Pagan Leadership Revisited: New Visions for a New Age

Crystal Blanton —  April 18, 2014 — 25 Comments

leadershipChanging times in society cause shifts in the needs of the average person. While each community has distinctly different aspects, there are commonalities that exist within every community. The needs of those within any dynamic will dictate the needs of the leadership; Some say a leader should be a reflection of the people they serve. The Pagan community has walked through several different situations recently, forcing introspection on the ideals of what it means to be an effective leader, and challenging perceptions of accountability within the community. Pagans continue to question what types of leadership are truly needed within the community. What is the role of a Pagan leader? Who is accountable for Pagan leaders, and who is responsible to keep these leaders in-line with ethical standards? And what are those ethical standards?

As a community fragmented in our ability to come together under one set of common expectations and beliefs, these questions become more complex than they might in other communities. Answering a simple question like a standard definition of ethics becomes a hodgepodge of confusion around traditions, concepts, ideology, and practice. The Pagan community has finally appeared to reach the plateau where our needs for leadership cannot be filled by one type of leader, and the plethora of leaders we have are being challenged by the size of our growing community and what comes with that. We are no longer confined by the boundaries of initiation, or the systems of hierarchical structures, which has opened us up to a faster pace of community expansion. A quick-growing community — with a lack of definition around who our leaders are, and what makes a leader a leader — can lead to confusion.

Michael Hyatt, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author, talks about leadership characteristics in one of his presentations. In Authentic Leadership: The Five Characteristics of Effective Leaders, Hyatt lists possessing insight, demonstrating initiative, exuding influence, having an impact, and manifesting integrity as necessary leadership characteristics. While the factions within the Pagan community would agree with many of these characteristics, qualities like manifesting integrity have notoriously been lower on the list of priorities for Pagan leadership than training or initiatory degrees.

If the demands on leadership have changed within the Pagan community, what does that mean, and what does the modern Pagan leader look like? The idea that competent leadership changes with the demands of the community is one that might resonate as we are looking to our past and our future concerning this issue. There has been more momentum as of late behind the Pagan community’s need for ways to guarantee that leaders are held to certain standards and expectations, and yet the collective Pagan community has a weak track record of actually formulating and implementing plans.

leadership2I decided to reach out to several Pagans that are from different traditions of practice, different backgrounds, and living in different geographic areas, for their opinions on concepts of Pagan leadership in this day and age:

What qualities do you feel an effective leader must have in today’s Pagan community?

Angela Pearson

Angela Pearson

An effective leader for today’s Pagan community needs to be aware of the variety of paths that exist in our community. There needs to be more open discussion and fewer secrets. Our leaders need to be ethical and not take advantage of their positions through manipulation, abuse, or other forms of control to force people in the community to jump through petty hoops in order for the leaders to feel superior. – Angela Pearson

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

I think the qualities that modern Pagan leaders need are the same ones which almost all types of leader benefit most from: the ability to assess their own strengths and weaknesses without excessive ego nor useless self-deprecation. In this, the potential leader will be able to know what things they are good at and have a knack for, and which things they’re bad at and in which they lack skills, experience, or aptitude. They can then focus on their strengths, and know when to defer to others, or draw upon the resources that others in their group, or other fellow leaders and elders in their traditions as well as outside of them, might be able to offer that they can’t (or often shouldn’t!) handle themselves. Someone who is a good pastoral counselor but a bad ritualist can still be a leader; someone who is a great teacher but lousy at motivating others or administrating a group can still be a leader. In order to assess one’s level of leadership and what sort of role one should be in as a leader, having this assessment of strengths and weaknesses is essential, I think. -P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Doctor of the Ekklesía Antínoou

Yeshe Rabbit

Yeshe Rabbit

Throughout all times and cultures, not just today, several qualities stand as pillars of effective leadership: integrity, perspective, trustworthiness, patience, a commitment to collective empowerment, consistency, the ability to innovate and iterate, personal responsibility and accountability, and increasingly, scalability. -Yeshe Rabbit, HPS of CAYA Coven

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

I think an effective leader needs to be honest, consistent, and set a good example in every way possible to those around them. While leading they must genuinely represent the interests, ideals, and intentions of their group; that’s why personally I think horizontalist, directly-democratic models are so effective as there is usually little mystery as to what a group is doing and why. Such approaches are also effective for resolving conflicts and keeping people accountable. A lot of groups that implode tend to be dominated by singular, autocratic personalities or insular cliques both of which load the odds in favor of needless conflict. I think they also need to remain in touch with what is happening in their community and in the wider world. There’s a big world out there and those in positions of leadership need to be aware of what is happening around them. Those who ignore the world often find themselves on their backs when it decides to force its way into the situation. -Ryan Smith, HUAR web admin, member of the Golden Gate Kindred, student, and blogger.

As I look at leadership, rather than leaders, certain qualities begin to emerge through – A focus on being inclusive – We are a diverse bunch! In the Pagan communities I circle with there are first, second, even third generation Pagans. There are queer, hetero, trans*, cis, parents, non-parents, singles, couples, polyamorous, vegans, paleos, activists, elders, teens, peoples of colour, peoples with different abilities, monotheists, deists, polytheists, atheists, animists and the list goes on and on. Modeling effective leadership means continually cultivating a sense of inclusivity, with the understanding that the landscape is ever-evolving and mistakes will be made.

A practice of shared power – Given the diversity of our Pagan communities, those that find themselves in leadership tend to be “empowerers” rather than “emperors.” I see this as a critical skill for the health of the community and the health of those in leadership. – Gwion Raven, North Bay Reclaiming. 


How has this changed in the last 10 years? Within the last 20 years?

This hasn’t changed much in the past decades. There are too many petty people controlling small groups of our community. I feel too many of these little groups feel superior to others and this leads to dissension that leads to fighting and division within our community that is tearing us apart when we need to be unified in order to achieve the goals our community wants- to be recognized by the mainstream world. – Angela Pearson

I think the assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and then the consequent assumption of useful and meaningful roles based on those assessments, is something that has not fully dawned on many varieties of modern Pagans quite yet, though it is starting to, and should continue in order for our community to develop and mature to a greater extent. For too long, it has been expected that “leaders” are great ritualists, scholars, magicians, pastoral counselors, amateur psychologists, managers and administrators, logisticians, and–on top of all that–morally praiseworthy exemplars who exhibit a high degree of personal development. It has been assumed, and often demanded (including recently) that such Pagan leaders be quite literally “all things to all people” in order to deserve the recognition of any leadership at all. This is a recipe for top-down dictatorial management and over-centralization of authority, and consequently for the burnout of such over-burdened leaders, but it is also the recipe for unrealistic expectations on the part of more “lay” Pagans for their leaders, and for the disappointment that often follows when they find their adept ritualists are not also compassionate ears, or that their excellent administrators and facilitators aren’t in-depth scholars and so forth. -  P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Doctor of the Ekklesía Antínoou

Diversification of roles and of styles of leadership that are appropriate to each role needs to become more the norm than the exception in order for modern Pagan groups to face the challenges of our expanded demographics and the theological and political shifts that are occurring and have occurred over the last few decades. “High Priest/ess” cannot be a singular job description that is assumed as a standard across the board for anyone of standing as a leader in our groups any longer, and the sooner that this is understood, the better off people will be, and the more empowered each person will be to bring their unique gifts and skills to the table in the service of everyone — deities, communities, and the loose fellowship of other colleagues in leadership across traditions and within them, as well as within individual groups.

I don’t think the core qualities that make for a good leader have changed much over this short amount of time. Rather, it appears as though the expectation that Pagan community’s leaders will actually meet and exemplify those qualities in greater numbers and with greater consistency is increasing.

Personally, I have observed that Paganism is moving from a more experimental adolescence into a new developmental phase. This next level of growth requires us to steady ourselves and act very mindfully if we want to continue to gain stability and legitimacy in the public eye, while still maintaining our diversity and plurality of practices and Traditions.

Fortunately, there are models for scenarios this. For instance, Buddhism is comprised of thousands of lineages across many nations, yet there still manages to be a relatively reliable set of core values that everyone can get behind regardless of their other variances. For instance, one of the things all the Buddhist lineages agree upon is the idea that suffering is a phenomenon that everyone experiences, that the alleviation of that suffering is very desirable, and that we can look to many different practices to relieve that suffering while minimizing our actions that cause suffering. It’s a simple set of principles that translate widely and create a strong center for Buddhism. -Yeshe Rabbit, HPS of CAYA Coven

I think the Digital Revolution has rocked Paganism to the core twice in the last 20 years. The first time was when the Internet hit the general public, the second with the explosion of social media within the past six years. Both had a profound impact by providing a massive, completely anonymous tool for networking and disseminating information on a scale that conventional methods just can’t match. Social media in particular has led to a second explosion of Paganism not just in the US but worldwide. In Heathenry some good examples of this can be seen with new connections between Heathens from all over the world but in particular with flourishing communities in Latin America, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East!

What’s most significant about how this has all happened is it has been very viral and horizontal. Unlike the pre-social media age where Pagans organizations such as the ADF, CoG, the Troth, and others held a much more dominant position it is now very possible and easy for individuals and local groups to self-organize and build globe-spanning networks. It has also brought in a flood of people who had no real contact with the organized segments of Paganism who brought with them their own new ideas, perspectives, and conceptions about spiritual practice that are still being sorted out. It’s no accident that the number of scandals, controversies, and the like are on the rise since Facebook became the dominant network on the Internet; there’s a much larger pool of people getting involved than before many of whom have different opinions and expectations from those already in the community and I think this upheaval will ultimately be to our benefit in the long-term. -Ryan Smith, HUAR web admin, member of the Golden Gate Kindred, student, and blogger.

Twenty years ago what most people in the over-culture knew of Paganism was learned from “The Craft,” “Practical Magic” or “Charmed”. Many folks coming to Paganism needed to learn the basics and back then that meant books. Pagan authors became the leadership of the time and could focus on creating their own very specific lines of Paganism. Pagan leadership was built more on the cult of personality.

I know my interests around Pagan leadership center on building, growing and sustaining our community. I’m drawn to intra-Pagan and interfaith work and finding ways to support the growing needs of our community. This can mean pastoral care, basic needs, creating support groups, and infrastructure. – Gwion Raven, North Bay Reclaiming. 


Under the umbrella of Paganism, do you feel that universal ethics for leaders are something we should consider? How would that be regulated?

There needs to be universal ethics for all leaders, across the board. Ethics that include not taking advantage of minors or anyone for that matter, not forcing people to contribute funds that are beyond their means in order to be part of an inclusive group, condemning abuse of any kind. The regulation with the difficult part. For too long our community has been self-regulating which has allowed many abuses to occur. A committee could be voted in for term lengths but I am not sure how this would go over. – Angela Pearson

Because there are a variety of different types of leadership, as suggested by my earlier responses, a universal set of ethics beyond some very basic ones that aren’t that different than those expected of any responsible and mature person — try to be as kind and courteous as possible in all situations, act with integrity, transparency, and honesty, don’t exploit nor manipulate others, and avoid behaving in ways to which you yourself would not wish to be subjected — is not very realistic to even consider, in my view. A good teacher, for example, can’t always be 100% transparent at all times, because there are some lessons that a student should not learn until they’ve established a basic level of competency — too often, people want to jump ahead when they find out that “advanced” levels or activities exist, and that’s irresponsible on their part, but also on the part of teachers who reveal too much too fast. That transparency, however, should be required of people in managerial or administrative positions so that everyone knows what processes were involved in every decision on matters of money, allocation of resources, negotiations with other groups or venues, and so forth. And, needless to say, where issues of pastoral counseling are concerned, discretion rather than transparency is often the watchword, except in cases where laws have been broken or harm has or can occur. On a single point of principle, thus, the approaches across different varieties of leadership must vary greatly, which makes universalizing difficult if not impossible (or, at very least, inadvisable) on a variety of issues.

Thus, if even establishing such ethics would be difficult, then regulating or enforcing them would be that much more of a fraught process. Creating a variety of (voluntary) umbrella organizations within Paganism can and has worked for some people and traditions, but it won’t for others. Doing so is often a matter of “compromise,” which is thought to be a positive thing so often in today’s world, but we have adverse reactions to “compromised health” or “compromised structural integrity,” which should give some insight into what compromise often involves–a lessening, a weakening, and an undermining where some things are ceded in the hopes that something greater is gained as a result, and oftentimes the gains are debatable at best. The balance between shared community and respected autonomy is one that is not observed more often than it is upheld these days in many sections of modern Paganism. The frequent assumption that we are all coming from the same place (or, perhaps more accurately, should be), is the root of so much misunderstanding, disrespect, and all of the negative consequences of privilege which can accompany these things, that more and more people whose understandings of certain roles, ideas, or processes are feeling less welcome in associating with the Pagan umbrella at all. Not unlike the realization of separation of function and of types and roles of leadership, perhaps, this separation into more specialized and defined factions — whether under the Pagan umbrella or outside of it — will likely be of benefit to our communities overall, and will further their development and maturity. -  P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Doctor of the Ekklesía Antínoou

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama wrote an excellent book on this subject called Beyond Religion in which he proposes that everyone in spiritual leadership take a moment to step outside of their religious frameworks, work together to cultivate a simple set of core ethics that all can agree upon, and then bring these back to our respective religions and begin building them into the existing and needed new structures of those religions. Under this model, ongoing dialogue helps keep these shared ethics current. This feels like a healthy process to me, something that can evolve over time.

It is important that we Pagans do not end up, in our search for a common ethic, replicating stale models of moral authority that are damaging and that breed a kind of Puritanism. In other words, it would not do for there to be two stone tablets of Pagan Commandments dropped into our laps from someone proclaiming that they will deliver us from sin. I do not see that model being fruitful for any of us, and in fact it is very counter to the organic kinds of variable, responsive natural law that the Earth serves up to us anew each day. -Yeshe Rabbit, HPS of CAYA Coven

I think the one ethic we should be concerned with on the level on all of Paganism is accountability. The Pagan community has a serious problem with not calling out people in positions of authority when they behave badly or in some cases atrociously and for leaving people in charge who should have been removed long before. There’s too much automatic deference to fame and institutional privilege and that needs to be torn down and replaced with a new understanding of community accountability. What this means is that leaders in the community are directly accountable to the people they lead AND the community in turn holds them to account when they fall short. Many Pagans left mainstream organized religion because of abuses of power and privilege, so I think it is imperative, given that fact, to NOT repeat the mistakes many Pagans are quick to denounce in others but loathe to voice about our own. As harsh as this may sound to some the fact is if we don’t police our own effectively then whenever it needs doing someone else will and whoever that is will not have our best interests at heart.

As for regulation that’s something everyone in the community needs to take part in. If you see leaders engaging in unethical or objectionable behavior call them on it. If someone is playing cliques, favorites, or other forms of blatant favoritism or corruption at the group’s expense call them on it. If you have a person in a position of authority who is clearly a bully or in other ways is actively detrimental to the health of the group and community then call them on it and if there’s no change remove them. If we look to some kind of specific body to handle these things that body will inevitably become everything it was meant to prevent by becoming a new power center. All Pagans taking part, doing their part, and ensuring we get the best out of our people in every way possible is much healthier both now and for the future. – Ryan Smith, HUAR web admin, member of the Golden Gate Kindred, student, and blogger.

I think the one thing we can universally agree on in Pagandom is that we rarely agree on anything universally. Of course I support high standards of ethics for those that step into leadership. I practice transparency whenever possible, especially where community finances and, quite frankly, sexual boundaries are concerned.

The more that power is shared, discussed, and available to as many community members that want to step into leadership as is practical, the less likely abuses are to happen. As far as regulation is concerned, that’s difficult. My personal feelings are that if your community, coven, ritual team, and teachers find ways to justify behaviour that is illegal or generally held to be unethical, it might be time to find new leadership. – Gwion Raven, North Bay Reclaiming. 

There are many ways we can approach this subject. What do we want? Want don’t we want? How much time, energy and resources is the community willing to put-in to manifest common goals and expectations for leaders? While many different groups and communities that fall under the umbrella of Paganism have guidelines and expectations of their members, this does not appear to be enough when it comes to our intention of having trustworthy Pagan leadership over the entire community.

I have come to personally believe that having an expectation of integrity for people within the Pagan community is important, and that all leaders, elders, and professionals within this community have an obligation to their own Gods and to those with whom they are accountable to in their service. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines integrity as a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, incorruptibility, an unimpaired condition, the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” Almost every list of identified qualities for effective leadership includes the core value of integrity.

Belief Net’s list of the “Top 5 Qualities of Good Political Leaders” also includes integrity, as well as honesty, compassion, confidence, and flexibility — all qualities of leadership that are important to the various roles that leaders find themselves within.

Now…. how do we demand what we cannot monitor?


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Crystal Blanton


Crystal Blanton is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and social worker in the Bay Area. She has published two books ("Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World"), and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She is a writer for Sage Woman and Patheos' Daughters of Eve blog. She is passionate about the integration of community, spirituality and healing from our ancestral past, and is an advocate for true diversity and multiculturalism within the Pagan community.
  • PhaedraHPS

    “…how do we demand what we cannot monitor?” Or, perhaps more realistically, cannot find.

    There are at least two levels of leadership in the Pagan community. One consists of the authors and well-known or nationally-known people. An author or well-known person is dubbed a “leader” whether they want to
    be one or not, because people ascribe to them expertise and discernment
    they may or may not have. Those are the people whose opinions are given more weight, and whose opinions and actions become known broadly across the community. Some of these folks are actual leaders, but some are perhaps eloquent or learned only in certain areas, but have the mantle of leadership thrust upon them nonetheless. It’s like saying, “this person is a scientist, so they know what they’re talking about,” which may be valid for a physicist talking about physics, but not for a physicist talking about biology.

    The other leadership level is very local, people who may only be known in their town or their county, or maybe state. Those people may never be known outside their territories. Some of them are amazing people, some not so much.

    I recall a remark I heard many years ago when someone was grousing about problems in a newly-formed coven: “We appointed her high priestess because she has 17 years of experience as a solitary; she must know what she’s doing.” as if 17 years of solitary practice would have bestowed expertise in group dynamics.

    I bring up that last story because it illustrates what I think is a major problem: at the local level, there’s often a very small pool of people upon which to draw. The virtues needed for exemplary leadership simply may not be found in one person. Yet the group may project upon the (perhaps hapless) individual that gets thrust into the leadership position the expectation that all those marvelous qualities and skills will magically be manifested. And when it doesn’t happen, some people will be disappointed, some will be disillusioned, some will leave, some will refuse to see what’s going on, some will make excuses, etc., but no one else may step into the breech, because there simply may be no one else more competent to be found. And the poor “leader” may get burned out by the politics and unrealistic expectations and go away.

    So we have an unfortunate circle: a small pool of people to draw upon to find good leaders, which leads to marginal leaders thrust into the forefront, which leads to lack of growth and loss in the community, which leads to a small pool of people from which to draw. The numbers needed, the critical mass needed to make it likely that an appropriate pool of skills will be found within the local community, just takes too long to develop. Instead, you have the Always Been a Solitary with no group skills and the This is Why I Don’t Do Groups who feel burned and don’t what to try again.

    I don’t have any easy answers, but I think it’s an aspect of the issue that needs to be considered.

    how do we demand what we cannot monitor?
    how do we demand what we cannot monitor?
    how do we demand what we cannot monitor?

    • edhubbard

      Very insightful.

  • Dragonfaerie

    I think the greater question is “How can we get these sorts of leaders to step up?” Phaedra brings up a good point about burnout, inadequate skills, etc. But I also see a lack of people who are willing to step up and make sacrifices for the community, and I’m not sure why? Because it’s less demanding/easier to just show up for things and not have to plan them? Because they genuinely don’t know what they’re doing?

    We can plan workshops to train leaders until we’re blue in the face, but if people do not step up, if our community never asks how it can help, then we won’t ever get the right kind of leaders.

    • PhaedraHPS

      It may be because they genuinely don’t feel they have the skills, expertise, or energy to do it. “The community” — that wonderful amorphous thing to which we refer but cannot describe — may not understand or not have communicated to them that there are lesser tasks and roles that may be well within their skill set that need to be done as urgently as “leadership.” Every little bit helps.

      I’ve never seen a Pagan “community” that didn’t have more takers, i.e, those who just show up, than makers. Preferably if it doesn’t cost them anything. No easy answers for that one. Funny that 30 years ago, you could get a big crowd for an event with an admission fee. I’ve watched that shift to entrance fee means you’re a gold digger lining your pockets, or something like that. I dunno. I might just have a rosier view of the past.

    • Deborah Bender

      Workshops may help people who are already in leadership positions to expand their skills and deal with problems more effectively. Workshops don’t make leaders. Only the actual experience of trying to do something does that.

      Most leadership skills are transferable from one organization to another. People who already have the experience of taking some responsibilities in a volunteer organization, whether it’s a sports league, a youth group, a church or a service organization, are more likely to step up for jobs in a pagan group. If they don’t have a depth of understanding about the religion they have recently gotten involved with, they might need some spiritual guidance on what needs to be done and how to go about it, but logistics and organization aren’t religious.

      One practice that makes organizations self-sustaining (e. g. the Girl Scouts and the U.S. Army) is a hierarchy in which leaders insist that everybody learn a task and do it, and then move on to learning a more demanding task. In short order, some (not all) of the lower level people will have seen enough of how to direct small groups that they can take on directing a small group themselves. You have a small arena to learn and make mistakes in before you move up.

  • peterdybing

    Having written about this subject extensively in 2011, I am thrilled to see the subject getting more attention. Transformative leadership principles hold great promise as we go forward

  • Charles Cosimano

    There are two fundamental questions about leadership that are rarely asked. Who would be so foolish as to want to be a leader and who would be gutless as to follow one?

    • Aine

      They’re probably not asked because they aren’t helpful.


      Some people find they’ve put their hand up to volunteer before they’ve realized what they were doing?

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    Funnily enough, no-one raised the question of competence of leaders.

    To be a leader is to take on certain duties and responsibilities on behalf of the community/organisation that person is leading.

    This has to be done competently, or nothing positive will happen.

    The obvious questions to be asked, as far as I can tell, is what things do the community/organisation require competence in and how does an aspiring leader gain competence in it?

    What is demanded of a leader will obviously change from community to community, but the basic answer to how to gain competence is through training. The best form of training is to learn from someone proven to be competent in training the particular needs relevant.

    I wouldn’t go to a hairdresser to learn carpentry, for example. (Or, indeed, vice versa.)

    Rather than asking what qualities a leader needs, perhaps people need to be addressing what skills are required to be an effective leader.

    …Mind you, this is all moot if people don’t want leaders. What happens when people do not want leaders or representatives?

  • A. Marina Fournier

    Good questions posed to people with useful things to day–thanks, Crystal!


    Angela Pearson – I don’t know what group you’re in, but about creating a “committee” about dealing with abuses involving children – I think that’s inappropriate, misguided, and vain. When it comes to children, Cat’s great post was correct – if you aren’t at least as qualified as hir to deal with it, its “above your pay grade” – report, report, report.
    Also, committees takes too much time. If someone’s behaving badly and disturbing a group (less egregiously), you need a bouncer, not a committee.
    If it later proves out they were innocent or misunderstood- fine, but situation averted.


    Angela Pearson – “not forcing people to contribute funds that are beyond their means in order to be part of an inclusive group”
    “forcing” of course would unethical but this also sounds like you’d condemn as unethical money for teachings, or asking for dues or not attend by choice. Just because somebody has knowledge doesn’t mean their knowledge and classes must be free to everyone. College classes typically cost way more. There are generally expenses to running a class, and people’s time is valuable. Do you expect a teacher to be giving all their time and money and knowledge away for free – and if they don’t – are they, in your opinion, then, being unethical?
    (In my experience, most Pagan groups and teachers are very generous, and don’t ask for much. I don’t generally see the manipulation and gouging obvious in some like the New Age, etc. kind of groups. )

  • Franklin_Evans

    From my experience and POV, it starts with a first task that is critical to get done right: defining precisely the responsibilities and accompanying authority of the leader.

    I have long since stepped away from events (as an example) where the event leadership is expected to pull it off well but not bother anyone while doing that. The best “cure” for such expectations is to answer requests for events with “okay, what are you going to commit to doing to make it happen?” Then, follow that up with never coming to their rescue when they shirk their commitments. No, I don’t mean when they have something happen outside of their control. Yes, I do mean when they leave it to the last minute and cry for help.

    The most difficult task for a leader is letting the followers fail. Leadership is the half of a dynamic in which all have an obligation.

    The most important lesson I’ve learned is to be a reluctant leader, set the term of my tenure, make an explicit effort to find and train my successor and walk away anyway when such a person fails to materialize. A group, of any size or definition, gets the leadership for which it pays. Money is not the payment I have in mind. Sacrifice is something to be offered, not expected and never taken for granted.

  • edhubbard

    The very essence of Paganism has been to do your own thing, to be your own priest. When we touch the political we need leaders, because that is the way the public works. We want leaders to lead us through major events, but we do not want them to remain once the event/crisis/happening is over. We can not ever create a central authority to handle it because it simply won’t work, as Christians, Muslims, and others know that schisms occur constantly when disagreements happen. Leadership is really a chimera in the Pagan community, and will remain so, until we see some group or groups come to dominate the scene. It will take some more time, but the big players are emerging, and if they can survive their founders, may become the core groups.

    • Kenaz Filan

      Every weekend I see lots of people doing their own thing in a large relatively open area. It’s called “Toddler Gym” and my 2.5 year old daughter loves it. Amongst Annamaria and her peers this sort of interaction is called parallel play. We don’t expect toddlers to interact and cooperate with each other: those circuits won’t be coming on line for a little while yet. Annamaria is already showing a basic awareness of boundaries and an ability to share and take turns, which means she should be advancing beyond this stage in a couple months.

      If the “very essence” of Paganism is doing your own thing, then it’s not a religion. It’s infantilism.

      • edhubbard

        I won’t disagree, but it is in the foundation of the practice. No matter how many will disclaim it, it is a marketplace religion created by droves of books, that have created a system of creating your own tradition, your own practices. This flow will continue, and it will always been about spirit and practice. What you see as infantile, many see as freedom,

        • Kenaz Filan

          American Neopaganism is hardly the first religion created by books. Protestantism owes as much to Gutenberg as to Luther. Yet from the beginning Protestants agreed on a primary guidebook (the Holy Bible, in various translations) and a set of moral guidelines. (The Ten Commandments, etc.). And while various sects have arisen within that tent they are all recognizable as Protestantism. And as far as “marketplace religions” go, New Orleans Voodoo was there a century before American Neopaganism. It has survived as a distinct tradition — or more precisely a number of diverse traditions all gathered under a large tent — because it is rooted in a place and that place’s history.

          If “do your own thing” is the foundation of your practice, then you’re building on sand. Everybody appears to agree that integrity is a vital part of leadership. And to adhere firmly to a moral or artistic code, one must first have one. And any leader who does arise will be treated by the “community” as yet another disposable resource existing solely for each individual’s self-improvement. If the Gods are only there to serve your needs, then why should your leaders be treated any differently?

          (Annamaria is in this stage: she thinks nothing of screaming “I want this toy!” while Mommy has an armload of laundry and Daddy is cooking. But she also wants to help with those chores once she realizes we’re busy, so she’s growing out of it).

          • edhubbard

            Agreed, and that is the essence of the community. It is why when this is exposed, be it child endangerment or other sort of bad behavior, it is allowed to prevail over time. All our leaders are disposable, and have always been so. They exist primarily on their popularity, which is why so many authors are considered leaders. It is why Kenny Klein was seen as a example of leadership. He was popular.

            As for abuses, the tradition I belong too has seen its share dragged through public press over child abusers. We have had them go national, flare up, and we improved seeking them out. We know this is a problem in all societies, but ultimately, Paganism is about your relationship with the universe, the world, with nature and each other. It has not been about hierarchies and leadership, as ultimately each individual is filled with their personal responsibility, and therefore a practice, not necessarily a religion, that requires little in the way of leadership.

  • Karen A. Scofield

    Good bye Apollonian (authoritarian wholeness that never really unifies all) vs. Dionysian (flavors of anything goes pluralism) false dilemma. We can have our separate identities and their religions or paths and still have some measure of community and societal standards.

    “Now…. how do we demand what we cannot monitor?”

    As fast as a speeding oak, what’s truly formative and has absolutely immense directional force begins in the home and that allows a lot of extended, close monitoring, whether you’re bringing up kids or making sure you have your own act together. It can offer continuity of certain themes and skill development. There we can seek, learn and live reciprocity and everything else that goes into emotional intelligence, equality (not to be confused with anti-authoritarian or a path to mediocrity, etc.), and personal excellence (like being a decent person to yourself and others without being a doormat or victim).

    As Showtime’s “Sexy Baby” illustrates, we can creatively examine things in life and create our own dialog, even at younger ages, especially at younger ages, as opposed to merely being adrift in the sea of mainstreamed influences in our lives. (Referencing that show is not an ‘all porn is bad for everyone’ statement.) No matter how excellent the home is, we do live in an age in which digital immersion is possible and, young or old, we have to have ways and voices to navigate that. Tools. Building blocks of change.

    The above can profoundly carryover to groups and their behavior. Both provide the building blocks of the types of power paradigms we may build anywhere with anyone.

    Groups and activities will also need ways to demand some level of common decency and monitor behavior. That too but not only that. There a lot of momentum in developing such things for different groups and situations, good to see that.

    Familiarity with logic, the characteristics of good leadership/parenting, the value of imagination (a key to understanding ethics and creating a better world), reality checks, different definitions of love (e.g. agape, philios, eros, praxis), reciprocity (including but not limited to concepts of reciprocal ethics and The Golden Rule), emotional intelligence, and the ‘power wheels’ of Abuse and Equality can all help. So can Aesop’s Fables and other tools of choice and change. Meta life skills, we need them. Is it possible that most of us can agree that logic, reciprocity, emotional intelligence, an aim towards excellence (treating each other well but not being a doormat or victim), and equal rights go a long way in establishing some sort of common ground even if Paganism is an umbrella term and even if pagans involve a lot of disparate religions or paths? Something along those lines is probably the closest we will ever come to any consensus.

    Or I could say “Be most excellent to each other and party on.” (Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure)

  • Ray Romanowicz
    • Kenaz Filan

      Wow. Just wow.

      • Ray Romanowicz

        FPG took that conversation down. they just deleted the whole dang thing.

  • Kenaz Filan

    Before you get people to lead, you may first want to figure out where you are going.

    If your primary focus is sacred sexuality and sexual freedom, then follow people whose paths focus on those topics. All I’d ask is that you make your groups, workshops and events adults only like other sex-positive conventions and organizations.

    If your primary focus is making Paganism a mainstream religion, then follow publicity-savvy Pagans (please note this is not synonymous with “biggest attention-seeker”) and hold family-friendly events which mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and Jews could attend without discomfort.

    If your primary focus is social activism, follow social activist leaders. Present your case in social justice or ecological terms alongside thealogical arguments. Decide whether you want to be the Sierra Club, Earth First! or PETA (i.e. appeal to the mainstream, appeal to your cause’s most ardent devotees or some combination thereof).

    If your primary focus is devotional, then follow devout leaders who are passionate about their Gods. Hold events which, at a bare minimum, are inspired as much by religious retreats and interfaith conferences as by parties.

    This means, of course, that you will first need some rough idea of what you are doing in Paganism. If you haven’t figured that out by now, this may be a good time to start.

    • Deborah Bender

      I think this is wise advice.

      It’s possible for a single organization to focus on a couple of these goals at the same time, or one of them and some other goal not listed here (such as artistic excellence). No single organization can do everything, except possibly in a decentralized structure allowing different subgroups to focus on their particular passions. Attempts to be all things to all people simply result in confusion, people getting in each other’s way, and the kind of compromises that prevent the organization being really good at anything.

      One of the reasons (IMO) that Wicca grew much faster than other pagan cults which arose around the same time was that traditional coven-based Wicca had very strict limits on its foci. Its focus was on worship and magic within small, close-knit groups; social activity within those groups; and the training of leaders for additional groups of the same sort. At the outset trad Wicca was limited to adults, held no public events,
      had no political stance or political activity, did not engage in
      interfaith or services to the general population, and prohibited all
      commercial transactions in connection with the cult.

      This particular structure and set of goals is not a suitable model for doing everything that pagans want to do. It works fairly well for doing the things that traditional Wicca attempts to do. The pagan community has been experimenting with structures and leadership models to support other goals, not just lately, but going on fifty years. That’s a sign of healthy development.