I have always been one to stand up for what is right. To do the right thing as best as I could. To protect my community, my groups, my friends, and myself from destructive people. I have written about the moment to act and how we all have a responsibility to do so. I have written about antagonists and our need to watch for destructive people. I go on and on about action and leadership, how being a leader is the ability to see a need and fill it. I have gone back and forth these past couple of months on whether or not I cause more damage to the community than good by writing this piece, since I am a guilty party in this mess. Whether or not it was better to just slink away and disappear into the night. The answer was damage if I couldn't answer the question with certainty otherwise. Today, I know for sure that I am doing the community more good by asking for accountability.
It is with deep regret that I have ended my donation to the Open Hearth Foundation for the time being. This as long as my husband and the OHF trustee with which he had an affair are still holding board or trustee positions in the organization. These two people have crossed so many ethical lines in what is appropriate professional and social behavior, even for Pagans, and they have no business representing the Pagan community in this forum. I am sad that the OHF board has chosen not to remove them after being alerted two months ago that there were egregious issues.
I have been one of the biggest supporters in the history of the Open Hearth Foundation. I have donated multiple thousands of dollars since 2007. I was a trustee for the last Northern Virginia Pagan Pride Day that the OHF hosted in 2008. I have organized dozens of events, large and small. I have attended dozens more organized by other board members. I recruited my friends and network, quite a few of which are still currently members and volunteers. I made the connection to acquire the hundreds of tarot decks and thousands of the books that ended up in the library. I joined the board in December of 2009, and I was the Chair of the Board of Governors from February 2011 to April 2012. I am a major part of the reason that the DC Pagan community center manifested in the physical realm. I did not raise the money that opened the center. I had nothing to do with the original creation. This was someone else's dream that became my dream. And, it wouldn't have moved forward without the support of the people who served on the board with me and before me. But, it was my energy that moved a stagnant project, manifested steam, and found a physical space. I don't often claim my successes, but I have a very good reason to claim this one in this public manner on this day. It is because when so many ethical lines have been crossed, the current leaders in the organization turned a blind eye when one board member manipulated and emotionally abused another board member who in turn left as a result. I wasn't just a volunteer. I am a huge reason the community center exists, and when I was emotionally broken and beaten by another board member, they pretended as if they couldn't hear me. As if it was better to say nothing and not take a side than to stand up and do the right thing.
I didn't just launch a Pagan community center. I've hosted more than 300 events in the DC area since 2006, facilitated more than 75 rituals, started a 2nd group in the Druid tradition, organized a Firefly conference, branched out into interfaith work, taught outside my tradition at Pagan Spirit Gathering, NCR Pagan Leadership Conference, and Ecumenicon, streamed live some major events (Lady Liberty League and Cherry Hill Seminary), represented the Pagan media at PSG, started a national campaign to help Patrick McCollum, recorded nearly 80 episodes in a podcast, started a tradition that has initiated nearly 40 people and ordained more than 15 people, launched a church that has had meetups all over the world, has done half a dozen handfastings from Wisconsin to Virginia, organized 3 PPD's and helped plan several others, serve as the regional coordinator for the South and sit on the International Pagan Pride board, brought DC International Pagan Coming Out Day, I started a DC Witches' Ball, and started a pretty successful coven that has been running for nearly 4 years. That doesn't include the volunteering that I've done at a soup kitchen, public broadcasting, faerie festival, for women in need, for the homeless, etc. Anytime there was a need, I tried to fill it. Just to be of service. Because I couldn't expect anyone to do what I was not willing to do myself. Because service was a joy that filled my spirit.
Writing this out, I feel like I might be worth something. That before he tore me down, I used to be a community leader. That maybe he was wrong in his treatment of me, and that I did have something valuable to contribute to the Pagan community. That maybe Iris Firemoon wasn't just some mean bitch and she actually used to meet needs and be of service to someone. That once upon time, she made a difference.
I made my bed by marrying one of the board members and deciding to quit, and I will gladly lie in it, but so shall the others that were involved. I take full responsibility for my choices here. All I ask is that there be accountability for everyone. I fell in love with another board member, who then proceeded to marry me, get me pregnant, manipulate me into quitting the OHF so that he could have control and minimize my support network, emotionally abused me to the point where I didn't even know who I was, had an affair with one of the OHF trustees, and then decided that he wanted a divorce. Now, he is living with this mistress and her mother (another OHF volunteer) while I am 7 months pregnant with his child, having moved in with her just three weeks after I moved out.
Though this being nowhere to the degree of the Sandusky scandal, Penn State took full responsibility and acknowledged that they were accountable for those horrendous actions that happened in their community and under the guise of their work. When Bill Clinton got a blowjob from a White House aid, there were impeachment proceedings, and what my husband did is 10 times worse than what Bill did. When do we stand up as a community and say that we've had enough and someone's behavior is unacceptable? Where do we draw the line in the sand? Even as Pagans and being more relaxed than the mainstream, we still have ethical standards to uphold. Our leaders cannot engage in this kind of behavior. I believe that the OHF board is accountable for allowing these people to continue to serve, as they have broken so many ethical boundaries, and are not fit to lead.
I regret stepping down from the board. I can only say that I am sorry for the gaping hole that I left in a wonderful organization in the middle of this, and I am thankful for those that did step up and fill that hole. It does beg a reexamination of the question of whether or not board members should be permitted to be romantically involved, whether one of us should have been required to step down at the beginning of all of this. I wouldn't have been on board with that before I became a mechanism that caused damage. I also regret feeling the need to post my story online and stop my financial support. I apologize for any damage this will cause, but really, allowing those people to stay on the board is much more damaging. I put my heart and soul into this project and worked until I bled out onto the floor. Though I may never be in a position to return to that work (I acknowledge that my choice to write this post is a part of that), what I can do is make sure that the community is safe from people like him. I realized last week that I would never take my daughter to the community center as long as he is involved, so there will be soon no reason for me to go. I have recently attended events to show that he cannot run me away with his games and to also support my friends' projects. But, it is not safe for us there.
I told the story of how this love saga began with his own words telling you all how much he felt about me. So, where did it all go wrong? (Not word for word accounts.)
Manipulating me to leave the OHF: He used the trust gained as my husband to take control of the organization. He gaslighted (manipulation in which you tell lies to someone in order to replace their sense of judgement) me, expressing something to the effect that lots of people in the OHF didn't want to talk to me because I'm an angry person, my judgement was completely wrong about everyone, that it was all me with the problems--not anyone else, I was obviously so unhappy with my work there, and that I should let him run it. I was devastated with what he was saying to me, so I quit.
He had been communicating something to the effect that my judgement about who to let into my life was wrong. He said that he didn't agree with decisions I made in the OHF and other areas even before we were together, and that he just told me he did so that I didn't get upset. Then why the hell did he marry me two times and get me pregnant? I later heard from his last girlfriend that he actually vocally opposed most of everything I did. This while agreeing to my face. We had had a few fights over the previous months that never made sense, some them involving OHF projects. I never understood where he was coming from telling me that I was a angry, negative person, and that I didn't take feedback well. He said that he "was done with the negativity." I had no idea what he was talking about. By this time, I had been so manipulated, gaslighted, and emotionally abused, I lost my sense of self, any feeling of self-worth, my judgement, and I didn't know who I was anymore.
I remember my coven's Beltane ritual where I told them what he told me was wrong with me, and that I was working on fixing myself. They all looked at me, told me I was nuts, and said that all of those things are normal. That there was nothing wrong with me.
He continued to use his involvement in the OHF to emotionally abuse me. He spent months doing not much else besides redoing work that I had done. He moved the organization forward very little. He had 100% input on the committees and processes I created, and his feedback was almost always incorporated. But, he made a point to only focus on recreating those committees and communicated that to me in such a way at home on a daily basis that he treated me as if I had done nothing right, contributed nothing of value, and had never had any input in the process in the first place. It was emotionally devastating to watch him daily act as if my energy meant nothing. As if all of my contributions meant nothing. As if I was a child who couldn't be trusted by adults. He continued to use his position in the OHF to emotionally abuse me in other ways until I left.
Continued emotional abuse: I was so emotionally and mentally stripped, I spent the next month trying to fix myself so that he would love me again. I was loosing more weight and scared out of my mind for the health of my baby. I was going to therapy. I read so many self-help books. I did so much meditation and shadow work. I felt worthless without him. I felt more and more like I couldn't do anything right. I was trying to do anything to fix myself so that my husband would love me again. But, he showed me only enough affection to keep me from leaving. I can list of every piece of affection he showed me during this next month, because I hung onto those moments. I waited like a damn dog for him to come home, which he was out until all hours of the night for various reasons. He even volunteered to come to therapy as long as it would help me, but not to reconcile the relationship. At the last therapy session we both went to, he reduced to accusing me of attacking him throughout our relationship for no reason. According to him, I would apparently get upset at him, and that it was "emotionally controlling" and had "no business in a marriage." I expressed that I wasn't attacking him, that I had expressed my needs a dozen times, and when he didn't listen to my basic needs (food, love, stability, quiet/space), I would get frustrated. He denied that I was genuine, instead insisting that I was attacking him. My therapist tried to tell him that she felt I was genuine, but he wouldn't listen.
She later told me that I was a very patient person with him and that most people would have lost it, which was a normal reaction, long before I got a little frustrated. That doesn't sound like an angry and negative person who attacks and tries to emotionally control her husband.
That day, I was looking for online articles to show him that I wasn't overreacting...that I was reacting like a normal person. When googling "men who tell women they overreact," I came across an article about the manipulation and emotional abuse of gaslighting. My world fell apart and suddenly made sense at the same time. I knew I needed to get away from him.
This man successfully manipulated me into thinking that I was worthless, couldn't do anything right, and couldn't make a sound decision for the life of me. When the veil was off my eyes and I saw that I wasn't a bad person, I could feel the damage he did. I could feel how inappropriate I felt everything I did or said was. I would see people interacting normally in front of me and feel that I wasn't allowed to act like that. I noticed that I didn't have an opinion, but still told my friends what he would think. I lived my life according to his set of rules. I felt so abused. I am still not fully myself, though parts of me bubble up every now and then.
Ethics and leadership: He committed adultery, a crime in Virginia, with one of the OHF trustees. While Pagans do have relaxed ethics when it comes to sex, we still have ethics. No person in a leadership position should have such ethical and moral violations on their record.
When I found out he and she had feelings for each other, I was so emotionally beat down and manipulated into giving up my sense of judgement and right and wrong, I couldn't appropriately react. I couldn't feel anything. He put his pregnant wife and child in danger on several occasions. He had sex with unprotected fluid contact with another person and exposed his pregnant wife and child to the possibility of STD's. He tried to manipulate me into having poly relationship with this other woman and accused me of being selfish and possessive when I didn't want to have sex with him. Four months pregnant and I was loosing weight from this high anxiety situation. 10 pounds. He was so cold, and I spent days just begging him to hold me, so that I could stop crying and hold some food down. He accused me of trying to emotionally control him to get what I wanted. He insisted that he could love the baby without taking care of me.
Now, this kind of behavior does not belong in Pagan groups, especially in leadership positions. When someone in my group indicated they were being emotionally abused a couple of years ago, it would have just taken a single confirmation, and we would have been there getting that person out of that situation. The OHF and other area groups banned someone for sexual misconduct when there were reports of sexual harassment and threats of violence on women from other area leaders. That man was asked to leave Firefly when he threaten violence on one of the women in the group. It was not acceptable for someone to come into one of the Firefly events and ask half a dozen women if they wanted to have an orgy, then proceed to give someone a ride home and nearly force his way into her apartment. I had to counsel someone who joined my meetup that it wasn't a place to meet women, that it was a spiritual community. Someone was banned from Firefly online for continually trying to get women to join him in an online video skyclad ritual. Someone was asked to leave another group for constantly hitting on women and then nearly cheating on the group member he did form a relationship with. In fact, I hear that my husband was asked never to return to one of the local groups because of the way he treated his last two girlfriends. He was also asked by other members to step down as leading the DC OBOD group because of the ethical context of his actions and how that did not fit with leadership.
And yet, this OHF board member, who has committed these horrendous acts on a community member, former board member, sponsor, etc. is permitted to continue to serve.
I have done so much reading about people like him. I believe that he lacks empathy, is a narcissist, and likely has several antisocial traits. He is probably borderline sociopath. I am not the first woman that he has done this to. This is his M/O. There are identical echos of this abuse in at least his last two relationships. Both of those women are also PAGANS. The folks running the community center knowingly let one of its board members run around, use, abuse, and ditch PAGAN women. This is a serial situation that is causing major damage to several of our community members, including myself. And, he's about to do this to a fourth Pagan woman. He's already moved in with her and isolated her from her support system.
In conclusion, there needs to be accountability in the people who represent the Pagan community. If we want to build community, our leaders cannot be destructive, abusers, cheaters, and liars. They have to take responsibility for their actions. They have to hold themselves and others accountable. They have to have integrity and act ethically.