First, apologies for how long it has taken to follow up with the second half of this article. Two things happened: Pagan con month, that period between February and April that can keep you on the road, and my partners asked me to back off from digging into this story for a little while because my jumping at slammed doors and sudden defensive defaulting in communications became a problem. I haven’t promised that I won’t subject myself to a trigger-fest like Greyland’s ever again, but I have agreed to approach such things in much smaller doses.
At last I am back, to finish the work I began – and that is to look closely at the passages about Isaac Bonewits, in light of what I understand about the whole of Greyland’s work and narrative, the agenda of her publisher Vox Day, and real accounts from members of the Pagan community.
I also have to set aside my own tendency to fight the “logic” of Greyland’s abusers, because I’m disgusted by them on her behalf and on my own. If you need one key for creating a positive environment that respects boundaries rather than a negative one that feeds ego demons, it is this: your personal freedom is not and can not be bought at the expense of another being. This is especially true in the case of sexual freedom, because everyone around you has the freedom and absolute right to refuse you. It’s really that simple.
I do know there are other Pagans that have read Greyland’s book, but I haven’t happened to encounter any in my own circle for discussion. When looking at Greyland’s account about Bonewits, it differs greatly from the rest of the book. Greyland writes in graphic detail about her mother’s abuse – forced oral sex in the bathtub, sticking her tongue in her ear; she is clear and graphic about her father’s mental state before he rapes her as a young child, and in her teen years Greyland accounts for rapes from young men in great, graphic detail, often still blaming herself for how her refusals are ignored.
Only in the passages about Isaac Bonewits is she vague. Only in those passages is anything left to implication. Only those passages lack the painful authenticity of the rest of her book.
The voice is also very different from the rest of the book. Admittedly I may be influenced by the current hilarious literary circle criticism of how men write women these days, but it seems like it’s not a woman writing the experience in these passages. Do I believe Greyland hated Bonewits? Yes. I’ve been locked in basements with condescending nerds, too, and the urge to murder is natural bordering on divine right. Do I believe he assaulted her?
Based on what was written, I have no conclusion because I’m not sure I believe Greyland wrote it. The voice differs, and suddenly instead of going into the graphic details she employs in absolutely every other part of the book, she says she can’t because she will start “screaming and throwing things.”
I do not want to give credibility to the dismissive “distorted memory” incident for two reasons: none of what Greyland wrote comes from recovered memory therapy. The recovered memories of the 1990s did prove to be false and ruined a lot of lives. This was all from her own memory and her own experience. Second, people with PTSD have had their brain chemistry altered. We have a particular talent for recalling unpleasant events to the point that it obscures happier events; that’s how PTSD works. But it’s also possible for us to over-remember trauma, and since that research is newer, I am waiting because I refuse to dilute the impact of everything else that happened to this person. I don’t doubt that she remembers what she remembers.
Given Greyland’s commitment to squeezing every horrific drop of her experience onto the page, to suddenly back away from that – for only one person in the course of the book – seems …fishy.
It doesn’t happen often at all, and usually only happens with fiction, but once in a great while an editor will slip a paragraph or two into a book. Most editors will ask an author to add these paragraphs themselves, but sometimes because of deadline pressures or the author having some other circumstance that prevents adding these passages, an editor or someone at a publishing house will add those paragraphs here and there. It usually happens when a story structure needs a little something extra, or when context is needed to understand a particular aspect of the book.
Did this happen here, and the editor chose some vague anecdote about Isaac Bonewits for the focal passage? Was the intention to throw in a well known Pagan teacher to somehow “bring down” US Paganism (it’s clear to me that the Pagans of this book, while still well known names, are not necessarily where the energy of the Pagan religious movement is at this point in the 21st century.)
We can’t know, and it’s highly unlikely anyone at the publishing house would tell us. The Dark Side of Avalon served an agenda, and that agenda was 1)to serve Vox Day’s “what aboutism” agenda in an attempt to detract from his own history of sexual and racial harassment and 2)for Greyland to vent about people she has deemed harmful based not on their actions but on their identities. It is also an attempt to assert her own identity, and while I am appalled about her complete lack of discernment with others, including women she dated and hurt, as an abuse survivor I can absolutely respect her need for the assertion of self.
The Dark Side of Avalon has surfaced other stories about Bonewits within the Pagan community, and those stories do need to be heard and considered. We still live in an unfortunate world where 12 women can report harassment from the same person, and only when 12 more women come forward will the first group be believed. Paganism in general has some boundary issues that need eradication, and Bonewits was most active at the time when the boundaries were at their worst.
We still struggle with acknowledging our Pagan personality cults have abusers in them and that this truly needs to stop. But first we must recognize abuse, and second we must stop obscuring that abuse with fan worship. There is far more to this than the #metoo movement, and it runs far deeper. Pagans are often brokers of unseen power, and we need to really look at how we distribute, assign and give away that power, especially when recognizing the exploitation of the vulnerable among us.