I’m going to make a statement which most people (I would hope) will respond with “Duh” to:
Not all “leaders” are good ones, and not all authorities are.
There exists in various communities that I’m a part of a desperate need for people to look up to, for leaders to provide guidance, and for things to be set in black and white. I especially find this to be an issue in the Hellenic polytheist community where our faith has no structure, no organized anything, and no consensus on practice that is universal beyond basics such as “how to pray” and bare bones ritual outlines.
But that community isn’t the only one with this problem; in others where people are new or new-ish, feel a strong desire to be sure that they’re doing the right thing, and want to learn all that they can cling to the notion that Names Have Power, so if a particular person is known then they are an authority and one without question. This frequently leads to cults of personality and the less scrupulous taking advantage of people for money and/or power.
Learning discernment, healthy criticism, and knowing when and how to ask questions are all crucial. People need to set appropriate boundaries for themselves as well as for others, and have to learn how to think critically. No one is above reproach regardless of what titles they hold or accomplishments they have to their name. And people often make mistakes, because they are human. Holding positions accountable is something we must demand for our priesthoods, our teachers, and our leaders.We especially need to review all of this in light of people whom we know who have abused their power because they held a title and people chose not to question them because they were a Name. Pagans and occultists alike are in danger of placing people on pedestals frequently and when both power and trust are abused find that their cherished idols have feet of clay. We’ve had a number of incidents involving child abuse, sexual predators, and outright unconscionable behavior from people in whose leadership and authority were all too blindly trusted. And we’ve also had a number of charlatans who abused their positions to gain fame and money at the expense of others.
The best leaders are the ones who own up to mistakes, can handle constructive criticism and feedback, and serve the community instead of expecting it to be the other way around. Leaders and authority figures are in positions of service, to provide us with knowledge based on hard work, research, and experience. They are not people we should be placing blind faith or devotion in. The best teachers are still learning, often from the very students they teach.
Those in the Craft frequently hear the phrase “In perfect love and in perfect trust” and sometime misinterpret that to mean “must trust blindly and without question.” But to do that is to cheapen both love and trust and not fully appreciate their value. People whose ego has gotten to them and refuse to be questioned or critiqued do not belong in leadership let alone looked up to; we need people to keep their feet on the ground and to be held accountable for both their words and their actions.
After all, we are human and with great power must come great responsibility.