Tag Archives: Pagan Leadership

Leadership is About Sharing Experiences – At Least in My Opinion

I have written a few times about the concepts of leadership, but to be honest – I have always thought it silly for a solo Pagan, like myself, to speak on things like this. My connections within the Pagan community are slight. Much like the title of the old podcast, my area falls more to the edges than anywhere else. Not only am I more comfortable out on the periphery, its almost as if I have been called to be here.

Back in the 1990s, while I was in the United States Air Force, I stepped up to the idea of being a leader in the community. I tried to help with the leadership of the local Kaiserslautern military Pagan community. What I found in doing this was that more people were willing to complain and criticise than those willing to roll up their sleeves and help do the work. And that winds up being a real turn-off to me. So, once I left the United States Air Force and came back to the United States to live my life as a civilian – I choose to be solo. But not after another attempt at being a part of a local community – and what would be the last chance I would give Wicca to be what I needed in my life. But that is a post for another time and topic.

So, I dove deep into being a solo Pagan. I continued to follow the Wheel of the Year in my daily life. And while I never hid the fact that I was a Pagan, I surely did not advertise the fact either. And I discovered a lot about myself during this time. I was not a leader. Working on my own was more effective for me. Wicca was definitely not the Path for me. The Nordic Path had no pull for me to follow. And I was not interested in reconstructing any older belief or practice. And all of that was true, with the exception of the first two statements.

When you are on your own, and there are no effective means of communicating with others, your concept of leadership comes down to a single person – yourself. I can deny my ability to be a leader in crafting my response through my desire to not be a leader. But that desire is not because I lack the ability to provide leadership in anything I do. It comes from my fear of being out front, where others look to what I have to say or do, as an example of what they can try on their own. And at the age of 52, I can literally say that I have been running from leadership since my late teens. And that is certainly a long time. It has colored a lot of the way I handle myself in other situations. I have developed patterns of an introvert as defense mechanisms to insulate myself with ready-made excuses.

I was never ready to be considered a leader in anything. I have always looked at leadership as being some modicum of control over others. My libertarian streak inside of me informs my perspective that only an individual can be the leader of themselves. We make our individual choices on our own. We decide what is right and wrong for our own individual selves. A leader does not have to be manipulative and controlling. In fact, I would posit that such actions are not perspectives of leadership whatsoever. Leadership is not about grooming others to be what you expect them to be but helping them to become what they are. The individual chooses the direction that they wish to go; the leader helps find ways to assist in the growth of that person. Sure, there are many other definitions of what a leader is or is not. Ask a group of ten people for a definition of a leader, and you’re likely to get fifteen different answers.

Over the past ten years, I have slowly brought myself back into the Pagan community. Through the podcasts, the blog, going to local events, going to not-so-local events…and rarely have I interjected myself into the concept or perspective of being a leader. Most of the events I have attended have had very well defined perspectives of leadership. Some folks were well suited to be leaders, others not-so-much (in my opinion). With the podcasts and the blog, my “voice” tends to be given a position of authority and credence that I don’t normally attribute to myself. But in both instances, whether I agree with it or not, I stepped into a role of leadership. And I do have to provide ownership of what I write and say in both areas – after all, I did say it.

Whether I completely agree with it or not, I have been a leader to many folks. No one should be following me into the woods just because that is where I am going. But some folks have asked about what type of gear I am carrying into the woods with me and then creating their own group of items to carry with themselves when they go into the woods. Sometimes, their items have stuff that I took, sometimes it doesn’t…and most likely, it has stuff that I never thought about. In the end, we learn from sharing our experiences. And in a manner of speaking, this is the kind of leadership I see myself providing.

All of this has gotten me to think even more about what happens going forward. Certainly, I will keep blogging about my experiences. Here shortly, the podcast will get moved forward and back into gear. Both of those platforms allow me to share my experiences, as well as the experiences of others. And through that sharing, my libertarian heart says that we will all be able to make better choices for ourselves. We can find the level of comfort that we have in our communities and develop the roles that we should each be filling. And in that manner, we become leaders – in our own definitions of what that means.

And while it is a pretty dream that might never be achieved – simply because we apply this theory to the fallibility of human beings — I am willing to dream that dream. And reach for it as well.

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I Know Them When I See Them

So, in the last post, I was making some notations about Pagan leadership, but as was pointed out to me by one of my three loyal readers – I never really discussed much of what I felt made a leader. That’s fair. So let’s start with defining what a Pagan leader looks like.  Wait…I have a picture.

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Ok, ok.  I’m kidding. I am definitely not what I would consider a Pagan leader. I wouldn’t even say I was a person of any notable status. But. There are aspects of what I do that fall into what I consider to be the arena of a Pagan leader.

See, I am not talking about people that just “do” things, or write books and articles, or even those that sing songs. Those people have some of the aspects of being a leader, in that they get things done, or write their thoughts out and place those where people can read or experience that. Leaders, in my mind, are a lot more than that, and are generally not as out in the public eye. Though, I would suggest that they should be.

For me, leaders are inspiring. They don’t have all the answers, nor do they pretend to. They do know where to start to find the answers, and typically, they are not seeking the answers for themselves. Most leaders shun the spotlight. They place their community and group before themselves. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work – even when they are not asked or when they are a guest.

For me, leaders don’t prod people along a path. There’s no need to herd cats. That’s not what being a leader is about. In my opinion, leaders are mentors. They are not trying to create a hierarchy. They are not gathering people to themselves so that there will be someone to hear their words. They are there to help others on the Path. Willing to listen, and offer advice when asked, a leader is a communicator that speaks when necessary.

With that said, I will offer a bit more observation and opinion. I have been in the Pagan community; both as a semi-active member and as an “edge of the circle” observer. I have been a Solo Adherent, and a member of a coven or two. I have seen “group leaders” in social environments, as well as private. Sadly, the Pagan community, by and large, has very few leaders. There are a lot of loud Generals, and not nearly as many of the leaders that I think would be ideal. But perhaps, that’s because these people are so low-key, that its hard to discern who they are with just casual observation?? Perhaps.

On the flip side of all of that, I have met quite a few people that I would consider to be leaders. They are low-key. They are nurturers. They are teachers. They tend to shun the spotlight. Rather, they want their fellow travelers to step up and become the right individuals in charge. These folks lead their church congregations. They serve in positions on national organizations. They nurture individuals that are in their immediate circles when there is confusion on a topic. They write blog posts. They write articles. They write books. They make music. They take time out of their lives to travel, meet others, and teach the values of being a kind, nurturing leader to others. They hope. They dream. They are no different than any of the rest of us. And that is what is most important.

There is no need to name these people. They are easily found. They are easily approached. They will talk with you like any other person. They will laugh with you. They give the most wonderful hugs. They look just like anyone else. And its not the spotlight that they seek. Its not the notoriety. They have no desire to become the Big Name Pagan. They merely want the Pagan community to grow, mature, and nurture itself. If being a leader is about getting your name recognized by others…your priority is way off-base.

What is a leader? Its not the cowboy wrangling a herd of cats across a river. That is a cute commercial, but nowhere near the ideal image of a leader (and it should be noted that the commercial is meant to be absurd, not taken seriously). Your Pagan leadership is around you. Those folks are generally not trying to locate the nearest tv camera crew, nor are they trying to find the nearest beat writer to drop a story. They work tirelessly behind the scenes at your conventions, and gatherings…and if they are good at it, they are unseen by most people attending these gatherings. And like so many people that I have met in these conventions and gathering over the past year, they are no different than any of us. Those that are polytheists are trying to honor their Gods with what they do. Those that are doing other things within their belief systems, are focused on those as well.

Earlier this year, I attended Pantheacon for the first time. I met many new faces. Some of whom I had only conversed with online. Some I had never met before. And being the people watcher that I am – I sat on the sidelines and observed. I saw many Pagans, happy to be who they were. And I saw leaders. Quietly being who they were. None of them walked the hallways near the meeting rooms with an entourage walking before them to announce their entrance to the area. Many of them were approachable by anyone…and easily entered into conversations with strangers. Even the strange hippy with the Grateful Dead t-shirts and the thinning long-hair. They were nurturing to others. They were there with helpful suggestions. They listened intently to total strangers that approached them with a story or a suggestion or a question.

When I talk about leaders, I don’t mean people who bark orders at others – and direct people to get things done. Anyone can do that. Leaders are those who look to be the anchor for those that need a momentary harbor from the raging river of Life. Leaders are those who help others to grow. Leaders are those that are there. Sure, decisions can be made by those that show up, but Leaders are derived from those that show interest in others. Leaders are derived from those that try and help a Community grow, not try to gather followers like a friending contest on Facebook.

So, to answer the question – how do I know what a leader is? I know a leader when I see them. Pinning down an exact definition is like trying to nail jello to the wall. But I do know them when I see them. Even if they don’t believe that they are really leaders.

Two Pence – Pagan Leadership

IMG_9670Leadership scares the shit out of me. Seriously. I have noted this a few times: some folks look at me as a “natural” leader. I maintain that I am not. But my reasoning, while gathered from a fictional character in a movie, is weak at best.

In a scene from the Sylvester Stallone movie “The Demolition Man”, the character of Edgar Friendly makes the statement: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come with me.” It is a snarky line, but it is also an issue of pushing the leadership off into space.

See, there are leadership qualities that people have – the ability to think quickly on your feet. The ability to break problems into workable tasks. The ability to delegate those workable tasks to people who have the ability to get those done. And the ability to motivate people to get things done. For some strange reason, I have some of the ability to motivate people. I know that I have the ability to break problems down into workable tasks. I do that every day in my job. I also have the ability to stay calm when things come apart at the seams. But I have to be honest and give the United States Air Force the credit for some of this as well. All of that is delineated into a particular skillset. Its called troubleshooting.

In my opinion, troubleshooting is not a skillset of leadership. It is a skillset of the Troubleshooter, which is something I do consider myself to be. I enjoy taking situations that are in chaos, sorting things out, prioritizing what needs to be done, and rolling up my sleeves and getting arm deep in the issues. I can be problematic when I am in this mode. I can push those that are in a position of leadership out of the way. Essentially picking them up, setting them to one side, and saying: “Stay right there until I solve this. Then you can have the steering wheel again.” In my military career, I have told Commissioned Officers to “get the fuck out of the way” while trying to resolve mainframe systems issues. It never made me popular with the Officers, but the enlisted folks (of which I was) loved me for it.

But let’s be clear on something. I never shoved people out of the way, unless I was sure that I could resolve the problem. In the Air Force, I knew my systems inside and out. In two locations, only the Field Engineers were more knowledgeable than the 23-year old me on how the system operated. Older non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers learned to get out of the way when I was called in to repair things. But I had to earn that kind of respect, by showing that I could resolve problems that were set in front of me. That’s not a skill of leadership. Rather that’s a skillset of technical ability. And that technical ability masked on arrogance that I had.

Leadership is not about shoving people out of the way and proclaiming yourself the expert. A better version of me – now nearly thirty years down the line and full of life experiences – would counsel the twenty-three year old me to not shove people out of the way, but counsel them on how to resolve the problem, looking over their shoulders, and explaining why this particular issue was resolved in this particular way. Leadership is not about pointing and directing. That’s a task for ego-maniacs. And I have seen plenty of my share of these in the Pagan community. A Leader teaches others how to resolve the problems, allowing their hands to be the ones that turn the wrenches and use the tools, while explaining the reasoning behind each process.

Leadership is a status that is earned. Rightly or wrongly. The individual(s) empowering you into a position of leadership have confidence in your ability to resolve issues, and put things into motion. Sometimes, you have this bit of respect thrust upon you. For example, a newcomer to Paganism or Polytheism will look to you as their example of what it means to be [x] within Paganism or Polytheism. Whether you wanted that role or not, it is given to you. Even after you explain that you’re no leader, in your best Edgar Friendly impersonation. And if you think about it…it is a weak explanation, as well.

See, I am nearly fifty-one years old this year. I have been in Paganism in one capacity or another since 1987. That’s twenty-nine years of being a Pagan. I was a doe-eyed newbie at one time too. Anyone who had been in Paganism for any length of time, regardless of Path, was an incredible person to me. Until I met Pattalee. She ran one of the few local Pagan bookstores in the area with her (then) husband. I would go down there, and tentatively sit one a bar stool next to the jewelry counter. And I would ask questions, and listen to the answers – hanging on her every word. I guess she humored me at first. But after a while, instead of answering my questions, she would prompt me to answer my own questions. Then, she would have a long, prolonged discussion of where my logic was incorrect, and where I made assumptions that had no factual basis. Instead of puzzling things out for me, she quietly prompted me to learn from myself. Sadly, she passed away quite some time back, and her ex-husband eventually closed the store. But I always remembered those talks, and how she dealt with the doe-eyed newbie sitting in front of her.

After her passing beyond the veil, it took nearly another decade before I realized that she talked with me through a position of leadership. The authority of leadership had been given to her by me. She most likely didn’t want it, but she accepted it – and led me gently towards the habit of puzzling things out for myself. She gently showed me how to look inside myself and find the answers that I was needing. And pointed out how the “truths” as I found them applied to me, and not necessarily to others. Leadership is not about molding people forcibly, but showing them the potential that is inside of themselves.

Newbies may hand you a mantle of leadership, simply because you have been around longer than they have. Throwing that mantle back in their faces and saying that you’re no leader is not the way to handle things. Folding that mantle up, and setting it to the side, with care and reverence respects the responsibility that you have been handed. And eventually, you will be able to gently, and with respect, hand that mantle back to those newbies – pointing out that they have always been able to fend for themselves. In my opinion, this is how we grow our Pagan community. We don’t grow leaders in this process. Some of those newbies will become leaders in their own right. We grow self-sufficient Pagans and Polytheists, able to handle themselves as Solitary practitioners of their own connectivity with the Gods, and able to work within the wider ranging Pagan and Polytheist communities as individual parts of the whole. Able to be Priests/Priestesses and Leaders without becoming tyrants. Able to teach others how to grow, without delineating debilitating and crippling dogma that creates a belief structure that is too rigid to be flexible with the changing world around us. We grow Pagans and Polytheists that learn to cultivate their relationships with others, the Gods, the Spirits of Place, and Spirits of Ancestors, while expanding their understanding of those connections and their own position within those sacred relationships.

Yeah, I can claim to not be a leader. That I just do things, and sometimes people come along. But in the end, that statement – while playful – is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the people that come along. It is a wise-ass dismissal of the authority that they hand to me. It is slapping the respect that they have for me as an elder in the wider Pagan community, while laughing in their face with my flippant comment. And to be honest, it is long past time for me to ditch the attitude. I’m a podcaster and a blogger in the Pagan community. I make commentary on how I feel about Paganism and Polytheism from both platforms. And whether I want to agree with it or not, I set myself out there for my opinions to be read. And people respect me for that. Yes, some of them hand me their respect as an authority., as an elder. And I need to return that respect as well. I need to follow Pattalee’s example, and fold up that mantle and set it to the side. And listen.

Pagan leadership is about helping the community. Troubleshooting issues. Listening. Growing Pagans that are new to this Path. Leadership is about being the appropriate example to our community. And we are all leaders, in one capacity or another.

Two pence….  –T /|\

No Shadows to Hide Within Anymore…

Gizmo

Over the past few months – and its been quite a few of them – I kept hearing the horn of the Hunt in my dreams. Even in dreams where the Hunt would be completely out of place. At first, I took no notice of it, brushing it off as something that just happened. Then it started to be accompanied by a female voice that kept telling me about leadership – and the volume of the horn got louder. It took a while, but I discovered the voice was Fliodhas – Goddess of the Woods. And I began to realize that the point that was being made was that I could no longer hide in the shadows or on the periphery. The perimeter of the crowd was no longer where I needed to be. I had to start stepping out into the sunlight.

Let’s be honest here, I hear a lot about my ability to inspire people. I never thought I was that person, until I started teaching college classes. I listened to my students talk about their own dreams of what they wanted to be doing. I would find myself discussing with them what directions I would take if I were in their shoes with their dreams. And I found myself openly cheering them on to what they wanted to do. But that’s now a year and a half into my past. But I really needed to understand that this IS a form of leadership.

A few weeks back, I reached out to Shauna Aura Knight when I discovered that she was planning on going to Pantheacon. I am attending as well, and thought it would be a chance to grab an interview, if possible. However, her schedule is going to be crowded and busy, but we will definitely touch base with one another during the con. Since that time, we have talked numerous times via Pmail…and one conversation that came up was finding one’s self being thrust into the light, and the roles of leadership. She pointed me to two posts on the Patheos Pagan Channel that she had written entitled “Seeker, Shaman, and Sovereign” which are written in two parts ( Part1) (Part2).

The post – I will treat both parts as a single post – provided me quite a bit of insight into the idea of leadership as a vessel. Where the individual in the position of leadership is there to provide the sustenance for others to move forward in their own quests. That the leader as a vessel is to provide support, lend a hand, add some guidance…not to direct. When I was teaching in the classroom, I did not like the title of “Professor” or “Teacher”. Both had the sounds in my ear of someone who would lay down foundational work that was set in stone. Never to change or transmute into what was necessary.

My subject that I taught in was an Introduction to Business Computer Systems. And if there was one thing I have learned in nearly thirty years in Information Technology, was that you had to be flexible. Technology changes as new methods and machinery are discovered and utilized. Alternately, sometimes you didn’t have the budget to obtain the newest and greatest pieces of technology, so you had to improvise with what you had. Staying still and not innovating was a recipe for the end of your company. This was a major aspect of technology that I tried to impress upon my students. The tools of technology would change, and sometimes in ways you never dreamed possible. You had to work with the tools, the changing environment, the quick pace of technology – and try to maintain your ethical balance throughout it all. I am finding out that this same philosophy holds true, even in our ever-changing, constantly growing Pagan communities.

Most Pagans seem to recoil at the concept of “leaders” and “leadership”. I know this from personal perspective. I was – and to some degree still am – leery of anyone  (including me) stepping forward into a mantle of leadership. But I look back, and I have been there. As a college facilitator (I like this title much better), as a Pagan blogger, and as a Pagan podcaster (or podcatser as my misspelled business card states) – each one of these positions relates some degree of leadership. Not be the mere fact that I teach. Not by the mere fact I write blogs. Not by the mere fact that I record podcasts. But by the fact that people listen to my podcasts, read my blogs, and listen to my lectures – and get inspired to DO. I can sit and deny who and what I am all that I want to, but the reality is that there are people who are inspired to action in their own lives by what I have written or what I say.

I can push away the idea of being a recognized in public and continue to hide in the shadows all that I want. The reality is that I am out in the open about who I am – and my words, spoken and written, do happen to inspire people to take action in their own lives. And to that level, I am a leader. Whether I like that or not. Whether I am scared of it or not. Whether I inspire tens of people or many more than that. I’m not there to step up and lead people down the streets. That’s not the kind of leader that I am. But I will be one of the many in that crowd. Helping others continue to have the courage to stand up, and be unafraid of being who and what they are openly.

When I started my first podcast, nearly ten years ago to this very day that I type this, I stated that the podcast was my gift back to the Pagan community. And it was. From the Edge of the Circle was a lot of fun to do. And I met many, many people along the way – many of whom I am still in contact with to this day. Together, we formed a community together. The internet made it possibly to break down the walls of distance, and we managed to find ways to work together. Even the small Pagan Podcast Community discovered a way to do our podcasts together and not compete against one another. We considered each podcast to be a single voice in our community, and those unique, single voices added together to create a beautiful harmony that continues to this day with some of those older voices, along with newer ones that crop up.

There are so many different leaders in the Pagan community. Together we sing the lyrics, and the community joins us on the choruses. Our songs lift up into the air, and reach the ears of the Gods and Goddesses. And the harmonies we bring about solidify who we are, what we will become, and what we have been. Woven together to become our song…our collective song. And there are more voices joining us around our physical and virtual campfires.

Pagan leadership still has a lot of growth to achieve, but I will no longer hide in my shadows. I do the community very little good there. As a podcaster and a blogger, I do my Pagan community little good there. My duty is not to hide, but to be seen. And I may feel its a scary place (indeed it is), and I may have run out of shadows to hide within — but this is certainly to be a year of doing