There have been some major changes in my life in the past month. A few friends last night mentioned they were eagerly awaiting my analysis of the situation, so here is my attempt, though I know this will be an ongoing process for all of us. I also want to state point-blank that this is my take on this, I know others see this from a different perspective.
About three years ago, a friend came to me and another friend with the eternal pagan joke “Let’s start a (kindred), it will be fun.” For those of you who have never experienced this, its a good opportunity for you to practice saying no. While there is joy and growth in starting any pagan group, there is also a lot of heartbreak, pain and a shit ton of work. Nebraska Heathens United (NHU) was born out of this. While it might have started as one person’s vision, it quickly grew into a group effort, focused on education and community building. I wrote and taught classes for two years to bring everyone onto the same page. I also wrote all of the rituals for two years, Hel-bent on doing the God’s proud and making sure it was a religious/spiritual group and not just Heathen Happy Hour.
After the two years were up and we had grown into a solid group, I took a step back. This was for numerous reasons. My step-daughter moved in with us full time and started high school. I moved from advanced student to initiate in my Wiccan group. I was laid off and job hunting for 6 months. I needed some personal time to work on my own training as a teacher, counselor and leader. And I needed to let the other leaders of NHU learn how to do ritual and plan group activities.
This step back seemed, to me, to be a logical step in our growth. One person cannot carry the weight of an entire group forever. And its unfair to the others to not give them an opportunity for the same growth and learning as I had had. But this step back also started to show some of the cracks in the foundation.
Decisions were made without consulting the other 2 individuals in leadership positions. I’m not going to name names or call people out, but it was very much ego-led. Our group of three leaders blossomed to 12 overnight. So 9 new people were brought on board that had no training in the way NHU was doing things, had no idea of why we fought to keep the public face “shallow” and centered on education and community. Some of these 9 people had never written a ritual in their lives. Some are scared of magic.
And I tried to be okay with this. I tried to model our style after the Wiccan coven, which has been around for 22 years. I tried to offer up my experiences on leadership, ritual writing and group dynamics. I tried to come forward with my growing concerns in a way that left open the conversation for growth, in a way that made the concerns my own and not anyone else’s burden.
Issues came to a head at our last public sumbel. This was September 12th. I was verbally assaulted by another member of our inner group of 12, blamed for everything, told I was trying to make this the “Isa show” and essentially chewed out for all of the hard work I had done.
This entire situation left me feeling unsupported by the other 2 leaders, silenced and belittled.
So I have officially left NHU, my project of 3 years.
That’s a very short version of what has happened. And I don’t necessarily want to dwell on why it happened to me specifically. I have some ideas but its neither here nor there. Instead, this becomes an opportunity to discuss pagan leadership.
In other religions, leadership comes from a set source. In Judaism, it comes from the community. In Christianity, it comes from the Church. In all of the examples I can think of, leadership is given to those who work for it, who go through the training and education to serve the community.
Paganism is a different. We don’t have a book source, we don’t have a set curriculum to train leadership. What is accepted in one tradition isn’t always seen as acceptable in another. We have all heard of the person who becomes a High Priest/ess after reading a few books. We can’t even agree that the Gods confer leadership. So what does make a leader? And how do we all agree that someone has earned the title?
I’m inclined to go back to the educational aspect. No one can be a leader who hasn’t learned how to serve, how to do the work from the ground up. It is not too much to ask people to start at the ground level.
It is not too much to expect our leaders to have read the books, to have a foundation in the basics of our traditions and to be able to guide others in their own paths.
But being a leader is contingent on one thing. In order to lead, who have to have a community who agrees to follow. And that arrangement right there is a sacred trust. By agreeing to lead, you agree to set aside your own ego wants and desires for the betterment of the entire group. Even if you really want to or don’t want to do something, it becomes your job to ask yourself if this is something the entire community wants/needs/desires. And if the answer is no, then its up to you to set it aside.
An example: I love the Jotun or Giants of Norse myth. Most Heathens do not. Even if I wanted to write every single ritual in honor of the Giants, I have an obligation to my community to not do that.
Another example: Loki is a divisive subject in Heathen circles. Some people absolutely abhor him, others adore. The balance between yes and no means that we cannot invite him but we cannot uninvite him to rituals. So yes, a public group will not write and perform a Loki blot, but will allow him to be hailed at the sumbels. We made this choice because it allowed the onus to rest with the individual people, rather than choosing to force it upon them.
When a group is run by ego instead of by responsible leadership, “we” becomes “I”. “Look at what I did, look at what I accomplished.” When “I” runs the show, that puts every other voice in opposition to the charismatic leader, opening the gate for blame and hate and other people’s egos. This is what happened with NHU. I became the voice of dissent instead of the voice of balance.
I am sure there are a lot of other things I could talk about with this but they aren’t coming to mind at the moment.
In the meantime, I move forward with my training for Order of the Red Grail. I was elevated as Priestess last night.
My title may have changed, but my community remains the same.