Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Catch a Charlatan by the Toe... Then What?

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead - OUT*

The Charlatan, GiGiovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727 - 1804).
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
In general, I try to remember that my goal here is to create a record of my/our/family spiritual thoughts & activities for future printing & binding -- for posterity. Every now & again, however, I need to use this corner of the ether to get some much needed feedback. This is one of those times.

Being an ear to some sticky political jockeying on the part of a few friends, I became privy to what some might (& certainly some do) consider damning intel about a member of our community. The story, as carefully as I can tell it is thus: 

In the process of collaborating on a (Wiccan) public rite, some feathers were ruffled over unconventional ideas. Words were exchanged & it began to appear that discomfort over ritual elements arose from one or more of these issues: 1) non-traditional methods, 2) disregard for hierarchy, or 3) inexperience/"stage fright" on the part of some participants. My friends were nonplussed & many calls were made, not only to myself, but to various leaders in other parts of the country, etc. 
Of course, none of this concerns me directly, I simply played sounding board for their confusion & concerns. BUT. Then, in a genuine effort to understand the background of one of the people involved (the primary source of complaints), we made some inquiries... I must give credit where credit is due & say that it was clever Hubby who found the relevant & controversial information I will gingerly describe below. 
The facts: There is a member of our community who claims many high degrees, including a doctorate, initiation in a pedigreed tradition & multiple ordinations. This person charges money for classes & services on the basis of these credentials. However, it has become clear that the "degree" & the ordinations were obtained from online websites where "you can be ordained right now for free, and be still able to practice your own religious traditions by simply clicking the button below" & you can obtain a "Doctor of Philosophy (for a) $55.00 donation." This strips this person's viable credentials down to a vague assertion of initiation into an unnamed tradition which has been only described as "Buckland's Blue Book to the letter"... & perhaps it literally is "Buckland's Blue Book" to the letter...
Now all this makes me chuckle except for the fact that this particular person is giving people headaches over not wanting to do things that are "beneath them" (since when is serving the gods beneath anyone?) & grousing about how "hard (they) have worked" to attain their lofty status. Worse still, a friend of mine confided the other day that she has been receiving (I presume, for a fee) instruction from the aforementioned person of dubious credential...
charlatan |ˈ sh ärlətən; ˈ sh ärlətn|nounperson falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud. See note at quack .

This brings me to the crux of the issue. It's a two-part problem. 

  1. One of my friends feels that the charlatan needs to be called out before the community, for community's sake -- particularly since this person provides "counseling" (for a fee) without any indication of training/expertise in this field. My friend's hope is that once people know the truth, folks will still collaborate with the outed-charlatan, being supportive, inclusive & recognizing that regardless of this person's questionable background, they still have something worthwhile to bring to the table. I am not sure I see it working out that way, but it's a nice idea. The question is, is it worth it?
  2. The more important issue (for me) is this: Do I tell my friend -- the student of said charlatan -- what I know? If I do, how do I broach this subject with delicacy & compassion without placing her on the defensive or making her feel like I am judging her efforts? What if she is gaining great things from this teacher? Do I risk needlessly botching a good teacher/student dynamic by telling her this information? People learn & grow from all kinds of diverse sources & experiences --  I cannot judge what will be helpful & productive for her. Perhaps I should leave it alone.
My final dilemma is this: What if the charlatan isn't really a charlatan, but rather a real phony?
"She's a real phony. You know why? Because she honestly believes all this phony junk that she believes." -- O.J. Berman, Breakfast at Tiffany's

Magnetiseur: Dessin humoristique représentant
un charlatan mesmérien, 1780. @ WikiCommons.
What if our charlatan honestly believes all this phony junk? What if they believe that they are changing the world, moving mountains, healing the planet, serving the goddess? If this person "has their heart in the right place" as they say, is bringing attention to all this information counterproductive? What if it fragments the already fragmented community? 

If you have seen this before in your community, or if you have any thoughts, comments, ideas, similar experiences to share, please post them below (anonymously if you like). If you prefer, email me at momafauna (at) gmail (dot) com. Oh, please share it with wise & foolish friends too! I'm accepting counsel from all corners -- degreed grand poohbahs, ordained nothing-of-its, fully licensed quacks, paupers, proletariats, high masters of nothingness, neophytes & if you talk to fungi... well then, I will take special heed. 

*Cornish version of "Eeny Meeny Miney Moe" recorded by Fred Jago in The Glossary of the Cornish Dialect, 1882.


Heather Awen said...

The truth is always good. This person has a case of the low self esteem"my grandmother initiated me into Wicca" blues that I thought ended in the 1970s. Dying for acceptance, recognition, belonging, power, love.
It does them the favor to say the truth. If the truth is this "You have taught many well, served the community well, and we know you are not a real PhD or third degree muckkity muck. We don't care about degrees, but we care about honesty. We all do weird things socially because we are weird humans, so we can understand why you lied. However, the saying is "in perfect love and perfect trust." You may have our love, but not our trust. We need to see you as YOU. To KNOW you to trust YOU. If you continue to use false credentials to make money, we will report you to the better business beauro and make sure it is know at Meet Ups, moots, and Pagan Pride. If you simply remove the false credentials we won't have to protect people from lies. You have a lot to offer but no one gets to make up a past and expect it to not bite them on the ass. At some point you would be caught and be grateful it was us."

Heather Awen said...

I would tell your friend that you need to have a serious talk. If her boyfriend was married or her doctor lying about being an MD, would you tell her? You can say that you know she has learned a lot from so and so and that it is valid for her, but if she is hoping to be a recognized three degree such and such she won't be because this person never was initiated himself. I forgot people cared about that stuff, but some do. Her learning is still valid, but any degrees he gives are not.

Beware though. I am sure this person already knows you all know and has a great defense/attack planned, so the faster you move the better. I suspect the person will lash out at everyone and try to character slam people, divide people, etc.

If your friend paid to go to a college that had no accreditation would you tell her?

Usually in the New Age Neopagan world, people make up credentials to make money. No one does that anymore otherwise as we have grown up and realized that who cares what your great grandmother did or who you studied with? They are all humans and this religion is about nature and the Gods. Who walks the talk best is the true teacher.

But newbies need to be protected, with their eyes dancing with lies. These people tend to use their spiritual leader power esp in Wicca to be sexual predators on their students.

3 decades in the horrible Pagan land. Humans. Religion. Ick. It's too depressing.

Heather Awen said...

Oh and might I say that I have heard that the main reason people leave Pagan community is the lack of safety due to people being "kind" to abusers. It's at the highest levels in all Pagan groups. Sense of betrayal is why most people leave Paganism. Or hearing people use the word muggle as if it means something about humans. (Muggle was a word for a joint in the 1960s.)

Anonymous said...

How many opportunities will this I-pad provide to re-peck this message.?
Fraud is the civil or criminal act of taking something of value from or hurting another person. May I parenthetically add that the victim is usually left feeling a sense of shame.

Anonymous said...

I cannot tell you what to DO as a way of responding to your questions, but may make a few suggestions. A Real Phony acts as he/she feels is right and may delete background from his shared past but does not create bogus documentation and express woe about his hard work as a way to control/manipulate the social scene. That's called lying.
Is it possible to find a forum in which a speaker might share thoughts about integrity and its opposite in religion and other human institutions, a well attended forum? To get awareness and consciousness raised in the innocents and a message to the guilty, but in a indirect way might protect the fragility of the group. Observe closely the guilty. He may be smart enough to go underground, doing more discreet damage. Alternatively, he may press the bar more frequently, playing the charisma card.
A pagan community is no different from any other social institution with exception made to vulnerability. It is prey to all the human silliness as are bridge clubs and political parties. Behold the history of religious manipulation across time. Did I hear Jonestown or 53 wives or fatwas?
Potential danger lurks among us, as if the usual jockeying of opinion was not enough. M.O.M.M.E.

Moma Fauna said...

"This person has a case of the low self esteem"my grandmother initiated me into Wicca"..." Actually, this is quite true, at least as far as I have seen by their general demeanor & carriage. I could forgive the tired grandmother story (as I generally do), dismissing it with an eye-roll & a sigh, except that there is much reminding of the "PhD" and all the hard work that happens. It's so much more annoying than a grandmother story, you know?

The truth is obviously preferred in a moral sort of way. I don't really have to work with this person & personally, I could just ignore the whole thing. Some folks are considering finding some excuse/technicality to cease working with them for awhile in order to buy time to determine what to do. Knowing human nature, they might just buy time indefinitely... It's so much easier to put things off than to get in there & get the muzzle on it. But comments here are very helpful because some of those folks will be checking the responses. ;)

Moma Fauna said...

You have my friend figured out -- she is new to the community (tho practiced solitary for some years) & she is just electrified with excitement & energy & wanting to learn everything all over the place. Fortunately, she is wildly omnivorous, so this teacher is not the only place she is receiving input. She is also not a young woman, so I would expect that the wisdom & strength of age & experience will be her asset in this circumstance.

"If your friend paid to go to a college that had no accreditation would you tell her?" Yes. Strangely, this is one of the parts that bothers me most. What is the deal with all this money-handling? I must be old-school because I thought that expecting a fee was taboo, or rather, charging a set fee for things like guidance. Reading & whatnot may or may not fall under that clause. Anyway, it drives me nuts to think that anyone is actually paying for instruction, buying the web of lies, hook, line & sinker.

"They are all humans and this religion is about nature and the Gods." Preach on, sister.

Moma Fauna said...

Responding to this here because it relates to the above comment:

"These people tend to use their spiritual leader power esp in Wicca to be sexual predators on their students."

So here my own personal sexism comes to light: If this particular individual was male, I would be very much up-in-arms with protectiveness & to be quite honest, I do not think that I would even be asking some of these questions. Interesting, no?

The perpetrator being of the "gentler sex" has absolutely impacted the way people are handling this situation. I am not so naive as to believe that there are not female sexual predators out there, but if I had to bet every ounce of my material wealth, I would bet that she is not. she is, however, a human looking to receive recognition as a member of the elite. SHe is also looking for minions to follow her.

Being "kind" to abusers is not acceptable. I saw that ALOT living in the beehive of the LDS community. If I look at the definition of fraud cited below: "the civil or criminal act of taking something of value from or hurting another person" my friend is being defrauded (abused) on the basis that she is paying money to receive instruction from someone who is supposedly learned & experienced, accredited. But she is not, as far as we can tell (there are other details to back this up which I didn't bother to explain because I thought the post might get long-winded). I personally don't want to be responsible for being "kind" to an abuser, so that requires that, at the very least, I will have to tell my friend so that she may make her own judgements.

Moma Fauna said...

"May I parenthetically add that the victim is usually left feeling a sense of shame."

Gah! See, that is the part I wanted to avoid. But better sooner than later & from what I can glean, my friend has been receiving instruction for only a handful of months.

Moma Fauna said...

"A Real Phony acts as he/she feels is right and may delete background from his shared past but does not create bogus documentation and express woe about his hard work as a way to control/manipulate the social scene. That's called lying."

Ok. That puts some much needed clarification on the situation... & yes, this person is known for harping on their "credentials." However, when this person is put to the task of "walking the talk," from my brief experience, they fail to live up to their claims. In my opinion, this points to a person who has read a great deal, but practiced little & HAS NOT learned by doing/from someone else.

For awhile now I have had my doubts because someone THAT snooty smells of secrets, keeping something closely protected.

"Is it possible to find a forum in which a speaker might share thoughts about integrity and its opposite in religion and other human institutions, a well attended forum? "

This is a very good idea, although I have noticed that it is difficult to get this person to attend events in which she is not the focal/leading figure. But I have a thought or two that might work...

"Observe closely the guilty. He may be smart enough to go underground, doing more discreet damage." That is exactly what she will do. She has withdrawn from the community before, according to other people. However, the public community is but a fraction of the whole -- this will not stop her from recruiting new students on her websites... :/

"...playing the charisma card" *chuckle* She does not have that super power. I think that is why she showcases her "credentials." ;)

Thank you. I was hoping for your input.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Further frustrated by the unique characteristics of the i-pad, to say nothing of the slow speed of pecking versus typing (do I reveal myself?), I moved to the "real" computer.
I became curious about how one discovers/uncovers/reveals charlatans. Oddly enough, I found myself at a scientific blog called "Fake Experts" aka denialism blog. I tried to "Like" it on Facebook so that you could have the link. I-pad was unwilling to effect this command. I-pad can be a contrary child, but is so much warmer, sitting on the couch in the sun, than the kitchen computer sitting on uninsulated floors. The general blog is ScienceBlogs and the date of the particular post is 5/2/07. There is at least one really good comment, the first, and a link to another blog at the bottom. All are worth skimming. Philosophy of science is brain fracturing as opposed to "real" philosophy which is brain exploding. (actually looks like a great blog: SciencePunk, Dynamics of Cats, etc.) But I will end this little drivel by quoting the following:
"....I present to you, the thinking chimp. Our mascot of the false expert, who isn't as good at telling you accurate information ... as he is at flinging poo."

Chas Clifton said...

As we have discussed elsewhere, I do think that a person can be an effective magic-worker while still being untrustworthy in mundane ways. I think we are different from congregational religions in that we can keep both of those facts in balance, although to be truthful, the 4th-century Catholic church said the same thing (for political reasons) in the doctrine of ex opere operato.

"She is also looking for minions to follow her." Ah! Again, the student will have her eyes opened when she stops acting like a minion.

Bottom line, I would tell the student, but I would also explain that she can still learn while being discriminating about what to accept and what to reject.

Moma Fauna said...

A thoughtful response from a gentle creature via e-mail, saved here because I need everything in one place & more importantly, I find it very worthwhile. (If the author objects, let me know & I will remove it.)

My dear, what the community does is what they do, I am deeply saddened by the number of good marketers out there who sell what they only pretend to have. It is all over, in fact we live in a society of that, our TV lifestyle of more is everywhere, even politics is a soap opera, scripted reality show.
I am often particularly outraged as I live with an extremely talented artist, incredibly gifted spiritual advisor/teacher/leader, amazing ecologist and professional fine finish painter who is unemployed because of his lack of ability to market or to work earned credentials.
That all being said, I do not know what to say. You could ask your friend if she is paying this person and if so how much and if she thinks it is worth it. If her answers include any of his/her credentials, rather than learning received from or rapport with that person, then you should tell he what you discovered about those credentials. Many people get the fake credentials because those are recognized (“interfaith minister” for example); it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t also possess that skill.
If you feel the person under their credentials of counseling for instance is being fraudulent, you have every right and perhaps obligation to your community to protect them but asking about the credentials. Perhaps in a community meeting, ask the person in what or from whom their degrees or accreditations are from. Ask them if they are licensed in these areas as well. It is ok to question people in a group, especially a supportive one, and it is even ok to put someone on the spot if you are not being malicious about it.
How you proceed has a lot to do with you intent. If you are wanting to clear the air, level the playing field in ritual, and/or protect your community you are not taking any wrong step. Imagine if someone who was a child pornographer said he/she had a degree in early childhood and was opening a day care center. Ok that is an extreme, but you get the picture.
We cannot be honest in our worship of the gods and spirits if we do not come from a place of truth. It is ok for that place to be bumbling or inexperienced, it is not ok or truth if that place is fraudulent.
My 5 cents.

Moma Fauna said...

Liking on FB will get you nowhere with me, but thank you for telling me here.

Flinging poo takes talent -- if you can do it & keep your hands clean. ;)

Moma Fauna said...

"a person can be an effective magic-worker while still being untrustworthy in mundane ways..." I believe, in this particular case (admittedly from only limited personal experience), that this person may not be so effective... hence the puffing up with formal "credentials." In the interest of supporting the possibility of her possessing talents however, I will leave that judgement to her collaborators & students.

"...the student will have her eyes opened when she stops acting like a minion." True. My friend is new (in the public sector at least) & ravenous! I am sure you have seen it before, she's a kid in a candy store, munching down everything within her grasp. I expect that sometime she will find what really works for her & begin the process of discerning. As I mentioned elsewhere, I agree with your sentiment re: avoiding approaching the student with a value judgement of this teacher, but rather to advise the student to be "discriminating about what to accept and what to reject.' That is my plan, anyway.

Thank you Chas.

Anonymous said...

I particularly like the last sentence by Gentle Creature. It suggests a moral core which may or may not mirror the specific values and morals of the Alaska pagan community. I'm not passing judgement, dear readers, but without consensus about or agreement upon a set of acceptable action and unacceptable behaviors and attitude, there will be a frequent need to mull over situations such as this that has elicited such dismay. I'm not saying that this is a BAD set of circumstances, simply one that must be muddled through as each circumstance presents itself. Certainly, to an interested and supportive outsider, I can comprehend better the simplicity of being a solitary witch.

nature said...

interesting discussion! hugs, muah! warm wishes, naomi

Magaly Guerrero said...

This is a tough one, my dear Moma Fauna. It is so sad, but our witchy community seems to attract certain kinds of swindlers. I once went to a ritual, in Virginia, where the high priestess claimed to have studied “under the vibrant Magaly Guerrero.” I had never seen the woman before, and I had never taken a formal student at the time.

My first reaction was to scream in outrage (maybe choke her a little) especially after she did some things during ritual that I don’t even approve of. But I didn’t. I waited until she finished her act, and told her to come clean with her people, or I would. She wouldn't, so I did.

Her coven was upset. At me. I tried explaining that just because the lady was a fake, it didn’t mean that what they had learned in good faith and with open hearts wasn’t real. Magic attaches to those who welcome it, I told them. Most of them remained pissed off at me.

So… like others have pointed out, if your friend’s confidence is already shaky, you might have a really hard time getting through to her. If you approach the alleged charlatan without telling your friend, she might be really upset. If you speak to her, she might feel that you don’t trust your judgment (unless you two are closed enough).

Difficult. Difficult. Difficult. However, if you care about her, and you wouldn’t be sharing this if you didn’t, then the truth is best. It would be better to have her pride hurt a little, than to have a person of ill intends take advantage of her good heart.

Good luck, sweets. I will light a candle, and pray the light reaches the eyes and hearts of all the parties involved.

Moma Fauna said...

"...just because the lady was a fake, it didn’t mean that what they had learned in good faith and with open hearts wasn’t real. Magic attaches to those who welcome it..."

Yes. I believe very strongly that this is the crux of the issue here.

A belated reply to this comment & a small bit of closure as well:

Thank you for sharing your experience Magaly. I took your words as cautionary & was very delicate, perhaps a bit causal, when approaching my friend. I sort of threw it out there in a "I need to get the air cleared" way, making it as brief as possible & emphasizing that my reason for telling her was b/c I felt she should know as an informed consumer. I didn't make it about her, but only about the facts. I also made it very clear that I believe valuable lessons & growth can be gained from many sources, regardless of "credentials."

I think she was possibly a wee bit blindsided, but she did not seem too terribly upset. She may have mulled it over later, I do not know & frankly, it is not my business.

I am sad to say, however, that on the community end of things, there has been some strife made of it (or, at least some folks may be trying to incubate strife). We shall see whether this can be mended. It might seem selfish, but I am glad I am not personally involved.

Thank you again. May you never have to attend the circle of a self-proclaimed student of “the vibrant Magaly Guerrero” again. (At least she has good taste!) ;)

Moma Fauna said...

One last note:

A friend asked the following question regarding this situation:

What is it about our community that makes people feel they need to prove their "authenticity" through outside (or inside) "credentials" ?

A very fair question indeed.

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