“All men like you do is tear down anything women try to build.”
I read those words last summer. I was the “you” in the “men like you.” I’d offended a Goddess, you see, or her chosen priestess, because I published this legal threat from her:
The disgraced Pagan leader is Yeshe/Jessica/Rabbit Matthews. You’ll have heard of her if you were “in” with any of the established American Pagan groups on the west coast during any of the last ten years. Were you not “in” but still somewhat involved in Paganism™ in the United States you still might have found your spirituality intersecting with her business dealings. Founder of CAYA, co-owner of several occult stores, co-organizer of Hexenfest, funding and development officer for The Wild Hunt, co-director of Pantheon Foundation and organizer of its short-lived and highly problematic Pagan Activist Conference, along with a donor to quite a few other Pagan-esque groups.
Yeshe, you see, was Goddess, Inc.. Actually told people she was chosen by The Goddess, according to quite a few people who defended her actions last year. One of those people said in a comment to me, “how dare you speak to the Goddess’s priestess that way?” [That person, by the way, has later apologized, as have several others who accused me of being a rape-apologist, misogynist, abuser of woman, or a combination of several of these]
The Goddess’s Chosen Priestess® convinced people she was a light-bringer, that their success was due to her: “It’s my light on you,” a former staunch defender and friend of hers claims she would often say to him.
From the countless public accounts of Goddess, Inc. on social media, one is overwhelmed by the sense of an artful manipulator. Claims from the goddess-coven she started (“The CAYA Industrial Complex”, as a leftist witch once described it to me) abound that new converts were “lovebombed,” smothered in so much flattery and attention that instantly they felt part of a family.
Question the leader, of course, and you were then quickly shunned, cut off from the Goddess’s light, cast into the outer darkness of the mundane world.
Question that leader from outside the group, and you’d suddenly have an online crusade of would-be furies at your neck, a fact to which I and others can easily attest. It was when I spoke publicly of how Yeshe attempted to silence my writing internally at The Wild Hunt that I received her legal threat. As hers is hardly the first I’d received (her most vocal defender, Christian Day, had likewise threatened to sue me for a public Facebook post), I did what I know best to do: publish the threat. What followed were weeks of abusive messages from her friends and devotees of the sort I mentioned above.
Multiple people have written reflections about their relationship to this woman, disavowing past loyalties (and the attacks they made at her request), distancing themselves from their previous defenses of her, or merely wondering aloud how they could have been so taken in. Unaddressed, though, is the larger horror of how an abusive charlatan was able to manipulate so many people through the mechanism of identity politics.
Goddess, Inc, you see, was also Social Justice, Inc, a subsidiary of Feminism, LLC. Any criticism, no matter how slight, opened up the speaker to online crusades and call-outs constructed artfully with the language of identity politics. It was The Goddess and her chosen against all men except those who were useful to her cause, the “second wave feminist” politics which paints men and maleness as the enemy of women everywhere.
If a detractor of Goddess,Inc. were male, they were immediately misogynist, mansplaining, privileged abusers out to “tear down everything women try to build.” If the detractor were female, they were willing “agents of the Patriarchy” who needed to throw off the shackles men had placed upon them by giving her their loyalty instead. Trans folk got the worst from Goddess, Inc, especially trans women, because they were “hiding their male privilege behind make-up.”
In this way, Goddess, Inc. was no different from many other social justice personalities outside of Paganism. You know the sort: those self-proclaimed ‘warriors’ fighting against a constructed enemy on behalf of a constructed oppression group who has never even heard of their valiant self-annointed defender in the first place. Ressentiment gets clicks and views and reshares, especially when the really complex and difficult work of self-reflection and revolutionary change can instead be boiled down to “it’s x group’s fault.” It’s an easy path to power over people, especially if you throw some spirituality into the package.
Within American Paganism, it’s no doubt tempting for those recovering from this matriarchal hangover to distance themselves. Why not try to forget the orgiastic social justice crusades employed by Yeshe and her closest friends, shake their heads, and move on? The Wild Hunt has clumsily tried to do so in their own article about their former development director and multi-year funder (that latter fact conveniently left out of their ‘report’). CAYA, the group Yeshe founded (and where she apparently abused the most people) has opted also to push as much of this under the rug “for the sake of the victims.” As such, it’s unlikely the full extent of Goddess, Inc.’s influence and malfeasance will ever be known. No doubt Yeshe will continue to abuse again in the even more credulous new age atmosphere (Mt. Shasta) to which she’s fled.
For the rest of us, however, we must see Goddess, Inc. as a cautionary tale and an instructive warning.
It is first of all a warning against how easily people give away their sovereignty to those with a good spiritual brand. I’m sure everyone who is now shaking their heads in sorrow over how much they believed stories from “the Goddess’s priestess” (that she shone her own personal light upon them, that she made them something, gave them magic and access to divine feels) feels like they’ve been “had.” But it’s a further abandonment of sovereignty to lay all the blame at her pale feet. The danger–the fault itself–lies in ever believing that another human has that kind of power and should have power over you. As true as it is for charismatic fascist leaders as it is for spiritual charlatans, the desire to submit to another is the real crime; what comes after is only inevitable consequence.
And more so, the end of Goddess, Inc. is a cautionary tale about social justice. Yeshe and others like her manage to accumulate power (and wealth), and avoid accountability and repercussions for their actions, by employing identity politics against anyone who threatens their empire. Such tactics only work because the rest of us are very quick to respond as they desire. No doubt there are still countless people who consider me a “mansplaining misogynist” or an agent of the Patriarchy because Yeshe told them I was.
That they were so quick to respond exactly as she wanted them to, reducing someone to his genitalia because she said so, makes them complete idiots. But it also makes them quite human as well. The rest of us would do well to remember how easily we can and are manipulated.
Authoritarians of every sort know how to wield identity to shield themselves from accountability and to incite rage against their chosen foes. And in that way, Goddess, Inc. was just a failed version of the much more effective political hate machine currently ruling the world.