Pagan Consent Culture

Pagan Consent Culture

Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy

cover by Shauna Aura Knight
An Anthology from Asphodel Press
Christine Hoff Kraemer & Yvonne Aburrow, editors

For many Pagans, sexuality and the body are sacred. Unfortunately, this conviction is not enough to prevent sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Like the mainstream communities they are immersed in, Pagan communities struggle with consent issues, especially around sexual touch.

Increasingly, Pagans realize that good consent practices must be embraced by communities, not just by individuals—and that consent is about more than sexuality. Consent culture begins with the idea of autonomy, with recognizing our right to control our bodies and selves in all areas of life; and it is sustained by empathy, the ability to understand and share the emotional states of others.

This collection grounds consent culture in contemporary Pagan values, stories, and practices:
  • a Druid explores the concept of sovereignty
  • Wiccans analyze “The Charge of the Goddess”
  • a Heathen explicates medieval Icelandic lore
  • a modern Polytheist draws on philosophies of difference
  • ...and much more
Additionally, contributors provide nuts-and-bolts guides to building consent culture:
  • responding to the needs of survivors of sexual abuse and assault
  • setting consent-based policies for rituals and events
  • training children and adults in consent practices
  • sacralizing pleasurable touch on an everyday basis
  • ethically teaching sacred sexuality and sex magick
For Pagan leaders, teachers, and organizers, Pagan Consent Culture is an essential resource.

Published February 2016

Buy now:

On Yeshe Rabbit and her essay "Matriarchy and Consent Culture"

In February 2018, we read on the CAYA Facebook page and website that Yeshe Rabbit had resigned from her leadership position with CAYA during an ethics investigation and was now considered "not in good standing" in that community. Since then, we have been saddened to read the substantial first-person testimony from former members of CAYA who were victims of emotional abuse and financial and sexual exploitation at her hands.

Rabbit contributed an essay to our 2016 Pagan Consent Culture collection about matriarchal, consensus-based community organizing and consent. At the time, to our knowledge, Rabbit and CAYA had good public reputations in the wider Pagan community. We believe the article still has merit and that the principles described can be used to organize a healthy community. However, from the testimony of the victims, it seems clear that CAYA was not actually run in accordance with the principles described.

Although Rabbit's "Matriarchy and Consent Culture" essay remains in the collection and will do so unless and until we prepare a second edition, we cannot therefore recommend Yeshe Rabbit as a teacher or leader in any capacity. We hope that that those harmed will be able to find healing, and that Pagan organizations will learn from this situation.

--Christine Hoff Kraemer & Yvonne Aburrow

Promoting Consent Culture in the Pagan Community

by Yvonne Aburrow

It's good that the Pagan community has been making more efforts in the direction of creating a safer space (though no space is ever going to be 100% safe, I suspect). However, we need everyone - both potential harassers and potential victims -  to understand consent culture. We cannot assume that only newcomers to the Pagan community will violate others' boundaries, nor can we assume that only old hands will do so. There is potential for both.

The existing  system of leaders keeping an eye out for perpetrators and steering people away from them has several issues (it is potentially useful as part of a wider strategy, but no good on its own). The people who do this cannot know about all the perpetrators everywhere. Perpetrators can commit violations in one sub-community and when they get chucked out of that one, move onto another one and do it all over again. (I myself am aware of perpetrators who have been ejected from one community, only to move on to another community to do it all again there.) It is also subject to the "he said, she said" problem - that one group of people will believe the victim, and another group of people will believe the perpetrator. So I don't have much faith in the existing system.

This is why Pagan events need to adopt a code of conduct. Recently I attended an event that had adopted the Pagan & Heathen Symposium Code of Conduct. I went to one of the organisers to report a violation; the organiser said that others had also reported similar, and that the individual concerned would be spoken to, and if necessary, banned.

What is rape culture?

The way I see it is that wider society is a rape culture. What does that mean? It is a society where violation of consent is routinely validated, approved of, and promoted. Where the existence of valid consent is constantly erased and undermined. The view of mainstream culture is that women should not have sexual desire. A woman who does have sexual desire is viewed as deviant and a "slut". Because she is viewed as an object and not a subject, once she has become sexually available, she is therefore available to all men, and can be raped with impunity. A "pure" woman, on the other hand, has to be cajoled and persuaded into sex. Because she is seen as not wanting sex, she can only consent if she is offered an inducement - the security of marriage, a nice dinner, a few drinks, a compliment. (Obviously this is a caricature of mainstream society's views, but you can see echoes of this as being the underlying attitude in many conversations and interactions.)

Paganism is a subculture that seeks to regard women as subjects and to validate women's sexual desires. However, the attitudes of the mainstream can and do find their way into Pagan discourse, because not everyone is perfectly acculturated to the Pagan world-view, and because we are still subject to the influences of mainstream society. 

Preventative measures 

In their chapter in Pagan Consent Culture, Kim and Tracey Dent-Brown present a four part model, which is summarised below, though I would strongly recommend reading their chapter, as it explains in considerable depth how they arrived at this conclusion.

1) Reducing motivation to abuse -- done on a societal / communal level (what are the wider societal factors that promote abuse, i.e. rape culture?)

2) Reinforcing internal inhibitions (shame, knowing right from wrong, empathy for others) -- “How can we all develop a state of mind that makes us more likely to take others’ consent very seriously.”

3) Strengthening situational barriers (procedures or systems that protect potential victims) -- "This is the area most ripe for action, because it is where communities, groups, covens, organizing committees and so on can have influence."

4) Reinforcing the individual victim’s own defences (to coercion, physical means etc) -- "This is the last level of defence and if the rest of the pagan community does nothing at levels 1-3, this puts the potential victim in the position of being entirely responsible for defending themselves. Hopefully the more active the community has been at earlier levels, the less likely action at this level is to be needed."

Creating consent culture 

This is how I think we need to go about creating consent culture.

(1) promote consent culture within Paganism and wider society, e.g. run workshops about consent, promote conversation about what consent is, what consent culture is, etc.  Embed consent culture within the Pagan world-view by relating it to Pagan theologies and mythologies. (These were some of our aims in continuing and spreading the conversation about consent culture by editing the book.)

(2) promote the code of conduct, because what this does is to create a situation where both potential victims and potential perpetrators know that the event staff & organisers take consent and violations of consent seriously, and will act on reports. Obviously the Code of Conduct is not going to fix the issues on its own - it is only one prong of a multi-faceted approach, which includes holding workshops, writing articles, etc. Absolutely no-one has suggested that it will fix things on its own, and we would be incredibly naive if we did. This approach worked really well in the SFF and IT communities - we didn't invent it.

(3) educate everyone about consent and what it means, as this will strengthen individuals' resistance to violations, and discourage potential perpetrators from committing violations.

There is no quick fix

If there was a single "magic bullet" that would fix things, someone would've done it by now. Warning people about perpetrators is still a strategy that's worth doing; promoting the code of conduct is worth doing; holding workshops on consent will help, promoting consent culture will help.

It was noticeable that having a code of conduct immediately increased people's confidence in the willingness of the organisers to do something. However, having a code of conduct does not mean that all that needs to do has been done - in fact, having a code of conduct is only the beginning of a long process and a wider conversation that needs to be had.

Find out more