In her article on Matriarchy and Consent Culture, Yeshe Rabbit (now Yeshe Matthews) discusses the imbalances of power common to patriarchal systems that concentrate power in top of their hierarchy. Traditional models are a pyramid: the largest group being the producers of power at the bottom, followed by the consumers of power in the middle, and topped by the Arbiters of Power (Rabbit, 2008, p. 33). In this model, the producers hold the majority of the power, but a culture of fear cultivated over decades or even generations keeps them from exercising this power.
In a system like ADF with a consolidation of power in the top tier of the organization, there is little room for the voices of the folk with less power. Even when given opportunity to speak, they are often held back by their own fears of rejection and lack of hope in being heard, leading to silence as the form of consent for status quo. This is common when an organization belongs to a society with a similar structure. As Rabbit (2008) points out, “when pagans enter into spiritual relationships under a patriarchal system of power-over, in the effort to find the power we have been craving in the mundane world, we are susceptible to creating power schemes that replicate the imbalanced power dynamics to which we are accustomed” (p. 36).
The author goes on to describe what she refers to as the “Matriarchal “ model, which is essentially the same as the consensus decision-making model common to nonprofit organizations. In consensus-based groups, everyone’s voice is equally as important, and decisions are not final until buy-in is achieved from all parties involved. This is a helpful tool for maintaining healthy small group dynamics such as those found in a coven or local grove.
One of my classmates remarked that teaching compassion should be a first step: "if we learn to be compassionate, we will learn to be understanding to not only those that we will interact with, but also to ourselves.” Consensus shares its root word with consent, from the Latin, con, together, and sentire, to feel. It literally means, “to feel together.” Compassion, on the other hand, derives from the Latin, com, together, and pati, to suffer, and means, “to suffer together.” At first glance, it may seem these are synonyms, but I offer this: we must strive to maintain relationships through consent, through feeling together. It is only through consent that we will avoid the circumstances that cause the need for us to suffer together. Consent lessens the amount of suffering inherent in our relationships, and as a religion built on right relationship, this makes consent a far greater and more powerful virtue than compassion.
Rabbit, Y. (2008). Matriarchy & consent culture in a feminist pagan community. Pagan Consent Culture. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press. pp. 31-42.