Shake ups in Leadership

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.

Zen proverb

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.

Thanatopsis By William Cullen Bryant

To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—

Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Grounding, centering, shielding

Grounding, centering, shielding is one of those concepts that is ubiquitous to paganism and new age spirituality. You see it referenced in almost every article, passed around as key phrases like its an initiation password. But it is also a misunderstood concept, built into an idea of gigantic proportions. Since I will be teaching…. 3? classes on it and have found myself going over the basics quite a few times for different people in the past few days, I thought I would use you, my audience, as my guinea pigs.

At the core of grounding, centering and shielding (g/c/s for short) is our perception and interaction with reality itself. To cut to the core of this metaphysical ball of yarn, reality is the interpretation of the things around us through our senses. Reality is, in a very real sense, electrical impulses. The nerve endings transmit the signals to our brains, where other electrical impulses translate them into a 3D experience. I start with this idea because I find that people tend to say things like “I don’t” or “I can’t”, when in actuality they can, with the right coaching.

The other part of this is the intersection of reality and mental illness. If reality is electrical impulses, how do we decide what is acceptable and what isn’t? The last therapist I had said something to me that has stuck with me. She was reading her notes one day and commented “If anyone else read these, they would lock me up for not diagnosing you as schizophrenic.”This was in reference to my hearing voices, voices that I interpret as the Gods. For her, the line in the sand was my ability to live my life. The voices in my head did not impact my ability to hold a job, pay my bills, have a healthy relationship with my then-boyfriend, etc.

If reality is the interpretation of electrical impulses and mental illness is our inability to fulfill our basic needs as illustrated in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then the impetus to define our lives as healthy or unhealthy falls squarely in our laps.

How does this affect our ability to g/c/s? Too often we are taught to ignore our impulses, to write off the things that modern science can’t explain. But our ability to g/c/s is directly linked to our mental health and well-being. being able to build and maintain healthy boundaries in a world full of abrasive stimuli speaks to the core of our experiences as pagans.

G/c/s allows us to create the head and soul space in which to experience the Divine, whether that lies with nature, Deity or other people. BY being able to say no, we can choose when and how to say yes, rather than being at the mercy of the currents of modern life. G/c/s should be a foundational practice for all humans.

The reason I am prattling on about reality is because the opposite flow is also true, what we experience as impulses in our brains can become our external reality. In a simple word, we call this visualization. You see it in your minds eye and it because something in the external world that you can manipulate with your mind. This technique of visualization is the cornerstone of how we make g/c/s work for us. We imagine it and it becomes true. I know that sounds overly simplistic and didactic, but trust me when I say that it works.

So now that we have examined why, lets dissect the how.

Everyone has the ability to ground. Don’t shake your head at me, I know you can do it. I know you can because you are a human in a 3D world. How many of us have lost hours reading books, creating worlds in our minds? How about listening to music or watching a movie?

Grounding is the simple practice of visualization, as mentioned above. I want you to take a second right now and mentally connect with the bottom of your feet. Are they in shoes, pressed in with socks? Are they in contact with some insanely awesome grass or carpet or dirt? Or are they, like mine, propped up on the coffee table so we can use the laptop and watch cartoons at the same time?

The bottom of our feet are incredibly sensitive, with lots of nerve endings and energetic points, also chakras blah blah blah. (It’s 1 am, don’t hate on me too hard.) That energy is what we use in the visualization. It becomes roots that go down into the earth, through any floors that are in the way. As we imagine the roots going down we start to build an imagine in our minds. What is contained within the dirt? Worms? Other roots? Rocks? Bugs? At what point does it feel cold or hot? How deep can we go before we hit rock too hard to tunnel through? What are we searching for in the Earth? Can you feel the other roots around you, the grass whispering gossip, the trees with deep deep roots, the mushrooms spread out like a blanket.

Now bring your mind back to your body. How do you feel? If you feel calmer and more relaxed, congratulations. You are now grounded and centered. Oh, I snuck that one past you! Here you were grounding and you end up centered as well. Centering is simply bringing our awareness back into ourselves, so that we are no longer scattered. Grounding and centering allows us to deal with the chaos around us, filtering through everything to find the things we can deal with in the now.

On a spiritual level, grounding recycles the stagnant energy in our bodies, returning it to the earth and refreshing our chakras and energy flow. It keeps the mind and body level and minimizes stress, allowing us to handle anything that comes our way. It also lowers blood pressure and heart rate, helps us sleep better and improves communication.

Shielding uses the same visualization techniques that grounding does, but leaves a lot more up to the individual. A shield is exactly what it sounds like, a barrier between yourself and the world. It can be as solid or permeable as you desire it to be.

Let me use a few of my own shields as examples.

1) When needing to teach someone how to create a multilevel shield, I instruct them to imagine themselves as a willow tree. The roots are put down, as in the above grounding experience. The trunk comes up around you, protecting you at a very close, skin level. Then you shoot the branches up over your head and let them grow back down to kiss the ground. Let leaves grow upon the branches, silver green like the new spring. Now imagine a butterfly fluttering through the branches. It can kiss the leaves, land gently upon the earth at your roots, but you are always protected by the trunk that wraps gently around you.

2) For a very simple shield (when I need it to be permeable but there, as in pagan gatherings) I imagine my shield as an iridescent soap bubble, cloaked in the subtle colors of rainbow. It lets in what I choose, becomes mailable to protect against things I want to keep out. It can let energies in or keep them out, as I choose.

3) When I worked at the local mental hospital, with the gentlemen who were there for either sex offenses or crimes against people due to mental illness, I needed a shield that was impenetrable and would allow me to keep track of everything in 360 degrees. Part of my job was bed checks at night, down a very long, dark hallway. My shield of choice was a pack of wolves. I think I had about 8 of them in the pack. They would range in front of me and behind me, always alert, always keeping tabs on the energy and movement of the occupants. I never once was surprised or assaulted in my time working there. Neither did I ever back down from aggression. The clients might not have even known it, but being growled and by a pack of wolves was usually enough to get even the most manic to back down. It even helped to change my own body language, so that I did not carry myself in a passive or subordinate manner.

Other examples I have hear of are imagining a house with the doors and windows locked around you, using an element like fire or rock to protect you, visualizing a shower cascading over you, imagining armor, etc. The possibilities are endless, limited only by your own imagination.

The take away from this long post is to find a way of g/c/s that works for you and to practice at it until it is a seamless process, something you can do without conscious thought or focus. When you can g/c/s in a crowded store, on the road, in the middle of a fight with your BFF, that’s when you will reap the most benefits of this practice. That’s when you stop drifting on the emotional currents and start rowing your own damn boat.

And cursing is when I realize I’m too tired to be writing a blog post and should go grab some sleep. I hope someone out there finds this post useful.

Once is an occurrence.
Twice is a coincidence.
Three times is a message and I need to pay attention.

So what is the message in 3 dead robins in as many weeks?

Breaking the Narrative

I read a really great post by Twisted Rope this morning. You can see her work here and the original post here. The point of this is simple: what do we do when the Gods are asses? I am going to try a simple response as a pseudo-heathen and as a shaman.

The answer is simple: you say no. And yes, before you ask, we DO have the right to say no. We work with the Gods, not for them. Unless you have specifically stated you are a servant or a slave of that God, we do have the right to say no. I say no all the time, no to being a godspouse, no to being someone else’s worker, no to working with individual humans when their Gods request it of me. Sometimes I say no because I have made a choice to respect my own Gods’ requests. Sometimes I say no due to time or energy constraints. Sometimes I say no because they are an asshole.

Having the Gods pester you doesn’t automatically make you a better person or more special, just like being a boss doesn’t automatically make you less of a moron. It just gives you more work.

I feel very blessed. My Goddess, Hel, is busy, which means she lets me make choices and doesn’t pester me 24/7. She also doesn’t waste time or energy on chaos, if she tells me to do something it is because it needs doing. I also work with the Norns and have the ability to see a little bit farther into the future if I choose. I don’t do that very often, I prefer to give people their privacy, but if need be its there. I have interacted with deity that I have had to say no to, including some big names on the scene at the moment. I said no to Loki. I said no to Odin. I’ve turned away more than one Celtic deity, including the Morrigan. I’ve also banned Bast from my sphere of existence.

If you have ever been a supervisor, you know these simple truths. Humans work harder when its our choice. We do better when we are invested in the outcome. We will put more effort into something if we think it was our idea.

Yes, the Gods have farther sight than us, but they need us for a reason. They need to learn to work with us again.

Seeking input and advice

Ok folks, I could use any input and advice you might have here.

These thoughts have been weighing heavily on my heart the last few weeks.

As most of you know, I am involved with 2 separate groups in my area. The Wiccan coven, of which I am an initiate of the first degree, has been here for me for the last 6.5 years. 3 years ago I was asked to help start a Heathen group and I ended up doing most of the work for the group.

I find myself wanting to move away from NHU and heathenry in general. I can’t continue to do all of the work for them, they need to sink or swim on their own. My own Gods are pushing me towards Traditional Witchcraft. I need to start focusing on the Coven, my training as a counselor and a priestess and a teacher, etc. I simply had to pick a priority.

So part of my leaving NHU is tying up lose ends with what I am calling “Meet and Greets” in an attempt to get everyone on the same page.

So here is the dilemma. (And for those of you who know me irl, feel free to give input w/o names or email me.)

The other 2 leaders of NHU are very nice guys, but one is essentially atheist and the other is very busy and not willing to do everything required to be a spiritual leader. Is it possible for a person to step back from leadership and still be a priestess/gythia? Am I reading the energy wrong?

Last night, one of our members mentioned the need for real spiritual leaders in NHU, people willing to help others dig beneath the surface. And now I am stuck in a conundrum. Do I leave and let them figure it out? Do I stay and keep doing all of the work? How can I transition from what I have been doing to what I see needing to happen?

On spirit companions

On spirit companions.

This is a wonderful breakdown of one experience having the Voices with you day in and day out. I’m one of the spiritworkers who has to learn to deal with people, I am being placed into positions of power and leadership. But I also don’t talk much about the day-to-day stuff that would put me so far outside the spectrum that I couldn’t do my work.