Statement On Yeshe Matthews
Once upon a time, a friend said to me that we could hold space in our hearts for conflicting feelings and emotions; but if we failed to recognized the root of such conflict and the blind spots to them, we were living in cognitive dissonance. That friend is Crystal Blanton.
For weeks I have sat in silence watching my closest friend in Pagan community at the heart of a profoundly personal and life-changing scandal. I have spoken to her and I have talked to others. I wrote several drafts and wrestled between public support and silence. However, silence is an act of complicity and I am not in a dissonance. After this post, she and I will likely never speak again. I see her for who she is and who she has tried to be. I affirm her sacred right to autonomy and I forgive her.
I am distraught. To quote Devin Hunter, from a recent Disqus post "... sad, embarrassed for not acting sooner..." I am ashamed of not having the agency for myself. There is a systemic situation that is wider than one entity. It's not just about a group, but about interpersonal connections, boundaries, and more. Also, this issue is exceedingly triggering, and the more that unfolds on all sides, the more I am reminded how vital it is that people be empowered, heard, and witnessed in their truth. I hear, support, and affirm you.
I chose to write this today because silence is complicity. For over five years I have been in a spiritual and professional relationship with Yeshe Matthews. We have created online communities, cross-promoted each other's work, she wrote the preface to my book, Finding the Masculine In Goddess' Spiral, and she initiated me into a magical tradition. As a private person, I work in branding and marketing- and have helped her launch and rebrand many platforms in trade for her services.
Yeshe welcomed me to popular Pagan community. I found Yeshe in 2012 through an interview she did with Thorn Coyle's podcast, Elemental Castings. Yeshe was on Facebook; we became friends. I became a client, paying for services through her shop. The magical workings never had a rubric, but it was transformational. Yeshe also would ask me prompting questions, like "Is the Goddess real, or is it your imagination?" Those questions became blogs like "Knowing Goddess or Just Wishful Thinking" and quickly my little blog was being picked up and shared by Covenant of the Goddess. My joy in this was met by Yeshe saying "It's my light on you."
Yeshe invited me to a private group Emerging Voices on Facebook. The premise was simple, lift up, cross-promote and share each other's work. There was a lot of triangulation between members- yet in my awe/gratitude to be there, I didn't see the web. Namely that I was being groomed to be a replacement of sorts to a friendship that was slowly becoming more and more fractious. I was also being told a lot of things from one side of a story about a community of people I didn't know but envied. Soon after becoming part of Emerging Voices, Crystal Blanton quoted me in The Wild Hunt, but again it was met with "It's my light on you."
I could write endlessly about isolated moments where something would happen in my magical life and Yeshe would empower the credit it as magically intertwined. It was her light, her connections, or her idea transmitted to me. And likely parts of that is true. The serialized book version of Alone In Her Presence or Dharmapagan, all her. Things changed however for me when I decided to branch out from Yeshe the teacher and sought teaching from someone else. I began working with a different Bay Area teacher online, and that caused a riff. That teacher was "patriarchy" those teaching were "cultural appropriation." My perspective was I was being lured from the hive, and that new hornet's nest wanted my 'light' to bolster and take down the great work of Goddess. Writing that sounds insane, but it's a web of 'us over here, and them over there' and it was in that moment very true.
I choose them over there instead of seeking distance aspirant within Come As You Are Coven and likely that was the real issue. By this point in my relationship with Yeshe, I no longer saw her as my spiritual teacher, but as a friend. I had also come to know a lot of interpersonal things, and I learned a long time ago your friends don't make the best spiritual teachers. You need boundaries. I also wanted to avoid another Emerging Voices situation where there might be triangulation over whose the favorite gay priest in the tribe. There had already been one drama with someone I respect that has blocked me from their life completely.
I found myself at a crossroads, however, with that Bay Area teacher and Yeshe, because the more I learned or did on that side of Feri magic the less friendship and affection/ attention I received from my friend. I missed my friend and eventually chose the friendship over the magical working relationship. Similarly, when someone I knew was in need of help with TERF and doxxing, instead of my gut reaction and advice - I learned on Yeshe, what I assumed would be strong feminist wisdom, and transmitted her advice instead. It cost me.
People have asked me why Yeshe wrote the preface to Finding the Masculine in Goddess Spiral, since it's an anthology of men, for men and to men. I had wanted Devin Hunter to write it. Devin and I are both independently "goddess guys" in different ways. I deeply respect him, even if we approach magic from a different tradition. Yeshe advised that for the work not to be seen as patriarchy it needed a woman's blessing, it required that light. Yeshe had done so much for me. That preface should have been a foreshadowing of events to come, because the preface is an invocation, not a statement from a women on how men empower Goddess traditions and feminism, which was the point. While in many ways it's water well under the bridge, I need to apologize to Devin for not giving him that platform. He didn't need it, but he deserved it.
There was a point when I was writing all the time, at Patheos, The Wild Hunt, working a book deal with Moon Books, besties with a DC witch that I loved, doing Pagan events and talking to Yeshe weekly living in that light.
In 2016, Yeshe counseled that I interview a controversial figure in Pagan community and gender politics who was writing a transphobic book on Female Erasure for my Patheos blog: Alone In Her Presence. Trans issues were in focus, and Yeshe felt women, and this was not being afforded the equal space. By this point, I wasn't sure what to believe? I had lost my closest aforementioned, DC bestie over this issue, but my main conduit in Pagan community had advocated that woman needed rights. I also was always being bombarded that gay men were misogynists, and in some way maybe I was special because she had let me into the club of matriarchy. I was also lead to believe that I was neutral and respected, and most importantly if I didn't censor the interviewee, I would be seen as unbiased an fair. Besides that light supported me.
I knew I was making a mistake when I hit publish, but I wanted approval. If I can give one piece of advice to a writer, always wait 24 hours, and have a Crystal Blanton in your contacts to call for editorial advice. Had I waited, and phoned a friend I would have heard "Are you crazy?"
I was. I was wrong. And there was no light. I also handled the pressure poorly, in part because my support system wasn't there. Sure there was a phone call or two, but nothing in public, because it would ruin the businesses, the pariahs of pagandom. I was alone. I stopped writing. I didn't move forward with Moon Books, I left Patheos and Alone In Her Presence. I wrote here and there for The Wild Hunt but have until today been quiet.
Yeshe and I remained friends, I was initiated into the Order of the Black Madonna along side Crystal. That too ended with me fading away, with painful emails, and learning later of sadness and disappointment from many others who came seeking connection with the dark side of the Goddess.
I am not part of CAYA. I have been a member of a few private Facebook groups and other social media platforms. I am friendly with a few members. Like many, I've always witnessed a loving and powerful community doing inclusive work on a grand scale. I have envied that seemingly elusive big Pagan community from afar. I also knew that it wasn't for me. It saddens me that there is this fraction. In these moments especially, Pagan communities can learn from our religious colleagues in other wisdom traditions how to handle questions of misconduct.
I take from this experience, personal accountability. I wanted spiritual community and validation, and I found that in a teacher who became a friend. She and others helped me to build a platform, and when I used it to her advantage, she promoted and praised it. I don't think that is unique, I think that is part of our capitalist culture. The trouble is the shame, guilt, and gaslighting that comes when we choose to not play in the sandbox and to hold different opinions from our teacher. Somewhere I lost part of my own compass, and take responsibility for my action.
I wonder, where do we as a community go from here? I do not know. I write this today because silence is complicity. I have no stake in a fractured community whose hurt is real, valid, and witnessed. May they find love, compassion, and justice. I do know that many are living in pain, in a situation similar to this where there is a power over the model. Let us remember to step into the magic of our autonomy with grace and the love that remains the law.