Pagan Community

Grassroots Leaders Who are Incurably Bad

7719793_xxlThis is the 3rd article in the grassroots leadership series. Sometimes there are leaders who are just real jerks. Maybe they have problems with egotism. Maybe they are unstable and mentally ill. Maybe they are alcoholic. Maybe they have some other problem.

As I discussed in the last blog post, when I teach leadership, Pagans and other grassroots leaders ask me, “How do I deal with a community leader that’s a total asshole,” or, “How do I warn people away from the really bad group leaders?”

The challenge is, if they are verbally abusing you or undermining you, there isn’t really a lot you can do. If you’re a member of that group, you can leave. But, you can’t (in most instances) take another group leader “down.” It’s a frustrating prospect. Let’s go a little deeper into what kinds of leaders out there cause problems so bad that you , as a leader or group member, might consider extreme measures to keep your community protected from the bad behavior of a leader.

Most of the people I’m going to talk about in the rest of the article aren’t predators, they are just jerks. However, let’s address the really bad folks first; pedophiles, rapists, abusers, psychopaths/sociopaths. There’s nothing you can do to help them or fix them. They will keep doing what they are doing until they die or are incarcerated. If someone in your group or another group leader is abusing minors, raping people, or engaging in other harmful, illegal activities, go to the police. Do not try to protect them just because they are Pagan, or an activist, or a member of any other grassroots cause. Don’t worry that them in the papers will give your community a bad name. If you have reasonable evidence, these people need to be prosecuted.

However–and I hate that I have to say this–don’t ever lie and suggest a leader is engaging in illegal activities just to strengthen your position while speaking out against them.

Making the assumption that what this other group leader is doing is not illegal, there aren’t many options. Let’s assume that this leader is engaging in harmful, unethical behaviors, and you are not “above” that person, meaning, you have no control over their actions/ability to lead a group.

Speaking Out Against Someone
What tends to motivate people quickly into the Speaking Out scenario is fear and anger. People feel powerless in response to actions by a group leader who is perceived as powerful–whether a leader of a group they are in, or of another group. They feel powerless, they get afraid, and they get angry. They post on Facebook, email groups, talk about them at Pagan gatherings to others they know. In essence, they try to spread the word–this person’s a jerk.

However, we Westerners have a penchant for the Underdog. Most of the time people who speak out against others are thought of as drama llamas trying to stir the pot, even if the person they are speaking out against is actually harming others. Whether or not they are passing along accurate information, most times this is not an effective strategy for dealing with a harmful group leader, because people won’t listen.

I’m not advocating silence out of fear of judgment. Because, so many Pagans and other grassroots groups have kept quiet about abusive, hurtful leaders, and all that silence does is perpetuate more abuse.

But, if you’re going to speak out, be really, really clear that it’s for the right reasons. And, be willing to stand in the fire. I’m not talking about the “I’ll throw away my own reputation to destroy this person” out of a vengeance mindset. And anyone working withing the Pagan community needs to think about the impact on community, and community safety, not their own vengeance.

And once again, you can’t “make” another leader stop leading a group. In almost all cases of Pagan community disagreements, it’s Person A said ____, Person B said____, with no way to prove it either way.

One exception that can help with the Speak Out method is if there are fifteen Person B’s, and you all speak out, that may have more of an impact. This strategy is only useful or necessary if the leader in question is a really bad egg. Like, really actively harming the local community, acting in an abusive way. Perhaps it’s not illegal; in most cases, sleeping with your adult-age group members isn’t illegal. Nor is manipulating people to get what you want and then throwing a tantrum and turning everyone in the group against them. However, if a leader is really damaging the reputation of Pagans locally, or is a danger to younger, newbie group members, it might be worth considering trying to take some larger and more visible community action.

You still can’t actually stop Person A, under most circumstances. In the rare instance where it’s a tradition with religious superiors, you can go to them, but I haven’t experienced that doing much good. Most traditions take a pretty hands off approach to local clergy.

Another exception is if you yourself have a lot of visibility, local clout, and fairly unimpeachable ethics.

An example: I spoke out publicly about my ex partner. I suffered some backlash initially, and it took a while for the truth to come out. What tipped the balance for people who initially supported him was when other women he had hurt started coming out about it, and he started doing crazy, rude stuff at various events. He really ruined his own reputation, I just sped up the process.

The truth will point to itself, but that does take time.

Vengeance can’t be your motivator. Your motivation has to be about the health of your community and your group. It’s a subtle difference, particularly if the group leader who is acting in a harmful way is backstabbing you personally and working to undermine your group.

Incurably Bad Leaders
Let’s take a step back and look at what this means. We’re talking about leaders that aren’t necessarily a predator, or, they’re on the legal edge of predator. What I mean is, they aren’t targeting minors, but they are targeting the vulnerable newbies in their group or at a festival to pressure them for sex. We’re also not talking about leaders who just have strong personalities and are stubborn, but who are basically good people.

I have another blog post coming up on trying to discern some of these differences, particularly through a conflict resolution process.

We’re talking about the leaders who are so stubborn and set in their ways they are completely unwilling to listen to you. People who refuse to communicate. Who badmouth you  to undermine your group because they are threatened by you. People who are unstable, who throw major temper tantrums and go absolutely postal when you offer them negative feedback. People who verbally abuse others, people who lie and manipulate others. One example that I’ve heard of in a few places is a local leader who goes to public events run by other groups, and then when they begin a ritual or workshop, will actually step in, interrupt the facilitators, and berate them for “doing it wrong” or try to take over.

We’re talking about someone who completely derails meetings by making it all about them. People who yell at their team members in front of other people, consistently. We’re talking about people who consistently disrupt any unity effort by trying to take it over or trying to destroy it–or both. Someone who joins your email list and posts rude things or hijacks threads to talk about their own events. People who are just consistently rude.

There’s actually a big difference between someone who is just a stubborn, empowered visionary, and someone who is an incurable jerk. There’s a spectrum there–any of us who step into leadership may have a little stubborn streak, but that’s different from someone who just is rude, year after year. There’s a Pagan leader I know who seems to think every local Pagan leader needs to swear fealty to him. He actually has a ceremony where he gets people to do this, he tells them they are being “made” a community elder. And during the ritual, they have to kiss his ring. I am not kidding. I don’t care if that person has served the local community for 30 years; doing that, and working to sabotage groups that don’t toe the line, is inexcusable.

If I, personally, find myself in a position of actively speaking out against another group leader, you can be sure that I have heard rather a lot of bad things about that person, and, I have fact checked and screened my sources. 

What Do You Do?
Most leaders who are being jerks I can pretty safely ignore. Maybe they badmouth me, maybe they are using and emotionally abusing a few newbies, and there’s not much I can do about that. If I do decide to speak out about a group leader, there’s a spectrum of response. If it’s someone who is on that verge of being dangerous, I’m happy to be public about speaking out–and, I pick my battles. More often there are just leaders that I don’t recommend for various reasons. So when seekers come to me looking for group recommendations, I tell them who I recommend, and who I don’t, and why. I give them the informed choice to do what they want.

Remember–speaking out will not force these leaders stop. You can’t fix them, can’t change them. If they are just being jerks, but not being sexually abusive jerks, most of the time it’s usually best to just ignore them as best you can.

Walk Away
This is sometimes referred to as the “high road,” although that’s not always an accurate statement–sometimes people say they are taking the “high road” when what they are really afraid to do is take a stand. Not that I blame them most of the time. Often, all ou can do is to walk away from a group, and to privately/one-on-one tell people about your experiences there.

Or, if you’re a group leader or part of other groups, you can very simply choose not to work with that group leader. Sometimes shunning is the only thing that you have. There are groups in the Chicagoland area I’d love to shut down, specifically the unethical sex temple there. I keep tabs on what local groups are doing. For that matter, I keep tabs on what dozens of groups are doing around the midwest and other places I’ve taught, since people ask me for consultations on problems in their area, and occasionally I’m asked to mediate a dispute so I like to know what’s going on.

Basically, I keep tabs, and I choose whom I recommend and whom I do not when seekers come to me looking for a group.

Honest Mistakes
There’s all sorts of situations which lead to bad leadership dynamics. One is just honest failure; most volunteer leaders weren’t trained in leadership. Most leaders I talk to don’t even want to be leaders. They screw up because they volunteered to host classes out of their homes and suddenly became the group leader.

And sometimes, it’s not that a leader is a bad person. Sometimes our personalities are just incompatible. The sad thing is, even when I’ve gotten a group of other leaders into a room together to plan an event together, it doesn’t usually work well. Maybe we’re all just used to steering our own plow. Even when we’re all reasonable people, we all have different styles.

I’ve seen entirely new conflicts arise out of “roundtable” and “unity” efforts like that.There’s other group leaders where I respect their work, but our work style/approach is just really different. And I recognize, if we tried collaborating, that would probably be a disaster. Not that either of us is bad, we’re just not going to be good collaborating.

Mental Illness
Some leaders have real mental illnesses. I can’t tell you the number of group leaders I encounter that have symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic PD, or any of the antisocial PD’s, or Bipolar. I myself have struggled with depression much of my life. If you meet me while I’m teaching a workshop or leading a ritual, you probably won’t know that I struggle with social anxiety.

Many mental illnesses can be managed through therapy and in some case medication, like Bipolar. Other things are more challenging, like the antisocial PD’s.

It really, really will serve you to understand the red flags for these (and other) mental illnesses. Sometimes, you can work with someone if you know what they have going on. There’s a massive difference between someone with Aspergers who is perceived as rude and speaking out of turn, and someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder who is ultimately going to try and overthrow your group leader in order to turn everyone around them into a “mirror” and make it all about them. Antagonists in the Church is a good book to start with for understanding some of the more toxic personalities; it’s written for Christian church leaders, but you can translate it to any group.

Holes in the Ego and Egotism
Some leaders just have huge gaping wounds from their past. Maybe they don’t have a personality disorder, perhaps they are just a jerk.

I’ve worked through a lot of old wounds in my own life. I used to be massively defensive, control freak, can’t ever be wrong know-it-all. Because, somehow in my teenage mind, being “right” meant I was giving the finger to all the kids in high school who made fun of me. Thing is, being right doesn’t really lead to anyone wanting to spend time with you…and I had to learn that the hard way.

Those old holes in our egos, those old wounds, become our shadows. Many leaders have these shadows. These are the shadows that can often be dealt with if we’re willing to look into the mirror, and maybe get some therapy.

Unfortunately, it seems that a significant percentage of grassroots leaders who are stubborn enough to keep a group going for more than 5 years also seem to have problems with egotism. I think this is both a testament to how difficult it is to build a strong group (it takes that kind of fierce stubbornness to put up with all the drama llamas and volunteers dropping the ball) but it’s also a testament to how we need to steward better and healthier leaders, not just leave leadership to the only person willing to do it. Who also just happens to be the person who’s crazy motivated…because, they are actually a little crazy.

So I just want to make sure that I offer that caveat–leadership training can help most folks. But, for the folks with a major personality disorder–and they can sometimes be very charismatic–it’s not going to help them.
  1. First, they are unlikely to actually attend a leadership training. They will be certain that They Know Best. Or that People are Just Out to Get Them.
  2. Even if they attend, they won’t actually internalize the ethics.
  3. They might give platitudes out of one side of their mouth, and then a week later go right back to the old behavior

Where does this leave us?
Well–about the same place as the last article. You can’t fix crappy leaders. But what I have found is that understanding why a leader is bad, and understanding where they are on the spectrum of bad, is invaluable in helping me to determine a rational response.

I’ll continue the series with another article in a couple of days, but I also wanted to forward along this link to an article Ivo Dominguez wrote that provides a few tips and techniques that you might find of use.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, group dynamics, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, personal transformation

Pagan Leadership and Witch Wars

5169119_xxlIt’s not a Witch War. Let’s get that out of the way. In fact, let’s get rid of that term completely, because it aggrandizes conflict and makes it sound magical, powerful, cool. What is a witch war? It’s a fancy-schmancy word for an interpersonal conflict.

Why do we need the cool word for it? Well…put bluntly, and making a lot of assumptions, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that many Pagans out there have poor self esteem. Heck, a lot of people have poor self confidence.

Drama is a coping mechanism to feel better about yourself. Think about this; if you have another Witch who is gunning for you, hexing you, psychically attacking you…that must make you pretty important, huh? 

Let’s face it. Drama is exciting. Humans like drama and we like story. Otherwise novels would be pretty boring, as would movies. They’d be about a character who makes some toast, and then watches tv, and then goes to sleep without facing any conflict. There’s a reason that movies and books sell well. There’s a reason why people have been telling stories about warriors and battles since language began. We like stories. Drama and conflict are a part of stories.

However, many people gravitate toward drama in their lives. They often stir it up, even though they aren’t consciously aware that they’re doing it.

What I’ve noticed is that the people who seem to stir up the most drama in their lives often have a certain measure of self loathing. They may hate their own lives; unhappy in their relationship, their job, their family…the list could go on. Drama is a pretty exciting distraction from the parts of your life that you’re not happy with. And again, if you have a nemesis, that’s at least a relief from your own life’s worries. It can be pretty exciting.

I’m certainly not writing this from the arm chair. I’ve been that person. Heck, I write fantasy novels, and dramatic conflicts of my past (realistic or imagined) inspired some of my epic fantasy stories.

I’ve worked with a lot of Pagans, enough to see this pattern happen pretty commonly. And being in a “witch war” is way more exciting than saying, “I’m entangled in a no-win situation with a coven leader.”

Competing for Market Share
I hate to say it, but this is a core part of many witch wars. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious; I know a number of cities, like Salem, where there are big public conflagrations between store owners, because the drama brings in business. But more than that, by discrediting the “other guy,” your store and services look better and you make more money.

Usually it’s a bit more altruistic. Or, rather, seems more altruistic, but it’s the same model.

Let’s say you’ve just started up a new group. You aren’t interested in forming a coven, you just want a networking thing at a local coffee house to meet up with other Pagans. There are a few covens in your area, but nothing like that.

Much to your surprise, a bunch of folks show up, and over the course of a few months, you form a group. Things are going well. Until…

Another local coven leader starts grilling you about what you are doing. Over the next months, you discover that they are badmouthing you around town. You go to a local Pagan bookstore to propose a fundraiser there, and they give you a weird look. You finally start to figure out what’s been happening.

Why is this leader doing this?

Many times, it boils down to this; you are stepping on their toes. You are doing something that perhaps they wanted to do. People are going to your group. The other leader worries that your group will be more successful than theirs. This isn’t about money–this is about attention. It’s also about boundaries, vision, and ego.

Ego Annex
I’ve explained this concept in my boundaries articles, but basically, any visionary who starts a group, reaches for a dream…we get attached to that vision, to that dream, to that thing we created. Maybe it’s a group, maybe it’s an annual event. Maybe it’s an art project. We get attached to it like it is a part of ourselves–because it is. And when that thing is threatened, when we fear that something else will take people’s attention away from that thing, we get angry, just as if someone insulted us personally.

So it’s egotism from a somewhat altruistic place.

A leader like this genuinely feels they are protecting their group and the work they are doing. But the truth is, when a leader works to undermine another group in order to protect their baby, their event, their group, their project…it’s usually a red flag for some serious issues with self esteem or with personal boundaries.

Boundaries meaning, there is a separation between you and me. And, the group I run is not actually me. A subset of me, sure, but it’s not actually me. I understand this from the inside; I’ve gotten way defensive about other groups scheduling an event at the same time as mine, for instance. However, I had the skills and tools to take a breath and realize one important thing.

It’s not about me. They aren’t personally attacking me.

They just scheduled their event over mine because they didn’t know. I can’t get mad at them for that, I can be mad at the situation, and work to establish better communication with that other group.

However–getting back to these community disputes that we won’t call witch wars, that’s a tactic that many unstable, egotistical leaders will put into play. To undermine another group, these leaders will badmouth them. They will schedule events at the same time to make the community “choose” which event to attend.

Whether the conflict is about who is bringing in donation money, who has the more popular group, who is stepping on toes, or even an actual interpersonal dispute…what it is not is magical, neat, or cool.

Dating in Groups
Let’s play “it’s a small world.” Person A and Person B are in a coven together and they are dating. Let’s hope that neither one is a coven leader. Person B completely loses it. Maybe they are a really angry person. Maybe they are Bipolar and went off their meds. Whatever the reason, A and B break up and Person B just goes bananas, disrupts coven meetings, the whole thing. The coven leader asks person B to leave the group.

Now–some of you advanced players in this particular dance know one of the next moves. What does Person B do next? Yes! Form their own coven, of course!

As you can imagine, this isn’t going to be a group that is based up on a strong core skill set of leadership, or even a grounding in any particular tradition. Nor is this going to be one of our more stable leaders. However, this person–whether we like it or not–is out there recruiting people for their group.

So, one strategy is telling people around town that she’s unstable and her group will be bad. However, then you get a rep as a gossip monger and for having sour grapes. You can also just ignore them, which works until they start spreading rumors about you and your group.

The other thing that happens perhaps more frequently is that Person B bails on your group and joins another coven in the area, and badmouths you to those people, and they take Person B’s side. Then that coven begins to undermine yours by badmouthing you around town.

Calling it a witch war perhaps  is the balm to ease the frustrating truth. There’s no good way out of that conflict. There’s no clean resolution for it.

What To Do with Bad Leaders?
With the examples above, there isn’t really a way to oust a bad leader. You can try to go and talk to them, but making the assumption that this person is not stable (and I have some forthcoming article on this process via conflict resolution)…let’s make the assumption that no conflict resolution process has worked.

What do you do?

The only thing that most leaders can even do in that instance is shunning, just ignoring the bad leader and not engaging with them.

Most leaders who are acting poorly don’t see it about themselves. And there’s a dozen reasons for that, but I think most of them center around wounds of the ego. Leaders harming their community cannot see their bad behavior, they cannot accept that they are “bad.” Ego doesn’t cope with it well. ”It’s not me, nothing’s wrong with me.”

And if they can’t recognize that their egotism is causing community rifts–or, if they don’t care–what do we do with them? What do we do with those people, other than try to ignore them?

They will still keep leading groups, finding newbies…they will still undermine the other leaders out there…they will continue to cause problems.

Accountability and the Catch-22
When you’re dealing with leaders who are jerks, or unstable, the rub is–in order to speak out against them, you have to cause the drama you were trying so desperately to avoid. Some of the so-called “witch wars” are attempts to hold leaders accountable that created inter-community disputes that leave rifts for years.

Most people I know were raised to be non-confrontational, to be passive aggressive. When someone is more aggressive and blunt, it’s really obvious, and it’s usually (not always) someone who held their tongue before and finally blew up.

A lot of Pagan leaders have learned to sweep the bad stuff under the rug because they are afraid of starting a witch war. In fact, whistle-blowers who call bad leaders on their stuff often get blamed and shamed.

I often tell people is, the truth will almost always eventually out. It did for me. But, don’t speak out against someone like that unless you’re prepared to burn in the court of public opinion. Really ready.

And know that there are going to be conflict avoidant people who are going to beg you, who are going to demand, that you stop tearing down XYZ leader. They are going to talk about how they have trauma from all the community conflict. And they are going to bully you into not speaking out against the abuser.

Most community leaders with any compassion are going to cave, they’re going to back down from calling another local leader on the carpet for behaving badly.

We have no authority over other leaders. All we can do is speak out…except in our conflict-avoidant community, the person who blows the whistle often becomes the “antagonist,” the bad guy. And the unstable leader who caused the original problem and is being spoken out against, gets to play the victim card.

Let me tell you–it’s a mess of spaghetti. It’s really difficult to tell who’s “right” in a conflict like this once it gets tangled.

What Do I Recommend for Leaders Dealing With a Bad Situation?
I want us to have healthy groups, and healthy institutions. I want those institutions to not be institutions that betray our values. And for me, part of that is that we (Pagans) need to figure out better methods of learning how to build institutions and groups, how to be better leaders (and group members, or be leaderful group members), and how to hold each other accountable without it being a “witch war” of he said/she said.

I hate it that sometimes the best advice I can give someone is, “Keep doing what you are doing, accept that you will need to downsize your efforts, and just ignore that unstable leader.” And then, hope they disappear, otherwise, you have to wait for them to retire or die.

But in all likelihood, the really stubborn unstable leaders won’t quit.

Is There a Solution?
I’m an optimist with a broken heart. With the people who step into Pagan leadership, there is no assumption of competence, maturity, and stability. I wish I could lean on spirituality here, and ask for people to be moved by Spirit, or hold faith in the idea of Karma, or that people will eventually be accountable to Spirit.

However, I’ve seen many leaders, Pagan and not, who are absolutely convinced they are doing the “right” thing. I’ve seen Pagan leaders convinced (or at least, doing lip service) to the idea that “God/Goddess/Spirit” told them so.

There’s a saying I’ve heard in a number of fiction writing workshops, that a good villain/antagonist is actually the hero of their own journey, just a hero that made different choices than the protagonist. I use that a lot in the personal growth work that I teach; we’re all the hero of our own journey, and in the course of that journey we sometimes might trample others in the quest for our individuality, our personal sovereignty.

We aren’t necessarily trying to, but it happens. I think the mark of a mature leader is trying to do less of that trampling, but that requires self awareness. That requires self reflection.

Self Transformation
The leaders who cause the most problems are not self aware. They are not stable. These are folks who are not seeing their impact. Some, with personal reflection, will be able to. Many won’t. Maybe they have untreated mental illness. Maybe they are just egomaniacs. What I see over and over is, they aren’t going to change how they act any more than any abuser in a relationship is likely to change.

No. you cannot “fix” them.

And that’s the category of leader that I just don’t know what to do with. You can’t “make” them get help. You can’t “make” them stop leading. If they’re doing something illegal, you can try to get them arrested for it, but that’s not usually the case. Going postal on another leader who steps on their toes (ie, starts a new group in “their” region isn’t illegal, it’s just destructive.

Waiting for these leaders to die and go away is not a solution. Ignoring them and suffering their abuse is not a solution either.

Ending the Wars
However, Paganism has no central gatekeepers. Or at least, gatekeepers are fairly rare. If you went to a UU seminary, one of your teachers might say, “ou really aren’t suited to this work, come back to seminary after 5 years of therapy.” We don’t have that, and won’t.

Yet, we can do better. We must do better. I’m just not sure how.

One strategy is, stop playing the game. Witch Wars is a game. It’s a distraction, and it’s a conceit. And it’s a no-win scenario.

I think the best strategy is to do relentless personal work. To train the stable leaders and community members in leadership skills so they can at least cope with this crap when it crops up.

Harvest a new generation of ethical leaders and teach them how to do it well. And, over the next generation, look at ways that we can actually collectively work together to get past “he said/she said” into true conflict resolution.

The series continues! There will be another Pagan leadership in a few days.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: communication, community, group dynamics, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, sustainability, transformation

Leadership for Small Groups and Subcultures

7381485_xxlI think about leadership rather a lot, and I have people ask me for leadership advice with some frequency. I’ve been working up a series of posts exploring the deep challenges with leadership in the Pagan community, because I unfortunately get to see a lot of its seedy underbelly.

Though, these aren’t just issues of Pagan communities…those are just the communities I’m most deeply involved in. Other subcultural groups have these same problems through what I’d call “It’s a Small World” syndrome. Any time there are humans, these problems crop up; corporations, politicians, church leaders…any group could have these challenges. They are just exacerbated in grassroots groups without a big overarching structure.

What I see over and over is the problem of people in leadership positions who are absolutely unsuitable to be leaders. What we have are people who are unstable and mentally ill, or egotistical, or jerks…or even people who genuinely mean well but have no training in group leadership.

The question I get asked all the time when I teach leadership is, “So we’re trying to build local community, and we invited local leaders to work together. Except there’s this one leader….” and they pause, they are trying to be polite. They try to be discrete and not name names. But, I keep my ear to the ground, and eventually, I hear about most of the dirt going on in any local community where I travel and teach. I hear about the Seedy Underbelly.

The Profile: Egotistical Leader
That “one leader” is someone who eventually has thrown a total egotistical tantrum.

The trigger: another group is working in “their” area–their turf–and then that leader either verbally abuses the other group leaders and members, or quietly undermines them, spreads rumors about them, tries to keep them out of larger community activities.

Sometimes this is someone who demands the status of “elder,” or who otherwise would fit that status. What I mean is, I see this behavior a lot not in newer, inexperienced leaders, but with people who have been leaders for more than a decade, and who have a host of titles behind their name.

I hear about this problem so commonly, and people ask me, “What can I do about that leader?” What they want to know is, “How can I fix them?” And most of the time, you can’t. But what do you do instead?

Why Are You A Leader?
What I want to know is, how and why do so many people who are unstable, whether that’s untreated bipolar, narcissistic personality disorder,  alcoholism, abusive behavior, or maybe they are just rampant egomaniacs…how and why do these people end up in leadership?

Subcultures are particularly vulnerable to these types of leaders. We don’t have a system of gatekeepers, there’s no hierarchy saying, “Yes, you can be a leader. No, you aren’t suitable.” And there’s a dearth of people who actually are motivated enough to do anything.

Needing to be Seen and Egotism
In our Western culture, the need to be seen and admired is a cultural “sin,” a shadow. It’s not inherently a bad thing to want to be seen, to be valued. It’s human nature. However, when it overpowers good sense, when we ignore that shadow and disown it, that’s usually when it rises up to bite us.

I’ve done my own dance with “Look at me.” I’m not immune to these leadership sins. The times when I was running the most ambitious events were when I desperately wanted to be “seen,” to be valued. In my case, ruthless personal growth work helped me to understand that I didn’t value myself, I had poor self esteem, however, I had always valued what I could “do.” The events I could run, my artwork, etc.

In my head the math worked out to, “If I run this kickass event everyone will think I’m awesome and that’ll give the finger to all the people who abused me in school.”

Of course that isn’t logical, but, the parts of ourselves working on that level aren’t rational. They are the abused kid of our past that is still in the “car” of our self, our personality. We are all the ages we have ever been. We hold our past and our fears within us. And when we’re on autopilot, sometimes it’s a much younger, much more wounded Self driving the car.

Once I realized that I, myself, inherently have value…once I grew my self confidence, I no longer needed to run big showy events to feel “good” about myself. However, it means that I also lost a lot of the drive and motivation I used to have to run events.

And I begin to wonder about that…if there’s some tie between the wounds of our past, and the very few people who step into leadership and event planning, the very few people that actually have the motivation  to actually make that work happen…perhaps many of us who stepped into leadership only had the motivation to do so because of the wounds of our past? Because of our own poor self esteem? I don’t have answers here, only questions.

But what I’ve seen time and again are the people with the most drive, tend to be the most damaged, the most unstable.

I have seen so many leaders who had the drive and the interest–and yeah, there’s so few of us out there with the drive and interest to actually take the time to do this–but how many of us are actually motivated from a really unhealthy place? I’ve tried to come to running events from a more healthy place, but it’s a far slower process. Probably more sustainable in the long term, but it’s still a road I’m new to.

Common Problems: Instability
There are some common leadership problems that cause a nightmare of group dynamics spaghetti in Pagan communities. So often they seem to center on group members and leaders who are unstable and mentally ill, or just egomaniacs. These people cannot handle criticism, cannot handle people “infringing” on their turf, and they will blow up at other group leaders, they will undermine groups and group leaders, they will throw petulant temper tantrums.

These problems are exacerbated by the other group leaders out there who are just trying to do good work, but they have no leadership training. These group leaders may have more stability and maturity, but they make a lot of key mistakes. Honest mistakes, but these mistakes often escalate the problems and can lead to that healthier leader bailing, or to that group imploding. I mean, who wants to keep running a group when someone else is out there trying to undermine you all the time and shooting arrows into your back with gossip? It’s exhausting.

Pagan leadership plagued with group members, and leaders, who are like cranky teenagers wearing grown-up skin suits. I often wonder why I bother teaching leadership, if there’s any hope.

And again, I feel compelled to be transparent. I’m not always a paragon of stability myself. I struggle with depression, I drop the ball on things I’ve agreed to because I say yes to too much, and I’m not a pillar of financial stability. Granted, that last point is because I have donated too much of my time and money to the Pagan community…but if I were perhaps more stable and responsible I wouldn’t have let things get this bad.

I know a lot of my issues and I work on them, but I share some of the core issues of many of the unstable leaders out there.

Institutions and Paganism
I know a lot of Pagans talk about not wanting leaders, not wanting institutions that will take the “wildness” out of Pagans, however, I think that institutions and organizations are the only way we can build a healthy, useful, sustainable infrastructure.

I’m an ecstatic ritualist and mystic who wants institutions. At heart, I’m an anarchist, at least, an optimist, but I’m also a realist. True anarchy means, if I see a pothole, I fix it. I don’t wait for “them” to fix it, there’s no them. There’s only me being radically self-responsible. That’s optimistic…but, people are people. We aren’t there yet. I can’t even convince Pagans that they should make the choice to not use styrofoam at potlucks because it’s being hypocritical, if you say you’re Earth-centered. But I digress.

With Pagan leadership, I wish that Pagans and Pagan leaders were all ethical, self responsible people. I wish that Pagans were as tolerant as they purport to be. But we aren’t. I hear all the time about the deep, dark, stanky underbelly of the ugly crap Pagan leaders have done, particularly because I teach leadership.

So f we’re going to have institutions, then we need to do them well. If we’re going to have leadership and hierarchies, then we need those leaders to be accountable. And even if that leadership is shared–consensus, rotating leadership, voting in officers…whatever it is, we need our leaders to have actual leadership training. To have some method of doing the intense personal work and facing shadows so that we don’t step on ourselves.

Many of the group blow-ups I hear about are leaders who started with positive intent whose own baggage got in their way and they had a massive egotistical kablooey at someone in their group or another leader.

I’m sick of hearing about group leader after group leader who is causing these problems in their own community. Worst case, we’re talking about group leaders seducing minors–which happens. Theft, rape…it happens.

Who Should be a Leader?
I’m not the boss of anyone; we are each our own sovereigns. However, it’s also equally clear to me that there are some people who should simply not ever be in a position of leadership because they are unstable and have untreated mental illness, rampant egotism, or other various problems. I think the key here is unstable–many people with various kinds of mental illness have a regimen of meds and or therapy that they manage very well.

But the folks that don’t, the folks who are unstable, the folks who are completely not self aware, the folks who are completely egotistical…How do these folks end up in leadership?

Often the short answer is, there’s nobody else. There’s nobody else motivated to step in to do the work. It’s often the less stable of us that seem to get the leadership bug. Or maybe it’s that you have to be slightly insane to want to be a leader for a Pagan group, or run events that run the risk of not breaking even.

So many people in my leadership classes admit that they never wanted to be leaders. Here’s my admission–I didn’t want to be one either. I wanted my projects to happen, my dreams to happen. So, I had to become visible, become a leader, to make that happen.

As I’ve pointed out, I’m not always a paragon of sanity and stability myself. And, at times, I’ve stepped back from my role as an event organizer and group leader. I’ve worked on my own issues in order to become a healthier, more stable leader. But so many people I engage with seem to either have no clue how destructive they are in their own community, or, they just don’t care that they are jerks.

What Will Help the Situation?
If we’re going to have leaders, these leaders need training, and they need to be held accountable. But, that takes us back to the larger Pagan Community (or any other subculture). There’s no Pope, no ringmaster, no “this person’s above you” method of accountability.

I think most people I know were raised to be non-confrontational, to be passive aggressive. And a lot of Pagan leaders have learned to sweep the bad stuff under the rug because they are afraid of starting a witch war (which is no such thing, it’s just a personality conflict).

But what do you do?

Leaders who aren’t stable, who are consistently abusive, aren’t going to change. And you can’t make them stop. You can’t “fire” them. You can’t excommunicate them. What I often recommend–and this feels like an impotent, feeble recommendation–is to keep doing the work they are doing, ignore and shun the leader who is being difficult, and hope that you can reduce their relevance and keep up your own good work.

That’s not much of a recommendation.  Ignoring some of them does reduce their relevance to a dull roar…but they are still there. And the regular group leaders out there just trying to do good work get exhausted. Not from any kind of magical psychic attack, but just from dealing with the drama, the gossip, the pot shots, the stress.

Leadership Series
This is actually a series of several blog posts, because it’s a large topic. In a few days I’ll post about some of the problems, and some strategies for dealing with them. I hope you will join me in this mad idealistic crusade on the road to better Pagan leadership.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: communication, community, community building, group dynamics, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work, sustainability, transformation

Reblog: Ritual Safety

Use candles safelyI’m reblogging this excellent post from Patheos by author Yvonne Aburrow

Learn what the warning signs are of a manipulative group, and withdraw from any situation where those warning signs appear….Find out about group dynamics and how they work. Be aware of what triggers you into a state of passivity or compliance, and seek to avoid situations where that may occur. I once attended a ritual where the temple (a basement room) had a polystyrene ceiling, and there was a cauldron of burning methylated spirit, which we danced round. I was very scared when I thought about it afterwards – but I didn’t leave the ritual…”

Check out the full post here.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Ritual

Reblog: Why We Shouldn’t Have to Keep Pregnancy a Secret for the First Trimester

Reblog of an article. Some potent thoughts around the stigma, and challenges, of dealing with a miscarriage and why most women feel they have to keep it a secret. I know that even within the Pagan community, which works to be more accepting of women’s bodies and cycles, it’s only in the past years I’ve seen women coming out about going through a miscarriage.


“But as I stumbled my way through the online world of miscarriage and infertility and pregnancy and loss, I discovered a virtual sea of women who were reaching out to someone, something, so as not to drown in their own feelings of isolation and guilt.”

“The realities of making a baby are thus: 10 to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.”

“I slowly began to leak the news to close friends and extended family. I braced myself for…I don’t know what….Women in my family, friends and acquaintances all came forward with stories of their own. They had gone through it, many of them very alone, and they had come out the other side, changed but not undone.”

Filed under: Activism, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Ritual Arts: Techniques for Aspecting

RQ102-cover-smallHey folks,

Reclaiming Quarterly has been releasing features of past issues. They’ve uploaded a feature on Aspecting. Below is the information to see it. If you’re interested in ritual techniques around Aspecting/Drawing Down, this is a pretty good introduction.

Aspecting Feature -

Theme section – RQ #86 – Spring 2002
From the RQ Archives – see link below

A PDF collection of articles on the magical practices of Aspecting
and Anchoring, from Reclaiming Quarterly Issue 86, Spring 2002.

Included are articles from a number of people who have helped
integrate this material into the dynamic mix of Reclaiming:
- Pomegranate Doyle
- Sage
- Robin La Sirena
- Laurel Kadish
- Inanna Hazel
- Ortha Splingaerd

This feature is part of the ongoing release of the Reclaiming
Quarterly Archives. Selected features online. Or get the complete
collection for just $25 per disk (each disk contains ten back issues
and dozens of bonus features – first disk available now!).

Visit our website for more info:

RQ Archives -

Filed under: Pagan Community, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, Pagan, ritual, ritual facilitation

Reblog: The Wild Hunt — What Paganism Offers Me, What I Offer Paganism

jasonA great post from Jason Pitzl-Waters on why he writes for the Wild Hunt. Some of his words could be the words of any of us Pagan leaders that step out to do this work.

“I would be lying if I said that the strain of expectation wasn’t sometimes more than I feel I can bear, and for the last several years I have wrestled with intermittent bouts of burn-out. No matter how excellent you strive to be, there will always be someone who is unhappy with the way things are done. The main accusation made against my person is that I’m some sort of sell-out, that I’m secretly batting for some faction, religion, or viewpoint. The truth is far more mundane, and far less exciting.”

- See more at:

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: leadership, Pagan community