“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.
You are brave.
You are wise.
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”
Is 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.