Tuesday, 14 February 2012

PBP: C is for Corruption

For some reason I've yet to quite fathom, the religious and spiritual spheres are extremely attractive to the corrupt. Whether or not they're corrupt from the start or become that way over time is irrelevant. Spiritual and religious seekers are seen by some as easy marks, ripe for the picking--though of course those doing the picking would piously deny it! Oh no, they're fleecing you of your money, exploiting you sexually, draining you dry for your own good!

C is also for Con Artist.

They're out there, and you'll find them in every tradition, every religion, every culture. Maybe it's a plastic shaman like James Arthur Ray, or a commercial yoga guru like the amusingly-named John Friend; or it might just be your local small-time skeezebag trying to lure young tail ripe for exploitation to join his coven or meetup. They're out there, and if you spend any time at all around pagan "community" sooner or later you'll encounter one, or more. (They're in the mainstream faiths as well, of course, but they have better lawyers and more efficient hierarchies covering for them in most cases.) What can you do to protect yourself, aside from staying home as a solitary devotee?

Trust your intuitions, and your own common sense. If something seems off to you, respect that perception and examine it; don't just dismiss it as paranoia. If a group or leader isn't upfront with you from the start about what it expects of you, be very cautious indeed about getting involved; there are likely hidden agendas at work. If at any time you're required or coerced into something that you strongly object to, then that's the point where you leave, full stop. You don't owe them an explanation, or an apology, or anything at all; if you're being manipulated into doing things that are against your principles, your morals, or even your aesthetics, then you're in the presence of someone who does not have your best interests at heart, and you owe them nothing. Trust yourself, know yourself, and be true to yourself above all else; listen to your instincts; and heed this above all else when going in to a new situation:

Perfectly trust no one.

This post was inspired by reading coverage of John Friend's emerging scandal over at the Wild Hunt blog. What kills me (in the sense that it makes me sad and slightly sick) is reading all the apologias for Wicca in both the coverage and the comments. I wish I could say that in my experience, Wiccan priesthood using their positions to exploit others sexually was unknown or very rare. Power corrupts, even small-scale power; Friend there had a taste of much bigger power as a commercial yoga guru, and managed to parlay that into another spiritual format, one that allowed him to exploit seekers in another way. These people will always find a way; awareness and constant vigilance are your best weapons to avoid falling into their traps.


  1. That's one of the weaknesses of the 'coven' model. It's a small group that doesn't have to answer to anyone else except by choice. Someone who wants to control people can set up a small group with very little investment of effort, and build from there.

    And that tradition encourages people to be part of a coven, so perhaps that lowers peoples defenses a bit.

    1. The secrecy requirements of many traditions, and the intimate atmosphere that grows up around them, can over time lower defenses on the parts of both student and teacher, making ethically questionable occurrences almost inevitable. That flaw is inherent to the system's design, I'm afraid.