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Abuse Crosses All Boundaries

by Lady Lee, copywritten
As published in Of A Like Mind, Lammas/ Fall Equinox 1989

In 1972, the first safe house for women fleeing abuse was established as Chiswick Woman’s Aid in West London, England. The first American shelters opened around 1973 in California and Minnesota. Since that time, the issue of wife abuse has opened up a Pandora’s box of family secrets. Along with wife battery spilled out marital rape and incest, alcoholism and drug abuse. A movement emerging from the grassroots of the feminist community has evolved into a multitude of private and public sector service agencies. This support increase has been dependent upon the sanctioning influence of religious communities; when religious communities spoke out in support of a woman’s right to safety, public acceptance followed.

In the wake of this public support lies a Craft community which is only slowly beginning to grapple with the power dynamics of abuse. A lack of Wiccan clergy schooled in this area has led to “blame the victim” attitudes. The reality is that abuse is a mis-use of power and even Witches can be victims. This knowledge is only gradually replacing the doctrinaire interpretations of equal responsibility and free will which lead to attitudes of victim blaming. As we delve ever deeper into an understanding of “and it harm none, do as ye Will,” treatises such as Starhawk’s “Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery” are beginning to appear. However, High Priest/ess’ continue counseling incest victims and battered women on how they “chose abuse” while the external societal influences are ignored.

Working magick with those “of a like mind,” forming our own communities, is important to us. Therefore, we need to consider the influence of the dominant culture, in order to create a psychologically healthy sub-culture. Too often, pagans believe a fantasy which tells us that because we all worship the Goddess, we all know healthy conflict resolution, and we all use our powers ethically. This leads us into denying that Witches can be victims and Goddess-worshipers can be abusive. As Starhawk says, “we live embedded in systems of power-over and are indoctrinated in them from birth” (pg. 9). We need to break the silence of our inner censors and address the issue of abuse from within the circles of initiates.

When our censors gain a voice, a new definition of equal responsibility is heard. This new definition takes into account the three states of being which we, as Witches, distinguish within each of us. These states of being are: higher self, or superconscious; “little sister,” or subconscious; and personality self, or conscious. When placing responsibility for any action, it is imperative that we look at all states of being to define their roles. For too long Witches have operated under an assumption that we could not be victims of abuse from other Witches, as both parties should be interacting on a higher self basis. Hence, the attitude that the victim “chooses” the abuse.

For this argument perhaps the key word is “should.” Simply choosing that as a philosophy is not enough to make it work. For a distinct higher self -- personality self channel, it is necessary to have clear access through “little sister.” When our unresolved subconscious traumas, due to power-over indoctrination, interfere with passages through this channel, our reception is clouded. When we interact from a personality self basis we must “de-fog” this reception: this is, we should identify the influencing subconscious factors and separate them from the immediate situation. Failure to do so creates victims and abusers.

While viewing these three states, it becomes apparent that responsibility for an abusive situation originates with the abusive individual, who is acting out power-over indoctrination. Although the victim has an equal higher self responsibility to form a cleaner “little sister” channel, one which would enable her to seek safety, she has no responsibility for the abuse itself.

Viewing abuse this way, we can also see how psychological factors, based on sociological influences, will either inhibit or support the battered woman in leaving abuse, and in her healing. The control exerted by the perpetrator resembles brainwashing and needs to be counterbalanced by a circle of empowering influences. During the initial stages of her healing process, messages given by Craft folk regarding her “free will” or “equal responsibility” only serve to undermine her healing and reinforce the brainwashing messages the abuser has programmed into her psyche.

The sociological difficulties that women face when fleeing abuse are diverse both in scope and severity. A general problem for women fleeing abuse is the response they encounter when they are subject to the “Dr. Jeckyll -- Mr. Hyde” syndrome. Abusive partners are skilled in manipulation and battery which leaves no outward marks on the victim, while simultaneously displaying cultured public airs. Women bringing charges of abuse under these conditions are often considered demented by those from whom they seek help. It is common for them to lose all social contacts, losing their community which continues to welcome the abuser.

This denial extends into the Craft community. As Starhawk says, “we are so accustomed to power-over, so steeped in its language and its implicit threats, that often we become aware of its functioning only when we see its extreme manifestations.” As women make accusations of abuse they need to be listened to; as women flee abusers they need to be offered sanctuary. High Priest/ess’ have been known to excuse the abuse by labeling it “communication difficulties,” or by identifying the situation as having “two sides.” When one person is controlling and dominating another, it is not an equal-sided equation.

Sociological factors unique to the Craft community also influence the success of a woman fleeing abuse. When we, as Wiccans, work with battered women, we need to consider the influence of values inherited through our traditions. Specifically, an ethical dilemma arises when, in cases of severe abuse or child custody, the need for public court involvement occurs. Traditional Gardnarian Witchcraft contains a strong ethical remnant from the burning times. This ethic forbids the use of public courts for settling any manner of discord among initiates. While Craft mediation is generally the preferred manner of settlement, in cases of abuse it must sometimes be foregone. When Craft mediation is ignored by one party, or when the mediators lack comprehension of abuse dynamics, it cannot be successful. In these cases the injured party has no recourse but to resort to public courts.

I have witnessed incidents where Witches were being ostracized by other initiates solely due to their use of public courts in seeking a necessary protection for themselves or their children. In these cases, the abuser was the party offered succor as the victim was perceived as betraying the “laws of Wicca.” As we leave the burning times behind us, and seek legitimacy in public, we need to legitimate for ourselves our use of public courts in these situations.

Psychological factors, compounded by their sociological derivatives, create a formidable obstacle for women in abusive situations. Fortunately, Witches who are in abusive situations have available to them a challenging philosophy which brings them to healing. As we Wiccans see the Goddess in all, so do we come to see the Goddess in ourselves. When that degree of immanency is reached, the abused Witch begins her healing for, “She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.” As an out-of-my-broomcloset Witch, and a formerly battered woman, I have encountered many solitary Witches going through shelter. I have also experienced and observed the dynamics of abusive covens. When Witches begin to break away from the cycles of abuse and embrace the cycle of healing change, they look for Craft support. How can we best provide a healing environment which acknowledges the Goddess within, and supports Her emerging actualization? How can we effectively create a sustainable pagan culture which will nourish and empower all of us?

As we develop our powers, we need to identify ethical usage of power, and reject unethical usage of power. To quote Starhawk again, “we can be more than victims or survivors. We can resist systems of control, renewing the world with other powers.” (p. 72). The unethical behavior of the abuser must be resisted from within the Craft community, as a strong community requires a strong group mind. The facilitations of an effective resistance depend upon Priest/ess’ educating themselves in all aspects of abuse, aspects which are too far-reaching for the scope of this article. Many good books address abuse, among them I recommend:

The Battered Woman”, by Lenore E. Walker (Harper and Row, 1977). This book provides an excellent understanding of the psychology of abuse. Ms. Walker developed the diagram of the cycle of abuse.

Battered Wives”, by Del Martin (Volcano Press, 1981). Ms. Martin provides a valuable historical background of the evolution of abuse -- from the burning times and into today’s legal arena.

Betrayal of Innocence”, by Susan Forward and Craig Buck (Penguin, 1979). This book pioneered the feminist-therapy approach towards incest.

Note-- this article was written in 1989 and many good books have appeared on the market since then. Top of my list today would be "The Courage To Heal" by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. This book is also great because it debunks the need to "forgive" your abuser in order to heal.