Religious Abuse: How to Leave

Leaving a religious abuse relationship is like leaving any other abusive relationship. Leaving a pagan religious/magical relationship has its own quirks, but many of the principles are the same.

1. Plan Ahead

Unless you are actually living with the leader, the most important things to plan ahead for are:

A) Be sure to gather up any tokens, tools or contracts that you created while in the group and destroy them. If they are not easily destroyed, dispose of them in running water, whether it is fresh or salt or bury them with salt and/or iron nails.  Return any gifts from the leader. If you feel like returning them would put you in danger or weaken your resolve, donate them to charity or destroy them.

This is based in a sympathetic magic approach, to truly cut the ties to the group and the leader so you are confident you can resist being “reeled back in”.

B) Let your non-pagan friends and/or family or pagan friends and/or family outside the group know what it going on. Ask for their help. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed, if they love you, they will help you. If you have broken off contact with them because of the leader, reconnect and apologize. Let them know that you will be happy to explain your actions and discuss their feelings, after you get out of the group.

C) Be careful who you tell that you are leaving. Other people who are in the group may not understand why you have decided to leave,especially if they are new or their sense of power is invested in the leader’s sense of power. Group members will try to talk you out of leaving, using the leader’s arguments emphasizing the danger and loneliness of being out in the world. Be as tolerant as you can, but don’t change your mind. If someone actively tries to prevent you from leaving, just leave. You do not have to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions to anyone.

D) Be prepared for the leader to try to hinder you, guilt or frighten you into staying in the group. The leader derives power from his or her followers. When a follower leaves, that puts his or her power in jeopardy. Most leaders of this type are very charismatic as well as being psychologically adept. So just leave. You do not have to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions to anyone.

If you decide you want some closure on the relationship, write the leader a short note telling him or her that you are leaving and  that you don’t want the leader to contact you or your family or friends. Don’t get caught up in explaining why you are leaving. Contact the leader through email or snail mail to avoid being charmed, glamoured or psychologically manipulated. If you would rather talk to the leader on the phone, record the conversation. Listen to the words.

One way to ensure your safety and sanity if you decide to meet with the leader in person is to bring a trusted friend or relative with you to all interactions with the leader. That way, should you be frightened or feel guilty, that person can step in and remind you why you are leaving. Another way is to bring a tape recorder and record the interaction and replay it once you are no longer in the leader’s presence. Listen to the words.

E) Have a pagan friendly therapist on standby.  If you don’t live in an area that is pagan friendly, look on the Internet.  There is a Facebook group Pagans Against Abuse, as well as some others. Ask those groups for a therapist referral in your area. If you belong to a e-list, ask for therapist referrals in your area. Sometimes you have to make several calls to find the person you need. Don’t give up.

2. After You Go

A) Once you are in a safe, calm space, knot, filter or cut the energetic connection between you and the leader and/or the group.

I. Knotting off entails envisioning the tie between you and that other person(I have people visualize a cord or a thread that runs between) and tying a knot in it to restrict the flow of energy, emotions and thoughts between you and that other person.
A helpful focusing chant for me is “I knot away from me all energy that is negative and harmful to my well-being”.
You can also use the Isa rune to freeze the connection.

However, this is only temporary. If you leave a knot too long, a form of soul-gangrene will occur, just like if you left a tourniquet on your physical body too long.

II. Filtering entails envisioning the tie between you and that other person and installing a screen. I like to think of window screens, but I’ve had people use force field and engineering imagery as well.
A helpful focusing chant for me is “No thing negative or harmful will pass this way. Only that which is positive and helpful will pass to me from thee and from me to thee.”
You can also use the Nauthiz or Eihwaz rune as a focus.

Unless you add more negativity to the relationship, this is enough for most bad/painful/toxic relationships.

However, there are some ties or some relationships that are so toxic to your heart and soul that to continue them would do you massive,on-going harm. And a religious abuse relationship definitely falls in this category.

III. Severing entails envisioning the tie between you and the other person.
Through that tie, you take back all that you put into the relationship. This takes the form of a list of material things you gave, emotional experiences you shared or thoughts you had about this person.
Then through that tie, you give back all that they gave you in the relationship. This is a pile of material things they gave you and a list of emotional experiences you shared.
In both these instances, it is important to be thorough. Both positive and negative things must be taken back and returned.
Then, envisioning that tie between you and the other person, you cut it three times. I use a scalpel visualization usually, but I have used scissors and in one very nasty case, an axe.
A focusing chant I use is, “Once I cut, to break the tie, Twice I cut to for the pain to fly, three times I cut for the bond to cease, from this life to the next, let there be peace.”
You can also use Kenaz to burn through the tie.

B) Understand leaving will not solve all your problems.The damage that has been done, and you aren’t going to heal from it without considerable time and effort. Enjoy your sense of freedom and safety, but remember that there is a lot of work ahead of you. When you are lonely and sad and feeling overwhelmed by the mundane world, you may be tempted to give up and stop practicing altogether, look for an easy way out, like self medicating with drugs or alcohol, or go back to the leader and the group.

C) Use therapy and support groups to help you through. Look for indications that you are blaming yourself, that you are feeling worthless, that this was your fault. Also, don’t expect your energy working skills to be what they were with the group. You’ve been wounded in so many ways. You will get better. But it will take time.

D) As much as possible, focus on what you see and think rather than what you feel. This is a temporary measure only, but because your feelings have been manipulated and used against you, they are not really trustworthy and will vacillate wildly from despair to hope to obsession and back again. Focusing on what you see and what you think will help you heal the damage.

E) Be prepared for the leader to have a “change of heart” and try to lure you back. You may see tears. You may get presents. You may get wonderful sounding apologies, perhaps in public and embarrassing.Until you see real accountability for the past and ongoing accountability for the mistakes along the way, you have no way of knowing if the leader has really changed or is trying to massage his or her public image.

When this doesn’t work and you don’t return to the group, the leader will badmouth you all over the pagan community. There is no escaping this face-saving manuever on the leader’s part. He or she is invested in a benevolent public face to the community, otherwise he or she can’t replenish followers. If there was a problem, it had to be you. Don’t let this change your mind about your course of action. There will be people out there than don’t believe him or her for whatever reason. There are  people out there that don’t care what he or she says. And if this is a prolonged pattern of abuse, there are people out there that have gone through the same experience you did.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to heal the damage.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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