An Open Letter to Selena Fox
By Isaac Bonewits
A few months ago I received a mailing from Circle in which you asked
for (a) money to finish paying off the mortgage for the land Circle has
been buying for many eyars, (b) suggestions for fundraising methods, and
(c) "ideas and suggestions" as to how Circle should grow.
I also read the mailings put out earlier this year by the "revolutionary"
members of Circle, including the transcript of the meeting between them,
yourself, and your lawyer. Confused, puzzled, and pained, I talked to you
and to your supporters and opponents, including former workers at your
headquaters. The more I learned, the more disturbed I became.
Apparently, you are an intensely private person and have always resented
people looking at what you consider your personal buisness. Yet my concern
for Circle is not gossip, nor is it (as you put it to me) "Sticking my
nose where it doesn't belong." Circle is large, international, and has
served a unique networking function in our community. If you don't know by
now that what happens to you matters to us all, and that you have become a
"public figure" in our community, then you've seriously underestimated your
For many, many Neopagans, Circle was a doorway to the Goddess and to Her
people. Our community would be considerably smaller if it hadn't been for
the work that Circle did for so many years. That you have been one of the
most widely respected, loved, and trusted leaders in the Neopagan community,
makes this letter especially painful to write.
Circle was one of the first groups to buy land for Neopagan use. For
years I championed your cause, both because I felt that land purchases were
an inevitable evolutionary step for our community and because of the
undeniably good work you had done as a networking organization. I recommended
you to correspondents who wanted contacts and pointed you out as an example
of a Neopagan group that had obtained real estate without getting corrupted.
I no longer feel that I can support you or Circle, or advise others to do
so. The change in my attitude has come about slowly, over a period of
several eyars, with recent events crystallizing my perceptions. Things add
After years of correctly telling folks at gatherings not to take
photographs of people without their permission, especially during rituals,
you still run around during ceremonies (ignoring the spiritual energies
being raised and focussed), or even at skyclad bonfire dances, snapping
pictures for your slide collection and Circle Network News. Some of those
slides have been shown to strangers all around the country, other photos
were published in C.N.N. and even in non-Pagan publications - at least some
without the consent of the people depicted. This is only one example of an
apparentlky pervasive attitude you seem to have that the rules you impose
on others simply don't apply to yourself.
Other examples : After refusing to pay the expenses of other Neopagan
teachers to attend and speak at Circle's well-financed events, you demand
red-carpet treatment for yourself and your husband to attend and present
workshops at events held by others. Despite being constantly recommended
by other Neopagan individuals and organizations, you seldom recommend any
teacher or group other than yuorself and Circle. After building the "Church
of Circle Wicca" as one of the most famous Wiccan churches in the world,
you unilaterally decided this year to drop "the W Word" - a position I
tend to support for teh community at large, but one whihc seems to leave
your thousands of Wiccan members without a voice. You then attempt to declare
a copyright on the wide-spread concept of Nature mysticism.
Circle has a reputation as an all-inclusive Neopagan networking
organization, yet former Circle workers agree that, for at least five years,
you discouraged them from giving networking contacts to inquirers, instead
having them sell the Circle Guide To Pagan Groups and ads in C.N.N. Apparently
this was originally because doing referrals took too much time out of the
limited number of volunteer-hours you had available, yet you never announced
to the community that you had stopped providing local Neopagan contacts, or
what you had decided was a higher priority. Worse, after a loud argument
with one of Circle's critics, you censored his organization's listings out
of the 1990 Guide. Even if this was done with his consent (as one witness
claims), it was grossly inappropriate for a reference work that many people
believe to be a complete listing of Neopagan resources.
You bought Circle Sanctuary with donations sent by thousands of Neopagans,
originally claiming that it would be open and available for general use by
the community, and then fenced it about with so many restrictions that it
has become essentially your private property. A half-dozen ex-workers at
Circle agreed that it was nearly impossible for ordinary Neopagans to visit
"their" sanctuary for religious purposes without providing money and/or
free labor to you at the same time. Amazingly enough, one couple on the
West Coast claims that after donating over $5,000 to Circle they were refused
permission to visit the land because they had a small child with them!
Circle's by-laws have never been published, so no one knows for sure who
is or isn't a "member" of Circle for voting purposes, nor how your Board of
Directors gets elected. You told me that there have been and are other
members of your Board of Directors (besides yourself, your husband Dennis and
your lawyer), but declined to give me the current names. You opponents tell
me that this "secret Board of Directors" is a story you've told for years,
but I was able to verify the names of two people who have been Directors in
the past. Apparently you policy is simply to have the Board consist of you,
your spouse (first Jim and now Dennis) and one other person - a handy way
to make sure that you retain majority control.
There are also legitimate questions about the enormous sums of money that
have flowed through your hands over the years. I have bveen informed by
extremely reliable sources, that you have used one of Circle's checking
accounts as a personal one, that normal financial books don't exist and
nevr have, that Dennis' education has been paid for in part out of Circle's
general funds, and that he forbid workers at your headquaters to open the mail
because they ahd been asking questions about incoming bank statements. Futher,
Dennis has been quoted mentioning a secret fund that would provide for your
personal survival, should Circle ever fold.
When I brought some of these allegations up to you in our conversation,
you denied a few of them directly and evaded responding to others. As an
investigative journalist and a concerned member of the Neopagan Community,
I have no way of knowing how many of these very serious accussations against
you may be true - but without published financial reports, neither does
anybody else! Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to Circle
over the years, yet no one seems to know where it has all gone, and
you're not saying. You told me that neither federal nor Wisconsin law
requires you to file or publish financial reports. Yet hadn't it ever
occurred to you that sooner or later the people who had been giving you
all that money would want to know what you had done with it - and that they
would have a moral right to know?
When the broken-hearted people who thought they were members of Circle
tried to confront you over these issues of power and accountability, your
response was to bring in a lawyer who reacted to all criticism and questioning
with threatened lawsuits. At that meeting you danced around the issues that
people brought up, never giving a straight answer to any question. Instead
you focussed on your anger towards those who had used Circle' mailing list
to share their fears and concerns. Your comments on all of this in Circle
Network News omitted most of teh serious criticism that had been laid against
you and Circle, and implied that nothing negative was happening. Your phone
conversation with me consisted of a few direct denials, dozens of evasions,
efforts to pump me for my sources, and repeated threats of unspecified legal
and other troubles for me and ADF if I persisted in my plans to publish the
results of my investigation.
This behavior is not what we expect from a world-famous Neopagan
organization run by someone many consider to be a Neopagan saint. What has
gone wrong? I am inevitably reminded of the scandals surrounding the P.T.L.
organization and the fact that no Christian leader was willing to criticize
the Bakkers until after the media exposed them. The scandal almost destroyed
the entire field of televangelism. That might seem good to Neopagans, but
now the shoes are on our feet.
Now it's one of our leaders who seems to behaving in an unethical and
irresponsible manner. What should we do, Selena? Should we all be silent
and pretend that nothing is wrong, while we hope for your probles to go
away by themselves? Should we wait until Circle blows up in our faces,
strengthening the biases of those who are opposed to the very idea of large
public Neopagan churches? Should we wait until you are investigated by
hostile outside forces, making it infinately harder for other Neopagans to
get fair treatment - and no doubt leading to yet another fundraising
campaign to protect you from "anti-Pagan persecution"? Most importantly,
would such inaction on our part benefit the community or the Earth?
I'm not saying that ADF and I are perfect in regard to all these issues.
ADF's finances were confused for several years, first because I was paying
out of my own pocket for most of our expenses (and seldom kept receipts),
and later because our bookkeeper was an inexperienced volunteer (now we have
a professional accountant on the Board). We have not always delivered on
time the products or publications that we promised our members. But, by the
Gods, when we have made mistakes, we have admitted it. We publish our
by-laws so that all our members know the rules to our game, we print
financial statements to let our members know how their money is spent, and
we make available the minutes from our Board meetings so everyone will know
how and why decisions are made. When our members have offered legitimate
complaints about how we have handled things, we have listened carefully
and then tried to respond appropriately.
I will admit to some envy of you and Circle. When I think of all the
good that might have been accomplished by ADF (or by any of a dozen other
public Neopagan churches) is we had had one-half of your income, I get both
sad and angry. I've spent my entire adult life, as have other Neopagan
leaders, living far below the economic level that my skills could earn me,
suriving on an income less than that of most members of the Neopagan community
just so I could devote myself to the work I believe the Gods want me to do.
It infuriates me to see enough money flowing into Circle to staff three
Neopagan Churches with full-time clergy, vanishing into fairyland without
a trace. Of course it's obvious, to everyone who knows you, that you and
Dennis are not living luxuriously. This makes the vanishing money all the
I realize that you are not going to appreciate my criticism and that I am
now on your enemies list for the rest of my life. It doesn't matter. I would
be betraying both the Earth Mother and my own principles if I didn't speak
out before matters get even worse.
You have publically asked for suggestions as to how Circle should grow.
You've said that you want to put the past behind you and concentrate, as
always, on "positive energies." OK, here are some positive steps you and
Circle should take:
Start by admitting, in your own publications, so that all your followers
will hear you, that Circle has made some serious mistakes and that you are
a fallible human being.
Adopt and publish a set of by-laws that lets people know who the members
of Circle are, and what voting rights, if any, they may have.
Put several more people on your Board of Directors and publish their
names, and let us all know how and why they got there. They don't all have
to be in your local area - telephone conference calls work just fine for
If you haven't already done so, open a seperate personal checking account
for yourself and your husband. Have someone other than you or Dennis write
the checks for Circle. If you've both taken vows of poverty to the church
and are therefore entitled to be supported by it, say so. Hire a full time
bookkeeper (you can afford the wages), and publish annual financial reports.
Hire a C.P.A. to run an inventory on all Circle's property and publish the
results. Publish the details on all the land payments you have made and how
much is still owed.
Design, publish and implement a training program for you clergy so that
someone other than you and Dennis can be leaders someday. Make sure that
you both genuinely qualify under the training system standards yourselves.
If you're going to continue to present Circle as a networking organization,
put all your names and addresses into a database, add confidentiality
safeguards as requested, update the list frequently, and share this data with
those who write in and request it. Otherwise you should announce to the
community that you aren't doing referrals anymore, and why.
Publish a detailed explanation of your policies for controlling access
to the Circle Sanctuary so that people who have donated money will know
under what circumstances they may use the land they have paid for.
Except for the last point, these are all things that we in ADF have done
or are now trying to do. Many other Neopagan groups have done some of them.
They are normal for most mainstream churches, large and small. Your local
Unitarian Universalist congregation can probably give you advice on the
details. Or you could ask the folks at any of a dozen other large Neopagan
groups, most of whom have been doing these sort of things for years.
When I talked to you on the phone, you said that you were planning on
publishing by-laws and financial reports, and making other major changes,
before the end of the year. You said that turning 40 (as I did last year)
and other brushes with mortality had turned your thoughts towards setting up
Circle to run without you. Yet I find it hard to believe you will take the
necessary steps without the glare of a community spotlight being focused
on you - hence this open letter. If you can prove me wrong and make all the
organizational changes that are necessary to turn Circle into something we
can all be proud of again, I will be delighted.
Perhaps more important than these organizational steps, you might consider
taking a sabatical for a year or two, turning Circle over to someone you
still trust. You need to get back in touch with the ideals that brought you
to Neopaganism in the first place.
But don't expect people in the Neopagan community to continue to send you
hundreds of thousands of dollars until you have proven beyond a reasonable
doubt that Circle is open, honest, democratic, and financially responsible.
A PS TO MY FELLOW NEOPAGANS:
I'm sure that the preceeding opinions have shocked and offended many of
you, especially those of you who love Selena. It is only after much
meditation and pain that I have decided to publish this letter as widely
as possible in the Neopagan community. We need to discuss the issues in
depth, both to help heal Circle and to prevent such trouble from happening
again to other groups. Perhaps we need to develop a detailed code of ethics
for running the increasing number of public Neopagan churches. Perhaps we
need a fair and practical listing of what sort of behavior we expect from
our leaders - as part of a "Neopagan Common Law."
I hope that you will meditate upon the issues and discuss them with your
friends. Ask the leaders of any other large Neopagan group you may belong
to whether they have taken steps similar to those I have suggested to
Selena. Send your thoughts to Slena at Circle, PO Box 219, Mt. Horeb, WI
53572. Send a copy to me at PO Box 9420, Newark DE 19714, marked "Circle
Controversy." We will publish a fair representation of the responses in the
next issue of D.P., along wth any reply that Selena may care to make.
Please don't respond to this open letter by criticizing me or A.D.F. As
I have admitted many times in the past, I have feet of clay going up to my
waist, have a gigantic ego, and have made many mistakes in running ADF and
other Neopagan organizations over the years. My virtues or vices are not
relevant to the situation at Circle, nor is my rudeness in pointing out
matters in public that many would prefer to keep private.
Circle's current problems represnt an inevitable growth stage, not just
for itself and Selena, but for the community as a whole. As our population
soars, we are faced with important questions about power, accountability,
and ethics. Whether or nor Selena is willing to honestly and openly
address the issues, it's about time that the rest of us started thrashing them
out. Perhaps after discussing this with your friends, you may want to make
some changes in your own groups. Indeed, the situation at Circle has already
sparked some major policy revisions and new by-laws for ADF and other
Neopagan churches as well.
I'm definately not saying that Neopagans should stop giving money to our
growing number of public Neopagan churches. After all, large scale activities
do require large scale resources. What I am suggesting is that we boycott
groups who ask for large donations (or small ones constantly), until we see
their by-laws, financial reports, and minutes of their board meetings. This
is the simple sort of common sense that any consumer advocate would advise.
If we're going to give financial, emotional, political, or magical support
to a group, let's make sure that it's being run in a publically accessible,
honest, and responsible manner. Otherwise, we're no wiser than the folks who
kept the Bakkers in buisness for so long.
Let's all pay careful attention to Selena's response to this open letter.
Will she send out a mass mailing telling her followers that everything is
fine and to "think positive"? Will she try to sue me for daring to voice
concerns held by many? Will she publish negative gossip about me (theres
plenty available) in an attempt to discredit my criticism and avoid
answering my questions? WIll she simply ignore this letter, knowing that
the vast majority of her support comes from new members of the community
who will not have read it? Or will she deal forthrightly with the issues
involved and open Circle up to democratic participation by its members?
Only time will tell.
On a personal note, I'd like to ask the members of the Neopagan community
to stop expecting our leaders, national or local, to be infallible,
impeccable, infinately strong, Neopagan Saints. Almost all of us come from
dysfunctional families, are survivors of various forms of abuse, and/or
have had problems with addiction, obsession, or eating disorders. We are
all subject to depression and professional burnout. This is the same profile
shared by clergy in other religions and people in other helping professions.
As leaders, we need your support (Finnancial, emotional and spiritual). We
also need your commpassionate and thoughtful criticism to warn us when we
start to go off the deep end. Hubris, the overwhelming pride that offends
the Gods, can be caused by uncritical folowers as easily as by our own egos,
with disasterous results for the whole community.
As Selena has Shown Us.
[This open letter and PS are (C) 1990 by Isaac Bonewits, and were first
published in THE DRIUDS PROGRESS #7 (FALL '90). The Opinions expressed are
those of the author only and do not necessarily represent those of ADF, Inc.
nor of any other organization. Permission to reprint is hereby granted to
all Neopagan media, if no editing is done and this notice is included]