Posted on | July 15, 2014 | 39 Comments
Marion Zimmer Bradley was famous for her Avalon novel series.
“Wicca refers to the practice of European paganism popular throughout Europe and North America. . . . Dianic Wicca refers to a more radical women-only practice, named for the Goddess Diana. The novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley have been influential for Dianic Wiccans . . .”
— “Dianic Wicca,” Historical Dictionary of Lesbian Literature
Last month I reported on this startling revelation:
Moira Greyland is the daughter of famed novelist Marion Zimmer Bradley, who died in 1999. Greyland’s father –Bradley’s second husband, Walter Breen — was accused of sexually molesting a 12-year-old boy in 1989, ten years after he separated from Bradley, who was accused of covering up her for husband’s pedophile activities. Bradley’s own tendencies toward lesbianism have been noted, but now Moira Greyland has claimed that she was molested by her mother . . .
Moira Greyland said her mother first molested her at age 3 and the last time when Moira was 12, describing the chaos of her childhood home (“out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out”) with a mother who was “cruel and violent.” Now Moira’s brother Mark is speaking out about Bradley’s abuse:
There was always drama and there was always the invisible blade of what would happen if all of this dreadful secret got out. The atmosphere of fear of discovery was simply everywhere and there was no place to hide. . . .
He talks about his mother’s fans in the feminist neo-pagan movement:
When women started approaching her saying stuff like “you saved my life; now I don’t have to kill myself”, she started wearing new faces around them and more and more of them would gather around her.
Some of them were so angry they treated me like I was a crime for daring to be male around her. Others would give me the deer in the headlights look then look away.
There were times these unhappy women would gather around her by the dozens and I would stand back and watch her on stage and happy. I saw the rituals and the other weirdness close up and then at a distance. What they got out of it was something I did not understand, but I could see that the people were volatile and likely to blow up for invisible reasons.
Feminism to me was a lot of very unhappy women telling stories to each other about how they had been hurt. They were getting ready to change the world and I didn’t want to be in front of that train when it started rolling.
You can read the whole thing. Most people have no idea how influential Bradley was in 20th-century neo-paganism. Categorizing her pagan feminist genre as “lifestyle fantasy” novels, historian Brian Stableford has recounted how Bradley “became something of a guru to numerous writers of a similar stripe, several of whom — including Diana L. Paxson and Gael Baudino — described themselves as priestesses of ‘Dianic Wicca.'” Bradley and Paxson were co-founders of the California-based Center for Non-Traditional Religion, subsequently renamed the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, which is focused on the “Triple Goddess” (Maiden, Mother, Crone) of neo-pagan belief.
Dianic Wicca is quite nearly a synonym for “lesbian paganism” or “feminist witchcraft.” It was founded by a crazy Hungarian-born woman known as Zsuzsanna Budapest who became a feminist, divorced her husband, abandoned her two sons and turned lesbian. In 1975, she was arrested for violating a Los Angeles ordinance against fortune-telling, leading to what she has called “The Last Great American Witch Trial.” She is director of the Women’s Spirituality Forum, which sponsors the International Goddess Festival.
Join us for a blissful weekend filled with magic, sisterhood, and deep connection to the rhythms of the Earth! Once again, we gather together in the coastal redwoods of California among the enchanted energies of Mother Nature to honor the Goddess, ourselves, and one another. . . .
Evenings are reserved for us to come together in the Gaia Bowl, our sacred ritual space of “Fire & Light.” It is here that we call to the Goddess and weave our magic; honor and invoke our Foremothers; hold Initiation and Ordination rituals; and drum, dance, and sing our prayers — for ourselves and the Earth! All of nature is just a step outside your cabin door.
The connection between this pagan/lesbian/feminist “spirituality” and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s career is well-known, and her colleague Diana Paxson reacted to the abuse accusations:
I saw Marion’s children at family parties, and in passing when I was at Greenwalls for meetings, which usually took place in the Center for Non-Traditional Religion’s room over the garage. I never personally observed, nor had any reason to suspect, that she was abusing either of her children.
After living elsewhere for a number of years, both of Marion’s younger children have now returned to the Bay Area. Moira’s brother is currently living with us at Greyhaven. . . .
Our women’s circle met once a month to explore women’s spirituality and study the goddesses. The circle included both straight women and lesbians. I do not recall any overt sexuality within the circle, and I neither observed nor heard about any abusive relationships between Marion and any other woman or girl.
Bradley’s feminist fan Alyssa Rosenberg is disturbed:
A significant theme of Zimmer Bradley’s answers in her 1998 deposition [in a lawsuit related to her ex-husband’s sexual abuse of boys} is the idea that very young teenagers ought to be able to make their own sexual decisions, including about whether to have sex with adults who proposition them. She rejects the idea that any element of coercion is possible in these interactions, particularly when a teenager is physically larger than an adult. . . .
Answers like these throw passages from “The Mists of Avalon” into a new and disturbing light. Take one passage about a Beltane ritual. Zimmer Bradley writes that “The little blue-painted girl who had borne the fertilizing blood was drawn down into the arms of a sinewy old hunter, and Morgaine saw her briefly struggle and cry out, go down under his body, her legs opening to the irresistible force of nature in them.”
Without the context of Zimmer Bradley’s personal history, it is possible to read this sentence as a description of an ancient religious practice that is unsettling both in its depiction of an altered state and behavior that contemporary readers would not find acceptable. In the context of her testimony, and an article she wrote about sensual relationships between older and much younger women in literature, we lose the reassurance that the author shares our moral and ethical presumptions.
Whose “moral and ethical presumptions” are these, Ms. Rosenberg? Aren’t you trying to impose your morality on these neo-pagans? Isn’t your reaction rather — what’s that word? — judgmental?
Maybe you should consult a Dianic high priestess.
UPDATE: Something I hadn’t previously realized is that Bradley’s husband Walter Breen was a notorious gay pedophile before she married him. Click here to read a 1964 account of the scandal Breen’s perversion caused in the science-fiction community. What’s fascinating — the way that a bloody car crash beside the highway is fascinating — is how Breen was protected by the “bohemian” ethos of Berkeley radicals in that era. The guy was a serial child molester, everybody knew it, and nobody felt obliged to call the cops.