An Open Letter to the Web of Oz
by Mike Nichols
Like many another Neo-Pagan, I began life under the heavy indoctrination of Christian precepts. Like many others, I found this upbringing to be not only painful, but psychologically damaging, as well. It has taken years of disciplined work to shrug off the feelings of guilt and self-recrimination foisted upon me during those years. Especially, I remember the pain of being taught to feel shame and remorse over each and every thought I had of a sexual nature. And any overt sexual act (other than narrowly defined exceptions) was anathema -- a cause for eternal damnation.
When I discovered Paganism, with its positive view of sexuality, my sense of relief and gratitude was staggering. I felt I had finally discovered a religion that viewed human sexuality as a magical, life-affirming force. Imagine my surprise then (upon reading your last Forum) to discover that the same sexual guilt and self-hate is now available to Pagans, as well as Christians. (I am still a bit unclear as to whether this 'boon' is available to ALL Pagans, or just to the men.)
Granted, I do not know the specific circumstances referenced in some of those letters. But if ANY Pagan, male OR female, commits ANY act of aggression (sexual OR NOT) to any other, then I will be first in line to condemn it. That such an incident could take place in sacred space is doubly disturbing. The Circle is no place for hate, anger, jealously, spite, or any other aggressive behavior. However, the honest expression of sexuality falls well within the parameters of 'perfect love and perfect trust'. That is why I must object to the whole tone of the last forum.
While I oppose any aggressive sexual conduct as inappropriate, not all sexual conduct is aggressive. What ever happened to the gentle art of flirtation? And although some writers rail against 'unwanted sexual advances', there's a catch-22 here: until an advance is made, how can you know if its unwanted? Too many people these days mistake 'sexual' for 'sexist'. Just because you're being the one, doesn't necessitate your being the other. As for myself, when sexual advances are made to me, I feel deeply complimented. It is, after all, the divine force within one being reaching out to the divine within another -- yet another aspect of itself. And if I find it necessary to say 'no', I say it with gentleness, grace, and respect toward the one who has paid me such a high compliment.
Of course, I'm not such a fool not to know that some people have in the past been hurt by inordinately aggressive sexual behavior. And they are now overly sensitive to such attention. They need healing. They need space. Fine. They should find it. But to condemn another person for showing a healthy sexual interest in them is to put the blame in the wrong place. To redress one injustice by deploying another is counterproductive. If a person truly needs to avoid even the possibility of sexual advance, then let them remain in the comparative safety of their separatist Coven or their Christian prayer group (although just how 'safe' these are may be debated).
Naturally, the bulk of the criticism in the forum was aimed at men. Star Lion says 'men are present in mixed circles almost on sufferance.' Not the mixed circles I'm familiar with! Most mixed circles are egalitarian, and NO ONE is treated as a second class citizen on the basis of their gender. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that's what feminism is all about -- not just reversing the roles of men and women in their dominant/subordinate paradigm -- but eliminating the paradigm altogether.
Star Lion goes on to say that 'All interactions should be guided by...the women...' I submit that if a circle isn't egalitarian, then it isn't a circle at all. After all, the basic symbolism of the circle (like the Round Table) is that no one sits higher than another -- every point on a circle is equidistant from the center, the Source. And I advise that if you belong to a 'circle' that values one class of people over another, then get out quickly!
This equality must certainly extend into the sexual arena. Both Pagan men AND Pagan women need safe space for their worship. But as long as there is no coercion, no force, sexuality can play a vital role in that worship. If ritual sex, the hiergomany, the mating of God and Goddess, the exchange of tantric energies, is not welcome in a Pagan circle (both separatist AND mixed), then in what religion is it welcome?
Westwind's guidelines of sensitivity and response-ability are exactly on target. But I must protest her advice that women always 'make the first move'. (Imagine giving such advice to the god Pan! And on Beltane yet, with the phallic Maypole the center of attention!) This robs men of their own sexuality-- and one important facet of their self-expression. If Pagan women will not be Playboy bunnies, then neither should Pagan men be Playgirl studs. Obviously, BOTH should have the right to make the first move, at a healthy Pagan gathering. As the Spirit (or the Goddess!) moves them.
The blind poet and Pagan high priest Victor Anderson once began a poem, 'If we could meet as Pagan children meet!' Compacted in that one line is the thrill of what a perfectly egalitarian Pagan society would be like -- freed from the centuries of Christian guilt-trips about sex and so many other things!
May we all move toward that happy day!
Document Copyright © 1988, 2002 by Mike Nichols.