Where is the line between “being a leader” and merely “playing a leadership role”?
For most of my life, I imagined that Pagan leaders were somehow exceptional. That they were magically gifted, or brilliant geniuses, or touched by the gods, or (occasionally) deft predators. Somehow, they were in the right place at the right time and were anointed by the community. I could barely imagine myself among their number. Although I have, often, fantasized about starting a coven or order, I largely kept to myself and practiced only with my partners and closest friends.
For most of my life, I have alternated between hanging out at the back of various Pagan groups, following along without offering suggestions, and forming small working groups where we all fought to balance our own visions with the objectives of the others in the group. Until very recently, I disdained the explicit pursuit of any public title or acknowledgement, keeping only this blog as as my billboard to the world, and waited for my following to appear.
Then, in July of 2014, Aradia and I finally joined the Heartland Spiritual Alliance. We were accepted into the Sacred Experience Committee and quickly took charge of the ritual crew. The senior members of the committee had a certain vision for what they wanted the rituals to accomplish, but the language, the choreography, and (in the end) the performance were ours and the people we brought in with us.
In July of 2015, I was elected Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee, and Aradia took Public Relations. By January, we had both been asked to join the Board of Directors. When the Chairman of the Board called a meeting and asked if anyone had a vision for the future of the organization, Aradia and I furnished a five-year plan which was well received by the Board, recommended by the Board to the Membership, who in turn voted the Plan into place in March. In April, when the Vice President announced her intention to step down before the end of her term, Aradia was asked to take her place after the festival.
In the wake of this year’s elections, Aradia and I still hold our committees. Aradia has been formally elected and installed as Vice President of the Heartland Spiritual Alliance, and I have been elected Chairman of the Board for the 2016-17 festival year.
By rational analysis, I believe that it is probably reasonable to say that we have crossed the line, and could fairly consider ourselves “Pagan leaders”. But … the imposter syndrome is strong.
I am not, I think, exceptional in any way that qualifies me for leadership. I am not particularly charismatic – or, at least, not among Pagans, were we all bear some benefit of the magician’s charisma – or a natural leader. I am better educated than many, and have been on wilder adventures than some, but my credentials, such as they are, bear little weight in the community. Although I have been attending the festival for many, many years, I have largely kept to myself and was little known in the community of either attendees or HSA members before I joined. Now that I am better known, I am certainly not well-loved by all: I am, at best, an abrasive personality, and even when people agree with me, they do not always like me.
In the weeks since the beginning of the new member year, I have already heard the first cry of, “Who IS this punk?” I’ve been expecting it for a while, honestly.
I just showed up one day. And then I did the work. It probably helps that attendees have loved the rituals my crew and I put together, and that the members I have recruited have integrated well with the rest of the organization. Certainly not everyone agrees with my vision, and I have even been accused of being a part of the hated “inner circle”, but I do not believe that there is any doubt my dedication to the festival … though, because I am so abrasive, there are those who don’t believe that I am good for the community.
So, this is what I have learned in the process of becoming “a leader” in the Pagan community.
- Pagan leaders are people. They have lives and ambitions outside their leadership roles. They have personalities that may or may not be comparable with yours. Each and every one of us is in it for a different reason. Whether it’s a calling, or you’re in it for the glory, or you just showed up with your friends.
- Leadership is work. Thus it requires professionalism. Maintain professional relationships with those you personally dislike. Fire the abusers and the slackers. Do the work.
- “Leading Pagans is like herding cats” is a disavowal of responsibility. Stop saying that. Herding cats is easy. You herd cats by providing something they want at one end of the trail, and following along behind to redirect those who get distracted. (So, yes, I guess that leading Pagans IS like herding cats, just not what people mean when they say that.) Do the work.
The future of the community is being determined right now, even as we speak, by those who show up and do the work. I am unworthy, but I am here. I am doing the work.
Paganism is a movement, not a product for sale.
If you share my vision, show up. Bring your friends. Do the work.
If you disagree with my politics, show up. Bring your friends. Do the work.