Recently pagan spaces have had to deal with leaders and teachers being accused of abusing their power over students and members. Most recently is the accusations against Yeshe Rabbit (Jessica Mathews) of the Come as You Are (CAYA) coven based in the San Francisco Bay area. As a relatively new community, most Pagan groups have never had to deal with such issues and some newcomers are suffering from lack of preparedness. Recognizing abuse in a religious community is sometimes difficult especially when it is not sexually driven. The following is a few warning signs that a leader or teacher might be abusive. If you recognize any of these as occurring to you or someone you know, inform those of higher level within the organization or stop all contact with the leader/teacher.
- Requesting Sexual or Physical Favors– Most of us can identify sexual misconduct in other spaces but in Pagan religions, sex is revered and spoken about freely. If a teacher says you can not continue your journey or studies with them without sexual acts with them or anyone else then that is abuse. If they ask you for sexual favors in lieu of payment for lessons or services then that is also abuse. This goes for demanding you to do physical favors such as clean their home, deliver goods, or anything that could be done by a service outside of a religious capacity. If they threaten to discontinue lessons if you do not perform any superfluous acts then they are abusing their power.
- Belittling or Bullying– Sometimes it is difficult to tell if you are being bullied but easy to see if someone else is the victim so this might be easier to see occurring to group mates. If a teacher is bullying or constantly berating current students, former students, current or former group members or others in the community; especially to elevate their status or to make themselves look better they are being abusive.
- Telling You Who You Can Interact With– Abusive romantic partners will cut their victims off from friends, family, and community and abusive teachers will do the same. If your teacher is demanding you to remove people from your life or telling you not to interact with others in the community they are isolating you. A good teach may help you to see others who are abusive or unsupportive of you in your life but would never demand you to stop spending your time with someone. (With the exception of a teacher witnessing domestic abuse. If you are being physically hurt by someone in your life please call 1−800−799−7233) Furthermore, if a teacher is telling you not to interact with other groups or people in the pagan community they are isolating you from other perspectives.
- Taking Credit for Your Work– Did you write a blog on a subject you and your teacher just went over and they say it was their idea? Did a spell you worked come out great and your teacher said it was due to their influence that it worked. This is also a sign of abuse. If your teacher is taking credit for things you did or saying your work did well due to their blessing they are gaslighting you. They are belittling your power instead of nurturing it.
- Refusing You Continued Education based on Race, Sexual Orientation, Gender, or Reproductive Capability– If a teacher started your education and suddenly tells you certain lessons are not available to you but are to others based on any of the above then that teacher is being abusive. Discriminatory practices such as the above are a form of bullying that is sometimes forgotten.
These are just a few examples of abusive behavior found in recent pagan groups. Do not let teachers or leaders continue to get away with such abuses. Work with your groups and communities to develop strong responses to such allegations and to develop policies that make it very clear abusers are not welcome within the community. If you are or know anyone in a domestic abuse situation or being harmed please go to http://www.thehotline.org/ . If you do not know if a person is in need of help please consult the DASH risk assessment: https://www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk/ .
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