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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 20,949,069  

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Question of the Week: 23 - 1/8/2001

Who or What is a "Pagan Leader"?

We hear this term bounced back and forth around the Pagan communities and some either claim to hold such a position themselves or others have labeled them as such. What qualities/qualifications do YOU think a 'Pagan leader' should possess? Do we even need Pagan leaders in the national/international sense? Does the very term 'leader' set your Pagan teeth on edge? What do Pagan leaders really DO anyway?

 Reponses:   There are 61 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

I Feel That The Word Leader Is A Bit Misleading. Perhaps The... Jan 12th. at 1:07:34 pm EST

Shari (Calgary, Alberta CA) Age: 35 - Email

I feel that the word leader is a bit misleading. Perhaps the word we should be using is guide or teacher. As a solitary wiccan I have had a terrible struggle to get where i am today. There are a shortage of guides or teachers to help people like myself follow the path of the ancient ones. When asked, other so-called leaders will look down their noses and sniff at you for not wanting to be part of their coven - perhaps the word lacky or slave could be inserted there.

Now that I have found my path, when other solitary wiccans approach me I use a softer approach to fill them in on information I have learned so they can use their own discretion about where they would like to go on the path. Usually with gentle guidance these new wiccans can see the beauty of the goddess around them and they find themselves more enlightened than those so-called leaders that use a more direct (blunt) approach.

I feel that the wiccan community 'leaders' have lost sight of the first rule the goddess taught us, 'An it harm none do as thou wilt'.

A Pagan Leader Is Someone Who Represents The Best Aspects Of All... Jan 12th. at 2:13:20 pm EST

Whitefeather (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario CA) Age: 16 - Email

A pagan leader is someone who represents the best aspects of all Paganism. They follow the Rede, practice perfect Love and Trust, etc. They should be someone who can communicate with the rest of the world in a clear way about what Paganism is and be able to answer the questions people have. They would be someone the President, Prime Minister, Pope, or Dali Lama could talk to about religious issues, laws or whatever concerning Paganism. BUT!!! No one person can speak for all. There are a thousand/million ways to interpret the Rede, and how you yourself practise Paganism, Wicca, Druidism, Shamanism, or whatever is as unique as each snowflake that falls from the sky. It would be nice to have an internationly know someone to represent us, but they'd only be representing themselves. They'd be constantly saying, "Well, I can't speak for Them, but I can say this.."
Therefore, a Pagan leader in a county, city, region, province, country or the world would be impossible. There is no one on this wonderful Earth who could successfuly represent ALL of us. It's a nice idea though. Blessings and Light!

The Pagan Community Currently Suffers From A Serious Lack Of Good Leaders... Jan 12th. at 3:03:39 pm EST

Larissa Crimson Wind (Porland/Beaverton, Oregon US) Age: 30 - Email

The Pagan community currently suffers from a serious lack of good leaders. I say "good" because we seem to be up to our armpits in egotistical self-styled gurus whose only attraction to their position is the perceived power and glory that they expect from it. This is a side effect of a religion that is both open and free and rather new on the scene (for most of us.)

I think its a cynical idealism to believe that leaders are not needed or the polluted leftovers of a patriarchal (heirarchal) society. The stark reality is that groups of people naturally gravitate towards creating someone to lead or mediate in some fashion. To ignore this is to ask for trouble.

There are simple, practical, reasons for this: To begin with, it doesn't work to ask "newbies" to have equal participation in the decision-making process when they're facing the challenge of getting their feet wet in an often complicated community. Secondly, consensus, while a lovely ideal, takes a LOT of time to accomplish, and the process itself requires someone to instigate and mediate. Once that someone leaves, it has been my experience that the consensual group falls apart quickly. Too, we should not forget that most people honestly don't want to take the responsibility and do the hard work required of leaders--and someone has to or the group activities just don't take place. Leadership is the process by which someone makes sure things get accomplished. Leaders get acclaim when things go well, and, like it or not, take the blame when problems occur.

A good leader knows that leadership is primarily about work and accepting responsibility. Its a trade-off: You may have some power, but you pay for it in sweat, time, training, research, and playing the social mediator for the group. The glory is miniscule, the hours are long, and the satisfaction comes from within for a job well done. A good leader is not motivated by fantasies of teeming throngs of admirers, dewy-eyed with hero-worship and willing to do your every bidding. A good leader wants respect, and knows that if they do their job correctly, they'll get it. They treat the members of their group with respect, teach them, train them to be leaders as well one day, and ASK for criticism. They take their member's opinions seriously, and do what they can to address needs and incorporate new ideas for the group. They help their group determine its purpose and then set goals to meet that purpose. A good leader can admit to errors, apologize sincerely, and correct a mistake so that it is not repeated.
They know their people, and utilize their talents for the good of the Coven or Circle, and give credit where credit is due. And, finally, a good leader knows their limitations and when to ask for help or step down.

As you can imagine, a tall order to fill. Yet this is exactly what we need to see more of in the Pagan community. Too many groups suffer from psuedo-gurus or, more commonly, weak leaders who don't mind stepping in front of a group, but fall short of making difficult decisions or taking responsibility (blame) for problems. With this second kind of problem leader, or with groups who attempt to create an equal-across-the-board consensus-style Coven or Circle, we see a common pattern. Over and over, we experience people trying to correct an uncertain power structure with behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that leads to slanderous gossip, cliques, and endless bickering over how everything should be done. With no one to step up and willingly wade through the contention and lay down some ground rules, things degenerate into social chaos and the group falls apart. It may go through several reincarnations, but because the fundamental problem of good leadership is never addressed, it reenacts its own death time and again.

The consequences for having a lack of leadership in the Pagan community are quite profound. Our bumbling attempts are witnessed by those outside the Pagan arena, and we are condemned as "Flakes, " not to be taken seriously as a religion. Our internal power struggles and lack of direction have turned many a sincere new Pagan to give up on their fellows and turn solitary. Its such a needless waste. Without leaders to coordinate, act as spokespersons, and tackle the hard work of teaching and building, the Pagan community gets little accomplished. With good leadership, however, our ideals become reality.

I speak from experience. I've been involved in the Pagan/Wiccan community for over 11 years, and have been Priestess of Circle of the Sapphire Flame, in Portland, Oregon. I didn't originally want to lead anything, but found that the only way to join a group that would actually work was to create it myself. (I've participated in groups in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Oregon, and everywhere I saw the same problems which could be traced to a lack of leadership or bad leadership.) Recently, I ended my stint as Preistess, and peacefully passed the baton on to a new Priest and Priestess, White Lyon and Galena, who are eager to tackle the new position. I'm now a sort of "Elder" who teaches classes and steps in only for emergencies when (and if) the Priesthood experiences any problems amongst themselves. (Which hasn't as yet happened, and I hope it never shall.) More people are being trained, and we have a group that is productive, peaceful, stimulating, and effective. I put a lot of effort into setting it up, and now gratefully retire to allow others the opportunity to experience being a leader. Nothing pushes or tests you more...if you do it right.

As a final note to those who don't like heirarchy in any form... I would like to point out that as Pagans, we acknowledge ourselves as a part of nature, and strive to respect the wisdom of the natural world. In do doing, please note that EVERY social creature works within a hierarchal power structure of some kind. Ants, bees, dolphins, wolves, lions, and many more, exist in a world where every being serves a social purpose, where some lead and most follow. As humans, we are not immune to status contests. But if we must acknowledge our animal natures, we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we are able to improve on the basic model. We can take turns being leader. We can demand good work from our leader. We can create a community that is fair and works for most people most of the time. But let us not pretend that status is something we are "above" and attempt to ignore the reality. The trick is to put the reality to its best use.

I Think That The Term "leader" Has Much Different Connotation Within The... Jan 12th. at 3:21:05 pm EST

Brunhilda (McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania US) Age: 23 - Email

I think that the term "leader" has much different connotation within the pagan community. The leader doesn't perform the usual funtions that a leader would outside of the pagan community, such as decision making, discipline, and so forth. A "pagan leader" is more of an advisor, someone that everyone can look to for answers, be they answers to everyday dilemmas or answers to what color candle to put at the corners of the alter, or pretty much any question that you can think of. A leader's opinion is highly valued, though it is still up for discussion and challenging. That's one of the things that make a "pagan leader" so different from leaders in the general sense. They are always open to challenges, to new viewpoints on every imaginable subject. They don't have the authority that comes with being a leader, because most decisions are group decisions, and not for one person alone to decide. The more I sit here and ramble, the more I think that leader is too strong a word. Maybe elder or some other more traditional word would be more appropriate. As for the national/international question, we have trouble visiting with our pagan neighbors 2 hours away, so I'll refrain from rambling about that subject.

I Believe Every Pagan Has Qualities Inside Them That Entitle Them To... Jan 12th. at 3:43:18 pm EST

StE (Walsall, England UK) Age: 17

I believe every Pagan has qualities inside them that entitle them to be leaders, be it of themselves, the world around them, their coven or group etc. However as our beliefs vary from one person to another, I do not believe that there could ever be a leader for the whole or a large portion of the Pagan community.

There are many famous Pagans who have a lot of experience. Other people may want to follow them, and so they are called a "Pagan leader", but this is just for the few who may wish to be inspired by them - just like pop stars. This doesn't mean they are Pagan leaders though, it just means they have a few good ideas and people believe in them and look up to them.

I belive that the only true Pagan leader is nature herself. She leads us, inspires us and provides for us - the perfect leader :-)

Mm; No, I Do Not Think That We Need A Pagan "leader... Jan 12th. at 4:59:13 pm EST

Trudi (Boston area, Massachusetts US) Age: 43 - Email

MM; No, I do not think that we need a Pagan "leader". Not having a leader helps everyone to keep their individuality, as they are and should be. Having a 'leader' will, in the end, cause the same sort of 'absolute' leadership (others ?)our brothers and sisters find themselves having to answer to and about. They are not seen nor are they accepted as individual human beings. For that I am truely sorry. In a sense, I grieve for them, as they do not know any better. Having a 'leader' will only recreate the same leadership as we, have been trying to evoid. Long be, and long live the 'GIFT' of individuality!

I Think All Pagans Are Leaders In Some Way Or Another, Perhaps... Jan 12th. at 6:28:24 pm EST

Wendy Belles (Ruston, Louisiana US) Age: 26

I think all pagans are leaders in some way or another, perhaps in the sense that we each educate our communities on what pagans are like, whether we are in the so-called closet or not. We show through our words and actions and how we treat others what it is to be a pagan. Even if nobody else knows.
I don't personally believe in Pagan Leaders in the sense of Religious Leaders, unless you count that we all lead ourselves. Nobody can represent the beliefs of all, and we influence no-one else's ways without that other's consent, conscious or otherwise.

I'm Going To Answer This Question In The Broader Sense Than That... Jan 12th. at 7:07:17 pm EST

Iko (Chicago, Illinois US) Age: 36 - Email

I'm going to answer this question in the broader sense than that of "who should lead my coven?" Because, quite frankly, I don't care who leads or does not lead your coven. That question is best answered by those personally involved. Play nice. I am going to answer this question in the broader sense of leadership of the Pagan community as a whole.

We do have Pagan leaders whether we like to acknowledge that fact or not. I suppose it might be easier to think of Pagan leaders as representatives. If we throw out the notion of somebody 'being in charge' and replace it with the notion of 'somebody to represent my views and interests to the greater world' it may be easier for most of us to take. One thing all of these individuals or groups (the leaders) have in common is a whole lot of selflessness. I believe this website, The Witches' Voice, is one such leader. So leadership can be in the form of an entity as well as in the form of the individuals who make up that entity. I do not think that anybody involved with the Witches' Voice said "hey lets start a website and become leaders in the Pagan community." Their leadership is a byproduct of creating such a great site. A great site, like a great leader, cannot have a hidden agenda that will survive undiscovered for long. We have leaders in our authors. Cunningham, Starhawk et al., are leaders in the sense that they wrote books that countless numbers of us have read, digested and applied to our lives and paths. None of these people wrote saying that "my way is the only way." We are free to disagree with them if we wish. Some who call themselves leaders we dislike (I have a list of so-called Pagan leaders that I wish would move to another planet) and some leaders we love (I wished they lived next door). I am sure my list of those I love and those I dislike would not exactly match up with anyone else's list, but I think there is a core of leaders (representatives) that most would agree upon. Who should not be leaders? I would say that anybody who starts out a sentence by saying, "you should listen to me because I am a Pagan leader" is somebody who should not be a leader. You can add to that list with those who call themselves leaders solely to make money, or worse those who call themselves a leader (including Witch Queen, Priestess or Priest) because they get some ego-trip from the title. Do we need leaders? I guess I can answer that question with a question: Are we better off now with the GOOD leadership (representation) that we have than we would have been without it? I do not think that anybody can truly say we are worse off. I would be one to argue that we are much better off. Who should be leaders? I think that question answers itself through the leaders we have in the community that are respected and loved by a majority of us. Of course we are all free to say so-and-so is not MY leader. Of course we are all free to attempt to become leaders if that is what we want to do. Do we need leaders? Of course we do, because we all benefit from representation. However, I worry about those who are involved with Paganism and their all-consuming day-to-day worries involve the notion that somebody out there may or may not be calling themselves a leader. These folks really need to re-think why they want to be involved with Paganism in the first place - as they at the very least are missing the point. I am sure, though I do not claim to have any first hand knowledge, that the Goddess and God really are not impressed with many of the so-called Pagan leaders out there. I am sure, though again no first hand knowledge, that They really don't give a rat's a** as to what these so-called leaders call themselves. In the end, isn't that what matters? Blessed Be.

Hmmn... Can't Say As I Much Like To Term "pagan Leader"... A... Jan 12th. at 7:13:10 pm EST

jswolfe (worcester, Massachusetts US) Age: 27

Hmmn... Can't say as I much like to term "Pagan Leader"... a representative voice, maybe... a leader though? I wouldn't want any person "leading" my spirituality...

Fritz And Wren Are Excellent Examples Of Pagan Leaders, Even Though I... Jan 12th. at 7:57:28 pm EST

kaelyn (Sacramento, California US) Age: 35 - Email

Fritz and Wren are excellent examples of pagan leaders, even though I really dislike the term "leaders". We must each follow our own path, and I don't want anyone telling me how to do it. I think most of us feel this way. the fact of the matter is that we do need individuals who can speak effectively and articulately to the public at large. Those who can say, "These are the general principles we live by, but each of us follows our own path." I think most of us follow the Golden Rule, with a few variations here and there. It works very well. We need people who can speak publicly without getting flustered or letting some asshole push their hot buttons. I don't want these people to say they speak for all of us, or to say that their path is the "one true way", but face it our society is opening up. This is great but, with more public information comes more MIS-INFORMATION as well. It helps to have some very patient and articulate soul willing to speak about the reality of paganism without glamourizing or trivializing it. An individual who can speak in terms the general public understands, in a non-threatening manner. Do I want to appoint these people? No WAY! We do have leaders, the good ones don't have ego trips or anything else. They'll give advice, but unless they see serious danger you'll need to ask for it. Good leaders lead by example. Walk the talk. They inspire people to examine their lives and make changes for the better, all of this without being preachy. It's a tall order. But the one thing any public speaker needs to be able to communicate, we are all different. Being different, with different wants and needs is not a bad thing. Being different doesn't make right or wrong, just different.

Do We, As A Community, Need Leaders? Yes, As A Community We... Jan 12th. at 8:58:11 pm EST

Deborah (Baltimore, Maryland US) Age: 22 - Email

Do we, as a community, need leaders? Yes, as a community we need leaders. I don't believe that these leaders need a long list of qualifications or even be good public speakers. All that you need to be a leader in your community (be it pagan or not) is a strong desire to help your community and actions to back it up. Our leaders, I personally believe, SHOULD NOT be our moral or religious leaders. To attempt to do so is perhaps the biggest insult to our community that could ever be made.

I would personally say that a pagan leader is a pagan that upholds their personal belief system (wiccan or otherwise) and is active in their community at large. I think that as a community we're here to help each other and to ensure that the Earth's health improves. It would only make sense if our community leaders did the same.

While The Idea Of A Leader Might Sound Terrible To Some, We... Jan 12th. at 10:39:49 pm EST

Aidan Odinson (Collingdale, Pennsylvania US) Age: 52 - Email

While the idea of a leader might sound terrible to some, we already have them. The only one in the Craft who has never had a leader would be someone coming into the Craft already knowing everything they would need to know. And while some of us can think of some folks who might come close to meeting that description, all of us had teachers of some form, even if theteachers were authors of the books we studied. And, teachers are leaders.

But what of leaders on the national/international scale? The Roman Catholics probably find it handy to have a Pope. In addition to the Pope, there are Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops. If George W. Bush tries to cross the path of the Roman Catholics, he knows the names of specific people who would be knocking on his door speaking for America's Roman Catholics. The same can be said for most of the mainstream religious paths. When Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Dahlai Lama speak, people know that they are not speaking just for themselves.

The problem for us is that each of those people represent a heirarchical form of leadership which we don't have. For most of us, the local coven is what we have and that's it other than perhaps the High Priestess and High Priest of a mother coven, and even then that might not be as heirarchical as is found elsewhere.

In the same manner as we don't have a "bald guy at the pulpit, telling us what to think", we don't have bishops or superintendents "keeping us in line". And we don't need or want to be led that way!

Leaders on a national or international level would be very useful. They would also be useful at the regional, state and municipal level. But in order to have leaders, they must be leaders of something so that they can be recognized. And, the models we have to use as examples won't work for us on that scale. The existing models won't work because to use them, we would have to lose something that we can't afford to lose - like the sovereignty of the individual coven and the sovereignty of the individual solitary.

Before we can have leaders on the national or international scale, we need a new model of a structure which they can lead without shackling those they are leading.

Aidan Odinson

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