In this last week of post-Pantheacon decompression, I’ve discovered a few things about myself.
First, as much as I am invested in my online work, either through blogging or social networking, nothing compares to real-life, skin and sweat, handshakes and hugs interaction. You can imagine all you want about how great it would feel to dance, but that isn’t the same as dancing.
And, I love to dance.
Pantheacon, my first large Pagan gathering, provided me with the opportunity to embody my spiritual practice, and to present myself as a spiritual and religious person. I wore my little “Druid” nameplate, a keepsake of Uncle Isaac, I introduced myself proudly to everyone I met, and I became at different moments a student, an inquisitor, a historian and a kid in a candy store. I had permission to engage in dialogue about complicated, esoteric ideas with a number of great thinkers, not because that permission was explicitly given to me by someone else, but because I gave it to myself. It was kind of self-liberation. I highly recommend it.
Second, I’ve learned that I have an easier time investing in my religious practice if I’m given — or, again, if I give myself — a more active role. If I’m left to watch from the sidelines I may be more inclined to criticize, analyze, and generally keep a distance between me and what’s actually going on. Skills of observation are useful to a writer, but observation doesn’t always trump experience. Sometimes it’s better to get your hands dirty.
And, I love dirt.
As I wrote about in my last post, I’ve been consistent in approaching my altar each morning for the better part of the last month. No matter how groggy I feel, I perform a short ceremony to honor Those who I honor, and then I start my day. I do what’s worked for me before, and open myself to whatever happens. Sometimes I improvise, and other times I follow my simple liturgy. Regardless of what transpires, the regularity of the ritual is proving to be very nourishing.
With my daily ritual firmly in place, I’ve decided to return to the Dedicant Path, an ADF study program which seeks to develop one’s own personal religion (Neopagan Druidism), while deepening one’s knowledge about the Indo-European cultures of antiquity. I feel that ADF has something very valuable to offer me, and this was confirmed by my experience in ritual and in fellowship with the ADF members I met at Pantheacon.
I’ve also decided to return to University and seek a degree in religious studies. This decision requires much more planning and preparation, and it probably won’t come to pass for another 12 or 18 months. But, I feel that if I’m going to take myself seriously as a writer on religious matters, not to mention if I’m going to ask anyone else to do the same, I have to put in the work.
When I commented on my Facebook page about looking into applying to Marylhurst University for further study, an ADF Druid who I met in San Jose replied,
“Do it, brother. You were called to lead.”
If he’s right, then I have a lot of work to do. And, if he’s right, I have a lot thinking to do about what it means to be a leader.
There have been great discussions on blogs and in podcasts about Pagan leadership, and I’d like to continue that dialogue here at Bishop in the Grove. My readership is so diverse, and so willing to engage in deep thinking about practice, tradition, philosophy, and belief, that it would be foolish of me not to ask you what you think about leadership.
What does effective religious leadership look like to you? Do you expect leaders to be well-educated? Charismatic? Inspirational? Instructive?
When you think about leadership in the Pagan community, where do you think we’ve gotten it right, and where do we have room for improvement?
Please, lend me your insights into what leadership means. And then, if you know someone who might have a valuable perspective on this subject, pass along this post.
In answer to your title, I am spending a year on the road meeting with local Pagan communities attempting to answer this very question. So far the evidence seems that both the internet and festival communities are out of touch with these local communities. Much more information is needed before I feel I have real answers. I will keep you posted
I agree with your assessment of the internet and festival communities. Life in my home group is very different than those other places-the drama is at a minimum, our priorities are different. It’s less of a party ( not meant as a criticism). We share our joys and sorrows and are tactile. The mindset is just different. We are tribal because we are closely woven and people ( even the difficult ones) are not disposable. I do think the internet has brought us together, but it also has made us hard on one another because we don’t experience the other persons life and back story. It’s too easy to become righteous and intolerant. Festival interaction is brief and superficial for the most part, although pleasant. I believe we need more genuine, authentic contact to preserve our community in a healthy way.
“I do think the internet has brought us together, but it also has made us hard on one another because we don’t experience the other person’s life and back story.”
What a brilliant observation, Ameth. I agree with this. You can see evidence of this by the way that harsh statements have been flung about around events at this most recent Pantheacon.
My experience of Pantheacon (not really a festival) was anything but superficial, and I think that had to do with my own investment in the experience. I can see how it might be, though, if you were only interested in the superficial aspects of social interaction. This idea of a discord between internet/festival community and local, real-time communities is fascinating to me. There’s certainly more to be written there.
Thank you for this comment, Ameth. I’m so grateful that you’re here.
I noticed a change in language here:
Ameth Jera wrote:
“Festival interaction is brief and superficial for the most part”
Teo Bishop replied:
“My experience of Pantheacon […] was anything but superficial”
Notice that…the word interaction was replaced with the word experience. I think that there is something key here. Interaction is not the same as experience. We can–and do–have deeply transformative experiences at events. But human interactions require shared history to get to the depths.
No matter how inspiring and emotional a discussion I have with someone at an event, that simply can not compare with the shared experience of my coven watching our priestess and friend gradually fade away over the course of a few years. It’s been several years, but I still remember who was in the room when we washed her body. I still remember who came over and made dinner for her widower and the rest of us. Compared to that, any interaction I have with someone at an event is superficial.
I would very much like that, Peter. Please do keep me posted so that our dialogue might be informed by your experiences.
Thank you for helping to fascinate this conversation.
Good on you for taking these steps – as we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks, “Doing” is much more important than merely “talking”.
Two things you should remember on being a good leader: 1. Remember to listen. Not just to your students, but also to yourself and to Nature. And 2. Don’t forget to laugh, especially at yourself, from time to time. Life is far too important to take seriously.
Great advice, Eran. I’ll try to keep it in mind…especially that last part. 🙂
Tell me – do you feel that you are in any kind of leadership role, either in your personal or professional life, or in a religious community? I wonder if you have personal experience that led you these insights.
Not in a while – I used to run a small circle, but we parted ways amiably as it no longer met our needs. Right now most of my leadership experience comes from being the father of two very smart, spirited, and feisty daughters (grin).
I think that many pagans forget it is not just a religion per say but a way of life and forget that being a parent, how we parent and teaching our children is the MOST important part of our leading and being as such,,pagan.
I am a leader of my Own coven and often wonder what the expectations of others are for me. I struggle with the belief that I am going to juggle everything that revolves in my world and meet the needs of everyone, as well as my own. I have learned that My needs have to come first or everything false short. I try to be loyal to my cause, charismatic, kind,nonjudgmental and loving. Much as a parent would try to be. Many a time I feel the need to be firm and authoritative to be supportive to the needs of those who come to me for guidance. Not as one Telling someone the way to think as much as HOW to think and come to a Choice best suited for there OWN life.
Thank you for your comment, Rev. Jenielynn. I appreciate you being a part of the BitG dialogue.
I like what you say about teaching people how to think rather than what to think. This is, in a way, what I think more schooling could help me with, at least in practice.
I’m curious – have you ever posed this question to the members of your coven? Is this something that you could be in conversation about? I don’t know anything about your group dynamic, but do you think discussing this might help clarify expectations?
The dynamic of the C.O.L is much like a family. We have sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers. We have ex’s , currents and singles of all age groups in the coven. Sometimes we get mad at each other but we all talk it out, give space or let it go and then carry on as friends and family. We go with the flow and respect each other.
We are working On a intentional farming community . We have many
meeting to discuss any issues and I have never asked them what A
leaders job might look like but I would
enjoy hearing there response if I asked this question. They come to me
for organizing rituals, ceremonies, holidays. We work together for the
solutions of issues and conflicts to insure unity. I listen a lot and
ask as many questions of them as they do me.
I am am leader and teacher but a student a well. I make sure I let
others know what they have taught me and empower them to help eachother
It was great meeting you at Panthea Con and learning about this blog. I would personally love to see more models of working together where everyone does what they do best and we split the rest. Some of us are great ritual leaders- charismatic, charming, comforting and inspirational. Some of us are great behind the scenes leaders- making spreadsheets, keeping to-do list,endless energy,able to save the day last minute etc. I could go on all day, there are plenty aspects of leadership and I prefer when everyone is focusing on what they enjoy and do best. It has been experience that it leads to a higher quality of overall community and less burn out. That said I do enjoy cross training and mentoring under those who have the skills I don’t naturally come by. I think learning and growing are important as well.
I guess my bottom line is I would like to get away from cookie cutter ideas of what clergy is or should be.
I will post this blog post to the Sisterhood Of Avalon and see what they think. I am curious now as well.
It was great to meet you as well, and thank you for sharing your perspective here. I’m happy that you’ve joined the conversation.
Your comment echoes that of a few other commenters, mainly in expressing a kind of egalitarian spirit to Pagan leadership. Your idea about cross training and mentorship seems like brilliant one. What a great way to enrich the communities we build.
I’d love to know what ideas come up when you share the post with the Sisterhood Of Avalon!
Any leader has to begin with a vision. Who are you going to lead? Where are you going to lead them? Who and what do you serve?
A leader has to articulate his vision. If you keep it to yourself, you aren’t leading anyone.
A leader has to implement her vision. Talk is cheap – how are we going to do the work necessary to make the vision a reality?
The first generation of Pagan leaders were charismatics. The second generation were authors. The third generations – that’s this generation – are bloggers and podcasters and musicians and coven leaders and community organizers. They are leading by doing and by inspiring others with their work.
A word on your educational plans. If you want to be a religious scholar – a professional student of religion – then by all means pursue a degree in religious studies. But if you want to be a Pagan leader, there are much better uses of your time and money.
What valuable questions, John. Thank you for posting those here. I’m sure I’m prepared to answer any of them just yet, but I will meditate on them. I think answering them will be a bit of discernment process. The answers will, I think, be revealed in the doing.
As for your last statement about pursuing a degree in religious studies, I wonder if you might unpack that a little further. What is informing your opinion? And, what do you think would be better uses of my time and money?
At one point I looked into a Religious Studies program – it’s not what I thought it was. Religious scholars aren’t experts in doing religion – they’re experts in documenting religion and analyzing religion. Most of them – including the few Pagans in the field – take a very academic approach to religion. That’s not what I want to do. That’s not what I’m called to do.
If you are, by all means go for it – the world could use a few more Pagan religious scholars. But if your calling is to become an expert (or at least, highly qualified and experienced) in doing religion, then I think your ADF Dedicant program is the best place to start, combined with a lot of hands-on work in a Grove. If you want more, or something more formal, then look into seminary – either Cherry Hill, or one of the liberal Christian institutions where you can learn religious history (albeit not much of the history you’re interested in), leadership, and pastoral care.
Thank you for the clarification, John.
I do not feel called to become a Pagan religious scholar, and I do feel that the doing of religion is something I am called to do. I would love to get formal training, either through Cherry Hill or a liberal Christian institution, but first I need to get my Bachelors Degree. I’ve managed to build a nice life for myself without one up until this point, but if I’m going to pursue more formal study in the form of a Masters of Divinity, I need to get the basics taken care of.
Thus, a Bachelors in Religious Studies. It’s just a starting point. I think pairing that up with continued work in the DP, and eventually more work in group, would be a good thing.
That makes sense, Teo. Thanks for explaining, and good luck!
There are also a number of interfaith seminaries. One of the folks in my church is a graduate of one, I can ping her for details, if you’d like.
I would love that, Áine.
Only just saw your reply, Teo… I’ll be seeing her at Ostara, I’ll ask then and reply back here.
Thank you so much.
For what it’s worth, getting my BA in Religious Studies was one of the most profound catalysts for self-growth in my life. If you are naturally inclined to study the wonders of all the various expressions of love for the Divine (however you understand it), even an academic degree in religious studies can break open amazing parts of you that you hadn’t realized were there. Yes, it does teach you a HUGE degree of objectivity, but for me, that wasn’t a bad thing. It might not be for you, either. Who knows.
Thank you, Christy, for sharing your perspective. I’m glad to know that getting your BA in Religious Studies was so meaningful to you, as I hope it will be for me as well.
I’m curious — how did your newfound objectivity aid you after you completed your degree? Does it feel like a strength now?
It’s definitely been my experience that there’s a general lack of understanding by the general public about what Religious Studies is all about. When I was in school and majoring in Religious Studies, I used to dread being asked what my major was because I knew that when I answered, ‘Religious Studies’ they were hearing things like ‘Seminary’ or ‘Theology’, usually with the assumption that I was preparing to become a Christian minister/ priest etc. I found it awkward to explain to people (this being in the South) that not only was I not studying Christianity but I was studying religion from a non-theological/ academic perspective.
As much as I love the field of Religious Studies and as important I think it is to providing an understanding of Religion, on a personal level, I have to say that in some ways my personal religious practice and spirituality have suffered because of it. I was trained perhaps too well to try to be objective and step back from the subject matter that it made it a struggle to connect emotionally to my spiritual practice. One of the things that drew me away from Judaism to Paganism was that my years of studying Judaism in an academic setting had left me only able to connect to Judaism in that dry, objective fashion and I struggled to move beyond that.
Thank you for offering your perspective, Kauko. I hope that you’ve managed to rekindle the fire in your heart through your engagement with Paganism.
I’m curious – at what university did you study?
I look for leaders who will work side-by-side with me to show me how to do the Work to which I’ve been called. Someone who will meet me where I am and give me things to consider for my growth. I need my leaders to be educated, well-rounded people who can share their knowledge (gained in whatever manner) in a way that relates to life and living it. I need my leaders to impart their knowledge or wisdom in an attitude of sharing, rather than telling. Don’t tell me “I think, in this situation, you should fwah fwah fwah…” Tell me, instead, “When I had a situation like that, here’s what I did. Here’s how it worked out for me in the end. If I had it to do over, in hindsight, I’d do it like this…” Or if they haven’t done what I’m asking them about, they’ll explore it with me or introduce me to someone who has.
I think that leaders know that leadership is not a zero-sum game. They know that all of us (even them) have something to learn, and all of us (even them) have something to teach. Therefore, another leader doesn’t lessen the “amount of leadership” there is to go around. Leaders empower others to lead. Leaders seek out leaders and mentors of their own. Beyond all of that, though… probably the biggest thing I need from a leader is authenticity. I don’t need perfection and someone who sets themselves apart or above, someone who presents a front of perfection is someone I’m not going to be able to follow. It feels plastic, fake, unnatural. I need my leaders to know that it’s okay to have a bad day. If I never see them having a bad day, I start to feel like I’m not “allowed” to have one either, or that I’m somehow lesser when I do. That I can’t myself be a leader until I’ve reached the stage of perfection (or obfuscation) that I never have (or appear to have) a bad day. No matter how well-known or popular a leader you are, you’re also still human and showing that authentic face goes so much further toward helping people realise they they can be leaders, too, than most anything else you can do.
I think that what Peter Loeb had to say about community organising and activism in _Soul of a Citizen_ really speaks to what I seek in leaders and what I seek to emulate in my own leadership — portraying perfection induces paralysis, the whole “perfection is the enemy of good” aphorism. I look for leaders who understand that you don’t have to wait until you have All The Knowledge before you can undertake a project, for instance, or that it’s okay to say, “actually, I don’t know, but I’d love to look for the answer with you!” He talks a lot about how we don’t get the history of the years of work and education and training that so many historical figures we look at today underwent in order to reach the point where they could take those historic actions… to write a treatise against tyranny, to sue the Catholic Church, or for the right to be a prison chaplain. I think that teaching the fact that leaders are created through years of trial and training, rather than springing fully formed from the Earth is a huge part of what leadership is about.
Thank you for the spirited comment, Áine. It seems clear that you’ve had experiences with leaders of one sort or another that color your opinion about what “good leadership” looks like.
Your comment seems to be in line with Yesherabbit’s comment (see above), as it encourages a humble spirit of co-creation and participation from our leaders. I also love the idea that you don’t have to wait until you’re All Knowing to undertake a project. That really resonates with where I am at this point.
I always appreciate your feedback, Áine. I’m glad you took the time to comment about this.
You’re welcome, Teo. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts and I love how welcoming you are. You do an excellent job of fostering discussion, even with people who vehemently disagree with you. Even when I have nothing to add to the topic, it is a joy to participate on your blog, thank you for that.
I will point out, my commentary above does not come solely from (and in reaction to) my experience with other leaders. It’s also what I strive toward with my own leadership, based on classes, workshops, weekend intensives, reading and my own discoveries of what works for me.
Interesting thing about leadership… I find that leadership skills translate pretty well across focus areas. Sure, there are specific things you need for any particular area in which you want to lead, but the general skills transcend any particular community. I learned a lot about leadership when I went through management training with PIRG, for example, especially how to give feedback and how to empower others. My technical management training and experience has helped me learn how to teach and support self-directed education. My training in meeting facilitation and communication, as well as reading up on group power dynamics has also been of great help.
To circle back round to your direct questions… I expect leaders to be at least moderately educated in the subject area, but that can be made up for with a solid ability to network and empower. Charisma rarely hurts, but it’s not *that* high on my priority list. Inspirational? Erm, maybe? It *really* depends on how you define “inspirational”. I look to leaders I find inspiring, but they’re rarely /trying to inspire/, if that makes any sense? Instructive is good, but, as with education, that can be made up for with solid networking.
Where do I think we, as a community, have gotten leadership right? We’re pretty good about the “boots on the ground” thing, and leading where you are. Most leaders I’ve interacted with are pretty good about sharing knowledge and how to do things. Where do I think we could improve? A lot of us seem to get into this notion that any given “niche” can have only one person filling it. As if leadership, respect, and/or acclaim in a given focus area is a zero-sum game and it’s stepping on someone’s toes to be called to the same sort of work as they are. I think this may be a hold-over from second-wave Wicca and all that craziness, maybe tied up with a need to re-read the power dynamics section of _Spiral Dance_. I do worry that it tends to keep people from stepping up to do the work, or being a leader in that area where they are.
Well, naturally, we all want our pagan leaders to be perfect. Then we are intimidated by their perfection, and so we want them to be flawed like us. Naturally! 🙂
When we just choose to be our fullest selves, to make a reverent offering of our hearts and wisdom, in a spirit of generosity without presumption, it becomes less important who the leaders and/or students are, and instead we are all engaged in a fascinating and fluid dynamic of co-evolution, with this one taking the helm in her area of skill, that one holding the center when he feels passionate.
I appreciate the transparency of your writings, and I think you are already doing a great job leading your part. I look forward to continued evolution together.
Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate the support, and I love the spirit of your comment, Yesherabbit. Thank you for joining in this conversation.
Your message is empowering, and speaks to a egalitarian model that would seem to resonate well in the Pagan community. Have you found this approach to be successful in your communal practice? Do you feel that there are specific skills that equip someone to facilitate this kind of joint-work, or co-creation?
One thing I’ve noticed, over the years, is how many of my friends are people who lead, teach, or create important resources for their spiritual communities. And all of these people whom I love share the important trait of being able to put the Work ahead of themselves as needed.
I think that’s one of the basic yardsticks of spiritual maturity: can what you offer to others be about what’s needed rather than all about self-promotion? Or self-effacement, or self-absorption, or deprivation, or justification, or any of the other funky little trips we can run that get between what we have to offer and actually offering it, freely and lovingly, as we’re called to do?
When I was a Quaker, I learned so much from the tradition of standing aside. The one time I stood in the way of reporting a unity I didn’t think we had (it wasn’t even a decision or in Meeting for Business)–I shook for twenty minutes afterward. I realized that standing in the way of sacred consensus was to state to the room that I was able to bring through insight from the Divine that no one else present was able to do. While I’ve resigned my membership in the Society of Friends, the lessons I learned will always shape my life. I don’t do group decision-making perfectly, but I do it so much better than I would have without that learning.
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I personaly tend to agree w/ what others here , and what you Teo have stated . A good leader is quite knowledgable in their given path , but also not super controling or domineering . A good leader is also a good teacher , one that can help guild a student or group to reach thier full capability or potential.These people also need to be very understanding of the groups and individuals short comings and strenths , to help them better themselves , provide the challenges they need .Unfortunatly many of us here, myself included , have had to deal w/ bad leadership. Totalitarian , power/ control happy leadership can and will usualy become disasterous . A good leader shows non of these traits and is mentaly stabile . A vision , taken from experience and understanding of a given path is also a good trait for a leader to have , but also equalitarian policy is helpful as well . From my experience a group that works from within has better longevity than those that work from the top down .Such leadership makes the members feel like they are a part of and responcible for the group and its members .Good leadership in my opinion more helps steer a group[ keeps it on the right path ] more than control it . Kilm
Teo: I expressed a lot of idea’s about this in my article for Agora here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2012/02/the-future-of-pagan-leadership
But I would also like to add this:
I find myself in an interesting place in the leadership chain of command. I think that this gives me a somewhat unique perspective. Overall, what I want is an openess to communication. I want those who come to me seeking leadership to know that I am here for them, that I care for them, and that they are important to me. I communicate this to them by listening, by being their for them when they need or want me to be, and trying to help them along the path to the best of my ability.
On the other hand there are people who lead me and the people under me. I want the same things that the people I lead want. But I also want a little more I think. I want them to be open to talking about new ideas and innovation and sharing their thoughts and feelings with me on things.
Thank you for this comment, Adrian, and for your extensive article at Agora. I appreciate that you’ve put so much thought into this subject. As you pointed out, this is a subject that has been floating just below the surface for decades.
I’m curious about your personal tradition — is there a literal chain of command, or where you speaking figuratively? As a *mostly* solitary Druid I don’t have a great deal of experience in ongoing group dynamics, so I’m interested to learn about what others are experiencing. Anything you’d be willing to share would be much appreciated.
Blessings to you.
I would be happy to share. I was raised in and am a current member of the Unicorn Tradition (www.unicorntrad.org) . In our tradition there are six levels of initiation. Seeker > Neophyte > Novice (1st degree)> Apprentice (2nd degree)> Priest(ess) (3rd Degree) > Elder. I am an Apprentice. You can read more about the level’s here at Blue Lotus Grove’s Website ( http://bluelotusgrove.elementforge.com/about-2/classes/) who is a member of the Unicorn Tradition (and who I am a member of)
I think one of the greatest gifts of a three degree system is that it puts people in that middle zone while they are learning how to lead. It helps us learn that we are always accountable in both directions.
I expect our leaders to not only be polymaths but to also to be compassionate pastoral counselors and gifted teachers. However, in the Neopagan community, we are often inundated with a plethora of self-declared leaders. Many of whom do not possess the requisite characteristics to lead well. The failure of these individuals to effectively direct and prepare their members may often lead to burnout, drama, and Witch wars.
The ethical thing to do, if you wish to be a leader, is to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to provide a welcoming and safe spiritual home for your members. If you are lacking in a particular area, you must be mature enough to recognize it, compensate for it or balance it out somehow, and attempt to rectify your shortcomings by educating yourself. If a leader is unwilling to look at their own work critically and evaluate their own efforts, then they are no one I’d want to follow.
[…] people. There might be a parallel worth exploring.We had a discussion about the difference between what we want from Pagan leaders and what we need from Pagan leaders a few months back. These questions continue to be relevant as […]