Tag Archives: pagan leadership

Unexpectedly in charge

Many of the things I have ended up doing in terms of service, and running activities, has not been sought. I set out to write stuff. Along the way, volunteering jobs plummeted from the air like grand pianos, often having a slow impact when eventually they hit me. I’ve been lured, guilt tripped and, most often, just asked nicely to have a go at things, and so I end up entirely out of my depth, doing things I am in no way qualified or experienced enough to do, because there’s no one any better qualified to do the job.

From what I’ve seen of the Pagan community, this is entirely normal. The new Pagans have always massively outnumbered the experienced teachers. The need for events, rituals and gatherings is always greater than the supply of confident and experienced people able to make them go. The result is a lot of cobbling together, and the person least quick to decline getting the job.

I started running meditation groups years ago because my moot expressed interest in doing meditation sessions. As I’d been meditating for some time, and had been to organised meditation groups so knew roughly what it was supposed to look like, and because I was also young and foolish, I assumed I could do this. My automatic default when faced with a thing I do not know how to do, is to try and find a book about it. Where there are plenty of meditation books out there, I couldn’t find much that was innately Pagan, or about running meditation groups and writing pathworkings. I found Pete Jenning’s Pathworking book and it got me started, but nonetheless I spent a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

There are lots of places to go to learn all kinds of spiritual things. What there aren’t, is resources for dealing with all the practical stuff around finding yourself in charge of a thing. Pagan leadership, running meditation groups, writing pathworkings – much of this isn’t glamorous. There’s a lot of hard slog involved and tons of fairly mundane and tedious things which, if you don’t pay attention to them, will mess up your esoterica. Left the phone on? Got a big enough room? Prepared for the vegans when it comes to the catering? Prepared for the vegans and the dedicated omnivores to get really angry with each other and then expect you to sort it out?  You probably aren’t. I mostly wasn’t, and no doubt the peculiar art that is running things will have plenty more surprises in store for me in the future.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned to expect when running Pagan things, it is to be caught off-guard in some way. Not always in a bad way, though. The imaginative, eccentric and innovative nature of Pagans can create some glorious surprises. So, I wrote Druidry and Meditation (cheap on Kindle just now) in the hopes of sparing other people from wheel invention. I’m also teaching a course over at Patheos  sharing what I know about the practicalities of trying to run things. I’ve spent a lot of years learning things the slow, hard way – for which read making a lot of mistakes because I didn’t know any better. If I can use that to spare someone else some hassle, that would be a lovely thing!

Money for Old Pagan Rope?

In some quarters, there’s a stigma around doing Pagan things for money. Be that teaching, writing, celebrant work, leading workshops or providing events, there are plenty of people who feel that Pagans should do it for love, not money. To seek payment is to cash in on spirituality. There may be a subtext of, really spiritual people don’t charge, only frauds want money.

It’s not a Pagan specific issue. Creative people get it too. Music, fiction, writing, films, games – plenty of people feel it’s wholly legitimate to pirate those, that creatives are unreasonable in wanting to be paid and that art should be free.

We all have to eat. There are only so many hours in a day, and most of us cannot run flat out all the time. Can you run workshops in the evening regularly and sustain a full time job? Part of the problem, I think, is the assumption that artistic and Pagan work are fun and easy, and therefore do not need paying for. Doctors, lawyers, shop assistants, road sweepers, those are ‘proper’ jobs. It’s a masochistic culture that says if you like what you do, it has no financial value. Don’t tell me those highly paid solicitors don’t get a kick out of writing each other snotty letters!

Running an event is exhausting, and requires a lot of attention on the day, plus vast amounts of preparation in advance. Then there’s the learning and study that enables you to do it when you show up – more parallels with creative industries, where you can be paying for twenty years of experience, even with relatively young creators. Some of us start young and work hard from an early age. Anyone who thinks celebrant work, or writing a decent book, or giving a talk, is fun and easy to the point where it should be viewed as a hobby and not charged for, really ought to try it some time.

I’ve experience of being a performer, author, workshop leader, public speaker and celebrant. I’ve also run the kinds of events where I needed to pay folk to turn up. Where I couldn’t find enough money, I would try and offset that by being at a convenient point in the tour – a gig and a bed when you’d be driving past anyway are not such a bad deal. I’d feed people, and if I could pay more than I’d thought, I’d pay it. With that work, I took no money for me at all. I’ve given away my time, I give away my writing, but if I did that with all things, I would not be viable and neither would anyone else.

Service is a wonderful thing, but should not automatically imply doing it at your own cost. Especially not when the people you serve could perfectly well afford to pay. I will charge with an eye to what’s manageable. For local places that have little resources (schools, for example) I’ll do things for the cost of getting there. If someone wants me to travel to a venue and be their celebrant, after they’ve booked the hotel and bought the wedding dress… why should I be the one freebie in the mix? On the other hand, if someone comes to my Grove and asks for a handfasting, informally of an afternoon, why should I charge?

For all of us, the choice as to what and when we give freely, and what and when we need to charge for, should be personal. It then falls to others to decide whether they want to pay. Give me a free venue I can walk to, and I won’t charge tickets, but I may bring some books to sell.

There is no shame, or disrespect, in either charging for professional Pagan services, or seeking them. There is no requirement to seek them, which is important. You can do it yourself. There are plenty of things in life I could have learned how to do, but haven’t, and prefer to pay for. Boat electrics being a case in point. There are things I have learned how to do that other people may find they want to pay me for. We can figure something out.

The thing people forget is that Paganism isn’t all spirituality and esoterica. It is full of other things too: Intellectual stuff, philosophy, history, biology. Performance skills. Admin and organisation skills (try running a Pagan organisation some time!) Much of this is done for love because we remain a small community that cannot really afford to pay its people properly.

There would be something to take pride in, should we get to the point where subscription magazines can pay their authors, organisations can pay something to the staff who work for them in vital roles, and our teachers, celebrants and facilitators are not frequently working themselves into the ground because they’re doing the job alongside another, paying job. It is not an insult to ask for fair recompense. It is an insult to stand on the outside, with no idea how much time, energy and personal resources people are putting in, and demand that you do it for free, and suggest that if you don’t, you are dishonouring the gods. Shame on those who think that way! Are we afraid that money corrupts us? Should we not consider that in most aspects of life you get what you pay for, and that expecting a high quality of resource for free is laughable. And yet so many people deliver that, out of love, while the community around them will spend money on alcohol that it would begrudge paying to support the work.

Being a Druid Leader

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.