I would like to believe that Witchcraft is devoid of abuses, however, I have heard of many in my own locality and I am sure we are not totally unique. Elders aspiring to "harm none" must be vigilant against the temptation to abuse power; to this end I would like to elaborate on a few types of abuse I have been told about or witnessed:

Lying about credentials, or lying in general to build a respected reputation. This is number one because it is so obvious and prevalent and because it is often the easiest first thing to ascertain about a teacher. Lying about credentials is a little like lying on your resume. It may not be abusive in and of itself. If you can do the job, few people will bother to ascertain that you never graduated from High School. The most experienced liars will lie about things that are difficult to disprove. The lies will involve people who cannot be easily reached for comment at the time the lie is being made. Some lies cause little harm and should be overlooked, however an elder who has a pattern of lying often has a hidden agenda and should be regarded suspiciously.

Promising or implying what can't be delivered. A good example of this is claiming that practising various spiritual techniques will enable the student to do psychokinesis, or fly. Students have been lead to believe that their bodies would levitate during deep meditation. Of course, if the meditation was deep enough, would they know the difference? The students of these teachers are usually charged a hefty fee for lessons or are pressured into making large donations. Later, they are too embarrassed to admit that they were taken by such an obvious scam; besides, it is almost impossible to recover "donations" especially those made to a "church."

Promising or implying what won't be delivered. Some elders hold out initiations or credentials or other forms of power and recognition like a carrot to get students to do things for them. In most cases what the elders are trying to get is either money, gifts, or volunteer work. One woman bought many lunches for elders hoping to be admitted to their coven before she found out they were unwilling to initiate her. My advice for this item and the one above are: get it in writing! If a written contract (or advertisement) can be presented, this might be an actionable fraud. Examples of this would be a course of study advertised as accredited by the state which isn't; or solicitations for a land fund that do not remain deposited in a dedicated land fund account.

Denying, delaying or withholding information or recognition for reasons of personal gain. A delay may be a judgement call. Withholding recognition usually involves an elder perceiving that the recognition of a student will diminish the elder's status within the group because it will mean sharing power. Eventually, the student who has been wrongfully denied recognition may leave and start his/her own group which may split the group's membership and allegiances. In any case it causes resentment. Withholding information may be another way of retaining control, particularly when a teacher has something to hide (an embarrassment or a crime) or something to gain by not revealing information (money, power).

Making requirements/ordeals too severe. This is another judgement call. Teachers who want to be sure that their students do not damage themselves and whose reputations rest on whether their students are well prepared for the tasks at various levels of magickal attainment may require that students master certain tasks or achieve certain goals before initiations are granted. A good example of a reasonable requirement would be breaking an addiction, or learning to read or cook or drive. An ordeal that would be too severe would be one that endangers the health or welfare of the student. There is an important distinction here between ordeals that appear dangerous or scary before one has undergone them and ordeals that actually are harmful. Occasionally a student is assigned a goal and chooses an inappropriate method of achieving that goal. In that case it may not be the teacher who is at fault.

Procuring, publishing, altering, or distributing someone else's writing without permission. There is a history of this happening in our religion. For all magickal documents: whether it is a ritual, a book of shadows, or a magickal charm; the author and only the author has the right to decide who may possess it and how it may be distributed and used. What I have stated here is an ethical truth, however, the laws of the land do not recognise the importance of magickal documents, making this ethical truth difficult to enforce unless the magickal document is also a copyrighted document and the author is willing to spend the money and time (and exposure) to take the offender to court. May the villains be revealed for what they are.

Seeking inappropriate gifts or favours. The usual inappropriate gifts are sex and money. When a teacher seeks inappropriate favours from a student, the teacher usually also belittles all other teachers; indicating that he and his path is the one true way or that the others are bad, dangerous, or ineffective. Why? Because otherwise the student will find out that most legitimate and good teachers do not seek inappropriate favours from their students. Students: know that you have a choice!

Making students fight your battles. Some teachers enlist their students, soliciting their help to fight their enemies. It is natural for students to want to protect their teacher and also natural for a student to believe what a teacher tells him about a situation. It is natural for a friend to want to protect a friend and likewise believe him. It is also human nature to be lazy and not check up on facts. Some teachers use this to their advantage and repeat lies loudly until everyone believes them. This is a warning to students: before you find yourselves perpetuating the wrongs of your teacher, seek out proof and/or corroboration. If you are involved in a battle and your teacher is in the wrong, the threefold law may rebound on you.

Finding fault with students to obscure inadequacies of the teacher. Students have been told they are "incapable of the work" or "not ready" because they have discovered a weakness in the teacher or the course of study. A good example of this might be the student who wants to fly and is getting impatient that the techniques aren't working. Some leaders sham being omniscient to gather followers/members; particularly when the reward is monetary, therefore all inadequacies must be on the part of the student. In the Old Religion, members of the High Priesthood are supposed to lead by virtue of their greater knowledge and experience; and they are obligated to teach what they have been taught so that others may also become leaders and teachers. Those who will not learn cannot teach. Good teachers will regularly re-evaluate their own motives and policies to determine if they are providing the best learning environment that they can for their students.

Victimising a student through group dynamics. This may be a method of getting rid of someone in a group who the leader views as competition or a threat. It may also be a method of intimidating a student into doing something that the student is resisting. Sometimes the teacher uses group dynamics against the student because he/she is uncomfortable with the direct approach of asking someone to leave. This is an inadequacy on the part of the teacher. Sometimes it is a deliberately manipulative tactic the teacher uses because the student has ties to someone else that the teacher wishes to keep in the group. Power plays and undercurrents within magickal groups are abusive and, like child abuse, tend to be perpetuated later by the victims on to their own groups. Counseling and other therapies or self-therapy may be required to break the cycle.

I have attempted to list the abuses that I have heard about most frequently. Many of them can happen in any group and are not necessarily limited to the magickal/Pagan communities. The good news is that I know many teachers who don't engage in any of these behaviours. Keeping in mind that we are all human and no one is perfect, I still maintain that it is the duty of those who would put themselves forth as elders, teachers, and/or leaders to always strive to maintain a high standard of ethics and fairness.

There are currently no accrediting bodies for Pagan churches, or magickal orders. Anyone can be a self-proclaimed Druid Bishop, a Secret Chief, or a High Priestess of the Old Religion. The only way someone can get caught at lying is if he fraudulently claims to be a member of a specific established order, and if that order is willing to undertake the time, expense, and exposure to pursue the matter. Therefore, there is no body that can remove self-proclaimed credentials when the leader/teacher/elder is acting unethically. It is a problem within our community that the legal system of the United States is not equipped to handle many of the issues that are important to our Priesthood, and that many of our people are unwilling or unable to alert the authorities when laws have been broken. Many of us are afraid of the publicity of legal battles as well as the prejudices of the courts against us, and not without good reason. There are circumstances in which legal battles are warranted and we should never deny ourselves this as an option.

We can boycott a commercial establishment. A boycott has a degree of effectiveness because new businesses usually require a broad base of support to survive. This tactic is less effective when a business is mail order or long established.

We can spread the word amongst ourselves when we have proof that someone is acting unethically. This has a more limited degree of effectiveness, especially if the leader is actively involved in contacting newcomers and/or groups in distant places.

I continue to hope that the people who are drawn to Paganism and magickal groups have only pleasant experiences, but I am also a very practical person and I know that innocence itself is not a defence. Am I quoting Crowley when I say "There is a seeker born every minute"?

Written by: Lady Setara, 1995
updated: November 30, 1997
document WINDABUS © 1995 Lady Setara

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Last updated November 2, 1999