Sunday, July 16, 2006

Is Pagan Leadership Lacking?

Hrafnkell of A Heathen’s Day got me thinking about the role of Pagan leadership. Here is what he had to say about Pagan’s (lack of) knowledge of their history and questions their leadership ability:

I was talking to an old pagan friend one day about the meaning of words like superstition and religion. She asked, "how do you know these things?" For a moment, I did not know how to answer. I was truly stunned. I wanted to give an answer like "osmosis" or make some bizarre claim to an ancient being speaking through me. It's difficult to take such a question seriously when the answer is so obvious: books. Read. Reading is the most important thing anyone can do. But this person is a leader in a pagan group and it made me wonder. Are all pagan leaders lacking education and awareness of their past?

I would agree that reading is an important way to learn about things, but would add that it is important to realize what sources your information is coming. There are many great books that worth reading, but you have to wade through the mountains of books on “instant spells” and “how to be a Witch in 10 minutes” to find the ones that have accurate information. Many Pagans would not consider Silver Ravenwolf a good source of Pagan information, however popular she may be. It is a matter of being pointed in the right direction to find the correct information. In my opinion, that is what Pagan leadership should be doing – pointing people in the right direction and know what direction they are pointing.

Even though Pagans tend to be very independent and there is no central church to look towards for direction, leadership is still needed. As most leadership is found in the High Priestess and/or High Priest of individual covens, I would think that is important to have some kind of formal training to be qualified. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with most in the leadership roles. If what Hrafnkell asks is true and the Pagan leadership is lacking this basic knowledge, how are the next generation of Pagans to learn about their correct history, ethics and other knowledge? The end result is that many Pagans do not know their own history and other needed information.

As there is no organized preparation and training specifically for becoming Pagan clergy, in my opinion, there is a lack of qualified Pagan leaders. Sure, there are covens that have some training with their own traditions, but I don’t think that this is enough. When I mention this, I am specifically thinking about the training that one must go through to become a leader within the Christian church, the UU church, etc. The training that a coven can give its potential leaders just doesn’t compare to the type of training that is required of other faiths.

I am starting to realize that a lack of knowledgeable leadership may be one of my problems with the Pagan community and why I do not consider myself Pagan, even thought I do hold many similar beliefs. It’s not from a lack of interest; it’s more out of a lack of places that I can go to get answers to my questions.

10 comments:

Rubicon said...

oh I definitely understand this post as I'm sure a lot of Wiccans and Witches do as well.

Personally I'm not looking for leadership, in any formal manner. However, I like the idea of scholarly (sp?) leadership. I like the Quaker idea of Friends as well. hmm.

But to be blunt and perfectly honest, most of the pagan "leaders" I've met or who's books I've read are sorely lacking scholarship and accountability. (ye gods, my spelling sucks today *sigh*).

If someone wanted to take a leadership role that I would agree too then their scholarship better be solid -- solid enough to present to a group of academics without being laughed at or torn to shreds. Then, we'll talk; we'll have time ;)

Wanderer said...

The questions of leadership and clergy have been batted around and debated frequently within the various Pagan circles. Many have fled other religions, being opposed to the hierarchical structure, and thus stand fundamentally opposed to leadership positions or official clergy.

The problem this presents is exactly the one you defined. There are some who research and study and do their best to provide the leadership you speak of, and some frankly don't.

More opposition comes from the "create your own religion" camp that both of us were recently discussing. These folks also take issue for obvious reasons with clergy, as they feel we would then tell them that they were wrong or not allowed to practice as they saw fit.

The main problem I see with the lack of training available to most Pagan clergy falls in another area that you didn't touch on. The role of clergy in a counseling position. Even the most knowledgeable and hardest studying clergy members are sorely deficient in training to serve this capacity of their role.

You have made good points here, and I don't doubt the arguments will continue to rage on.

Walter Jeffries said...

Personally, I would oppose leadership - I don't like being lead by the nose and organized religion, heck organized anything, chafes as the leadership gains too much power and subsequently abuses it.

Scholarly leadership, thinking but not coercion, is good.

Speaking of pagan, do you know MacRaven?

On my blog Sugar Mountain Farm there's the mutant-less frog on a boy's head. You mentioned about mutations being discovered in your area and the frog population declining. I feared just that when I first saw the frog that was missing a foot. I was greatly relieved to realize that this was not a case mutation. I have read about it happening and dread it. Our valley is fairly isolated so chemical mutation is less likely but the UV issue is there. So far I have not seen any three legged frogs, etc and our frog populations are very healthy.

Rubicon said...

I agree. Besides, I could imagine some "Celtic Wiccan" high priestess trying to tell us to participate in an "ancient celtic pumpkin ritual" on samhain. I'd kick her ass into the pumpkin patch with Linus.

I like scholarly leadership because it help create a foundation and a great flow of information. However, a priesthood of sorts...nah. not so much.

Sojourner said...

Rubicon said:

But to be blunt and perfectly honest, most of the pagan "leaders" I've met or who's books I've read are sorely lacking scholarship and accountability. (ye gods, my spelling sucks today *sigh*).

Accountability is a huge issue within the Pagan community. A great example of this is when books are published and their facts (especially when it comes to history) are not backed up with references.

Although I see this as a factor that is lacking, it does not seem to have hurt the modern Pagan movement in terms of how many people are becoming involved. I would say that the lack of leadership (and scholarship) has hurt its credibility, though.

Wanderer said:

The main problem I see with the lack of training available to most Pagan clergy falls in another area that you didn't touch on. The role of clergy in a counseling position. Even the most knowledgeable and hardest studying clergy members are sorely deficient in training to serve this capacity of their role.

Although I didn't write about, I have thought about it mostly in relation to my psychology background. There are a few programs that do consetrate on religious counseling, but I believe that there is mostly a consentration on the Christian religion.

I would agree that this is a something to consider, as many people do go to their clergy for counseling. As there are so many things to consider when it comes to couseling, I believe that it is important for those that will work within this capacity to seek out training. It is an ethical issue when people are giving out advice without any training in this type of situation. Even when they are trying to help, they could end up doing more harm then they intended.

Walter said:

Personally, I would oppose leadership - I don't like being lead by the nose and organized religion, heck organized anything, chafes as the leadership gains too much power and subsequently abuses it.

Scholarly leadership, thinking but not coercion, is good.


Many Pagans have said that one of the reasons that they are attracted to Paganism is because of there is more freedom within the religion due to a lesser emphasis on the leadership role. I also understand your point about the abuse of power that organized religion has a reputation for.

The type of leadership that you talked about (leadership without coercion) sounds good to me. I alsways think of leadership as something that guides rather than pulling people along on a single path. That is not the type of leadership that I am looking for nor do I think it would be healthy for the modern Pagan movement.

That is why I like the UU church. There is a trained leadership, but there is also opportunity for others within the church community to step up and participate as well.

Sojourner said...

Rubicon said:

Besides, I could imagine some "Celtic Wiccan" high priestess trying to tell us to participate in an "ancient celtic pumpkin ritual" on samhain. I'd kick her ass into the pumpkin patch with Linus.

LOL

I would hope that most people would
do the same.

Rubicon said...

great googly moogly o_O

but I understand what you mean and you make a good point. A lot of that is mentioned in a book called "The Heart of Wicca" by Ellen Cannon Reid (deceased). She spoke of the need for creating foundations, studying hard and providing sound leadership.

Niobium said...

The lack of leadership in the Pagan community is a double edged sword. One of the things that attracks so many to Paganism is it's lack of central leadership. But because there is no central leadership, it's difficult to wade through the myriad of information to find out what is 'correct' and 'incorrect.'

I don't see a solution to this to be honest. If Paganism is centralised, it's going to lose a lot of it's faithful and create a ton of disharmony. But if it isn't centralized, we will continue to be marginalized and discriminated against.

Honestly, I don't know how I feel persynally. I go back and forth. Yes, I like the idea of centralization because I like concrete answers but at the same time, by doing so, creation of a heirarchy unlevels the playing field and creates anomosity (sp?). But because I want to further my 'Pagan education' and can't find a 'school' that I feel is 'scholarly' I can't figure out how to get the education I want.

Not being Wiccan has a lot to do with those feelings. Wiccan is more centralized than any of the other Pagan spiritualities but still it lacks a true heirarchy.

So, see, I have mixed feelings. I've posted on this a bunch of times of late.

Good topic Sojourn.

Cosette said...

Great topic.

Pagans are creating new models of leadership and organization everyday. Tradition, leadership and priesthood don't have to trump individuality and innovation and it doesn't mean there has to be a central governing body either.

I support ministry education in the Pagan community because I think it's important to have qualified people doing prison ministry, pastoral counseling, and performing handfastings, funeral rites, and other important rites of passage. It's also important to have educated, articulate people to deal with the press and to provide certain services that many Pagans enjoy and prefer, but are not always easy to come by like midwifery, herbal healing, reiki, etc.

As far as education, there is plenty available, but many people are resistant to it because they equate it with being led by the nose, as the saying goes. It's also important to remember that books by the likes of Silver Ravenwolf are in the New Age section, not the history section. There's a good reason for that; she's a spiritual writer, not a scholar.

Sojourner said...

Niobium said:

One of the things that attracks so many to Paganism is it's lack of central leadership. But because there is no central leadership, it's difficult to wade through the myriad of information to find out what is 'correct' and 'incorrect.'

It is a double edged sword, so to speak. You like something because of a certain reason (not necessarily the only reason) but that is the same thing that is holding you back from gaining the needed information to advance your knowledge.

I find this an interesting topic, as well. While I think that there does need to be some kind of leadership, I'm not sure that Pagan leadership should be defined in a traditional way. As you said, "creation of a heirarchy unlevels the playing field and creates anomosity" and to set up Pagan leadership in this way would only invite trouble.


Cosette said:

It's also important to remember that books by the likes of Silver Ravenwolf are in the New Age section, not the history section. There's a good reason for that; she's a spiritual writer, not a scholar.

Good point. However, many people don't distiquish the two as seperate. If one is writing as an athority on a particular subject, then that person should have at least correct, basic knowledge (in this case) in areas such as history and ethics.

I think that you can be a spiritual writer and still be accurate with the use of facts and references.