting the officiant. Certainly, plenty of sects that don’t have sex during worship have excluded identifiable gay people. However, I found that emphasis on heterosexual pairs hinky. If you are not required to put out physically in her tradition, at least it seems you are supposed to put out spiritually, or should I say etherically or astrally? Since we know sexuality isn’t necessary either for worship or for raising power (because of the many peoples who do so by other means), I wouldn’t want to be forced into it in order to participate in those activities.

    @JMG: “I’ve always appreciated the Norse idea … that each of the gods and goddesses has his or her own heaven, more or less, and those who worship that deity and uphold whatever that deity favors end up there.”

    Woot! Cat heaven, here I come! 🙂

  159. Rita Rippetoe:

    I agree that taking a hardline position of “always believe accusers” is untenable. I also share your skepticism about Vox Day’s motives, and I’m disgusted by his and Ms. Greyland’s attempt to propagate the tired slander that LGBT/polyamorous sexuality is inherently predatory. However, I’m uncomfortable with the way that so many in the alternative spirituality community have immediately reacted to this accusation by casting aspersions on Ms. Greyland’s credibility. Many of these people would never dream of questioning an abuse survivor’s account in any other context, but somehow it’s different when it threatens the public perception of their religion or comes from someone with whom they disagree politically.

    I have the same instinctive reaction but it’s for precisely that reason that I feel the need to be more careful about my own assumptions, and to extend Ms. Greyland the benefit of the doubt. Those who don’t already agree with my politics will not share my suspicion that Vox Day has dishonest motives; from their perspective it would appear awfully hypocritical of me to single out this particular accusation as worthy of skepticism.

    (I realize that you yourself may have always urged caution regarding accusations of misconduct, and your reaction here may be entirely consistent with your own previously held positions. I’m really just using your post as a springboard to examine some of my own assumptions and beliefs. In recent months I’ve gone from enthusiastically supporting the online social justice movement to believing that for all their noble intentions they’re doing real harm to others and to their own cause with their enthusiasm for identity politics and public shaming)

  160. @Shane W: I’m not sure what ‘sex negative language’ means, but it sounds like you misread my post. I am explaining to JMG that Wicca was, and is, a fertility religion in which ritualised – but rarely actual – sex is part of the process of worship. There is nothing ‘dirty’ about it, or about sex in general. That is precisely my point. Wicca does not share the puritan attitudes to the body which society as a whole did when Gardner started it. That was one thing which made it easy to scare people away from it. JMG’s suggestion that it was ‘a fetish club’ seems to continue that tradition.

    I’m not sure in what universe the word ‘blackened’ is ‘offensive’. It has nothing to do with anybody’s skin colour, if that’s what you mean. It means dirty, and always has done. But I am not from the US, so I am not up to speed on which words are out of bounds this week 🙂

  161. David, glad to be of help. How something means something is a crucial issue in philosophy, and one that’s been endlessly bollixed up by attempts to privilege one meaning above others as uniquely true.

    Isabel, I haven’t seen them, lacking the elemental weaknesses in question. 😉

    Sven, glad to hear it.

    Patricia, I think that’s part of it.

    Pogret/Alan, duly noted! Trust me, I’m sufficiently cantankerous, not to mention sufficiently immune to social pressure — Aspergers syndrome has its advantages! — that I’m going to keep on writing what I want to write about the subjects I want to write about. With regard to ethics, that really is going to take a post to explain, isn’t it? Yes, an awakening into ethical consciousness can happen as part of any relationship — and generally takes place to at least some extent in any successful relationship — but I’d still call it a side effect, because (a) you don’t enter into the relationship for the purpose of ethical awakening, (b) the ethical awakening is a result of experiencing the relationship rather than vice versa, (c) lots of other things also happen as a result of entering into the experience of relationship, and why privilege this one above all the others?

    Hermes, it’s actually not that difficult to find new material on the history of Wicca and other Neopagan religions, because most of the people who are looking into them think of them as serious religions, so they’re looking in the places you’d expect to trace the history of a serious religion. When Gordon Cooper and I documented that a good part of early Wiccan ritual came from Ernest Thompson Seton’s “Woodcraft” youth movement, it wasn’t because we found some exotic trove of never-before-read documents; the material was in plain sight the whole time — complete with children’s books describing casting a circle and calling the quarters, written well before Gardner got back to England from southeast Asia. It’s just that nobody thought to look for it there. In the same way, I’ve yet to see anyone trace the line that goes from early 19th century conspiracy theory through Jules Michelet and Charles Godfrey Leland to the image of the sexually and socially rebellious Pagan witch that played so large a role in the rise of modern Neopaganism; it’s all right out there in public, but a combination of overspecialization in the subdisciplines of history and the very common tendency for people to go looking for what they hope to find has kept that and other things from being noticed. The role of the “sex cult” industry as I’ve described it in this and other writings is simply one more example.

    This isn’t unique to Wicca, or to Neopaganism for that matter. Every religion, once it begins to claw its way toward respectability, puts a lot of effort into erasing as much of its early history as possible. That’s not simple hypocrisy by any means; religions deal with the realm of myth, and so inevitably rewrite their origins to correspond to an appropriate myth, and that myth in the modern world usually involves a lot of sanitizing. Real religions — religions that call on the deepest aspects of human emotion and consciousness — aren’t bright and clean and sanitary; they’re dark and wet and sticky, like the rest of human existence. (This is why, incidentally, all the attempts to manufacture eco-religions have flopped so dismally. An eco-religion that was potent enough to attract people in sufficient numbers to make a difference would have to wallow in death and sex and our other experiences of raw biology, to an extent that would make the people trying to promote eco-religions shriek and run in horror.)

    The origins of every major religion are a tangle from which all kinds of unexpected loose ends pop out. The one difference we face when dealing with Wicca and its sister Neopagan faiths is that their origins are close enough, and their degree of political power and influence modest enough, that it’s still possible to glimpse what was going on before the myth got in place. In another generation or so, if Wicca survives the decline of pop Neopaganism (and I suspect it will), the issues I’ve discussed will be irrelevant, and the book I have in the early stages of preparation will no doubt be burnt the way that Christians so sedulously burnt every copy of Porphyry’s Against the Christians. In the meantime, though, it helps make sense of the number of the current crop of Neopagan elders over here in the US who have real problems with issues of sexual consent — which was of course the reason I brought it up.

    (It occurs to me that you might be able to make a case that the sex-cult aspect of Wicca was purely an American distortion. I don’t think that’s accurate, but the degree to which the US scene seems to have wallowed in that is enough greater that I’d listen to an argument to that effect if it were well informed.)

    Robert, thank you. That’s utterly fascinating.

    Shane, I don’t know of a lot of literature on the subject, other than my book Inside a Magical Lodge, which may not be quite what they’re looking for. If the gentlemen in question are interested enough to join successful groups that work the same way — the Freemasons, for example — that could be a real resource, but I don’t know how closeted they’d be willing to be. (I suspect lodges under the Grand Lodge of Kentucky probably by and large can’t handle “out” gay men.) Hmm…

    Isabel, makes sense to me.

    Alvin, fascinating. I’ll have to check the current astrology and see whether there’s anything relevant.

    MJ, that’s a topic for a book, not a comment!

    Matthias, er, I dealt with that already. Stoicism isn’t a religion; it’s an ethical philosophy. In the classical world, those were recognized as two different things, which was precisely my point, you know.

    Lydia, I also misunderstood you; it sounded to me as though you were asking for me to stop talking about magic and spirituality (the themes of Well of Galabes) and go back to a focus on politics, economics, and the future of industrial society (the themes of The Archdruid Report). If you’re concerned simply that I not limit my discussion to posts of interest to Druids, there we may have much more common ground!

    Redoak, a potluck with this crew would be enormous fun. I honestly wish sometimes there was some way to get together in a hotel once a year and meet face to face.

    Oilman, the whole sexual-abuse thing really does seem to be blowing up everywhere just now, doesn’t it?

    Dewey, that’d be Freya’s heaven, presumably, or Bastet’s!

  162. @Dewey: I’ve not read Leek, but like Gardner – who also originally wanted to ban gay people from Wicca – she was a product of her time. These people were born in the nineteenth century, and were in their prime when homosexuality was regarded as sinful, and was still illegal. Thankfully times have changed, and there are plenty of gay people now involved in WIcca. There are also witchcraft traditions specifically for gay men, such as the Minoan Brotherhood, and all-female traditions, like Dianic witchcraft.

    No one is ‘required to put out’ in Wicca, or has ever been, unless perhaps in some rogue covens here or there. I’ve never come across it. The sex is ritualised rather than practised. Gender polarity is still emphasised, male and female being the ancient and classical polarities, the yin and yang, of nature itself – but polarity and sexuality are not the same. Each Wiccan coven is run by a High Priestess and a High Priest, but their sexuality is not an issue, and I have known of gay priests and priestesses in covens, and still do.

  163. @JMG (Apologies for the three postings here, I have only just seen your comment.)

    I will await your book with interest. But also hope dearly that you have your facts right about Gardner et al. As I say, it is well-known, and well-documented, that Gardner, Valiente and their early coven members were deeply committed to what they clearly considered to be a serious religion. We all know now how syncretic it really is, and where various bits of the Book of Shadows came from (and it wasn’t from the mythical New Forest Old Religion), but none of this fits with it being a ‘fetish club’ in disguise, and the ‘Gardner was addicted to flogging’ line sounds like a post-facto smear, and one which has been going around fof years with no basis in fact. It sounds suspiciously like the line that its enemies took – when they weren’t calling Wiccans devil worshippers.

    As a Brit, and what Americans call a ‘traditional’ Wiccan, I may be culturally biased, but I suspect there is something in what you say about the sex exploitation angle being a US problem. All religions, of course, attract predators and the power hungry. Still, the combination of a fertility religion with naked rites, Californian New Age culture, post-Sixties sexual liberation and rampant individualism seems a toxic combination – and reading the Bonewits/ Zimmer Bradley accusations, it seems that was the combination in play there. The Wiccan scene over here has always had a different taste to it.

    I too have a suspicion that initiatory Wicca may last the distance where New Age neopaganism will fade, precisely because of its more serious, and more disciplined, nature. We shall see. I will be interested to read your history of it. But please be cautious in not indicting those many of us involved in this tradition, and our founders, without the requisite evidence.

  164. @Fred and Rita: Re: that particular incident, and Moira in general, a saying I read somewhere re: abuse has been helpful: with language redacted for this blog, it basically goes “Victims can be [unpleasant people] and [unpleasant people] can be victims,” and neither mitigates the other in this case. Greyland seems to have taken some pretty awful life experiences and used them as justification for buying into a pretty awful worldview, which is on her, and unfortunately common enough. (My excessive true-crime reading bears that out in spades.)

    @Robert Mathiesen: I’ve mentioned it to you before, but half of everything I read about California in the 1960s makes me want to bang my head against a wall. (See also: the history of Scientology.) Reading the Wiki of the accounts re: MZB’s abuse also suggested a very strong element of what would later become the Geek Social Fallacies: “But we can’t judge Breen for [practices that I’m not going to repeat here, because ew] because aren’t we all weird in our own ways, maaaan?” *Take hit on joint, turn up the Bob Dylan.* I just…gaaah. Like, reading the intense debate over barring a pedophile from a SF con, let alone, say, going to the cops about him, did give me more insight into how the whole Manson/Jones/etc thing really took off in that place and time.*

    *Granted, I now hear stories from my sister about modern SoCal that inspire nearly as much headdesking.

  165. JMG, Agreed! Providence RI is pretty easy to get to with plenty of convention centers. No doubt there is a third party that could handle the arrangements for a slice of the till. Might be worth putting out a survey of the crew here to see how much interest there is. I’m just up the road in NH, so I’m a definite yes. Put me on the menu for home grown chili and corn bread.

  166. That is my version of Pascal’s wager: If I worship Bastet and she doesn’t exist, no harm done. If she does and I don’t, I lose my opportunity to be one of the lucky humans who gets let into cat heaven because the cats want someone to provide laps, pull toys around, etc. It is every bit as plausible as the original. You can hardly do anything in my house without one of Bastet’s little messengers of goodness and love appearing to “help”. Anyone here seen an angel?

  167. @Oliman

    As one of the resident (and outspoken) Catholics, let me field this one. The very short form of the following argument is: “Gee, Francis is no saintt after all. Yes, we are extremelly overdue of some heavy housecleaning. Please forgive us if we do not sell tickets”.

    I will start by bringing to attention the fact that nobody is denying the crimes of paedophile priest Karadima.If my will would be made, he’d be rotting in jail right now, but unfortunatelly the crimes prescribed before he was brought into justice. Apparently a Church court has condemned him to “a lifetime of penance and prayer”, but it is hard to tell if he’s really under house arrest or if this was merely a slap in the hand to shut the protests of his victims.

    The Pope’s comment referred rather to the role played by Bishop Juan Barrios, and it is unfortunate. Strictly speaking, the degree to which Barrios knew of Karadima’s abuses is mere speculation, and the insinuation that the former covered up the later is slander. I think we all in this forum are capable of seeing how a journalist can pose a question in such a way that you end up looking badly no matter what you answer. If that is the case, Francis sin would have been not to have advisors to instruct him to answer such traps with a simple “No comments”.

    However, I will say that the Pope is in the wrong here. His job is to find out what happened, so he cannot afford to wait until “evidence is brought to him”. The same can be said of Juan Barrios. Even if he did not know, it was cowardly and irresponsible from him to not have investigated the minute the first allegations came to his notice. If my will would be made, the Vatican would have demanded his resignation on that account alone, nonwithstanding what other disciplinary actions may come in the future when the full investigation throws more light into those past events.

    All in all, what it seems to me that this exemplifies the systemic problems with the Church. There’s a bunch of men out of their depts, that lack a culture of accountability, and who revert back to basic primate behavior (protect your own, external enemy, etc) when pushed against the ropes. I wish we did better, but I am not holding my breath. At the very least, we laypeople must keep on pushing the clergy out of innaction, because it is pretty obvious the lack the courage to do it on their own.

  168. Loremaster,

    Before this posting cycle slides away, and before I slide back under my favorite chunk of moss-laden micaceous schist, I just wanted to offer a special thanks for your patient explanation of the process and purpose of reincarnation. Ever since you sparked the first ‘hmmm’ in my mind about the subject I have increasingly found that it explains the world much more clearly and accurately than the other ideas I’ve been taught.

    I especially want to thank you for this bit…

    “To my mind, the supreme mistake of the Abrahamic tradition is that it takes that side effect as the thing that matters most, and so often tends to fixate on trying to force obedience to moral codes rather than cultivating the inner capacities that cause ethical awareness to emerge naturally.”

    …since I’ve just recently begun to come into contact with those “inner capacities that cause ethical awareness to emerge naturally,” and so thoroughly rejected the moral codes and browbeatings of my evangelical upbringing all those years ago. The intervening 20 years of atheistic materialism were truly a personal wandering in the desert of meaning for me, and I’m thrilled to put them to my backside in such a reenergized way.

    I’ve seen what happens when moral codes are forced down people’s throats, on several occasions, with several people (myself included), and it ain’t pretty. Nor is it a good advertisement for the religions that like to operate that way.

    Cheers. Or as the locals in my region like to say, ‘Preciate-cha!


    Thanks for the clarification on all points! And for your general sauciness…

    Red Oak,

    Know that I look forward to our little weekly service every Wednesday, and communion with the congregation, at roughly the same time you do! I get pretty excited on Wednesday mornings…

    And if this hypothetical potluck ever comes to fruition, assuming I can reach it geographically, you can definitely count me in. If you haven’t ever had slow-roasted groundhog (whistle pig) you’re in for a real treat…I’ll bring wild-fermented mead too…

    Cheers, everybody.
    Tripp out.

  169. Oilman,

    I’m not Catholic, but I read quite a bit of the linked article, until I figured out that it was a report of a local scandal and accusation, that the pope seems to have reneged on one person’s guilt, but it was otherwise rather evidence free, therefore I have to say I am quite neutral. So I am confused by why you posted that particular article.

  170. Shane W – thank you for introducing me to the term “risk-aware consensual”. It’s the perfect descriptor for something I’ve reached for the right words for occasionally, and this fits the bill.

  171. “Redoak, a potluck with this crew would be enormous fun. I honestly wish sometimes there was some way to get together in a hotel once a year and meet face to face.”

    Oh, I would VERY much enjoy that!

    And the locale would have a wonderful old and very large pub nearby!

  172. Like Shane, I came to the ADR for the political writings (referred from the Oil Drum), and 10 years ago I might have scoffed at the discussions of magic and the occult. The writings of JMG convinced me that I needed to broaden my thinking. Today, I see them occurring in our time and in my life. I really enjoy the company here and the broad range of topics on board. (I have to ensure I’m not drinking anything when reading Izzie’s comments though, as they generally bring about gales of laughter.) I don’t really have anything to say on the immediate topic at hand, except that there are other corruptions by the leaders of communities which can be equally as damaging.
    @ JMG “Redoak, a potluck with this crew would be enormous fun. I honestly wish sometimes there was some way to get together in a hotel once a year and meet face to face.”
    Since our host is likely to be occupied at the Summer Solstice, which occurs here (Divine Providence) on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at 6:07 am, it would seen that Saturday, June 23 would be an excellent time for an Ecosophia pot luck. We can celebrate the first anniversary of the transference of the ADR into Ecosophia at my house in my yard. I know a number of the commenters here are within a decent distance by car or transit. I live in the violet house directly behind the Charles Dexter Ward Mansion on the East Side of Providence. Joseph Curwen will not be joining us.

  173. JMG: Thanks!

    Violet (sorry for replying late, did not notice the post): “While intra-human consent is definitely of at least nominal importance to this culture, what about the consent of an animal being vivisected? Or a rat with electrodes put into its brain to control its actions? What consent is there to the felling of old growth forests?”

    I don’t disagree; but, for instance, Medieval peasants who burned cats alive for fun (it used to be a pretty common form of Carnival entertainment) were not particularly interested in their consent either, nor were the romans interested in the consent of North African Elephants when they took so many of them for circus fights (3500 during Augustus’ reign alone, apparently) that they may have contributed to the extinction of the subspecies. During Hellenism, researchers performed vivisections, not only of animals but also of convicted human criminals.

    I am not saying that our attitudes towards the environment and other animal species could not be improved, and I am not saying that there is nothing that we could learn from previous cultures; but it seems to me that we do not differ from many cultures in that we are more callous and uncaring towards the environment, but rather in that our technology (and our energy availability, and our population numbers) allows us to cause considerably more damage than they could. As an aside, I used to have some acquaintances who worked in neuroscience and did animal experiments. They were not nineteenth-century scholars convinced that animals are unfeeling biological machines: they went out of their way to treat their subjects as humanely as possible and to do experiments on living animals only when necessary, and it was clear anyway that doing so took a toll on their mood. The modern attitudes of scientists towards animals and nature are not those of Francis Bacon.

    Tripp: It was not too long ago that marital rape was seen as a contradiction in terms, and gay/transgender people could expected to be bullied as a matter of course (this still happens in some parts of the world, certainly, it used to be common basically everywhere). Workplace sexual harassment still happens; but the perception that it is not acceptable has grown, and people who do so can (not always, but often) be expected to face consequences. Not too long ago, men making insistent, unwanted sexual advances at secretaries (the only job in an office that was considered fit for women, obviously) was not perceived as a problem at all, and the idea that it should be punished by firing (and, in serious cases, by the criminal system) would have been met only with derision.

    I get that our modern societies (I am not American) have problems; but on this particular topic, I think that some progress is being made. This is not to say that progress is being made on _all_ issues, of course: pollution and its health consequences, as you point out, is definitely a big problem now (although, all things considered, my long-term health perspectives are far better now than they would have been 50 years ago).

  174. A belated commentar about the subject of sexual misbehavior: It seems to me that the sexual scandals discussed here are, as others have hinted at, an outflow of a general inability to recognize and respect boundaries. It seems to be mostly an US thing, as, to my knowledge, sexual scandals are not as widespread inEuropean countries, although they do occur there, like child abuse by some Catholic priests.

    Regarding the Archdruid Report, I found that it provided very valuable and unique insights into the fate of industrial civilization and how to deal with it. There was no other site that talked about these topics in a similarly deep-going way. How I came to the Archdruid Report is a somewhat long-winded story. One day, I read in the university library of Göttingen an article about global warming and peak oil by Bill McKibben. This article lead me to read several books of different quality about peak oil, and I read websites about the subject. Circa 2011, I read in the Energy Bulletin, the forerunner website of the series “How It Could Happen” about the end of the American Empire. Thus I found the original blog, the Archdruid Report.

    After a bit of thinking, I found that you, John Michael, had indeed written exhaustively about the decline and fall of industrial civilization and assorted subjects. There are a few questions that one could still ask, but these are questions about things and events which at the present time cannot be foreseen in detail (for example, when and how the last vestiges of the Internet will fizzle out, or what will be the fate of neoliberalism in the mid-term), except for waiting a few decades or centuries.

    The subjects on Ecosophia I find for the most part interesting, but often I have not much to say about them, because the things I do have nothing to du with occultism, and only peripherally with magic.

    Thanks nevertheless for the interesting discussions!

  175. The point which JMG has made about the Ancient world makes sense when one turns over the pages of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations: there we see the sick, world-weary emperor, mired in perpetual war in Germania ( no doubt ordering mass enslavements, resettlements, massacres, burning of crops and villages, like any Roman general) trying to retain some self-discipline and sense of beneficial purpose, to find a way of dealing with often very unattractive people.

    Stoicism is, in this context, an ethical guide, a pillar to hold on to while everything is chaotic and bloody. But not dogmatic, not an experiential, religion.

    He even admits to wishing he could just stay in bed under the duvet rather than face it all! If one thinks of the context, it is one of the most moving books ever written. The words ‘Pull yourself together, man!’ hover over the text.

    As for the gods: they are assumed to exist, to require worship, sacrifices. And virtue as well as the prescribed worship is thought to be acceptable to some of them, but the Stoicism of Marcus is not the means of approaching them.

    That, it is implied, is the role of the Mysteries, of Eleusis, etc.

  176. @ CR Patino,

    On the other hand, it seems to me that pedophilia is endemic to the structure of the Catholic Church and will not be going away, even with better post hoc vigilence. Perhaps the celibate priesthood needs to be abolished.

  177. @ Hermes

    There actually is some evidence that Gerald B. Gardner did have a sexual fetish, namely binding and whipping or tickling. The evidence comes from a comment once made by his wife Donna, and also from the copy-editor of one of his books (and a significant occultist in her own right) Madeline Montalban, and it is corroborated by the otherwide hostile source “Olive Green,” as published by Charles Cardell (“Rex Nemorensis”) in his pamphlet _Witch_. Cardell’s pamphlet is openly hostile and derogatory, but it also has enormous text-critical value as a textual source for GBG’s rituals and other oath-bound writings, which it openly published for the first time. Donna Gardner’s comment is exceptionally telling; it was (citing from memory), “I don’t care how many young women Gerald gets to whip him, so long as I don’t have to do it.” If memory serves me rightly, it was Michael Howard who published this comment of Donna Gardner’s somewhere, and also called attention again to Montalban’s break with Gardner.

    None of this evidence is conclusive, of course, but it IS suggestive, especially when taken in combination with the emphasis on binding and scourging in Gardner’s original coven, the rapid shift away from those practices toward preferring other means of ecstasy provided by the “Eightfold Path” as soon as much of his original coven broke with Gardner (apparently Doreen Valiente played a major role in this break-up), and by the note in Gardner’s manuscript _Ye Bok of ye Art Magical_ under the text “Of the Ordeal,” sending readers to William Seabrook’s _Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today_ and Jack London’s _The Jacket_. Seabrook had roughly the same sexual fetish as Gardner, and his _Witchcraft_ is redolent of that fetish.

    Also — do you really think that a serious new religious movement cannot (or should not) at one and the same time also have been a “fetish club,” as if there were some inherent incompatibility between the two things? Sexuality and spirituality are as closely intertwined as any two aspects of human behavior, and this close link remains true, or is even strengthened, whenever the sexuality and the spirituality in question are both “deviant” according to the norms of one’s culture. Social respectability and esctatic spirituality are always more or less at odds with one another, and organized religions often work very hard to bridle, contain and control the ecstasy, if they cannot eliminate it altogether, in order to win respectability in the eyes of the wider culture and society in which they exist.

    Me, I am by personal temperament and family heritage a deep contrarian, and I generally respect those who manage to tip over a culture’s “sacred cows” far more than those who feed and cherish those same cows. A lotus flourishes best when its roots reach down into the stinkiest, blackest mud. If Gardner’s original coven was at the same time BOTH a fetish club AND an utterly serious, powerful new religious movement, then my respect for his creation is only enhanced.

  178. I don’t want to hammer on a point I apparently did not make clearly enough nor do I want to proselytize here, so I’ll be brief and won’t get upset if you delete this post.

    1. The Fox in Till We Have Faces is an image of a rather agnostic ancient philosopher (meant of course to be relevant to a 20th century audience). He doesn’t seem to see the point in initiation and ritual, and my question is if many ancient philosophers agreed with him. Chesterton (who probably didn’t know enough about Proclus and Porphyrius) somewhere wrote that because of the incarnation, Christians honored the body which had been disdained by the pagans (unfortunately paraphrasing), and I think there is at least some truth in what he wrote. I am really looking forward to more posts of yours on Neoplatonism.

    2. The gospels and Paul most certainly do not teach a set of rules to be followed. That’s the difficulty, actually.

  179. Robert Mathiesen said enough about the Berkeley scene 1952-62 that I am very glad to have been living on the left side of the bay during those years. San Francisco never pretended to be anything else except an old charmer with a past she never made excuses for!

    But he said there was a female equivalent of the Mattachine Society in Berkeley in those days, and as a teenager in San Francisco, I could have named it for him even then, sheltered upbringing or no. The Daughters of Bilitis. For all I know, it may still be in existence. (No. I never looked into it. But found enough in my reading to know what it was. In my teens. As someone completely out of the social loop and with a sheltered upbringing.)

  180. @ Isabel: California in the later ’60s and thereafter was definitely not to my taste at all, and I am very glad that I was in Rhode Island, not still in Berkeley, by then There was far too much emphasis on Community for my tastes — even the period’s eccentricities were communal ones. However, some very good poets did some of their best work in that environment. As you know, I am particularly fond of Lew Welch’s poetry, but Gary Snyder was no slouch as a poet, either. (Like me, they were both of the Silent Generation.)

  181. Archdruid and Pogret,

    I mean if we’re talking about virtue and moral development that comes from interacting with higher beings, isn’t it possible that the virtues upheld by each being are going to be different? The same way morals often change from culture to culture, why wouldn’t it be likely that the virtues promoted by each god/deva/whathaveyou to vary based on the out look of that particular being?

    There are never ending debates in hinduism about the nature of dharma/Karma, and which actions beneficially influence each. Every community has it’s own diety, own morals, and own code of virtues.



  182. onething: I do not think that celibacy is the cause of the problem per se. If you are not sexually attracted to children, no amount of sexual frustration will make you become so: at worst, you might fail to keep your promises end up having a relationship with an adult companion, either in secret or asking the Bishop for laicization (which, at least over here, tends to be offered without too much issue, in part to avoid further scandal). It does not matter how horny you are, if children are not sexually attractive to you (and, to most people, they just aren’t) then you are not going to romance a little kid any more than you would romance a duck.

    Instead, I think that the issue with sexual abuses in the Catholic Church results from the combination of three phenomena:

    1. The existence of a socially respected career paths that demand celibacy offers Catholic people whose desires are not compatible with marriage (either because they are principally attracted to children, or for other unrelated reasons) a honorable way to get out of the social expectations to marry and have a family. This is not necessarily malicious per se, and people who do that might even think of this as a way to “protect themselves from temptations”. However, this is a horrible idea, because

    2. Priests tend to have considerable personal independence in their day-to-day affairs, have often to interact with children in small group or one-on-one (and, through Confession, often end up hearing way too much information about the beginnings of their puberty). Furthermore, even if the recent scandals have changed this somewhat, they tend to be regarded as implicitly trustworthy in matters of morals by the communities they operate in. This is… not a good combination for someone who joined the priesthood to avoid such desires. And it is made even worse by the fact that

    3. Their leaders often are (this is not a justification, just an explanation) likely to ignore potential warning signs because addressing them would take away even further manpower from their already manpower-starved dioceses. Or they can allow people to be admitted to the priesthood even if they are plainly unsuited, because of the lack of candidates. Or, to be as charitable as possible, are so overworked that they cannot realistically address complaints and warning signs as well as they should. Or sometimes, which is worse, are more committed to avoiding scandals than to preventing children to be harmed.

    I do not have strong opinions about priestly celibacy either way. I think that the existence of spiritual paths which require celibacy are of great value for a tradition (Christianity certainly did not invent this, as Buddhism and Hinduism show); but there is no reason in principle why Catholicism could not transition towards a system like that of Orthodoxy, in which priests (but not monks or Bishops) can be married.

    My impression, however, is that a more fruitful approach would be to keep Catholic priesthood as is, but

    1. Emphasize the existence in the Catholic tradition other paths that demand celibacy, but do not carry the responsibilities and the lack of supervision of priesthood. I am talking about monastic vocations, for instance (side note: in Catholicism, not all monks are priests – there is such a thing as lay brothers).

    2. Emphasize more the (true, but often not as recognized as it should be) fact that a lay adult Catholic can choose to be celibate (either temporarily or permanently) without, for this, doing anything wrong. There is often in Catholic communities, a perception that people should have a vocation to marriage or to religious life, with no alternatives; the Catholic Church does not say anything like that, but it should make it clearer that this is not the case.

    3. Give more responsibilities, in the functioning of parishes as well as in higher-level administration, to laypeople. This should make it possible to adopt stricter standards for priests, as well as provide better avenues for evaluating and addressing complaints and add a layer of independent supervision to the activities of Bishops and Cardinals.

    4. This should be obvious, but do not protect the guilty from civil authorities.

  183. I forgot to mention: technically, there are married Catholic priests already – they do not belong to the Roman Catholic Church proper, but to Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome (different liturgies, but they recognize the Pope and are recognized as part of the Catholic Church). So yeah, there is no obstacle in principle to allowing priests to marry.

    However, for the reasons I mentioned, I do not think that this would be the best way to address the issue.

  184. Dear onething, I thank you for your post about female complicity in the ravaging of the natural world and I emphatically agree with your point that women should not be “let off the hook”. The excessive materialism and consumerism of American women–I cannot speak for the rest of the world–the slavish following of fashion, far more than is needed to be employable, the constant use and discarding of so called “convenience” products, all this accumulates and does as much damage as do macho projects like clear cutting entire forests. The fact that we are encouraged to such waste by commercial interests is a fault in our society but our failure to think for ourselves and “just say no” is a fault in us. It both grieves and angers me to see the excessive travel, bling, addiction to pointless “events”, with all the extra consumption those require, reliance on servants and one could go on, which characterize high profile soi-disant feminists at the present time. A certain presidential candidate and her army of followers and acolytes comes immediately to mind here. Clerks in the stores round about, within walking distance of my home, know that I will bring a large bag with me and that I will politely request no plastic bags please.

    I doubt very many lay Catholics confused Cardinal Bergoglio with a saint. I think the hope at his election was that the Vatican would disentangle itself from ill-advised alliances with neo-conservatives, neo-liberals and international finance and business interests in general. Francis’ successor is likely to be a hard-nosed social conservative from Africa so I would not be looking for changes in doctrine anytime soon. The Cardinal Archbishop of Washington DC has said he will not shield criminals from the law, and I suspect that is the line Turkson, or whomever the next Pope is, will take as well.

  185. @Hermes – Fair enough, but it seems to me that there’s a difference between a religion that simply excludes people defined, however ludicrously, as specially unworthy types of “sinner” and a religion that says to be INcluded you ought to be standing opposite someone of the maximally opposite “polarity” – and that, by implication, there ought to be sexual energy or tension between you. In most cultures, if your tribe happens to have 20% more males than females, neither a religious celebration nor a group magical working (if such exist) will be impaired. Nor will there will be a problem if you just happen to find the specific person opposite you totally undesirable. Creating a tradition in which these will be problems seems dumb to me: why make things more difficult and complicated? Leek would no doubt say that Wicca wasn’t intended to be a practice for whole populations, only for a select few – OK, fine, but if one of the selection criteria is going to be a strict gender quota, that means you have to relax other criteria and you may lose excellent candidates because, sorry, we only have an opening for a female right now…. If they were not in fact primarily doing sex magic, is that really worth it?

  186. @Onething 1/2

    I’d need to check sources before I give a definitive response to that, but from memory alone, Catholic priests do no have higher prevalence of pedophilia than other professions where adults end up in a position of authority over children (teachers, doctors, etc), or for that matter the general population.

    Yet, the Catholic Church has become infamous over the last 30 years or so about that kind of thing. Part of it is the media exposure to the problem, – and I am not talking about a conspiracy here… self professed sacred men that profanate boys is juicy news, everything can be explained by dumb old self interest, – but it seems to me that the number of cases is indeed very large and not an exageration.

    So what do those other institutions (schools, hospitals, etc) have that the Church lacks which allows them to keep in check their members and, when the worst case do happen, to arrest the deeds of the perpetrator before he racks up a large(r) victim count? We see a system of governance that (a) acknowledges, (b) does not shy away from, and (c) actively deals with the problem.

    In the Church we have almost exactly the opposite: an upper management (the Vatican) that wants very desperatelly to pretend that the problem does not exist. a middle management (individual Bishops) that must nonetheless deal with the unthinkable non-problem and their unacknowledgeable non-consequences. All of these under a Tradition that places the secrecy of Confessions at the center of its core values.

    So, I do think we (the Catholics) have already in place all the means to fight off this plague. But our leaders just won’t make use of said tools.

    Just to give an example. Taking the Holy Communion while on mortal sin is itself the ultimate sin: a sacrilege against God himself. We also know that ordained priest must perform the rite of Consacration (and take the Communion themselves) on a daily basis. It is therefore just logical that every paedo-priest must report to their fellow Confessor any “unnatural” feelings they happen to develop towards a minor. Also, we know that the Church hierachy is absolute and every member of the clergy is showrn to absolute obedience.

    Therefore, the hierarchy is uniquelly enabled to know of any potential predators even before they have acted on their impulses. On the practical issue of said predator not reporting his deeds in Confession, well, there are mundane ways to figure things out, which secular organizations mentioned above have put to good use elsewhere.

    For the ones that do say in Confession, we already have a solution in place as well. Its called the Monastery/Nunnery. Religious communities of adults where no child ever sets foot.

  187. @Onething 2/2

    I agree that the celibate priesthood is an institution that has outlived its usefulness, – if there ever was a purpose behind it beyond the simple rapaciousness of the clergy that wanted to deprive their priests’ families of a mundane inheritance.

    In this particular case, though, I thing the question is of limited relevance to the issue at hand. Pedophiles do not turn into such by lack of opportunities to have regular sex with other adults. It may be the case that the negation of their own sexuality makes them push that aspect of their psique into the Shadow (in many cases making it stronger, edgier, and more uncontrollable), but that would result in abuses of psicologically vulnerable adults (and late teens).

    Also, the same attitude towards regular non-vanilla, consentual sex could be a bigger issue. I am not an ordained priest myself, but I think that if you let yourself take too seriously the standard doctrines towards sex (not sure if they have advanced, more nuanced teachings, but if the thing they tell you in Sunday school is all there’s is…) That could lead to a sort of moral miopya, where every sexual transgression is more or less equally sinful…. and that framework would help them rationalize their very human drive to help out your inner group against an external enemy, even when they are in the wrong.

  188. I am one of those people that has had no experience with religion or occultism until after I started reading your blogs (which I now have done for some years).
    So I still have a lot of trouble trying to understand your new posts without mapping them into standard pop psychology concepts.
    I do trust your judgment more and more because it not only helps me deal with all the political and social insanity of today but you predicted many of the trends and events that happen now.

    So I have a question about how you bring together your understanding of evolution and physics with your religious views and your optimism about human condition?
    I am referring specifically to the apparent lack of free will and the genetic drive to consume (aka the maximum power principle) on the one hand, and your ideas of how to build a better society, human morality and controlling climate change.


  189. Thanks, Oilman, for your comment about the DSM V and the APA in general. That is precisely why I stopped @ a Bachelors in Psychology and went no further. I didn’t want to be part of a mental health system that pathologizes everything and then acts as a handmaiden to the pharmaceutical industry to fix all its diagnoses.

  190. @ Onething…

    I posted it as an example, one among thousands worldwide regarding Catholic priests. These Catholic pedophile accusations are NOT infrequent, and have not been so for a long time.

    “Evidence free”? What do you mean by that? How does one provide evidence of pedophilial abuse ex-post facto? This is a HUGE part of the issue, because it quickly devolves into a “he said/he said or she said” circularity. The first thing the court would do is demand proof – and the next thing is to denounce 20-30 year old memories as faulty or misinterpreted or misconstrued. This is perhaps the reason why the catholic church has been able to shield itself from acknowledging this as a problem.

    Catching a pedophile or rapist en flagrante dilecto is going to be tough to do – so the call for evidence you allude to – does the victim need to provide that in order for people to be concerned and alarmed and disgusted? Outside of a rape kit being immediately executed – when children are VERY UNLIKELY to even fully grasp what has happened to them, much less what a rape kit is – what evidence is required for this to rise to the level of a crime in peoples minds?

    I have heard accounts where clergy have told young children that (insert sex act here) is “…the best way for God to hear your prayers…” Gut wrenching to hear someone share this type of stuff. The all consuming need to violate a child even throws their own God under the bus, eternal damnation or no.

    I do know that NOT listening to those people taking the risk of speaking out about their abuse is a tremendous reason why much of it goes on and on, over generations. In many cases, there are multiple people coming forward, and doing so does not gain them anything – in fact it opens old wounds and long buried trauma.

    If there is smoke, then there has to be a smoldering something, somewhere. If there are multiple fires, there is more smoke. Coming out against clergy is especially fraught with issues, such a ostracism by the locals parishioners who have no inkling – because they only know the public face of the priest.

    Blaming the victim is a most favored defense of pedophiles and their enablers. The Pope was enabling – very clearly – in what he said. The locals were so enraged and upset that he was forced to retract and apologize. Well and good, but little else will be done now, and likely the priest moved elsewhere to continue his habits.

    ‘Evidence free’ is an unusual terminology when discussing this type of event…IMO.

  191. @Patricia,
    the Daughters of Bilitis was founded by Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon. One of the earliest lesbian organizations. They later became the first couple married by Gavin Newsom in San Francisco in 2004 when he decided to override the Knight initiative.

  192. A footnote to my comment earlier today on te subject of Gerald Gardner’s sexuality:

    My source for Donna Gardner’s comment turns out to be Frederic Lamond’s book, _Fifty Years of Wicca_ (2004). Lamond met Gardner in 1956 and was initiated by him in 1957. He characterizes Gardner as “an unashamed and somewhat innocent sensualist,” notes how important the binding and scourging was to Gardner (to the point of being extremely distasteful to some other, older members of the coven), and gives Cecil Williamson as his source for Donna Gardner’s comment, “I don’t mind how many young women Gerald can get to whip him, as long as I don’t have to be involved.” (All this is on pp. 10-11.) Lamond does call Cecil Williamson “not the most reliable of sources,” so clearly he has some reservation that Williamson’s account of Donna Gardner’s comment might not be literally true. Why, then, did Lamond quote Williamson in his carefully written book? Most likely because he thought that it accurately captured the truth about the Donna Gardner’s stance toward Gerald’s witchcraft activities and toward their marriage, as Lamond had observed it over all the years between 1956 and the Gardners’ deaths, four and eight years later (Donna’s in 1960, Gerald’s in 1964).

  193. Skolymus,

    Late as it is, you might come lurking to see if I respond. You make excellent points, but you never really said why it wouldn’t be good to have a generally married priesthood. The point you made that abnormal people might use the priesthood as a way to get through life without marriage is exactly my point. This is why I say that pedophilia is probably endemic to the structure of the Catholic Church. Sure, there are those who want the celibate life – that’s what monasticism is for. Those eastern rite Catholics were cajoled into the papacy in part by making such concessions to their Orthodox traditions.
    And by the way, this business of having a shortage of priests is precisely because in this day and time regular people are just not likely to put up with unwanted celibacy. Why shouldn’t a man who would like a vocation as a priest but who wants a wife and family not have a place?
    But you did use the phrase ‘little kids’ or something like that about the pedophilia. I might shock everyone here, but I do not consider it a true perversion (albeit wrong to act upon it) for someone to be attracted to those who have achieved puberty. It has been the human norm in many, many societies for girls to be married as young as 12 or 13. If someone is post pubescent, while they are certainly too young to be put in adult situations, we really cannot consider it a perversion to find them attractive. Boys would tend to be at least 14 to be at the same maturation level.

  194. @ CR Patino…

    Catholicism has a darkly colorful history, to put it mildly. My primary issue with their dogma is the insertion of men and their fallibility directly between God and his children. There are many other issues, but when one reads the gospels, there isn’t anything required to ask forgiveness, other than to believe and ask. And if you don’t believe, why in the world would you ask?

    This goes back to my opinion that the Gospels are what hold the truths as laid out by Jesus (or whatever group immediately surrounded him), and thus Christianity, while the remainder of the New Testament is a very broad reinterpretation – as in, “What Jesus really MEANT, was……”

    The Gnostics, a not small group, were not even allowed a position in the Christian bible. Having a council of men determining what would be included within the bible, well,…imagine our current Congress trying to decide what goes into the new Constitution in a future ConCon. It’s pretty much the same thing that happened when putting the Bible together – you had the ‘winners’ and then everybody else.

    I do not see the Catholic church having a Reformation until something causes even the poorly educated Catholics to question their faith. There will have to be something, such as sacrificing animals in dark corners of the Vatican and colluding in dark rites, on multiple videos and with identifiable faces – or something similar – to shake the church enough that it reforms. The Vatican has well over a thousand years of financial resources to draw on – many have donated generational wealth to the Vatican.

    I don’t need to quote what Jesus said regarding materialism – yet the existence of the Vatican itself and the wealth it controls flies in the face of – no, it fairly slaps one in the face with hypocrisy. Can people truly imagine that Jesus would be garbed in anything remotely resembling what the Pope wears?

    I hope that I am wrong, and proven so soonest!

    And Catholics are far from alone in having their church governance being completely material in these times.

  195. Hermes, er, the claim that nobody in Gardnerian covens is required to have sex with other coven members simply isn’t true. I don’t know how widespread the practice is, but I’ve had this practice described to me repeatedly by different people who belonged to traditional Gardnerian covens, and who did not know each other or each other’s covens. The specific rule is that you only get to say no to any one member of your coven once a year, and you can never say no to the High Priest or High Priestess. I’m quite prepared to believe that this isn’t done in the covens with which you’re associated, but it’s not just a few “rogue covens” — this is a fairly common practice in American Gardnerian covens claiming direct lineage from Gardner himself. You may want to be a little more careful before making sweeping generalizations. (And please note that I’m not saying that this is a universal practice among Gardnerians — but it is a practice found in a good many covens here in the US.)

    The other point I’d make, which other people have also tried to make in this conversation, is that I’m not indicting anybody. It’s very clear to me that quite a few trad Wiccans these days do in fact treat Wicca as a serious religious commitment; it’s also clear to me that Gerald Gardner lived in a very different era, one in which (for example) he saw no conflict between practicing Wicca and being ordained as a priest in a heterodox Christian church — and interpreting him through the filter of today’s attitudes guarantees misunderstanding. I don’t think anybody who came to maturity after the 1960s can really understand the complexities of sex, psyche, and society that came out of the Victorian era. To say that Gardner’s original version of Wicca, before Doreen Valiente et al. took charge of it, is best understood as a sex cult of the classic type is to offer an avenue for understanding, not to indict anyone past or present. If I may repeat myself yet again — in the hope that it’ll sink in this time — alternative religions inevitably take root in strange soil. That doesn’t make them stop being religions; it does mean, though, that well-meaning believers a few generations down the road tend to spend a lot of time frantically insisting that it just ain’t so.

    Redoak, might be worth trying. Does anyone want to take charge of making the arrangements?

    Dewey, makes perfect sense to me, but as it happens, yes, I’ve seen a few angels. (I was in a very strange state of consciousness at the time, due to some rather intense magical work, but the experience was pretty distinctive.) I have, however, also seen cats.

    Shane, they’re the guys to ask, then, because they know the system: any candidate for membership must be recommended by two other members; the application is read in a regular meeting, and any member who has serious doubts about the candidate can voice them; the candidate is then interviewed by a committee of three members, who are appointed by the presiding officer and cannot be friends of the candidate; the committee then reports at another regular meeting, and there’s a secret ballot, white balls elect, black balls reject, one black ball is enough to scuttle the application; once you join, you read and sign the bylaws, and if you violate them or fail to pay your dues, out you go. That’s the way every gentlemen’s club, every ladies’ club, every fraternal organization, et al. used to do things, and it works very well. For that matter, I’d be willing to bet that in their original forms, the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis used this method.

    (It occurs to me that I may want to do a series of posts in the near future about starting and running voluntary organizations, as there’s a crying need for same right now. Hmm…)

    Lydia, fair enough.

    Tripp, delighted to hear it. Reincarnation really does make enormous sense of the world — and of course the fact that there’s a pretty fair body of evidence supporting it doesn’t hurt. As for the great mistake of the Abrahamic traditions, exactly: ramming an arbitrary moral code down people’s throats Never. Does. Any. Good. That’s a classic sign that you’re looking at the love of power, rather than the power of love.

    Peter, fair enough! Let’s plan on it, and see what happens. Are you sure Mr. Curwen can’t be talked into joining us? 😉

    Booklover, thank you for this.

    Xabier, exactly. Thank you for getting it. I find Stoicism enormously helpful; it informs my ethical thinking more than does any other body of thought; it’s what I aspire to live up to in ethical terms…but it’s not a religion. It doesn’t pretend to be a religion. There’s a difference, a vast and sweeping difference, between these!

    Matthias, yes, Lewis was extremely knowledgeable on the subject of classical philosophy. One of the reasons I enjoy and admire Till We Have Faces is that it’s so good at catching the intellectual atmosphere of antiquity. Many classical philosophers had a skeptical or outright hostile attitude toward traditional Greek religion. As for Christianity, sure, but Christian doctrine and practice diverged from those sources just shy of two thousand years ago…

    Varun, in fact, that’s hardwired into the structure of polytheism. Each god or goddess expresses a particular facet of divinity, which equates to a particular kind of human excellence. A war god teaches the virtues of courage and self-mastery; if you want other virtues, you go to a different deity!

    NemoNascitur, er, I think you have me confused with somebody else. I’ve never said that I believe that we can build a better society or stop climate change from happening — quite the contrary, in fact. Mind you, I also consider current notions about evolutionary psychology to be a quaint set of superstitious beliefs based on a massive misunderstanding of evolution and ecology — the notion that human beings are hardwired to maximize consumption, for example, flies in the face of a vast amount of evidence, and is best described as a feeble excuse on the part of a privileged class trying to argue away its own embarrassment at its mindless extravagance — but that’s something I’ve discussed at great length already, you know.

  196. @Robert Matthieson and @JMG – it may well be that Gardner was an old kink who liked to be whipped by young woman. That’s certainly a revelatory comment from his wife!

    What is wrong with this, you ask? Well, nothing; and I agree with you that a new religious movement which is also sensual, perhaps also involves ‘fetishes’ and challenges conventional sexuality can be a good thing, and Wicca certainly does that.

    I am surprised to hear of covens in which members are ‘required’ to have sex with others – that is very much taboo over this side of the pond, so I assume this is an American phenomenon. If so, perhaps it lends weight to the possibility that the over-sexualisation of Wicca is indeed a US phenomenon. Liberal America is doubtless more sexually liberated than much of Britain even now, for better or worse.

    But my gander was originally raised by JMG stating that Wicca began as:

    ‘a fetish club. I mean that quite literally. Wicca started out as a standard sex cult with a sideline in flogging.’

    This is quite a different thing from describing Wicca as a new religion which involved, say, flogging and ‘fetish’ sexuality. The case being made here is that the religious aspect of Wicca was essentially a cover for the sex games, and that’s the notion I am questioning. Whether Garder liked being flogged or not is actually a side issue. A religion which involves sex, and a sex club disguised as a religion, are two very different things. Perhaps JMG’s new book will substantiate his claim that Wicca began as the latter.

  197. @Dewey – there’s no gender quota in Wicca. The polarity is repsented by the coven leaders, the High Priest and High Priestess. The other coven members can be any number of people from any gender, with any sexuality. Otherwise, as you say, things would start to get unworkable …

  198. @Oilman

    I thought we were talking about sex abuse by religious leaders. How did you just pull that rant from there? At this point, you are just trolling.

    Of course there are gaps in our theology, – the Divine does not fit in a mere human mind and every doctrine out there has gaps, – and of course the community that practices that doctrine is flawed in many other was, – every community of human beings is. So what?

    So, before the gathering of the Green Wizards, I demand you to take your Catholic bashing elsewhere. And if you know of any specific evil that a specific member of the clergy has commited, please contact the appropriate law enforcement authorities.

  199. Isabel: Very well put! Of course, that particular “Geek Social Fallacy” points to something that I think is too often glossed over in contemporary discussions: the fact that the importance of ethical consent was not really emphasized in the early years of the sexual revolution. From what I can tell, during the 70s and 80s people didn’t really view relationships between adults and very young teenagers as predatory in the way that we do now. They were seen as slightly sleazy, perhaps a bit exploitative, but not really deviant, whereas now we tend to class them in the same category as out-and-out pedophilia because of our increased attentiveness to questions of who is and is not mentally competent to consent.

    I think the backlash against older repressive views of sexuality swung the popular imagination too far to the other pole, and the conception of sexual expression as something inherently life-affirming, liberating, and healthy blinded people to its potential downsides. The more recent emphasis on consent is an attempt to correct for this and curb some of the excesses of the turn toward sexual liberation. I wish that more people on the lefty side of things would acknowledge this more directly as they push for this correction; there seems to be a certain reluctance to admit that the sexual revolution could have erred in any way besides not going for enough. Most likely due to the hold the myth of progress has on American politics in general.

  200. Thanks for your reply, JMG.

    My use of the term ‘shamanism’ is imprecise, as I admit have a vague understanding of it. I guess I mainly meant a certain predilection for trance work / astral travel. I wasn’t particular impressed by some ceremonies I have seen filmed, which appeared to me as native american practices in druidical garb. I understand that most if not all the original practices of the Indo-Europeans are lost forever, but that felt a bit too much like cultural theft.

    I read a long post on the OBOD website on ‘celtic shamanism’ (, so I wondered where you placed it on the mesopagan – neopagan axis.

    I would still welcome your thoughts on shamanism more in general, and why it’s not your cup of tea (or other herbal beverage). Consider it a vote for a future fifth Wednsday post! 🙂

    @Bogatyr – thanks for the link to the trailer. YouTube alongside Khadak suggested ‘The Cave of the Yellow Dog’, on Mongolian nomads’ shamanism and reincarnation. I’ll see if I can locate these films.

  201. @onething: I tend to agree re: post-pubescent teenagers (though I would say that boys don’t start looking anything like adult men to adult women, on average, until eighteen and often later*). Actually acting on the attraction, given how maturity works these days, is morally somewhere between a really bad idea (mid-twenties person with no real authority, assertive mid-teenager) and actively predatory (large age gaps, any sort of teacher/parent/etc relationship), but merely feeling it is just another fact of life. (Note: I do not endorse sex with teenagers, if only because I remember my own adolescence and my parents worked at boarding schools for most of my life and so I can state accurately that teenagers tend to be dirt-stupid and not very discreet.)

    @Fred: Likewise well-said. I think there’s a tendency on both sides to attach too much importance to sex qua sex: the right sees it as either a weird taboo or only for reproduction, and the left tends to get all jazz-hands about it as, as you say, some kind of liberating and life-affirming force. In truth, I’d say that (absent personal/societal/circumstantial context), it’s just another activity: having or not having it, in any particular circumstances, doesn’t say anything more about you than playing the piano or baking a cake, and nobody has any more right to demand it (or bother people about it) than they do the above.

    @Robert Mathiesen: True–and I like Jefferson Airplane and all that, myself. And while the SCA isn’t my thing (I do not camp; people have tried to convince me that Pennsic is not camping; when they get flush toilets, I might listen to further arguments), I do think it and some of the other activities that came out of that place and time have value in themselves, and have benefited other people I know. It’s just…critical thinking, sixties people. Geez.

    Also yes re: community. I’ve considered either roommates or communal housing at times, and always come down on the side of “only if we institute corporal punishment for not taking the garbage out”. Because I’ve *had* a number of roommates, in my youth, and…nope.

    @Tripp and Peter: Thank you very much! I’d also be glad to join a PVD meetup.

    In re: Wicca and Gardner: I haven’t identified as Wiccan in some years, but when I did, I think I would have been *more* comfortable with the idea of it starting as a sex cult and lucking into cosmic truths. (I do frequently tell friends that a great deal of what I believe dates back to “mostly British dudes trying to get laid at the turn of the century,” as a rule.) It’s a nice antidote to the treacly “Ancient Ways and Burning Times” stuff that seems to be one of the major alternatives here in the US, and I can’t really stand treacly religious views. (Ironically, I could eat actual treacle all day.)

    * There are rare exceptions (I spent a friend’s wedding hearing “Mrs. Robinson” a lot and protesting that dude looked at least thirty in a suit) but I can’t imagine sleeping with a freshman boy when I was even a senior in college, let alone later: no ethical exceptions, but their faces really hadn’t fully formed yet, for the most part, and many of them were still dealing with veeeery teenage skin, if you know what I mean, and I mean Zit City.

  202. Hermes wrote:

    “A religion which involves sex, and a sex club disguised as a religion, are two very different things.”

    It is on this very point that I challenge you head-on. I do insist that these two things are NOT “two very different things.” And the same goes for any other area of life in which some activity can lead to either ecstasy or any other altered state of consciousness.

    There can be ethical concerns involving consent and some other matters, but it really doesn’t matter whether a religion starts out as a sincere spiritual quest or a “mask” or even a predatory con. From any of these beginnings a religion worthy of the utmost respect can emerge. It all depends on the participants and what they make of it.

  203. @Hermes: “in Wicca… [t]he other coven members can be any number of people from any gender, with any sexuality.”

    Now, certainly. What I was complaining about was the mid-twentieth-century, allegedly traditional Sybil Leek witchcraft, in which ritual activities were to be limited to a small number of male-female pairs and all participants were to be heterosexual, according to Leek not just because Teh Gay was icky but because including gays would muck up the all-important sexual polarity. I do not recall if anyone was expected to perform physically, other than a pair celebrating the “Great Rite”, but clearly they were expected to be contributing sexual energy to the circle. For me, sexuality is neither a primary general motivator nor especially tied to spirituality, so a religion that demands one be able to generate sexual energy at specified times and in the direction of other participants seems to me to fit the definition of a “sex cult.” I think it’s a very good thing that modern Wicca has evolved beyond that.

  204. @ CR Patino…

    I have done so in my past – taken the issue to local law enforcement. There were 7 separate accusers who provided testimony. There was a settlement and NDA regarding the settlement. Nobody is allowed to talk about what happened.

    As I said, it is much bigger than Catholicism, yet Catholicism seems to be in the news WRT this type of thing several times each year.

    I am a very consistent anti-pedophile, and believe it something irredeemable and extremely harmful. From clergy of ANY faith, it is more so, and youth leaders as well.

  205. @Dewey – I don’t believe Leek was ever initiated into Gardner’s religion, though I may be wrong. In any case, her influence was fairly brief, and it was many decades back. I’d suggest looking in to the history of Wicca and its rituals, before coming to these conclusions or taking JMG’s word for it.

    @Robert – we shall agree to disagree, then. It matters very much, in my view, wheteher a religion begins as a result of a sincere quest coupled with genuine knowledge and insight, or whether it begins by accident as a result of trying to get laid.

    My harping on this matter is, as I suggested to JMG above, doubtless at least partly due to the fact that I am a British practitioner of Gardnerian Wicca. Wicca was, and is, an initiatory mystery religion, in which adepts are trained through a coven structure. Since its arrival in the US in the 70s, this brand of original – or some would say, ahem, real – Wicca has been subsumed by a far more individualist, anything-goes, New Age variant, in which anyone can pick up a book, buy a few crystals and call themselves ‘Wiccans’. To see the original religion then painted (by a Druid, no less) as an accidental result of a kinky English sex cult is liable to make even the most mild-mannered witch on these shores experience a case of ani-Americanism 🙂 Nobody wants that, I’m sure. But really, there’s only so much an imperial subject can take.

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