Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pagan Leadership, By Their Deeds You Shall Know Them

Paganism is a big tent comprised mainly by those with an independent mindset or unconventional thinkers. As a direct result there is a certain tendency for resistance to anyone seeking to claim a leadership position that goes further than their own particular group. Nonetheless, there is no shortage of those seeking to be the 12 inch trout in the 13 inch puddle. You've seen them, they are the relentless self promoters. During the heyday of what I call the Witchcrap books from the late 70's and most of the 80's many of them cranked out book after book after book often based simply in the old table of correspondences and offering little in the way of actual information that could not be summed up completely in two or three paragraphs.

But they sold, boy did they sell. Today we can communicate widely and instantly via the internet with little requirement beyond a computer and the willingness to use it and the bottom fell out of the Witchcrap book industry. Getting published today requires actual ideas and original thought or enough resources to self publish which requires work. But promoting yourself only requires dedication towards flooding as many Pagan venues as you can with tales of your wonderfulness making your name familiar to a large number of seekers, no actual deeds required. In case you aren't getting my point, this 'taint leadership.

Let's be honest here, an awful lot of people come to Paganism seeking personal empowerment in a world that seems pretty much out of control and they first thing they want to learn is magic that can give them some sort of personal power over others. They are the ones that keep buying the Witchcrap spell books and will flood Pagan venues with requests for spells and healing energies for things they should be able to handle in a mundane fashion. Others come seeking more, ego gratification out of a lack of self-respect. I remember many years ago when I was a gypsy nursing aide encountering a young lady working in a nursing home who was always wearing black and had occult jewelry covering everything. She sought me out one break and told me how powerful she was, how sensitive to others energy she was and implying I should be in awe of her. She had no idea I was a lifelong Pagan myself and I didn't tell her but I ran into her doubles later on all over the internet.

Those who do are those like the ever popular Starhawk who lives what she believes and the late Issac Bonewits who contributed many many original ideas on magical practice and leadership and wrote on bad leadership, cult identification and the concept of antagonists as borrowed from a gifted Christian writer on the subject. Laurie Cabot is a Pagan leader regardless of what you might think of her personal style. But there are a tonne of what Issac called “big nosed Pagans” out there who do little more than promote themselves.

Most of you will be familiar with the Maetreum's seven year long battle for legal recognition in property tax equality with Christian churches despite being incorporated under New York religious corporate law and fully IRS recognition as a church and religious charity. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of landmark cases regarding Paganism in the past thirty years and this has been one. One of the lessons we learned in the process is the utter worthlessness of the various Pagan advocacy groups when the rubber hits the road. NONE of them were there for us, not a single one! No legal advice, no references for a decent attorney, no legal representation. Not even help raising much needed funds for our legal fees. Individual Pagans helped with raising money, some non-advocacy Pagans groups contributed, but not one of those who claim a reputation for advocacy would so much as talk to us other than one self styled Pagan legal expert who wrote and said “buy my book, buy my book!” which as it turns out had not a single bit of relevant advice in it. When the initial ruling went against us due to extreme bigotry on the part of the judge, this “expert” announced she was going to write a "scholarly" review of the decision. We talked on FaceBook and I offered to provide the background and even documents on the case which was ignored. She called our attorney (without permission) for details resulting in our attorney calling me and asking if I knew this person and was she really a lawyer because her ignorance of the basics of law was staggering, her words not mine.

She wrote the article based solely on the decision of the judge with zero background material and even trashed me because the judge said I was not credible. That claim was on a single aspect of the case regarding the number of hours I put in a week on my duties as a priestess and he HAD to do that in order to ignore a prior, directly on point case in New York law in order to rule against us. I testified an entire day and everything else I testified to was repeated by two other priestesses in direct testimony. She had no way of knowing this. She had no way of knowing that during the years before the actual trial, the town officials had made one expression of bigotry after another to the press because she couldn't be bothered to read the twenty plus main stream media stories on the case, one in the New York Times. That the town's attorney, in direct violation of Federal and State law, repeatedly and endlessly challenged our legitimacy as a religion. Nope, she declared we were not discriminated against and simply not worthy. When we won the appeal she had declared we had zero chance of winning, she made a comment on a blog entry about the win that she remained skeptical! Of an Appellate level win! Talk about arrogance. It would not amount to a hill of beans except that her damn article really slowed down fund raising for the money we needed to file the appeal which we mostly had to raise ourselves because now much of the Pagan community considered our case hopeless. Real world harm from someone's ego that nearly shortchanged one of the significant wins in Pagan legal history.

This is the problem with the self styled leaders of our community. They can do actual real world harm. If you are trying to figure out who is a Pagan leader, look to what they actually do, not claim to do in the real world. By their deeds you shall know them.

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