I’ve written several posts on abusive spirits and how to deal with them, and will continue to write such posts in the future. However, while writing these posts I’ve had to grapple with something: while predators may lurk in the spirit world, they also are abundant in the physical pagan and mage communities. I’ve seen these predators abuse others and I’ve also been abused by pagan predators myself several times.
The question I’ve had to ask myself is: how do I warn others, how do I help them? Often it is so very difficult to spot a predator or, when they are spotted, it’s difficult to to call them out publicly or protect oneself and others from them. There are also so many types of predators and so many variables that come into play that can make it difficult to give blanket advice for so many different complicated situations. With pagan and magic stuff added into the equation, everything gets much more complicated. Also, as an abuse victim, it’s terrifying to talk about your abuse or say anything that might get your abuser’s attention again, especially if you’re still recovering from the trauma.
However, I’m not in anywhere near as bad a position as other victims, who may still have some contact with their abusers, who have had much more damage done to them, who are far more disadvantaged. After talking privately with other victims for awhile now, I’ve realized I’m tired of finding other victims. I am tired of having this in common with people. I wish no one else had to suffer through this kind of thing.
Of course, the same caveat for my spirit abuse articles comes attached to this one, but in reverse: this article is about physical people, but any of the tactics I describe here can also be used by a spirit entity.
There are already some other resources and blogs out there on abuse, but I’m specifically going to talk about abuse as it can happen amongst pagans, spirit workers and magic users. I’m also speaking about a specific kind of abuser, one that uses their toxic, self-absorbed, abusive personality traits as a weapon against others. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what to call this type of predator. (Names are power, after all.) Among abuse recovery communities this is often referred to as a narcissist, as in the personality disorder, not Narcissus. However when using “narcissist”, these communities are usually referring to a person who exhibits signs of having one (or more) out of an entire group of personality disorders (usually fromCluster B) but likely has never been diagnosed (due to not wanting to see these traits as mental illness) or will not seek treatment (due to preferring to weaponize these traits instead of transforming them into something non-dysfunctional). The community I’ve linked refers to narcissist parents as NDad or NMom, for example. I’m going to use the term NPredator to refer to this specific type of abuser throughout this article. I considered NAbuser, but when a friend started calling the person who abused me a predator, it bolstered me mentally. “Predator” implies intent to hunt, bully, threaten, and control, and calling out these behaviors helped me recover and regain some dignity.
This does not mean that all mentally ill people are abusers or that all people with Cluster B personality disorders are NPredators. Many, many mentally ill people are victims of abuse, and in fact mental illness increases the chance that someone will be abused. Nor do I seek to stigmatize those who haven’t sought out or cannot yet seek out a means of treatment for their disorders. It’s hard to live with a mental illness and it’s often difficult to find a treatment that works right for you, be it medicinal, therapeutic, or something else. It’s also common for the abused to exhibit traits of their abuser, a phenomenon known as FLEAS. (“Lie down with dogs and you are bound to get fleas.”) When I talk about NPredators in this article I am talking about abusers who are willfully seeking to harm others and using their mental illness as a club to hit people with. The pagan community, much like the larger human community, has a pervasive stigma against the mentally ill and I do not want to perpetuate that. Also, people with mental illness and/or a history of being abused are in a lot of danger of being targeted by this type of abuser, because they are often in a mental state that gives the NPredator an easy way in. It would be terrible to lump these victims in with their abusers.
One constant is that NPredators are always looking for more victims. They are parasitic in nature and are always paranoid of their current victims turning on them or cutting them off. In a way, victims are an NPredator’s food supply. Sometimes this is literal in that they will often exploit victims for money, lodging, and other subsistence. Spiritual/magical NPredators take this a step further, though, in that they often bring their non-mundane abilities into play. In the mundane world, NPredators are known to feed off drama and attention. In the pagan and magical world, they can literally vampirize energy off of other humans or spirits.
An NPredator is always looking for someone to exploit and looking out for people who might call them out or otherwise pose as a risk to the NP.
Some NPredators pose as community leaders or teachers to gather a crowd to support them. They are different from non-abusive community leaders or teachers in that the exchange is never equal. They often say they have a lot to give or teach, yet over time you will notice they don’t have much of their own to say or teach - they repeat the words of others or liberally edit them, or they say the same thing over and over with different words. Often their advice to a victim ends up serving the NPredator’s agenda in some way, such as saying that the victim’s problems can be solved by purchasing more of the NPredator’s services.
In a spiritual context, this includes implying or outright saying (often through “divine insight”) that the victim is somehow spiritually linked to the NPredator, which causes the victim to draw in closer to the NPredator, established a false sense of trust, and later makes it difficult to leave. NPredators try to keep people close to them that will defend them, which means they seek out both victims and other abusers. If they have a loyal following it is common for an NP to not retaliate against someone (such as someone calling out their abuse) on their own, which would dirty their hands. Instead they wait for their more vengeful or excitable followers to retaliate, or even egg them on to by making sure their followers are aware of the person in question, then claiming they can’t control the actions of their followers. (Also, due to how exposure to an NP can warp someone’s thinking, the followers may view themselves as rightfully defending their leader while not seeing their behavior as abusive.) One reason this is so common is because NPredators are terrified of being revealed as abusers, because this means they’ll lose followers and will need to find another food source. People who call them out are threatening their food supply.
Some NPredators may even make a career out of talking about themselves or holding themselves up as a learning device, even telling lies about their certifications or greatly exaggerating their experience. It is common for them to be a “natural prodigy” and for everything they do or make to be “the best,” “the best I’ve ever done,” “even better than the last one,” or somehow very exceptional and unique in some way. It is also common for their work or services to, in reality not be terribly exceptional, a blatant copy of someone else’s work, or even defective or not as advertised. NPredators are not very good at finding fundamental flaws in their own work, even while claiming to be perfectionists or claiming inferiority complexes. In fact, many NPredators claim inferiority to present a humble false front or to prompt someone to bolster them or tell them how good their work is. They do not, however, seek honest criticism of their work, or if they do claim it they never actually use said criticism. (Instead, they make a note of who gave honest criticism, and take pains not to ask them for criticism again.) When they see work they admire they often copy it in some way, and they may either express jealousy regarding the artist’s skill or number of fans, or try to kiss up to the creator in some way. (If they personally know the creator, they may sabotage the creator’s work or livelihood to make it easier for the NP to surpass them.)
NPredators must have attention and do not let a discussion go long without bringing it back to themselves. If someone has an impressive or interesting story, the NPredator will often say they’ve experienced something just like that, often repeating back elements of the person’s story with edits to make it about the NPredator. (It is not necessary for an NPredator to lie from whole cloth, in fact it is somewhat out of the ordinary. They weave their material out of found objects, as it were.) If they have a spirituality or magic system, they are often at the center of it in some way and do not like to relinquish control.
This means that NPredators have interesting problems when existing in the same community as each other. they all want the most attention and all want to recenter discussion on themselves. This either will result in either in-fighting or a lot of growing similarities between each other to ensure that if one NP talks about themselves, the other NP can easily turn that into replying about themselves in turn. If an Npredator has followers they depend on to bully others for them, those followers may likely also be NPs or NPs in training, and the NPredator may in fact return the favor by posing as a follower for their most loyal NP followers. An NP’s friends are either abuse victims, other NPs, pretending to be friends while trying to get far away from the NP before they notice their retreat, or completely fooled by the NP’s mask.
It is very rare for an NPredator to talk to someone without eventually making the topic about themselves, which can result in some painful (though, if you distance yourself, almost funny) moments if the conversation is about a loved one’s funeral or past abuse history. It would be nice if these types of topics would shut down the conversation, but instead I have seen them produce such gems as:
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation in which the abuser insists to the victim that the victim is not perceiving reality. This is achieved through the abuser blatantly lying about even the simplest of things, insisting authority over reality in such a way that the victim begins to doubt their ability to distinguish what is actually happening and their ability to tell truth from lies. An NP uses gaslighting to weaken their victim’s defenses and build themselves up as the only true authority as to what reality is. This is an extremely dangerous tactic when employed by people in positions of leadership, counseling or clergy, or other positions which hand a great deal of trust over to someone who has a lot of power over the victim’s life already.
When confronted with their lies an NP will often use gaslighting as a defense, sometimes in the most ridiculous and shocking ways. Sometimes the bigger the lie, the seemingly easier it is for abusers to tell and victims to believe. That is because victims are often already naturally trusting (and have been groomed by the NP to be a victim), and even the average person would be confused by someone lying so blatantly. Since it’s not logical to lie about seemingly inconsequential things, and it seems like more effort than it would be worth to elaborately construct a lie about a simple thing, many people accept those lies as truth rather than accept that they’re speaking to a compulsive liar. Also, many people, especially victims, are taught to be polite and avoid social awkwardness, and the NP will have already pressured the victim(via bullying and/or manipulation) not to point out their flaws. So it’s actually quite easy to get people to, if not accept lies as truth, not call them out. As these lies build up over time and stay more or less consistent, it can be hard to tell where the lies began and where the truth is underneath them, especially if the victim does not call out lies early on. An experienced NP will actually use the consistency of their wall of lies as proof that they are true.
The intended result of gaslighting is to remove the victim’s ability to perceive the truth, and if not that, to make it next to impossible to use truth as a weapon against the NP. They may be fully aware that the NP’s lies are just that: lies. But they will be unwilling to confront the NP on their lies because of the sheer size of them and because of their fear of the NP’s reaction to the calling out.
The best approach to an NPredator’s lies, of course, is to walk away from them and discard them entirely, but often an NP will weave parts of the victim’s spiritual truths into those lies, making it hard for the victim to disconnect from the NP’s false reality. In this case, if the victim manages to leave, they will have to do a lot of shadow work, self care, and probably go through therapy to help themselves rebuild their sense of what is true and separate their own truths from the NPredator’s elaborate lies. (This IS possible, so if you are in this situation, don’t give up hope. I managed to do it twice and I’m feeling more or less okay now. I’m certainly feeling good enough to write this article.)
When an NPredator is confronted with their abuses in a public way that they can’t make vanish via bullying, instead of making amends or admitting the truth of their actions they usually turn and run, discarding their old identity like a lizard shedding its tail. Since they lose their prey with this behavior, they need to build up a new identity after this maneuver, or else they won’t be able to feed.1 This necessitates a new identity.
NPredators often take the experiences or accomplishments of others and claim them as their own, usually out of a sense of their own inadequacy. They are often very practiced liars and this cobbling together of many different identities into some sort of chimera of a personality comes naturally to them. NPs cycle through these identities, putting them aside when no longer needed and building new ones when they have to find a new community and new victims. To them, this is their idea of leading functional lives. if you catch an NP early in the cycle, you can watch this happen if you are alert. Keep an eye out for them suddenly discovering something about themselves, such as a sexual or gender identity, new patron deity, new hobby, or recovered past life memory. If you already know your community well, you might be getting deja vu, because their memory might sound an awful lot like one a friend of yours had, or their relationship to their patron is almost identical to a well-known devotee of that patron. The real suck factor of the pagan community is that these identical details can come off as “meant to be” coincidences, or “fate”, and often the NP will be aware of this and will try to make them come across that way to further manipulate their victims.
Of course, it’s hard to call out these details on their own, and it almost sounds a little ridiculous to. Single lies in an NP’s mask don’t mean much out of context. It’s when you realize the origin of all the lies at once that everything comes together, but you may have a hard time imagining how you will ever explain it to others. If you’re suspecting something, try opening up to someone you trust about it. You’ll be surprised how many people you know are having the same suspicions.
While NPs are, to some extent, aware they are abusers, they also do often manage to convince themselves of the legitimacy of their false identities. This can lead to later breakdowns when reality conflicts with the NP’s lies - they do, in a way, gaslight themselves. When an NP has to face their own lies they can be incredibly unpredictable and harm themselves or others, though most of their harm still tends to naturally abuse and terrorize their victims. (Usually on some level they are acutely aware of what they are doing - seemingly uncontrolled fits of violent rage always seem to break the victim’s personal belongings and not the NP’s, for instance, and if the NP’s things are broken it is because they are planning on blaming it on the victim and making the victim pay for it later.) This often has a bonus side effect of making a victim want to add support to the NP’s lies so that they won’t break down and cause damage.
It is also the hallmark of an NP to build separate identities to switch out depending on context. They may show their more abusive side to a victim they’ve drawn in close, but present a harmless and nonthreatening mask to friends of the victim, a friendly and sympathetic mask to a potential new victim, or a heroic and martyrlike mask to their followers as a whole if needing to rally a mob in their “defense”. While non-NPs may consider this just like the normal code-switching that happens in day to day life, such as presenting a different demeanor to family than you do to clients, the difference is that NPredators are knowingly maintaining falsehoods and outright manipulating people with their masks, often completely constructing new personalities for themselves.
Of course, in a pagan context, this behavior is sometimes extremely hard to spot. Many of us have magical names and titles that we use in covens or magical orders or in the attendance of a deity, or simply keep a separate name to distance our work and mundane lives from our magical and spiritual lives. (Those in the closet about their magical or spiritual practices are especially likely to keep a separate name and separate social media accounts for their community interactions.) In ritual one may have a different demeanor than in interpersonal interaction, chaos mages may shift paradigms (and thus themselves) to achieve change, and channelers can of course take on a deity or spirit’s identity to deliver messages. The difference between all these things and the masks an NPredator builds is that the normal pagan/magic identities and masks serve the role of showing the truth of something at a special time or in a special place, whereas an NPredator’s masks obscure the truth and often develop and sustain elaborate falsehoods.
An NPredator will often have a “mundane” mask for speaking to people in the outside world that they won’t have much contact with. I’m not sure which telltales this can have other than not having a whole lot of investment in the people they meet and not caring about them unless they become an opportunity to get the NP attention. NPs may use random people as an opportunity to create or test elaborate falsehoods or simply to spread lies about their victims in an attempt to perfect their controlling and abusive lies. (The NP doing someone’s taxes while casually telling the client about the NP’s abusive daughter having to be put in foster care, for instance, when in fact they were abusing their daughter and the daughter was taken away from them, which is an actual story I read about recently. The daughter had nothing to do with anything, but the NP still had to perpetuate the abusive lies, and feel supported in doing so, outside of any real context.) This will often include not viewing those people as real people, or even checking them for weaknesses and openings to make them a possible victim. They will often obscure parts of themselves that make no sense to keep secret because they are so used to keeping up false appearances that they are more likely to be deceptive by default than honest. This identity doesn’t have to be as elaborate and meticulous and they may just spice it up with stories and news articles they’ve read to get attention since they know this random person won’t be able to follow up on it.
There will be a mask the NPredator takes on to face their victims’ families and friends. Usually this will include constructing stories, half-lies, or blatant falsehoods regarding the victim, in an attempt to exert more power over the victim. For example they may say that the victim is not visiting family because they are not feeling well (when in reality they’ve been ordered to stay home), that the victim has been showing signs of abusive behavior (so as to garner sympathy for the NP and turn the victim’s support system against the victim), or even sing the praises of the victim (so as to be seen as completely supportive and loving and, when the victim brings accusations of the NP’s abuse to their family, the family may not even believe the victim). This mask needs to be more meticulous, perfect, and consistent, and the NPredator will invest a lot of time into it because it is arguably more important than the mask they use with their victim or followers. It’s the mask with the most risk attached, since a victim’s support network can make or break whether a victim successfully leaves an abuser.
If an NPredator has some level of fame or a leadership position, the NP will construct a mask for when they speak to their followers, make public posts, interact with their coven, etc. The mask will be authoritative and they will often encourage an us versus them mentality. They will build strawmen to make themselves and their followers seem to be attacked and constantly victimized. This encourages an “all or nothing” mindset in their followers. They are usually looking to form the bad sort of cult, and in a pagan context this can be an actual cult or fringe religion that they lead or take over. (This is especially ingenious because smaller fringe sects are often attacked for divergent views, so any accusations of abuse slung the NP’s way can be defended against as an attack on religious freedom. This is one reason why religion in general is, unfortunately, a common refuge for NPs.) The NP tends to take on the responsibility of dictating morals and ethics for their followers and will use their position of power to court more important friends (who may later become victims), bolster their own finances, and attack or silence enemies and victims who get away. Much like the masks they construct for individual victims, the mask an NP builds for their followers may slowly drop or become more outright abusive over time as they hook more dedicated followers and build an insular community with themselves as a hub. The NP will feel more comfortable wielding their power more openly when they have so much protection around them.
In the pagan or magic-using communities they may even work their way into higher power structures in the community, such as getting moderator positions on forums, becoming an organizer for an important event, or becoming an editor for an important publication. The more important they become the safer they are from critique and the more difficult it is to call out their abusive behaviors, because each important person who has given them an important position is another important person they have persuaded to trust them, and another potential victim. For these higher-stationed people, it may become harder for them to call out the NP because of their connections within their professional network, and it may also be difficult to publicly admit they’ve been fooled or abused due to their desire to present a more professional, less vulnerable front to the public. This is why NP behavior can flourish in certain professional or hierarchical communities such as a company, an industry entrepreneurial network, a publisher, a church, a government, and of course certain parts of the magical and pagan communities. Once one NP is in, the entire community may slowly become more and more dysfunctional to accommodate their presence.
The mask an NP constructs for their victims is catered to each victim, but is oddly less elaborate than you might think. An NPredator will often play “safe” around potential victims until they are sure they are in the victim’s trust. They will establish a bond very early, possibly drawing out secrets or making other connections that will make it difficult for the victim to convince themselves to leave later. It’s paramount for an NP to build a strong bond to the person, such as a teacher-student bond, or being drawn into their circle of friends or family. The NP will also make sure this bond builds in isolation, because an NP does not show their abusive mask to anyone besides their victims. Sometimes they will seem not to open up to victims until they are alone, and if they’ve found a victim that wants the NP’s attention (which is common in people who were previously abused or easily fall into codependency) the victim will make sure the NP has time alone with them by pushing close ones away or finding a private space to meet. It’s common for the NP, especially in a spiritual/magic setting, to reveal ‘secrets’ to the victim or have special conversations with the victim that build a shared mythos that is unique to them. This establishes trust and also builds a world that the victim wants to occupy with the NP and that the victim will think is only possible to be part of while the NP is still in their lives. With spiritual practices, this will include shared spiritual experiences or secret spiritual knowledge, often including knowledge of actual spirit entities and their actions and possibly expanding out into an elaborate spirit world which, unfortunately, may at least in part be real. (Just because a person is abusive and a liar doesn’t mean they are completely unskilled in magic or spiritual practice, though it often means they depend upon the skills of others more than they’d like to admit.) This means that the victim has even more to lose if they consider leaving.
When a victim is convinced they’d lose too much of their world if they left, or if the NP has too many of their secrets for them to feel safe leaving, the NP feels free to drop any pretense of good behavior and go into full abusive and manipulative mode. This is what the NP is working towards with their entire series of masks - while the following builds power, influence, and attention, and the friends and family masks keep their power over victims in place, the mask they wear for a victim gives them all the power, attention and control that an NP truly craves the most. All of this does not happen because the victim dropped their guard and let the NP in too far - all of this happens because the NPredator wanted it to happen and made it happen.
The last part of that paragraph is very important because it helps bring this point home. NPredators often appear to have no control over their actions, and will often excuse their actions with disability, mental illness, or personal flaws they have no control over. (This is one part where “narcissist” has nothing to do with its namesake Narcissus. An NPredator will cop to flaws if it means they can pose as a martyr, engage in further manipulation, or otherwise gain attention and control.)
NPredators are often very familiar with abuser-victim terminology. They may know what gaslighting means, for instance, and the reason they’ll know it is to accuse other people, especially victims, that they are the ones gaslighting the NP. This is because an NP knows that the easiest defense they can use is to present the situation as if they are the victim. Some victim resources are most easily used by an abuser who knows the system well and has studied their victims so well that they can pretend to be the prey. NPredators are also keenly aware of whether their audience is symapthetic to victims and will use this to their advantage by holding up the victim card before the actual victim has a chance to. In any community this can be very difficult to defend against. Often NPs will rely on confusion and many moderator’s tendencies to assume “everyone’s in the wrong in some way” and brush things under the rug. Then they can just continue to abuse in secret.
An NP will often be aware that their behavior is unacceptable to others and will cover it up with a blatant lie ahead of time. They will tack a “not to make this all about me” onto a response that literally makes everything about them. They will say “some people are using their status as a godphone to manipulate others, and I won’t,” right before doing that very thing. You will know what they’re guilty about because they will deny that they’re guilty about it. And the reason they’re guilty? They know they’re doing something wrong, but they don’t want to stop themselves or don’t want to seek help for curbing their manipulative behavior.
…I wish they were. As a victim to two different NPs, I can vouch that even after one really bad relationship that should have taught me everything I needed to know about manipulative lying abusers, I let one walk into my life several years later and didn’t stop them when I saw the signs of abuse and knew them for what they were. It took months of continued abuse for me to admit that I’d let another NP into my life. The problem is that while victims are the people who are some of the most likely to recognize this behavior, they’ve also been manipulated and abused into not calling out that behavior, into ignoring that behavior, and even into enabling that behavior. All these trained behaviors are learned out of an attempt for the victim to feel safe, but instead place them into the most danger.
NPredators are often very adept at finding easy prey, and when entering a community will try to find supporters and victims to groom, as well as powerful (possibly also NP) allies as soon as possible. They often look for people who are on the fringes, people who are outsiders and are not used to being included or being special. This can mean obscure fandoms, niche hobby groups, and of course, spiritual sects or offshoots that don’t have a whole lot of people in them and the people there are not used to a lot of attention. This gives the NPredator more potential power and control. If they get a firm foothold in the niche community they can entrench themselves as an expert or elder, making them impossible to avoid in a small community of people who all just want to find someone else who practices what they practice. This means people who are skilled in spotting NPs may just avoid the community entirely, having already dealt with NPs before and not wanting the drama. People already in the community who figure out the NP’s game may leave when they become convinced there’s nothing they can do. The NP may also drive that person out after noting them as a threat to their power. The niche community slowly warps to the NP’s shape and serves the NP’s purposes more than anyone else’s.
The other problem is that when called out, NPs will usually go one of four ways:
In some cases the NP may actually leave the community when called out, but they may take loyal supporters and victims with them, or threaten to do so, which may cause their criticizers to take back their words for the good of a victim they don’t want to see walk away into a more harmful place. If this is an internet community then the NP may delete their identity and immediately construct a new one through which they interact. Or they may stick around and construct several false identities to sockpuppet and manufacture the illusion of support for their cause. (In a non-pagan community I once watched an NP use at least four separate author identities at once to congratulate himself on his accomplishments in forum threads and give his own stories high ratings and good reviews, and he was only proven as a sockpuppeteer when he accidentally answered an email for one identity as the persona of another.)
Overall, it is more common for nonabusive members of a community to leave because of abuse than for NPs to be made to leave because their actions were called out. This is particularly a problem in pagan communities, especially general pagan communities and social network pagan communities, because these communities either lack official administration structures or moderation methods, or the social network’s structure makes it impossible to impose any sort of rules or moderation. Without a structure and method for abuse reporting, or a viable method to act on that abuse, NPs have few barriers. However, word of mouth may spread to such an extent that community-wide mistrust of the NP develops. This is more likely in a community where people feel more comfortable reporting abuse, though the NP can defuse it by complaining early about abuse themselves, diverting things yet again into a they-said they-said situation.
We can keep ourselves safer from abusers of this nature by developing stronger networks between each other as a community. We could also give each other a platform from which to report abuse that is not easily manipulated by NPs and trolls into a drama factory. We can also be alert to NP-like behavior and call it out for what it is in as clear a manner as possible. We have to support people who report abusive behavior and take a firm stance against such behavior, and alert vulnerable members of the community to which people have a history of abuse. Otherwise, interaction in our community will always have the potential-NP cloud hanging over it.
One day you will find food that bites back.
Note: for resources on abuse please check out the links throughout the article, as well as the “abuse resources” tag on tumblr and the“pagan abuse resources” tag on my personal blog. If you are dealing with abuse you can message me and I will keep everything private. I will try to connect you with a resource to help you.
It’s either that or seek treatment. I have seen at least one NP seek treatment and have a full recovery, but they had to take that step themselves when they hit rock bottom with no friends left. Do not try to be the person that saves or redeems the NP. They often seek out that sort of mindset and lead on their would-be saviors in a heartbreaking chain of relapses until their savior finally burns out and leaves. Would-be saviors often become victims themselves, and have a special slot in the drama triangle reserved for their use. ↩