We know what a Pagan leader is supposed to look like. For a start they have lived enough years to gain maturity and wisdom. They’ve been properly taught and have studied mysteries in depth. They’ve also worked in the community for many years. Consequently your Pagan leader has a broad understanding of everything to do with all Pagan paths and an in-depth knowledge of several subjects in which they have chosen to specialise. They are aware of modern Pagan history, and ancient Paganism. Furthermore your Pagan leader is skilled in magic. They won’t broadcast this in a way that makes it sound tacky or fictional, but being around them you sense this is someone who has worked deeply with mystery, and who knows things you could as yet only dream of. That’s what we want from Pagan leadership. As a consequence, we all know we aren’t qualified to do that thing yet, and we wait for the wise one to show up and lead the way.
There are a small number of wise and experienced Pagan Elders who do indeed possess such attributes. However, there are nothing like as many such people as there are students who need to learn and communities that want there to be events, social gatherings and ritual circles.
One of the things that you only know if you’ve watched someone take up a leadership role, is that most leaders are self-taught to a significant degree. Many were taught the core of their craft by someone else, but no one really taught them how to lead. All of the skills, knowledge and ability that make for leadership can be learned, but can equally be figured out from scratch by someone determined enough. It is very important to remember that this is where everything comes from: At some point, someone figured it out. Probably they did that through trial and error. They experimented, and found out what was disastrous, and what would be viable. They fell over a lot, and got up for another go until they understood something that could be shared. All human knowledge comes into being by this method. There is nothing known that could not be rediscovered or reimagined by someone starting from scratch. In practice what happens is that a lot of people who come to be Pagan leaders start out woefully ill equipped through no fault of their own. We muddle through, learn on the job and eventually (hopefully) become those wise and enlightened folk we knew they were supposed to be at the outset. I’m still working on it.
This is all true of my own experience and backed up by a lot of wider observation. I know a lot of people who run things, and I’ve talked to organisers from across the world over the years. There won’t be any name dropping, but I say with confidence that the majority of Pagan leaders start out needing to run before they know how to walk.
What I’m going to be doing through the premium blog scheme on Patheos, is running a teaching course about how to lead. This is not an exercise in esoterica and high magic, because there are actually other places you can learn that. While it might seem that the most capable magician, the best ritualist, the most famous author should be the one to lead, in practice this isn’t reliably true. These are different skills. What it takes to make magic is not the same as what it takes to make a magical circle function well. I’ll be looking more at these technical bits. How do you start a coven, run a meditation group or get a moot going? How do you go from being a regular Pagan, to someone who is leading events in a community? What do you do if a moot falls upon you unexpectedly?
There are a small minority of people who take on leadership roles out of a desire to be important, or because they feel innately superior and capable. I don’t rate the chances of anyone of that persuasion showing up here to read this anyway. If you have, know that I’m not writing for you particularly, but if you want to do it well, there are things you might want to learn. I can’t tell you how to be rich, famous, popular or successful because, like most people who take on Pagan leadership roles, I am none of those things.
There are people who come to realise that they know a lot, and feel obliged to share it. Experience and knowledge don’t automatically equate to leadership and teaching skills, so feeling that call and not knowing how to best manifest it is perfectly natural. If you’ve found this course, it also possible that something has fallen out of the sky onto your head. Unwanted, unsought, intimidating. You aren’t ready. You aren’t qualified. You are not a wise and experienced leader, but something has happened. The person who ran the open rituals just moved away. Someone asked you to officiate at their handfasting. There is no moot and the lack of social contact with fellow Pagans is getting to you. There are a number of ways in which this can happen, but most people do not choose to lead. Instead, people or circumstances choose you, demand that you step forward, assume that you can, and then expect you to have all the skills and knowledge of that fantasy of the wise old Pagan leader.
It’s not an easy path to walk, but plenty of us walk it, stumble it, swear a lot, and muddle through. Nothing I can teach you will turn this into an entirely easy process. However, the more tools and ideas you have at your disposal, the better prepared you are for whatever turns up. The more aware of likely pitfalls you are, the better chance you have of neatly stepping around them rather than falling down face first. Not least, it helps to know that you aren’t a fraud. You aren’t someone who shouldn’t be doing this job because you’re not properly equipped. You are in fact very much like the vast majority of people who lead: There because it happened to you. In that regard you are as qualified as anyone can be – you have been called, and have recognised that, and have the inner qualities necessary to try and respond to that challenge as best you can. This is all you need to make a start.
As we go, I’ll be sharing different practical aspects of leadership, alongside personal experience. I’ll also be making myself available to answer direct questions. I can’t promise to have answers to every problem – because every challenge we face is unique – but I do have the knowledge and experience to help pick through the dilemmas and challenges and support you in making your own decisions and finding your own way forward.