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Wicca Lies (part 3): Hierarchy

Whenever Witches want to prove that modern Witchcraft is not a cult, their trump card is always that there's no central leadership that can tell everybody what they have to do and what they have to believe. And just as when they say that Wicca is a law-abiding religion, and when they say that Wicca doesn't proselytize, they're full of it about this, too. I'm not saying that Witchcraft is a cult, but this particular claim is so much hot air. However, in all fairness, probably 99% of them don't know exactly how their centralized leadership system actually works. They think that they have full freedom of conscience and full freedom of action, just the way Southern Baptists do. However, cross the central leadership, and you find out just how little freedom there is left in the various denominations of Wicca ... just as you do, these days, in the Southern Baptists.

There are famously three main "denominations" of Witchcraft, that call themselves Wicca. Gardnerian Witchcraft (and its imitators) is the oldest. To oversimplify the other two slightly, Neopagan Witchcraft is the hippy science fiction eco-whatever version of Witchcraft, that borrowed as much from popular fiction as it did from Gardner. Diannic Witchcraft originally grew out of the feminist Consciousness Raising movement, and acquired the trappings of Wicca when they became available. Now, I bring this up here because when it comes to Gardnerian-style Wicca, the leadership issue is trivially disposed of -- Gardnerians don't claim that they don't have leadership. Since one of Gardner's Laws was that "Only a witch can make a witch," genuine Gardnerians can trace their lineage through initiation all the way back to Gardner. Now in theory once you've separated from your initiating coven and started a coven of your own, you're fully independent. But in practice, there's no way that nearly all Gardnerian-style Witches don't look up to their first priest or priestess, and even more so to the elders beyond them. What that really means is that in any country, a tiny handful of Gardnerian Witches have tremendous influence over what all Gardnerians do and say, especially what they do and say in public. Once they agree on something, it really only takes a few phone calls to reach the hyper-connectors, and from there word just oh-so-casually trickles down. At no point is anything phrased as an order. At very few points will the mid level people admit that they're passing on word that they heard from above them. No, the whole thing works by chains of respect for your spiritual elders ... but the result is exactly as if they had a rule that the small inner corps of highest elders was infallible when speaking ex-cathedra on matters of faith and doctrine. Actually, it's more so -- there are probably a higher percentage of openly dissident Catholics than there are dissident Gardnerians.

The other two denominations, on the other hand, have egalitarianism as one of their founding principles. No Neopagan or Diannic acknowledges that any other Neopagan or Diannic Witch has any rank, is in any position to give them orders. This, in particular, is the BS that I'm calling them on, because frankly, in these two denominations the actual power is concentrated even more densely than it is in Gardnerianism. There really are a tiny handful of people at the top of the combined denominations of Neopaganism and Diannic Witchcraft, and they pretty much always get their way. So far as I know, all of them could comfortably ride in the same sedan: Selena Fox, Pete Pathfinder, Starhawk, Z Budapest, and Morning Glory Ravenheart. Isaac Bonewits may still be a member of that inner circle, or he may have retired by now; he's had health issues. I suspect that Judy Harrow and Don Frew think that they have some say over what the inner circle says, but I'm pretty sure that they don't, and I know that they hew to the official line in public once the decision has been made. These are all people who know each other from way back, and when one or more of them feels a need to set policy on a national issue, it should not surprise you that they all talk about it on the phone. Thereafter, they all speak with one voice. And what few Diannics and only a minority of Neopagans know is that virtually every local elder, virtually every publishing house, virtually every festival organizer gets their marching orders from that tiny handful of people. Again, just as with the Gardnerians, very seldom is anything ever phrased as an out-right command, and those who are passing along the consensus decisions of those five people never say that they're acting under orders, that anybody told them what to think and say. But get out of line, and you'll find out just how centralized the control really is. I know. It happened to me.

Let me give you my example, but first some background. Some of you are too young to really remember the Satanic Ritual Abuse moral panic, but it started with a hoax in which a mentally ill woman claimed to remember, under hypnosis, that she had been sexually abused as a child by an entire coven of Satanic witches. Under further hypnosis, she "remembered" that nobody could stop them, because this coven was part of a nation-wide, probably even world-wide conspiracy: all of the police chiefs and judges and politicians were either in on it, or under orders from people who were. Her quack therapist published these bogus memories in a conspiracy theory called Michelle Remembers in 1981. By 1983, other therapists dealing with suspected victims of childhood sexual abuse had been questioning their patients under hypnosis, in effect asking them while in trance if specific incidents from the book had also happened to them; it should not surprise anybody who actually understands hypnosis that these women came out from under their trance convinced that they, too had been sodomized and tortured by a world-wide conspiracy of Satanic witches when they were children. So, armed with these accounts, child protective services members went looking for children who could, under coercive questioning, be made to testify that they were being molested and tortured by Satanic witches, and found a bunch of them in preschools in various places around America. Then Geraldo Rivera jumped in, and dedicated almost three months' worth of TV shows and specials in late 1988 to "Exposing Satan's Underground," and now a full fledged moral panic was in sway. Cops and social workers and judges and reporters were searching everywhere to try to find this awful conspiracy, root it out, and punish it.

As early as 1983, before most people had even heard of Satanic Ritual Abuse, I had looked into the evidence for it. (I'm a conspiracy theory collector.) When I did, I quickly found out that unless you accept testimony given after guided hypnosis, there really wasn't any evidence at all. By comparison to so-called Satanic Ritual Abuse "survivors," so-called "UFO abductees" had better evidence and more plausible stories. What's more, by 1986 it was painfully obvious to anybody who even looked into this (for example, oh, the FBI) that when anybody checked to see if their was any evidence for these people's stories, they inevitably turned up rock solid physical evidence that their stories couldn't be true: buildings they described didn't exist, people they accused either didn't exist or weren't even in the same state at the time, events described violated basic laws of physics, and so on. That's why as early as late 1985 I had concluded that there simply was no such thing as a Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy. I was vindicated in 1989 when the FBI's own Supervisory Special Agent in charge of nationwide investigations of crimes against children, Ken Lanning, issued his famous "Lanning Report." After visiting the so-called crime scenes and interviewing the so-called victims, he also concluded that there simply was no such thing, and put it in writing, and released it for publication. Sean Carlson and the rest of the Committee for the Scientific Evaluation of claims of Religion (CSER) put out a book on the subject themselves also in 1989, Satanism in America: How the Devil Got Much More than His Due. Don Frew, past president of Covenant of the Goddess, the single largest ordaining body for Neopagan clergy in America, contributed to that book. But for all the impact that we had within the Wiccan community, we were pissing in the wind. Outside the Wiccan community, we had successfully planted the seeds of doubt. Reporters and courts and law enforcement began looking more critically at these accounts, and thanks to our efforts by early 1991 the scare was pretty much over.

However, every step of the way those of us trying to debunk this fallacy were fought tooth and nail by pretty much the entire Wiccan religion, from the very top to the very bottom. Our media campaigns, fund raising, and volunteer efforts were opposed, undermined and sabotaged at every step of the way, from one side of the country to another. Still, we fought on, stuck to our guns. But at every step of the way, everybody who came up to us said the very same things, in almost exactly the same words. "All of these women can't be lying, it doesn't if they are lying because society is going to kill every Satanist in America any day now, the Satanists brought this on themselves because whether or not they're guilty of this crime they're all bad people, and if you don't stop standing up for people accused of being Satanic Ritual Abusers then when they come to kill all the Satanists then every single Witch in America will die, and it'll be your fault for confusing the two in people's minds!" But since the evidence was on our side, and by that time the FBI was on our side, a few others and I saw no reason to change our story, despite a thorough and ongoing whispering campaign to demonize us personally within the Wiccan community. And that's when I got the phone call.

I've don't personally know Pete Pathfinder, of Aquarian Tabernacle Church up in Washington (state). I couldn't pull him out of a police lineup. We've never met. For all that we were both Neopagans, his part of the tradition branched off from my initiatory tradition long, long ago, long before I came in. The total impact that Pete Pathfinder had ever had on my life, the extent of our association up to that point, was that at one point I subscribed to his technical journal for magick-workers for a year or two. I wouldn't have been able to pull him out of a police lineup, and he didn't know me from Adam's off ox. That didn't stop him from calling me one night and chewing me out in no uncertain terms. (My phone number wasn't so hard to find.) He told me that the elders of the community had talked to each other on the phone about this long ago, and decided what the public line was going to be. He told me, word for word, what everybody had been telling me for over a year now, and told me that "all of the leaders of the Pagan community" were speaking with one voice on this issue. (I cited Don Frew, and he was dismissive, saying that he had no followers, so nobody cared what he thought. See what they think of you, Don?) I tired to lay out my factual case and was interrupted in mid-sentence. At that point, he stopped trying to phrase things as persuasion, and flatly told me that this was an order. People much higher than me had decided what was going to have to happen in order to save hundred of thousands of Wiccan lives, and I had three choices: comply, shut up, or have "the whole religion" turned against me. I told him that Neopagan Witchcraft was non-hierarchical, that he had no such authority to issue such an order to me or to anyone else. He told me I'd see. And I saw, all right. The order was given, and except among my personal friends, I was radioactive.

Christians who still follow the true gospel will recognize this campaign, because one just like it has been used against them for 40 years. The names change, the issues change, but the tactics of suppression are exactly the same. Officially, every Baptist church is independent of the others, has full freedom of conscience and autonomy, and every believer has a personal priesthood to decide moral and theological issues for themselves. In practice, a tiny handful of respected opinion leaders need only make a few phone calls, to people who never let on that they're acting under orders but who thereafter conform their public opinions to the orders they were given, and soon while everybody thinks that they made up their own mind, "everybody knows" what the central core leadership decided they would know. And Witchcraft is no different.

(Next: Why there aren't any classes after Wicca 101.)



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 16th, 2004 03:56 am (UTC)
Now, I don't know for sure but...can this really be applied to those who are solitaires? I don't know that many Wiccans, I have to admit, despite being referred to as one myself by numerous people who don't know any better. Would you say that perhaps the American "Wiccans" suffer more from this than those from other countries? Just a question - I like reading your stuff and you always seem happy to answer stuff :)
Dec. 16th, 2004 04:02 am (UTC)
Solitairies get their ideas of what to believe and do from books that come from, by and large, only two publishers, Llewellyn and Weiser, and at festivals (or from people who learned them at festivals) that are run by a very tiny number of organizations, and everybody involved knows where their bread is buttered.
Dec. 16th, 2004 08:56 am (UTC)
Hmmm. The first two articles I could see, but this one I just don't buy. I mean, yeah if you're lineaged in any way, you'd have that affect your religion. But I don't think you can lump all solitary Neo-Pagans or even Wiccans into the same group as those with an up-line.

Take my example. I am a solitary Pagan and have always been. Yeah, I've known other Pagans and Wiccans and chatted or circled with them occasionally, but I've never had a coven initiation nor gone through any classes. I've never been to a Pagan festival (well, one private one). I've read many of the books, and can see how they might affect me, but so can anything else that I'm exposed to in society. I watch TV too, does that mean that my path is beholden to The Simpsons? In fact, I started out more Wiccan in my practice because that's what I first found in my reading. I admit is was an influence. But eventually I branched out.

And, being a published author, I certainly know what side my bread is buttered on... MINE! No one told me what to write. And my publisher is large and mainstream... with a small metaphysical division. My editor didn't have any feedback on content except, "can you add about 30 pages?"

I'm certainly not Wiccan and make no claim to be, but maybe you would define someone like me as not a real Pagan either? I'm confused at how I've been so influenced by individuals and groups that I've nothing to do with and, in some cases, haven't heard of.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 16th, 2004 10:25 am (UTC)
I'm Venecia Rauls, author of The Second Circle: Tools for the Advancing Pagan. It was brought out by Kensington's Citadel press this past April.

I'm curious about the Pagan writer list. Can you give me more information?

(Oh, and I'm particularly interested in Brad's next section -- on the lack of advanced material.)
Dec. 16th, 2004 04:42 am (UTC)

Awaiting the next installment with bated breath.
Dec. 16th, 2004 06:20 am (UTC)
I wonder if Wicca is really as monolithic in its leadership as you say? I was not Llewellyn-taught, and was well into my own training before I'd even heard of the BNPs you speak of.

I've seen the telephone used in gossip and defamation campaigns in my community- and a would-be Pagan Pope was devastatingly effective in using the phone and emails to run people off whom he considered threats to his fiefdom. I was one of them, but I was the only one who stood up to him, and made him reveal his true colors. Today, he is radioactive, and I am respected for my 'strength and courage and true leadership' (to quote a colleague). She desperately wants me to return to the community that I left in disgust. But I quietly left it, and will not return. I take no orders from any 'core leadership', and am not in communication with anyone who would be considered 'core'. And oddly enough, even when I was heavily active in the community, no one of any consequnce in the mainstream 'leadership' ever called me.

Well, except once- 18 years ago. The only time I ever got a call from anyone that could be considered a 'leader' in Witchcraft/Wicca was when a Stars and Stripes story featuring me broke on the AP wires in '87. Selena Fox and Margot Adler managed to find my home phone number...in Germany, and called to congratulate and encourage me in my attempt to garner some respect and recognition of Witchcraft as a legitimate faith group. This poking my head out of the broom closet ultimately cost me my career in the USAF, but it did succeed in gaining recognition (and dogtags) and reducing the harassment (a bit) for my fellow military Pagans.

I cannot wait for your next installment. I am very curious about your take on 'advanced' classes. I've offered to conduct them in my community (before I left it), but few, if any took me up on it. So, my advanced teachings are online, on my blog.

Dec. 16th, 2004 07:21 am (UTC)
The articles on wicca seem slightly more acerbic and personal, and more importantly, less well footnoted and linked.

What do you mean you were radioactive? What specific examples can you cite? You mention a whispering campaign, and interference with volunteer and media campaigns, what happened then? You are ussually very good with this kind of factual backup, and I don't want the personal nature of this section to undermine the excellent quality of your work so far.

On the other hand, what I have questions on is just an example used to demonstrate your central point, and that is how centralized authority is in Wicca. You make your point.
Dec. 16th, 2004 08:04 am (UTC)
It sounds like you've been through a lot of grief. I appreciate the investment of energy and effort you've made in laying out your points. I am especially struck by the "informal influence of elders" hypothesis.

I would greatly appreciate additional evidence and examples, particularly of cases where people have been "cut from the herd" by the national organization you cite.

Personally, the majority of pagans I know would laugh in the face of anyone who tells them what to think or how to believe or worship. Many people are attracted to the Craft precisely because of its "roll your own" quality and lack of a centralized authority.

"How can you recognize a god or goddess of the Wiccan faith?"

"The dazed look on their face after being mugged in a theological dark alley."

Thanks again. I appreciate your willingness to kick cows, sacred or otherwise.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 16th, 2004 05:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Ehhhh...
I have certainly seen some of the politics you discuss here, and not just in wiccan groups...but in magic in general. And I see them at the conventions, the ones you mention above, as well.

I've also seen those examples in every day situations unrelated to religion completely. When spirit isn't invoked, it's called politics.

To those proponents who simultaneously deny the existence of heirarchy while being a member of the "ruling class": assign them "Heather" names. Red Heather, Yellow Heather, Green Heather. Use crocquet mallets to drive home the point.
Dec. 16th, 2004 10:05 am (UTC)
Hmm ... putting two and two together (and getting 22) ....

Your example of "Satanic ritual abuse" got me thinking about Wicca and Satanism. Of course, the Official Line on Satanism is that Satan is a Christian deity and Wicca (and other Pagan religions) simply ignore him as irrelevant. Unfortunately, far too many Pagans seem totally unable to say to Satanists "You're just a Christian heretic. Out."

Reason this is relevant is that, when I am talking to Christians about Paganism, eventually they come out with the line "well, as long as you're not *Satanists* ..." Point scored; another Christian for tolerance.

But Satanists will say that all Pagans are "really" Satan worshippers. They also go out of their way to confirm everybody's worst fears about Satanists and Pagans. "Yeah, we eat babies. Yummy!" Point is to be as offensive as possible. The traditional Christian definition of Satanists is as tellers of lies, breakers of oaths, and poisoners of wells. Fits right in.

Now you're saying that the Wiccan Powers that Be got all offended on behalf of (imaginary) Satanists. Interesting ....
Dec. 16th, 2004 01:28 pm (UTC)
Oy! Nowt wrong with Satanists

(That is The Church of Satan (http://www.churchofsatan.com) who are not engaged in the ritual abuse of small children.)
Dec. 16th, 2004 11:21 am (UTC)
I've got a book lying around at home called "America Bewitched" by a self-professed psychic. It details how Satanic cults have infiltrated America and... oh, it's tremendously silly. Creepy, sure, if you accept the idea, but ultimately silly. I'll post more on it once I get home and can look it up.
Dec. 16th, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC)
I think mostely that if you stop agreeing with the people who write books about wicca then you stop being wiccan. I know I did. (When I was young-and-stupid I was angry at my Catholic parents for forcing me to be Catholic and I went searching for truth, I thought I found it in wicca because it was the first non monotheistic Western religeon I happened upon (after I decided that I just couldn't get my head arround Eastern philosophy), I read a few books and for a while I was happy but then I decided that actually I disagreed with these people to and like a sensible person went looking for people I agreed with, I currently identify as a Thelemite, and Thelema is *very* organised, at least in so far as the OTO is concerned).

I'm not sure why such groups claim to have no hireachy as such is an obvious lie, I would always consider someone with more experience to be my superior in any field and I would certainly listen to their opinion and consider it before making up my own mind. The 'unity' of obediance in wicca may stem more from the ease of leaving when you disagree. For instance many Catholics disagree with everything the Pope says and never go to church and yet still put Catholic on the form - because that's how they were brought up. With wicca most wiccans chose the faith - presumably choosing the obey its rule and respect its elders when they did so and are under much less pressure to remain (from family,work collegues etc.) than members of many Christian churches.
Dec. 16th, 2004 01:22 pm (UTC)
Wow, you've crossed into the gun-sights of feminist_rage. The assumption (here) is that your entire handfasting post is based on your homophobia.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 16th, 2004 03:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow...
Silly wenches have limited all posting to their friends' list. I guess it's safer to go off on someone, if you don't accept rebuttal. Cowards.

I should note, here, that the purpose of the community in question is to provide a "safe space", and an outlet for the feelings of frustration and anger that the members may be feeling that they might not otherwise have places to express. That is the only purpose, and the community USED to be open to unscreened comments by non-members, until a rash of people (myself, I must chagrinedly admit, included) made comments that kept the community from being able to provide the environment it intended to.

My reaction is more to the fact that people so often unquestioningly accept the analysis of others and create "echo chamber" effects, drowning out the truth.

I didn't read into Brad's post the way this user did, and I don't agree with her interpretation, and I find the responses to it disturbing (because she provided no link to the subject of her rage, and no one has made the effort, to my knowledge, to check up on it), but I think the mods and members have done their best to allow open discussion without violating the group's charter. They err on the side of caution, but I think, in light of their experiences, this is justified ("wench" in the way you used it being something the groups membership is likely to take offense at, your response provides and example of the necessity of their members-only comment policy).
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 17th, 2004 10:02 am (UTC)
Re: Wow...
I'm aware that "wench" is offensive. I was *being* offensive.

Your awareness or intent wasn't really important to my response. I wasn't making a declarative statement "these people find that offensive", but saying that BECAUSE this is so, your response provided a good example of the sort of thing the group's current posting policy is intended to stop.

"Safe spaces" are important for violence victims to come to terms with their victimization.

Hence the scare quotes, as I was presenting what might not be considered a common or normally acceptable usage of the term, by way of explaining the intentions of the group as I understand them.

"Space spaces" are really not meant to protect people from doing the work that feminism demands of them.

Nor do I think that was the intent of the mods. However, we appear to be in agreement that the current implementation provides for this sort of laziness, and that there may exist a better implementation.

Still, as it doesn't seem to matter to you what the purpose of the group is, only that in this instance it has provided an avenue for weakness, so I suspect that the mods of that community similarly don't care about YOUR chief concern.

Too many "feminists" pretend to stand up for their beliefs, but they only want to do so in a space where no one argues with them or disagrees.

This is a trait common people from most backgrounds, but we seem to agree that it is reprehensible in all of them.

This person could have posted her rebuttal here or to her own livejournal, instead of to a closed community. Instead, she chose a forum where no one would disagree with her. She lacks the courage of her convictions.

That definitely seems like the most likely explanation for the situation, to me, but I lack your conviction that it is THE explanation, and given that even if it is within my abilities to find the truth here, it wouldn't be worth the effort required, I'm willing to let it go at that.
Dec. 16th, 2004 03:25 pm (UTC)
I'm finding all of this fascinating!

I identify as Wicca but I am solitary and always have been. It would seem that I'm not the only one. I became interested while I was studying for an anthropology degree and tend to have a rather accademic approach to it. I doubt that my attitude would go down well in the Wicca community. Many of them seem to be either 'fluffy bunnies' or to use depression as a fashion statement.

About the satanic ritual abuse panic. I'm a counsellor by profession and I was practicing mid way through the 1990s and was horrified at the number of people who I spoke to who were convinced that they were victims of SRA. The 'memories' seemed so real and painful and they were in terrible, genuine distress. They'd all undergone hypnotherapy and had 'retrived' these appalling memories. What they, and many other people don't seem to realise is that people are increadibly suggestible when under hypnosis and it's not difficult to convince people of just about anything. This isn't a fault in the person being hypnotised, it's the way our psychology works. This is why it's so useful in helping people deal with giving up smoking and the like but should never be used to retrieve memories because a couple of leading questions on the part of the hypnotist can create a whole horrifying scenario that feels completely real but in fact never happened. In the hands of someone unscrupulous it can be very dangerous to peoples mental health and in many cases can destroy them.

I'm sorry, I'm ranting here but the practice of 'memory retrival' makes me so angry I want to break things!
Dec. 16th, 2004 04:20 pm (UTC)
interesting stuff and thanks
Wow... I didn't realize you got stung that bad.

It's off topic,and a bit trivial, but is an Erisian a pagan or a fool or what?

There are books... and some 'greater lights', but I don't think either qualify if I read you correctly.

I'm not making fun... I mostly consider myself a neo-pagan/buddhist with a strong leaning towards being a proponent of the Erisian mystique.

Dec. 18th, 2004 01:02 pm (UTC)
Re: interesting stuff and thanks
Many Erisians, myself included, would suggest that "a fool" is probably the correct answer, though many may well go with "what".
Dec. 18th, 2004 01:19 pm (UTC)
Re: interesting stuff and thanks
Additionally, my wife suggests the correct answer to your question is "Sausage."
Dec. 18th, 2004 01:56 pm (UTC)
Re: interesting stuff and thanks
I thought the official Eristic answer was, "Ten tons of flax"?

I don't know. Discordianism is whatever people want to make of it. There's very little there, and intentionally very little of it binding. I have no doubt that there are people for whom it's a valid spiritual practice. There may actually be people for whom it's a meaningful religion, although that stretches my imagination a bit. For most people its a particularly funny way to make some vaguely useful points, metaphorically, that can be helpful on the path to enlightenment. And for some people, it's just an excuse to be an @hole. Your mileage may vary ... and contents may settle during shipping, slightly higher west of the Mississippi, do not remove tag under penalty of law.

(That being said, I did send the necessary paperwork to the California Department of Furniture and Bedding many, many years ago.)
Dec. 18th, 2004 02:47 pm (UTC)
Re: interesting stuff and thanks
Additionally, my wife suggests the correct answer to your question is "Sausage."

The issue is not 'sausage', but whether one uses a bun. fnord
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )