OPEN CIRCLE ETHICS by Brandy Williams

The following article is from PANEGYRIA,  volume 3 number 5 (Fall
Equinox), September 21, 1986, pages 1-4.
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                        OPEN CIRCLE ETHICS
                        by Brandy Williams

    Event organizers and open-circle coordinators have,  I think,
a responsibility to participants  to  provide  a safe and comfor-
table  environment.    The Pagan community here  in  the  Pacific
Northwest  seems  to be evolving an  ethical  standard  governing
organizers.   Althea Whitebirch calls it choice-centered,  and  I
offer  my perception of it  here as a  model and a basis for dis-
cussion.

    HISTORY:  A  few years ago,  the Seattle/ Vancouver/ Portland
area had no ongoing festivals.  As I write,  August '86,  organi-
zers  are  planning next year's schedule --   the  second  annual
Spring  Equinox  Mysteries  festival,  the first Summer  Solstice
Gathering,   the  third annual Solitary Convention,   the  fourth
annual Fall Equinox Festival.   Many of the attendees are new  --
either  to Paganism or to  the  northwest,   and  the events draw
people from a wide geographical area, including British Columbia,
Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, and all of Washington state.

    We're growing.   We're growing very rapidly, and dealing with
a  disproportionate  influx  of  people  inexperienced  in  group
rituals.   As a result we're starting from scratch in  developing
organizer  ground  rules,  and developing  solutions  to problems
being discussed in the Pagan net nation-wide.

    In  the Pacific northwest,  the circle of organizers is  very
small, almost familial, and we're working from a basis of friend-
ship and trust.   We're concerned about each other and pay atten-
tion  to caring for one another.   I  think the combination of  a
small group handling a  lot of newcomers  has allowed us to gene-
rate a uniquely compassionate set of attitudes and guidelines.

    This outline is my own.   I'm going to phrase this is strong,
definitive terms, with this qualifier: I call it Northwest Ethics
because it has evolved out of  discussions with other organizers.
However,  it isn't offered as a group consensus and any given or-
ganizer might disagree with some of these points or the language.
This  is intended  as  a starting point for discussion and not  a
presentation of a set-in-concrete consensus.

    My  own experience:   I've staffed a number of events in  and
out of the community.   My most recent experience was heading the
SolCon '86 staff, so I'm using it as my most frequent example.

    RITUAL CHOICES:   Althea Whitebirch and I facilitated a  dis-
cussion at the '85  Fall Equinox Festival that has borne substan-
tial  results  in  the local community.   We argued  that  closed
circles can do what they like,  but those of us in charge of open
circles  should lay down some ground rules to  ensure  everyone's
comfort and safety.

    Explain  The Ritual.   I'm personally finding it necessary to
make  some  very  basic announcements,   like  circle  boundaries
shouldn't  be  indiscriminately crossed,  and people should  only
walk clockwise within them.   Again,  we're dealing with a lot of
newcomers.

    No Pressure To Physically Touch.   I've never seen anyone ob-
ject  to holding hands,  but a lot of people have commented  that
they cringe at kisses.  No kissing spirals in open circles.

    Why?   Newcomers tend to go along with group activities, even
ones  they're uncertain about.   Maybe they should be  assertive,
but  more  often  they're not,  and organizers are  their  voice.
Choice: every event in this area includes space for people to put
together  their own circles,  some of which can be more touching-
oriented --  and are identified as such.   Or we might experiment
with  providing an Intimate Circle,  which would include a lot of
hugs and kisses.

    The  rule is:   you don't have to touch anyone you don't want
to, anytime.  That should be clear to newcomers.

    Choice  In Participation.   In open circles,  if the  dancing
gets too rapid or wild,  participants can step back.   Just bring
your  neighbors'  hands together and move out of the way.    I've
also  seen some ritualists allow people to cut themselves out  of
the circle -- the procedure was clearly explained in advance.

    Effective ritual evokes response.   Novices are at  different
tolerance and skill levels than experienced ritualists,  and some
rituals can be overwhelming.   Also,  the 'boogie till you  puke'
crowd exhausts the older folks and the kids in the group.

    Experiment  note:    I  recently separated a circle into  two
groups, the 'keep on dancing' people, and the 'sit down and rest'
folks.    Some rhythm is traded off for comfort.   I've also seen
two  rituals staged consecutively,  one quiet and one 'dance  all
night.' Suggestion: we can try a novice ritual, and a more power-
ful one for skilled people.

    Also note:  one northwest organizer disagreed with these sug-
gested choices,  feeling those who participate in a circle should
be committed for the duration of the experience.   It's a  point.
In  that case,  I  think a clear understanding of what's to  come
would be essential.

    STIMULANTS

    In  PANEGYRIA Vol.  3  No.  4,  Althea Whitebirch argued  for
informed  choice in using stimulants.   If alcohol is used  in  a
communal  cup everyone should know,  and a fruit juice  or  other
substitute should also be available.

    Drugs:  NOT AT EVENTS I COORDINATE!   At least,  not with  my
knowledge or approval.  Private drug use hasn't been a problem so
far.    My concern is that if anyone is caught,  it's not private
any  more.   I'm the one who gets to deal with the police and the
press, and the whole community's image suffers.

    If problems arise in the future,  I'd consider banning  drugs
altogether.    Organizing is tough enough --  I  have a right  to
limit my risks.  Call a closed circle and do it at home.

    MINORS: Young children supervised by Pagan parents are a real
joy.   Teenagers with absent,  non-Pagan parents or guardians are
becoming a problem, even with signed in advance waivers.  Some of
us  are  leaning  toward a 'no minor  without  attending  parent'
policy.   How do you keep them away from the wine?   Think of the
issues surrounding sexuality with under-age kids.  The 'what-ifs'
are frightening to contemplate.

    I  haven't made a firm decision because I know how  important
the  contacts and support can be to our younger friends.   On the
other hand,  they do grow up.   In two years, a  16  year old can
sign her own waiver.  Maybe we could set up a gentle,  first con-
tact network to provide them with 'one on one'  support, starting
slowly.

    SOLOMONIC DECISIONS

    I  was asked to kick out two people who wanted to attend  the
last SolCon, and I burned one request for a registration.

    I know,  I  know.  The word 'blacklist'  leaps immediately to
mind.    This is a tough issue.   The request I burned was from a
person  who was suspected of having responded violently to a cri-
ticism.  The other two revolved around sexual ethics: men accused
of coercing women into intimacy.

    Help.

    The problem, as always, is that none of the cases were clear-
cut.  How do I substantiate an accusation?  Do I kick someone out
on a suspicion?   I  don't want violence or sexual coercion at an
event  that  has my name on it.   I  also don't want  to  mediate
personal conflicts;  that's not my job.

    At  the  moment,  one well-placed person can  ruin  another's
reputation.   I've seen three people kicked from the community on
ONE person's request.   I've also seen people with  a lot of con-
tacts  survive a number of complaints.   Neither situation  seems
fair.

    We have a lot of options.   This is an essay question:   pick
one and list the pros and cons.
1. Anyone at all can attend any event.
2. Each organizer must individually choose who to deny attendance
to.  (In practice, we do pass names to each other.)
3.˙Any person  who has been accused by one person of one  of  the
following things should get flagged.  That is,  every event orga-
nizer should be notified:
    -Theft or destruction of another's property.
    -Violence against people -- assault.
    -Sexual coercion or abuse.

    This seems to me to be most workable:
4.˙In one case I had three complaints a man had made weird sexual
phone calls to women.   I  called him and offered him  probation:
find someone to sponsor you,  to be willing to act as liason  be-
tween you and the community.   As with minors, the sponsor should
be with you at each event you attend.   Then I would put the word
out  that  you  are one probation,  and  the  sponsor  should  be
contacted  if you contact anyone on your own and misbehave.   The
probation would last for  a  year.    Any repetition of the unde-
sirable behavior would get you kicked from my events permanently,
and  I  would  notify other organizers.   Failure to  accept  the
probation means getting kicked immediately.

    I haven't had a chance to use this procedure because the per-
son  decided the effort wasn't worth it (a statement in  itself).
I notified other organizers.

    I'm aware this issue is extremely hot.   Personally,  I'm in-
troducing  a  lot  of people to the community,   AND  vice-versa.
There are a lot of weirdos out there.  I don't want to let a mass
murderer  loose  among us (as it were).   I  also don't  want  to
blacklist someone because of a personality conflict.

    Bottom  line:  some novice assertiveness training seems to be
in order.

    CARETAKING

    Some  of  us  have had good experience  with  'greeters'   or
ombudsmen.   (Ombudspeople?)  It's a staff position, the sole re-
sponsibility  of  which  is  to be  available  for  participants'
support,   to solve problems,  hold hands,  and be a liason  with
staff.

    I didn't have greeters at SolCon '86  and regretted it.  Even
with 30  people,  the event coordinator (me)  didn't have time to
personally check in with everyone.

    I  like  very  much that northwest events  coordinators  show
visible concern and caring for everyone.  A  friend of mine said,
"I  love these events because I always feel so cherished."    I'd
like to see that become a community standard.

    ORGANIZER'S MAGIC

    SolCon  '86   has  a staff  conceptualizer  who  renamed  the
position.   An organizer is the focus,  he said,  of the energies
coming into, and generated by the event.

    A  festival isn't just about magic.   It IS magic,   and  the
focus has the pleasure of shepherding what another friend of mine
calls the magical child through its inception,  and allowing par-
ticipants to share in its direction.  (Rearing?)

    This outline is a suggestion, a template,  for focusing event
magic.  These are the major focus points:

-Conception.   When the event is scheduled/sited.  I  saw a staff
group hold a circle at the actual site several months before  the
event, asking for:  safety, to have enough registrants,  what the
event  was designed to accomplish for the attendees,  the  staff,
and the community.

-Presentation.  I  don't know about anyone else, but for me, put-
ting a flyer together is casting a spell.

-Orientation.  Somewhere in the first few hours of the event, ask
the  participants  to  help focus on the  event's  parameters  --
safety, joy, solvency ...

-Major or parting ritual.   Of necessity the ritual  coordinators
will  set  the  structure,  and almost always the nature  of  the
working  as well,  but eve here the attendees can have some space
to give feedback.

-Post-event focus:  a thank-you circle.

    FEEDBACK

    It  might  be suggested that an organizer has a right  to  do
whatever works,  and event participants must fend for themselves.
I argue that event sponsors represent the community -- create the
experience of the Pagan community for many who have no other con-
tacts,   and as such,  they are accountable to their participants
and to other event organizers and community elders.

    Aside from the issues already discussed,  there are financial
ones.   This year I distributed a financial accounting to  SolCon
'86  attendees.  That was scary --  laying out the bottom line of
the decisions and mistakes I made!  The thing is, a lot of people
asked for that kind of accounting,  and I've wondered myself when
I attended events.

    The other issue is proceeds or profits.   SolCon '86   didn't
make any.   I had, however,  planned to pay my staff some salary,
thinking we should be compensated for our work.  Some people dis-
agreed,   feeling event funds should be channelled into  projects
the  community benefits from.   Since teeny SolCon is becoming  a
formal organization (for legal purposes)  and I'm putting  myself
on  the Board,  I  won't personally be in a position to take  any
money out.   However,  I'd still like to pay the staff --  even a
small amount --  because they sacrafice some of their own fun and
do a lot of work to make the thing possible.

    Finally:   organizing is a pretty heavy responsibility and  a
lot of work.  I think we have a right to ask for hugs.

    I  hope to see lots of discussion on these issues.    Because
our  value  is maximum tolerance for diversity,  doesn't have  to
mean that anything goes.   I  think it's possible for us to reach
concensus about some ground rules, to safeguard our community and
everyone in it.   We ask for perfect love and perfect trust.    I
think we need to provide a safety net to ensure it.

    As always, I welcome feedback.
                                                  Brandy Williams