Tag Archives: volunteering

Adventures with the Pagan Federation

I joined the Pagan Federation when I was 18. Through the PF’s Pagan Dawn magazine, I had my first encounters with the various paths in modern Paganism, and my first snapshot of the modern Pagan world. In my twenties, I volunteered for the PF, wrote for Pagan Dawn, went to conferences and met a lot of excellent people as a consequence. I left because I found something that I thought needed me more than the PF did at that point.

Like most of the active Pagans I know, I’ve been in and out of various groups, held an array of volunteer posts, fallen out with people, patched up with some of them. Paganism is full of people, and some people are easier to work with than others. Interpersonal politics is a thing, wherever you go. I try not to get too invested in it, but it happens. But even so, events around Druid Camp 2017 left me really questioning whether I had a place at all in the wider Pagan community and whether I should just give up and go away. It certainly didn’t help that in the same time frame, I ran into problems that obliged me to put down my OBOD volunteering as well.

As a consequence, it came as something of a surprise to me to find that I was wanted by the PF for a volunteer role. There’s been some quiet sorting out of this through the summer. I rejoined the Pagan Federation. I signed the paperwork. I’m going to be the Pagan Federation Disabilities Web Elf. I am very happy that I get the gender neutral term of ‘elf’ and the process that got me there was wonderful. In essence this means using the blogging and social media skills I use for other jobs and volunteering work and helping more with online festivals that the disabilities team run.

I’m excited about this as a prospect. It means I can use my skills to help support and empower others. I can make it easier for people who need their issues to be heard, to have a platform for that. There will be space to examine and promote best practice around inclusion, to talk about things that enable people to be more involved. I see lots of ways in which the blog and social media work can help inform, uplift and empower.

It’s also good to be working in a team where I can feel safe about saying ‘sorry, I don’t have the spoons for this’ and know I won’t need to explain and further. To feel able to say ‘I am too close to burnout for this right now’ is a big deal. I’ve talked before about how volunteers can be burned out by never-ending work, and taking mental health and energy levels seriously within work, and volunteer work needs to happen. It’s an opportunity to model and talk about better ways of doing things.

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Druidry, service, exploitation and entitlement

In theory, service is part of the Druid path. However, it is all too easy for things to go wrong around service, taking us either towards exploitative situations, or ones where people develop unreasonable feelings of entitlement. Which way a person goes I think often depends on how they were to start with. People with low self esteem and poor boundaries are easily exploited. People with unhealthily big egos easily develop entitlement issues.

Most places that need volunteers have more that needs doing than there are resources to get the things done. A willing volunteer is often at risk of being asked to do more, and more. If that volunteer can’t hold their boundaries, they can end up working themselves into the ground, burning out, becoming ill. It’s not an acceptable outcome. In some cases, the exploitation can be deliberate, and this tends to happen when there’s someone in the mix who wants power and feels entitled.

When volunteers have entitlement issues, they feel that the work they do (and often they don’t do much) entitles them to certain kinds of treatment. They should be given more power, power over others. They demand unearned respect, resources flow towards them that should not flow towards them. They become more important than the project. Volunteers with entitlement issues drive away or break the volunteers who came to give. They distort projects, sometimes they ruin them.

How do we avoid this happening? I think the key thing is to look at the contract between volunteers, or between volunteers and organisations. Most of the time, that contract is never explored or spoken of, but it exists nonetheless in people’s minds.

A good volunteer comes to the work first and foremost because they believe in it. They are sustained if they have the resources and support to do the work and the feedback to know they are effective and valued. Good volunteers probably want to feel part of something, and they need watching to make sure they aren’t over-burdened. They need respect, taking seriously, and acknowledgement.

An exploiter will withhold information and resources, refuse to praise and encourage, and always ask for more. People who came to give cannot keep giving in such environments. Where a culture of supporting volunteering in the way I’ve suggested above is in place, it’s more obvious when someone is there for a power trip.

The entitled volunteer spends more time talking about how great they are than they spend doing anything. They will use the cause as a platform to raise their own profile. They can be charismatic, confident and apparently very useful indeed which makes spotting them harder, but not impossible. It takes collective willingness not to give power to someone with entitlement issues. If the people around them will not massage their egos, they will eventually give up and move on, but this is not easily achieved. If you are running volunteers, it is worth dropping people with manifest entitlement issues because they will damage the rest of the volunteers to get ahead, and damage any culture you may have been trying to build.

Ask outright what people want from volunteering, and listen carefully to what they tell you.


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.