During my twenties I ran moots, rituals, workshops, meditation sessions and musical events. I also worked as a volunteer for the Pagan Federation and The Druid Network. (All under my previous name). I have dipped my toes in the murky waters of pagan leadership. Yesterday I saw a comment about how few pagans are willing to volunteer to make things happen, and I wanted to comment on the perfectly sane reasons why this is so.
Volunteering is unpaid. You put in hours of your time and a lot of energy just running something simple like a moot. Now, if you have a job, a family, a home, a life, you maybe don’t have lots of spare hours to give. And the people you give to won’t reliably treat you like a hero. Many will make demands, want your attention, expect you to do things their way. It’s always a lot of responsibility to shoulder.
Taking control can disempower others. The less leadership there is, the more scope for things happening organically. And if that means not happening, that may be a good and healthy thing. Letting people grow so that they can create their own magic has its virtues. Where I have run things, I’ve tried to do so with as a light a touch as possible – not least because it makes the workload bearable.
Up until recently, I did not have books to sell. Hold that thought. Most magazines on paganism will not pay you for articles because they can’t afford to. Most pagan organisations cannot pay you to work for them. Most events will not be able to pay you for talks or workshops, you might get some free table space. But, if you don’t have a stream of work you can sell, then ‘service’ as a pagan means just that. You give, and you give and you get paid for the odd handfasting. Running workshops you hope to cover the cost of the venue. Most of us are financially poorer for volunteering, but weren’t in it for the money anyway. No one should feel obliged to take that on. And for the people, like me, who are now doing it as part of the day job ‘service’ is not the word. This is the day job.
Some of us go full time as pagans, or as creatives. I’m the latter. I do a lot of Druid stuff, but my work life includes a lot of editing, and writing in fiction genres too. I am not a Druid as my full time job. But if I do an event, I can carry my books, my bloke’s art, and maybe I can earn enough to cover the train fair. This puts me in a different position to the true volunteers.
But for the first ten years or so of my public, pagan life, it was not my day job, it didn’t pay the bills. I can’t afford to be a Druid full time as it is, and I have to say, I don’t want that to be my job description, either. I like the rest of my life rather a lot.
There are a great many people out there who do step up and run things. I know scores of teachers, celebrants, moot leaders, ritual organisers. Motives vary. I would say with confidence that, whatever the justifications about service, there are 2 things that cause a person to seek leadership roles in the pagan community. For a small minority, it’s all about self importance and the certainty of being superior to everyone else. Generally, such folk are a pain to work with, dogmatic and demanding. I do not think paganism benefits from such leadership. The other sort, are the folk who need to feel useful. We need the validation of a round of applause. We need to feel wanted and appreciated. We of the raging insecurities who step up to the front in the hopes that someone will love us for it. This is a bard issue too. The hunger for applause that gets many people onto the stage, is a hunger for approval, for a place in the world. It’s underpinned by anxiety, self doubt and a lot of pain.
Still crying out for leaders?
Some of my leadership roles, I actively sought (TDN) most fell on me (PF, moot, rituals, folk club) some I did in answer to requests (workshops, music, meditation). I found it hard to say no, because I was working from a place of tattered self esteem. Some of it did me more harm than good. It cost me high in terms of energy. I got some things back from it.
These days I’m trying to find a better balance, working out what I can sustainably give and what is too much. So, right now, I am one of the many pagan folk who isn’t willing to run anything, and I make no apology for that. I am at the stage of life where I need to just turn up sometimes with cakes, and that be as far as it goes. I shall be attending a few events this year, but organising nothing. This prospect makes me very happy. I get my applause fixes in more viable ways (hurrah for blogging).
It is as important in paganism as in politics to question to motives of those who want to lead. And to question our own motives if we have the sudden urge to be out in front, telling people what to do, making big statements about how modern paganism *really* is…
I don’t want to speak for anyone else. I don’t want to tell anyone else what to do. You lovely people persist in turning up and reading, and that’s very much like a gentle round of applause, enough of a fix to keep me going. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like facilitation more than authority, and that’s what will be guiding me as I amble onwards.