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Editorial: Fuck the “Good People”

“Step foward: we hear
That you are a good man.

Hunting through the alleys of Seattle as a poor Pagan punk was actually a lot of fun. The stuff you’d find discarded behind old buildings, next to dumpsters and shoved into crates or boxes was pretty amazing. Candelabra, fully-functional computers, arcane looking chandeliers and mirrors, massive glazed garden pots, high-backed Victorian chairs: there was rarely ever a reason to buy anything when you could construct an entire world from salvage.

After only a year, we had a pretty amazing witch house going.

One day while alley-shopping, I found a half-burned book. Thick, paper-back, old-looking, its pages bloated from an earlier rain. The scorch marks intrigued me immediately. I turned it over, read the title, and put it in my backpack. It was on witchcraft. It had scorch marks. How fucking punk was that?

I showed my roommates the book as soon as I got  home, and we made up stories for it. A summoning gone wrong, maybe–some demon of fire had lept from the pages with infernal glee and was now running amok through the gay district of Seattle. Or maybe some parent had found it in their child’s room and tried to go all Gestapo on it. Or maybe the book had survived a house fire, the last remaining thing in an entire life smoldered to ruins, its enchanted pages proof against the licking flames.

We flipped through the book, found the place where it seemed the fire had started. We read a bit of it aloud to each other. And then we all got really nauseated and threw it in the recycling bin.

Thing is, maybe the original owner had had the right idea, trying to torch that shit.

“You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.

You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?

I tried to put that book out of mind pretty quickly, but it wasn’t easy. I’d been calling myself a “Pagan” for years by then, but I was always a little self-conscious when people would ask me what that meant. I and my roommates threw massive Beltane and Samhain parties in our house, sometimes topping 100 people, sometimes ending in orgies. We’d light candles everywhere, I’d set up little altars on cinder blocks with mirrors and random statues and bits of nature, fill our house with incense, put out milk for faeries and hang pretty bits of glass from the branches of a rescued Elder tree. But when someone would ask me what I meant when I said I was Pagan, I’d freeze up.

“Are you Wiccan?” some would ask. I’d usually answer, “not that I know of” and leave it at that, at least until I saw that book.  After reading the descriptions of sex with children, I was really fucking certain I wanted nothing to do with Wicca.

The book was The Witch’s Bible, by Gavin and Yvonne Frost. Gavin Frost just died a few days ago, and the Pagan parts of the internet are full of obituaries remembering Gavin as a ‘good man.’ A little ‘controversial,’ perhaps, a little misunderstood.’

But he was a good man.

Here’s part of the text from The Witch’s Bible that some find a little ‘controversial’ or think others have ‘misunderstood.’ It’s also the part of the book I’d found that had been burnt, in which the initiation of children just after puberty (or, in the book’s terms, “When a child develops to a stage where the physical attributes of reproduction are present”) is prescribed. These are the instructions to a young girl, to prepare her for her initiation:

“You have been entrusted with two phali; these are in your care until your initiation. We would like you to be initiated at the next coven meeting, which will take place on …. This means that, excluding your menstruation time, you have three weeks to prepare your muscles for introitus. Your father or your sponsor will help you if you have any difficulties or pain. You may have to delay your initiation, but there is plenty of time and no need to hurry. These are important development phases. Relax and take your time. You have no hymen; there is no restriction except the vaginal muscles.

After your evening discussion and meditation, and before you go to bed, take the smaller phallus and smear it with lubricating jelly. Either lie on your back with your knees up and legs slightly apart, or stand up and bend your knees. Spread the lips of the vagina and gently insert the phallus. Remember it must point toward the back, not up inside you. Push the phallus in until the vaginal entrance muscles close around the core. Wear it and the larger phallus in accordance with the following table, except during menstruation.”

You can maybe understand why I soon started answering the question, “Are you Wiccan?” with a loud, agressive, “fuck no.” 

“You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?

When I’d first encountered that book, I knew absolutely that I wanted nothing to do with that sort of ‘witchcraft.’  I kept living my life the way it’d gone, kept being Pagan, kept lighting candles and putting out offerings and throwing parties and doing little bits of found magic. That stuff didn’t change one bit. But I definitely knew I’d never be a Wiccan.

Wiccans may feel a bit put out by this. And they should–there’s plenty about Wicca worth studying, much that has enriched people’s lives. And there are some people who’ve done a lot of work to liberate it from the grip of its patriarchal origins. The point isn’t that Wicca was wrong, but that my first exposure to it was pretty appalling.

It wasn’t for another ten years that I’d look at the bias I’d developed around Wicca, which was also the same time that I re-encoutered that book. Though Gavin Frost certainly didn’t speak for all of Wicca, I unfortunately learned that he had plenty of defenders.

Despite advocating for child sexual-initiation and never fully retracting their initiation ritual, the Frosts continued to teach and present at Pagan festivals throughout the United States. Some demanded organizers of those events disinvite them, but the backlash against those calls was just as fierce as the calls themselves. Established leaders warned it was a ‘witch hunt’ against two misunderstood innocent people . Some suggested they shouldn’t be judged by that work alone, and that their significant contributions to American Witchcraft far outweighed any controversy.

Besides, they were good people.

You hear a lot about good people.  Young men caught raping women behind dumpsters are described as good kids and let off with only three months because of that goodness. Politicians and Pagan leaders with some awful ideas about white supremacy are described as good folks and defended with that goodness against critics. Elders who think trans women are mentally-ill products of the Patriarchy who should be shunned from all women’s spaces are, of course, good people.

“You do not consider personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend
Are you also a good friend of the good people?

I‘ve known plenty of good people. I had a boss who really liked to help the community, donating money to help disadvantaged youth, fed her kids only organic food. She also wouldn’t hire Black people in her restaurant.  I had an uncle who coached soccer and would help my grandparents out whenever they needed anything. He also molested my mother, his own daughter, and several girls in his neighborhood before finally killing himself.

The world is full of good people. Good cops who are kind to their kids and wife who shoot unarmed Black men. Good CEO’s who really care about their employees and poison the earth. Good politicians who donate lots of money to charity while authorizing the bombing of villages.

Paganism is also full of good people. Leaders who are ‘good people’ who will privately belittle and harass women, entire good traditions who cherish family values and want to see Black Americans sent back to Africa and Jews sent to camps. These are all good people, good and loyal friends, dutiful and kind lovers to their mates, kind to animals. Many of them recycle. Many of them pick up litter off the side of the road, donate to good causes, even help Pagans get government recognition and who have built important institutions.

Capitalism is a good system, providing good paying jobs. America’s a good country, working to bring peace and prosperity throughout the world. Soldiers and cops are good people, bankers and politicians are good people.

Fuck good people.

“Hear us then: we know
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall.

Watching the way people rally around Gavin Frost or many of the other leaders and elders, defending them as ‘good people,’ reminds me why so many witches and Pagans I’ve met will never join a tradition. And occasionally I’ll read an elder bemoaning how so many millennials/kids/upstarts/’neopagans’ prefer to be solitary. So few join traditions, so few show up to public rituals, so few join mail-order initiation programs, and most of all, so few seem to care about the authority and wisdom of elders.

It’s funny, though. When people–especially younger Pagans or witches–question the ‘good people’, they’re accused of not knowing what they’re talking about. They’re not in those traditions, they don’t do the events, they don’t read the books. They didn’t get the initiations, didn’t go on the retreats, didn’t buy the t-shirts.

And when more connected Pagans question the “good people,” they’re accused of starting witch hunts. Like when a Black Pagan challenged the Covenant of the Goddess on their ‘all lives matter’ statement. Or when the founder of a Wiccan tradition was arrested for possession of child pornography, and scores came forward with personal stories of his abuse. Or when Cherry Hill Seminary was criticized for featuring an anti-trans teacher. Or when anti-racist Heathens challenged the white nationalist Asatru Folk Assembly.

All these witch hunts….against good people.

But I say there’s too many fucking good people around. Because we know what’s really meant by good people. Calling a racist a good person means you care less about Black people than you do about the racist. Calling an anti-trans elder a good person means you care less about trans women than you do about the way that elder feels. Calling a misogynist a good person means you care less about women than you do about your friendship with that man.

And if this is what being ‘good’ means, I refuse to be good.  And I know I’m hardly alone.  Much of the shake-up in U.S. and U.K. Paganism is because of this.  For too long, good people have decided the narrative, created institutions  and traditions, became the gatekeepers.

People come to Paganism and witchcraft looking for liberation, but who do they meet? Good people. Kind racists. Sweet white supremacists. Folksy gender-essentialists. Gentle old grandfathers advocating child molestation.

The civilized world’s been run by good people for too long. Good people are killing Black men in the streets, poisoning the land, stealing pensions, destroying neighborhoods, raping women, terrorizing immigrants. And there are even more good people defending all of that.

Good people are running our world.

Good people are ruining our world.

Fuck the good people. 

 

“But in consideration of
your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.”

–Bertolt Brecht, “The Interrogation of the Good”

 


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthIs the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals, the author of A Kindness of Ravens, Your Face is a Forest, and the editor of A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are. He writes at PAGANARCH.

He is not a good person.


A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire Is Here looks pretty damn awesome. Get a copy here.

36 Comments »

  1. The Frosts were never part of either Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, and their organisation is not recognised by any legitimate Gardnerian or Alexandrian, nor by most other witches and Wiccans.

    Legitimate Wiccans do not and never have engaged in sexual activities with minors, and consider such actions extremely unethical.

    The Frosts also advocated sexual initiations at every initiation. Legitimate Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccans do not include sexual intercourse as part of the first or second degree initiations, and it is optional at third degree and may be replaced with a symbolic ritual act.

    Inclusive Wicca is a tendency within Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, and we strongly condemn abuse and molestation in all its forms, and seek to firmly establish a consent culture in our covens.

    In my personal opinion, sexual intercourse should not form part of the third degree unless it has been discussed a long time beforehand, and enthusiastic consent (which can be withdrawn at any time) has been established.

    I am very disappointed that several self-styled “elders” of the Pagan community have continued to defend the Frosts and try to excuse or diminish what they did.

    Full statement on the inclusive Wicca website.

    Liked by 6 people

    • A “flagolent” “paedophile?” What, pray tell, is “flagolent?” I’m not even going to ask why you use the 19th century spelling of “pedophile.” And the fact that you heard it one time from someone who claimed to be an “Acolyte who will remain Nameless?” Nice try, troll. .

      Like

  2. This is why I also will NEVER join a tradition. I’ve met these kinds of “good people” in Christian, Hindu, Orisha, Pagan and even Buddhist traditions, and ESPECIALLY in politics. I am not interested in power over groups with all their rules and dogma designed to steal our dynamism away, to section is off into isolation from the less worthy; those who do not have ” the truth” or “the right.” I agree, FUCK THE GOOD PEOPLE.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You realize, of course, that some people will declare you want to kill Wiccans, because of how you’ve quoted Brecht? g

    More serioulsy, though, this: “People come to Paganism and witchcraft looking for liberation, but who do they meet? Good people.” This sums up so much of my experience and why I am very opposed to pagans borrowing (Protestant) Christian models of community, clergy roles, clerical education. People who can offer the keys to liberation–like Jesus, in his own time–are rarely good.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I can’t disagree with anything that you say here. Even in my Alexandrian Tradition, there are things about Alex Sanders that would be considered bad. He would be considered sexual predator. There is no need to try to make elders, or founders of traditions into saints, they were not. Some had serious flaws.

    This may have been true of other religious founders as well, but over time, they have all been made into saints, that were unlikely to have ever been in real life. We should learn from the mistakes in the other religions and not incorporate those mistakes in our own religion.

    I too am a solitary, because I do not handle group politics.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We do not have control over what other people do, even people that belong to the same spiritual stream or tradition that we follow (specially when it is one as autonomous as the Craft). But we can, and certainly should stand up when things like this happen.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The sex abuse thing is a no brainer – but I can’t help thinking you are lumping a lot of things together. It is not ‘good people’ (baddies) who are killing the planet. We are! With our computers…our food systems…our security and welfare systems, our free health systems (in Europe) …all these cherished aspects of modernity…modern dentistry, individualism, cosmopolitanism….all values that run through this post like a stick of brighton rock…and all worthy things worth defending….but they all come at a price. It is not other people…not primarily. It is us.

    Like

  6. Rhyd: One of the problems with our pasts are that – inevitably – they catch up with us. I am glad that the passing of Gavon Frost has been an oppurtunity to peel back and reveal one of American Witchcraft’s darker chapters, and i agree with your rage at how ALL our institutions tolerate what i call ‘this civilized savagery’.

    But – and i am most emphatically not defending abuses in the Craft – the attacks on Elders/leaders in the past of ANY kind unleashed in the wake of Gavon’s passing is simply unfair. I have studied under many ‘name’ Pagans that enriched my journey. Folk who gave freely and unselfishly…and to tar all of them because of some real assholes? Is this where things are now going? Fuck indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Now I feel legitimately guilty for mentioning his death on my personal FB page. Mind you, I have not (and do not) support any of the Frost’s teachings. I felt compelled to mention the passing of an “elder.” Fuck that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rhyd, thank you for this post —
    “…And if this is what being ‘good’ means, I refuse to be good…”
    The true rebels and revolutionaries, those who succeed in changing my ethical borders by their transgressions, who lead me to transgress where I have never transgressed before and thus I grow and those around me are enriched, are moralists as much as any fundamentalist preacher. Their transgression, which becomes their guidance to me, is yelling ‘Here is a behavior more moral than that which is enclosed by your small vision of The Good, and where this will lead us all even before it ceases to be transgressive will be wonderful.’

    Therefore, what terrifies me about the paragraph from the Frost’s writings quoted in your essay is that they were saying, ‘come hither, transgress with us, for this is beautiful’. If I see myself as ‘one who refuses to be good’ then I am calling myself to a very highest moral standard – to be very clear as to why I transgress so as to call out the evil flaw of what is now manifest, to be even more clear about my vision of where I and my beloveds will be living when this seeming moral transgression ceases to be transgressive, and to have a diamond-sharp clarity as to how I transgress, for I neither want to hurt the innocent nor to squander transgression’s power. For like the magician actions the results of moral revolutionary will be bound entirely by this clarity.

    Thus the paragraph horrifies me not because it represents a ‘flaw in an otherwise good person’ but because it shows an essential and catastrophic defect in their endeavor, something evil. I may ‘refuse to be good’ – but I trust with the wisdom to (as you showed when you chucked that book) to refuse in a very good way.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Niall O’Draighnean: Very, very, few of Gerald Gardner’s “Acolytes” are still alive and I rather doubt you’ve met, or heard anything from, any of them. As far as I know there is no evidence whatsoever to support your allegation. Bear in mind that Gardner was the subject of considerable, generally hostile, press scrutiny for much of his life. Even Olive Green, if memory serves, could find nothing worse to say of him than that he was a silly old man with a runny nose. The allegations against Frost have considerable substance because of what he wrote of his own free will. That is why people have taken them seriously for many years. If you have evidence to support your claim against Gardner, feel encouraged to present it. If you have none, then what you’ve written is a disgraceful reflection on you and nothing more.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hmmm.

    It seems pretty clear that people who assault others are a problem. People actively advocating for racism, homophobia, etc. much less advocating for the rape of children, are clearly a problem.

    I am really, really tired of watching the world destroy itself. My heart breaks all over again every time another young white rapist gets reduced jail time while another young black innocent gets gunned down. And yes, I speak out, when I can, and no, I don’t have the wherewithal to be on the front lines, but I’m in the background, tending those who are when they come back wounded, and that’s fair too.

    So yes, I see all those harms, I see what’s wrong with handwaving all these offenses and crimes with “But they’re a Good Person ™”.

    But I’m also tired of watching people reject an entire life’s work and all the resources it represents for others on the basis of a single paragraph that doesn’t agree with the latest activism trends because it was written a generation ago when the attitude recorded was still progressive but the book didn’t get published until much later. (And no, I’m not talking about the Frosts here. I have other examples in mind.) I’m tired of hearing that there are no good books because there are no perfect books, no good Pagan community leaders because we’re still human, no good organizations because there’s no way to get organized without compromising.

    There are some offenses that are clearly deal-breakers that warrant outlawing. No amount of good actually erases the bad – not even weregild paid directly as recompense for the wrong actually erases it.

    But the same excuses get used for everything from “Let’s not put a young adult in prison for raping a toddler” to “Let’s not disown our family members for saying something stupid at Thanksgiving.”

    Rejecting all the “Good People”, means rejecting that whole spectrum, no? More to the point, you seem to be rejecting everyone who gives the people around them the benefit of a doubt because what they know of them personally includes more good than bad.

    The ends are clear, certainly, but the middle is muddy and grey, and always will be. The lines are definitely blurry in the middle, and we have to cope with that. But that means we actually have to cope with it, not just light the whole world on fire for it, or reject everything because stopping to check which “good people” are actually good is too much work.

    Rejecting everything that came before on the grounds that some of it is bad is every bit as intellectually and philosophically lazy as refusing to change one’s values because they worked a generation ago. We have to actually do the work to sift through for what is worth saving and what needs to change.

    We can’t just burn it all down and hope better things will grow from the scorched earth.

    –Ember–

    Liked by 2 people

    • I personally will not deal with folks who justify or wave off nasty behavior because of other good things that someone may have done at some point. Sure, people who perpetrate horrendous acts and ideals out into the world probably have contributed positive things here and there–there is no vacuum–but those genuinely lovely bits do not outweigh the nastiness. I tried to sort of do that dance for awhile, but I can’t reconcile swallowing what I see as a betrayal of ethical behavior/actions because they wrote something nice once or did some nice things.

      To only hope things will get better is to continue to contribute to the apathy that has created the gaping, sucking wound we are now in. It’s not my job to sift through someone else’s filth in hope of finding something non-repugnant–that’s only getting me dirtier and dirtier in unpleasant ways–and it is not my job to try and prove who is a genuine person or not, because that is an ultimate failure. Change only happens when I put in work to actively shift what I put out in the world, instead of trying to get what already exists to limp along.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think we’re looking at opposite proportions here. If a person is mostly nasty with occasional glimmers of non-suck, that’s not the same as if they’re mostly solid with occasional mistakes.

        What I’m objecting to is not differentiating between the two.

        At no point did I suggest that hope alone was sufficient to fix our problems. But neither is it sufficient to say “those people aren’t my problem” as though that makes them disappear from affecting the world, or having legitimate needs from it, both of which, if we are ourselves ethical people, remain relevant to address.

        -E-

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve disowned family members, ended friendships and relationships with people who hated gays, or Blacks, or trans people, or immigrants (they often hate all of them at once, I’ve noticed). Not before challenging them, and then letting them know that I would rather lose them from my life than accept their hatred as a personality quirk.

      I also expect the same of my own friends, my chosen family, and my lovers. If I am awful, I want them to call me out on that shit. They do. That’s part of why I love them so fiercely. And because I love them so fiercely, if they told me what I was doing or saying was so odious that they couldn’t love me anymore, then obviously I’m going to be listening very closely to what they’re saying.

      I know this is not what everyone does. But it’s possible, and beautiful. And it keeps me from relying on the stories I’m tempted tell myself about me–or others– being ‘good people’ who are incapable of causing great harm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is no such thing as a person incapable of causing harm. There isn’t even such a thing as a person who causes no harm in practice.

        But we are, as a culture, far more inclined to throw people away than we are to band together, and that, too, is harm.

        This isn’t a yes/no question. My objection isn’t to saying that harboring hatred is bad.

        My objection is to the idea that we should throw people away for being flawed, as though perfection is at all available when it’s clearly not.

        -E-

        Liked by 1 person

      • I find hateful people to be harmful to me personally, and I reserve the right as a human being to stay away from people that I find harmful to be around. None of this stops them from being what they are, just me from being harmed by being around them. It is the same reason that I stay away from violent people. That can include family members, if need be.

        Like

      • I will say, Rhyd, that I do respect your internal consistency. Not being a hypocrite is important to me.

        I draw the lines of what has to be walked away from vs. what is to still be worked on in different places than you do, but you say here that you start by making an effort to that work before walking away, and that’s a HUGE difference from just rejecting it all without checking.

        -E-

        Like

    • Ember. This isn’t about a simple paragraph in a book. They advocate
      child rape. This taints every aspect of their work because this is how children are brought into their tradition. This is how children start their official path in their tribe. That should be enough for anyone, i would think

      Like

      • Hence “People actively advocating for racism, homophobia, etc. much less advocating for the rape of children, are clearly a problem.”

        The Frosts are clearly a problem. I’m fine with railing against them. I’m fine with people saying they’re NOT good people. I agree that they are not. good. people.

        But this essay is citing them as an example of a larger problem, and while the larger problem absolutely does exist, I disagree with this essay’s proposed solution, because I don’t believe we can simply discard anyone who ever did or said a bad thing.

        If you regard this essay as ultimately being just about the Frosts, then yes, we’re good.

        I regard this essay as a rant prompted by the Frosts that is ultimately about how we approach this kind of problem, and what I’m seeing is that it’s being over-applied to a whole range of issues, many of which are not anywhere near so clear cut as the Frosts are.

        I’m fine with throwing out the dirty bathwaters. I’m not fine with throwing out the babies.

        -E-

        Like

      • We do, however, need to be mindful of the fact that there IS no “away” to throw people. We can disown them, but they’re still in the world, still affecting things, still making a mess. Washing our hands of them doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Which is my other issue with this way of handling things.

        -E-

        Like

      • You know what? Ignore me.

        I’m obviously off on a tangent here. I know what I’m on about and I DO think it’s important, but it’s not really central to what Rhyd is trying to say.

        I agree with his Central point, I just worry about the side effects.

        Carry on, folks.
        –Ember–

        Liked by 1 person

  11. As someone whose life has been damaged by a rape cult whose members include well known names in the UK ‘Pagan scene’ I absolutely and unreservedly applaud this article. Take a look at my own blog ‘nathanieljharris’ for four years worth of exposing them.

    Like

  12. Great article Rhyd. We should keep in mind that “good people” are more than white, male, wiccan and wealthy. I know some “good people” who are none of these. Beware of “good people”.

    Like

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