Ick-Factor and Covens
Dear Witchful Thinking,
There have been a lot of complaints in my magical group about one of the members. The man has been sexually harassing and generally creeping out other members, male and female alike. Myself and another leader had a talk with him about his behavior, and we all agreed that unless it changes, he’ll be kicked out.
But in the meantime, how do I deal with the notion of perfect love and perfect trust? We set aside our differences to come together in circle, but some of the members still aren’t comfortable doing certain activities, like sky-clad or energy healing.
So what do I do? I feel like I have to give this man a chance to change his behavior, because that’s only fair, but I feel like I’m sacrificing the quality of our rituals to accommodate some trust issues we have with him. We generally have a very popular annual teach-in on Reiki, but several members have expressed that they would NOT want to share that kind of energy with him.
So do I hold everyone back because of him? Or do I tell him not to attend certain events? Is there another, better solution?
These kinds of questions never have simple answers, nothing is cut and dry. There are both theological and practical implications. Much of how you will respond depends on how the group is run. Obviously a consensus run group would be different than a hierarchy, for example. So forgive me if I refrain from offering you direct advice, but may I offer some of my experience for you to mull about?
First, theology! The idea of Perfect Love and Perfect Trust is an article (heck, it’s a book!) unto itself, but we begin by asking what exactly does it mean? Is it complete and utter openness to everyone anytime anywhere? Or is it given with discretion to certain people at certain times? Is there a give and take relationship to it–that is, does it require something on the part of the other person? Is it a truism or an attitude? I suspect for different people it has different meaning, and it might be an important discussion to have with your magical group.
For me personally, Perfect Love and Perfect Trust is a password to magical working with a group. It means that whatever happens here is done with the intention of love and that everything that happens here is safe. It means that the working is sacred and that I can share as much of myself as I choose. When my group does open circle, we ask if there is Peace on the Circle. This is easily enough given with truth and honesty. Only in coven work do we ask for the password. No one gets into the coven unless we already trust and love them. Does your group have such a firm boundary?
Now, on a practical note: That ick-factor is important to listen to, it is your bodies intuitive attempt to keep you and you group safe. That gut feeling is unspecific, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. I don’t want to scare you, but I want you to be aware: our group had a guy who registered high on the ick-factor. He harassed women a few times and the elders gave him a talking-to about what was appropriate. He hung around and came to some rituals. Ended up in a relationship with a member of our church, abusing her the whole time, and when she ran away, he murdered her. It was horrible. Nobody saw it coming, but everyone talked about how icky he felt energetically. It took a long time for our community to heal from that. Yes. It does happen.
On the other hand, sometimes folks new to the community get the wrong impression. They see folks being friendly (perhaps in a sexy way) and don’t realize that the behavior is in the context of long-standing relationships, history and that Perfect Love we were talking about. The sexual liberation might go a little overboard, and it is up to the community in general to maintain the standards. So folks should be clear and firm in saying no to this person. All communities have rules, and some are more explicit than others. These should be made explicit. You might consider giving him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t mean anything by it, but maybe got a little too excited about all these new and beautiful people and ideas. If that’s the case, then he’ll change his behavior, and hopefully people will come to trust him.
Now the big question: should this guy stay in the group or not. Well, what does the group exist for? Why do people belong to it? I assume it is because they want to grow spiritually. Your group offers certain ways of doing that, which may not be appropriate for all people. The needs of the group generally go before the needs of the individual. What does this individual need? He may need firm boundaries and lessons in how to work in a group. He may need consequences for his actions. All of those you can give him if you choose. And if you can’t give it to him, he may need to look elsewhere for his spiritual growth. That’s ok. And it’s ok if you know it and he doesn’t. A simple “I’m sorry, but we cannot offer you what you need at this time” letter may go a long way. That is still spiritual growth. You can serve everybody’s best interest if spiritual growth is your goal.
Many groups have a built-in safety system by holding an inner and outer circle. Inner circle members build that love and trust, do sky-clad rits and intimate magical workings. Outer circle is for public celebrations, like the Sabbats, and might be seen as both service to the community and a place to get to know people. If an outer-circle doesn’t work for you, consider having a trial period in which the group and the new person try each other out. After you get to know each other, a formal invitation to join is given–or not. If that still smacks of hierarchy, you might just write a firm list of rules and people that violate them receive certain consequences. You do have many possible choices.
These decisions are not easy, but they are an opportunity for your group to grow and bond. Your gut is useful here, and so are organizational rules and the needs of the many. Reach towards your highest selves and you’ll find the answers you need. And rest assured that whatever happens to this guy, he’ll get what he needs at the time–that’s the cosmic way of things.