I grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian church. I even attended a high school sponsored by said church. Even having grown up in that environment, the manipulation and religious in-fighting was obvious. I got it from my own family, who taught me to police my thoughts for any sign of questioning accepted doctrine. Note I say accepted doctrine – much of it doesn’t have any grounding in biblical scripture.
I left this behind at a young age. In my teenage years, I discovered Paganism. I embarked on a religious path with no leader, no teacher except the many entry-level books I devoured, and no co-religionists. It was just me, the land, and its spirits.
For some people, this is a viable long-term model. It wasn’t for me. I wanted people to learn from and people to learn with. I wanted a community to raise my children in. I wanted to compare experiences, share my stories, participate in something bigger than myself.
All of these things are wonderful results of interacting with my co-religionists. Unfortunately, there are cons as well as pros. With any gathering of people, you will occasionally get someone who is there for the sake of gaining power over people rather than doing spirituality together. Whether a teacher, leader, or a fellow Pagan who claims special knowledge from the spirits, these people can do real damage.
I have had my own brush with this kind of personality. In working through the effects on my spirituality, I’ve come up with a few tips that have been helpful. They can be useful in both identifying someone trying to manipulate you, and untangling the mess manipulation can leave in your head.
If I have person A telling me and my group that the Gods are wanting them to take over a big leadership role, having some outside evaluation and/or confirmation of this would be really helpful. It’s always possible that Someone is calling this person to do exactly that. But if that God or spirit is doing so, others will be able to hear that from these deities as well.
If the outside Pagans or Heathens I ask for confirmation are unable to verify what person A is saying – or worse, if they get a distinct ‘no’ from the Powers involved – then I will know what kind of a person I am dealing with. Oftentimes, knowing is half the battle. Then you can safely ignore the things this person is saying.
For those who are skilled at divination or journeying, sometimes the fastest and most personally accurate method is to simply ask the spirits yourself. If you receive a negative answer, don’t be afraid to stand up for your own results. If someone is telling you they believe you need to do something, and the spirits are telling you differently, follow your own gnosis.
Follow your own instincts. In the early stages of manipulation, warning bells and red flags will often be present. I was raised to be kind and not call people out, but pointing out problematic behavior is essential. A manipulator will often try to make you believe you are crazy for not listening to them. Trusting yourself, and letting people know, is a good way to establish that you don’t have a target on your back.