Worship and Rape Culture

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Since the rash of scandals that happened at the intersection of Pagan and Sexual Predation (of one kind of another) I have been bothered. I have been bothered very deeply, and I have been struggling to articulate my feelings on the subject. My head has been swimming with questions that sound like, “How have we failed as a community?”

The failure isn’t that the community contains sexual predators. Every community does, whether we like it or not. We have a responsibility to be vigilant, to support, and to involve the authorities, obviously. The cover-ups are disgusting, but let’s move on.

What I found especially disturbing was the percentage of these stories that focused on community elders, trad founders and elevated clergy. We say so much about the importance of initiation, and the deep spiritual changes it can bring. We repeat, ad nauseum, the axe of “do not teach the mysteries to fools.” We talk about lineage, assuming that we are receiving important spiritual essence from our initiator, and our initiator’s initiator, and so on. What is in the well water that we are seeing this and this and this? And this as a response?

I spent a long time thinking about it, and I worry that there is a deeper problem. I have heard these things:

“I didn’t want Her/Him, but eventually, I had to realize that I didn’t have a choice.”

“If I don’t let Him/Her ride me, there will be consequences.”

“I don’t have a choice about being horsed.”

Rather than being horrified, people laugh knowingly. Yes, of course the gods don’t seek consent from their followers before claiming them or using their bodies. Why would a powerful, experienced being need to seek consent from a weaker, less experienced one, in the pursuit of fulfilling their desires?

In rape culture, it is believed that there are certain unwritten contracts about sex, or circumstances where one party “owes” sex to the other. It is believed that women are inferior, and therefore taking what you want from them is OK. As if to say, “since you are less than me, I can use your body however I like.” The expectation is that women secretly want to be raped. Sexual coercion is a “win.” If you replace “sex” with “service,” you may as well be describing the way some people look at relationships with deities.

“Yeah, but it’s a god,” you might say.

Because, of course, those who worship the gods don’t look up to them as moral exemplars, or try to benefit from their wisdom, or emulate them in any way.

We have, very rightly, set the gods that we worship as our spiritual high-water mark. We have, very wrongly, portrayed these gods as individuals with no respect for human autonomy. Humans, like all primates, learn through imitation and are highly imitative in nature. If that is how we see gods, then that is the mental image we will reference when deciding how to use the power that we have over others. If that is our exemplar, how will we treat newcomers, initiates, students and even our children? If all our gods are concerned with is might, and how it makes right, who is lesser, who is greater, and who is inherently entitled to use whom, then seriously, we need new gods. 

Thing is, I don’t believe for a second that this is the case. Humans that misuse power make bad communities. Bad communities are unstable. Unstable communities do not help to build what the gods actually want: regular festivals, temples, and eventually, mystery cults.

Yes, Greek mythology is full of rape and rape culture related stuff. Women who give sexual consent and then change their minds are punished. Rape is how many a deity was conceived. It isn’t exactly a shining example of a mythology of consent. I actually don’t know of a mythology that is. The ancient world was brutal, mythology reflects that reality, and we can’t go back and change who we used to be. However, when we relate our stories of modern-day experiences with deities, this is a kind of mythology, also. That kind of mythology shapes the present-day experiences of others. 

Changing the way we talk about consent, not just surrounding sex and physical touching, but also surrounding mystical intimacy, is, I think, a necessary first step in creating a culture of consent wherein there is, “an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.” (Definition of “Consent Culture”: Urban Dictionary). 

If we accept that gods violate, are allowed to violate, coerce and are allowed to coerce, we inherently come to view violation and coercion as sacred. That was the rabbit hole that the Frosts plummeted down. Personally, I’d rather not.

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