The Dark Side of Avalon

Two years ago I mentioned that author Moira Greyland, daughter of enormously influential1)Especiallly to Pagans over 35, more or less fantasy writer Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, was speaking out about sexual abuse she experienced in their household.

Now you can read the book:The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon.

From “CT,” one of the reader-reviewers at Amazon:

As a science fiction and fantasy author myself, I grew up with Marion Zimmer Bradley as an embodiment of the kind of progressive feminist ideal which was used as an encouragement for young women to aspire to while young men should follow the example of in their own writing. I all but memorized The Mists of Avalon and considered it a guide to neo-paganism, re-evaluating old stories for modern consumption, and writing female characters. The discovery Marion Zimmer Bradley covered for her pedophile husband in preying on the children of science fiction fans was stunning but not as much as the discovery she, herself, was an abusive sexual predator.

UPDATE 23 Dec. 2017: Another blogger: “The Book that Made Me a Feminist Was Written by an Abuser.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Especiallly to Pagans over 35, more or less

Sex, Kids, and the Witch’s Bible

In mid-20th-century America, the public face of anthropology was Margaret Mead (1901–1978). As her Wikipedia biography states, “Her reports detailing the attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures influenced the 1960s sexual revolution.”

Her distinctive cape and long walking stick became part of her public persona, which as we now crassly say, “helped to build her brand.”

Her best-known book was Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928. Forty years later, paperback copies of it were everywhere, in every literate household, it seemed. Even my mother had a copy, although she would have rejected Mead’s approving description of teenaged Samoans happily slipping onto each other’s sleeping mats in the middle of the night. When I tried to read it as a teenager (having no background in anthropology then), my reaction not surprisingly was, “I wish I lived in Samoa.”

After Mead’s death, some anthropologists stated that she had been conned, that teenaged Samoan girls had filled their twenty-something American visitor’s notebooks with their fantasies, and that their society was by no means as free and easy about premarital sex as Mead reported. The arguments continue.

What popular culture (except my mother) took away from the book was simpler: It is more healthy for teens to have sex than not.

Utopian sexual ideas were in the air, as they have been at other times. Many other times. Consider the 19th century, for example: the Oneida Community with its doctrine of “complex marriage” or Joseph Smith’s re-invention of polygamy for himself and his inner circle of LDS followers.

In Complex Marriage, every man was married to every woman and vice versa. This practice was to stay only within the community and had to stay within two main guidelines. The first was that before the man and woman could cohabit, they had to obtain each other’s consent through a third person or persons. Secondly, no two people could have exclusive attachment with each other because it would be selfish and idolatrous.

Similar and new ideas both popped up in the 20th century. Your high school reading assignments might have included Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931),  but I doubt that they would have included his utopian sex-and-spirituality-and-entheogens novel, Island (1962). It was popular on college campuses nevertheless, published the same year as another popular novel about sexuality, The Harrad Experiment.1)Harvard + Radcliffe, get it? I could go on and on with examples, but this is just a blog post.

Colleges and universities were dropping the old rules about curfews for women’s dorms, etc. — even the whole idea of gender-separate dorms. As a student in the 1970s, I saw the walls falling faster than I ever would have imagined.2)Now we see colleges become “parents” once more, keeping students safe from “scary” ideas and separating them into race and gender categories all over again.

Not just marriage needed redesigning — see Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) and Stranger in a Strange Land(1961)3)Heinlein was surprised and amused by the Church of All World’s attempt to recreate the novel’s “nests,” complete with polyamory in some cases. — but young people did not have to wait for marriage to have sex —not that all of them ever had.

In very few years, we went from trying to constrain teen sex to trying to find ways to make it better — up until about 1969, unmarried women and girls of any age found it hard to get birth control pills or IUDs,  but the pendulum swung quickly.

Intellectuals kept a drumbeat in favor of youthful sexuality: consider Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger (1970) or  anarchist philosopher/psychotherapist Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society (1960), both of which touched on “sexual repression.”

All this is prelude to some thoughts about the reaction to Gavin Frost’s death at the beginning of the week. His and Yvonne’s Facebook page — and their daughter’s — were filled with condolences and fond memories.

At The Wild Hunt, however,  the trolls came crawling out from under the furniture.4)There was one whom I had not seen for a while, and I had hoped she was banned. Nope.

Someone whose soul must still be in middle school starts out, “From what I’ve heard the guy was a creep.”  Yes, it’s the Great Dildo Controversy that refuses to die, even though some of the most outraged virtue warriors probably were not yet born when it occurred, let alone they have never met the Frosts.

People who do know them are likely to respond as did Peg Aloi on Patheos: “I’ve known Gavin and Yvonne for many years, and have always enjoyed their joie de vivre, intelligent conversation and gentle good will toward others. ”

In one version of the humorously named Witch’s Bible —probably a dig both at the Christian version and Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (1969) they suggested that to ease a girl’s first experience of penetrative sex, the parents beforehand should, if necessary, help her to stretch the hymen artificially.

This was another “what if?” idea, like Heinlein’s “line marriage.” Their daughter, Jo, who was a young girl at the time, has insisted vociferously that it was never proposed for her.

Part of their whole approach to teaching was to toss out ideas and say, “Try this and tell us how it goes.” If it was a good one, it would go into later lessons. If not, no.

Unfortunately for their timing, the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was followed by a pendulum swing the other way, so that we are now a point where it is considered “dangerous” if kids walk to school, or ride in the front seat of the family car before they reach age 16, or are exposed to controversial ideas in college.5)But at least today’s kids are being given something to rebel against, I suppose.

So now we get Pagan mob mentality, all based on “I knew someone who talked to someone who said she knew someone who was molested by someone who had read one of the Frosts’ books.” With evidence like that, how could a lynch mob go wrong?

To quote Jo Frost on her Facebook page,

Yes, my father wrote and said controversial things that challenged you and your beliefs. . . . Armchair histrionics does not equal “warrior”– what does it say for your legacy that you stood on the shoulders of giants only to tear at them? Go get your own legacy and get the h up and do actual good works.

And, the horror, they were accused of running a “monotheistic sex cult” by one of these faceless social-media critics, which merely goes to show that (a) the writer does not know the difference between monotheism and Neoplatonic monism and should stay out of theological discussions,6)No, the Frosts were not “hard polytheists” but considered all deities to be shaped by human imagination while  (b) “sex cult” is a meaningless term, unless you do not wish to think that sex and spirituality can overlap, in which case you have ruled out much of contemporary Paganism. Pedophilia was never part of the picture.

At the very least, some critics are guilty of “presentism,” using today’s standards to condemn something that was less outrageous in the past,7)At least in the countercultural circles where most Pagans dwelt at the time. And granted, although he was a gentleman in person, Gavin was a stubborn Scorpio who would never apologize to anonymous critics and bullies on social media.

Jo Frost was right, you don’t make yourself a better Pagan by passing on malicious gossip about the dead. It’s ill-mannered, and sometimes it can even be bad magic. If you cannot be bothered to read the original texts — and to read them in the context of their era — then your argument is built on sand.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Harvard + Radcliffe, get it?
2. Now we see colleges become “parents” once more, keeping students safe from “scary” ideas and separating them into race and gender categories all over again.
3. Heinlein was surprised and amused by the Church of All World’s attempt to recreate the novel’s “nests,” complete with polyamory in some cases.
4. There was one whom I had not seen for a while, and I had hoped she was banned. Nope.
5. But at least today’s kids are being given something to rebel against, I suppose.
6. No, the Frosts were not “hard polytheists” but considered all deities to be shaped by human imagination
7. At least in the countercultural circles where most Pagans dwelt at the time.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Daughter Speaks Out

The MZB/Walter Breen scandal was bigger in the science fiction/speculative fantasy world than in the Pagan world, but MZB has influenced Pagans through her Mists of Avalon books and her Pagan associates, as detailed by Sonja Sadvoksky in The Priestess and the Pen.

If you ask someone under 35 about Mists, they do not think it is relevant, or maybe they have heard of it but most likely have never read it. If you ask someone over 35 the same question, especially if they are female, they often come back with with an answer that Mists was a fundamental book in their development as a Pagan and Witch. I kind of straddle this divide, as I am turning 34 this month, and I have a thing for weird books.

The Bradley/Breen scandal was about sexual abuse, and their daughter Moira Greyland experienced it too.(I don’t know the blog where she guest-posts, but the post itself came well-recommended.)

My observation of my father and mother’s actual belief is this: since everyone is naturally gay, it is the straight establishment that makes everyone hung up and therefore limited.  Sex early will make people willing to have sex with everyone, which will bring about the utopia while eliminating homophobia and helping people become “who they really are.” It will also destroy the hated nuclear family with its paternalism, sexism, ageism (yes, for pedophiles, that is a thing) and all other “isms.”  If enough children are sexualized young enough, gayness will suddenly be “normal” and accepted by everyone, and the old fashioned notions about fidelity will vanish.  As sex is integrated as a natural part of every single relationship, the barriers between people will vanish, and the utopia will appear, as “straight culture” goes the way of the dinosaur.  As my mother used to say: “Children are brainwashed into believing they don’t want sex.”

Read the rest if you can handle it. Moira is not exactly waving the rainbow flag.

I would rather not get into the whole “Can you separate the artist from the work?” because, most of the time, I think that you can. That’s the reader’s response. On the other hand, it is also fair for the critic to examine how the writer’s attitude toward X affects how she or he writes about X.

An Alfred Kinsey-Aleister Crowley Connection?

Liam Neeson starred in the 2004 movie Kinsey.

A casual mention of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s interest in the sex magic diaries of Aleister Crowley sent me down an Internet rabbit hole.

Kinsey (1894–1956) was studied biology, particularly entomology, but while teaching at Indiana University in the 1930s turned to the study of human sexuality, attacking the “widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology” he saw around him.

In writing his monumental works on sexual behavior, Kinsey not only collected data with questionnaires, he created data (filming his research assistants having sex, for instance) and appropriated other people’s data, sometimes lying about his sources.

In the most notorious case (I think this was in the movie), he based his narrative on the sexual experiences of children on the precise and detailed records kept by one particular pedophile, which he took at face value. (But was that a scream of pain or an orgasm?)

A British Channel 4 documentary on this controversial research has never been aired in the United States (What’s up, PBS?), but you can see it on YouTube. It’s very good.

Alfred Kinsey, left, and occultist-filmmaker Kenneth Anger at Crowley’s former “abbey” in Cefalu, Sicily, in the early 1950s (Satanism in Hollywood website). Crowley himself died in 1947.

You can buy printed editions of some of Crowley’s magickal notebooks, including sex-magick workings, but they probably were not easily available sixty years ago.

Go much beyond this point, however, and you are wading into deep, dark, conspiratorial waters.

For instance, you can read on the Internet that the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded much of Kinsey’s research, was “pro-Nazi.”[1]

At the same time, Kinsey allegedly was part of a Jewish-Masonic-Illuminati conspiracy to undermine the moral fiber of America and “subjugate the masses.”

Right, a pro-Nazi Jewish conspiracy. It gets better, but you can find your own links.

A less conspiratorial anti-Kinsey movement is still alive and kicking. The Kinsey Institute is still “spinning” and defending itself against allegations of pedophila and underage sexual encounters in Kinsey’s research.

In retrospect Kinsey’s judgment in not anticipating such misinterpretations, and in placing so much emphasis on this one man’s evidence, can be questioned.

Note the use of the passive voice, favored by institutional spokesmen who do not really believe in their own message.

I don’t know if Kinsey ever read Crowley’s notebooks, but the very association is enough for some people to condemn him just for that.

For Kinsey, it was all data. “Kinsey worshiped data,” says one of the people in the documentary. Even Nazi pedophiles. But I see no evidence that he ever used Crowley’s sex-magick diaries, despite looking for them.

UPDATE: Crowley scholar Marco Pasi tells me that Kenneth Anger did share some of Crowley’s diaries with Kinsey — but is there evidence that Kinsey used them in his writing?

1. But then Michael Rockefeller was eaten by cannibals, so what goes around, comes around.

Sexuality and New Religious Movements

sex & nrmsSexuality and New Religious Movements, a collection edited by Henrik Bogdan (associate editor of The Pomegranate) and Jim Lewis, an American teaching in Norway, has been released by the academic publisher Palgrave Macmillan.

So far it is only in hardback, hence expensive.

Jeffrey Kripal, a noted scholar on sex and spirituality, has this to say:

Sex is not just sex. As anyone who has deeply engaged the history of religions knows, human sexuality runs the gamut from the most mundane fetish or fantasy to the profundities of charismatic authority, mystical experience, discarnate erotic encounter, alien abduction, even human deification. The essayists in this new volume demonstrate this still ill-understood truth in abundance and with astonishing historical and psychological detail. They thus take us further down the road toward a genuine understanding of our real situation in this weird, weird world.

I have an essay in there, written long enough ago now that I have trouble remembering what I said — and, who knows, I might want to revise some of those opinions. But the opening was good: it started with this sacred procession.

It Makes Women into ‘Witches’

What is it? Long hair:

Whatever the fashion, no woman over 55 should even think of wearing her hair long and loose, unless she wants to look like a mad witch. Hillary Clinton unwisely let her hair down recently and her authority drained away. She would do better to rein it back again neatly. Long hair may say “I’m seductive”, but it seldom says “I have authority”.

You can be sexual or you can have authority, says the Telegraph, one of Britain’s national newspapers.

This is the same fashion argument that the New York Times made two months ago: As commenters noted there too, it’s an argument about sexuaity, and whether older women should express any.

Is there some kind of p.r. campaign going on here?

Pentagram Pizza: Some Good Reads and Free Music

Finding a complementary relationship between Paganism and Tantra at The Pagan Perspective. Not this:

My sabbatical led me down the rabbit hole of tantra, or rather neo-tantra, which turned out to be nothing more than a mobsterized store front for polyamory and polysexuality. Now I am the last person to dismiss sexuality or the free expression of it; however, when sexuality becomes a religion in disguise, we lose something of both sexuality and religion.

Download a free compilation album, Songs of the Goddess.

• Edward Butler, who has published two articles in The Pomegranate, has put them and some other material into a book: Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion.

Occult Chicago links to an old article about a “spirit photographer” of that city. Some people sure did want to believe, didn’t they.

The Witches and the Stripper

Someone at the Daily Mail no doubt had a good time writing the headline “The drunken stripper from the Golden Banana, a coven of Salem witches and the ‘groping’ man horrifically impaled when she crashed into a flatbed truck.”

Yes, it is link bait, and I bit. Wouldn’t you?

But it made me think: One of the many untold stories about the beginnings of the Craft in North America (I can’t speak for other places) is the involvement of people who were in or peripheral to the world of sex work.

I have to make some revisions to an article that I wrote for an edited collection on sex and new religious movements. I’m doing Wicca, no surprise there, and am concentrating on sexual metaphor in ritual.  I think, however, that the editor wants more on the “sexy witch” archetype.

Certainly a lot could be said about that, but in one article? Likewise,  a lot could be said—but has not—about the nexus of sexual experimentation and contemporary Paganism. It’s not just Paganism, of course—alternative sexual relationships and new religious movements have intersected many times. Hence this book. Consider, for instance, the Oneida Community and its doctrine of “complex marriage,” a sort of 19th-century polyamory.

The sexual impulse and the religious-creation impulse are often closely linked, it seems.

Yoga, Ectasy, Religion, and Sex

Religion is sexy — at least some of the time. (To scholars of religion, all religion is “sexy” in an intellectual sense.)

Last year, I edited and prepared for press a new biography of the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. She was a leading figure in American religion in the 1920s, but a sex-related scandal in 1926 hurt her with the news media.

McPherson was widowed as a young woman, then briefly re-married. She was a “rock star” of religion, working larger and larger venues with thousands of people focused on her preaching and healings.

And after raising all of that divine energy, she was supposed to go home to her solitary bed. According to the author—in our private conversations—she did not always do so. Why am I not surprised? Maybe some day he will write that follow-up volume that tells all.

Interesting, a lot of today’s Pentecostal Christians do not know her name, although she founded one of its denominations. One of my students, a Pentecostal, said she had heard of her and thought of her as “scary”—but she did not know why.

All of this is a long introduction to a  New York Times article: “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here.”

One factor is ignorance. Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.

Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness.

The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. Candidates for worship included actresses and prostitutes, as well as the sisters of practitioners.

Hatha originated as a way to speed the Tantric agenda. It used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss. In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.

But it’s not just yoga and tantra. People get crushes on supposedly celibate Catholic priests, as Edie Falco’s character, Carmela,  did in The Sopranos. And so on. It’s a issue for clergy, just as it is with psychotherapists.

As a polytheist, I would like to time-travel back to one of Sister Aimee’s healing services and see if she was  channeling only Yeshua the radical rabbi or maybe someone else as well, someone known for lifting his devotees up and them hurling them down.

As polytheists, we know that some of the deities and some ritual practices carry a strong sexual charge. People who work these will feel the results. If we know that in advance—and if we can ways to use these energies that do not have bad social consequences—then Pagans won’t “find themselves less prone to surprise.”