Answering objections to a Voluntary Statment of Shared Ethics

As previously mentioned, Jason over at the Wild Hunt has instigated an effort to draft a Voluntary Statement of Shared Ethics in response not only to some recent publicized cases of Sexual Abuse and Assault within the Pagan movement, but also to the years of many such incidents happening in different segments and populations in our regional and local Pagan communities.

This is to be applauded.

What is surprising though, is how many commentators either want to say it isn’t a problem because they have never experienced it; or who express fears that any sort of Statement of Shared Ethics ~ you know, like the one that has been expressly described as VOLUNTARY~  would be the beginning of a Pagan Thought Police or the calcification of Paganism into some Dogma laden institution.  Then of course there are those who seem to be in complete denial that Pagans or people involved in Paganism could DO such a thing!?

I should like to address these points in turn.

I’ve never seen or heard of this as a problem before so it must NOT be one!”

Now this argument is tending to come from folks who seem to spend more time in forums and on their blogs complaining about how everybody else in the Pagan world is doing it wrong and how evil all the Monotheists are and how perfect ______ Pagan culture was in ancient times.

You know, folks whom you don’t get the impression get out very much?!

And yet, this is a point that should be addressed.  Just because you have not experienced it yourself means it isn’t a problem worth doing something about?  How about Hunger?  Poverty?  Rape?  Murder?

Have you actually talked to anyone in your local community about this?

I know!  Lets run a few numbers…

Estimates of the number of Pagans in the United States vary pretty wildly

between 400,000+ to 1,000,000 Pagans in the U.S. alone….

According to The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network website….

1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be the victims of some form of sexual assault in their lifetime,

60% of sexual assaults remain unreported to the police,

Approximately 73% of victims know their attacker,

Parsing the numbers in a very unscientific manner, and using the 400,000 figure…

33,000 Pagan Women and 6,000 Pagan Men in the U.S. have been or will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Roughly 28,000 of them will know their attacker

Approximately 23,000 of them will not be reported to the police

Now admittedly these numbers are arrived at by a very basic and probably very unscientific approach, but before anyone starts to snark at me about the numbers…. what exactly do you consider an acceptable number of sexual assaults in and on the Pagan community?


As these comment streams have developed it has become clear that these commentators are more interested in making sideways swipes at Catholicism and other more organized forms of religion and seem to posit the view that since we don’t have large institutional structures we aren’t going to see those types of abuses. The problem with that idea is that because of the lack of inter-group communication between local and regional organizations and across lines of different Traditions of Paganism, predators have more opportunity to move onto the next group or community.   Also because of the unstructured and very tribal nature of the Pagan movement, we tend to take newcomer’s on face value, which is often fine and sometimes a tragic mistake.

I would also point out that because of ideas of secrecy and self-sufficiency, the counter-cultural origins of some of our Contemporary Pagan Traditions, and because of the prejudices encountered in the larger society regarding Paganism, that it is entirely possible that abuse and assault cases within our Pagan communities may actually go unreported to the police at MORE than 60%.

“Pagans don’t do that!” (also known as) “Real Pagans don’t do that!”

Whether or not they actually have any belief in the Gods, rapists and abusers often justify and rationalize their religious and philosophical leanings and beliefs in the light of their pathology.   They are going to find ways to rationalize their behavior, to excuse it.  There are bad people in EVERY religion, its a simple fact.  It doesn’t change the fact that these things are happening and will continue to happen.

The Voluntary Statement of Ethics will help encourage things like inter-group communication, police reporting, and will put abusers and rapists on notice that we are aware of this problem and are working to be vigilant about it; hopefully warning at least some of them off while at the same time empowering our communities and organizations to deal with incidents more effectively.

“Your just trying to oppress me!  I’m _______ and your not going to tell me what I think or feel!”

The folks bringing these sorts of objections to bear seem to feel that any sort of statement of ethics, no matter that it is a voluntary one, will be used as a club to try to get others to tow some sort of Pagan Party Line; or that it will calcify into some sort of Pan-Pagan Dogma.

This is the objection that bothers me the most.

True power and true independence arise out of our values and ethics and ideals as we work to live them and carry them forward in the world.  Personal power, power from within, arises from our relationships with the Divine, and the world around us, and with the Ancestors, and with the Spirits of the World around us – however your individual Pagan path defines these things.  From our right relationships with the Holy Powers our ethics and values flow into our actions and into the world.

If you can’t articulate your ethics and values and those things you and your Tradition deem virtues, if you can’t trace some sort of line from these things to how your actions and decisions are shaped by them, then are you really serving and honoring the Holy Powers in your life or are you just going through the motions?

Of course, I am a bit biased in favor of discussions of and articulation of things like Ethics and Values…



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2 responses to “Answering objections to a Voluntary Statment of Shared Ethics

  1. Well, how about Pagans draft the statement, and develop some sort of seal of acceptance of the code (similar to the codes used by many professional and social groups). Each Pagan group could display the seal, or not. Women would know by looking for the seal whether they were safe or not, and I suspect that the groups who refused to join would soon be small groups of unsavory folks we don’t want anyway, sitting around complaining about how we are oppressing them by not letting them pray on the young and vulnerable folks among us.
    The only trick is making sure the uninitiated know about the seal and what it means.

    • Pax

      Hey Aaron,

      You know similar ideas have been proposed, but at this stage the draft Statement is in much more of a Voluntary stage, and there is some concern that adding such an element to the project at this stage would turn off more potential participants than not.

      I rather think somethings similar will come about in time though as the statement takes off and as more folks see the value of it!


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