When it is time for the open door to close in Pagan communities: addressing harmful behavior

People enter the worlds of alternative spiritual communities for reasons as personal as fingerprints. In the world of Pagan gatherings, open arms and open door policies of blanket acceptance seem to be the rule. All are welcome and none turned away. The rule is, be nice.

But like in the film “Roadhouse”, there is a clause regarding the practice of being nice. It is in the interest of all to be “nice”. This is to protect the good energy and intentions of all and sundry. But there is a time to not be “nice”

Passivity in the face of angry disruption and intimidation is not the characteristic response of a healthy community. Reasoned diffusion is the goal of any negative interaction. But this is active engagement to redirect the course of possibly disastrous events from fruition. The paralysis of the challenged is becoming more common, and it is endangering all of us.

The introduction of the antagonist in a peaceful gathering often carries subtle markers of observable escalation. Verbal disparagement aimed at generalities are most common. Farther along the path is the claiming of bitches and grievances regarding groups of individuals. This usually continues until confrontational behaviors emerge. These moments can turn verbally explosive, in the progression of the disruptive individual, with intent on disturbing the peace. It is a practice in the manipulation of the energy and feelings of those assembled that suffer in these circumstances. The turmoil of the group mind can result in moral injury in trying to find a way to remain inclusive while protecting the common good.

“Feeling…perhaps the strongest single element in the practice of magick. To produce the power, you must feel strongly about what you are trying to do.” – Buckland, Raymond, “Bucklands Complete Book of Witchcraft, p. 160

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

Like the greater society, the spiritual communities are evolving to recognize effective ways to respond to crisis and behavioral patterns. Many leaders take courses in Mental Health First Aid, mediation, and other programs to gain tools for managing confrontations and disagreements. Peer support forums also aid in giving real world feedback on best approaches toward discordant situations.

While it is held to be important to be ready for quick response, the onus of accountability must not be forgotten. That open door means nothing if the people who walk through it are permitted to abuse the ones that are seated on the other side. Recurring acts of harm and intimidation can not be established as an acceptable norm for the price of meeting in person. Fellowship and kindness must not be sacrificed on the altar of irrational forgiveness poisoning. Forgiveness only happens if there is injury. The repetition of injurious actions and intent has to exhaust that well at some point. Otherwise, it ceases to be active forgiveness tempered with rational compassion, and becomes passive victim glorification. There are no rewards for social martyrdom.

In fact, consistent attacks by a group member facilitate the destruction of the group. Emotional contagion is always at play in meetings. A single committed antagonist corrupts and drains the good will from a space. Not to be confused with normal complaints and venting, the committed antagonist demands that their toxicity ride the air and infect everything it touches. They are most often readily identifiable by an seemingly laser focus on attacking anyone in leadership, or the spotlight.

Antagonists are individuals who, on the basis of nonsubstantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity. 

Haugk, Kenneth C., “Leader Killers: How to Identify and Deal with Antagonists in Your Organization”, Ch 1

It is critical to contain and diffuse any upsets caused by such an individual, or group. The cessation of the escalation must happen in a calm yet firm matter. If possible, the disruption must include separation of the parties immediately. Preferably, the physical distancing of them should be top priority. The rules of conduct are there for a reason, and must be upheld. There can be no tolerance of intimidating behavior, or bullying. This includes verbal insults or slurs.

Mediation, for a dedicated and committed antagonist, is futile. This person is not seeking amelioration, but surrender. They seek to reign as a great beast of snarling anger over their domain……the group. They want to be the “big bad”. The only answer to this is to refer to the rules of conduct and ENFORCE THEM without passion or anger. Emotional responses are what are wanted, and will be used to fuel further episodes of wild rambling fury in many cases. This, also, would feed the repetition of the very scenes they are orchestrating.

Expulsion has to be in those consequences. A hard line has to exist. No abuser willingly stops abusing until force is brought into the equation. The force of moral authority, here, is that of the removal from the group. This is for the protection of the members, and the education of the offender. It is necessary to be clear that this is the consequence given only for the most egregious patterns of behavior. It is not done as a surprise punishment, but as a means to ensure survival and safety, It is clear and unmistakably understood beforehand.

As our Pagan spaces age and grow, we face the reality that our society has changed. Different customs and individual mores are entering spaces foreign and frightening to the people involved. It is our responsibility to hold our spaces inviolate and safe for ourselves and our guests. Keep the open door. But make sure you know when to lock it.

Follow us at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.