Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Witch Takes Responsibility

There are a number of people who blazed the trail out of the broom closet back in the late fifties/early sixties, long before I'd ever heard of any witch besides the one on The Wizard of Oz, who scared me -- as she was meant to scare little girls considering female power -- shitless. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them, including Yvonne and Gavin Frost. And I'm as disinterested in witch wars and controversy as it's possible to be. Oddly, I've never found that sort of thing to contribute to my growth as a witch, to my connection with Divinity, or to my general well-being.

So it's with a bit of reluctance that I note a grave concern that I have with Gavin and Yvonne Frost's book: Good Witches Fly Smoothly: Surviving Witchcraft. In general, it's an easy read and it contains some advice that I'd just ignore as not relevant to me as well as some generally helpful suggestions. Chas Clifton has a good review of some of the helpful advice offered.

I particularly agree with a point that the Frosts make early in their book, when, via a few entertaining stories, they note that it can often be a mistake to cling:

too tightly to some ancient tome for your circle casting. Just as with other subjects, examine the validity of the information. Would you make a potion by grinding up the magical bugs that appear in horse dung that stays warm and moist? That is the recipe from the widely-acclaimed book The Magus. . . . If you have a new way of doing something that's easier and/or more effective than the "traditional" way generally accepted, you may have to endure the slings and arrows of the traditionalist knee-jerk reactionaries; but you will be doing the whole community a giant favor. . . . [Pagans and Wiccans] are not dinosaurs unable to adapt -- follow your path and grow. Grow and learn. It is a mistake for modern people with modern mindsets to stick with rituals designed by and for people who had less knowledge and a different mindset, people who lived in a different time and place with different perceptions. See Chapter 2.

And, so, it's particularly disconcerting to see the Frosts assert that:

Any initiatory sex should be with a "stranger" -- an initiated Witch of the coven [that] the neophyte plans to join. . . . The underlying tradition here is sometimes overlooked. If the Craft means enough to you that you are willing to abide by its tenets then abide by them! If you cannot transcend your cultural brainwashing and accept the assignment to have sex one time with an assigned partner, in accordance with centuries of Craft tradition, the Craft can't mean that much to you. Here's the door. Don't call yourself a Witch. See Chapter 12.

This is just wrong.

And I need to point out the wrongness so that any young or impressionable people new to Wicca, who may stumble upon the Frosts' work, don't believe what the Frosts say about initiation and sex. The Frosts are, I'm sure, lovely people and have much to offer. And I'll preface my comments by saying that I'm a big believer in sex magic, I do it often and find it effective, and I imagine that, in the right situation, the sort of initiation that they advocate could be quite empowering and effective. But I have never had sex with an "assigned partner" and I think I'm a reasonably devoted and powerful witch. So, sex magic: good, however, also possibly: devastating.

I've no idea how far "back" the notion of initiation into Wicca involving sex with another coven member may or may not go. It's hardly the universal that the Frosts proclaim. Uncle Gerald, may the Goddess hold him in her arms, loved nudity and flagellation, and he swore that they were key elements of ancient witchcraft, going back to the dawn of time. He swore that less than a century ago. How far back before that period initiation into witchcraft may or may not have involved sex with a "stranger" is anyone's guess.

But I can tell you -- without qualification -- that you can certainly adhere to the tenants of Wicca, that you can call yourself a Witch, and that the Craft can mean the world to you even if you never allow someone like Gavin or Yvonne Frost to order you to have sex with some "stranger." What, Solitaries aren't witches?

Especially for women, sex in this society is a loaded proposition, and you can decide never to have sex, never to have hetero sex, never to have sex with anyone but your chosen partner, or to have sex with whomever you -- not some High Priest or Priestess -- like, and you can still be a dedicated, magnificent, initiated, powerful Witch. I would never let anyone tell me that if I decided to control my own sexual behavior, I was therefore the victim of "cultural brainwashing" or that the Craft didn't "mean much" to me, or to suggest to me: "Here's the door. Don't call yourself a Witch."

As the Frosts, themselves, note, It is a mistake for modern people with modern mindsets to stick with rituals designed by and for people who had less knowledge and a different mindset, people who lived in a different time and place with different perceptions. That's as true of rituals designed by and for people who came to Wicca in the 1940s and 1950s as it is of people who wrote Books of Shadows centuries ago. One of the most important things that I ever read about Wicca, and I apologize for forgetting who wrote it, is "A witch takes responsibility." That sentence guides all of my practices within Wicca. Above all, I am responsible for what I do or do not do with my body, which is my only tool for being immanent in this reality. And I will never give that responsibility away to anyone, not even some v eminent witch, or High Priestess, or elder.

Sia, as is often the case, has some simple, common-sense advice about sex and Wicca here.


Celestite said...

Methinks that some of these people had some issues about sex that could have entertained a roomful of behavioral psychologists for a very long time. It is a shame that it got mixed up with Witchcraft.
The personal empowerment of Witchcraft and the idea of trading sex for initiation are such opposing ideas that I just have never understood it.
The only thing that makes sense to me is predators in ritual cloaks, similar to predators in clerical collars.

Mama Kelly said...

I am shocked beyond words. That the importance I have always placed on the sacredness of sex, on the right I have to choose with whom I share my body can be written off as cultural brainwashing or as something that makes me less of a Witch is nothing less than insulting.

Thank you for your post!

Lindsey said...

Phew. I'm glad to see someone take on the hypocritical idea that ritual sex is somehow a mandatory thing for practicing pagans. I feel the same way about drug use--I've read a lot of things that seem to suggest that the only way to expand one's mind is via chemical enhancement. Whatever happened to personal empowerment? Good post!

Thalia Took said...

Wow, there are not enough red flags in the world to put around that passage. That's just plain abuse, with a handful of shame thrown on top of it to keep people quiet. I mean, really, isn't what they're saying is that initiation = rape?

nanoboy said...

That's certainly coercion. I mean, it's essentially telling someone, "You can join our club that you really want to join, but first, have sex with this random person I just picked out for you." Totally not cool. As an outsider (Deist) I don't see too much difference between that practice and some of the crap the FLDS pulls. Well, it's less permanent, I suppose, but sex with strangers is risky to begin with.

Also, consider what goes into how we choose our mates, be them permanent or fleeting. We have evolved to find certain aspects attractive, and that manifests itself in different ways for different people. One important way that women select their preferred mates, for example, is by smelling (usually subconsciously) his sweat. In general, the more his immune system is like hers, the less she finds the scent attractive. It's a means of avoiding incest. These cues and instincts are tragically bypassed by this practice of a coerced hook-up. Pretty creepy.

I do like how modern pagans view human sexuality as a more positive thing than most other religions. Some of the more socially progressive Christians, Jews, etc. are trying to adopt those views, as well. I'm glad they are, but I suspect they'll always fall behind the pagans in that respect.

clymela said...

Oh! thank you for this offering. As a woman who had to overcome many sexual wounds I could never use sex in the way these people describe. I also know and have known that my power and holiness is there in my sexual response. Thank you so much.

D-I-L said...

Except for my conversations with M-I-L, I know very little about Wicca or witchcraft. However, I am extremely troubled that this is the same practice/argument used by very violent gangs when initiating female members into the gang. Seems an practice/argument used for oppression and subjugation as opposed to a practice/argument to encourage enlightenment and empowerment.

Anne Johnson said...

Excellent post. The kind of sex the Frosts advocate means that no one under the age of 18 could legally become a Wiccan. And this would be one religious freedom issue I wouldnt want to argue in front of the Supreme Court.

mdh said...

Anyone who says "my cultural brainwashing is better than the one you grew up with" is suspect.

If that brainwashing is sexual, my 'predator' lights start flashing.

Jennifer said...

I don't know what to make of these people any more. I've read some good stuff of theirs, and then they say stuff like THIS and it makes everything they ever said that I liked suspect.

I suppose I should throw their book out?

Anonymous said...

Sooo... Let me get this straight. If I refuse to perform one of the most intimate acts known to mankind with a total stranger, I am not a witch?
I have just lost what little respect I had for the Frosts.