The Future of Pagan Leadership

In Monday’s post on Pagan leadership I talked about the roles leaders fill. Today I want to talk about what future leadership is going to look like.
Any leader has to begin with a vision. Who are you going to lead? Where are you going to lead them? Who and what do you serve? “I want to be a high priestess and run all the circles” is a vision. It’s a rather small vision, but it’s a vision. “I want to unite the whole world in worship of the Great Mother” is an improbably large vision, but it’s a vision. Hopefully our visions are somewhere in between.
A leader has to articulate his vision. If you keep it to yourself, you aren’t leading anyone.
A leader has to implement her vision. Talk is cheap – how are we going to do the work necessary to make the vision a reality?
Our early modern Pagan leaders were charismatic personalities: Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Ross Nichols, Doreen Valiente. They believed in what they were doing and teaching, but they also believed in themselves. A lot. Their detractors called them egomaniacs (and much worse), but without their charisma Wicca would likely have died with Gardner and Druidry would still be a strictly cultural pursuit.
The second generation of Pagan leaders have been authors: Isaac Bonewits, Starhawk, Margo Adler, Janet and Stewart Farrar. Their books gave them widespread name recognition and credibility. They took the concepts and structures the first generation leaders gave them and grew them into the religions we know today. Go read Gardner’s books and try to tell me exactly what Wiccans do – it was a very rough, unfinished project. Starhawk recast witchcraft as a means to social justice, while Isaac began to separate the authentic ancient practices from medieval and Victorian misinformation.
Today, if you have a vision you don’t have to write a book and convince a publisher to publish it. Anyone with a computer can start a blog for free. I don’t know what it costs to do podcasting, but so many people do it it can’t be very expensive. The barriers to entry are virtually non-existent – if you have a vision, you can find an audience, and you can become a leader.
What this means is that the third generation of Pagan leaders isn’t going to look like the last generation. Instead of a having a few “big name” authors, we are developing many leaders with many different ideas and concepts about how to implement them. We will continue to look to authors for leadership, but we will also look to bloggers, podcasters, and musicians, as well as to the folks who organize the local Pagan Pride Days and Witches’ Nights Out and those who keep our groves, covens and CUUPS groups running.
Most leaders will wear multiple hats: they will keep a blog and lead a grove or coven and teach classes. A few will manage to make a very modest living from it, but the vast majority will work regular jobs and spend their off hours, weekends and vacations teaching, writing, leading rituals and deepening the spiritual practices that fuel them all.
Some have compared today’s Paganism to Christianity in the first century after Jesus. There’s something to that, but I can virtually guarantee there will be no Pagan equivalent of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. This is a good thing. We will remain a diverse, decentralized faith. New ideas and new leaders will arise and with the democratization of communications all will be heard. Those that prove to be helpful will grow; those that don’t will stagnate and die.
Will we see more charismatic leaders in the Pagan community? Perhaps, if the right person with the right message and the right skills presents herself, but we don’t have to have people like that. As long as we have people filling the roles of leadership, our community will continue to grow and thrive.
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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.


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