Leader. There is no other word in the English language that scares the shit out of me. Especially when applied to me. Yet, there are people who claim to see this capability in me. Shit, even the United States Air Force claimed to see the ability in me. They TRAINED me to be a leader. It’s what they expected of those who were on the upward progression of the enlisted rank ladder. Every time I have had this applied to me by others – I completely freeze up. Because somewhere inside of me is this little voice which laughs out loud as it tries to spit out the phrase: “Who? You?”
In the past, I have written a few blog posts here and there noting that I am not a leader. I have utilized self-deprecating humor at nearly every turn to deflect the concept away from me. Over and over again, I have denigrated myself as not the kind of person that others would follow. All of that to convince myself that I am not capable of stepping in front of a group of people and leading them forward into….something.
A few folks would think I am a natural at this, given that I used to teach face-to-face in a Community College classroom. I’ll be honest, every single new semester, I spent the first three weeks being absolutely terrified in front of my students. The shorter Summer terms, I was an even greater wreck. Granted, they were a captive audience, but I still had to find ways to persuade them to complete assignments on time. While I loved being the professor in the classroom, there was always a tinge of terror behind my attempted calm demeanor.
One of the hardest things to be a leader on in the classroom environment was group assignments. Every student I know hated these. The reasoning was simple. No one likes having to rely on other’s for their class grade. But for me, it was (and is) perhaps the most important method for teaching folks about teamwork and leadership styles. I stressed to the students that the emphasis was not so much on the final product of the team assignment – though it would be graded for completeness and other aspects – but it was about the way that they worked together. many students would not wait for their weakest links to complete parts of the assignment, instead doing those parts for them. There was no perspective of helping the weaker student learn from what was being done – just an emphasis on getting it done. Whenever I caught wind of stuff like this, I quickly put a stop to it.
Why? Because I truly believe in supporting one another. One thing I’ve learned in nearly three and a half decades of working, teams are more than a collective of people to get a job done. Teams are places where folks can be free to be who they are (within “civilized” reason), as well as places where support mechanisms are built. Stuck on a coding problem? Come on down to Tommy’s cube and let’s discuss what the issue is. We can work together to come up with potential ideas, no matter how off-beat it may seem. Any option is a potential solution. Working together is something we all should be doing. That way, when times get tough, we have places to turn for various kinds of help. Got issues with your computer system? I can help. I’ll charge you a meal. Simple as that. Teamwork helps build concepts of community.
Now, I get paralyzed by the concept of being a leader because I don’t like being first out of the gate. I’m always worried that no one will follow. I’m also worried about always being seen as the one with the responsibility to get things done. You know, where one person does all the work but everyone else shares in the results? I like it better when everyone shares in the work and responsibilities and then share in all the results. But these are not the only reasons I freeze up. I always worry when people see me as the measuring stick. That everyone has to do things the way that I do, so they will get similar results. My idea of leadership is a little different. I let other people do their thing. When they need help, they can come to me for assistance. I’m not going to do the work for you, but I will suggest alternate ways to get beyond whatever obstacle you encounter. Perhaps, my style of leadership can be better described as mentorship. Except that I am still not adverse to rolling up my sleeves and getting the work done. I’ve never been sure what kind of leadership that is, but it’s the way I get things done. But whatever it is….it’s more me than anything else.
Sure, the concept of being out front still scares the shit out of me. I’m always worried when people see me as the guy with all the answers – because that definitely ain’t me. I am; however, the guy who will go and do the research and try to find the answers you are asking for. The real truth is, no matter how scared I am of the idea of being the first…no matter how much I fear the idea of being seen as the guy with the answers….I can be viewed as a leader in some fashion. So, instead of running from that concept, I’ll have to embrace it.
Being the person that is viewed as a leader is a scary prospect. At least it is for me. I always worry about making mistakes and disappointing people with my choices. However, making mistakes and disappointing folks comes with the territory. A better way to deal with this, in my opinion, is to listen to the criticisms and not take it too personally. And to listen to the praise as well. Though I’m never great at taking praise as much as I am at taking criticism. But that’s a post for another time.
I remember walking into the Military Entrance Processing Station in Shreveport, Louisiana on a cold February morning. Two weeks prior, I had finished a period of questions with my Air Force recruiter, signed my four-year contract and been given a photo-copied map of how to get here. I was the literal description of being the wide-eyed novice. I literally had no idea what I was doing or what was going to happen. My hearing was tested. My balance was tested. My eye-sight was tested. My teeth were checked. I was given a complete physical. Three weeks later, I was on a plane bound for San Antonio, Texas where I would enter the Air Force’s Basic Military Training, where my world was turned upside down. I had absolutely no idea what the future would hold. All I knew was that everything I remembered from high school was gone.
Earlier this morning, I sat here in my little office and listened to the rain beating again the window. Yesterday at this time, the outside temperature was right around 80 degrees and forecast to climb into the lower 90s before a strong cold front would come through. The rain I was listening to would be the last bits of rain, as the temperature changed to where it is now: the high fifties. Winter is beginning its call and Fall is being trumpeted forward. How fast it moves…well that’s another question, but when it does, Summer will have gone. I will be looking into a future that is unsure and thinking of all that has happened for the Spring and Summer of 2020.
This morning, that feeling of uncertainty sinks its roots deeper and deeper into my thoughts. Back in 1986, when I walked into that MEPS location, I was promising four years of my life to the military. Promising to be governed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and not the United States Constitution. Ironically, a document that I would be swearing to protect. And oddly enough an oath I still hold to this day, nearly forty years later. Oaths. A definite certainty that cannot be erased as easily as a blink of an eye erases the moment in time that you just experienced. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
When I joined the United States Air Force, tensions between the United States and the, then, Soviet Union were extremely high. The so-called “Doomsday Clock” had the world center at two minutes to midnight. Should the clock reach midnight, the world would be at nuclear war. Nuclear holocaust was at the back of nearly everyone’s mind. For me, it was very much at the forefront of my thinking. At that time, nuclear warfare doctrine held that only the United States Air Force (bombers and ground-hardened missile silos) and the United States Navy (submarine-based missiles) held the keys to launch nuclear weapons. I have been out of the military long enough that I am not completely sure this is the case any longer. However, I was joining a branch of military service that had the capability to wage the deadliest form of war on the face of the earth. Nuclear annihilation. I was nervous. I was scared. Much of the popular music of the time had a nuclear war theme to it, but none had a greater effect on me than Gary Moore’s “Victims of the Future” and Sting’s “Do the Russians Love Their Children Too?” Music has always had a major influence in my life. I always wondered, if peace could be found to a point where nuclear weapons would not be used — could we ever be friends with the Soviet Union?
In the United States, we sit on the precipice of an upcoming election. Another Presidential election where the choices are not ideal in the least. But forget about the Presidential election and the two party system’s candidates for a moment. The country has been literally torn in two over these two candidates and the ideologies that each “supports” as the chosen candidate for their party. The issues are acrimonious to the point of ripping friendships and families asunder, done in the name of patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution and claimed in equal parts by both sides. The lines of definition run deep and wide between the two sides creating chasms of difference that a single election is not going to heal. There are times I wonder, how can this country ever be pulled together again? How are we going to heal these deep wounds that fester, much less the ones that are going to be caused by whichever candidate wins the election? Much like that moment that I wondered how the United States and the Soviet Union could ever get along peaceable, I wonder the same thing about Democrats and Republicans here in the United States.
I spent eight years on Active Duty service in the Air Force. I spent time in a combat zone. I know what it means to wage war. But I also know what the objective of the military is for – to keep the peace. Some may not think so, but most military members that I know – both current and prior-service – prefer peace to war. What keeps the peace, for the most part, are the armies and the weapons of terrible destruction that stand in the position of promise, should their use be necessary. This doesn’t account for the various proxy wars that the United States and the Soviet Union have fought over the decades. However, it is the promise of the use of these terrible weapons that stands in the background, like a darkly shadowed Grim Reaper.
I see that same shadowed Grim Reaper standing in the alleyways and darkened recesses of nearby towering buildings, as protesters and law enforcement clash on the streets. Protesters wanting the laws to be equal and enforced. Law enforcement continuing to apply the law through tear gas and batons to those who disagree with their application of those laws. And I return to my thoughts, could these two sides ever comes to a delicate balance of peace? Could these two sides ever come to a point where they could pass one another on the street in calmer times and peacefully greet one another?
I recall mid-1987, my first full summer on a Strategic Air Command base – Carswell Air Force Base in Forth Worth, Texas. Home to two squadrons of B-52 strategic bombers and a full nuclear arsenal to load on to those planes. A mission to strike deep in Soviet territory in the event of war. And the summer where I finally decided to follow my Path of Paganism. From those early days, I was always drawn towards the idea that middle ground could always be found, no matter the issue at hand. How Libra of me…considering that I was born smack in the middle of that sign. Even then, I kept trying to find the role of the peace-maker. It would take another two years for me to reconcile my Pagan beliefs with my role within the military.
I joke that I was never born to the concept of being a soldier. To this day, I don’t own a gun. I have no desire to have one; though I am quite capable of handling one. I prefer my staff, though I do lean on it more for walking these days instead of a manner of self protection. I am still quite capable of defending myself or others, should the need arise. My Druidry has taught me the value of observing before wading in. Sometimes, events are not as they seem the moment one walks up on them. So, with the protests, I watch. I support the need for change to police tactics when dealing with individuals. I also support the need to remove much of the military entrenchment that has become common-place in the police department. I live in small-town Texas; yet the nearest small city – Cleburne – possesses a military assault vehicle. Quite a shocking thing to see, which is precisely what it is meant for – shock tactics. But throughout all of that, I do support the police. I just feel that there needs to be necessary adjustment and changes. That balance that I walk, sometimes feel like I am walking barefoot on the sharp edge of a razor blade.
So, what drives me in these times of wide division? Where sides seem to be split into one side or the other with the simple statement: “if you are not with us, you are against us.” What keeps me focused and sane? My oaths. Just prior to my twenty-first birthday, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against aggressors foreign and domestic. Now, approaching the age of fifty-five, some twenty-six years since departing that military organization – I still hold that oath sacred. In 2015, I initiated as a Bard in the order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). My initiation then set me on a Path of seeking peace and justice wherever I could find it. I also have an oath with Crow to do the work set forth for me. These three oaths comprise how I approach the world and events around me.
Where I currently live, directly across the street from me is an individual who has a Trump/Pence sign in his yard. He and his family just moved in two weekends ago. When he was outside this past weekend, we greeted one another from across the street. We were cordial and friendly to one another. I am not voting for Trump in the coming election. I believe Trump to be the number one threat to the Constitution of the United States. Why would I treat this man that supports him in a cordial manner? Because my oaths remind me that when all of this election stuff is over, we are still fighting COVID-19. When all of this election stuff is over, we need to sit down and have a super serious discussion on how to reform the police departments around this nation and find a way to set things into a more proper function. When all of this election stuff is over, Black Lives still matter and there is much work to be started, much less done. When all of this election stuff is over, we are all still Americans, a chosen community of geography and ideology. In the movie Gladiator, after Maximus has died on the sands of the Colosseum floor, Lucilla makes the statement:
Is Rome worth one good man’s life? We believed it once, make us believe it again. He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him.
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Atatiana Jefferson. Aura Rosser. Stephon Clark. Botham Jean. Philando Castille. Alton Sterling. Those listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. Those for whom the World War II memorial was created for. Those who lost their lives in Europe and are interred at Oise-Aisne. The countless others who lost their lives, unjustly, at the hands of police officers. And the countless number of police officers who lost their lives trying to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. The 190,000+ who have died due to the lackluster efforts of this current administration, and despite the courageous efforts of those health workers on the front line.
Is America worth those lives and the countless others that I could not recall to add to the list? I think so. My oaths drive me towards that conviction. My oaths remind me, when everything is finished, when the dust settles….we are still bound to each other. Yes, here in America, but also throughout the world. We exist together. That’s why my feet and my staff are firmly planted on common ground. Because we have to start somewhere.
So, I am doing my usual Thursday routine. Sitting at my keyboard, music pouring through the headphones (today its Deep Purple, and currently its the album “The Battle Rages On…” which may be quite appropriate), and trying to come up with something to write about. I mean, this is a ‘Thinking About” post. It should be as easy as ever to come up with some kind of concept to babble on about. Except its really not. Writer’s cramps (or writer’s block, if you prefer) has been in a strong hold for the last week-plus. So I sit here wondering what to write on. I can tell you that moments like this are frustrating, but also a lot of fun. Quite the contradiction, don’t you think? I get to spend time turning topics over and over in my mind…hopefully I can latch on to one and get started on all of this.
For some reason, the concept of leadership continues to boil around the edges of everything that I am thinking about, so let’s go there. Most of my perspectives of what makes one an ideal leadership come from what I learned in the military. The United States Air Force thought enough of my potential to lead that they sent me to two leadership schools. But before we get too excited over this, both are mandatory training schools for those who sign up for a second hitch with the United States Air Force. I took my first class, the Non-Commissioned Officer Preparatory School in my fourth year of my first enlistment, shortly after I had signed on to my second enlistment. The premise of the school was to teach leadership skills and how to build effective communication skills – focusing on making me into an effective front-line supervisor. I did not exactly excel at this training, but I was not at the end of the group either. I learned about methodologies to create more effective communication with subordinates, as well as finding my footing as an individual that would be able to lead. In particular, the school taught me a lot about how to lead by example, something I have tried very hard to do in whatever job I have been installed into. Three years later, I was inserted into the NCO Leadership School, which was a continuation of what I had learned three years previous. Many lectures ensued. I was taught how to march subordinates as a unit (a skill I personally found to be utterly useless), as well as more training on weaponry and tactical skills that I might need to use in a combat situation. Through all of that, hardcore emphasis on leadership skills and abilities, as well as effective communication were heavily emphasized. Much of what I have learned in methodologies, I have carried forth in my life since then.
What makes an effective leader? Well, for me, its obvious – an ability to effectively communicate with others coupled to an ability to lead people towards a common goal. In thirty-plus years in Paganism, I have encountered effective leaders, and those that would make you laugh and cry at their ineptitude. For some, the power of being a leader goes to their heads, and they become tyrants. If you need a visual, think Donald Trump on a much smaller scale. I have also seen quiet leaders, who roll up their sleeves and start getting the work done. They don’t push others to do the work, they might openly ask, but they hope that their example of getting the work done will inspire others to be involved. I like these types of leaders. Not only do they seem willing to do the work, but they typically are also willing to show others how to do the work – so as to build their skills too.
But that brings me to another thought. What about being a good follower? After all, not every single person can be in charge. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the “too many leaders and not enough followers” within the Pagan community. I get the perspective though. Everyone has a better idea of how to run things compared to whoever happened to step forward. I’m the same way. Whoa. Don’t look so shocked. I have ideas of how things should go. I have ideas of what the better steps of making things run should be. At least from my own perspective. It took a little bit of growing up and realizing that I do not have all the right answers to set me straight. Making something that is setup for the good of everyone means that you have to swallow your pride and sit on your ego, when the direction is not completely your own personal vision. To be a good follower, you may need to remember the direction that the cause is going. Plus, no project or vision went anywhere without people doing the hard work. That means taking direction. That means using your talents and your sweat to get things accomplished. That also means that you cannot always be the one at the top of the pile. Success happens when everyone works together.
My previous job was at a local Community College. To be honest, I have never seen a more dysfunctional work environment in my life. Upper Management declared that they would be transparent in all that they do with the entire staff and faculty base. Over time, it became obvious that they only shared what they felt everyone else needed to know, while continuing to cling to the perspective of being transparent. The work environment felt like the Pharaohs themselves had returned. Many employees were told to just do their work and not worry about the direction that everything was headed. People that wanted to be good followers were confused with the say one thing and do something completely different approach. Leadership was ineffective. Employees tried to offer ideas of how to fix things and were shot down without a second thought. That lead to anger and resentment, and these folks started to do just enough to get by with their jobs. That lead to anger and resentment from others who were working hard. And all of it was due to a single variable: ineffective communication by upper management. There’s a few other things that exacerbate the entire situation – leadership that constantly and continually changes its mind concerning short and long range plans. And while I no longer work there, I still feel sad for all those that do.
When I was in the military, I learned a phrase that I still use. In fact, at my previous job, I stated this to my supervisor behind a closed door one afternoon: “lead, follow or get out of the way.” Accomplishing things is important, particularly when a group of other people are relying on those results. Ever wondered what goes into planning a Pagan conference like Pantheacon? A lot more than I really wanted to know. There are lots of moving parts. Everyone has a role to fulfill. Some are time intensive. Some require everything to be right at a particular moment in time. Power struggles are unforgivable lapses in accomplishing one’s role. In an environment like that, there’s a lot of “get out of the way” involved. In the military, one of my functions was to insure that crypto-communications were cycled to appropriate command-level personnel in a very timely fashion. Morning intelligence briefings had to be cycled down to the USAF Intel group, the US Army S2 group, and the NATO Intelligence group before 6am. Being late because a printer broke down was an inexcusable fault. My unit’s job was to make sure things ran correctly so things like that would happen. We accepted our role in the process, and agreed to perform to the very best of our abilities. We agreed to be good followers. We were not about to go down to each of those groups and tell them that the large Intel briefing should be held after 8am, so that we could have our breakfast and coffee without being rushed through that momentary morning pleasure.
Now, Pagan communities are not military units. But there are roles and functions to fulfill. Not everyone can be at the top trying to pull everything together. But those who are, they better damn well understand the need for effective communication. They better understand the concept of rolling up their sleeves and working side by side with those that they lead. And those who have roles, functions and responsibilities need to understand that they have agreed to do what they are being asked to do. And if they cannot or will not do what they are agreeing to…they need to get out of the way.
I still hold by the basic principle that I am not a leader. Because I am not. I understand how leadership works in theory. In practice, I’m not the greatest at it. And I know it. I know how and where my personality clashes with others. I know where my weaknesses are. I know my strengths. I know precisely where my intolerances are located, and how far I can be pushed before things go beyond a controllable point. Am I a good follower? I try my best, but not always. But I do recognize leaders that I would follow. I see what they are capable of and where they can be pushed a little further. I know who I would follow and who I wouldn’t. And for me that counts for something. What that means to you, for you, or about you is something you will need to determine for yourself. What leadership looks like….that all comes back to your own personal understanding.
Leadership. Priesthood. Yeah, I am back on to these two points again. I keep getting pushed into the concept of being a Priest. I have essentially come to some manner of understanding what that will require of me. I have started stumbling along that Path, trying to figure out where I need to be taken with it. Eventually I’ll figure it out…or it will figure me out. One or the other. But everything circles back to the perspective of leadership – a cloak I care not to wear.
I have never considered myself to be any type of leader. Sure, I can talk with folks and help them see their own Paths through Life. I’m more of a counselor in that regard…not really a leader. Yeah, people can see how I manage my own way through Life — navigating the waters of one seriously munged up mundane life, dealing with my own Trickster Gods, and continuily working my way through the Gwers work I have within the Druid order (OBOD) that I am a part of. Does that make me a leader? I doubt it.
Certainly, I have written no books. I have some aspirations in that direction, but Life needs to calm down a bit more first. I certainly do not lead my own Grove, nor do I have any inclination to do anything of the sort. Most of my Spiritual Life has been done on my own, and I am fairly content with that. I do not give talks anywhere…though I am not adverse to this. I have just never been asked, nor would I have any idea how to go about doing so. Besides, would I have enough to say that others would find useful or informative? if you could see me right now, I would be shrugging my shoulders over-exaggeratedly with a questioning look on my face. Plus, I’d dig even further and ask if any of this REALLY makes someone a leader?
Nimue Brown posted an excellent blog post today (14 February 2020) on just the perspective of leadership within Druidry. Its a short blurb of thought, which I believe is an excellent starting point for someone wanting to look into the aspects of what makes up the idea of leadership within Druidry. In particular….
Druidry as it exists today has grown out of that revival period stuff, and become something a lot more anarchic. There’s a much more democratic sharing of ideas, much more room for more people to be heard…
I believe that this is an excellent example of the way Druidry works for me. There is no need for me to be a leader of anything. Nor do I need to find leadership from anyone else to be a Druid. Leadership is a cloak worn by those provided that relative position by others. For instance, within OBOD, Philip Carr-Gomm, the current Chosen Chief will be passing that cloak of leadership to Eimear Burke in an installation ceremony in June of this year (2020). As a member of the Order, I see both of these folks as leaders of the Order. If I did not, I would have left the Order a long while back. They do not dictate how Druidry is for me, rather they communicate how Druidry works for them. From that communication, (verbal, visual, what-have-you), I can distill parts of that which works for me, and set aside that which does not. In my opinion, leadership is not about dictating how things are to be done. Rather it is about opening others’ perspectives about how to proceed – even when those approaches are distinctly different from your own.
Quite a few people see me as a leader of some type. That I have the charisma (ha!) and approach to bring a group of people together. The reality is that anyone can do this sort of stuff. You just have to have the internal drive to get there. You have to have that burning vision to approach what you are trying to accomplish, coupled with that unflinching nature to get to that point – no matter what. The dream of what you want harnessed to the drive and energy to get there.
I am not necessarily that guy. Really. I’m not. I have quoted Edgar Friendly from the movie “The Demolition Man” before. I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come along. To a large degree that is true. I am not looking or wanting to have people following everything I saw or hanging on every word I say or write. I am not built that way. Leadership to me is about doing – not saying. The people that I look to for leadership? Those are the ones you will find me looking to. And rolling up my sleeves to work right down there beside them – provided I can see and relate to their dream or vision.
Is that me? Well, I can hardly give you an answer to that. I honestly have no idea. Nor do I need anyone to convey to me that it is or is not true. But I do know this – we had better be careful about those who we entrust the perspective of leadership in. Because we are saying that we are buying into the dream and/or vision that they are expressing. We are sharing those dreams and visions with them. Is our input being allowed? Are our voices being heard? Or are we crying out with the crowd because we like the howls of the wolves and coyotes around us? Its your energy. Its your perspective. Be sure that your voice is being distinctively heard, not buried in the chorus. Just my two quid on that.
But you seem to have it all so together! Why wouldn’t you want to be a more in the open Pagan figure?
There are a lot of people that are puzzled over the way I deal with the concept of being a “leader.” Why would I not want to step out into the wider Pagan community and become a more public leader? Well, there are a lot of factors to the perspective I hold, some of which are leftovers from my time in the Air Force, and some that I have figured out for myself. So, perhaps Its time to explore some of this a bit more.
Military Influence Towards Leadership
I admit, most of my concepts towards being a leader come directly from my time in the Air Force. Before I was considered to be “inappropriate” by a charismatic Christian leadership, I was sent to the Airman Leadership Course and the Non-Commissioned Officers Preparatory School to learn about the concepts and ideas of leadership. I was never greater than an average student in either, but the ideas I learned there have stuck with me throughout my life.
A leader never seeks the spotlight for themselves. The spotlight is always reserved for this that one works with. This is probably the greatest concept that drives my life – both in the Pagan community and in my professional life. If I task that I worked on gets showcased as being “awesome work”, my first response is to pull everyone else into the spotlight with me that helped out. No matter how small their role was. If there is going to be praise handed out, its going to be handed out everywhere.
Another concept that drives my life is dealing with scolding or criticism. One-on-one, its given privately not publicly. Furthermore, as a leader, if there is public criticism to be had, the leader takes the public blame, and then tries to find how the issue happened privately. It gets fixed privately and the blame stays internal to the group. If the issue is severe enough, the leader administers the punishment and does so privately away from the rest of the group and the public.
From what I was taught, leadership is done more behind closed doors than out in the public eye. This is why I do not seek a public standing of being a “leader”. A public standing of a leader is, from my perspective, someone who makes wide arching proclamations and expects others to do the necessary work. Public leadership is not where I prefer to be. I want to be where the work gets done, not where the speeches get made.
Personal Perspective of Leadership
Like I stated earlier, most of my perspective of leadership comes from what I have learned and understood in my military training. As a conceptual thought, this works. But when the rubber meets the road (so to speak), leadership is about much more than concepts of how to praise publicly and scold privately. Leadership is about rolling up your sleeves and doing. For me, groups are not particularly conducive to this concept, particularly with the work I get tasked to do.
I work with two First Nations’ Trickster Gods – Coyote and Crow. I also work with a Germanic Goddess, Abonoba, though that relationship is still be fine-tuned. Most of my devotional work is done through and for Them. So my usual work does not involve groups or even other people. So there is not always a perspective of being a leader there. There is; however, a perception of leadership that comes through. When others see or hear of what work I am doing, I can become an example to them of what can and cannot be done when working with my Gods. Its not a true template, because everyone’s relationship with their own Gods will be different. But the perspective of work can be an example of what can be done – as a start in their own relationships. So I have that influence of leadership there…even if its seemingly only a short glance through a heavily wooded forest.
I have always felt that the best bits of leadership that I can provide are through this blog – writing about my own experiences, my own successes and failures. Not to show where not to walk or what not to do – but to show how perseverance and patience help make one a better Pagan, Polytheist, Druid, Wiccan or what have you. Because the failures are just as necessary to be your best as the successes are.
Do I want the fame and notoriety that goes with being a public Pagan that talks about these experiences, successful or not? Not really. Its nice to be recognized over what I do and say, but I am no more sage and wise than anyone else on these Paths. The difference between myself and someone brand new to their concept of Paganism is merely that I have been at this since 1986. In my own mind, so what? All it means is that I have been at this for a long time. I envy the new Seeker on the Path….all the experiences that they have ahead of themselves – all the exploration – all the newness of what they find. I would never take that feeling of newness away from them by coloring it with my own tired, old experiences.
Being a leader isn’t about hawking my books (which I’ve not written) or my blog, which can show you where I have made the mistakes. Being a leader is about keeping my mouth shut, stepping back, and letting the new Pagans experience all this for themselves for the first time. And then being there to help them explain some of the more mind-blowing experiences to their over-loaded minds.
Perhaps, my perception of leadership is far different from your own. I can grok that very easily. Everyone experiences the same phenomenon differently. My perception does not have to be yours. But it most certainly, is mine.
For the last few days (since Wednesday), I have been trying to come up with something to write about – and just have not found anything rattling around in the empty can of my brain. I’ve also been watching the televised aspects of the funeral of Representative Elijah Cummings. Both celebrations have been wonderful to witness, and have also shown the depth of this man’s passion for not only his constituents, but also for human beings the world over. There was a quote of his that kept being bandied about over and over, which got me into a thought process which I am about to detail here.
Our children are the living messengers we send to a future we will never see… –Rep. Elijah Cummings
This particular quote was backed up by a lot of things that Rep. Cummings did for the youth of his Congressional district, as well as people all over the country and the world. His actions backed his words to the nth degree. He provided opportunities for younger children that might never have been afforded to them, allowing for experiences that will surely change their lives. His goal was to provide the chance for our divided society to find common ground, heal from that point, and grow from that healing. That was his vision, and its a beautiful one to behold. I do await the fruits that his efforts will create through others that will carry on that legacy. And this brought a thought to my mind…
What are we doing to grow as a wider Pagan community? Now, you have heard me talk about how the children are important to whatever future we grow as Pagans, but as Pagans, we also tend to allow our children to explore and find their own way through their Spiritual needs. And for the most part, I’d wager that most of those children will wind up picking a Spiritual path with a touch more structure, most likely a Christian one. No slight to a non-Christian faith, but it makes sense for children to lean towards something a bit more organized…a faith where the large majority of their friends are. And to be completely honest, this is not a bad thing. Most of those children raised in Pagan families will likely carry the moral values that they were taught by their parents and other Pagan adults into their new faith. We can only hope that they remain strong in those aspects when encounter the less Christian aspects within the Christian faith in their later lives. But its not the young children that I am leaning towards in my question. What are we doing for the younger Pagans in our community?
Growing Up and the Seeds of Leadership
Everyone can remember their painful, awkward first steps into Paganism – whatever that may be. I remember mine. It was the beginning of Fall in 1986. I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base. I had been calling various Bulletin Boards in the local area, and participating in the discussions. Eventually, I came across one called “The Church Mouse”. I talked with several of the folks there, including a pair of Pagans. One was a Witch, the other a Ceremonial Magician. We eventually agreed to meetup at a bar called “The Pig and Whistle Pub” in west Fort Worth, not far from the base. We drank a few pints, through some darts and did a lot of talking. I explained my concept of believing that all things had souls, and were part of energy that moved at a slower speed than we could comprehend. I was told that this was Animism, a term I had never heard before. I also explained that I believed that the Roman and Greek Gods were real, and were distinct Beings that we could experience with some thought and patience. It was then that I encountered the concept of Polytheism. And through those two conversations, I had the concept of Paganism explained to me…and I started to realize that what I believed had names, and definitions. I began to realize I was a Pagan.
Now, in 1988, I became part of a group of Wiccans. I was the one that lived the furthest away (they were in North Dallas), and my weekend shift work at the Data Processing Center did not allow me to always join in with the group. I did run into issues with my base Chaplaincy, particularly when my shift (all Charismatic preachers in their off time) found out what I believed. I was warned that my behavior was considered to be “insubordinate” and told to give up my beliefs. I stood my ground, but I did not have anywhere that I could turn to for help. My group were folks who lived fairly closeted lives, so I could not seek assistance without exposing them. So with nowhere else to go, on a day off, I went to a Pagan shop (the only one I knew at the time) in Grand Prairie called “Flight of the Phoenix”. This was where my coven’s Grandmother Priestess was.
She was openly Pagan, and an author – Pattalee Glass-Koentop. I thought she might be able to point me in the right direction. She went into the back of the store and returned with a military manual I had never seen before, something called “Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains“. She explained it was a US Army manual that was used to help Chaplains understand the beliefs of military members that they encountered. Furthermore, military chaplains had to respect the rights and religious practices of everyone, along with insuring command did not trample those rights. Armed with this material, I went back to the Chaplaincy office that afternoon, and explained to our unit-assigned Chaplain how my rights were being trampled over the previous exchange.
In fact, still armed with this material, I joined in two motions to the Department of Defense to change certain aspects of military practice towards minority beliefs. I helped with the argument to change the religious affiliation line on military dog tags for minority beliefs from “Other” to whatever the military member preferred. This allowed for better identification of individuals that were killed on the battlefield to have their respective rites administered correctly. The second initiative was to be accommodated with space by the Chaplaincy for minority groups with assigned lay-leaders. This would keep military personnel from breaking military housing rules by holding religious ceremonies in their apartment housing.
Of course, in both of those matters, I was only one individual of many – along with the folks from Circle Sanctuary and the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Wicca, who did much of the advocacy state-side. In fact, at my very last Pantheacon attendance, I came across Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and was able to offer my thanks for all of her and Circle Sanctuary’s assistance. That was quite a moment for me.
Nice story, huh? But there’s a point to all of this. See, thanks to Pattalee’s assistance, I found my ability to stand up to being treated in a bad way. I grew as a Pagan in that moment. I found my ability to stand up and protest were inequality was being done to military members in other issues. I learned to fight back, but to be respectful when doing so. It was Pattalee’s advice that helped me to see where I could do my best to make a difference. Yeah, I continually refuse the aspect of being a leader, but I have done some things that do place that squarely on my shoulders as well.
Remember the quote from Rep. Cummings? Our younger Pagans are those messengers to the future. And it is a future that I will likely never see. I’m fifty-four now (October 1st). I’m in failing health. I have diabetes. I am approaching (as slowly as I can) kidney failure. Let’s face the facts…I always twist away from the idea of being an Elder…but I am. This year starts my thirty-fourth as a Pagan, a label I have never shied away from. I am not going to live forever (though I would love to – I always wanted to go through life with a sword). The future of Paganism is not with me, it is with the younger generation of Pagans. Not only do we need to help them grow beyond the basic concepts that white-lighters tend to espouse, we also need to help grow them for the concepts of leadership. Sure, I have heard many Pagans moan and groan about a coming war with monotheism…I don’t grok that. As I have said before, I do not go looking for a fight. But I will defend my right to live in peace and exist with my own connection/understanding of the world. Not only my right, but the right of EVERYONE. Oh, and mess with those that I love…I will end you.
As our younger Pagans grow, we need to help teach them for those roles of leaders that will seek to defend our rights to live and exist, but also to respect the rights of others to live and exist – and to borrow from the Wiccans – so long as no one is harmed. These younger Pagans will be the Elders of the future. They will be the ones that pass on what we know. They are the ones that will tell our tales, our stories, the stories of our Gods, and mentor their future generations to pass that knowledge, those legends, our stories, and theirs to newer generations.
In a manner of speaking, it is odd for me to be writing something like thus. My own Paganism is one of daily existence and experience – not trying to manipulate the coming experiences of days that have not yet arrived. I strive to live in the now, and yet here I am writing about the future. This is because I have realized two things. First, this knowledge and experiences I have acquired, I am sure that someone in a future generation will find some of this useful in working through their own Spirituality. Gods only know how long my blog will ever exist into the future, but maybe it exists long enough to help someone else. Second, I don’t want to see these traditions die out. I want a Paganism that goes into the future, flourishes and becomes something bigger than any of us imagined. I believe in this experiential approach to our lives. Enough that I hope it is built upon, and exposed to wider group of people. But for that to happen, while we live our existence in day-to-day segments, we also need to build up our knowledge in the younger Pagans, and allow them to expand and grow that knowledge into the future. Sending the messengers with rigid dogma won’t allow things to grow…it will stunt the growth of what we have. We build our future in the knowledge of these younger Pagans, but they will nurture it and explore to make it into something of their own making as well.
One of the more persistent questions I get is why I am not a leader of a group, or in essence, why I am not a Priest of a group. Its not the first question that I ever get when people talk with me about being a Pagan, but its certainly near the top – typically after the questioning steps into the area of where are the other Pagans…
Part of it, is me knowing my limitations. Another part of it comes from the freedom that I have as a solo Pagan. And yet another part comes from the experience of being a part of a group, quite a few times, in the past.
Groups are wonderful things, particularly when you have leader types that are experience in handling all the small things that come up with a group of folks, all at varied degrees of understanding and experience within a group. Many of those folks have wonderful traits of being nurturing spirits, the kind of person that encourages others. I have some of that quality, but not enough to constantly be there every step of the way, particularly for those that are young on their Path. I have expectations of folks being able to handle the smaller steps of their beliefs, being able to pick themselves up after they fall down, and coming for help when things are a bit more than a skinned knee. The problem there is helping new Pagans understand what the difference is between a broken bone and a skinned knee. I have a degree of patience when it comes to stuff like this, after all I was there at one time in my own walk, but my patience is not infinite. In that respect, I’d be a mediocre leader of folks; definitely not enough to be a sustaining part of leadership or helping the overall growth of the group. Seriously, I know my limitations, and am well aware of where I would fail overall. Now, with others available to help share the load of leadership, those with the ability to handle the roles that I manage so poorly, the narrative changes quite drastically. Its not that I don’t want to share the aspect of leadership, I am not a good leader without some measure of a peer in one or more forms. Me as a singular leader can be a bad thing.
A leader of a group has other responsibilities that can tie down aspects of their freedom, in my opinion. Leadership has to make decisions for others, and sometimes has to sacrifice their own needs, wants and desires for the overall good and growth of the group. In some aspects, I can be quite selfish in that respect. I like to be able to do what I want, when I want, how I want…leadership requires a greater degree of sacrifice than I am totally aimed towards. A lot of this comes from my having been solo for as long as I have. I am not used to compromising and bargaining every step of the way. But a group is not about an individual. A group is about a group of individuals utilizing those bargaining and compromising measures to create something that works to a greater degree for all. When you have been on your own as long as I have, those habits of always getting your own way are difficult to set aside. It would certainly take a far greater degree of self control than I already have for a group to be a 24×7 item for me. Its not impossible, just difficult.
I know all of this looks rather negative on me as a group member. I see it a different way, though. Its a matter of self-honesty about where I currently am in life. Can I work appropriately within a group? Certainly. I know how to handle then concepts of group dynamics and group responsibility. I have watched groups come apart at the seams for the smallest things though. The interpersonal relationships between group members is very strong, particularly when folks really start working deeply with one another. Its not uncommon for romantic feelings to develop in such intimate circumstances. Its also not uncommon for those romantic feelings to unravel, or for jealousy to spring into action, and become the seeds of bad blood between members. Not uncommon because we are just human beings, twisted up with our own feelings of being set to the side for whatever reason. I’ve seen that happen way too often. The same can be said when a single member gets more public recognition from the others. Ego driven issues are another common cause for group strife. I’ve seen that far too many times to just dismiss it as an out-of-the-way occurence.
Personally, I find myself to be a bad example of a leader. Much of that comes from being far too close to the trees to be able to recognize the forest, I suppose. I am my own worst critic, so I suppose that can play a factor as well. But all of that set to the side, one of the biggest reasons (if not the biggest) that I would make a crappy, ineffective leader is my reluctance to be one in the first place. A leader should be strong and decisive in their desire to be at the front of the pack. I might be able to serve as an inspiration for others to want to be the leaders they think I could be…but I’d be really worried if anyone viewed me as a singular leader of any group. I prefer to be one of many, because the decisions would be made together – as equals. But that’s my preference.
Me? A leader? Well, if you say so. But realize, I know my own limitations and faults far better than anyone else does. And that knowledge helps me to pump the brakes on talks like that.
Being a teacher can be a tough and somewhat thankless job. For nearly three years, I was an adjunct professor at the community college, where I now work in the administration for. I both dreaded and enjoyed teaching students about information systems and the uses these seemingly perplexing machines have in our society today. I enjoyed explaining how data-driven queries and algorithms actually have a major effect on people’s lives, even when they did not really comprehend that such processes were being placed in how their lives were being lived. However, I also dreaded being in the classroom because I always had a fear that a student might actually be able to showcase their knowledge having gone further than my own. Looking back, I had such a silly notion in that area.
A few weeks ago, the silliness of that notion was on display in the newest Star Wars film. During the dialogue between Yoda and Luke at the Jedi Temple, Luke laments that he cannot be what Rey needs, and Yoda responds:
…we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. –Yoda
My fears were truly unfounded. Should a student find a mastery of the topic that went beyond where I was, it should be a joyful moment. I have poured all of my knowledge and wisdom (a truly debatable term for another time) into my student, in the hopes that they will grow beyond the point that I have managed to reach. The goal is not my vanity and ego as being the font of be-all, end-all knowledge. Because, in all honesty, I continue to grow my own mastery and understanding of the knowledge as I, myself, progress in this existence.
In a manner of speaking, a teacher is considered to also be a leader. The expertise and mastery of an area of knowledge, as well as their wisdom (there’s that word again), places a teacher in a position of potentially leading others. There’s a similar area of responsibility in the hands of the follower, who provides a connection to that leader by allowing that architecture to be placed in the individual (or individuals in the case of larger groups with more than one individual placed in a role of leadership). That dual-feed of the teacher providing information, knowledge, and wisdom, and a student placing their trust and faith in an individual or individuals to lead them correctly can be a very wonderful relationship with the right degree of trust and responsibility coming from both ends of it. To quote from many places, it truly is a manner of perfect love and perfect trust. Too much or too little from either side, and it can be a corrosive and/or abusive relationship (another deer trod to travel down at some other point).
What about flawed individuals? People who have done bad or unsavory things when they were in these positions of teaching or leadership? We need to toss everything they have taught us and start fresh with a better perspective, right? Or we need to abandon that particular Path of knowledge because we placed a leader into a position of being far more than what we should have. Our reasoning for following them is flawed; therefore, everything we learned is flawed, right?
I would say that is not necessarily the case. We do need to stop, look back, and re-evaluate everything. But that is by taking everything one piece at a time, determining what value that bit of knowledge has to us, and then making a decision to keep it, alter it to our needs, or pitch it all together. Plus, I have one another thing to consider: every single one of us is flawed in one manner or another. A significant majority of us has done something wide of the mark in our past to one degree or another. However, before we all start feeling guilty about all the stuff we did when we were teenagers or in our early twenties, let’s consider one other side of Yoda’s statement to Luke in that same scene:
Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. –Yoda
We have all met failure to one degree or another. We all have weaknesses (one of mine just happens to be Bushmills whiskey). And I would daresay that we have all done wrong by someone or many someones at one time or another. The true measure of these incidents in our lives is not what we did, but rather if we have grown beyond those transgressions.
I am a firm believer in second chances. I am also a firm believer that knowledge can grow and become stronger from places where most others would see rot and decay. Time, patience, and so many other elements are important factors to add. Or as I am fond of saying, x and y are important variables, but their strength in the overall argument can dissipate or grow due to the variance of the z-variable (typically referred to as “time”).
As we, Pagans, continue to grow our knowledge and our various traditions, we stand on the shoulders of giants, as Damh the Bard notes in his song “On the Shoulders of Giants”:
So by peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand,
On the shoulders of giants we stand.
We stand on the shoulders of our Elders, our teachers, our leaders – growing our traditions for the coming generations so that our shoulders they will also stand upon – a mighty foundation. Over time, our foundations can wear down, from the equalizer of time, as well as other factors. But even that weathered stone has merit. It may not look as pretty and polished as it did in a time long past, but it is still there. Over time, we may found out that our Elders, teachers, and leaders have done things in their lives that we find to be unsavory or even difficult to comprehend. None of that nullifies the knowledge that was brought to us. Because it is not the individual that provides the legacy, but the knowledge itself. A founding member of a tradition can be found to have done unspeakable, unimaginable things in their lives. None of those actions can nullify the beauty, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, loving attitude, and joyful care that the Priests (men and women – I believe Priest to be a gender-neutral term) in that same tradition have today and what the future Priests will bring as they receive their ordination. I just cannot condemn or color what a tradition is because of the actions of one individual…even a founding member.
As for me, I have my own transgressions in my past that haunt me. No matter how much I want to wipe those away with notations of second chances or excuses, I will live with those for the rest of my life – however long that may be. For those that know what those are, I can only hope that they see the change in who I am today versus that person I was previously. For those that I wronged, and have been able to apologize to, I can only hope that they have forgiven me and accepted those apologies. For those that I cannot make apologies to, for whatever reason, I can only continue to offer my apologies when I pray. And yes, even Pagans pray. And while those transgressions do paint a tone to who I am today; for any future students I have, any followers who may provide me with the reins of some form of leadership — those failures helped me to learn and try to be a better teacher and leader. And through those experiences, as I continue to move further along this nearly thirty-five years on a Pagan Path, I hope that I become the Elder that the Gods have aimed me towards being. After all, I am fallible — like anyone else.
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.
Thanks to Donnie, it has been an “interesting” few days since he has decided to remove the United States from the Paris Accords on Climate Change. I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of either Donnie’s actions or the Accords. For what little it is worth, I support the Accords, and would prefer that the United States had remained within that agreement. But that’s not the case. What has made this interesting – at least to me – is that some States’ Governors, and city mayors have decided that the areas under their control would continue to uphold the agreements within the Accords, even with the President pulling the nation out of the agreement. Any effort by a federal government to deter these individuals from doing so may call into question the “sacrament” of states’ rights into the matter. A particularly thorny issue, since it is upheld by many conservatives as being just as “holy” within the fabric of the United States’ existence as the Constitution. But all of that is stepping off the Path I am intending for this post.
Within this particular political moment, lays an interesting lesson, of sorts. Honestly, its a very simple concept, as well – providing your own leadership; stepping forward to grab hold of the reins. Yes, even when you do not feel particularly “qualified” or “experienced” to be the one doing so. And as Pagans, we should be more than understanding of this entire concept of going it alone, when necessity calls.
I have been there this more than once. Back when I was part of a group of Pagans – all of varying faiths and perspectives within Paganism – I found myself stepping up to a leadership role, not because I wanted it. As a group we needed leadership that took all aspects of the group into account, and didn’t feel the need to label all of us as “Wiccans” for the sake of argument and discussion to the outside world. As a solo Pagan, I have had to become my own leader – an odd concept for a group of one – but a leader nonetheless. And as a member of a worldwide Druidic Order, I find myself taking stances and positions on issues that sometimes seem counter to what might be the same one within the Order.
Sometimes, doing so can seem to be a bit rebellious or forcing one’s self to be separate from a group. And while true, my differences on a position with other members of my Order does not nullify the fact that I am a member of the Order. At the core of who I am, I am still an OBOD Druid. I may change up ritual frameworks to suit my own needs and/or desires, but the core of the framework is always there. These governors and mayors are changing the rules where they are concerned, but it doesn’t make them any more or any less Americans. They are doing what they feel is right, and shouldering the mantle of leadership within Climate Change because they feel that it is an important issue that should be addressed within governmental policies, and because they are stepping into that void of leadership that Donnie has chosen to create.
Sure. I hear the statements – “if you are going to be an OBOD Druid, why amend things like ritual framework? Why not just stop being an OBOD Druid and do it all your own way?” Or, from the political side, “If the President says that we should not be part of the Climate Accords, then that’s the end of it all.” Well, the answer to both have the same root. I choose to amend ritual frameworks so that it is something I am comfortable with. I am not abandoning the framework, just changing the wording to something that feels more comfortable and familiar to me. Part of ritual is to be comfortable and relaxed. If you are approaching your Gods like you have a stick in your ass, its likely that you will not be taken seriously or be properly reverent as you keep your cheeks clinched together to keep the stick from falling out. Thus the change to wording. Thus the change to whatever aspect that does not feel “right”. Now, if the whole thing did not feel “right” — then would be the time to think about checking out and finding something else. I did that with Wicca back in 1990. As for the governors and mayors, remember – Donnie didn’t declare the Accords to be illegal, merely that the United States would not enforce the measures. The Governors and Mayors are choosing to follow the measures outlined by the Accords. They are not violating laws. They are enhancing their own state and local ordinances to follow the Paris Climate Accords. No violation of the law. Sure, they are partly thumbing their noses at the President, but there’s no law against that either. At least not yet.
So, in this time of the #Storm, it certainly is interesting to see where leadership is coming from, and just who is stooping down to pick up the offending gauntlet. In my experience, leaders are not born. Leaders are made. And sometimes, those who are just trying to clear a path by removing the offending gauntlet from their line of footfalls…can instead find themselves in an unlikely position of being thrust to the front of the column. Trying times with unexpected obstacles tend to create a white-hot fire that forges an individual into a position of leadership, even when they do not want the title, the responsibilities, or the resultant outcomes. And somehow, they wind up being the most appropriate individual at the most inopportune moment.
Leadership 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.
I have said it hundreds of times, and I truly mean it. I am no leader. But I do know what leaders look like, what they act like, what they do, how they handle themselves…and I am definitely not one of those people. But I hear it all the time for folks.
You are a natural leader.
People just seem to want to follow you.
I cringe every single time I hear these words. Because I am not a leader. I have said it before, I follow the Edgar Friendly principle of leadership: I get things done; sometimes people come along.
I am an individual that likes to get things done. I am a problem solver. I do like getting information and resources into the hands of people who do make the decisions. In the military, I was referred to as a “dog robber” or a “scrounger” because I managed to take things that were useless to my unit, and trade those to other units to get things that were useful for us. One year, we needed a Connex Shed. Those things aren’t small. They are the cargo containers that you see on the decks of transoceanic ships. You can park three full-sized SUVs inside these things. I traded carpeted floor tiles for a raised floor (three-hundred of them) to a Naval unit based in Rota, Spain for a Connex Shed. And I even got the naval unit to deliver it to us in Germany by truck. Right to our doorstep. Getting things done is what I know how to do. I am never worried about what something was built for – I always looked at its utility value. What can it do?
“I’m no leader; I do what I have to do, and sometimes people come along.”
Like I said, I get things for the people who make the decisions – the people who are the leaders. I have worked under good leaders, and some of the very worst. I have worked for extremely hard-working leaders, and some of the laziest souls you will ever meet. I have seen the qualities of both. And because I have seen those qualities, the upcoming Presidential cycle in America scares the shit right out of me. Every single one of these candidates have the scariest qualities that I have seen in bad leaders. Every single one of them. Its almost as if we have decided to hold a Presidential election with the worst possible candidates we can find.
But I completely grok the whys of it too. We drag every candidate’s entire personal history through the mud. We scrutinize their every step in every location to see where they stumble and fall. We require them to know the ins and outs of every single situation and come up with potential solutions, which when examined show a total disregard for the way laws are truly mustered through our governmental process. And even more so, the “solutions” have no financial capacity for survival under the tight budget constraints that the United States should be operating. We set every single candidate up for failure, or drive them away from the process because something about their familial connections may be repugnant to one sector of society or another. And that’s just the starting course. We, literally, set an impossibly high bar, and are let down in every cycle by the lack of good candidates that we get compared to the last election cycle. Holy shit, what we were expecting? We slam any moderate candidate that comes down the line, and extoll the virtues of each extreme member of either the Republican or Democrat parties. The smaller, lesser known third parties have to be outrageous just to get any press, which drives any sensible voter away from them and into the arms of the Republican or Democratic candidate from whom they were wanting to find an alternative to. What are we expecting??
We sure aren’t expecting leaders. Leaders are people who understand compromise. Leaders understand what areas have give and take, and what other areas require a hard, uncompromising stance. Leaders communicate not just with the people who agree with their plan of action, but also with those who disagree. Leaders listen, understand, and redraw plans where compromise makes sense. Leaders empathize not only with those who agree with them, but also with those who disagree with them. Leaders do not antagonize. Leaders do not mock. Leaders keep control of their emotions during the heat of discussion, and insure that the topic never slips away. Leaders do not do outrageous things or fire off inflammatory comments just to get attention. Leaders understand that consensus does not always mean that they (the leaders) get their way on an issue.
But I know this: I’m no leader. I’m the one who puts plans into action, even when I disagree with the plan. I make sure that things get done. I’m not a leader. And neither are any of the people we have running for President during this election cycle.
Well, Pantheacon 2016 is certainly everything that it has been made out to be…and much more. There are Pagans and Pagan-friendly people EVERYWHERE in this hotel. And its not a small hotel either. There are Pagans of all types here, I’ve met folks of neaarly every Spiritual stripe, and there’s no need to get into sexual orientation, skin pigmentation, hair color or eye color. Because all of that obviously does not matter. Everyone is friendly, smiling, and having fun. And for a people watcher person like me – its an awesome site to see and comprehend.
Seriously. Many people discuss this place like its a wild circus or something. The closest thing that has happened to that – the Krampus revellers that passed by me on Friday night. They were loud…and HAIRY. But it was a seriously fun moment for me. It caught me unawares, while I was eating dinner in the lobby area – and it was just a moment that was out of whack. Flat out fun.
But the one thing that has seriously impressed me is the number of young folks here. And when I mean young people, I mean people below the age of eighteen (or at least seem to be that young). Seeing young people getting involved in their Spirituality, and taking it seriously is heartening to an old fart like myself (who is a spring chicken at 50 when compared to some of the other attendees here). I can definitely see that the younger generation of Pagans are looking for ways to build upon the Paganism that is being offered to them by the older generation (myself included).
And I have met other folks as well. One of the panel security folks that I talked with on Friday night was a former military member – and joined the military after I got out. We talked about how Paganism has been in the military during his term. It was seriously awesome to hear how the military has expanded its awareness of who and what Pagans are – and to some degree have become a little more accepting of this. Essentially, what I was getting a look at was how things have been built upon from the work that I (and others) had done when we were in.
Its that utilization of the building blocks of the Past by those in the Present that really tugs at my heartstrings. These folks don’t have to piece together a Past to build for their Future. They can mold and shape what is already there. And it totally freaks me out to think of myself as an “Elder” or even as a “Leader” of anything. And yet, here I am starting to realize that I am both of those – regardless of what I think.
So far, I have sat in on a few panels. Each presenter has provided their points of view with interesting clarity, sometimes punctuated with bawdy and somewhat irreverent humor. But everyone has been spot on with their messages. From the darker aspects of Druidry to Finding One’s Personal Magick to an academic (and fun) exploration of the Dagda to a wonderful talk on the Welsh Gods and Goddesses, the underlying message is clear – Paganism is alive and well in our modern world society. For some it may not be growing fast enough (or at all) for where they live, for others it may not be growing quite the way that they would wish it to…but rest assured it is alive and well.
That means that some of us (particularly myself) need to get off our asses and step into roles of leadership. That’s a particularly difficult perspective for me – an INFT on the Briggs/Meyers test – to assume. I’m a naturally introverted individual, preferring to handle aspects of my Spirituality as a solitaire practitioner. But, as I am learning – being a leader does not mean that I would be leading rituals.
Let me be honest here, I SUCK at leading rituals with others involved. I am not the greatest at facilitating for others. And I know this. It is something that I will have to work on. And there are two workshops that I chose at this convention that are my first baby-steps in that direction. But there are other ways to be a leader or even a mentor. I can talk with folks that are new to their Path, reassure them that their new found connectedness to the world around them is not some form of mental illness. I can talk about some of the missteps and pitfalls I have encountered on my long strange trip (that its been), and commiserate with those that have stepped in dog-shit elsewhere on the field. I can continue to talk about my Paganism, and my Druidry here on this blog – where others can read it. I can continue to bring the stories of others to the podcast – so people can see that they are not alone. And most importantly, I can stop running from the concept of leadership…I don’t have to be the captain of the boat to be a leader.
I heaar the heavy breathing of the Wolf by my side. I feel the strong grip of the talons on my shoulder. I hear the laughter and sweet whisper of Fliodhas coming from the edge of the forest, enticing me to come and wander through the trees hand-in-hand. But I also grasp the undercurrent of what all three say from time to time – stop hiding in the shadows. Step forward and be what you are supposed to be.
Whether I like the idea or not, I am a leader in this vast Pagan community. And while I have not noticed the younger generation coming to the fireside over the last few years – they are here. And they are watching. And learning. And growing in their Spirituality. My time of resting and being stagnate is over – I either step forward or get out of the game. Stepping forward is where I am headed. What about you??
I have been seeing a few comments and posts popping up around the inter-webs lately – discussing the needs for Pagan Leadership, and some of the problems with getting leaders to step forward. In reading through the comments – and the counter-comments – and the various posts by individuals – I started to let the idea brew around in the ol’ pot of stew I call my brain. The result was that I could not come up with any solution to the so-called “problem” — and found myself left with even more questions. I am sure over time, I will find some answers to my questions…or at least answers that will let me move on in my own understanding of the issue. But I am sure that in satisfying those questions – even more questions will result….which, for me, may be a natural process – but in trying to find proper “leadership” will not bring about a result whatsoever.
The “Big Tent” of Paganism
When I started reading some of the posts and commentaries on all of this, I noticed a simple division had taken place. There were essentially two camps. One, saw the problem with getting individuals to step up into the positions of leadership that were the “correctly” qualified (more on that here in a bit). The other, wondered how any individual could be set aside as a leader over a wide-range of belief systems that preferred to have autonomous control and authority? It just so happens, I fall into the second group here. I am a Solitary Pagan on a Path of Druidry. And while I am a student in the Bardic Grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids – I have no group that I engage with. I know that this is a similar case to many others around the world as well. And this does not even bring to bear how Wiccans, or Asatru, or any other faith system will react to having a member of a different faith be their “leader” – appointed or anointed. John Beckett has talked about the concept of the “Big Tent Paganism” on his blog – Under the Ancient Oaks – quite a few times. And while I am not overly enthused with the over-arching concept – there is a point in all of what he has said. And it brings me to the biggest question I have concerning this idea of Pagan Leadership…
How in the Nine Hells can there be a “leader” of a group of autonomous and independent belief systems, when the leader is likely not to represent a large majority of the groups and individuals that they have become a “leader” for?
Which brings me back to the other side of the discussion table. Setting aside the “Big-Tent” issue – let us assume that a leader can be found – and that various systems of belief will allow such an individual to have authority over and speak on behalf of them. One of the lamentations I have seen on this, is that many of the folks who step forward to assume that mantle of leadership are not always “qualified” to be leaders. That the “qualified” individuals will not step forward and assume the position of leadership for a wide variety of reasons (pick your poison here, but the reasons are not necessarily germane to the issue here). So, what qualifies one to be a leader? In several instances, I have seen people set forth authors, lecturers, and other well-known types as good starting positions. That, in doing whatever it is that makes them well known, sets them forward as leaders of the community. Really? If I followed that logic, my status as one of the longest running podcasters in the Pagan community – with my two podcasts (the defunct “From the Edge of the Circle” and the current “Upon a Pagan Path“) – would entitle me to step forward and claim such a mantle of leadership. I am not sure I would even desire to make such a claim. Which comes back around to the position that the ones that would be good leaders, typically do not step forward to be leaders for [x] reason. But again, I am led back to my own manner of thinking – where I do not believe that I can be a leader of any group of people, where my beliefs and theirs will not necessarily match up.
But what about your position in helping out with the DFW Pagan Pride Day? Are you not assuming a position of leadership with a wide-range of Pagan belief systems? I certainly hope that no one sees me as being a leader because I volunteer to help out with Pagan Pride Day here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I help out, because I believe this this event is a wonderful way for Pagans to discover one another, and to be able to come together and talk – as well as a way to have non-Pagans find out first-hand how wide-ranging Paganism is, and that we are no different than they are. I am not assuming a position of leadership by doing this. I am finding a way to be helpful to my community – to give back to my community – some of the same reasons that I have been podcasting for so long. None of that bestows any position of leadership upon me. To quote Dennis:
Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
So, What About Pagan Leadership?
To be completely honest, I do not know. I just cannot see leadership festooned upon someone simply because they do a podcast or write a book or publish a blog. I am quite sure there will be those who disagree with me. As the old saying goes, ask a three Druids a question and you will get seven answers. From my own perspective, I am just a little unsure of how followers of belief systems that espouse a heavy system of autonomy and independence would be able to set forth a leader – even in a spokes-person role – that all would readily agree upon and completely support. Its definitely a discussion to watch and listen, and even participate in. I am sure it can – and most likely will – create huge rifts between both sides of the argument. I am also quite sure it is a discussion that will need to be had. After all, our Pagan community is beginning to grow up, and is starting to ask the hard questions, such as this. How it gets answered? I have no bloody idea. But I am willing to listening and discuss.