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Archive for April, 2014

Hieros Gamos

Midnight’s quick’ning power
I charm forth from the Well,
beneath Black Cupid’s hour
arise you silvery stars from hell.

The Devil spells my Name
in his Dark Book of Death,
writ in blood of ancient flood,
his kiss is such pure bliss.

And as an altar in the wood,
my body bent and frenzy made
unto me to give a’he could
for my soul in trade.

And now my spirit goes by night
riding ‘pon a faery fox,
to soar and seek in umbral flight
under lakes and elf hillocks.

There to meet my daimon lover
who with fire is thrice crowned—
my shadow husband and Self-Other—
as our love upon the Mill is ground.

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The Ordeal

PROLOGUE

 

I approach this subject with a lot of apprehension, because it has driven such a huge wedge into my life and has left many wounds within me and those I love. I have been sitting with this and the rising pressure, like low thunder moving closer, ever since the story broke about the Blue Star Wiccan High Priest Kenny Klein being a sexual predator and child abuser. T. Thorn Coyle contacted me about sharing her story of events that transpired with regards to the Feri Tradition dealing with the sexual predator, pedophile, and sociopath Sabre/Benjamin K. Sangraal. But the spirits most Familiar to me have spoken and move my hand, and I am called to share my story, as I, unfortunately, stood at the eye of the maelstrom of all that happened.

 

“Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Harpy cries—’Tis time, ’tis time.'”

HISTORY
I have waited several days, trying to work through so much anger and sadness around what happened four years ago in late 2010 and in early 2011. Although I don’t want this story to be about me, I want to include myself in it; it is ultimately from my perspective and *my* story, not an “objective” rundown of events. I embrace of the intersubjectivity of all that has happened. I’m also allowing for the fragility of memory.

I met Benjamin Sangraal on the internet in 2003 or thereabout. He was a student of T. Thorn Coyle in her 2-year “apprenticeship” training in the Feri tradition. I knew he lived in northern Illinois near Chicago. We were both young, queer, and intelligent. Over the years, as I grew as a student and he completed his training, I felt we grew into a kind of “friendship” though we had never met in person.
After he finished his first two years with Thorn, he decided not to move on, and to focus on his activity in Reclaiming and the OTO. He was going to college and after he completed his photography degree, I know he went to France for close to six months to “find himself.” I remember thinking his ego had gotten out of control before he left, and then when he returned from his French vacation, he seemed more humbled.
In 2009 our internet communications intensified. We started talking more, and he informed me that he was “no longer gay” or at least only vaguely queer and not interested in exploring his homosexuality, and had met a girl he found himself very interested in. They bonded over a traffic accident they were in during a road trip and started seriously dating, from what I can remember.
He talked to me about how he saw us on the same path, in that I was a formerly gay-identified guy who was in a committed relationship with a woman, and she was pregnant with our son. He almost seemed to idolize that, constantly bringing up how, on one visit to the SF Bay Area where he had met Cora Anderson, she had told him he was supposed to have children. By September of that year, we were making plans for his visit out here. He had been having a hard time living in Chicago and facing deep winter depression, and his father had just passed away suddenly. He came to stay with us for 3 weeks at our home, the first time I had actually met him in person. And the person who showed up was not who I was expecting.
CONTEXT
“By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.”
He was handsome and charming at first, coy and playful and sly. But there were the sexist, homophobic, racist, classist, ad nauseum, comments that slipped in to his banter. He defended Gavin and Yvonne Frost’s abusive ideas. He was obsessed with convincing us to do a circumcision on our son when he was born. He talked about his disgust for gay men and yet when we first went to a Radical Faerie Sanctuary, he was having sex with a man not thirty minutes after our arrival. He was a deeply conflicted person, but I still didn’t understand how deep it ran.
One night near the end of his visit, during a quiet, emotional, drunken confessional, he told me about his sexual experiences he had with his brothers, his desire to sexually abuse his own children, and his desire to “bring me in on it”. I didn’t even know how to respond to his revelations. It felt like some dark thing spilling out into the room, and I just … said nothing. I pushed it to the back of my mind, because, hey, he didn’t actually have any kids or any on the way. It was just a dark fantasy. It was the wine. He returned to Chicago, still unsure if and when he would be moving to the SF Bay Area.
He moved to the SF Bay Area from Chicago in Spring 2010, and with him he brought the news that his girlfriend was pregnant. A deep wave of pure horror washed over me, and I hadn’t told anyone why. I had kept his confessions to myself. And I was afraid.

We met with them and convinced them to go to our midwife that we had used. The way he treated his girlfriend seemed very controlling, and she constantly checked with him to speak, or see if what she had said was okay. It made me very uncomfortable and I thought it was creepy.

I didn’t see him for a month or two, after that. In the meantime, he made his way into the Reclaiming community there and was invited to be a mentor at a teen witch camp. When he returned from camp, he messaged me on the internet, “I have secret pussy news.” I didn’t even know what that might mean. Recalling a story he had once shared with me of how he’d slept with a Reclaiming teacher at a camp when he was 18, I figured that he had done something similar. He also expressed that he wanted me to visit him, urgently, at his new apartment/photography studio in San Francisco (you see, he said he was going to be doing infant photography for the wealthy, and called his studio L’Enfant).
When I arrived, his girlfriend was leaving for work. When she had gone, he instantly started in on it. He told me he had gone to this camp and had started teaching Feri to a handful of teens there, and planned to make a coven of these teenagers and he would be their Feri teacher. He also told me that one teen in particular had caught his eye. This person was young and he had plans to make them his “new sweetie”. He claimed to be texting with this person during our conversation, setting up a date where they would meet. I “knew”, somewhere in my gut, that my job was to get as much info as I could so I played along asking him questions, to indulge him into continuing to talk about it. I eventually pulled specific details of this person from him (who wishes to remain anonymous), and when I left, I called a friend of mine who I knew walked in Reclaiming circles (I knew very few folks in that tradition).
To shorten the story, the father of the young teen intercepted the text messages between both of them and any meeting they had planned was stopped. He never touched the teen. Reclaiming has since revamped their policies around this incident to ensure that mentors are vetted and trained. However, by doing this, I had just proven my disloyalty to Sabre. Within a few days I was getting angry texts and sad, vaguely threatening voicemails left on my phone.
I told my partner everything I knew, and she rightly was disturbed and troubled, just as I had been. We emailed the Grandmaster of the Feri Tradition and her husband (who were in the process of going into a business venture with Sabre), T. Thorn Coyle who I respect as a fellow initiate and voice of compassion and thoughtful righteousness, M. Macha Nightmare (who I knew had, at the time, a close friendship/mentorship with Sabre), Storm Faerywolf (who promised me to always “have my back” and aid and defend me), and my own adopted Witch-mother whose intuition and wisdom has never steered me wrong. We sought counsel.
I had shut off all communication with Sabre and was thankful he did not know where we lived. My partner and I also contacted our former midwife who was now caring for the girlfriend, so that she could keep an eye on things on her end. I told her everything I knew, knowing she couldn’t tell me anything about their care. Eventually, about a month before their baby was due, I met with the girlfriend at the midwife’s behest, and brought along a close friend of mine as a witness. I wanted to disclose everything I knew to her, because I thought she had a right to know, and a bed had been set up for her did she decide to leave him. She did not know I would be there, and as she arrived, we had her sit down and I spilled the mess.
It turns out that Sabre had spent the last few months telling her that all the creepy, disturbing confessions he had made to me were actually from my own mouth. He was now studying Feri with Valerie “veedub” Walker in San Francisco, and he had been making similar statements to her, too. The girlfriend wanted nothing to do with Feri, and thought we were all demented based on everything Sabre had said to her. I didn’t understand her feelings toward Feri, but as I learned there and later on during the court proceedings (and through very strange, selective, careful questions from the midwife that seemed out of the blue about our Craft), he had been using Feri as an excuse to assert some very strange requirements and preferences for their prenatal care.
The intervention itself was a bust. The girlfriend ended up calling Sabre to come to the birth center, and I decided not to get into a confrontation with him, so I left with my friend. I had tried to do what I felt was right. I knew I had to tell the Feri community about this predator who was using our teachings to justify and excuse his unstable and destructive behavior. And the authorities were deeply disturbed because, like it or not, our traditions are not for public display—we are deeply Other and strange to them. We are potentially dangerous.
BRINGING IT INTO THE LIGHT
On October 7th, 2010, I came to a large online forum of initiates of the Feri Tradition after having been working with the list moderator privately (meaning this person had seen the final draft and approved it for sharing) to publish “An Open Letter to the networked Feri Initiate Community”. The letter was met with support by some and open hostility and ostrich-ing by many others. This is where the actions taken by some initiates (myself included) to institute a split in the Feri Tradition began to phenomenally unfold. I have reproduced the letter below for context.
What became very clear was that when I first reported the happening with Reclaiming, I was getting some support. I had turned to a number of initiates who I thought of as allies, and we were getting counsel, though there was some cautious doubt. I soon realized that it wasn’t everything I had thought. After the publishing of my letter, I felt much less supported. I strongly believe that my item (2) of my open letter is the source of my demonization by many public Feri, for my connection of openly teaching the Craft as a way of making a living (and not necessarily toward initiation into a traditional way) and not being able to vet students when one teaches in such a large way. Of bringing this illness to our house.
My problem was a real lack of personal intimacy with one’s students, of knowing who they really were before handing over to them very potent teachings and facilitating experiences of the Mysteries. These things intensify everything about us, opening doors to the Underworld within us and turning up the Fire of Cunning inside our bodies. After my letter, I was attacked by many initiates of the tradition, notably a few of the folks I had originally turned to, privately, for support. When I threatened the model of teaching the Craft widely by making this connection, I lost their support.
I don’t regret making that connection. I feel it is legitimate. I think there is a resounding call here that when we share our Craft, whether as teachers and students, or coven siblings, we need to truly, deeply know those we make covenant with. I don’t believe anymore that the Craft “works” as large communities or “traditions” of hundreds of people. It only “works”, it is only sustainable, as covens and small networks of practitioners and covens. It is meant to be familial. It is not a religion of the masses, if it is even a religion at all (and to some it is not).
And we need to be vigilant for predators in our midsts, and part of our training should be in how to spot such people; it is tied into interconnection and interdependence which are at the core of the animistic world-view found in the Old Craft. When someone preys upon others, they are putting their desire and power over another, and that is not our way. Predators and sociopaths act in a selfish, disconnected way from the community, and they have broken the covenant of Love and Trust. I always look to bell hooks’ definition of love, as an action, a verb, a raising someone up to be the best of themselves that their true spirit shines through clearly in all that they do. I extend this to the idea of Trust, something that is earned but can never be bought.
THE ORDEAL
I have been working through pain and grief for the last few years; I felt like I have lost something, and many of us have. I felt like I had to leave an abusive relationship, one that I wanted so badly to be in. The Feri Tradition as it was could no longer be sustainable. It had gotten too big, and it needed to diverge. There are those of us who decided to take action and numinously sunder the tradition, and walk away from the public arena. This is why I stand with (Old) Faery now.
And it isn’t just the sharing of what some consider private material with the public. Honestly, the Mysteries protect themselves and that information is pretty decoration, the real Beings and Forces and Tools of our tradition can only be handed down breath to ear and flesh to flesh. What has struck me so deeply is the deep betrayal those of us who walked away have felt, how we were disrespected, attacked, ignored, and belittled by our peers. Our concerns were not heeded, and look, a predator came into our midsts, made claims about being a Feri initiate, used what he knew as an excuse to the authorities for his behavior.
After the letter to the initiate network, the baby of Sabre and his girlfriend was born in early September. She was named Cora Rose. Sabre took it upon himself to email every initiate he knew to come to his aid, as he claimed his baby was “taken away because of religious discrimination”. Apparently his behavior at the birth alerted hospital staff at SF General and they called CPS. He was claiming his behavior was coherent with Feri tradition practices and ethics. I had tried to report what I knew to CPS previously, but because there was no “child” yet born, they couldn’t take any report.
Their baby, Cora Rose, was placed in temporary foster care awaiting a CPS hearing called a “TDM”. A handful of Feri initiates responded to Sabre’s call: the Grandmaster, T. Thorn Coyle, M. Macha Nightmare, and his teacher Valerie Walker. They attended the TDM and were put under a gag order not to talk about what happened (which is now moot).
I got to see some of the transcripts of this TDM later as a witness for the lawyer defending the baby’s rights during a more formal custody hearing in court. My name had been given to CPS and the lawyer by the midwife who was also at the TDM. During that very loosely formal hearing that determined where temporary custody would go for Cora Rose, Valerie Walker, with the help of M. Macha Nightmare, wrote the names of initiates (some who had no connection with the events and were private individuals) on a white board, unasked-for, trying to connect Gabriel Carrillo, a deceased Feri initiate, to all that was happening.
It was explained to me as part of some concocted idea they had implicating me as the source for all of Sabre’s “bad luck” in the situation. Gabriel was my teacher in the tradition, and had been decried as a sexual predator by some, and certainly had unconventional ethics around sex and sexuality; however, in my dealings with him, he was always careful to gage consent (and many arguments center around “informed consent” here, and who can give it, who has agency, who doesn’t, etc). I would argue that some of the allegations leveled against him over the years stem from homophobia and the placing of heterosexual cultural norms on the sexuality of queer men. Suffice to say Gabe was a libertine and his iron-solid power was charismatic. He was also very human and deeply wounded at that.
Valerie Walker continued to attack me in public and private, and wrote several letters to the court decrying me and claiming very strange events happened with Sabre that never actually did. My favorite was that I was possessed by Gabriel. I was never Sabre’s teacher, though at one point before I’d ever met him in person, said that I would speak for him to stay on a student’s list. How foolish.
THE AFTERMATH
The CPS trial left custody of Cora Rose to her mother under supervision, and a restraining order against Sabre. Unfortunately, the baby died just a few days after being returned to her mother. Sabre and his girlfriend returned to Illinois. It was there that Sabre got a job as a photographer taking school pictures at an elementary. While there, he was caught in the boy’s bathroom taking pictures with his cellphone of kids urinating. He was arrested and later sentenced to prison until 2018. He’s now a registered sex offender. He and his girlfriend also conceived another baby when they returned to the Chicago area, a child who was born before he went to prison, a son. Nimue have mercy on this child.
Sabre and his girlfriend then turned around and began a civil suit against SF General Hospital (and certain doctors and nurses there), the City and County of San Francisco (CPS), and the midwife who cared for them. I was called back to San Francisco to be a witness for the City last year, along with a handful of other initiates who had been involved, such as T. Thorn Coyle, the Grandmaster, Valerie Walker, and M. Macha Nightmare. It was during my deposition that I learned that Macha had handed over, without being asked or subpoenaed, hundreds of private email exchanges that occurred between initiates on a private forum. She also was still flapping about the deceased Gabriel Carrillo, my connection to him, and lots of dubious mumblings and doubt about my honesty. Her agenda could have cost the City of San Francisco more money than anyone I know has ever seen. Likewise, Valerie Walker, who has been declared anathema by her initiators, has continued to defend Benjamin Sangraal and attack me with equally deluded stories.
If that doesn’t anger and disturb you, you’re not paying attention. I know that some initiates live securely within the Bay Area bubble, but the rest of the country—the rest of the world, even—is not so friendly to Witchcraft and its Mysteries. They still hunt and kill us in some countries in Africa and the Middle East, and it can get you fired from your job in many states, especially here in the Midwest. The world is far from safe for those who practice the Craft, and we are still mocked or feared, and looked upon with suspicion. Their deluded stories and vendettas with a dead man put my family at risk.
TAKING ON THE TEACHING
I know that some have felt abused by Gabriel, and I cannot doubt the stories of others when they stand up to thoughtful compassion. I do think our communities need to have some serious discussions on the nature of power, agency, and consent. These do not often reflect mainstream cultural values or ethics, but the heart of our consideration is in moving toward Wholeness and the expression of Life-force: Love.
I would love to see an analysis and deconstruction of models of right relationship between magister and apprentice. I do not believe sex between magister and apprentice is wrong or abusive or unhealthy in and of itself. I do think that romantic relationships between magister and apprentice are foolish and ill-advised, as it does both roles (lover and teacher, lover and apprentice) a disservice, and therefore ultimately a disservice to the Craft. But there is an important context that I deeply believe in with regards to teaching our prentices sex magic. I stand with my lovely Craft sister Cholla who has said, “I wield sex as a tool and a weapon and an instrument to craft new witches.”
And I will fight for these forbidden mysteries, these transgressive sorceries, as they are the legacy of authentic Witchcraft. And yet, consent must be sought, agency built, space made for power to flow. This requires a very different model of relationship between magister and apprentice: a relationship of adept and disciple—of instruction and facilitation—rather than guru and supplicant. To be a disciple means taking on the teaching—doing the work—rather than elevating the teacher to a profound position. And this means, for those of us who are stewards of certain Witching Ways, to be more discerning when choosing our apprentices. It requires we be a regular, physical presence in one another’s lives, built on trust and love and the building of a deep intimacy and vulnerability between us.
Our instruction with our apprentices need to include training on how to recognize predators. We need to emphasize inter-connection as much as we do self-Sovereignty—they are two sides of the same coin. We need to be wards and guardians of our communities and look out for one another in ways that respect our communal autonomy and pay homage to the ways in which we are interdependent. And when someone breaks the covenant of our love and trust by preying upon us or one another, we need to shun them until they can participate in the restoration of justice and we bring them back into the fold. It is the only way to enforce our shared ethics in communities such as ours.
There is no justice without restorative justice. This requires all stories to be told, all the voices involved to be heard and welcomed to the table. All. Anything else is vendetta dressed in pretty rags.
To quote my beloved magister who has passed into the Underworld as one of the Mighty Dead, “Never forget, this entire life is about Love. All we have is each other, and the world we nurture. Take care of those you love.”
EPILOGUE: THE SEVEN-HEADED HYDRA
I have been dealing with these events for the last four years. I am still in mourning for the loss of my tradition and those I had considered siblings and allies, but I don’t regret bringing attention to the predator, no matter how many initiates told me it didn’t affect the tradition, that I was lying, that I was making drama or a spectacle. I don’t regret joining with others to sunder the tradition and split off to (Old) Faery. This has been a long time coming. Witchcraft doesn’t work in a large community, it isn’t for sharing widely, it will not illumine the masses.
But this story of a predator who came into our midsts, and used what he knew of our ways to try and excuse his behavior, will haunt us every time a predator comes to light in the media. And because the Craft is looked at as kooky or even dangerous, it will put those of us who are identified (or identifiable) as Witches into the category of “suspicious”. It will put our families at risk, our jobs, our safety in the communities where we live.
This story is a warning, and it will rear its head again and again until we learn from it and incorporate what it has to teach us into our Ways. Let us keep our power. Evohe.
“An Open Letter to the networked Feri Initiate Community”

Brothers and Sisters of the Feri tradition,

 

I am writing to this list because I have been carrying a terrible burden for the last year and it has now become clear that I need to tell this secret to my brothers and sisters of the Craft. While it is something I now feel a lot of resentment for in having had this dark stuff lain upon me, it is also a lesson, for me at least, in what being aFeri Priest is about, and this is a very real situation. This situation is a mess, and there are going to be no happy or “good” outcomes from it — other than hopefully a child will be protected from any abuse that may have been coming and maybe we as a community can understand some possible lessons that may have been presented.

 

Last October, a former Feri student (who was in one of those big classes in the Midwest) came to visit Lily and me in preparation towards moving to California from Chicago with his girlfriend. The man’s name is Sabre/Benjamin Sangraal. I have known Sabre for 10 years via the internet, since he began working in the Reclaiming and Feri communities at 16 (and I was 19, living in Ohio). Sabre did not go on from his introductory class, but he wished to remain part of the student list, so I let folks there know that I would “speak for him” though I was not his teacher, that he could remain and participate in the discussions. He felt that he was/is part of the Feri tradition, though not an initiate. I had believed I knew this man fairly well, but after meeting him, it became very obvious that I did not and I was only seeing the real individual for the first time.

 

While he was out visiting us, it became more and more clear to me that Sabre intentionally presented himself not as he truly is. Opinions and world perspectives came to light during his visit, and it also became clear that he was sharing very personal and often unrevealed parts of himself with me that he didn’t share with many. He seemed to have a sort of hero-worship with me because he saw me as a formerly-gay man who was about to have a child, and he has been struggling with his own sexuality and attraction to men for a few years now, and wanted to be in (what he saw as) my shoes. He also considered me a teacher and a “brother” though I let him know that I do not think of myself as a Feri teacher and was not interested in teaching him.

 

And so it is because of this I believe he revealed to me many things which I found progressively disturbing as the visit continued. An important note is that while he was visiting us, an article about Gavin and Yvonne Frost had come out in the Pagan blogosphere. During a discussion with Sabre about the Frosts, he asserted that he thought the Frosts were “right” when they wrote about taking the virginity of young children in ritual as a rite of passage; that he believed this could and should be done by parents and that it did not cause any harm to the child. This was the tip of the iceberg.

I have been advised that because of the nature of the things he shared with me, I should omit the gory details because they are quite triggering. However, they are available to any initiate who wishes to hear them. Just please write to me offlist.

 

There are a few generalities that I feel should be heard about what was spoken to me. (As background, and an FYI, as “Priest(esse)s” of this tradition, we are mandatory reporters, meaning that if someone tells us about child abuse, we by-law have to report it to the police and CPS.)

 

(A) Sabre admitted to me that he intends on having sexual contact with his children. At the time he said this, he had no children. But his pregnant girlfriend is due with their daughter in two weeks.

 

(B) Sabre taught and was intending to further teach the Feri tradition to (and form a coven with) teenagers that he met at a Reclaiming Teen Earth camp.

 

(C) While at the Reclaiming teen camp he met a [teen] who he began grooming for a sexual relationship. No sexual contact happened between him and the [teen] because of the intervention I made by telling the organizers of the camp and the [teens]’s father intervened. [The teen] is no longer in any danger, and I believe Reclaiming has dealt with the issue of such a situation happening again.

 

I think there are some very important pieces here that need to be shared with the Feri community…

 

(1) There is a very disturbed and potentially dangerous person who is moving in our communties. Reclaiming has dealt with him to their satisfaction and told him not to come to their events. But Feri teachers need to be made aware of this person and both the actions he has committed and what his intentions are. They can choose to tell their students at their own discretion.

 

(2) Online environments do not really tell you who someone is, and it behooves us to be very careful with whom and how we share Feri teachings. I believe that intimacy with one’s students is the only way to really know them. Sabre has justified much of what he has done using the teachings he has received directly from initiates and elsewhere online. While he could and would have used something else to justify his behavior, I feel that it is very disturbing that he can so easily use Feri teachings to do so. Our teachings and tools are real and awaken great magical power in those who practice them. They can also drive people insane. I strongly believe we need to share more carefully.

 

(3) It is possible that Sabre may try to get “revenge” for me having told what he disclosed (I have several angry voice-mails saved on my phone), and I am here to ask for protection. I had to confront his girlfriend two weeks ago ([a Faery initiate] came with me as my support and witness) at the urging of the midwife who had been made aware of these situations. It became clear that he is already spreading malicious speech about me to anyone who will talk to him. His girlfriend has been told that the fantasies he shared with me last fall are actually things that I have said to him. She had a lot to say about Feri (“you all think you’re so wonderful, but you’re really just a bunch of sexual deviants and perverts”) when I met with her at the birth center, out of anger. She believes that these events never happened, and that I’m trying to get Sabre “kicked out of Reclaiming and Feri” because I really want to have sex with him but he rejected me. It’s clear that I need some protection from this harmful person, beyond what I’ve already done for myself and my family.

 

I also ask that those who feel called send out protection to his pregnant girlfriend and their soon-to-be born daughter, that he especially does not harm his child.

 

With a heavy heart,

 

Oberyn A. Kunning

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Weaver Weaving

The Starry Black Goddess is burning
‘mid the dance of the compass round,
She is sky rightly turning,
the mill on which we are ground.

Her body is the green dragon-book
whose inscriptions are writ in the Land.
She is the Cauldron and Reaping Hook,
all threads wove from her Pale Hand.

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