Greetings to my Neopagan Friends!
I just got back from an incredible week at the Florida Pagan Gathering (hereinafter “FPG”). Keep an eye on my Facebook page, as I will be uploading some awesome pics from the event – including many shots taken with us, Janet Farrar, Gavin Bone, Todd Berntson, Orion Foxwood and others. I actually got to sit around and talk shop with these elders and experts like I was one of them or something – so that’s a win. ;)
I must say I am moved by the close-knit community I see at every festival. Having headlined there several times – as well as at their sister festival Green Song Grove, and even given workshops at the festival when I’m not headlining – I have come to know the board of directors and staff pretty well. In each and every case I have found them to be dedicated and wonderful people, who sacrifice so much of their lives and livelihoods to make these events happen. Many of them have become close friends of my family.
Sadly, not everyone appreciates that sacrifice as much as myself. To be fair, most people honestly do – but you can’t expect to run a festival as large as FPG and not have a few issues. Or that you won’t piss off some people no matter how hard you try.
And that leads me to the subject of this blog post. Sadly, the FPG Beltaine 2014 event had a bit of a dark lining. It wasn’t something that disrupted the festival itself (though, believe me, it tried!), but there was certainly some serious turbulence going on beneath the surface of the festivities.
The Actual Creep – Kenny Klein
It all started with a real piece of shit named Kenny Klein. If you’re active in the Neopagan communities you’ve probably heard of this creep. He was a pagan author and musician, and traveled around the festival circuits. He also apparently had a reputation for crossing boundaries with the ladies. Heartbreakingly, many of his intended targets found that it was pretty damn hard to accuse a “BNP” (Big Name Pagan) of inappropriate action. This isn’t uncommon in any community, I’m afraid. People don’t want to believe that “it could happen here” and they sure as hell don’t want to believe their idols and elders could engage in that kind of behavior. So Klein pretty much got away with his attitudes for quite some time – a problem that really does need to be seriously addressed in our community and all communities everywhere.
So why is this suddenly an issue we’re all addressing? Because Klein got himself arrested for possession of child porn. He got hauled off to the slammer where he belongs, the women he had abused over the years came forward in a wave of “we told you so, you frigging idiots!”, and the entire Neopagan community went haywire. They suddenly realized a predator had been living right in their midst, attending their festivals, spending time with or near their children – you know the kind of moral panic one can expect after news like this breaks. People start to question their safety, which is a good thing to think about. But then they start to get afraid. And when fear sets in…
The Witch Hunt – Gavin and Yvonne Frost
So now the subject of Neopaganism and pedophilia has become a hot topic, and people have begun to cast around for targets to attack. You might think it wouldn’t be hard to find someone. Pagans can get pretty raunchy around the bon fire, especially if the booze has been flowing. Most of the time any play that ensues is consensual. Sometimes – like in the case of Klein and the way he treated women – it’s not. Surely it wouldn’t take much effort to find any number of big horny pagan dudes with a habit of thinking with the wrong head…
And find someone they did! They tracked down an 80 year old man and woman, who had written a book forty years ago (now out of print, mind you!) that contained some objectionable material. And so enters Gavin and Yvonne Frost, and their Good Witch’s Bible (first published in the 1970s).
Without a doubt, that book is the most controversial book ever published on the subject of Wicca. The Frosts make some pretty wild claims about themselves – such as insisting that they brought Wicca to the United States and that their Church and School of Wicca is the oldest organization of its kind. In other words, they claim to be the primary Elders of the entire Neopagan movement in the US. They are also way, waaaaaay into the Great Rite and have published a lot of material about sacred sexuality. They are rather (in)famous for having some shocking ideas about sex and how it should be approached in the Craft.
What actually got them targeted by the post-Klein inquisition was a chapter in the Good Witch’s Bible. The Frosts claimed the material was historical, presenting practices that had been done in the earliest days of the Wiccan religion. It spoke of preparing female initiates for the Great Rite by giving them phalluses to take home and practice with. It suggested that virginal initiates go to a doctor to have their hymen broken, so they would not experience pain during their first ritual intercourse. Shocking – but not evil.
But they also suggest that female initiates could go home and have their father help them use the phallus! Scandalous – and most certainly fodder for Jerry Springer. (For you kids, Springer was a senator with his own television show… oh never mind.) But still not the reason the peasants have stormed the Frost castle. No, here are the lines that have everyone in an uproar:
“The physical attributes of male and female virginity are destroyed at the youngest possible age, either by the mother or by a doctor. In the female case, the hymen is painlessly broken surgically. In the male case, the mother makes absolutely sure that the foreskin can be drawn fully back by cutting the underside attachment membrane.”
And with that, the Frosts declared to the world that early Wicca sought to “destroy” the “attributes of virginity” in initiates at the “youngest possible age.” Thus, you can see how some readers might get the impression this is a description of ritualized pedophilia. It gives the uncomfortable impression that early Covens actually performed these ridiculous acts on little girls 13 or 14 years old!
My opinion, as an author and historian, is that the Frosts are full of shit. I don’t buy for one second that early Wiccans sent home dildos for their female aspirants to use with their fathers. My studies into Neopagan history and practice has shown nothing of the sort, and I don’t think the Frosts could prove these claims with any documentation. Peer review would ask exactly where these practices took place, exactly when, exactly who. It would demand references and documentation. None of these things are found in the Frosts’ account, and I would hazard to say we can dismiss the material as fanciful nonsense.
At the same time, I think those who dislike the Frosts and their work have also jumped to conclusions. The Frosts have never claimed to engage in these practices themselves. And even if they did, they have stated many times that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to join their Church and School of Wicca. In 40 years there has never been a single accusation or complaint that the Frosts have ever harmed a child.
Yet this hasn’t stopped the public from hanging the pedophile label onto the Frosts. That phrase “at the youngest possible age” just sits wrong with people, and I can understand why. Therefore, after Kenny Klein’s head was put in the stocks, the posse headed straight on over to their place. Not only were the Frosts targets themselves, but suddenly any venue that might give them a platform to speak was also considered fair game. Pagan festivals that had the Frosts scheduled were lambasted. They were first accused of “supporting pedophilia”, but this soon turned into accusations of protecting pedophiles on camp sites and even practicing pedophilia themselves!
A full blown Witch Hunt was underway! People who had been brothers and sisters in the Craft for decades were suddenly attacking one another with vile accusations. An atmosphere of “us vs. them” and “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” developed.
To defend the Frosts’ right to publish what they understood to be historical information was equated with supporting pedophilia. In fact, every complaint issued against the Frosts (or anyone defending them) was couched in the unspoken assumption that they are, in fact, practicing pedophiles or at least knowingly advocating it. No one could be bothered to stop and ask if the Frosts really were supporters of sex with little children… :( They just are, so attack! And because they “just are” we must also attack with zeal every person and every Pagan festival that doesn’t agree the Frosts are pedophiles.
And that is when the Florida Pagan Gathering was put in shackles and hauled up before the Grand Wiccan Inquisitors.
Caught in the Middle – Florida Pagan Gathering
FPG was one of the venues that had invited the Frosts to speak this year. Now keep in mind that the Frosts had been to FPG the year before, and it wasn’t a big deal. There were a few who didn’t like them being there, but I never saw a real issue develop over it. I attended their astral travel workshop with my daughter and we really enjoyed it. (In fact it was the very first guided astral trip my girl had ever taken! She was a natural at it, btw.) The workshop was well attended, and I personally found the Frosts – particularly Yvonne – to be very sweet and pleasant folks. I couldn’t see any harm in having them come back the following year as fellow headliners.
But then the Klein debacle went down, and suddenly the Frosts were the harbingers of evil, a cancer upon the community who were being coddled and facilitated by an uncaring FPG board of directors. Or so said a bevy of detractors - many of them long-time FPG attendees and even some staff members. It all began when several of them got together to write a “Joint Resolution” in protest of the Frosts’ invitation to speak at FPG. (You can read it here, scroll to the very bottom of the page.)
Now, to be fair to these guys, that Joint Resolution is pretty tame. It merely states that they believe the Frosts advocate “the sexual initiation of children into the Craft” and that therefore they feel the Frosts should not be allowed to present workshops at FPG. It invited others who agree to sign on. Notice, too, that the resolution doesn’t call for the Frosts to be banned from the festival. It doesn’t accuse the Frosts of any crimes, or of being secret predators. It just states that the Frosts wrote some bizarre and objectionable stuff and the signatories would rather not see them give workshops during the festival.
Of course, I disagree that the Frosts would ever advocate any kind of sexual activity with a child. Just writing about a historical practice does not mean you advocate it. (I write about animal sacrifice in my work. I even defend its practice within the ATR communities. I include a section on the subject when I give classes on magickal offerings. But that doesn’t mean I sacrifice animals myself, nor that I encourage my students to do so.)
And I also disagree that FPG – or any venue – giving an author a platform to speak automatically means they support or advocate every word written by that author. Come on folks, that one is a standard disclaimer in every venue in the history of ever!
So I obviously have some fundamental disagreements with the authors of the resolution. But, still, they have every right to publish that resolution – just as I defend the Frosts’ right to publish the malarkey they did.
However… this is the Internet, and we all know what that means! The resolution quickly attracted the rabid anti-Frost crowd, along with no small number of internet trolls who simply like to stir shit anywhere they find it. Flame wars erupted and all the vile accusations I mentioned above began to be tossed around. FPG had to delete several of the threads that had gone too far, and finally had to shut down comments on their page entirely. The anti-Frost Witch Hunters jumped upon that as “proof” that FPG was protecting and covering up the practice of pedophilia at their festival.
Before it was over, some coward had even contacted the owner of the festival site (which also happens to host children’s’ camps during the summer) and told them that hoards of pedophiles were about to descend on FPG to have their way with any children they could find there – and that the FPG board of directors were pederasts who would facilitate the abuse!!
The result was that FPG was forced to call the Frosts and tell them how bad things had become, and the Frosts agreed to simply stay home. Someone out there was actually willing to harm the camp site to get their way, and even to destroy FPG itself if it was necessary. Meanwhile the Frosts have been dis-invited from several festivals around the nation, and their livelihood has been taken from them. Two old people who never committed a crime, destroyed thanks to one douchebag (Klein) who actually did. This is one of the most vile displays of cowardice I’ve seen in my lifetime.
I’m angry over this issue for two reasons. First, as an author and historian I will defend to the death the First Amendment right of my fellow authors to report history. Even if that history turns out to be bogus – which I think it is in the case of the Frosts – it should be torn apart academically and tossed into the historical rubbish bin. But we can NOT persecute the authors merely for publishing it! If we go down that road, then every occult author in the world is royally screwed. Forty freakin’ years from now I might find myself excommunicated because I once wrote about animal sacrifice, if the Pagan community at that time decides it is not an acceptable practice. And what else will be banned? What other books will we burn? What other authors will we destroy?
Second, I am angry that the anti-Frost trolls who made this mess are so willing to drag the good people at FPG down into the mud with them. They claimed that FPG dismissed them and their concerns, but that isn’t the case at all. FPG disagreed with their assertions about the Frosts – and that made the rabble rousers angry. So they resorted to accusations and attacks, and even called the FPG board a bunch of pederasts. It was simple cyber-bullying and nothing more. I’d take one of the Frosts’ alleged dildos home and use it on myself before I’d tolerate a petty bully. Or a group of them.
The Infamous FPG Round Table
I got involved right around this time. At the festival, the FPG board hosted a round-table discussion. Far from “ignoring” or “covering up” the issue, the board was willing to gather everyone together (face to face, not on a goddam Facebook page) and allow absolutely everyone to have their say. A talking-stick was used to preserve order, and any holder of the stick was given 90 seconds to say anything they wished.
That day I got to hear every author (including Janet and Gavin!) stand and speak in defense of the First Amendment and against the kind of bullying that had taken place. (Except for one, which made little sense to me. I won’t say who it was.) I saw a soldier stand and remind us how he had given up his rights and put his life on the line overseas so we could enjoy the right to publish what we will. I saw a police officer say exactly what he thought of child molesters, but that he would be damned if he’d let a vocal minority dictate what he can and can’t read or who’s workshops he can attend. I saw a fiery druid priestess stand and tear the bullies a new one. And I saw many long-time FPG attendees and staff stand and literally break down in tears over the vile things said against the festival and the board.
I decided to attend that round table for several reasons. First, I had seen this situation grow, and I was pretty disgusted by the Witch Hunt atmosphere that had developed. Second, I was not going to sit silently by without defending my FPG friends – they are damned good people who didn’t deserve to be bullied for issues (Klein, the Frosts) they had nothing to do with in the first place. And third, as an author and headliner at the same festival the Frosts were banned from, I had to stand and speak out for everyone’s right to free speech, including my own.
So I carefully wrote four points I wanted to cover in my minute and a half. When I got ahold of the talking stick, I walked right out out into the middle of the room and really let everyone have it. Here is what I said, nearly verbatim (I am writing this from memory):
My name is Aaron Leitch, I am an occult author. You’ve heard from some very wonderful and kind people here today. I’m not kind. I have four points I’m going to cover here:
Point #1: I have heard a little rumor that the anti-Frost faction in this nonsense has claimed all of the authors here at FPG support them. How dare you? How dare you involve my name in something without consulting with me first?!
Point #2: I am disgusted that a bunch of self-proclaimed “witches” would involve themselves in a Witch Hunt!
Point #3: You cannot provide a single victim of the Frosts. Not a single arrest. Not even a single complaint in 40 years. So you are not protecting children here, you are engaging in book burning and witch hunting and nothing else!
Point #4: For those of you who would engage in lies and slander, who would call these fine people [I gestured toward the board members] pederasts?!? – You are not Pagan, you have no business in this community, and if I had any authority in this matter you would be banned from this festival permanently!
That is all I have to say.
NOTE: I have been asked by several people to clarify point #4 above. Am I suggesting everyone involved with the original Joint Resolution is not a Pagan? No. I defend their right to their opinion and their right to publish that opinion. I admit the original resolution didn’t call for any of the flames or hate or dirty tricks that followed. But – those things followed anyway, and I refuse to accept as “Pagan” anyone who would lower themselves to such tactics. And that includes anyone involved with the original Joint Resolution that has used, and some who continue to use, those methods of getting what they want. That’s not Paganism. It causes harm, and that pretty much breaks the one basic rule we all agree upon, doesn’t it?
So there you have it…
Now you have heard the story of this debacle from an actual FPG insider, rather than from some tabloid-style hit piece posted by someone with half a clue and less brains to back it. I have no doubt whatsoever that this post will result in loud proclamations that I, too, am a lover of little children. And probably that I eat babies and kick puppies, too. But, hey, this is the Internet. You gotta expect the stupid…