Good Pagan Leadership

One of the many things I love about being in service to the Pagan community is connection with practitioners at various points on their lives and spiritual paths. I am a witch of a certain age and practice, so I have blind spots and areas of assumption that I don’t always examine. Staying connected with folks who are older than me, younger than me, more advanced in their practice, newer in their practice…all of it is useful. Recently, one of my young community members asked a big question: What makes a good Pagan leader? The individual querying me is interested in pursuing ministry, so my usual joking answer of “well, they have to be good at moving chairs and tables” would not suffice.

I’ve been thinking about that question ever since, and I’m not sure I have a completely firm answer. Communities vary, and leadership takes many forms: do we mean a good Priest? A good Community Organizer? Some form of both those things? I can only answer from my own perspective, so here’s my best shot at what makes a good Pagan leader. And, emphasis on the word “good.” We have a fair few leaders. I’m putting my thoughts down here on what makes the best ones so amazing.

They are in Service to something. The best leaders I know didn’t start out with any intention to become a leader. Instead, most of them were trying to serve some sort of need: connecting people with resources, creating opportunities for spiritual growth, spreading the knowledge of and devotion to a particular deity or pantheon, throwing a festival because all the other ones were just too long a drive away…the list is long, but the anchor remains largely the same: leaders are in service. They serve the gods, their dream of community, the ancestors, the spirits of the land, or the Earth itself. This service is deeply sacred to them, and easy to identify once you start talking to them. It’s the subject they get choked up and misty over, and the thing they have a hard time understanding how other people can survive without.

They listen well. I’ve had a front row seat for some flame-outs of dynamic personalities. Those explosions were generally triggered by someone pushing back, even very gently, on the actions or perceptions of the aspiring leader in question. Eventually, we all get called out, generally because we need to be called out. Even the best leaders are subject to their own biases and maladaptive coping mechanisms (yes, Steven, sometimes we’re the toxic one). The best Pagan leaders are good listeners, and seem to have a good handle on threading the needle between their own instincts and the information they receive from the people around them. They’re willing to revisit their assumptions and ideas, and are able to integrate new information.

They are consistent. Energy management is huge, and good Pagan leaders seem to have somehow figured out a way to manage their energy so that they can show up, ritual after ritual, event after event, email thread after email thread, and continue rolling the ball. I’m about 25 years into the Pagan community and I’ve seen a lot of people come into the scene with a bunch of energy and dreams, but folks with staying power are more rare. My own experience of leadership is that there’s a lot of trudging through the muck for the handful of shining moments. If a leader doesn’t find a way to make the drudge-work meaningful, or doesn’t learn how to manage their energy to avoid burnout, they simply don’t last. The really good leaders have been at it for a while, and will be at it for a while yet to come.

They communicate. There’s this delicate balance between communicating clearly and being controlling, and good leaders seem to have figured out the perfect point on that continuum to occupy. As someone who’s worked in a ton of different events and groups, not knowing what’s going on/who’s in charge/when or how something is supposed to happen is really uncomfortable. The really good Pagan leaders I’ve worked for and with are able to communicate their vision and its necessary practical supports well, but are also able to leave space for people to follow the plan in their own way.

They empower others. I’ve always walked away from my interactions with excellent Pagan leaders feeling more inspired, enthusiastic, and energized about my own work within the community. When I was first growing into my role as a community organizer, other leaders created openings for me to stretch my wings. One of the leaders I work with now is amazing about giving me space to grow and push past my comfort zone while still feeling supported the whole way. The Pagan world is a cocreated one, and needs more voices, more do-ers. The best Pagan leaders know this and help raise the leaders in their own communities. They know when to step back and let the witchlings try their brooms.

They play the long game. A lot of the best festivals, communities, and conferences started off really small, some of them even as campouts in a backyard somewhere, or as a discussion circle that met in a coffee shop. Those collectives didn’t start off drawing 400+ people – they started with 40, or 4. Rather than trying to go big too soon, the leaders in charge carefully nurtured the growth of their community/event/etc so that the foundation was strong. Then, when the time came to grow, whatever came next was on solid footing. It’s a different philosophy than the prevailing one in the United States where explosive growth is desired. This idea of slow, steady progress in the right direction is less common but necessary for community growth. Good Pagan leaders are in it for the long haul, and structure their worlds accordingly.

They give a fuck. I see memes pretty regularly extolling the virtues of not giving a fuck. The thing is, going through life in some sort of nihilistic fog is a craven, shallow way to live.  It’s the sugary breakfast cereal approach to life: feels good, addresses short term needs, has absolute crap nutritional value and staying power. The balance here seems to be curating what you give a fuck about – I like the meme that talks about saving your fucks for the important stuff. Which brings me back to leadership – the best Pagan leaders I know care deeply about what they’re creating in the world. They want people who interact with their events, books, blogs, and efforts to have a good experience. They’re genuinely curious about what their community needs, thinks, and perceives. This translates to a sort of quality control: because they care, their creations shine with the love and attention given to them.

They enforce boundaries. Here, now, in the year of our Gods two thousand and twenty-three, community leadership isn’t just organizing the next canned food drive or high holiday ritual. The Pagan community as a whole, and some specific traditions within it more directly, are regularly targeted by hate group members looking to recruit. Protecting Pagan spaces from bigots and white supremacists involves setting boundaries, sometimes fiercely. Good leaders know when to close the gates against those who would cause harm. They’re able to recognize the difference between personality conflicts and attempts by fascists to worm their way into our spaces. They understand the paradox of tolerance, and do not allow their spaces to become the playgrounds of those who would harm the most vulnerable among us. Watching a normally peaceable leader suddenly go all Boudica can be startling, but it’s ultimately reassuring to know that our guardians can throw down when needed.


Those are my thoughts now, at age 42, with over half my life spent working in, for, and with the Pagan community. I am sure I’ll have a few more items for this list by age 62. So, what would you add? What do you think makes a good Pagan leader? Hit me up in the comments.










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