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Music, Magic, and Life on the Road

DSC03399My posts have been sporadic, and I apologize for that. As a writer, it’s really tough when I’m not able to do that writing thing. That being said, my past months have been chock full of new experiences that will give me writing fodder for months (and years) to come. I’ve been traveling and teaching at different festivals and events, and recently I’ve really been upping my game as a musician and connecting more with other Pagan musicians.

In fact, I am looking to host regular chanting/music circles in the southeast Wisconsin area, or within a couple of hours drive. (Interested? Contact me at Shaunaaura (at) gmail (dot) com) And I have it in mind to formally create some kind of trancey Pagan band/choir thing. I’m also looking at buying a few additional musical instruments slowly as I can afford them, and working to learn to play more of them. Or at least, get better at it. Frame drum, bodhran, more gongs..

This past week at Summerland Spirit Fest in Wisconsin, I learned a few things. I know a lot more about music than I thought, and my voice is a lot better than I thought. I also learned that I have so freaking much to learn about music, but it really is calling to me.

Ultimately, I’d love to compose and create music with others. A band, a choir…not sure what to call it. And yeah–not that I needed yet another creative project, but I feel that the work I’ve been doing has been building up to this, I just needed a little bit of a push from some experienced musicians to tell me I have the chops to pull it off.

So–special thanks to singer/songwriter/guitarist Brian Henke for pushing me to take that next step and encouraging me…and for dragging me up on stage to sing backup vocals for his most excellent Raven King song.

And thanks also to Tuatha Dea; I’ve been on the festival circuit for a while with them and we’ve interwoven on occasion with them supporting my rituals with drumming, but it was great to get a peek into the creative process. And Kathy–many thanks to you for saving my voice with your “Entertainer’s Secret” throat spray. My voice was about toast by the last night of the festival and I had to lead a chanting-intensive women’s ritual, then lead the energy chant for the combined attendees of the men’s and women’s ritual when we rejoined after. I caught the festival crud and the damp nights were not kind to my throat, but I learned another singer pro-tip in the form of the throat spray. Just ordered my own bottle for emergencies, too.

What I really loved the most about hanging out with the musicians at this festival was the spirit of collaboration. The other musicians were willing to answer my newbie questions about the various musical techniques they were employing or their processes. The music I know for leading chanting is different from performing songs, so I was working to be a sponge and absorb as much as I could. In fact, the musicians remind me a lot of the community of romance novel authors; it’s also very collaborative and supportive. With the musicians, there’s not really a sense of competition, even though each musician depends on CD sales to get paid for their time.

Instead, they’re looking for how to support one another and help, including helping those who are just stepping into musical work. I had offers of all sorts of help including folks from Murphy’s Midnight Rounders that agreed to teach me a bit about sound engineering theory so I can better use applications like Audacity to record and edit my own work.

One of my favorite moments of the festival was when a bunch of the musicians were just jamming. The Night Travelers had to leave before the fest was done (I imagine they had another gig to get to.) The banjo player for Night Travelers is rather famous as a banjo player, and I can see why. The guy has fingers that just fly and he’s inexhaustible. So a bunch of the musicians were all hanging out in the main lodge/hall of the festival, jamming until the wee hours. I finally had to bail at 2 or 3 in the morning since I had to be up and teaching in the morning, but it was pretty cool to experience. Other musicians were joining in with guitar, and I joined in with some harmonies.

And there were lots of other musicians collaborating as the fest went on. Beltana Spellsinger, Ginger Ackley, and Mel Dalton did a concert together, and pretty much all the musicians did some kind of collaboration as the week went on. I also got to hear musicians composing and working out new tunes and debuting them, which was pretty spiffy.

Some of the songs were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

I left Summerland Spirit Fest with my cup absolutely full. In my workshops, I had people asking great questions and diving into the singing/chanting techniques, and people working to support that in the rituals I led. In fact, right now it’s a little bittersweet since my brain is buzzing with things I want to write about, music I want to sing…and I instead am focusing on managing my next travel engagements.

Right now I’m very aware that I live in quite a liminal space. I’m an introvert, and all this travel has been really hard on me. It’s affecting my body, mind, and spirit health. And all the traveling means I have almost no time at all for writing. On the other hand, the work I do is by its nature collaborative and requires connecting and networking with new people. Our voices can’t harmonize if we aren’t in the same place together. So I both crave and dread the travel and the connection, and I’m working to hold that paradox.

I’m also in the liminal space of having so many creative projects I want to work on, and only so many hours in the day. But I’ve been seeking joy for the past years, and I’m getting closer to it. Music is part of the fire that lights me up, that’s for sure.

In the coming months as my tour season winds down (August is Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Memphis, September is Virginia and New York and Ohio and maybe Indiana) I’m going to be looking for ways I can better balance some of this. I’m looking to plan a lot less travel for next year if I can find ways to bring in enough income to keep me afloat, and spend a lot more time writing, and also practicing as a musician and connecting to other musicians.

In short–I like my alone time, and I have a desperate need to hibernate. I need my focus time to write and create. But, I also love that collaborative nature of music and ritual. I can’t sing harmony by myself. So I’m out here actively looking for musicians (or people who want to become musicians) who are willing to devote the kind of time and energy to really build skill and make the music manifest.

I’m sure I’ll be writing about some of this more coherently when I’m not recovering from one trip and prepping for the next, but I’m trying my best to at least get a few thoughts down as I go along. More magic, more music. More time. Gods, for more time.


Filed under: Magic, Pagan Music, Ritual Tagged: community, magic, Music, ritual, singing

Raising the Sacred Fire: How to Build and Move Energy in Ritual

DSC01798_smallAs I’ll be teaching a number of workshops on ritual facilitation at Pantheacon, ConVocation, and Paganicon, I thought I’d offer up one of my articles on leading rituals that is included in my book, Ritual Facilitation.

I’ve also created a Facebook group with the intention of discussing and teaching techniques for leading more potent rituals. Feel free to join up if you like!

Raising the Sacred Fire:  How to Build and Move Energy in Ritual

Together we are singing, moving, dancing, chanting, and drumming around the fire in the center of the circle. The energy builds and slows then rises up again. I move the drum beat, and the drum beat moves me. We draw closer; I look into the firelit eyes of people around me and we smile as we sing. We drop the chant down to a whisper, then bring it back up again. Our song is a prayer for transformation, a prayer for our individual gifts to be transformed on Brigid’s Forge into their highest potential. I am singing for my gift, and for the gifts of everyone there. Our prayer is singing, movement, rhythm, and our shared intention. The chant moves into a tone that rises and falls like a fire at the bellows until we hold the silence together.

Have you ever worked to build ecstatic energy in rituals?

Raising energy in ritual can be a difficult function to facilitate. Many ritualists get a chant going only to find the group stops singing it as soon as that ritualist pauses to take a breath. Despite the challenges, there are some skills, tools, and processes that you can use to help build potent, transformative energy in rituals.

Facilitating ecstatic energy is the ability to sense energy and the ability to understand the logical energetic flow of any event. Having talent as a singer, drummer, musician, or dancer can help; it’s perhaps more important to have a team of people that is engaged, excited, and willing to model the energy as an example. Excitement is contagious, and if you are invested in the energy, then your participants will be more willing to buy into it and commit their energy as well.

What is energy?

While some ritualists may be gifted with the ability to see auras and energy, I’m not among them. I sense energy more kinesthetically, and I also work with energy less as a metaphysical thing, and more as the life-force cycled from our bodies. Breathing in oxygen, there’s a chemical reaction and we exhale carbon dioxide; chemical reactions release energy. I can also see energy through the physical reality of body language. So sensing energy is largely becoming observant.

Think about the last meeting or class you were at. How were people sitting? Did people look interested or bored and tired? How about the teacher or facilitator, did their voice drone on, or were they excited? Now think about a concert or sports event. How did you know if people were excited? Were people standing up and cheering or dancing? When people applauded, what did you feel inside?

Notice the environment around you and how you can sense the energy level of the group. Energy comes across in our body language, movements, actions, how we are talking, and the look in our eyes. If I’m talking to someone and they’re not looking at me, I don’t feel like they’re really interested in me. But if I go to a friend with a problem and they’re looking deeply into my eyes, I feel like they are really present and connected to me.

Ways to add energy

Here are some ways to add my energy in ritual, broken down by element.

Earth—Body, movement, dancing. Whether I’m a great dancer, or just adding my energy by swaying back and forth to the rhythm of the chant, I’m adding the energy of my body. When I move, my blood moves faster. Calories are consumed, and energy results in my body radiating heat and the energy of my physical life force.

Air—Breath, speech, chanting, singing. In ritual, I add Air when I participate by speaking aloud an intention or wish, when I lend my voice to the chant. When we sing together, we are breathing together, harmonizing our breaths and our pulses. We don’t need to be good singers to still make a sound and add the energy of our voice.

Fire—Rhythm, percussion, drumming. Drummers can add some of the intense sound and rhythm to the ritual. I can also add rhythm by clapping, stamping, snapping my fingers, or through vocal percussion and making rhythmic sounds with my mouth.

Water—Connection, intention, emotion. I can connect to the intention of the ritual within the depth of my heart, and to others in the ritual through deep, sustained eye contact or through touching hands. If I’m emotionally invested in the intention, in the community, if I’m connecting to the divine and to the divine within me, then I am adding my emotional energy to the ritual. Even if I am not physically able to move, if I’m rhythmically challenged, or not comfortable singing, I can add my energy by holding the intention in my heart.

Energy Flow

Any ritual has an energetic flow, and what happens in the first few minutes of the ritual will set the tone for later on. In the rituals I offer, which are in the ecstatic tradition taught through Reclaiming, Diana’s Grove, and other shamanic traditions, I am working to get people engaged in the ritual and inviting participation.

Here is a typical flow of a public ritual in the ecstatic, participatory style. Usually these rituals are facilitated by an ensemble team, so each piece may have more than one person leading it.

  • Marketing/promotion: Emails and flyers set the tone for the ritual theme and helps build communal trust in the ritual team.
  • Arrivals/Greeting: As people come to the space, the ritual team works to greet the participants. Ideally everything’s already set up so that we can welcome people to the space, since welcoming makes people feel more safe, and thusly, more willing to risk singing and moving later. Having social time of at least a half hour before the ritual helps people transition from interacting with traffic into ritual space.
  • Pre-Ritual Talk: This session (15 minutes or less to hold people’s attention) addresses the theme, intention, and any ritual logistics. Give people a chance to speak, even if it’s going around the circle with names, as that sets a tone of participation and helps the group move from strangers into a tribe. It’s a good time to address basic group agreements of what’s ok to do and to teach any chants so that people aren’t stumbling to learn them later. Typically I will also use the elemental model (above) to let people know how they can add their energy.
  • Gathering: Instead of beginning with smudging or similar purifications that involve a long line, Diana’s Grove uses an energetic gathering. This is somewhat a purification of sound and rhythm as well as a way to get people from individual mind into group mind. The idea is to begin at the energetic level of where the group is and take them to a more collective place. You can have the group sing a tone, or you can get people clapping and moving and singing to build up some energetic fuel for later in the ritual.
  • Grounding: As much as the gathering is energetic and group mind, grounding, in this context, is about connecting more deeply to myself, becoming more present to the divine, and connecting to the theme of the work. A typical tree grounding can work just fine, or any meditation to facilitate participants going internal to get into a sacred mindset.
  • Casting a Circle: For the rituals I offer, casting a circle is less about an energetic barrier keeping negative energies out, and more about an energetic boundary acknowledging that we are here together as a tribe. As grounding is internal, circle casting takes us out of ourselves to connect as a tribe. The circle is the edge of our tribe for the ritual, and it’s important to establish connection and safety. This is the cauldron that will hold the soup. In ecstatic participatory ritual, one or two people facilitate the circle casting but the intention is to have participants add their energy to the process. The challenge is to do an inclusive casting, or invocation, in around 2 minutes or less to keep people engaged.
  • Invoking the Elements: The elemental invocations, similarly, are an opportunity to invite participants to lend their voice, body, movement, and intention, as well as to deepen the theme. In the rituals I work in, instead of facing the direction, the elemental invoker moves into the center and facilitates a process where the whole group invokes the element. An example: “Will you join me in welcoming Air? Will you take a breath together, will you make the sound that is the wind in the trees that blows the leaves to the ground, will you move as air moves? Air is the breath of life, can you feel how the change in the air heralds the change in the seasons? Welcome Air.”
  • Center: I typically work with center as the gravity well that draws the community together. What is the reason that people came? This is another opportunity to connect the group together as a tribe, and to the center that holds us.
  • Deities, ancestors, allies: We invite in whichever deities or allies we’ll be working with in as inclusive a way as possible. What each person participates in is more potent than them watching a ritualist do something. Liturgy and poetry can be powerful, but if you want the group to add their energy later on, give them some way to participate in every piece, even if it’s just closing their eyes and imagining the ancestors.
  • Storytelling: Often the working part of the ritual begins with storytelling or some piece to add context to what we’re doing in the ritual. This piece can be longer than 2 minutes, provided people are given a chance to get comfortable.
  • Trance Journey: Storytelling often transitions into a trance journey which takes the theme of the story and move it from a story about gods and heroes into a story that we personally can interact in. Storyelling, and trance journeys, brings people’s energy internal and will require a transition if I want them to come out of trance and be active.
  • Physicalization: As much as possible, it helps to offer experiences for multiple learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). If the trance journey took us to a place where we connect with the fire of our personal magic, then the physicalization might be inviting people to choose a stone to represent their magic. Or it might be to have them stand and go to an altar and offer their personal magic to Brigid’s forge to be transformed. A physicalization helps integrate the ritual intention, as well as transitions people from internal to external so they are more ready to participate in the energy.
  • Energy Building: A sustained energy piece is the fuel for the magic. Often it helps to start slow and build through layering chanting, movement, harmonies, vocal percussion, drumming, and more. The ritualist team should be fully engaged; if you aren’t willing to stand up and sing, no one else will be. The energy may rise to a peak of sound and rhythm, and after there is usually a moment of silence. A typical time length for energy is 8-10 minutes; 15 minutes may be longer than many people can chant. The energy, and the ritual, should have a defined ending. People can drum and dance more after ritual.
  • Benediction: Let people know what the ritual was about, such as, “Brigid, thank you for helping us find our personal magic and transform it in your forge. May we support each other in community.” This seals the deal on the working and leads to devoking the allies and elements. Opening the circle is a last chance for the group to connect as a tribe before opening.
  • Dessert/Feast Ecstatic participatory rituals tend to not use cakes and ale within the ceremony because of the energetic lag created by a long wait for food to be passed around. Post-ritual dessert or feasting is an intentional bonding time to grow community.

Layering the energy

To build up a sustained energy, it helps to layer in voice, rhythm, and movement. As each layer builds, gently bring in another layer, as that will feel more natural to the group and they will be more likely to participate. Drummers should follow the group’s energy rather than drive the group; building it too fast and the group may “check out.” If the energy spikes up too fast you can drop the chant down to a whisper and build it back up. You can invite group participation through eye contact, beckoning, or by asking, “Will you join your movement and voice to this ritual?”

Having a team of people willing to sing and dance models what behavior is “ok” to the group and creates safety. Watch a ritual where one person starts to clap; if no one else does, they’ll stop. But if a second or third person does, then others will.

If you have some strong singers, you can use a chant with 2 parts or harmonies to add another layer of energy. A basket of rhythm instruments is another opportunity for people to add a sound.

Working the energy is a balance of letting the group drive how fast the chant builds, and pushing the energy along. The energy will plateau, and rise again when you add a layer. At first it’s hard to sense if the group’s ready to be done, or if it’s just a natural plateau where another layer will build the energy back up.

Noticing Energy

Begin to take more notice of people’s body language. Are these people willing to stand up and sing? The kinds of energy you can build in ritual will depend on your team—do you have drummers and singers? How many attendees—10 or 100? What’s the chant you are using—is it cradling, or an energy-raiser?

Observe the rituals of different groups. What happens to the energy when 40 people smudge themselves or stand in line at an altar? How long do people speak? When is it boring? When are people invigorated, willing to sing or participate? When are glazed over?

While the skillset of building ecstatic energy in ritual takes time and practice, these tools should offer a way to frame ritual in terms of energy and begin to build techniques into your own rituals. With practice, you can raise the sacred fire of ecstatic energy in your rituals.

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This article was first published in Circle Magazine Issue 105, Sacred Fire and also appears in Stepping Into Ourselves: An Anthology of Priestessing. It is also one of the articles collected in my book Ritual Facilitation.

CoverRitualFacilitationRitual Facilitation: Collected Articles on the Art of Leading Rituals

Pagans and practitioners of alternative spiritual path face the challenge of learning to lead compelling rituals with little to no training in techniques of facilitation, public speaking, or event planning. Many learn the theology of their tradition and then get frustrated leading ceremonies through trial and error. If you are called to lead rituals and ceremonies, learn how to create potent, powerful rituals that will inspire your participants.

Each of us can learn to create more magical, memorable rituals. Whether you are an experienced ritualist or brand new to ritual work, this collection of articles and essays will help you learn to facilitate stronger rituals. Techniques include ritual structure, handling logistics, common pitfalls, engaging participation, and helping new leaders to step into speaking roles.

Ritual Facilitation by Shauna Aura Knight
Available as an eBook for $4.99 at Amazon  & $15 for the hardcopy. If you need an eBook format other than Kindle you can buy direct from me, just comment here or email me at ShaunaAura (at) gmail (dot) com.


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: ceremonies, community, Energy raising, event planning, facilitation, leadership, Pagan, Pagan community, ritual, shauna aura knight, transformation

Roundup: Sex, Ethics, Predators, #YesAllWomen

9046129_xxlSo there’s more that needs to be discussed on the sex, ethics, harassment, predators, abuse, and consent front. There’s the #yesallwomen movement, and there are a lot of conversations happening. I’ve written more blog posts on the topic–but I’ll be honest, I haven’t published them. Why?

Well…I know I tend to go raw with my posts, but the posts I wrote may be too raw. I’m not sure if I want to go there. Maybe I’m not sure I want to reveal that much, or be that much of a bummer. Maybe I’m sick of triggering people.

And yet, if we don’t talk about these things, how can we heal them? How can we build healthier community? How can we build a better world?

I admit, when I hear about people doing horrible things, I can get pretty depressed. I think, what’s the point if all these people are going to do these terrible things? But then my optimist rears its head and insists, we can be better. We must be better.

While I work out whether or not to post some further blogs in my Pagans and Predators series, here’s a roundup of a lot of other great posts on these topics. If you read all the source posts here (I’ve pulled some pithy quotes from each) I think you’ll have a pretty good idea of the core issues not just in the Pagan community, but in our broader culture, that contribute to making this a self-perpetuating cycle.

http://www.mudandmagic.com/the-value-of-consent/

“At a drumming workshop, the instructor asked each person to individually play back a rhythm. I decided to pass on that particular exercise, being self-conscious about my sense of rhythm. When it came to my turn, I told the instructor that I would prefer not to and he was fine with that, but someone else in the class said “we’re allowed to not do it?”. It shocked me that those around me didn’t know that they were allowed to say “no” to something.

If we value consent as individuals and as a community, we will all develop the ability to lovingly enforce boundaries and respectfully step back if requested.”

 

http://blog.dianarajchel.com/2014/04/24/how-perfectly-nice-people-contribute-to-rape-and-molestation-triggerpalooza-kids/

“We failed his victims. It is an aching, glaring reality in the hordes of blog posts out there: there’s lots of talk about how we had warnings about Klein, but only the victims talk about how they were (mis)treated along the way. Call it rape culture, call it Peter Pan syndrome, call it Pagan fantasy culture at its worst – but also, call it our fault for not listening, for not paying attention, for dismissing instead of investigating.”

“But then real life happens: a woman tells you she’s been raped by someone you know – a guy you just had drinks with, a guy who’s on your trivia team, a guy who just helped you move.

Then believing her is a very different story.

Even after she gets the rape kit and the DNA proves something happened, you dredge up anything  that can make this not be so – even blaming her – to convince yourself you’re not the kind of person that would befriend a rapist.

Maybe she’s just trying to get revenge in a bad breakup, you tell yourself. You look for every fault she has. Something has to be wrong with her – because there’s no way you’d just let this happen, that you might have been a passive party to someone else’s violation….Or: look at how she wears baggy clothes and no makeup – why would anyone even want to rape her?

This train of thought is wrong – beyond wrong. It’s a complete moral failure.”

 

http://romanyrivers.com/2014/06/03/yesallwomen/

“Because if a woman says no she is a prude, but if she says yes she is a slut

Because when I worked as a waitress and a bar maid I was repeatedly slapped on the ass, pinched, groped, physically pulled, and cornered by male customers who thought it was ‘just a bit of fun’

Because body shaming and victim blaming are so common that women are told to just ‘get over it’”

 

 http://wildhunt.org/2014/06/marion-zimmer-bradley-abuse-and-cautionary-tales.html

“When allegations and discussions came up before, they were often isolated. Either by geography, fear, or by the nature of the early Internet, where different groups tended to circulate in a limited number of forums.”

 

http://www.jimchines.com/2014/06/rape-abuse-and-mzb/

“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.”

 

http://quietmike.org/2014/05/31/says-yesallwomen/

“Every woman I know has a story where, if she wasn’t assaulted, then was nearly assaulted. All have been stalked, at least once. My wife, my mother, my female friends, all have been subjected to fear in a way I can’t relate to. Every woman I know has a story where they didn’t feel safe because of something a man said or did to them. And no, not all men are bad. We’re not all “like that.” But how is anyone supposed to know that just by looking?

A major point of the #YesAllWomen trend was to show how women have to frequently deal with situations they aren’t in control of. This is lost by those opposing it. Some of them ironically say that these women are “out of control.” And that’s exactly what theyfear.

This also ties in to how people (men) think false accusations of rape happen frequently. The notion being that the woman is in control. All she needs to do is say it, right? “He raped me!” These men simply assume that this is easy to do, so it must happen all the time. Therefore, women are clearly lying about rapes.”

 

http://jezebel.com/dudes-stop-putting-women-in-the-girlfriendzone-1508177054

“Friend zoning, is, in broader terms, something bad that a guy who is not getting laid decides that the woman won’t fuck him is doing. It’s an incredibly self centered and self-pitying way to externalize one’s own mistakes or shortcomings, to blame the complex mystery of fickle human attraction on a woman’s agency, and makes about as much emotional sense as showing up to pick up your dry cleaning at 3 am and becoming so enraged that they’re not open that you throw a brick through the window.

But should something that originates 100% in the feelings of a man (note: women can be “friendzoned” too, but, according to The Internet, this happens much less often) perception be attributed to a woman? Probably not. That’s why, months ago, the ladies of Reddit came up with “girlfriendzoning” in the first place — it’s when guys “only see a girl as a potential girlfriend and not as a friend (or a human, really, in my opinion).”

Girlfriendzoning is not when a man is interested in a woman and is disappointed when her interest is not reciprocated; that’s a normal human way to respond to rejection. It’s the word for the pining blame men place on women for their own unrequited feelings, or for how some men completely lose interest in women as people once it’s clear she’s not interested in them sexually. It’s something done by a man who was never interested in anything but a sexual relationship in the first place, and tried to use faux friendship as a way to achieve sexual ends.”

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/28/yesallwomen-barage-sexism-elliot-rodger

“Associating misogyny with a mass murder would mean having to recognize just how dangerous misogyny really is and – if you’re partaking – giving it up. Some men want to believe that they can continue to call women “sluts” and make rape jokes without being part of a broader cultural impact. But they can’t: sexism, from everyday harassment to inequality enshrined in policy, pollutes our society as a whole and limits our ability to create real justice for women.”

 

https://medium.com/human-parts/a-gentlemens-guide-to-rape-culture-7fc86c50dc4c

You may think it’s unfair that we have to counteract and adjust ourselves for the ill behavior of other men. You know what? You’re right. It is unfair. Is that the fault of women? Or is it the fault of the men who act abysmally and make the rest of us look bad? If issues of fairness bother you, get mad at the men who make you and your actions appear questionable.

Here’s a bullet-point list of examples of rape culture.

· Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)

· Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)

· Sexually explicit jokes

· Tolerance of sexual harassment

· Inflating false rape report statistics

· Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history

· Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television

· Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive

· Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive

· Pressure on men to “score”

· Pressure on women to not appear “cold”

· Assuming only promiscuous women get raped

· Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped

· Refusing to take rape accusations seriously

· Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape”

More blog posts certainly to follow on this topic. Thank you for reading, and thank you for working to be a part of the solution.

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: #yesallwomen, abuse, community, consent, ethics, harassment, healing, leadership, sex

Pagan Infrastructure: Fundraising Challenges We Face

4502486_xlIt’s probably pretty obvious that I’m in support of Pagan infrastructure, whether that’s seminary/clergy training, leadership training, physical sacred land, or other Pagan organizations.

My own 5-10-year plan is to have land of my own outside of Chicago; a seminary/monastery/temple/farm/cooperative living space. I want to help offer leadership training to Pagans who are looking for that, as well as have self-sustaining land.

But there’s a few challenges to building that infrastructure, and to fundraising for that. Some challenges are easier to overcome than others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability in the past years as I’ve worked to create an organization focused on offering Pagan leadership training to bring forward what I learned at Diana’s Grove and other places.

As I post this, I’m in the final hours of my fundraiser on Indiegogo. I’ve become aware in the past months that I can’t keep going traveling and teaching the way that I have. It’s not financially sustainable for me. And yet, I feel strongly that Pagans need the infrastructure of more leadership training, Pagans need access to it, but therein lies one of the conundrums. There are many infrastructures that I think Pagans really want–and that our communities really need as we move forward–but there’s a few things in our way.

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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I’ve worked to observe the Pagan community and try to deconstruct some of the less-useful statements like “All Pagans are broke” and look at what’s going on beneath the surface. Here are some of the challenges in the way of building infrastructures for the Pagan community, and thus, challenges to fundraising.

  1. Pagans are often anti-establishment and resistant to donating money, especially Pagans who converted from one of the dominant religions. (Though, Pagans are just as susceptible to capitalism as anyone else and will pay for “shiny” things/events.)
  2. Pagans are often counterculture and creative types  which seems to result in less Pagans having higher-paying jobs, or, Pagans who are more adversely affected by the crappy economy. We have a lot of artists, creatives, and dreamers, and typically folks like this take lower-paying jobs or are more adversely affected by an economic downturn.
  3. A lot of Pagan leaders and groups out there have screwed up with money in the past, making it difficult for Pagans to want to donate to them, or to other groups. A group in Michigan dissolved after decades of work raising 25K for land which was embezzled by a board member with catastrophic medical expenses.
  4. Many Pagan leaders don’t have the business/not-for-profit management skills to manage an organization and make it financially sound. In fact those skills take money to gain, so it’s a catch-22. I’ll tell you this–if I had the money to go back to school, I’d finish up my bachelors and get a certificate in NFP management.
  5. Numbers. We’re perhap 1/2 of 1% of the population or less. So the population size that many of the dominant religions pull get tithes/donations from for tithes isn’t feasible for a Pagan group just because of numbers.
  6. Diverse traditions. Just because there are maybe a few thousand Pagans in all of Chicagoland, doesn’t mean all of them follow my tradition or your tradition or any of the traditions represented by a local group. In fact, there are dozens and dozens if not hundreds of specific traditions–someone might be the only Hellenic or Celtic Reconstructionist in a hundred miles.

All of these factors–and more–add up to why it’s difficult to build Pagan infrastructure. Not impossible, just an uphill struggle.

We can do it by solving problems on both ends of the spectrum–the problematic leadership issues, and, the Pagans who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for anything. I think there are a number of factors that could shift the balance in fundraising:

  1. Strong, healthy organizations that are vocal–we need some organizations that don’t have a back history of disgruntlement to step forward and do great work and have clear, clean books. And, perhaps as well, longer-term orgs who may have made mistakes but who have worked to correct those, and there’s a few orgs that could fall into that category. Basically, we need some “poster” organizations, some flagships, to say, “See, an ethically-run NFP can do a good job with your money, and here’s how they did it.”
  2. Continue developing Pagan interest in philanthropy. This one’s harder, and requires Pagans to see the value in donating to the orgs out there doing work. But, #1 helps with this. Focusing on the needs of Pagans is another way–ie, making a strong connection between, this is your money, and this is what your money buys in terms of Pagan services.

What does the future look like?
There are some really amazing possibilities and resources out there. There are some Pagans doing things that are already providing resources for our communities, like Circle Sanctuary, that does a lot of Pagan advocacy. Cherry Hill, that is a non-tradition-specific Pagan seminary providing tools and skills including pastoral counseling, among other things. There’s the new organization, the Pantheon Foundation, that launched at PantheaCon this year, that will offer fiscal sponsorship to smaller Pagan groups that don’t have the resources to get a 501C3 designation on their own, among other things. There’s The Wild Hunt blog, which is a news outlet for Pagans about news within the community, as well as an aggregator about Pagans in the news.

There are a lot of other resources out there. There are success stories and there are failures. There are many Pagans who have tried to create a local Pagan community center, or who have bought Pagan land. Some have been successful, some have not. Any group out there that organized a Pagan Pride event or other small festival probably had to raise money somehow to make that happen, or at least marshall volunteer forces.

The one thing that is consistent in all of this, however, is that these organizations need money to do the work they do. And that’s for various reasons and doesn’t at all have to do with largesse and mismanagement of resources. It takes money to build infrastructure. It takes volunteers to build infrastructure. It takes professionals to build infrastructure. 

We can have some amazing resources as a community if we work together. Some of the problems we face don’t have easy solutions, but if there is one strength to the Pagan community, it’s that we’ve always done a lot with a little. We know how to stretch our resources. We know how to be creative.

I’m an optimist. I’m excited for what we can do together. On Wednesday, I’ll be announcing a call for writing submissions on an anthology for Pagan leadership through Immanion Press, and I’d love to hear of some of the success stories out there. I’d love to be able to talk about the things we’ve done, and what we can do together if we put our collective brilliance to it.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, impact, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, structure, sustainability, sustainable

Pagan Infrastructure: Fundraising Challenges We Face

4502486_xlIt’s probably pretty obvious that I’m in support of Pagan infrastructure, whether that’s seminary/clergy training, leadership training, physical sacred land, or other Pagan organizations.

My own 5-10-year plan is to have land of my own outside of Chicago; a seminary/monastery/temple/farm/cooperative living space. I want to help offer leadership training to Pagans who are looking for that, as well as have self-sustaining land.

But there’s a few challenges to building that infrastructure, and to fundraising for that. Some challenges are easier to overcome than others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability in the past years as I’ve worked to create an organization focused on offering Pagan leadership training to bring forward what I learned at Diana’s Grove and other places.

As I post this, I’m in the final hours of my fundraiser on Indiegogo. I’ve become aware in the past months that I can’t keep going traveling and teaching the way that I have. It’s not financially sustainable for me. And yet, I feel strongly that Pagans need the infrastructure of more leadership training, Pagans need access to it, but therein lies one of the conundrums. There are many infrastructures that I think Pagans really want–and that our communities really need as we move forward–but there’s a few things in our way.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

I’ve worked to observe the Pagan community and try to deconstruct some of the less-useful statements like “All Pagans are broke” and look at what’s going on beneath the surface. Here are some of the challenges in the way of building infrastructures for the Pagan community, and thus, challenges to fundraising.

  1. Pagans are often anti-establishment and resistant to donating money, especially Pagans who converted from one of the dominant religions. (Though, Pagans are just as susceptible to capitalism as anyone else and will pay for “shiny” things/events.)
  2. Pagans are often counterculture and creative types  which seems to result in less Pagans having higher-paying jobs, or, Pagans who are more adversely affected by the crappy economy. We have a lot of artists, creatives, and dreamers, and typically folks like this take lower-paying jobs or are more adversely affected by an economic downturn.
  3. A lot of Pagan leaders and groups out there have screwed up with money in the past, making it difficult for Pagans to want to donate to them, or to other groups. A group in Michigan dissolved after decades of work raising 25K for land which was embezzled by a board member with catastrophic medical expenses.
  4. Many Pagan leaders don’t have the business/not-for-profit management skills to manage an organization and make it financially sound. In fact those skills take money to gain, so it’s a catch-22. I’ll tell you this–if I had the money to go back to school, I’d finish up my bachelors and get a certificate in NFP management.
  5. Numbers. We’re perhap 1/2 of 1% of the population or less. So the population size that many of the dominant religions pull get tithes/donations from for tithes isn’t feasible for a Pagan group just because of numbers.
  6. Diverse traditions. Just because there are maybe a few thousand Pagans in all of Chicagoland, doesn’t mean all of them follow my tradition or your tradition or any of the traditions represented by a local group. In fact, there are dozens and dozens if not hundreds of specific traditions–someone might be the only Hellenic or Celtic Reconstructionist in a hundred miles.

All of these factors–and more–add up to why it’s difficult to build Pagan infrastructure. Not impossible, just an uphill struggle.

We can do it by solving problems on both ends of the spectrum–the problematic leadership issues, and, the Pagans who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for anything. I think there are a number of factors that could shift the balance in fundraising:

  1. Strong, healthy organizations that are vocal–we need some organizations that don’t have a back history of disgruntlement to step forward and do great work and have clear, clean books. And, perhaps as well, longer-term orgs who may have made mistakes but who have worked to correct those, and there’s a few orgs that could fall into that category. Basically, we need some “poster” organizations, some flagships, to say, “See, an ethically-run NFP can do a good job with your money, and here’s how they did it.”
  2. Continue developing Pagan interest in philanthropy. This one’s harder, and requires Pagans to see the value in donating to the orgs out there doing work. But, #1 helps with this. Focusing on the needs of Pagans is another way–ie, making a strong connection between, this is your money, and this is what your money buys in terms of Pagan services.

What does the future look like?
There are some really amazing possibilities and resources out there. There are some Pagans doing things that are already providing resources for our communities, like Circle Sanctuary, that does a lot of Pagan advocacy. Cherry Hill, that is a non-tradition-specific Pagan seminary providing tools and skills including pastoral counseling, among other things. There’s the new organization, the Pantheon Foundation, that launched at PantheaCon this year, that will offer fiscal sponsorship to smaller Pagan groups that don’t have the resources to get a 501C3 designation on their own, among other things. There’s The Wild Hunt blog, which is a news outlet for Pagans about news within the community, as well as an aggregator about Pagans in the news.

There are a lot of other resources out there. There are success stories and there are failures. There are many Pagans who have tried to create a local Pagan community center, or who have bought Pagan land. Some have been successful, some have not. Any group out there that organized a Pagan Pride event or other small festival probably had to raise money somehow to make that happen, or at least marshall volunteer forces.

The one thing that is consistent in all of this, however, is that these organizations need money to do the work they do. And that’s for various reasons and doesn’t at all have to do with largesse and mismanagement of resources. It takes money to build infrastructure. It takes volunteers to build infrastructure. It takes professionals to build infrastructure. 

We can have some amazing resources as a community if we work together. Some of the problems we face don’t have easy solutions, but if there is one strength to the Pagan community, it’s that we’ve always done a lot with a little. We know how to stretch our resources. We know how to be creative.

I’m an optimist. I’m excited for what we can do together. On Wednesday, I’ll be announcing a call for writing submissions on an anthology for Pagan leadership through Immanion Press, and I’d love to hear of some of the success stories out there. I’d love to be able to talk about the things we’ve done, and what we can do together if we put our collective brilliance to it.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, impact, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, structure, sustainability, sustainable

Fundraising 4: Free Services for Pagan Events

3570095_xlOne of my great regrets as a Pagan organizer is that when I run an event, I’m often asking people to present or perform for free. Granted–I’m often presenting for free myself. But I still feel that people offering up a professional skill should be paid for their work.

Yet, I know how much most regular Pagan events pull in financially. I know that an event without a big name will probably bring in just enough to pay expenses.

On the other hand, I meet a lot of people, including Pagan organizers, that assume that any Pagan should offer their skills and talents for free, and I’m not ok with that. But how do we negotiate the gray area on this?

Some readers, performers, and presenters are happy to donate their time. Many of them can’t contribute financially to the event, but they can donate their time. In fact, several members of my own community in Chicago can’t afford to donate financially toward an event, however, they come early to help me set up, and stay late to help me clean up.

I think as members of a community that that is a fair contract–people offer their time and services, and help build a stronger community that they themselves are invested in, and that in term serves them. I’ve traveled and taught for free, and I’ve paid out of pocket for gas money, plus car repairs. I’ve paid out of pocket to teach at Pagan Pride events, I pay to travel to Pagan conferences, I pay for hotel out of pocket. As I’ve mentioned in past articles, even when I travel and teach for the cost of gas, there’s the “cost” of car maintenance.

And over time, I’ve gotten to a place where I cannot teach for free. If it’s local and there’s no big travel cost, and I want to support a community initiative–sure. I can do that. But, I can’t afford to drive a few hours and eat the cost of gas and car maintenance. I wish I could, but I can’t.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

Free isn’t Free
So I think that the first thing an event coordinator needs to be aware of is that free isn’t free. If a band comes and plays at your event, there’s the cost of travel, the hassle of moving equipment, dozens of other factors. I’ve seen a few great memes on Facebook about how many venues will tell a band, “Oh, you should do my bar for $0 or for $__ pittance, because it’ll get you great exposure.”

That band is still racking up a cost by playing, particularly if any travel is involved. For many living the “starving artist” lifestyle, that’s really not too far from the truth. That $5 or $10 (or $100) in gas money is more than their monthly budget allows for.

I have people all the time say, “Oh, my event is just over in ___, and it’s a free event so I can’t pay you, but it’ll be good exposure.” Well…it is good exposure. Maybe. But I may literally not have the $30 to get there and back.

So when you’re considering asking someone to offer their services at your event for free, first take into account what they might be paying out of pocket. And, perhaps that’s an area of negotiation; maybe they would be able to play your event (or take pictures, or read cards) if you were able to provide them travel money. Also consider proactive ways that you can promote that professional and their work to help make the event worth their while.

It’s at least a place to start.

Reasons to do an Event for Free
There are certainly times when it does make sense for someone to do an event for free, whether that’s a band, a reader, a photographer, or a presenter like myself.

  1. If it’s a really great promotional opportunity for me as a band/writer/artist/teacher that will ultimately bring me paid income
  2. If I have a significant investment in a particular community and that’s a way that I can donate my energy. Perhaps a group where I wish I could tithe money to but instead I can offer my services.

When to Ask for People to Donate Their Time
There are times when I ask people if they are willing to do readings at fundraiser events. Or when I ask people to perform as dancers or musicians for free, or to teach workshops for free. I only do this if it’s not going to be a significant outlay of money for them, and if they are willing, and if they have at least some investment in the community. I also may have to squeeze a little money out of the event budget to at least cover their costs.

**As a quick aside, I’m operating under the assumption that I’m talking about presenters, bands, performers, readers, or other professionals who would not necessarily be headliners. If we’re talking about a person or group that are a big draw on their own, that’s a different  contract entirely.

It’s possible that a professional or group might be willing to donate their time for a local cause, but probably only if they have a significant investment in that local community. As an event organizer, I really do hate asking people to donate their time when they are doing work that they should be getting paid for. But then, I hate asking people to pay for classes I teach. I value my time and my work, and yet I know times are tough and I want everyone to have the opportunity to take workshops and attend events.

All I can say is that I’ve been on both sides of it, and it’s walking a tightrope. I wish there was some other financial model that allowed for enough abundance, but sometimes it’s just a numbers game. There needs to be enough people in a community to support an event or a class, and for so many Pagans, there just isn’t.

Entertainment and Big Names
On the other hand, in some areas, a big entertainment-focused event can work as an effective fundraiser. There’s that saying that you have to spend money to make money, and it really is true. When you can afford a better venue, and when you can afford a good DJ or a good band, or a burlesque troop, and afford a good graphic designer to make your promotional materials promoting event…when you have a few thousand dollars to actually put on a big event, you can actually draw in a nice profit and use that to fund future activities.

Similarly, bringing in a bigger name presenter can be a big draw. I’ve worked with a few pretty big names, and for some of them I was convinced that there was no way we were going to be able to pay their fee and travel expenses and the venue. However, for the big names, miraculously people find that $25 or $100 or $200 to attend the event.

Now–I’m not going to get into the angst some Pagans have around the idea of “big name Pagans.” All I will say is, there are some big names that have earned that status because they are freaking amazing teachers, and having the opportunity to take a class with them is more than worth it. These teachers are finite resources–they can only travel so much, and, they will only live so long.

There are other big names that are not worth the time or the money. Figuring that out can be tricky, however, that’s part of why I recommend that any local organizer looking to bring in big names should go to some of the big Pagan conferences to get a feel for what some of those big names offer as far as their skill leading workshops and rituals.

When you are promoting an event to your local community and you are able to say, “I’ve seen Starhawk present in the past and she does amazing work,” that personal testimonial will make people stop and think about it, vs. just, “Oh, another workshop.”

I find that it’s very important to be able to get behind the presenters I’m bringing into town and be able to personally recommend them. I’m not going to bring in a big name just to bring in a lot of money.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that when you bring in a big name band or a presenter for either something like a concert or a witches ball, or for a weekend class, you have to charge more because the band/teacher has a cost. And thus, many of the people in your community who are low income will not be able to afford to attend.

In my case, I generally try to balance this out by offering entertainment events that have a firm cost, and educational events that have scholarships or sliding scale. But sometimes, I just have to charge a flat fee.

This is a difficulty that can better be negotiated through fundraising–if our group has a “kitty” of money and we can pay out of that fund to offer a few scholarships for 2-3 people who are highly active volunteers, that negotiates that pretty well, if I’m able to do something like that. Or, I can negotiate for a few work-exchange slots for people to help out with an event by taking volunteering roles.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve heard of numerous examples of events that went out of their way to offer work exchange for volunteers where the volunteers didn’t actually do any work, but still got to attend the class or event.

At some point I’ll probably do a longer post on negotiating work exchange, because it really does need to be contracted out.

And ultimately, as an event coordinator, you’re still left with the struggle of paying your professionals–whether they are a big name or not–and getting enough money in the door to make the event financially sustainable.

Breaking Even
At most Pagan events that I run (ie, small classes and sabbats), it’s been my experience that I’m usually barely able to break even past my rental expenses. I usually have a little bit of money for event food, ritual supplies, Meetup.com costs. Sometimes not.

I’ve found that concerts with more well-known Pagan musicians seem to bring in far more money. There, I make enough money to pay my venue rental, pay my musicians, and put a little in the kitty. The surplus from having SJ Tucker and Sharon Knight in Chicago for Lughnassadh paid for my venue rental for the Samhain ritual, which did not, unfortunately, break even.

And while there are some general event planning patterns that can help any Pagan out there looking to offer events that bring in enough money, a lot of it depends greatly on the region. In some areas, it’s nothing to have to drive an hour or even two hours to get to a Pagan event and people are used to it. In Chicago, if that sabbat ritual isn’t on someone’s train line, it’s unlikely they’re going to attend.

Theoretically in Chicago there are thousands of Pagans, and yet I often get far better attendance when I travel to a rural area. So some of this is knowing about event planning and what will bring in revenue–and some of it is knowing your local community. How far will people travel? How much are they willing to pay for a class? How much are they willing to pay for a concert or ball?

Ultimately my goal is for Pagans to have access to more financial resources. It takes money to make money, and some of the resources we want in our communities have a cost associated. If we have access to more money as a community, we can afford some of those resources, like training for Pagan clergy, or general Pagan education, or dedicated Pagan community centers, or Pagan advocacy groups.

And what is also important is paying our professionals for their time, instead of asking them to offer their skills for free.

When someone donates their time to an event/cause, it’s exactly that–it’s a donation, it’s an offering. It’s an exchange. Maybe an event coordinator is asking me to donate my time. Or, maybe I’m asking them to donate their time.

Any time you’re asking someone to donate their time it should not be an expectation. I would say that as a Pagan teacher, what has upset me the most is the expectation that not only will I teach for free, but when someone assumes I’ll pay out of pocket to travel to XYZ event for free.

It should never be an expectation. I donate my time to events and causes I believe in and want to support, even though I can’t do so financially. For instance, I pay to attend Pagan Spirit Gathering, even though I teach there, because that is my “tithe” to Circle. PSG is a fundraiser that raises money for Circle’s operating costs for the year.

But, any Pagan organizer asking for something like that should understand that that is what they are asking for, not that performers “should” just perform for free, or that readers should automatically donate their time.

Ultimately, this is why a lot of Pagan organizers burn out–negotiating all that is a lot of work. Typically, it’s a lot of unpaid work. Most people only have so much juice for it until they get sick of the endless tightrope walking. Similarly most Pagan performers get pretty sick of being asked to perform for free.

I don’t know the answers for how to bring more revenue into the Pagan community. It sure as heck isn’t bake sales. It’s something I think about a lot, because, if we had a little bit more money to work with, we’d be able to pay more of our professionals and have event budgets that were actually viable. And the more events that we can offer to our communities, the stronger our communities will be.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Uncategorized Tagged: clergy, community, leadership, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable, tithing

Fundraising 4: Free Services for Pagan Events

3570095_xlOne of my great regrets as a Pagan organizer is that when I run an event, I’m often asking people to present or perform for free. Granted–I’m often presenting for free myself. But I still feel that people offering up a professional skill should be paid for their work.

Yet, I know how much most regular Pagan events pull in financially. I know that an event without a big name will probably bring in just enough to pay expenses.

On the other hand, I meet a lot of people, including Pagan organizers, that assume that any Pagan should offer their skills and talents for free, and I’m not ok with that. But how do we negotiate the gray area on this?

Some readers, performers, and presenters are happy to donate their time. Many of them can’t contribute financially to the event, but they can donate their time. In fact, several members of my own community in Chicago can’t afford to donate financially toward an event, however, they come early to help me set up, and stay late to help me clean up.

I think as members of a community that that is a fair contract–people offer their time and services, and help build a stronger community that they themselves are invested in, and that in term serves them. I’ve traveled and taught for free, and I’ve paid out of pocket for gas money, plus car repairs. I’ve paid out of pocket to teach at Pagan Pride events, I pay to travel to Pagan conferences, I pay for hotel out of pocket. As I’ve mentioned in past articles, even when I travel and teach for the cost of gas, there’s the “cost” of car maintenance.

And over time, I’ve gotten to a place where I cannot teach for free. If it’s local and there’s no big travel cost, and I want to support a community initiative–sure. I can do that. But, I can’t afford to drive a few hours and eat the cost of gas and car maintenance. I wish I could, but I can’t.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

Free isn’t Free
So I think that the first thing an event coordinator needs to be aware of is that free isn’t free. If a band comes and plays at your event, there’s the cost of travel, the hassle of moving equipment, dozens of other factors. I’ve seen a few great memes on Facebook about how many venues will tell a band, “Oh, you should do my bar for $0 or for $__ pittance, because it’ll get you great exposure.”

That band is still racking up a cost by playing, particularly if any travel is involved. For many living the “starving artist” lifestyle, that’s really not too far from the truth. That $5 or $10 (or $100) in gas money is more than their monthly budget allows for.

I have people all the time say, “Oh, my event is just over in ___, and it’s a free event so I can’t pay you, but it’ll be good exposure.” Well…it is good exposure. Maybe. But I may literally not have the $30 to get there and back.

So when you’re considering asking someone to offer their services at your event for free, first take into account what they might be paying out of pocket. And, perhaps that’s an area of negotiation; maybe they would be able to play your event (or take pictures, or read cards) if you were able to provide them travel money. Also consider proactive ways that you can promote that professional and their work to help make the event worth their while.

It’s at least a place to start.

Reasons to do an Event for Free
There are certainly times when it does make sense for someone to do an event for free, whether that’s a band, a reader, a photographer, or a presenter like myself.

  1. If it’s a really great promotional opportunity for me as a band/writer/artist/teacher that will ultimately bring me paid income
  2. If I have a significant investment in a particular community and that’s a way that I can donate my energy. Perhaps a group where I wish I could tithe money to but instead I can offer my services.

When to Ask for People to Donate Their Time
There are times when I ask people if they are willing to do readings at fundraiser events. Or when I ask people to perform as dancers or musicians for free, or to teach workshops for free. I only do this if it’s not going to be a significant outlay of money for them, and if they are willing, and if they have at least some investment in the community. I also may have to squeeze a little money out of the event budget to at least cover their costs.

**As a quick aside, I’m operating under the assumption that I’m talking about presenters, bands, performers, readers, or other professionals who would not necessarily be headliners. If we’re talking about a person or group that are a big draw on their own, that’s a different  contract entirely.

It’s possible that a professional or group might be willing to donate their time for a local cause, but probably only if they have a significant investment in that local community. As an event organizer, I really do hate asking people to donate their time when they are doing work that they should be getting paid for. But then, I hate asking people to pay for classes I teach. I value my time and my work, and yet I know times are tough and I want everyone to have the opportunity to take workshops and attend events.

All I can say is that I’ve been on both sides of it, and it’s walking a tightrope. I wish there was some other financial model that allowed for enough abundance, but sometimes it’s just a numbers game. There needs to be enough people in a community to support an event or a class, and for so many Pagans, there just isn’t.

Entertainment and Big Names
On the other hand, in some areas, a big entertainment-focused event can work as an effective fundraiser. There’s that saying that you have to spend money to make money, and it really is true. When you can afford a better venue, and when you can afford a good DJ or a good band, or a burlesque troop, and afford a good graphic designer to make your promotional materials promoting event…when you have a few thousand dollars to actually put on a big event, you can actually draw in a nice profit and use that to fund future activities.

Similarly, bringing in a bigger name presenter can be a big draw. I’ve worked with a few pretty big names, and for some of them I was convinced that there was no way we were going to be able to pay their fee and travel expenses and the venue. However, for the big names, miraculously people find that $25 or $100 or $200 to attend the event.

Now–I’m not going to get into the angst some Pagans have around the idea of “big name Pagans.” All I will say is, there are some big names that have earned that status because they are freaking amazing teachers, and having the opportunity to take a class with them is more than worth it. These teachers are finite resources–they can only travel so much, and, they will only live so long.

There are other big names that are not worth the time or the money. Figuring that out can be tricky, however, that’s part of why I recommend that any local organizer looking to bring in big names should go to some of the big Pagan conferences to get a feel for what some of those big names offer as far as their skill leading workshops and rituals.

When you are promoting an event to your local community and you are able to say, “I’ve seen Starhawk present in the past and she does amazing work,” that personal testimonial will make people stop and think about it, vs. just, “Oh, another workshop.”

I find that it’s very important to be able to get behind the presenters I’m bringing into town and be able to personally recommend them. I’m not going to bring in a big name just to bring in a lot of money.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that when you bring in a big name band or a presenter for either something like a concert or a witches ball, or for a weekend class, you have to charge more because the band/teacher has a cost. And thus, many of the people in your community who are low income will not be able to afford to attend.

In my case, I generally try to balance this out by offering entertainment events that have a firm cost, and educational events that have scholarships or sliding scale. But sometimes, I just have to charge a flat fee.

This is a difficulty that can better be negotiated through fundraising–if our group has a “kitty” of money and we can pay out of that fund to offer a few scholarships for 2-3 people who are highly active volunteers, that negotiates that pretty well, if I’m able to do something like that. Or, I can negotiate for a few work-exchange slots for people to help out with an event by taking volunteering roles.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve heard of numerous examples of events that went out of their way to offer work exchange for volunteers where the volunteers didn’t actually do any work, but still got to attend the class or event.

At some point I’ll probably do a longer post on negotiating work exchange, because it really does need to be contracted out.

And ultimately, as an event coordinator, you’re still left with the struggle of paying your professionals–whether they are a big name or not–and getting enough money in the door to make the event financially sustainable.

Breaking Even
At most Pagan events that I run (ie, small classes and sabbats), it’s been my experience that I’m usually barely able to break even past my rental expenses. I usually have a little bit of money for event food, ritual supplies, Meetup.com costs. Sometimes not.

I’ve found that concerts with more well-known Pagan musicians seem to bring in far more money. There, I make enough money to pay my venue rental, pay my musicians, and put a little in the kitty. The surplus from having SJ Tucker and Sharon Knight in Chicago for Lughnassadh paid for my venue rental for the Samhain ritual, which did not, unfortunately, break even.

And while there are some general event planning patterns that can help any Pagan out there looking to offer events that bring in enough money, a lot of it depends greatly on the region. In some areas, it’s nothing to have to drive an hour or even two hours to get to a Pagan event and people are used to it. In Chicago, if that sabbat ritual isn’t on someone’s train line, it’s unlikely they’re going to attend.

Theoretically in Chicago there are thousands of Pagans, and yet I often get far better attendance when I travel to a rural area. So some of this is knowing about event planning and what will bring in revenue–and some of it is knowing your local community. How far will people travel? How much are they willing to pay for a class? How much are they willing to pay for a concert or ball?

Ultimately my goal is for Pagans to have access to more financial resources. It takes money to make money, and some of the resources we want in our communities have a cost associated. If we have access to more money as a community, we can afford some of those resources, like training for Pagan clergy, or general Pagan education, or dedicated Pagan community centers, or Pagan advocacy groups.

And what is also important is paying our professionals for their time, instead of asking them to offer their skills for free.

When someone donates their time to an event/cause, it’s exactly that–it’s a donation, it’s an offering. It’s an exchange. Maybe an event coordinator is asking me to donate my time. Or, maybe I’m asking them to donate their time.

Any time you’re asking someone to donate their time it should not be an expectation. I would say that as a Pagan teacher, what has upset me the most is the expectation that not only will I teach for free, but when someone assumes I’ll pay out of pocket to travel to XYZ event for free.

It should never be an expectation. I donate my time to events and causes I believe in and want to support, even though I can’t do so financially. For instance, I pay to attend Pagan Spirit Gathering, even though I teach there, because that is my “tithe” to Circle. PSG is a fundraiser that raises money for Circle’s operating costs for the year.

But, any Pagan organizer asking for something like that should understand that that is what they are asking for, not that performers “should” just perform for free, or that readers should automatically donate their time.

Ultimately, this is why a lot of Pagan organizers burn out–negotiating all that is a lot of work. Typically, it’s a lot of unpaid work. Most people only have so much juice for it until they get sick of the endless tightrope walking. Similarly most Pagan performers get pretty sick of being asked to perform for free.

I don’t know the answers for how to bring more revenue into the Pagan community. It sure as heck isn’t bake sales. It’s something I think about a lot, because, if we had a little bit more money to work with, we’d be able to pay more of our professionals and have event budgets that were actually viable. And the more events that we can offer to our communities, the stronger our communities will be.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Uncategorized Tagged: clergy, community, leadership, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable, tithing

Fundraising 3: Methods to Raise Funds

ButterflySquareApples2I thought it might be useful to collect some fundraising strategies that have worked for Pagan and small groups. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it can give a small organization a place to start.

I’d be very interested in hearing about other fundraising options that have worked for you and your group in the past–perhaps I’ll feature those ideas in a future blog post.

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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Potluck
What does food have to do with fundraising? If your group is totally against any money changing hands, you can work to build a solid culture of potluckers. This can take time to build up, and sometimes it takes a few really anemic potlucks to be able to point out to folks, “If you want good food to celebrate the sabbat, you all have to bring it.” I have found that it especially helps to address this to the group directly, without blame, but definitely specifically pointing it out vs. being passive aggressive and fuming about it. Encouraging potlucking models co-creation and energetic sharing, and is a good pre-step to fundraising.

Anecdote: In Chicago for the public events I offer, fewer people bring potluck but more are willing to donate cash, and I believe this is 1. Because people are busy, and 2. Because it’s hard to bring potluck on the bus. In this case, I’ve given myself over to just buying some supplementary food out of the event budget, and things work out ok. It’s worth noting that (in Chicago) some small groups with a longstanding culture of potluck will turn out some amazing spreads. It’s also worth noting that groups that start out by running events and almost “catering” the events by bringing a lot of food to them will, in fact, reduce how much potluck others bring, since attendees will perceive that they are being fed and that they don’t need to bring anything.

***If you’re having any kind of food, catered or potluck, please be earth conscious. Don’t buy styrofoam plates that are toxic to you, that have toxic byproducts, and that aren’t going to decompose. If you have to use plastic plates, please find a way to wash and reuse them. Paper plates contribute to clearcutting and deforestation. I recommend setting up a “Green dish station,” though this certainly takes volunteers. But it’s a good place to put volunteers who can’t afford to financially contribute. Contact me if you want more info on what a Green dish station might entail.

Love Offerings Jar/Basket
I find this a good place to start, especially in a group that has a few strong voices against any Pagan classes/events making money. Making 100% transparent the actual cost of venue, candles, and other supplies can help with this. If you’re looking to start somewhere, this is a fairly nonthreatening place to begin.

Energetically, there are some similarities with donations and potluck. If you’ve been offering events where you (the organizers) cater them, you set up the expectation that your participants/attendees don’t need to bring anything. You’re energetically ensuring your audience is passive, that you will take care of their needs for them, and that can become an ingrained, systemic pattern if you’re not careful.

If you’ve been running events for a while, or if your local Pagan culture does not typically ask for donations, it will take some time to build up a culture of attendees willing to donate. Whatever you do at your events sets a tone, an expectation. If you’re moving from events that have been free and you haven’t mentioned all the money you’re putting into things, this is a good transition move. If you’re just starting up events, but aren’t comfortable passing the basket or charging admission, at least have a donation jar of some kind because otherwise, your participants may never even consider that it costs money to run an event like a ritual or classes.

Note: If you’ve been paying out of pocket for months, and find yourself making snippy comments like, “Well, I’m the one who paid for the last 12 events and somehow no one else is stepping up and helping,” or if you have blown up (or feel like you’ll blow up) at the next participant who complains about your event by screaming something like, “You can complain about this event when you’re the one paying for it,” you may want to have someone else on your team explain to people why you’re asking for money.

I’ve been there, and I get it–but blowing up at people does not build a healthy and sustainable structure of raising funds for future event. You’ll have some folks leave the group, you’ll have a bunch of folks give you guilt money, and within a year, a lot of people in your group will mysteriously have drifted away. If you’re that pissed off, find a safe place to vent, so that you can calmly educate people in a non-explosive, non-condescending way, about why funds are being collected.

Pass the Basket
This is a little more aggressive than the love offerings jar. You’re likely to get more donations, but, this is in part because many people will feel (whether or not it’s true) the social pressure of eyes boring into the back of their heads if they don’t drop some money in. For folks who have $5 or $20 on them and no problems donating, this method works, but for folks who really can’t afford to donate, they might feel really uncomfortable having their inability to pay being put out in front of the whole group.

I have never used this model because I have felt put on the spot by it. Similar to the above, guilt isn’t the most long-term sustainable way to get money, even if it raises more funds in the short term. I’ve had members of my team do something similar to this by passing a box around after a class, but I felt that that really put pressure on people to donate, and the newer folks are often skittish, even if they do have money to pay.

I’d rather invest in a long-term relationship rather than get someone’s $20 for that event, since my goal is spiritual community, education, and other services that will help that person on their journey, not just making the money for that event. If your goal is to serve everyone, regardless of ability to pay, I recommend the sliding scale donation which can be paid in more privacy.

Suggested donation/sliding scale
This is the model I use for almost all the classes, rituals, and events I offer. I find that, with few exceptions, this model works the best as a bridge between capitalism and a more communal/tithing model. I have various language I use, and I’m happy to forward you some of that language via email or Facebook. For a ritual or short class (2-4 hours) it’s typically:

Admission: $5-$25 sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds. Your donation goes toward space rental, etc. etc.

It takes people a while to “get” the sliding scale/no one turned away model. Many people RSVP “No”for events saying, ‘No, I can’t attend, I don’t have the money,” and so I find a lot of education is necessary to communicate that people are welcome at the event, it’s a donation, and if they can’t pay now but they can pay later, that they’re welcome to pay it forward, or stay and help out with cleanup, or volunteer for other work exchange.

Auctions
This can be a great way to raise funds because people are so much more willing to part with money when they are getting something out of it. It’s a win for the whole community when you do it right–your auction items/services get donated from local artisans and healers, and this gains them exposure and business. It also solidifies your community together in a common cause. Auctions work best when:

  1. You involve the broader community in acquiring donations,
  2. You have a fun event around the auction,
  3. You have a good auctioneer,
  4. You have people willing to spend money on things not just for themselves, but for others,
  5. Well organized auction table with nice bid sheets,
  6. Have some silent auction, and only big ticket items go for voice auction before the group, so that the auction doesn’t drag on forever, which is a big buzzkill
  7. Break up auctioning with some kind of entertainment (engaging local musicians or entertainers works well)

When I haven’t done this, proceeds are lower, or people get bored and drift away. For small auctions I’ve brought in $100-$200, for “big” causes I’ve brought in $1500-$2000, even in places where the local Pagans told me they’d never raised more than $50 at an event before.

Donations for Charities:
Everything I’ve mentioned thus far is ways to raise money for groups, regardless of the purpose of the money. My assumption here is that you’re looking for ways to raise funds for the operating costs of your group, space rental, or saving up for future events and endeavors. However, it’s worth mentioning that these are methods often employed for raising money for charities and other causes.

In fact, most of the time when I see Pagan groups (or organizations like Pagan Pride) using these methods, it’s to raise funds for local charities. That’s never a bad thing, and it’s good to give back to the needy. However, I would offer the caution that some groups get into the trap where they are told (or other local groups or individuals loudly proclaim) that it’s only ok to fundraise for a charity, not for the group itself.

Similar to this, I’ve seen groups offering Pagan Pride-like events that put all the money raised into charity donations for something like a women’s shelter, and then when they start organizing next year’s event, they have no seed money at all to rent a venue.

If you’re fundraising for charity, I recommend keeping some of the money for group activities, and making that transparent. Or, as I like to call it, putting your own oxygen mask on first. If you have a great event planned, but none of your vendors have pre-registered and you can’t secure the space and have to cancel the event, then you don’t get to raise any money for the charity of your choice.

Vendors & Advertisers
A tried and true way many Pagan organizers pay for larger events like a Pagan Pride is by selling vendor slots. Each vendor or reader pays a flat fee, say $25 or $50 or $100 for their 10×10 booth area. Sometimes advertising is offered, if it’s a larger event like a Pagan festival that will be doing a lot of pre-promotion, and a program book. For most medium/large Pagan events, having vendors is one of the only ways you can guarantee you’ll cover your costs.

But here are a few things to consider. If you’re looking to keep the focus of your work on spirituality and education, lots of tables with mass produced bling may not be what you want. While I’m all for supporting our local Pagan/New Age bookstores, I also can’t ethically tell participants at my event that yes, they really need that Tarot deck and wand to be a real Pagan. As an event organizer, that puts me into a moral conflict, because the contract I’m entering into with my vendors is essentially, “You have agreed to give me $50 and I am putting my name behind the stuff you are selling, and encouraging people to buy from you,” because the way vendors and advertisers make money is when people buy from them.

When I’m in a position of needing to support an event with vendors, I try hard to ensure that most of the vendors are local artisans and readers who are also a part of the community, that they have unique offerings that I can truly say, “Yes, this is a good product, these are good people to support with your money.” If a vendor is just there to make a buck, I’m likely to turn down their application rather than compromise my ethics. I wouldn’t turn away a vendor just for selling something mass produced–like books or jewelry–but I’d want to check out the vendor first and see what they’re doing in the community.

I invite Occult Bookstore in Chicago to vend at Ringing Anvil events because they do a tremendous amount of education to the folks who walk into their store, they are upstanding folks, and they make their classroom available for diverse classes and education.

Indiegogo/Kickstarter/Gofundme
These are some of the more successful fundraising efforts I’ve seen in the Pagan community, though I should point out that they seem to be the most effective for artistic endeavors like Pagan musicians, though the Wild Hunt has funded their own costs in this way. In fact, I’m trying this method out myself at the moment.

Tithing/Memberships
The word tithe actually comes from “tenth,” with the idea that each person would put 10% of their income and assets back to the Church (or other body that required it). Given that it’s unlikely many folks are likely to put in 10%, the word “tithe” might be a little misleading, though I’ve heard a more modern connotation of tithe used to mean, donating back based on income, without specifying a percentage.

In past Pagan groups, I’ve seen resistance to an annual membership unless people are “getting” something. The group that I was a co-organizer for, Earth Spiritualists of Chicago, had a failed attempt at a membership fee. People didn’t feel the need to spend $25 on an annual membership because, they were already on our Meetup site, and they already attended events, why pay more? We tried luring people with package deals–free tarot readings, and we talked about t-shirts for members, but it never took off.

On the other hand, groups like the (now gone) Diana’s Grove or the group that formed out of the ashes, The Grove, that are offering a specific educational program have had a bit more success with an annual membership to register with their Mystery School. However, with that we’re talking about people buying a service, and not necessarily gaining buy-in into the organization as co-creators. Some are–staffers might pay the annual registration fee the same as the other students do. But it isn’t exactly the model that’s transferable for many local community groups. I think that this area is a growing edge for many groups. 

Events, Items, Services
In a workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering led by Florence, editor of Circle Magazine and a woman with considerable experience in the field of not for profit fundraising, I learned that there’s basically two types of fundraising for a not for profit. One is money that is a gift, and the other is money that is earned through the activities of the not for profit. Some people form not for profits imagining that all of this grant money will suddenly flow their way, or that people–lured by the tax deduction–will suddenly begin just donating to their organization.

The truth is that most money is raised through events, services, or products related to the not for profit. An event like a masquerade ball where the money–after event expenses–goes toward the operation of the not for profit. Another example is Pagan Spirit Gathering itself, where–after event expenses–the profits go to support Circle’s operational costs for the next year.

Other examples of this might be selling particular items or services that are in line with the organization’s mission, like t-shirts, bake sales, tarot readings.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a very successful fundraising model likely because, like an auction/raffle, it’s pretty darn close to the capitalism that people are used to. People are buying an item or service that they value. They feel good about the purchase because it supports a group.

What should be obvious to anyone organizing a fundraiser like this is if it costs you $15 for a T-shirt you’re making $5 off of, or $2,000 to run an event, and you make $3,000 and put in months of time organizing the event just to get $1000, wouldn’t it be more efficient for people to just donate the $1,000? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. People want something for their money that’s tangible, or the experience of an event.

I’d also offer that fundraising events tend to work better when they are entertainment focused, like a concert or ball. What I’ve noticed  in my recent experience of running Pagan concerts is that plenty of people are willing to pay $20-$25 for a concert ticket, and then another $20 on CDs. Many of these are folks that have no interest in attending a ritual or a class.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: clergy, community, leadership, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable, tithing

Fundraising 3: Methods to Raise Funds

ButterflySquareApples2I thought it might be useful to collect some fundraising strategies that have worked for Pagan and small groups. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it can give a small organization a place to start.

I’d be very interested in hearing about other fundraising options that have worked for you and your group in the past–perhaps I’ll feature those ideas in a future blog post.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

Potluck
What does food have to do with fundraising? If your group is totally against any money changing hands, you can work to build a solid culture of potluckers. This can take time to build up, and sometimes it takes a few really anemic potlucks to be able to point out to folks, “If you want good food to celebrate the sabbat, you all have to bring it.” I have found that it especially helps to address this to the group directly, without blame, but definitely specifically pointing it out vs. being passive aggressive and fuming about it. Encouraging potlucking models co-creation and energetic sharing, and is a good pre-step to fundraising.

Anecdote: In Chicago for the public events I offer, fewer people bring potluck but more are willing to donate cash, and I believe this is 1. Because people are busy, and 2. Because it’s hard to bring potluck on the bus. In this case, I’ve given myself over to just buying some supplementary food out of the event budget, and things work out ok. It’s worth noting that (in Chicago) some small groups with a longstanding culture of potluck will turn out some amazing spreads. It’s also worth noting that groups that start out by running events and almost “catering” the events by bringing a lot of food to them will, in fact, reduce how much potluck others bring, since attendees will perceive that they are being fed and that they don’t need to bring anything.

***If you’re having any kind of food, catered or potluck, please be earth conscious. Don’t buy styrofoam plates that are toxic to you, that have toxic byproducts, and that aren’t going to decompose. If you have to use plastic plates, please find a way to wash and reuse them. Paper plates contribute to clearcutting and deforestation. I recommend setting up a “Green dish station,” though this certainly takes volunteers. But it’s a good place to put volunteers who can’t afford to financially contribute. Contact me if you want more info on what a Green dish station might entail.

Love Offerings Jar/Basket
I find this a good place to start, especially in a group that has a few strong voices against any Pagan classes/events making money. Making 100% transparent the actual cost of venue, candles, and other supplies can help with this. If you’re looking to start somewhere, this is a fairly nonthreatening place to begin.

Energetically, there are some similarities with donations and potluck. If you’ve been offering events where you (the organizers) cater them, you set up the expectation that your participants/attendees don’t need to bring anything. You’re energetically ensuring your audience is passive, that you will take care of their needs for them, and that can become an ingrained, systemic pattern if you’re not careful.

If you’ve been running events for a while, or if your local Pagan culture does not typically ask for donations, it will take some time to build up a culture of attendees willing to donate. Whatever you do at your events sets a tone, an expectation. If you’re moving from events that have been free and you haven’t mentioned all the money you’re putting into things, this is a good transition move. If you’re just starting up events, but aren’t comfortable passing the basket or charging admission, at least have a donation jar of some kind because otherwise, your participants may never even consider that it costs money to run an event like a ritual or classes.

Note: If you’ve been paying out of pocket for months, and find yourself making snippy comments like, “Well, I’m the one who paid for the last 12 events and somehow no one else is stepping up and helping,” or if you have blown up (or feel like you’ll blow up) at the next participant who complains about your event by screaming something like, “You can complain about this event when you’re the one paying for it,” you may want to have someone else on your team explain to people why you’re asking for money.

I’ve been there, and I get it–but blowing up at people does not build a healthy and sustainable structure of raising funds for future event. You’ll have some folks leave the group, you’ll have a bunch of folks give you guilt money, and within a year, a lot of people in your group will mysteriously have drifted away. If you’re that pissed off, find a safe place to vent, so that you can calmly educate people in a non-explosive, non-condescending way, about why funds are being collected.

Pass the Basket
This is a little more aggressive than the love offerings jar. You’re likely to get more donations, but, this is in part because many people will feel (whether or not it’s true) the social pressure of eyes boring into the back of their heads if they don’t drop some money in. For folks who have $5 or $20 on them and no problems donating, this method works, but for folks who really can’t afford to donate, they might feel really uncomfortable having their inability to pay being put out in front of the whole group.

I have never used this model because I have felt put on the spot by it. Similar to the above, guilt isn’t the most long-term sustainable way to get money, even if it raises more funds in the short term. I’ve had members of my team do something similar to this by passing a box around after a class, but I felt that that really put pressure on people to donate, and the newer folks are often skittish, even if they do have money to pay.

I’d rather invest in a long-term relationship rather than get someone’s $20 for that event, since my goal is spiritual community, education, and other services that will help that person on their journey, not just making the money for that event. If your goal is to serve everyone, regardless of ability to pay, I recommend the sliding scale donation which can be paid in more privacy.

Suggested donation/sliding scale
This is the model I use for almost all the classes, rituals, and events I offer. I find that, with few exceptions, this model works the best as a bridge between capitalism and a more communal/tithing model. I have various language I use, and I’m happy to forward you some of that language via email or Facebook. For a ritual or short class (2-4 hours) it’s typically:

Admission: $5-$25 sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds. Your donation goes toward space rental, etc. etc.

It takes people a while to “get” the sliding scale/no one turned away model. Many people RSVP “No”for events saying, ‘No, I can’t attend, I don’t have the money,” and so I find a lot of education is necessary to communicate that people are welcome at the event, it’s a donation, and if they can’t pay now but they can pay later, that they’re welcome to pay it forward, or stay and help out with cleanup, or volunteer for other work exchange.

Auctions
This can be a great way to raise funds because people are so much more willing to part with money when they are getting something out of it. It’s a win for the whole community when you do it right–your auction items/services get donated from local artisans and healers, and this gains them exposure and business. It also solidifies your community together in a common cause. Auctions work best when:

  1. You involve the broader community in acquiring donations,
  2. You have a fun event around the auction,
  3. You have a good auctioneer,
  4. You have people willing to spend money on things not just for themselves, but for others,
  5. Well organized auction table with nice bid sheets,
  6. Have some silent auction, and only big ticket items go for voice auction before the group, so that the auction doesn’t drag on forever, which is a big buzzkill
  7. Break up auctioning with some kind of entertainment (engaging local musicians or entertainers works well)

When I haven’t done this, proceeds are lower, or people get bored and drift away. For small auctions I’ve brought in $100-$200, for “big” causes I’ve brought in $1500-$2000, even in places where the local Pagans told me they’d never raised more than $50 at an event before.

Donations for Charities:
Everything I’ve mentioned thus far is ways to raise money for groups, regardless of the purpose of the money. My assumption here is that you’re looking for ways to raise funds for the operating costs of your group, space rental, or saving up for future events and endeavors. However, it’s worth mentioning that these are methods often employed for raising money for charities and other causes.

In fact, most of the time when I see Pagan groups (or organizations like Pagan Pride) using these methods, it’s to raise funds for local charities. That’s never a bad thing, and it’s good to give back to the needy. However, I would offer the caution that some groups get into the trap where they are told (or other local groups or individuals loudly proclaim) that it’s only ok to fundraise for a charity, not for the group itself.

Similar to this, I’ve seen groups offering Pagan Pride-like events that put all the money raised into charity donations for something like a women’s shelter, and then when they start organizing next year’s event, they have no seed money at all to rent a venue.

If you’re fundraising for charity, I recommend keeping some of the money for group activities, and making that transparent. Or, as I like to call it, putting your own oxygen mask on first. If you have a great event planned, but none of your vendors have pre-registered and you can’t secure the space and have to cancel the event, then you don’t get to raise any money for the charity of your choice.

Vendors & Advertisers
A tried and true way many Pagan organizers pay for larger events like a Pagan Pride is by selling vendor slots. Each vendor or reader pays a flat fee, say $25 or $50 or $100 for their 10×10 booth area. Sometimes advertising is offered, if it’s a larger event like a Pagan festival that will be doing a lot of pre-promotion, and a program book. For most medium/large Pagan events, having vendors is one of the only ways you can guarantee you’ll cover your costs.

But here are a few things to consider. If you’re looking to keep the focus of your work on spirituality and education, lots of tables with mass produced bling may not be what you want. While I’m all for supporting our local Pagan/New Age bookstores, I also can’t ethically tell participants at my event that yes, they really need that Tarot deck and wand to be a real Pagan. As an event organizer, that puts me into a moral conflict, because the contract I’m entering into with my vendors is essentially, “You have agreed to give me $50 and I am putting my name behind the stuff you are selling, and encouraging people to buy from you,” because the way vendors and advertisers make money is when people buy from them.

When I’m in a position of needing to support an event with vendors, I try hard to ensure that most of the vendors are local artisans and readers who are also a part of the community, that they have unique offerings that I can truly say, “Yes, this is a good product, these are good people to support with your money.” If a vendor is just there to make a buck, I’m likely to turn down their application rather than compromise my ethics. I wouldn’t turn away a vendor just for selling something mass produced–like books or jewelry–but I’d want to check out the vendor first and see what they’re doing in the community.

I invite Occult Bookstore in Chicago to vend at Ringing Anvil events because they do a tremendous amount of education to the folks who walk into their store, they are upstanding folks, and they make their classroom available for diverse classes and education.

Indiegogo/Kickstarter/Gofundme
These are some of the more successful fundraising efforts I’ve seen in the Pagan community, though I should point out that they seem to be the most effective for artistic endeavors like Pagan musicians, though the Wild Hunt has funded their own costs in this way. In fact, I’m trying this method out myself at the moment.

Tithing/Memberships
The word tithe actually comes from “tenth,” with the idea that each person would put 10% of their income and assets back to the Church (or other body that required it). Given that it’s unlikely many folks are likely to put in 10%, the word “tithe” might be a little misleading, though I’ve heard a more modern connotation of tithe used to mean, donating back based on income, without specifying a percentage.

In past Pagan groups, I’ve seen resistance to an annual membership unless people are “getting” something. The group that I was a co-organizer for, Earth Spiritualists of Chicago, had a failed attempt at a membership fee. People didn’t feel the need to spend $25 on an annual membership because, they were already on our Meetup site, and they already attended events, why pay more? We tried luring people with package deals–free tarot readings, and we talked about t-shirts for members, but it never took off.

On the other hand, groups like the (now gone) Diana’s Grove or the group that formed out of the ashes, The Grove, that are offering a specific educational program have had a bit more success with an annual membership to register with their Mystery School. However, with that we’re talking about people buying a service, and not necessarily gaining buy-in into the organization as co-creators. Some are–staffers might pay the annual registration fee the same as the other students do. But it isn’t exactly the model that’s transferable for many local community groups. I think that this area is a growing edge for many groups. 

Events, Items, Services
In a workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering led by Florence, editor of Circle Magazine and a woman with considerable experience in the field of not for profit fundraising, I learned that there’s basically two types of fundraising for a not for profit. One is money that is a gift, and the other is money that is earned through the activities of the not for profit. Some people form not for profits imagining that all of this grant money will suddenly flow their way, or that people–lured by the tax deduction–will suddenly begin just donating to their organization.

The truth is that most money is raised through events, services, or products related to the not for profit. An event like a masquerade ball where the money–after event expenses–goes toward the operation of the not for profit. Another example is Pagan Spirit Gathering itself, where–after event expenses–the profits go to support Circle’s operational costs for the next year.

Other examples of this might be selling particular items or services that are in line with the organization’s mission, like t-shirts, bake sales, tarot readings.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a very successful fundraising model likely because, like an auction/raffle, it’s pretty darn close to the capitalism that people are used to. People are buying an item or service that they value. They feel good about the purchase because it supports a group.

What should be obvious to anyone organizing a fundraiser like this is if it costs you $15 for a T-shirt you’re making $5 off of, or $2,000 to run an event, and you make $3,000 and put in months of time organizing the event just to get $1000, wouldn’t it be more efficient for people to just donate the $1,000? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. People want something for their money that’s tangible, or the experience of an event.

I’d also offer that fundraising events tend to work better when they are entertainment focused, like a concert or ball. What I’ve noticed  in my recent experience of running Pagan concerts is that plenty of people are willing to pay $20-$25 for a concert ticket, and then another $20 on CDs. Many of these are folks that have no interest in attending a ritual or a class.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: clergy, community, leadership, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable, tithing

Fundraising in the Pagan Community Part 2

5169121_xxlShould Pagan teachers charge? How are we going to pay for all the Pagan events and initiatives out there? I see those questions come up a lot. I also see some Pagans viciously attack anyone who charges for classes or events.

Context is important, and I’d offer that there’s a range of what we mean when we say, charging for classes and services.

I charge for what I do. I travel and teach, I host events. There’s a cost–a hard cost (venue rental, gas money) and a soft cost (time).

I charge for readings too. But, I also do rather a lot for free. In fact, most of the time even when I’m charging, I’d say I ultimately end up at a financial loss.

I think it would be useful to look at the range of contexts. In fact, let’s also just look at the math.

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

Let’s look at a priest/ess hosting coven classes and rituals out of their home. Small group, let’s say there’s 5-15 people. I think most of the time folks like this are not charging hard cash for their classes and rituals. However, let’s look at the costs they are incurring, both hard costs and soft costs.

Hard costs: Any ritual supplies. Candles. Food, if they are hosting. Printouts of class materials. Possibly gas money for going out to buy supplies.
Soft costs: The time spent preparing their space for guests, doing dishes and cleaning up after. Event hosting out of your home may be free, but it can take a lot of time to prepare for. There’s also the impact on the host house’s family; if members of the family have to stay out of the living room, or leave the house entirely, there’s an emotional and time cost there too. There’s also the additional time incurred running errands.

Additional soft costs: the time it takes to prepare the lessons and rituals, as well as the inevitable pastoral counseling. If you’re working with a small group of people and you are the designated leader, eventually people are going to come to you for advice on their problems in their lives. Depending on the people and the group, this might be just a little time out of your day, or it might be multiple hours-long counseling sessions each week.

A member of the ADF clergy once said this very succinctly. “I don’t want to charge for my services, however, this is taking more and more of my time. If I’m cleaning my house after a gathering and spending several hours a week counseling people, I don’t have time to do my normal work. This is cutting into time I need to work my full time job. Something has to give. If you’re not going to pay me so I can work less hours, are you going to come over and do my dishes for me after a gathering here? Are you going to help me with the cleaning I don’t get done because I’m doing free counseling? Are you going to bring candles? Are you going to bring food?”

But Real Witches Never Charged
That’s not true at all. I think if we look back to our ancestors, the Witch/Shaman/Druid/Priest/Healer of the tribe was getting paid, in the form of a tithe from the tribe for their upkeep. It might be in the form of a chicken or a fur or a seat at the dinner table, or help building their home, but it was still payment.

Money is not a dirty thing. Money represents your time that you spent laboring. It represents energy. So, a small group clergy leader like this might need to take donations to help with hard costs like supplies, but they also might need to ask for help with some of the things that they don’t have time for if they’re prepping lessons and doing one-on-one counseling.

I don’t think it’s at all out of bounds for a coven leader to ask group members to help them with light cleaning and dishes, or, with the occasional larger house project like painting a living room. It’s an energy exchange. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that some group leaders can become highly unethical about this. In a more unethical, cult-like group, the group leader might demand service, monetary donations, or even sexual favors. And I think that’s a little bit of why Pagans end up with such a squick about asking for help with cleaning, or asking for money…because some people do abuse this.

Costs of Running Public Events
The next level up in expenses is more along the lines of what I do–running public rituals/larger group events. This one is pretty easy to outline.

Hard costs:
Venue Rental: Some groups are able to use parks or forest preserves for free, that doesn’t really work for where I’m doing rituals. When I host a public ritual in Chicago, it can cost me rather a lot of money. And I’ve lost my shirt on event space rental fees when I didn’t get enough donations. Right now my venue rental is about $300 a day.

Ritual supplies: Candles, rubbing alcohol and Epsom salts for a cauldron fire (or firewood)

Longer term ritual supplies: Fabric for the tables, ritual decorations, extra ritual wear for people taking roles. These are things I’ve paid for out of pocket and “loan” to the group/event.

Web site: Meetup.com costs something like $15 or so a month, and web hosting can cost $50 or more a year. I finally dumped Meetup.com just this past year, but it was a consistent expense.

Potluck food: If I’m hosting a potluck, I still need to bring a few core offerings. Some events, the donations to the potlucks have been pretty sparse.

What do I Charge?
What I typically do for my public events is ask for a sliding scale donation, $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds. I’m offering one of the only public rituals in Chicagoland, so I feel it’s important to keep making these available no matter what people can pay. At the same time, I can’t afford to lose money on an event.

It’s utterly and completely unfair to ask clergy that have been putting in hours and hours to plan an event, and then host it, and clean it up, to also spend money to cover the costs. And yet, when I teach Pagan leadership workshops, so many leaders fess up to me that they not only put in the time, but they float the venue rental costs and other costs because when they ask for donations, “People bitch, they complain, they throw big drama fits, and then nobody comes to the events.”

I admire the folks who do this–even while I lament and regret that they continue supporting and enabling a dysfunctional pattern in our community. I myself am not in a financial position to do this. If my events don’t break even, I will have to stop doing them.

Readings:
Yup, I charge for these. Why? Tarot readings, or when I facilitate shamanic/trance journeys for people, are a lot of work. Whether I’m traveling to do this at someone’s home, or getting my own home ready for them, that’s work too. I could be spending my time working on other projects on my endless to do list. It takes a lot of my personal energy to do reading work. So yeah, I charge. I also charge for my artwork, and I enjoy painting a lot more than I enjoy doing readings.

Pastoral counseling or emergency leadership assistance and mediations:
Well, no, I don’t charge for that. Someone asks me for help, I will do my best to help them. People ask me some crazy questions, and sometimes it’s way beyond my ability to help them. But all of that still takes my time away from things that could bring in money. If someone has a leadership disaster, I’m going to give them my time. But that might take 1-2 hours out of my working day, and that’s time I won’t get to spend working on other projects that might bring in income.

Mediation:
I’ll do a mediation for free, but again, I can’t pay the gas money out of pocket. And while I wouldn’t demand a payment, I also wouldn’t refuse it, because it’s taking my time to do that. I’ve driven 4-5 hours for mediation work, which meant I was gone for 2 days. That 2 days has an impact on my life. Even 2 hours has an impact on my life.

Teaching:
I charge for this too. However, it’s not really very lucrative. At least, not yet. Even so, bringing me into town is something that’s barely at or beyond the financial abilities of most groups. Here’s some examples:

I used to travel and teach at festivals and events for free. Ie, I’d drive from Chicago to Madison or Indianapolis and I’d eat the cost of gas, in order to teach free workshops. But as more and more people asked me to teach for them, I had to start asking at least for gas money. It added up really quickly.

Nowadays, if I’m teaching at a festival, I typically get in for free, I get a place to stay, I get gas money, and the ability to vend for free.

However, what doesn’t that pay for? It doesn’t pay for my oil change. Or for the $500 repairing breaks and other wear and tear. It doesn’t pay for my handouts or my time. I get a little money from vending my artwork, but not a lot. In other words–I’m still operating at a loss, technically.

When teaching a weekend intensive, here are the financial terms I’ve laid out in the past, though I’m finding that I have to reconsider the numbers because I’m still operating at a loss. I’ve worked hard to make my work affordable for local organizers. In the past, I’ve said, I need gas money and a place for stay, and if I can make $200 beyond that for the weekend, that would be great. But, most of the places that I teach, aren’t able to afford that.

And given my experiences of how much car repairs have cost me and that 75% or more of my car use is for traveling and teaching, that’s no longer enough money for a weekend class to “break even.”

Balancing the Scales
I value teaching and sharing my knowledge. I’d do it for free if I could. But I can’t. This is my calling, my life’s work. I love doing this work. But it means I live off of almost nothing.

Yes, I’m (now) a published author, but that has not yet begun to supplement my income. I won’t get into the complexities of publishing, royalties, or how long it takes to actually make money as an author. Most Pagan authors aren’t making as much as you think, and even my fiction books are just going to take a while to gain an audience because of how publishing works these days.

There are Pagan teachers who charge $1,500 a weekend plus travel. There’s teachers that charge more. Truthfully, I can see why that’s a reasonable fee now that I’m doing that, because that income would pay for all the other work that I do that’s unpaid.

Pastoral counseling is unpaid. Writing educational blog posts is unpaid. Writing articles is (usually) unpaid. Running rituals is unpaid. Writing books is…a little paid. But when you look at how much work goes into writing and editing a book, much less promoting it…you’re getting pennies for your time.

I wish there was a better way. Truly I do. I like the old-fashioned tithing model, where those that can afford to pay more do so, so that those who can’t can still get spiritual services. But it’s a tricky balance, and there’s a lot of factors.

Challenges with Money
One challenge is, the unethical leaders/teachers charging for their work are really, really visible, and that leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. There’s also just a numbers game; there’s simply not enough Pagans in any one region to support full-time paid clergy. Keep in mind that it takes all the annual fundraising efforts of Circle Sanctuary and Pagan Spirit Gathering to pay for 2 staff members, among their other annual expenses to maintain their property.

I think about all the good work Circle is doing, and how much more they could do with more paid staff or more financial resources for other projects. And I suppose that’s one of the core issues here–more and more Pagans want the benefits of an infrastructure. And infrastructure requires money. There’s no way around it.

Something else to consider is the cost of clergy training. More and more Pagans are finding themselves called to get training as ritual leaders, prison ministers, pastoral counselors, death midwives. Which is good, because we’ve had hordes of Pagan leaders doing pastoral counseling for decades without any training and that’s a bad idea.

But that training has a cost. Ministerial training has a cost, mediation training has a cost. There’s time, and there’s the cost of the classes, the cost of the textbooks. So you pay for all that training, and then you can’t charge for the work you do to recoup your cost.

A Unitarian Universalist minister can go to seminary, get student loans, and then has a job when they leave the ministry so they can pay back any student loans and have a viable income. Paid clergy does not equal largesse and abuse. But, the Pagan community just can’t really support it. Not yet. Not til we have larger numbers, or, more concentrated communities like a communal living arrangement.

Similarly why we can’t have community centers/physical churches/temple spaces. There’s just not enough numbers to support it yet.

However, I think there’s also a deeper issue of values.

Do Pagans Value Events and Education?
By values, I don’t mean, I value world peace. By values, I mean, what I value–what I am willing to pay for through money, or time and work. And money is time. Money represents time I spent doing work.

Going out on a limb, I wonder about one of the imperatives in some religions to:

  1. Procreate, and
  2. Evangelize

What if those imperatives were largely to speed up the process by which that religious traditions had enough numbers to gain political strength and build infrastructure. Seriously. If you look at it sociologically, there’s just some things you can’t do until you have a big enough population base in an area.

That being said, one of the challenges in Pagan community is that many Pagans seem to value that $5 cup of coffee more than making sure local rituals happen, or that there is access to more in-depth classes. There’s a big difference between someone who is barely making it financially who really cannot afford to pay, and someone who could, but doesn’t value paying.

For that matter, because Pagan communities don’t have great infrastructure, we also don’t really have good support structures for the people who are dead broke and who need help. I’ve heard of a number of Pagans who have gone back to the religion of their youth specifically because their church had services and assistance to help them get out of the financial situation they were in.

Where do we go?
I don’t have the answers here, I just have more questions. I’m always asking, how can I get Pagans to value ritual, to value education, to value personal growth work, to value leaders getting leadership training?  Or, is it something that my community really actually just doesn’t value, and I should quit trying to offer such work in the form of classes and community rituals? How often can Pagan leaders and organizers and teachers keep barking up the wrong tree before we give up? Or do we really just need to wait a few generations to have enough numbers?

For further exploration on this topic, below is a longer article I wrote several years ago on a potential model for Pagan community fundraising. https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/how-do-we-pay-for-all-this-memberships-tithing-and-pagans/

Tomorrow I’ll post a Part 3 in this series on a few fundraising methods that I’ve seen work.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, event organizing, event planning, fundraising, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable

Fundraising in the Pagan Community Part 2

5169121_xxlShould Pagan teachers charge? How are we going to pay for all the Pagan events and initiatives out there? I see those questions come up a lot. I also see some Pagans viciously attack anyone who charges for classes or events.

Context is important, and I’d offer that there’s a range of what we mean when we say, charging for classes and services.

I charge for what I do. I travel and teach, I host events. There’s a cost–a hard cost (venue rental, gas money) and a soft cost (time).

I charge for readings too. But, I also do rather a lot for free. In fact, most of the time even when I’m charging, I’d say I ultimately end up at a financial loss.

I think it would be useful to look at the range of contexts. In fact, let’s also just look at the math.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

Let’s look at a priest/ess hosting coven classes and rituals out of their home. Small group, let’s say there’s 5-15 people. I think most of the time folks like this are not charging hard cash for their classes and rituals. However, let’s look at the costs they are incurring, both hard costs and soft costs.

Hard costs: Any ritual supplies. Candles. Food, if they are hosting. Printouts of class materials. Possibly gas money for going out to buy supplies.
Soft costs: The time spent preparing their space for guests, doing dishes and cleaning up after. Event hosting out of your home may be free, but it can take a lot of time to prepare for. There’s also the impact on the host house’s family; if members of the family have to stay out of the living room, or leave the house entirely, there’s an emotional and time cost there too. There’s also the additional time incurred running errands.

Additional soft costs: the time it takes to prepare the lessons and rituals, as well as the inevitable pastoral counseling. If you’re working with a small group of people and you are the designated leader, eventually people are going to come to you for advice on their problems in their lives. Depending on the people and the group, this might be just a little time out of your day, or it might be multiple hours-long counseling sessions each week.

A member of the ADF clergy once said this very succinctly. “I don’t want to charge for my services, however, this is taking more and more of my time. If I’m cleaning my house after a gathering and spending several hours a week counseling people, I don’t have time to do my normal work. This is cutting into time I need to work my full time job. Something has to give. If you’re not going to pay me so I can work less hours, are you going to come over and do my dishes for me after a gathering here? Are you going to help me with the cleaning I don’t get done because I’m doing free counseling? Are you going to bring candles? Are you going to bring food?”

But Real Witches Never Charged
That’s not true at all. I think if we look back to our ancestors, the Witch/Shaman/Druid/Priest/Healer of the tribe was getting paid, in the form of a tithe from the tribe for their upkeep. It might be in the form of a chicken or a fur or a seat at the dinner table, or help building their home, but it was still payment.

Money is not a dirty thing. Money represents your time that you spent laboring. It represents energy. So, a small group clergy leader like this might need to take donations to help with hard costs like supplies, but they also might need to ask for help with some of the things that they don’t have time for if they’re prepping lessons and doing one-on-one counseling.

I don’t think it’s at all out of bounds for a coven leader to ask group members to help them with light cleaning and dishes, or, with the occasional larger house project like painting a living room. It’s an energy exchange. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that some group leaders can become highly unethical about this. In a more unethical, cult-like group, the group leader might demand service, monetary donations, or even sexual favors. And I think that’s a little bit of why Pagans end up with such a squick about asking for help with cleaning, or asking for money…because some people do abuse this.

Costs of Running Public Events
The next level up in expenses is more along the lines of what I do–running public rituals/larger group events. This one is pretty easy to outline.

Hard costs:
Venue Rental: Some groups are able to use parks or forest preserves for free, that doesn’t really work for where I’m doing rituals. When I host a public ritual in Chicago, it can cost me rather a lot of money. And I’ve lost my shirt on event space rental fees when I didn’t get enough donations. Right now my venue rental is about $300 a day.

Ritual supplies: Candles, rubbing alcohol and Epsom salts for a cauldron fire (or firewood)

Longer term ritual supplies: Fabric for the tables, ritual decorations, extra ritual wear for people taking roles. These are things I’ve paid for out of pocket and “loan” to the group/event.

Web site: Meetup.com costs something like $15 or so a month, and web hosting can cost $50 or more a year. I finally dumped Meetup.com just this past year, but it was a consistent expense.

Potluck food: If I’m hosting a potluck, I still need to bring a few core offerings. Some events, the donations to the potlucks have been pretty sparse.

What do I Charge?
What I typically do for my public events is ask for a sliding scale donation, $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds. I’m offering one of the only public rituals in Chicagoland, so I feel it’s important to keep making these available no matter what people can pay. At the same time, I can’t afford to lose money on an event.

It’s utterly and completely unfair to ask clergy that have been putting in hours and hours to plan an event, and then host it, and clean it up, to also spend money to cover the costs. And yet, when I teach Pagan leadership workshops, so many leaders fess up to me that they not only put in the time, but they float the venue rental costs and other costs because when they ask for donations, “People bitch, they complain, they throw big drama fits, and then nobody comes to the events.”

I admire the folks who do this–even while I lament and regret that they continue supporting and enabling a dysfunctional pattern in our community. I myself am not in a financial position to do this. If my events don’t break even, I will have to stop doing them.

Readings:
Yup, I charge for these. Why? Tarot readings, or when I facilitate shamanic/trance journeys for people, are a lot of work. Whether I’m traveling to do this at someone’s home, or getting my own home ready for them, that’s work too. I could be spending my time working on other projects on my endless to do list. It takes a lot of my personal energy to do reading work. So yeah, I charge. I also charge for my artwork, and I enjoy painting a lot more than I enjoy doing readings.

Pastoral counseling or emergency leadership assistance and mediations:
Well, no, I don’t charge for that. Someone asks me for help, I will do my best to help them. People ask me some crazy questions, and sometimes it’s way beyond my ability to help them. But all of that still takes my time away from things that could bring in money. If someone has a leadership disaster, I’m going to give them my time. But that might take 1-2 hours out of my working day, and that’s time I won’t get to spend working on other projects that might bring in income.

Mediation:
I’ll do a mediation for free, but again, I can’t pay the gas money out of pocket. And while I wouldn’t demand a payment, I also wouldn’t refuse it, because it’s taking my time to do that. I’ve driven 4-5 hours for mediation work, which meant I was gone for 2 days. That 2 days has an impact on my life. Even 2 hours has an impact on my life.

Teaching:
I charge for this too. However, it’s not really very lucrative. At least, not yet. Even so, bringing me into town is something that’s barely at or beyond the financial abilities of most groups. Here’s some examples:

I used to travel and teach at festivals and events for free. Ie, I’d drive from Chicago to Madison or Indianapolis and I’d eat the cost of gas, in order to teach free workshops. But as more and more people asked me to teach for them, I had to start asking at least for gas money. It added up really quickly.

Nowadays, if I’m teaching at a festival, I typically get in for free, I get a place to stay, I get gas money, and the ability to vend for free.

However, what doesn’t that pay for? It doesn’t pay for my oil change. Or for the $500 repairing breaks and other wear and tear. It doesn’t pay for my handouts or my time. I get a little money from vending my artwork, but not a lot. In other words–I’m still operating at a loss, technically.

When teaching a weekend intensive, here are the financial terms I’ve laid out in the past, though I’m finding that I have to reconsider the numbers because I’m still operating at a loss. I’ve worked hard to make my work affordable for local organizers. In the past, I’ve said, I need gas money and a place for stay, and if I can make $200 beyond that for the weekend, that would be great. But, most of the places that I teach, aren’t able to afford that.

And given my experiences of how much car repairs have cost me and that 75% or more of my car use is for traveling and teaching, that’s no longer enough money for a weekend class to “break even.”

Balancing the Scales
I value teaching and sharing my knowledge. I’d do it for free if I could. But I can’t. This is my calling, my life’s work. I love doing this work. But it means I live off of almost nothing.

Yes, I’m (now) a published author, but that has not yet begun to supplement my income. I won’t get into the complexities of publishing, royalties, or how long it takes to actually make money as an author. Most Pagan authors aren’t making as much as you think, and even my fiction books are just going to take a while to gain an audience because of how publishing works these days.

There are Pagan teachers who charge $1,500 a weekend plus travel. There’s teachers that charge more. Truthfully, I can see why that’s a reasonable fee now that I’m doing that, because that income would pay for all the other work that I do that’s unpaid.

Pastoral counseling is unpaid. Writing educational blog posts is unpaid. Writing articles is (usually) unpaid. Running rituals is unpaid. Writing books is…a little paid. But when you look at how much work goes into writing and editing a book, much less promoting it…you’re getting pennies for your time.

I wish there was a better way. Truly I do. I like the old-fashioned tithing model, where those that can afford to pay more do so, so that those who can’t can still get spiritual services. But it’s a tricky balance, and there’s a lot of factors.

Challenges with Money
One challenge is, the unethical leaders/teachers charging for their work are really, really visible, and that leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. There’s also just a numbers game; there’s simply not enough Pagans in any one region to support full-time paid clergy. Keep in mind that it takes all the annual fundraising efforts of Circle Sanctuary and Pagan Spirit Gathering to pay for 2 staff members, among their other annual expenses to maintain their property.

I think about all the good work Circle is doing, and how much more they could do with more paid staff or more financial resources for other projects. And I suppose that’s one of the core issues here–more and more Pagans want the benefits of an infrastructure. And infrastructure requires money. There’s no way around it.

Something else to consider is the cost of clergy training. More and more Pagans are finding themselves called to get training as ritual leaders, prison ministers, pastoral counselors, death midwives. Which is good, because we’ve had hordes of Pagan leaders doing pastoral counseling for decades without any training and that’s a bad idea.

But that training has a cost. Ministerial training has a cost, mediation training has a cost. There’s time, and there’s the cost of the classes, the cost of the textbooks. So you pay for all that training, and then you can’t charge for the work you do to recoup your cost.

A Unitarian Universalist minister can go to seminary, get student loans, and then has a job when they leave the ministry so they can pay back any student loans and have a viable income. Paid clergy does not equal largesse and abuse. But, the Pagan community just can’t really support it. Not yet. Not til we have larger numbers, or, more concentrated communities like a communal living arrangement.

Similarly why we can’t have community centers/physical churches/temple spaces. There’s just not enough numbers to support it yet.

However, I think there’s also a deeper issue of values.

Do Pagans Value Events and Education?
By values, I don’t mean, I value world peace. By values, I mean, what I value–what I am willing to pay for through money, or time and work. And money is time. Money represents time I spent doing work.

Going out on a limb, I wonder about one of the imperatives in some religions to:

  1. Procreate, and
  2. Evangelize

What if those imperatives were largely to speed up the process by which that religious traditions had enough numbers to gain political strength and build infrastructure. Seriously. If you look at it sociologically, there’s just some things you can’t do until you have a big enough population base in an area.

That being said, one of the challenges in Pagan community is that many Pagans seem to value that $5 cup of coffee more than making sure local rituals happen, or that there is access to more in-depth classes. There’s a big difference between someone who is barely making it financially who really cannot afford to pay, and someone who could, but doesn’t value paying.

For that matter, because Pagan communities don’t have great infrastructure, we also don’t really have good support structures for the people who are dead broke and who need help. I’ve heard of a number of Pagans who have gone back to the religion of their youth specifically because their church had services and assistance to help them get out of the financial situation they were in.

Where do we go?
I don’t have the answers here, I just have more questions. I’m always asking, how can I get Pagans to value ritual, to value education, to value personal growth work, to value leaders getting leadership training?  Or, is it something that my community really actually just doesn’t value, and I should quit trying to offer such work in the form of classes and community rituals? How often can Pagan leaders and organizers and teachers keep barking up the wrong tree before we give up? Or do we really just need to wait a few generations to have enough numbers?

For further exploration on this topic, below is a longer article I wrote several years ago on a potential model for Pagan community fundraising. http://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/how-do-we-pay-for-all-this-memberships-tithing-and-pagans/

Tomorrow I’ll post a Part 3 in this series on a few fundraising methods that I’ve seen work.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, event organizing, event planning, fundraising, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable

Fundraising in the Pagan Community Part 1

227987_8496Many Pagan groups have a story, a myth. “Pagans are broke,” Pagans will tell me sagely. And…they are right and they are wrong. I’ve run Pagan events that make money. And, I’ve run Pagan events that didn’t break even.

I’ve posted about Pagans, money, and paying for community events before, but it’s a topic that begs further exploration. As an event planner, and as a traveling teacher, this is quite honestly a maddening process.

There’s various methods of fundraising involved in the Pagan community. Some are purely donation based, but many are capitalistic, ie, charging for a class or a festival. My experience of Pagan fundraising is that most groups have raised funds by charging for classes and events, or by selling items.

In many groups, the leaders cover the cost of supplies and venue rental out of their own pockets. I’ve heard a number of group leaders tell me, “If we charge for our events nobody will come, so we just donate the money out of pocket or the group will disappear.”

There are some not for profit groups that have done larger fundraising efforts over the years accepting donations and larger gifts for their efforts, and many groups (like Pagan musicians, the Wild Hunt blog, and myself) have done fundraisers through Kickstarter or Indiegogo to fund their efforts. But most of the folks out there trying to raise money are probably doing it on a fairly small scale—but even that scale is sometimes more than they can raise money for.

For some groups, raising $200 to rent a venue is more than they can manage.

Fear of Charging
I find that when I travel and teach, so many group leaders don’t want to charge their attendees for the class. Some are afraid to even ask for a sliding scale donation (ie, “Sliding scale $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds.” What they tell me is,”People won’t pay,” and asking people to pay will mean that people won’t come.

In fact, several group leaders I’ve talked to preferred to just pay my travel/teaching fee out of pocket rather than charge for it so that they wouldn’t alienate their group.

I know that in my case, I worked (in several groups/cities) to build a culture of donations on a sliding scale. It took years, and, it doesn’t always work, but raising $300 at an event is better than raising $50, or $0. I don’t always break even on my events that I host in Chicago, but I almost always do.

However, I have noticed in the past years that far less people seem willing or able to donate for a class. I used to regularly see sliding scale weekend intensives ask for $75-$150 sliding scale, and offer some scholarships, and the classes would fill with 15, 20 people without a problem and have no problem paying for the teacher fees or the venue. Of late, I’ve seen far less people able or willing to make the time for a weekend class, and of those who attend, far less are willing to pay even at the middle of the scale. Many pay at the $5-$25 level, or need to attend on a complete scholarship.

I think that that is partially the recession, and also partially because people are busier, but I also wonder what else is a factor. Friends of mine with not for profit fundraising experience suggest that the current generations have the least interest in philanthropy.

What Encourages Donations?
I wonder what would help events to raise more money. Is it the language? I know when I suggest a range of fees on a sliding scale, I get more than when I just put out a donation jar. However, I know of some Pagan teachers who charge a flat fee in a more capitalist model (only those who can afford to attend get to attend) and their following will pay that fee.

It’s also worth exploring what types of events make more money, and also what other methods of fundraising can work to boost revenues, such as raffle/auction, readers donating their time, vendors, etc.

Though I admit, what I see over time is that the successful classes and events seem to be hosted by teachers with a big name. Also, the classes and books that sell well are typically focusing on intro and mid level topics, as well as what we’ll call “sexier” topics. Classes that promise phenomenal magical power sell better. The classes  that seem to make money aren’t the intensive, advanced, deep exploration classes…they are the ones that sound “cool” and like you’re going to learn magic spells to get what you want.

How Much do Events Cost?
Different events have different costs. It depends on where you’re running the event. Some Pagans are able to secure free venues. Others have to pay for the venue. Some Pagan presenters and authors charge more than others. And then there’s performers like musicians. Bringing a Pagan band into town, or a Pagan author, can be a very expensive prospect.

However, they can be a big draw.

There’s a big difference between doing a workshop out of your house and running a day-long festival. And there’s also what people value and are willing to pay for. I’ve noticed that many Pagans will pay for trinkets before they pay for a class. And many Pagans will come out for a Pagan band, for entertainment, who won’t come out for a community event or a ritual.

Honestly, every time I plan an event I’m nervous. I never know if it’s going to break even until the event is done and we count the donations. And I can’t continue under that process, I really can’t. It’s too stressful.

Add to that the complexities of running an event, and working with a lot of local presenters and performers who–by all rights–should be paid for their time. Except,running a small scale Pagan event with no headline (famous) presenter, and no headline musical act, doesn’t bring in a lot of money most of the time. Not unless there’s additional fundraising. Some of the challenges are:

  1. It’s hard to get people to actually come out to an event. People have busy lives and not everyone prioritizes Pagan events. Low attendance means less money. 50 people paying even just $5 means $250, and that almost covers my venue cost in Chicago for a day-long rental. But if only 30 show, I might not cover the costs.
  2. Getting people to actually donate. Some just don’t have the money–times are tough. Others don’t value spending money on a Pagan event. They’ll leave the event and go out for drinks, drop $20 on dinner, $5 on coffee, and not think twice. Ask them to drop $25 on a ritual and they think you are scamming them.

But Paying for Events is Bad!
I’m not out there to shake anyone down for money. I’m not promising salvation. I’d just love to get paid a reasonable full time wage to do the work that I love–organizing events, teaching workshops, writing blog posts like this and writing books.

However, in my experience, there are only a few Pagans out there who are making (any) income off of their Pagan work. They fit into 3 main categories that I’ve seen

  1. Leaders of a large institutions or owners of Pagan lands (and we have precious few of these)
  2. Authors and Teachers
  3. Vendors, store owners, and readers

Now…in any of these categories, you can have the ethical folks who are doing good work, and you can have the people who are just trying to make a buck.

People charging for services is not bad. People charging for events is not bad.

Embezzled money? Bad. Expensive sweat lodges that kill participants? Bad. Pagans are so gun shy about donating and it doesn’t serve us. However, there’s a reason–without controls and accountability, you have no idea where your money is going. And, with the epidemic of bad and unstable leaders out there, no wonder Pagans are gun-shy. Yet, unless we Pagans culturally drop our fear of donating to Pagan teachers and organizations doing good work, those organizations won’t survive, those teachers will give up.

I’m on the edge of that myself, as I’ve posted before. I’ve paid out of pocket to teach for years. We’re talking infrastructure problems here…and this is the reason we don’t have more leadership classes and advanced classes out there.

I suppose some organizations and teachers just need to hang in there and prove that they are one of the good guys…but goodness, is it a rocky road to get there.

Doesn’t Money Corrupt?
Again, money isn’t bad. We (humans) have a lot of cultural shame biases that get in the way. Money is a Pagan shame bias. Anyone who wants to make a living doing this kind of work must be “bad.” Money isn’t bad–money is energy. Money represents time and work. You can volunteer to help a group with your time and energy, or you can donate money. It’s the same thing, and Pagan groups need both.

But when someone is making a living doing work like this, there can be challenges holding a balance. I saw some of my own mentors having this challenge; they were forced to focus on what would pay the bills. They would often allow people to continue coming to events who were disruptive…but those folks were paying to attend, and they needed the money. In fact, that organization and retreat center no longer exists because it wasn’t financially sustainable. And it’s hard for any Pagan organization to reach financial sustainability.

I have focused mostly on the work that called to me–ie, teaching leadership and rituals, and leading rituals. I certainly could make a lot more money as a Pagan author and teacher if I catered to the Pagan-101-Teach-Me-Spellwork crowd. If I was willing to be a guru and subtly imply to people that they can become way powerful witches and spellworkers and get phenomenal cosmic power but only if they pay me a low-low fee….But that’s not who I am.

Money does always raise the huge question of authenticity. Yes, I need an event I’m running to make money or I can’t keep running them…but once I start compromising my authenticity to run events or teach classes just to make money, that’s where it starts to enter the gray area.

I’ve heard Pagans suggest that “true teachers” shouldn’t do it for the money. They should do it because they are called, they should do it whether or not they are getting paid. Well–I’m here as a teacher and leader who has done that. I taught because I was called. Where did it leave me? Financially destitute, to be honest. Yes, I made those choices, so I bear that responsibility. But to answer the question, would I do this work without pay?

Obviously yes, because I have. But the consequences to my life and health have been significant. I’ve found myself as a Pagan organizer and teacher at a crux, a crossroads. I have a choice to continue doing this work and finding a way to get paid for it, or to significantly downscale the work that I do for the Pagan community and focus on work that brings in more income.

Money and leadership and raising funds is a big topic! Part 2 will explore more of the issues of Pagans and Fundraising, and I’ll post that tomorrow.

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, event organizing, event planning, fundraising, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, sustainability, sustainable

Assumptions, Expectations, and Boundaries

7898846_xxlIf you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. But asking is sometimes the hard part.

“Let’s meet at ___ location at about 6pm.” What does “about” mean here? Does “about” mean, “I want you to meet me exactly at 6pm?” Does it mean that we might be there by 5:45, but that it also is acceptable if we aren’t there until 6:15?

“I like it when someone else takes the trash out.” What does that mean? Does that mean the person is hinting that I should take the trash out?

“Someone needs to design a flyer.” What does that mean? Is someone being asked to design a flyer?

“We need to clear the debris out of that room.” Who’s being asked to do this? What’s the plan? Am I being asked to help, or is this just a statement about the need to clear the debris?

“I have a train that is leaving at 6:30 am.” Is this even a question? If my intent is to procure a ride to the train station for myself, shouldn’t I be asking a specific question of someone? Something more like, “Hey, I have a train leaving at 6:30 am, would you be willing to give me a ride to the train station?”

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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Back to the article….I experience that many people are afraid to ask direct questions, particularly when they are asking people to do something–or worse, to do something for them. It’s part of this whole cultural passive aggressive baggage that really hinders communication efforts.

Why are we afraid to ask for help?
I can speak for myself on this one—I’m afraid that if I ask for help that someone might say no. That someone might resent me or judge me for asking for help. That I will then be stuck owing that person or be labeled as needy. There’s a whole host of reasons. Every once in a while, my deeply-hidden people-pleaser rears its ugly head. People who ask for help are judged as needy and helpless, I think. People will resent me for asking for help.

Energetically, it feels better if I hint and then they offer. That way I’m not owing them, right? Or at least, it feels more that way. Many communications lack the specifics that would actually get us what we want.

“Let’s meet up at 6pm” is at least somewhat specific. However, if Person A said “Let’s meet around 6,” and then Person A gets pissed off that Person B didn’t show up until 6:15, that really isn’t fair. “About” is a pretty vague word. If Person A needs something to happen by no later than 6pm–such as a departure–what would work better is, “I need for us to leave no later than 6pm, so please be there by 5:45.” It’s more clear and puts their needs forward. They are setting themselves up for someone to fail them if they are vague.

Why might they be vague? Well, let’s face it, being that specific and clear can be taken as being confrontational in our culture.

Here’s something that makes it more difficult is when someone asks a question when they already know an answer. Here’s an example. Let’s say Person A knows they want to leave by no later than 6pm to get somewhere else by 7pm. But they first ask Person B, “What time do you want to leave?” If Person A already knows they want to leave by 6pm, why bother asking?

And yet, we learn how to do these polite things that actually get in the way and cause micro conflicts and set us up for frustration.

Similarly, we learn that to be clear and to hold boundaries is to sound controlling and bitchy. “We need to leave at no later than 6pm, so be there at 5:45, please,” can come across as sounding harsh and unyielding.

And yet, it puts forth a clear need. If it’s actually going to tick you off to leave at 6:05, or, cause you to risk being late, it’s really your responsibility to communicate that up front.

“Let’s meet around 6ish” is something we learn to say, but it isn’t really what we want. I experience that people get really ticked off at people who don’t do what they wanted.

However, you can’t know what someone wants unless they tell you.

Expectations Uncommunicated
In fact, I notice this a lot in relationships when one partner has an expectation of another partner but never communicates it. One partner I was with expected that if someone didn’t jump up to take care of a problem that was hinted at, that that person didn’t love him. We finally came to be able to talk about this after therapy. It was an expectation he’d learned from a family member. His frustration could be anything from, the laundry pile was too full, to, he wanted to go out to dinner.

He just held the expectation that if there was something he wanted me to help with, that I’d somehow telepathically know. And when I, of course, did not read his mind to know what he wanted help with, he’d get increasingly frustrated but not tell me that he was frustrated until he exploded in anger.

You can probably start to see how something that’s really fairly miniscule like doing laundry becomes a major conflict. We’d end up in this cyclical argument where ultimately he’d say, “If you really loved me you’d just know, I wouldn’t have to ask.”

Perhaps you too have had relationship arguments that just ran around and around the barn like this.

Expectations in Groups and Leadership
The point is–you can’t expect something of someone if you haven’t asked them or told them what you want. I’m using an example from friendships and romantic relationships, however, this happens in a group setting just as easily.

“Someone needs to design the flyer” is not asking anyone to actually do that work–but you can bet that the group leader who mentioned this is going to get upset when nobody reads their mind and creates the flyer. Or the silent expectation that everyone knows they need to be at the venue 2 hours early for setup.

If you don’t ask people to do something specific, you can’t expect them to know you needed the help. I talk to a lot of group leaders who get frustrated with people in their groups who aren’t stepping up to do the work. And yes–volunteers often drop the ball, it’s the nature of the beast. However, many of these group leaders are not properly articulating the question, they are not asking people to do a task.

Here’s a mistake I’ve made in the past–I’ve put out the email to “everyone” listing the things that need to be done for XYZ event, or the Facebook post saying, “Can anyone do XYZ?” And then I get no responses. What gets a better response is, “Hey Pat, I know you’re really a great graphic designer, would you be willing to design a flyer for the event? I understand if you are busy.” When you actually ask people for help, you might get it–and you might get the help you are actually asking for.

But if I sit there and angrily stew that nobody is helping me with tasks–and I never asked them explicitly to do those tasks–that one’s on me.

Sometimes the Answer is No
Going further, you can’t really expect someone to act in a way that goes against their nature, against their values. I’m not talking about high-minded values, I’m talking about, what you value in the sense of, where you are willing to spend your time, energy, and money.

I value having time to spend working on writing, artwork, and community building. I’ve simplified my life in order to reflect those values. I don’t value expensive food, going out for dinner, or drinking, for instance. A former partner of mine was an extrovert (I’m an introvert) and greatly valued hanging out with people, going out for dinner. He was a foodie, I wasn’t. He liked to drink, I didn’t. He would get mad at me for not caving to his wishes and coming out with him to social events that I didn’t want to spend the money on. They were events that I wasn’t going to enjoy, and I didn’t value spending my time or my money on them.

“If you really loved me you’d do things you don’t want to do because I want you to do them,” was among his ways of trying to manipulate me.

And here’s the thing–group leaders sometimes do this. Visionaries, stubborn group leaders, we do this, and we don’t mean to. It’s a mistake I’ve made in the past and I’ve worked to correct that. I’ve tried to pressure people into going against their nature, guilting people into doing something “for the event” or “for the group.”

Sometimes, when I ask someone for help, the answer is no. And as a group leader, I have to be ok with that, I have to respect someone’s “no.”

Manipulation and Expectations
Let me take a moment to step back and point out how putting pressure on people to do what you want them to do can be incredibly manipulative whether it’s a friend, lover, or someone in your group. The person who is trying to hold a boundary and say, “No, I don’t value that,” is made to feel horrible by the guilting.

When my own former partner tried to get me to do what he wanted, I began to  doubt myself. I was pretty clear at first that I was just holding a boundary. After a while, I began to wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Am I really that terrible?” Sometimes, my partner’s words led me to going against what I knew was good for me. In the context of a relationship, this can end up into a very abusive, codependent spiral. In my case, this exacerbated my existing depression and made it worse.

However, group dynamics and relationships are very similar, and a leader who is pressuring people to do things in a group–even for altruistic reasons–is still sliding on that slippery slope into an abusive dynamic. Pressuring people to taking on event planning roles might get your event done, but it’s ultimately not going to build a healthy group. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Groups are a Relationship
So when the group leader (Person A) really wants people in the group to volunteer to take ritual roles but nobody does, Person A is going to get frustrated. However, Person A didn’t communicate their need clearly, and then usually ends up browbeating people for not volunteering.

If they set up the expectation up front–or better yet, walked through what they need, and listened to their group members who might not want to take ritual roles–there would be less frustration all around.

Nobody likes the abusive dynamic of waiting for the group leader/parent to blow up at them. If the group leader puts out there, “We put on 8 sabbats, and I need at least 5 people to step in and take ritual roles each time or I won’t be able to facilitate the sabbat, how many of you are interested in volunteering?” and then perhaps also asks, “Are there any of you who really don’t want to ever take ritual roles?” and then listens to those folks share why, a conversation can happen. Negotiation can happen.

Maybe some of the folks don’t want to take roles because they are shy, but would be willing to take really small roles and learn to get better at public speaking work, but they are afraid to take on the bigger roles that the group leader is offering. Maybe some of the folks just have absolutely zero interest in facilitating.

Help people in your group build healthier boundaries–a healthier sense of self, and the ability to say no to you, the leader. And yeah, as a visionary, sometimes that sucks. Sometimes it means the event isn’t going to be as grand as your vision. I’ve been there. I have another T-shirt.

Organizing Events
Pagan Pride or another local festival is a great example. I hear from a lot of PPD organizers that they have a hard time getting volunteers, and have a hard time getting local people involved. They get frustrated when their local community doesn’t even show up for an event, or when local community leaders don’t take an active part.

But I wonder, how many PPD and festival coordinators actually work to establish relationships with local community and leaders by going to other folks’ events? Some do. Some don’t. How many festival organizers actually make the time to research local groups and go and introduce themselves? How many ask for specific help? Putting out a post, “I need help with XYZ day-long festival, I need volunteers,” is vague. “I need 10 people for 2-hour shifts at the info table greeting people” is specific.

I’ll be clear–volunteer management is not my strength. If I’m working with a skilled volunteer coordinator I can help break tasks down simply like that, but it’s not an area where I have as much skill. However, it’s an important factor in breaking down tasks because volunteers are much more likely to help when you outline exactly what you need.

Getting Other Groups Involved
Many Pagan organizers find it challenging to get other groups involved. One thing that I can say–and I’ve worked with a lot of groups in a lot of regions–is that most groups tend to get tunnel vision.

Now–sometimes this is just boundaries and focus. People only have so many hours in the day, and when you are running a small group or an activity as a volunteer, you may not have time or resources to do more. Remember–sometimes the answer is “no.” No is the answer you are giving when someone asks you to help with their project and you just never get back to them, it’s just an indirectly communicated no.

Event organizers and visionaries also get the tunnel vision of “I want everyone to like my project! I want everyone to want to donate time to this cool thing that I’m doing!” I see a lot of Pagan leaders do this. I’ve done it myself. What happens is, a leader gets a great idea for something, and gets upset that everyone is not as excited as they are, and that their requests for help aren’t met with overwhelming enthusiasm. Much less people jumping on board to read the organizer’s mind and take on tasks like vendor coordination and fundraising and programming.

However, the truth is, that not everyone is as excited about that thing as the person/group that came up with it. And other groups have other focuses. What’s also ironic–and this is something that I see a lot too–is that the folks organizing a bigger cool event, like a Pagan Pride or other day-long festival, get upset when more local leaders and groups don’t get involved, but then those organizers themselves don’t reciprocate and support what other groups are doing.

I have seen local event organizers get snippy when more people don’t support their event, and then they themselves plan fundraising and other events and other events right over the top of what other groups are doing. They don’t do it out of malice, just carelessness.

But what it can look like to a local Pagan leader is something like, “So you want me to donate my time and energy to your event, and then you just scheduled a fundraiser at the same time as my open ritual/class/event/thing and you never come to my events. Nope, not going to support your event.”

Which…is part of why we have so many petty conflicts, because scheduling accidents happen and people take things personally, but a lot of it boils down to awareness. Keeping track of what other groups are doing is a mighty challenge, and we have little infrastructure for it.

Assumptions
There’s that old saying about assumptions, and it really is true. Whenever we have an expectation or assumption about someone else–an assumption about their motivation..”They are doing this because they hate me, they are out to get me,” or an expectation, “Why aren’t they doing this thing that I need them to do for this event?” In these instances, we’re setting ourselves up for conflict and failure.

So what can we do? First is strengthening our own healthy boundaries as leaders, and working to help members of our groups strengthen their boundaries. Then there’s checking our assumptions. Is that true? Or are we just pissed off? There’s our expectations; did someone fail to live up to your expectation? Did they betray you? Or, did you never effectively communicate your expectations to your group members?

What we can do is work to be better. Notice the places where we’ve been hitting our heads against the wall and are frustrated, and work to change things so that it’s better next time. For an excellent resource on boundaries, I recommend the book “Where You End and I Begin.”

If you want things to happen, begin by asking for them. Clearly, and without ambiguity. You might get a yes, you might get a no. But at least you’ll know, and you aren’t setting yourself to be ticked off at someone later for dropping the ball. When a volunteer drops the ball, it often means that they should have said “no,” but they felt pressured to say “yes.”


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: Boundaries, clergy, communication, communication skills, community, community building, expectations, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, personal transformation

Pagan Leadership: Dissent, Feedback, and Group Leaders

8934795_xxlIn the previous posts in this series, we’ve talked a bit about the challenge when you have issue with a leader. I’ve focused primarily on leaders who are in the level of incurable jerk, in other words, folks who aren’t going to listen to any feedback.

Dissent is part of a healthy group. There’s a difference between dissent and dissension–dissent is a disagreement, dissension is a quarrel. The problem in our communities is twofold; leaders don’t always provide a way to offer feedback about their leadership. So people gossip behind their backs. Feedback happens. But, how can we make it more constructive?

My mentors had a rule of thumb, that if people don’t have a way to complain about leadership, a way to offer feedback, they’ll find one. And this is where we cross over into that realm of the conflicts that rip a group apart, or, spread out amongst many smaller groups within a local community. If there is a local leader who’s acting in an unethical way, or even just making some mistakes, but if that leader is coming from a place of egotism and arrogance and isn’t willing to listen to feedback, it’s a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode it.

Thus, a pretty simple piece of advice for any group leader is, if you want a healthy group, provide a method by which people can offer feedback. Feedback about your leadership, feedback about the ritual you facilitated. Often it’s as simple as being open, honest, and approachable. But the second part is, you really have to be willing to hear that feedback and not jump down someone’s throat for it.

As soon as you’ve done that, you’ve told them that you’re not actually open to that feedback.

Now–This is easily said, not so easily done. Many of us taking on leadership roles are putting our blood, sweat, and tears in, and we can be really emotionally raw sometimes about hearing how we screwed something up. Or even just hearing that someone didn’t like the ritual we did, even if we didn’t do anything wrong. I sometimes have a hard time hearing negative feedback about events I’ve hosted. So this is a piece that can take rather a lot of personal work. My article on Hypersensitivity might be of value to those of you who value hearing people’s feedback, but who also feel like negative feedback is a kick to the gut every time.

It’s a tough balance. Some feedback isn’t really useful. “You can’t host a picnic in that park, it’s in a bad neighborhood.” Yeah, sorry, I hosted a Pagan Mabon picnic in my neighborhood where there are people of color, so automatically it must be a bad neighborhood. “Why don’t you host events out in XYZ suburb where I live?” Because…I don’t live an hour and a half away in your suburb. Some feedback you can easily discard. Other feedback is useful, if painful to listen to. And a lot sits in that gray area between. On the one hand you have the advice, “Don’t let the haters get you down,” on the other hand, you as a leader do need to be able to hear genuine constructive feedback. It’s a tightrope, I won’t lie.

Leaders
Then there are those situations where there is a leader who may or may not have one of the major personality disorders, or who is just completely unreasonable. Some group leaders seem to genuinely have no idea how destructive they are, but my goodness. You try to give them negative feedback and they will singe your ears back. They tend to lean mostly on the “Don’t let the haters get you down” side of the spectrum…but the truth is, some of these leaders really are making big mistakes that are harming their group, or even the broader Pagan community.

Sometimes a local group leader doesn’t just affect their own group, they affect their whole region because they are involved in every single local Pagan thing. I’ve been asked before how you “stop” a leader like this who is really harming the local community by their actions. If you’ve read the previous articles In the Pagan leadership series, you know there aren’t a lot of great answers on this one.

Some very few of these leaders can be reasoned with. Let’s use the Pareto principle and say 20% of them. The rest may simply not budge. Some of them may have severe and untreated mental illness. Whatever the reason, you have to make a judgment call about how to engage this person. Often the only tool you have at your disposal is to simply not engage that person, to not support their events, to not send people their way.

In some cases, however, the most damaging leaders are the ones who are convinced that they are doing amazing work and that they need to be involved in everything. And here’s the sad thing–they may have initially built something really incredible. They may have started a local Pagan festival, a temple, a church, a Pagan pride.

In many instances, over time that leader’s behavior has a consistent negative impact not just on their own group, but on the rest of the community. Other community members and leaders feel the need to respond, to decry them and speak out. And this is where you end up with one of those untenable “witch war” conflicts that has no end. There is no solution.

Remember–you cannot make anyone stop. You have no power to do so, except in the rarest of circumstances.

In some rare instances, particularly when there are multiple witnesses to (and victims of) of poor behavior on the part of that group leader, it’s possible that raising all the voices together can have some impact. But again, you can’t stop their inner circle from following them–even if you know the likelihood of that inner circle eventually getting betrayed by that leader. You can’t take away their title, you can’t make them stop running a Meetup, or take down their web site. The only exception to any of this would be collecting evidence of illegal behavior.

It should be pretty clear at this point that we’re not talking about dissent any longer, because there’s no viable way to voice that dissent in a way that it’s going to be heard. We’re talking about dissension, a quarrel that really has no winners.

In some cases, I’ve seen a local community gang up on a particular leader to the point that that leader’s will broke and they retired from community leadership. However, there’s two sides to that. Often the times that this tactic is the most successful is when it’s employed by relentless bullies, not by the community members who are on the right side of that conflict. Very rarely do I ever see this tactic work on a community leader who is clearly engaging in harmful behavior.

There is always a line. There’s always a time when an abuse becomes so extreme that you (and others) may have to stand up or you can’t look at yourselves in the mirror. But understand that there’s really no way to actually make that group leader stop.

Just because you stand up and speak out doesn’t mean it’ll have an impact. And, that sucks.

Once things get to the point of dissension the conflict, by its nature, spills outside of appropriate borders and boundaries. Well–given the Pagan community’s structure and lack of structure, it’s useful to look at it as “when” that happens, not “if” and thus, how to handle it when it does.

Dissent and Group Structure
Ideally, each group creates a strong group structure with very clear agreements about how things are to be handled, and builds a group culture that’s in alignment with that, so that when something like that comes up it can be handled in-house. Not so much a sweeping under the rug, but more of a, this is the most effective way to handle this. I look at that as compassion and effectiveness rather than secrecy.

Once a conflict spills out beyond the boundaries of one group, it becomes more problematic and more damaging as more gossip and more hearsay enters the fray.

Here’s an example of how a group leader is accountable not just to their own group, but to their local community.

I lead public rituals in Chicago, and slowly over time my leadership team and committed group members are beginning to form what I suppose you could call an inner court, or rather, a more stable group that could become a working group. I’m not teaching any one tradition, so that becomes a bit more challenging to define.

However, I take a lot of interest in the local Chicagoland Pagan community, I’m a resource for other groups, and I also teach and travel nationally. I do consider myself a servant of the broader Chicagoland community, and thus if people would have challenges with something I did, I feel that I’m accountable beyond just my own small group.

If someone’s in a position like I am, where I’m often a more broad resource, there’s even less of a specific way to offer feedback because the further out from me you go, the less people know me and the less they might feel comfortable offering me negative feedback.

Thus, we have the situation where people get so mightily pissed off that they use the only avenue they feel they have a voice on–they post publicly on Facebook, Yahoo groups, or talk loudly at events, because they feel powerless. They feel they have no recourse.

However, going back to feedback…when I get hatemail about my Environmental blog posts, it’s certainly not going to stop me from writing them. That’s feedback that I dismiss most of the time. If I had feedback about my leadership, I’d take it more to heart.

However, because of the lack of structure in the broader Pagan community or in a regional Pagan community, you basically have the passive aggressive problem where 1. people hate to offer small negative feedback, they only offer feedback when they are pissed, and 2. people offering me feedback would ultimately have to trust that I’m not going to come down on them like a ton of bricks and “excommunicate” them. The only way they can know that is if they get to know me and my ethics and my integrity.

Most of the time when I experience folks who are really frustrated, it’s because they either
1. have no method of offering feedback, or
2. feedback has been consistently discounted.

As I posted in previous blogs on this series, there isn’t really a good way to remove a leader who has acted consistently in a way that is detrimental. One exception within a group that has a legalized Not-For-Profit structure is if the bylaws provides for removing a group leader or group member for specific misconduct.

People in a local community might get really frustrated by the actions of one leader. However, there’s a fallacy that crops up. Let’s use the example of a Yahoo group or a Facebook group. People there will begin referring to the Chicago Pagan community, or whatever region.

And here’s the challenge–here is no such thing. There’s the hundreds of people on a Yahoo list or FB group. And there’s the vocal 10-20 people on any of those kinds of lists. But, those people do not comprise the whole of the community. There is no central place where that entire community gathers. Those vocal few are but a subset of a local community, but when those vocal few start butting heads, the quiet masses retreat. People say, “The ___ community is just a wreck, it’s terrible.” No, it’s not terrible, it’s just that the really vocal 10 people are being upsetting. You could do your own thing. But, those fisticuffs tend to neutralize any desire to build community because they are seen as “the” community.

There is no one community. There’s individual groups, and there are leaders, and cliques, and popular people. There are vocal people. But don’t ever mistake a group of vocal or popular people on FB for “the” community. There’s the idea of “Trial by Facebook” to get rid of a group leader, but there are hundreds of people who will never see it, never hear about that. Or, see it and never speak up. There is no community, there are communities. One of the great sins of FB and Yahoo groups is the illusion that the internet group IS the community. It isn’t. It just tends to be the vocal people who spend time on FB.

I have seen the several Pagan communities (ie, the interconnected individuals and groups) basically shatter because the primary local FB group had massive fighting on it, and many of the solitaries went back undercover, and several of the long-running groups stopped organizing because they couldn’t take the drama. Nobody’s willing to step in and do anything new, no individual is inclined to get involved, because of the explosion on a FB group of 10, maybe 20 people at most.

In a word, the verbal asshats demonstrate to all the people on the edges that drama and arguing is what community will ultimately lead to. The vocal people are seen as leaders, whether or not they are. And here’s the thing–sometimes the vocal people are genuinely pissed off for good reason. Maybe they’ve been seriously wronged. But in coming out in that forum, it’s not like a court of law where some judge will come down from on high and say, “Hmmm, yes, your Facebook post is more valid than Fred’s, you are right and this leader shall be taken down from their pedestal and banned.”

What happens is the urge of the truly wronged butts up against the urge of the egotists and narcissists and the “I cannot cope with being wrong or being shamed even if they are right” folks.

And there’s no way for someone on the edges to know the difference.

Thusly why trial-by-Facebook usually fails. There are only specific instances where it can work, and that’s rare. And typically requires people who have been egregiously harmed to stand together and tell their story truthfully. When that kind of evidence is seen as being consistent, and when the people telling the story have nothing to gain from a power play, that can change the situation.

It’s the deep need of the wronged to have their pain heard and witnessed, to have justice served, to offer feedback, that is why many Pagan groups blow up particularly online. This is very common in Pagan communities where there are a number of people frustrated with a situation where they feel they have no control.

One of the most common questions that I get when I teach Pagan leadership, involves people dealing with a local situation where someone’s doing something that they morally object to, or something similar, and they want that situation to stop, but they have no control over that other person.

We want to talk about the thing we didn’t like. We want to be heard. We want to be able to effect a change. And when we can’t, our frustrations mount.

The answer is pretty clear. If you want to have your own group be healthy, spend the hours it’ll take to set up a process of feedback. Find a way to accept anonymous feedback if need be. And find a way to deal with hearing that feedback. In my case, that’s exploring techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy so that I can separate “You did this thing I don’t like” with “You suck and I hate you forever and I want you to die.”

Learn how to give effective feedback. And then, teach your group members what effective feedback looks like. I’ll likely do more articles on that in the future, but a good place to start is the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, personal transformation

Conflict Resolution Part 6: Red Flags

86155_2332Here are the red flags that I observed about the problematic person I mentioned in Part 5 (and others in similar situations) that allowed me to paint a fairly accurate profile of how they were going to behave. You’ll really want to read at least Part 5 in the Conflict Resolution series, if not the whole set of articles, to get context for the profile of behaviors below.

Complaining
There’s a difference between offering a different opinion, and whining all the time. And then, when people offer that they are frustrated about the whining, backpedaling and profusely apologizing and making it about yourself. Sometimes there are people with that engineering mindset that challenge a group’s ideas about how to do something, and that doesn’t make them a bad person. Those folks can generally learn how to phrase things in a way that doesn’t come across as “You’re wrong” all the time. A constant whiner, or someone who never likes the group leader’s ideas but who never has any useful ideas to offer of their own. The pattern’s easiest to observe if the person is constantly tearing down the group leader’s ideas. If so, it’s possibly a power play, even if it’s unconscious.

Always Having Problems
The problematic individual in the group is always having problems. Now–it’s not to say that many people don’t go through struggles. However, this person never has gas money, never has time, computer is broken, is always sick. I’m not saying that someone who is broke and sick is always a red flag. Think of this as a mosaic; it’s one piece in the pattern. If the group leader points out, “If you’re sick, you don’t have to attend the meeting,” or “We can have you phone in if you can’t afford to drive,” and their response is either a swift turnaround, “No! Of course I’ll come,” or hostile, “Why do we always have to meet where you want to?” Those are both serious red flags.

It’s All About Them
This individual can make any conversation about them. Usually about their problems. Or, about how nobody listens to them. Or about how the group always goes with someone else’s idea. In particular, they will lay blame and ascribe particular motivations to people. “You guys don’t really care about my opinion, you always go with what ___ says.” They are willing to entertain any notion that it’s someone else’s fault, not that 1. their idea might be bad, or 2. the group decided to do something based upon the needs of the rest of the group without any malice toward this individual.

Victim Mentality
This person also typically approaches everything with a victim mentality. People are out to get them. In fact, they usually come into a group with stories about how they got kicked out of previous groups by jerky leaders. Do yourself a favor and check out their story, even if you don’t know those other group leaders yet. These folks will also frequently be cursed, hexed, under psychic attack, their boss is out to get them, their mother in law hates them, the man is always trying to stick it to them…you get the drift.

Pathetic Underdog
The goal of being pathetic is to get attention. People aren’t stupid, and we learn pretty quickly that there’s different ways to get attention, and one is to be pathetic. People like to caretake an underdog. The problematic individual in a group works to be so pathetic that they get their way. The group may come up with an idea ABC for an event, and the problematic individual hems and haws, and talks about how broke they are and can’t do it, or, about how nobody listens to them, or some other sob story. They work to be so pathetic that they not only get time and attention and cosseting from the codependent caretakers in the group, but, people go with their ideas.

Very Important Magical People
This person may pendulum swing from being the most pathetic person in the group who is always having problems, to a very powerful Witch. Either they know a lot about spellwork and hexing, or, they are desperate to learn powerful magic to control others. Often these are folks who have amazingly gained the skills to harm others with magic, or to psychically attack others. Also, they were powerful people in a past life. Or, they are a reincarnated Babylonian God. They can sink into a trance and get possessed by a deity without any effort, in fact, sometimes it causes them, you know, severe problems because the Gods are always trying to get into them. They aren’t responsible for it, it just happens, and then they aren’t responsible for their actions, of course.

No Therapy
When they are in victim mode talking about all their problems, some well-meaning person might suggest therapy to this person. “My therapist was trying to kill me,” they might say. Or, “My therapist wanted to commit me. I had to get away.” Some version of therapist/psychiatrist conspiracy theory conveniently leads to why this person is no longer on their medication. Now–here’s the challenge on this one. Certainly Pagans, as members of a minority spirituality, face discrimination including discrimination from psychological professionals.

Talking to gods and spirits, casting spells, sounds like a bunch of superstitious nonsense and for a therapist, that can be a red flag for schizophrenia, among other things.So certainly it’s possible, however, these days I don’t really hear many first-hand stories of Pagans who have had issues with therapists. I have heard of medical doctors and therapists trying to scare their patients who had chosen a polyamorous/ethical non-monogamous lifestyle, but no direct discrimination against Pagans.

The actual red flags in this are the paranoia of the psychological professionals being out to get the person, and the big red flag is “I’m not on my meds, I didn’t need them.” Again–none of these on their own are a reason to kick someone out of a group. But taken in concert, they paint a larger picture of someone who is going to consistently cause conflict in your group unless they get help. And–as I’ve pointed out over and over, you can’t fix anyone. You can take them to the door and offer to help, you can’t make them go through it.

Backstabbing and Gossip
This one probably is no surprise; this person is going to feel threatened by anyone in power, and they will either charge at them head on in meetings or online discussions to try and discredit them, but more commonly they will work behind the scenes to gain a coalition of people onto their side. They will trashtalk anyone to make themselves sound better.

Grandiose
This person also is usually the first to volunteer. If they have money, they often put forth money into the group, but it’s a donation with a catch. They donate money, and what they want is power and especially attention. There was one person I worked with who volunteered to bring in an expensive band from out of town for an event, but it had to be a band of her choosing, and she later used the band as a way to take the group hostage and to get people to do things the way she wanted. If the person is not financially abundant, they might take on a lot of volunteering roles.

An experienced group leader will see someone taking on a lot of volunteering not as a positive thing but as a red flag; very often, this is a sign that someone is trying to have attention paid to them. Because, 1. Volunteers are “good.” They are loved. And given that the problematic person has a huge core of self esteem issues, they need all the external love that they can get. 2. Their ideas get used. Nothing feels better to a person with poor self esteem than the illusion that people love them, and seeing their ideas take shape and the group working to make them happen can be a balm onto that gaping wound of self loathing. But it never lasts, because they aren’t healing that wound, just numbing it for a time.

Dropping the Ball
We all have things coming up in our lives, and sometimes we can’t meet the obligations we agreed to, and volunteer tasks usually get trumped by paid work, family, and health. However, someone who consistently drops the ball is a red flag. In fact, the Grandiose Volunteering is so very often followed by Dropping the Ball. It’s a one-two punch.

I should point out that I personally have been guilty of a number of these in my life. I used to volunteer to help out groups as a web designer and graphic designer. People didn’t like me, of course, I knew that. Nobody liked me, I was the outcast, the reject, the unpopular one. But they liked my artwork, they liked my web design. They liked that I helped.

Of course, I had said “yes” to way too many projects and got overwhelmed and dropped the ball. In fact, that’s something I still struggle with. But that’s the core difference here–the problem person we’re talking about is largely unaware that they are doing all of this. I’m here to tell you that some people, when made aware, can work to change their behavior. Relentless personal work and some therapy can go a long way.

Other folks, however, are not going to change. Or, not easily change.

Big Emotions and Oversensitivity
I posted a couple of blogs and links to articles about hypersensitivity. The problem person will typically have emotional reactions that are a few orders of magnitude outside of what is appropriate or reasonable. Again, they are always the victim, so they are always going to see that people are out to get them. So when someone suggests something that opposes what this person wants in the group, they are going to throw a big drama fit about it.

It’s emotional hostage taking, and it works. The codepedent members of the group will want to “fix” the agitated individual by caving to what they want. Codependent folks cannot stand big emotions. And that’s a whole separate set of dysfunctions, but you can begin to see the interplay of group dynamics and how someone as problematic as this type of individual can survive and thrive in a group even when they are causing so many obvious problems. People hate to kick out the underdog.

Sometimes you can catch this red flag early on by watching this person’s Facebook and Twitter posts or their blog entries. I know a few folks that, after reading their LiveJournal, I realized I would never, ever want to work with them, because they laid out enough red flags right there that I was pretty clear that working with them would be impossible.

This person is hypersensitive, defensive, and always has to be right. They can’t cope with being wrong and will either bully people into their point of view, or cry and be pathetic to “win” the argument.

Highly Creative and Disorganized
You are probably asking how this is bad. And–again, like any of these red flags, it’s not the whole picture. However, someone who constantly has big ideas, but is completely disorganized and cannot realize any of them, may not be the influence you want in your group, particularly if your group function is planning a festival or Pride event. This person tends to come up with huge ideas and start them, but not finish them. Their big ideas leave messes in other people’s laps.

Here’s where this flag becomes more obvious. This person gets kicked out of a local group, or gets dissatisfied. So they create their own group. Now–this could be a physical local group, or a Facebook group. Sometimes it’s a grandiose vision to create their own tradition, other times it’s a plan to create their own event. But then they vanish; they get sick, or are dealing with a chronic illness, or their computer broke, or…or….something always comes up.

Spiteful
The person tries to hide under the veneer of pathetic, but they actually come across as pretty spiteful if you watch. They will rarely have anything good to say about people with more power or creativity than them. They betray jealousy and anger in their comments about others. They gossip. They tear others down. Why? Well–let’s remember, these people have terrible self esteem. Tearing down is easier than stepping into responsibility for themselves and becoming the person they dream of being, the person who could lead a group and be successful and manifest their dreams. Instead, it’s easier to blame everyone else.

One-on-One Time
The problematic individual will take more of your time than every other member of your group. They will be hurt or upset by something someone said and need to be talked down a wall. Or they will message you all the time wanting to know what’s up, wanting to connect to you socially even though they don’t hold that role in your life. They will take umbrage at something you said and cry on the phone with you for hours while you comfort them. Or they will want to bounce some ideas off of you and take up still more of your time while they are looking for validation.

Summary, and Personal Growth
I’m going to let you in on a little secret; and, if you regularly read my blog, it probably won’t be much of a surprise. I, personally, have done many of the bad behaviors that I listed above. I’ve been a problem person in groups before, although it wasn’t my intention. I can honestly say that I wasn’t usually belligerent or spiteful, nor was I throwing big drama fits. I was never claiming to be a reincarnated Babylonian god. However, I was often the person who got heard by complaining. I’m the eager volunteer who dropped the ball.

Why? well, I had the worst self esteem you can imagine.

I came out of the public school system a suicidal self-hating mess. I was fat with acne and so stressed out that when I was 12 I pulled out half the hair on my head. It’s called Trichotillomania, and it’s a behavior that emerges as a coping mechanism for extreme stress. It took me years and years of personal growth work to get past a lot of these things. And, the old wounds don’t ever fully heal, in the sense that, I can’t go back in time and undo what happened to me. What I can do is decide that my life is going to be different going forward.

I’m really good at picking up these red flags because that’s how shadow works–we see the dark mirror of ourselves and our own bad behaviors in others. In fact, one of the best lessons (if painful) in personal growth is to observe the people around you and what annoys you about them. And then ask yourself, “Do I do that?”

Often enough, the things that annoy you in others are actually things you do that you secretly fear will annoy others.

Only once you acknowledge these things by looking in the mirror can you even begin to address those shadows. And I cannot encompass the entire process of shadow work here in these articles, though I can offer beginnings. T. Thorn Coyle writes eloquently about working to embrace and integrate our shadows. Or you can find a good Jungian therapist.

I often say that the secret to leadership–and to conflict resolution–is relentless personal work. I’m the poster child for it. I have worked to become a more whole person. Is my work done? Heck no. I have tons of issues. But I have come a long way. So I’m here to say that people who are engaging in the above harmful behaviors can change. It’s not pretty, and it takes a long time.

And many won’t. You can’t fix them. And if someone is engaging in consistent behaviors that is going to harm your group, you may have to ask them to leave, because otherwise, in a year you won’t have a group to build, it’ll implode or explode. And then you can’t help anyone.

More articles coming up in the leadership series, so stay tuned.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution 5: Don’t Bother

HPIM1977.JPGI touched on this a little in the previous 4 articles on Conflict Resolution and the rest of the leadership series. However, it’s worth stating more explicitly. Sometimes, it’s not worth bending over backwards to try and sheepdog people into a conflict resolution. Sometimes, people are just going to keep causing drama.

In fact, the very drama of trying to get them into a mediated session is the drama that they want. Usually these are the egomaniacs and unstable mentally ill people I’ve mentioned before. Typically they have no idea that they are literally bending situations to create even more drama.

Some people crave attention. Going back to the underlying needs addressed in Part 2, their need is for attention, to be seen and valued. However, they aren’t getting that need met, in part because their attempts to get that need met typically involve them being whiny, annoying, irritating, or belligerent.

Here’s a couple of quick examples of “Do not pass go,” followed by a longer profile of behaviors to watch out for.

Stuck In Mythic
So once upon a time, Person A was convinced that Person B hated him. “She came into the room, and when she saw me, she left.” I asked if he’d ever talked to Person B about it. “No, of course not. She hates me.” Despite several hours of working through the Four Levels of Reality tool to get him to Physical Reality, he could not separate his mythic reality. “I just know she hates me.” He wasn’t open to me talking to Person B to find out, he wasn’t open to a mediation session, he was just convinced that Person B hated him. And in fact, suspected that many other people hated him.

In this instance, despite a lot of effort to work with Person A, who was motivated to help and be part of the group, it turned out that Person A had a number of issues. He was diagnosed Bipolar and not in any treatment, he had been abusing his partner (spitting on her, choking her, verbally and emotionally abusing her), and he had been repeatedly hitting on women in the group, or staring at their chests. I also discovered that he’d been kicked out of two previous groups for being belligerent and he had problems with female authority figures.

As I’ve said before, I always want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but, I also have to be realistic. With treatment for his Bipolar and a few years of therapy, he could be a functioning member of a group, but he’s way past my pay grade. The primary red flag in this situation that led to me understanding all the rest was that you couldn’t talk this guy down off a wall. Once Person A was convinced of his Mythic Reality, no amount of Physical Reality would sway him. If you spend several hours talking to someone and they just can’t wrap their brain around the idea that their version of The Truth isn’t set in stone, that’s a big red flag.

Stuck in Mythic plus Antisocial Personality Disorders
Person A was convinced that Person B was out to get him–same scenario as above. He’d dealt with her before in a previous group and she had betrayed him and others. After spending several hours with Person A trying to get him to articulate what Person B had done in terms of Physical Reality (ie, taking him through the Four Levels of reality and out of Mythic and Emotional space and into Physical Reality) he literally could not articulate what Person B had done. “If Person B is there, bad things happen. Person B will betray people. Person B is a sociopath.”

Now–here’s the rub on this one.

Person A is going to consistently cause group conflicts because they literally cannot get out of their own Mythic Reality. They are stuck in their own story of other people’s motivation. However–in this particular instance–Person B really was a sociopath. You might begin to see why conflict resolution is so difficult. Often times, both parties enmeshed in a conflict are escalating things and making it worse.

In this particular example. Person B had done such a number on me by playing the victim that I allowed her into leadership positions in my group, ultimately giving her the leverage she needed to help build a coalition against me. There were other factors, including my former partner, but this led to the complete implosion of that particular group. If I’d understood the red flags for the Antisocial personality disorders and Person B’s behavior, she’d never have gained a foothold in the group.

Rule of thumb: If someone can’t articulate things in terms of Physical Reality, despite four hours (yes, four hours) of discussion on the matter, this is probably someone who is going to continue causing conflicts because of their paranoia and being stuck in mythic reality.

However, here’s a caveat. Sometimes the inability of Person A to put their finger on what Person B did may actually be a flag for Person B having one of the major personality disorders, like Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder, or being a sociopath. All of those fall into the “Antisocial personality disorders” and you will never regret learning more about those. Once you know some of the flags for them, it can help you keep your group healthier.

If you have someone in your group who has one of the antisocial personality disorders, it may be extremely difficult for other group members to put their finger on exactly what is wrong, what that person did. This is in part because people with any of the major antisocial personality disorders are extremely good at manipulation. They twist people around and if you aren’t familiar with the red flags, you’ll get caught up in it. Heck, even when I do know the red flags, it’s still hard to unravel the knots on what’s happening.

Personality Profile: Problematic Group Member
Below is an extended example of red flags of a problematic individual that many of you may recognize in your own groups. Starhawk would call them the “Power Under” person. This is the person that is repeatedly causing group conflicts. I’m not going to say there is no help for this person, however, the likelihood of any conflict resolution is pretty limited. If someone is on the extreme end of these red flags, I might skip the attempt to do conflict resolution entirely and just skip to the end game and kick them out of my group.

That’s harsh, and it’s something I would only do in extreme situations, but sometimes, the game of the problem-causer is to create further drama by drawing you into a process of conflict resolution. Sometimes, the only way out is to hold a boundary and say “No” and end the cycle of drama.

Scenario:
Some folks I know in a semi-rural area are working to create a coalition of local groups. Sort of a unity council. They all live about 2-3 hours apart, but they’ve seen how hard it is to run events and try to attract people to come to rituals and put things on when there are just so few Pagans in any one area. However, if they band together and go to Town A for one sabbat, Town B, for another, and Town C for the next…you get the picture. They can share resources, not have to run all the rituals themselves, get helpers…it’s a good idea.

Of course, you can also see the challenges organizing over that big of a distance. One of the group members early on started whining a lot. She’d complain on the group page. She didn’t like the logo that one member had designed. She frequently complained that even when this coalition met closer to her side of the state, she still had to drive 45 minutes and she couldn’t afford it. She frequently complained that people weren’t listening to her ideas.

The person who is in the role of the organizer of this merry band has spent hours and hours and hours talking to the group member with the problems. In fact, I spent several hours talking to that group member on the main organizer’s behalf, since I know all the parties involved.

When the group opted to meet at the central town’s location, which was even further from the complainer’s location, the group member (unsurprisingly) complained about that, and how they always had to drive. The main organizer pointed out that people from her town had been doing most of the driving so far, and it was only fair to bring things central. Further, they were still trying to get people involved who were even further away, and that would require driving to that side of the state at times.

Some of you will be unsurprised that ultimately, the complainer left the group in a huff.

Cutting the Cancer
Now, I knew this would happen long before it did. In fact, the group organizer and I spent a fair amount of time discussing how to handle this particular complainer. She, and many other group organizers facing someone like this, want to hear how they can help that person become involved without them being a major pain in the ass. This person meant well! She volunteered for things, she wanted to see better resources for her community.

However, she also was completely the source of her own problems. She was causing the very things that were distancing her from the group, and making her feel less and less heard, making her act out more. Again, it goes back to those needs, and ultimately, to our issues, particularly around self esteem. It’s a vicious cycle.

What I’ve told to many organizers dealing with someone like this is, you’re going to have to kick them out of the group sooner, rather than later, if their behaviors are that disruptive and they are not receptive to any feedback. In this particular case, the small group of leaders was new, and having to kick someone out could have devastated their momentum. When a group is new and unsure, dealing with a major group dynamics issue can be the kiss of death. People get too angry and frustrated and bail after a big conflict.

Delay the Inevitable
You can delay how long it takes for someone like this to throw a big fit by focusing attention on them, praising them frequently, and bending over backwards to give them important-sounding tasks that they enjoy and then praising them for doing that work. And–for that matter–though I might sound dismissive when I say that, as a leader, that’s sometimes the work I have to do with group members who are not that disruptive. Some people have poor self esteem and need a little bit of extra handholding. Some group members can work their way out of the whiny power-under place.

But that’s not the type of person I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the person that no attempts at skillful leadership on your part will help. In my own leadership hubris, I’ve worked with folks like this and though, “But I know all this stuff about leadership. I can ‘fix’ them, I can help them see how they are the source of their own problems.”

With some folks who just have poor self esteem and need to build some confidence, you can. For someone who has way more red flags and is more disruptive, you can’t. It’s above your pay grade, and the sooner you recognize that, the less time you’ll invest into someone who can cause a major blow up in your group.

However–with someone like this, the longer they are in the group, the more likely they are to build a coalition against the primary leader, or anyone whom they perceive as a threat. I liken it to a cancer. You can cut off a finger, or you can cut off a hand, or you can lose a whole limb. When you kick someone out of a group it’s always disruptive and painful, but if you do it sooner rather than later, it’s less disruptive.

Red Flags
Of course–this means you have to understand the differences between someone who can change their behavior, and someone who is way above your pay grade. Ie, someone who is not going to change. I’m not going to tell you this is easy. And as I’ve said so often before–good grief do I wish that I had more capacity to help the people who are acting out in this way. Because, I believe that many of them can be helped with time, patience, pastoral counseling, therapy, and love. And if our group leaders had better training, and infinite time and infinite resources, we could help some of these folks.

But sometimes, my job is to create a stable group so that in 5, 10, 20 years, that group does have the resources and the training to help people like this. A group that is strong and sustainable can actually handle someone more problematic. A newer group with leaders without a lot of training doesn’t have a chance.

Description of the red flags for this particular group member/type got long enough that that will be Part 6.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution Part 4: At the Table

8240974_xxlNow that we’ve talked about a lot of the underlying causes of conflicts and the needs beneath them, lets talk about the actual process of trying to resolve a conflict between two or more people in some kind of mediated session.

 

By the time a conflict has gotten to the point where people are pissed off and not speaking and it’s a struggle to get them into a room with each other, your chances of positively resolving the conflict are pretty low, which is why the rest of the series of articles focuses on understanding conflict and unraveling it before it gets that far.

Now, there’s lots of different ways of getting people to the table. A mediation is different in some ways from a facilitated session where you, as the group leader, have the power to render a judgment and kick someone out of a group. It helps to understand what type of conflict resolution session you’re engaging in.

Agreements
First, before there’s ever a conflict, it helps if the group has an agreement for conflict resolution. I’m amazed at how many groups have no behavioral agreements at all, much less an agreement about what behavior would lead to a mediated session. Such as, if 2 people have an issue and can’t resolve it, they must go to one of the 2 mediators established by the group. If this is a conflict between two sovereign group leaders, there’s no such hierarchical commandment that they must follow, but let’s assume for the moment that the agreement exists within a group and that the parties involved must agree to the mediation or resign from the group. Or, that the people in question are reasonable enough to agree to a mediation.

Discovery
Thus, the first step is, you learn about the conflict. You will have the tendency to “side” with the person you know best, or, the person whose side you heard first. I’ve heard this called Polarizing, and it’s pretty common. It’s why in a community conflict people rush out to tell people their side first; we seem to instinctively know that people believe the first person they hear. We will also tend to “side” with the underdog, or the person who portrays themselves as the underdog. (Keep in mind that the one who comes across as the victim, isn’t always the victim.)

Don’t get mad at yourself for the instinct to take a side. Just acknowledge that yup, there you are falling for the polarizing thing. And then, work to gather more data and understand the whole situation. Just be aware of your instincts and whenever you find yourself taking a side, question it thoroughly. Interview all the parties involved. Try to do this in person, because you can learn a lot from body language, but, sometimes Skype or email are the only way to go for the data gathering, particularly if the parties live far away.

You’ll be doing a lot of listening. And fact checking. You want to understand those underlying needs. And, though your job as a mediator isn’t necessarily to lay blame (or, for that matter, to be someone’s therapist), understanding what happened is crucial. It’s important to understand if one of the parties is blatantly lying, because that impacts the next steps.

Lying
If you catch one of the parties in big, blatant, or consistent lies, it’s unlikely the conflict resolution is going to have any kind of positive outcome. I hate to be a Debbie Downer about that, but if one of the parties can’t be truthful, that’s a pretty big red flag. I’ve been in a mediated session (I was one of the two parties, not the mediator) when the other party began lying to gain the sympathy of the mediator. At the time, I didn’t know he was lying; he was talking about how his mother was dying of cancer and he was going to have to leave town in order to be with her.

So sometimes the lies aren’t necessarily easy to suss out; a chronic liar is usually a pretty good liar. Some of us have the instinct to sniff out a lie, some of us don’t. One of the best ways to suss out a liar is to get them to tell you about some things that someone else said, and then actually follow up and talk to that other person. You’d be surprised how many lies become clear when you take the direct approach.

One of my biggest pet peeves in any conflict is the “Well, people told me that they hate what Person B is doing.” “Who is people?” I ask. “Well, I can’t tell you that, they don’t want me to give their names.” In most cases, I ignore this as any kind of useful evidence. Sometimes, a liar will give out names if I pressure them, assuming that nobody would be direct enough to actually contact those people.

And the house of cards falls apart when you do, indeed, contact those folks. That’s why investigation is important, because you need to understand the story beneath the story.

Abuse
Another red flag is abuse. In so many cases, there isn’t enough evidence, it’s Person A said, Person B said, however, sometimes there were witnesses and there’s a consistent pattern of behavior. In a situation like that, particularly involving physical abuse, your services as a mediator aren’t really what’s required–getting the victim out of the situation is. Oddly enough, it’s often the victim, who is stuck in the codependent spiral, who is trying to make the mediation happen so that they don’t have to acknowledge that it’s time to leave the relationship. The mediation is actually a stalling tactic on the victim’s part.

This is one of those areas that starts to stretch beyond my pay grade, but if I tend to look at my “job” in an instance like this as the same obligation that a therapist has. A therapist holds the things shared with them as confidential, unless they learn of someone’s intent do do themselves or another harm. If I feel that someone is in danger, then it may indeed be my obligation to involve the police, or help the victimized party get out of that situation. This is an extreme situation, and honestly, this is why I wish I had more training.

I’m not going to go into the nuances of what you should do in this situation as that’s a whole post on its own, and in this case, if I stumbled into something like this, I’d probably ask the advice of Selena Fox or someone else who has far more pastoral counseling training than I personally have.

Getting People to the Table
Making the assumptions that while there’s gnashing of teeth, there’s no blatant lying, and there’s no risk of escalating physical abuse, once you have gathered all the info you can, your job is to get the affected parties into a room together. Now–depending on the nature of the conflict, this meeting might involve a larger group, or, just two people. A larger group might be warranted if two members of a coven are fighting, and have been fighting in a way that has been disruptive to the whole group or involved the whole group. Or, if there’s a complicated family dynamic with multiple injured/angry parties.

However, what I’d suggest is that you try to first meet with the core affected parties, and meet with as few of them as possible. Often the primary conflict boils down to just two people. The reason to meet with them alone is pretty simple; people will put on a bigger show with an audience, and will be less likely to be vulnerable, less likely to back down. If you can actually get the two main parties to listen to each other, and communicate, and open up, then they can resolve their issues with each other first without any group shaming going on, or perception of group shame.

Remembering those underlying needs, and shadows, always keep in mind how people’s egos and self identity will drive their actions. The poorer someone’s self esteem, the more they will be driven by wanting people to have a “good” opinion of them. The perception of loss of status is tied into our ego identity and people will dig in their heels, even if they know they are wrong, rather than face the perception of the group shaming them for being wrong.

Example: The Core Components
I was once asked to do a conflict resolution process for a family in a dispute. Once I started gathering information about this particular dispute, I realized what a mess it was, though the dispute followed a fairly logical escalation. The person who asked me to intervene had been subject to the “I’m not speaking to you” end game by the other party and wanted to find a way to keep the communication door open. She wanted me to meet with the whole family in a mediated session to address the issues of the “Black Sheep” family member.

Except…as the information unraveled, the nature of the conflict became clearer to me that it was really a conflict between two primary players, and everyone else was just caught up in the fallout. Neither one of those players was going to back down in front of the rest of the family, so to address anything, I was going to need to get the two of them alone in a room together.

That’s about as far as I got in the info gathering process before one of the parties pulled the plug on the mediation.

Is it Mediation or a Judgment?
Now–I’m using the terms mediation here, and I should clarify that I’m painting with big brush strokes. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that sometimes I’m negotiating a conflict; if I were a true mediator, I would have no stake in the conflict. If I’m a group leader facilitating a session for two other group leaders, I still have a stake in it because I want things to go well.

Similarly, if I’m a group leader facilitating a mediated session for two of my group members, it might be more accurate to call me an arbiter or even a judge, because I will at some point be rendering a decision. A mediator is just there to make a safe space to listen and gets out of the way, letting the two parties come to terms with gentle guidance. If I’m a group leader, it may ultimately come to me to render a decision that one or more of the parties might get asked to leave the group, for instance.

And yes, that can be a wrenching decision particularly in Person A said, Person B said, when you don’t have all the data. In that case, I tend to make my decision based upon how people act within the process of the conflict resolution itself.

However, I am more than happy to render a decision based on people’s behavior during the mediation process itself. How we act when we are under stress tells a lot about us. And if someone turns into a raving jerk, I may realize that that person really wasn’t a good fit for my team in the first place.

Mediators, Arbiters, and Power Dynamics
You should be aware of how the power dynamic shifts depending on your role. If you’re a group leader arbitrating a dispute, then you have a dog in the game. The people involved in the conflict will feel more pressure to be believable, for you to be on their side, since you have power to make a decision about their involvement. So they may feel more pressure to lie, for instance, or fib. Whereas, the idea with a mediator is that this person has no power to render a decision, and thus, is a safe place to vent about what happened.

In many cases a mediation will be between two parties who have a vastly different power dynamic. For instance, and employee and employer, or, a coven member and coven leader, in which case, a neutral mediator is really important, since the person without power has to feel that they will be heard. The mediator also has to have enough respect that the person with power is willing to come to the table and listen and not just brush this off as their group member whining.

In a dynamic like that, your job as the mediator is probably (depending on the situation) to help the powerless person have a voice with someone who may not be willing to listen. On the other hand, part 4 of the conflict resolution series deals with when the underdog is the problem person in the group. More on that later.

Conflict Resolution and Communication
Essentially, your job as a mediator, negotiator, or arbiter, is to unravel the truth as best you can, and to get people to listen to each other. You’re trying to help them hear each other. Sometimes, what one person is saying sounds like “Wa wa, wa wa, wa wa wa” to the other person for various reasons.

It could be that they each have a different primary learning modality, or that they are the exact personality types on the Enneagram that shouldn’t work together.

Here’s a few examples.

Jumping to Conclusions
Let’s say that the conflict in this case is that Person A believes Person B hates them and is out to get them. When you have interviewed the various parties, the best you can understand is that Person B is a little annoyed by Person A, in large part because Person A is so defensive all the time. However, Person B doesn’t hate Person A.

Now, here’s a pickle, because ultimately the conflict is resolved by convincing Person A that Person B doesn’t hate them. However, future conflicts are kept from happening if Person A realizes that their own behavior is exacerbating things and that they are jumping to conclusions. So really, this is Person A’s nightmare; nobody is that defensive without self esteem issues, and to find out that people are irked at them, annoyed by them…major blow to the ego.

The Four Levels of Reality tool that I’ve mentioned before is a big helper here to help Person A to understand that Person B doesn’t hate them. But, a further commitment to personal growth work or therapy is ultimately going to help Person A be a healthy part of the group. And perhaps that’s outside of the scope of a mediated session, but it’s part of the process of longer term conflict resolution in a group.

What Did You Say?
Another example is when people just are failing to communicate. In one instance, I was asked to facilitate a board meeting of a group that just wasn’t on the same page. The group leader was strong, ambitious, a little harsh, definitely a control freak, and motivated by a drive to be a professional. She had been putting in long hours to run events on her land, and she wanted people to step in and help, but her volunteers always seemed to drop the ball. One volunteer in particular wanted to help with things like the newsletter, but she blew deadlines and failed to get things done. She had great ideas and was highly motivated on the idea level, but she had terrible follow through. Basically, the two of them were a personality match made in hell.

When this group leader sent out long emails about her ideas for future events to the board email list, she would hear nothing back from the board, and she would sit there and wonder if anyone cared and fume and get frustrated and sad.

Let’s look at the group’s side. They had volunteered their time to make the event happen, but then the group leader became a task master and was demanding more from them than they felt they agreed to. She wanted regular meetings which they had to fit into their schedule, and she sent out long emails that they didn’t have time or patience to read. Or, the emails seemed like the group leader had things in hand, so they didn’t feel they needed to response.

They had no idea the group leader was looking for a response from them.

So what I said was, “Can you guys hear that Group Leader needs more feedback from you guys, that even if all you have time to type is ‘Yeah, that sounds great,’ that that is what she’s looking for?” And they nodded and understood. They hadn’t realized that was what was needed.

And then I said to the group leader, “Can you hear that your group is a little overwhelmed by all the communication and structure you are throwing at them? That they may not have stepped into the level of volunteering that you are asking of them? Can you work to make more space for what they have time for, and to listen to their needs?”

And she understood that. It hadn’t really occurred to her that she was asking too much, given that for years she had taken on the entire task of putting on the event. I pointed out that she was a driven, motivated individual and this event was her baby, but just because she wanted it and was willing to put in the 80 hour week, didn’t mean that everyone else was, and that she had to downscale what she was expecting of her volunteers.

I also pointed out the obvious tension, that the group members were always on edge, waiting for the group leader to snap at them. That the group members wanted to help, but they were also afraid of how angry the group leader seemed to get. However, I also pointed out that some of the group members were not meeting the obligations they had agreed to, and that this had caused stress for the group leader.

Basically, as a neutral party, I was able to communicate a lot of the subtext messages in a way that took the tension out and helped them look at it not as the two sides in conflict, but as outsiders, so they could see how they got into the spaghetti snarl and how they could find their way out.

If you really want to learn how to mediate disputes, I highly recommend getting training in Nonviolent Communication. Restorative Justice Circles are another method, and many areas offer classes in mediation training, though the rub is you’ll have to pay out of pocket in order to get training that you then won’t be able to charge for. Don’t worry; I have a longer series of posts addressing leadership, fundraising, and money coming up.

When You Shouldn’t Bother
I’ll offer an example of many of the behaviors of a problematic individual who will cause repeated conflict in your group in Conflict Resolution Part 5.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution 3: Is it Resolvable?

12653654_xxlWhen a conflict resolution works it’s a great thing. However, the reason I started out the leadership series by talking about unsolvable conflicts, and in specific, talking about intractably bad leaders who are egomaniacs, jerks, or who have major untreated mental illnesses…is because with anyone in these categories, it doesn’t matter if you are a master at conflict resolution. Nothing is going to heal that conflict. Nothing is going to change someone who isn’t aware and willing to change.

Love, Listening, and Boundaries
There is a power–an extreme power–in listening. In letting someone talk about why they are upset, in hearing them. Sometimes someone who seems like an intractably bad KnowItAll  can come to understand what they did and do, reflect on their behavior, and work to be better.

Some people have literally never had anyone just listen to them. Compassion and love and support can also heal some of those old wounds that lead to behavior. Another toolset that I’m less familiar with, but that I know has had a tremendous positive impact, is the form of the Restorative Justice circle.

Pagan author Crystal Blanton facilitates these when she teaches at festivals, and she uses them in her workplace. You might do a little digging around in your area via Google to see if there are any ways to experience or learn how to facilitate Restorative Justice circles. One of the hallmarks of an “RJ” circle is listening. The idea is to pass the  talking stick/stone/object around and get people to talk, and, to get people to listen.

There is a tremendous power in being heard when you’ve never felt like anyone listened to you or cared what you thought. Sometimes that’s all that someone wants in a conflict–to feel that their voice is heard.

There’s a tremendous power in hearing the pain of the other party. When people yell at each other over a computer screen, or through a third party who’s been triangled into the drama, they aren’t always hearing and sitting with and feeling compassion for what the other party is going through.

If you can actually get people to sit together and speak their pain and be vulnerable, that’s half the work right there, and sometimes just the act of them speaking and listening unravels the conflict.

However, it’s a knife’s edge of balance. I want to listen to what someone’s going through. And I want to give someone the time and space to heal and to do better, but I also need to understand when I’m spinning my wheels with someone and just giving them more opportunities to hurt me and my group. After repeated work with someone showing them compassion and giving them opportunities to make a different choice, sometimes it is time to hold a boundary. Sometimes, the answer is, “No, you can’t be a part of this group/event/community any longer.”

Mediation
I do wish this historically worked better in the Pagan community. I’ve agreed numerous times to be a mediator for several disputes, and I’ve very, very rarely been taken up on the offer.

As I mentioned in Conflict Resolution Part 1, typically there’s one party interested in mediation, and the other party refuses. To recap, most of the time when someone refuses mediation, that’s a big red flag for me. If they aren’t willing to sit down at the table and talk things out, then there’s probably no resolving the conflict anyways.

The exception to this is if someone has been abused, for instance, and the abuser is trying to use mediation as a method to re-engage the cycle of abuse with their victim. If someone has been abused and refuses mediation because they have cut their abuser out of their life, that’s a different situation.

In almost any other case, the “I’m not speaking to you” tactic is unfortunately a death knell to the possibility of any future healing. No conversations can happen, no agreements can be made, no needs can be explored. At that point there is just stewing and no way to resolve the tension.

It festers like a big boil under the skin with no way to lance it.

Sometimes I have been taken up on my offer to mediate, but sometimes the end result isn’t what the parties had in mind. Sometimes the end result is, “Yup, you guys are really a terrible mix, personality wise, and you probably shouldn’t work together.” What people want is the perfect, pretty result, and that isn’t always possible. Sometimes the result is that some folks are just a bad combination, and the pressure cooker of working together to plan rituals or events or put out a newsletter is going to continually cause a conflict.

But I Heard Mediation Doesn’t Work
The only thing that’s worse than someone refusing mediation, though, is unskillful mediation. There’s a number of situations I’ve heard of where someone was used as a mediator who wasn’t at all skilled, or who was clearly biased, and that situation managed to cause a further rift. What makes this one worse is that then everyone sees that “Oh, mediation didn’t work,” and then they don’t want to employ mediation in the future.

Or, someone who didn’t like the outcome of the mediation, will talk about how mediation is biased. When, it wasn’t biased, it just didn’t go their way.

Like with many things, the story of bad mediations gets more elaborate with every telling. The game of “telephone” can create quite an epic rumor of how terrible mediations are. Not every regional community has had something like this happen, but in some regions, because of past drama, mediation is not even seen as an option.

Trash Talking the Mediator
A bad scenario is when one gets so upset that they begin to trash talk the mediator. And yes, this does happen. The idea of mediation is that the mediator is an outside party without a “dog in the game,” so to speak. In the Pagan community, I often clarify that I am not a true mediator, because we have too much “It’s a small world” syndrome, but that I will try to come in as unbiased as I can. And there’s a benefit to having a mediator who at least understands the local politics without an hours-long history lesson.

However, the disadvantage is that if one of the parties involved gets disgruntled enough–or, if they were genuinely unstable to begin with–they may try personal attacks against the mediator. At that point it usually becomes pretty clear how the original conflict exploded in the first place, but it can cause entirely new rifts. This is why I’ve heard a number of Pagan elders say, “No way am I getting in the middle of that.” Because, they know that one of the “end games” is to try and draw in the mediator.

Too Much of a Soft Touch
Another mediation failure is when the mediator doesn’t ask the hard questions. I know of one mediation where the mediator basically seemed to just listen to the two parties talk to each other.

One party felt aggrieved and took the lead, cowing the second person into apologizing, when the situation was actually far more complicated. The aggressive person used the mediator to make the second person look like the aggressor. It’s grade-A manipulative and abusive behavior, and a mediation is supposed to provide a safe space.

While it’s true that a mediator is in general supposed to help the parties in conflict solve their own problems, there’s also a point where a mediator needs to step in and ensure a safe space for both parties. I’d offer that it’s really tricky some times to suss out abusive and manipulative behavior, particularly with people who play the victim in other to manipulate others. This is why it’s important to gather data ahead of time from multiple different perspectives.

You want to give people space to work out their problems, but you don’t want to let one party steamroll the other. A lot of mediators express that they are afraid to be perceived as taking sides, but bad behavior needs to be called out in a mediation session or you’ve just lost all your safety agreements.

In Part 4, we’ll look at some actual mediation and arbitration processes.

Meanwhile, here’s a short article on projection (ie, projecting our inner landscape onto exterior people/events) from an excellent weekly facilitation newsletter I subscribe to. http://facilitatoru.com/blog/training/what-are-you-projecting/


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution 2: Understanding the Need Beneath the Action

4290805_lNonviolent Communication (or NVC), and other tools I work with, are about understanding the need that underlies the action. If I can understand why someone just did a really mean thing, I can understand why, and we have an opportunity to resolve it.

It’s still not okay to be a jerk to someone, but, without knowing why it happened and why, we can’t even get at a forward momentum for resolution, everything we do will just be rehash.

Nonviolent Communication is a technique that I frequently use. The book by the same name by Marshall Rosenberg is an excellent resource. The tool does have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s especially useful if many people in a local community are working to learn and practice it.

In the Conflict Resolution Part 1, I focused a lot on conflict avoidance. I have found that the simple strategy of “when, not if” helps tremendously. Not looking at it as, if a conflict happens, but when. That tends to lower the stress level around addressing the conflict, because I’m not looking at it from the squeamish perspective of, “Maybe I can get out of addressing this.” It’s more, “When will I choose to address this?”

Because that conflict is not going to go away. What you have to do first is understand the nature of the conflict to determine how to address it.

Person Causing the Drama
The person who’s frustrated and whose needs aren’t being met is likely to consistently keep beating their head against the wall engaging in ineffective strategies to try and meet those needs.

Effective strategies is a keyword here. A lot of the process of therapy is centered around trying to reprogram ourselves to stop engaging in ineffective strategies and harmful coping mechanisms, and move towards actual effective strategies to meet our needs.

But first, we have to understand what our needs are, and acknowledge them. And we have a lot of cultural shame around certain needs. For instance, the need for sex. I probably don’t need to go into the cultural shame around this. A more complicated need is the need to be unique, to be seen and valued, to be special. But we’re told as kids, “Children should be seen and not heard,” we’re told to not want the spotlight, to not be selfish like that. You can see where our genuine needs come into conflict with societal morals and shaming.

Digging Deep: What do we Need?
My mentor Cynthia Jones at Diana’s Grove came up with an astrological model of human needs based on the 12 signs of the zodiac. I took her work as presented in a workshop, and formatted it into a visual graphic. It’s not about “what’s your sign,” it’s that each of us has all 12 signs, all 12 needs, it’s just that we have them in different weights and measures. It’s a useful metaphor to understand different categories of human needs. And these needs are normal.

However, when we learn that a certain need is “bad,” that creates a shadow. We hate the part of ourselves that needs that. And so we hide it, we lock it away. So there’s that basic human need many of us have for sex and for pleasure. Basic human need, right? But how much shame do we have out of wanting pleasure? How many of us blush about talking about sex, or try to hide the fact that we masturbate?

Needing sex isn’t bad…it’s when we end up harming others out of our attempts to get that need met that it’s a problem. Like, lying about your life to pick someone up in a bar, or cheating on a partner, or seducing a student.

Compassion for Needs
Understanding people from the perspective of a whole constellation of needs that we each have becomes a useful tool in groups to identify where a behavior that’s harmful to the group was sourced by someone’s genuine human need.

An example is the woman I mentioned in the last conflict resolution blog post, the one who wanted to be seen as “The Writer.” She had a genuine human need to be seen and valued for work she did well. That wasn’t bad. What was bad was that her attempt to be seen and valued for that was expressed by her attacking me in meetings.

Understanding someone’s need–even if they were a jerk to me–gives me compassion for them. I can then actually work with them to find a better strategy to meet their need.

However, there’s also a point where someone hits what I call the three strikes rule. If someone continues to be a jerk, even if we’ve had a “this isnt’ working” conversation a few times, then I may need to cut my ties and stop working with them, or if they are participants in a group I’m leading, I may need to ask them to leave the group. Some people are beyond my pay grade. Some people are not able to be self reflective and see their behavior and how they are harming others. And others may see it, but be unable (at least at this time) to change that behavior.

I will, in almost instances, give someone the opportunity to shift their behavior. But if they don’t, then my compassion for them trying to meet their needs has a limit. Just because someone’s trying to meet a genuine need doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to harm me, or my group. Again, I have compassion for people who are frustrated trying to meet a need. But, if they are continuing to be a jerk, willfully so, that’s where I hold a boundary.

Realism in Conflicts
This is a bit of a bummer, but it’s really relevant. Not all wounds can be healed. What I mean is, there isn’t always a pat “Kumbaya” moment where the perpetrator of an abusive situation breaks down and realizes how wrong they were, and goes into therapy to change their life, and the people who were harmed smile and forgive them and it all works out.

Life isn’t that clean.

Worse, I think, are the moments when the perpetrator of an abuse breaks down and begs forgiveness, promises to change, and then people accept them back into their lives for another round of eventually declining behavior and future abuse until they end up in the same situation, or worse.

I’ve been the victim in that situation before. I’ve taken a repeat abuser back into my life. It’s really easy to do. Even with all the personal growth work that I’ve done, and the leadership work that I teach, it can be hard to discern if someone is going to actually change their behavior, or if they aren’t.

Self Transformation
I am an optimist, and at first, I will give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and I believe in people’s ability to change themselves, transform themselves. I have transformed myself, and I’ve witnessed others do the same. It’s a beautiful thing, and people are beautiful and deserving of second chances.

Some people are genuinely just going through a rough time in their lives. I know I’ve lashed out in some nasty ways when I was going through a terrible time, or when I was stuck in depression or being emotionally abused. I’ve seen a lot of people go through something and hit bottom and come back.

Alcoholics can get clean. A very good friend of mine was hurting me and others when he got addicted to hard drugs, and he quit and made something of his life.

However, some people aren’t going to change. Maybe it’s brain chemistry, maybe it’s a lifetime of them suffering their own abuses…whatever it is, in this lifetime, they aren’t going to change how they treat people. And you can’t fix them. Let me say it again. You cannot fix them.

When faced with someone like that, I do my due diligence. I give them every opportunity. But at a certain point, I recognize that that person isn’t going to change. They aren’t going to–at least for now–engage in a healthier strategy to meet their needs. And that my staying in any relationship with them–friends, romantic, group/professional, is not healthy for me. And at that point, the only thing I can do is cut them out of my life. In some cases, that means kicking someone out of a group.

I wish I had a magic wand to just “fix” people who are hurting themselves and others. But I don’t have that.

Hamsterwheeling: Trying to Make Sense of Illogical Behaviors
When I was in one particular abusive situation, I just about drove myself nuts trying to make logical sense out of his actions. Wanting him to make sense, wanting him to want healing, wanting to understand how he could do XYZ.

It wasn’t until talking to several psychotherapists that I understood that this particular individual has all the red flags for Borderline Personality Disorder. While they couldn’t diagnose him officially (he wasn’t their client), they explained the pattern of behavior, and further, explained that there wasn’t any “making sense” out of it. That my attempts to rationalize that behavior were fruitless, they were a hamsterwheel. They were me, and my rational mind, trying to make sense of someone’s actions that were not rational.

Without help–and, possibly even with help due to the nature of that mental illness–he was going to keep doing it, there was probably no changing the situation.

In some cases, healing isn’t possible. Sometimes all you can do is cut someone out of your life. And that sucks.

Needs and Resolving Conflict
Sometimes, however, getting to understand someone’s unmet needs is the way to resolve a conflict. However, each party involved in the conflict has to be honest about what they want. And has to be honest about their needs. And that usually requires looking in the mirror and admitting to things that–culturally–we’re taught to be embarrassed about.

Often what people want out of a conflict resolution is for the other person to apologize and vindicate them, prove them to be “right.” If that’s what you want, you have to own that. But, you also need to look deeper at the needs beneath that. Why do you need that? What needs aren’t you getting met?

Often the “need to be right” all the time that is present in people who are KnowItAlls is, deep down, a need to be loved and valued by others because they themselves have very poor self esteem and a poor self image. I know a lot about this one–I used to be very guilty of it. Somehow I equated “being right” with “being good” with “I have value.” Later, I learned that being a KnowItAll was contributing to my status as a social outcast. Amazingly, once I stopped being such a KnowItAll, I had more friends, and my self esteem improved.

This is where the idea of conflict resolution connects to a process of therapy, or at least ,relentless personal growth work. If your behavior in a relationship or group is causing a conflict, you have to look at the needs you are trying to get met and the unhealthy, ineffective strategies that you are employing to meet that need.

First you have to acknowledge you have a need. Next, you need to acknowledge that you’re engaging in a harmful strategy to meet that need.

Maybe you’re being the KnowItAll and you are interrupting meetings to point out how someone else is wrong, or argue over minutia, or even interrupting someone else’s workshop. Maybe you dominate a conversation with the stuff that you know, even if others weren’t talking about your topics of interest and expertise.

Then, you need to actually commit to changing that behavior. A group leader can help you find a way to meet that need in a better way–perhaps establishing you as the person who will write an article on the sabbats, or on myths, or some other area of interest. I’ve worked with people in my groups before, including working out some hand signals or other communication to let them know when they were acting out again in a subtle way that wouldn’t shame them in front of the group.

Needs, Therapy, and Successful Strategies
A process of therapy is often very useful in continuing to explore the unsuccessful strategies you use to meet your needs, and work to establish healthier, successful strategies. Our own Ego–our self identity–is the biggest block in this process. Ego’s job is to make you look good, to make sure you like yourself. So we don’t want to identify ourselves as someone who is “bad.” That might look like, “I’m bad if I’m a KnowItAll.” (Trust me, I’ve been there on that one.)

So we have to circumvent our ego, our identity, and acknowledge, hey, I do this thing, because I’m trying to be seen and valued, and I’m not bad, I’m just going about it in a crappy way, and I can change that behavior.

However–life’s not that clean. the strategies I’m discussing above are tremendously useful for conflict resolution if people actually do them. If people are actually self reflective enough to look at their behaviors and acknowledge that they need to make a change. Most of the time, people engaging in these behaviors will rigorously dig in their heels. They will not admit to being wrong.

Because, being “wrong” is being “bad” and ego can’t take being seen as “bad.” In fact, most egomaniacal and arrogant behavior is typically covering over really, really poor self esteem. If you want a magical exercise to work on this in yourself, I suggest the Iron Pentacle exercised, particularly working with the Rusted and Gilded pentacles. I believe you can do some of this work in T. Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft book, but there are also various resources for it if you Google it. If you have the opportunity to take an Iron Pentacle class, even better.

Ego, Egotism, and Conflict Resolution
Ego isn’t bad. Ego is just our identity. It’s just that our ego can be a little overzealous in its job.

For a conflict resolution to work, all parties need to understand their own needs and desires. They need to be honest about them. And, all parties need to be willing to explore their own egos, and egotism, and need to be right, and fear of being “bad.”

Again, it’s been my experience that people who are engaging in some of the most unsuccessful–and harmful–coping strategies to get their needs met, are also the folks who have the poorest self-esteem. And thus in response, they have the most overzealous and protective egoes, and that manifests in egotism and arrogance.

Those are the folks least likely to come to the mediation table, and the least likely to back down even when they are clearly in the wrong.

So, do the work to understand your own needs, and the needs of those in your group. Understand the needs beneath the conflict. Try to actually be able to articulate the needs, and the unsuccessful strategies that are harming the group. And if someone isn’t willing to hear it, be prepared to cut ties.

And keep in mind, if you’re going into a conflict resolution because you are dead set on wanting to be “right,” you probably need to do a bit of work on your own shadows around your needs, your identity, your self esteem. If each of us did this rigorous personal work, we would have far healthier groups, and less conflicts.

Stay tuned! Conflict Resolution 3 will come out tomorrow.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Herding Cats: Why I Dislike This Phrase

imagesI really, really hate this phrase. Every time I tell people I teach Pagan leadership, they think it’s so funny to bring up the old joke. “Pagan leadership is just like herding cats,” they say with a nod or a smirk.

Like I haven’t heard the joke a thousand times before.

And if you’re one of the folks that has done this–don’t worry, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad that our community in general continues to perpetuate this very unhelpful phrase, this unhelpful story.

This is Part 4 of a series on leadership, so you might want to check those for additional context. I completely reject the “myth” that Pagan leadership is like “herding cats.” Yes, sometime it comes to pass that Pagan leadership is frustrating. Why is it like that? Because we keep saying it is. We make that reality happen. You know–words have power. Words have a lot of power. Words shape reality.

I actively encourage people to not use that particular phrase because it just reinforces the story that Pagans are hard to lead. In fact, it’s more accurate to say, people are hard to lead. Pagans are a subculture with unique difficulties and our leaders don’t have appropriate training in leadership, which exacerbates the problems we face. But this phrase does not serve us in moving forward. Words have power–I’ve written a whole blog post about that on Pagan Activist.

I’m about to publish two books that will include all of my current collected articles and blog posts on leadership, personal growth, and ritual facilitation. I posted on my  Facebook that I was looking for some suggestions for the title of the leadership book.

How many people suggested herding cats? Title suggestions below:

  • Leading Pagans: I did those things so you wouldn’t have to
  • Tales from the pagan pulpit
  • A Herd of Cats is Called a Pride: Transforming Criticism into Leadership
  • Herding Kittens without Losing Your Mind
  • Lightning in a bottle: Leading Nature’s children on a common path
  • A Flame in My Heart and a Target on My Back
  • Wearing Midnight: Leadership Roles in Modern Paganism
  • Acorns to Oaks: Planting the Seeds of the Future
  • The Center of the Circle–Phaedra (plus the Target t-shirt)
  • Heavy Sighs and Facepalms
  • Herding Cats: Planting the Seeds of Pagan Leadership

I think that the “herding cats” myth we tell ourselves does us a disservice, just like shrugging and saying, “Oh, that’s Pagan Standard Time.” It excuses rudeness and poor leadership. And yes, we have a lot of rudeness in the Pagan community. There are a lot of inconsiderate people. And there are also a lot of clueless people too who have no idea that they are being disruptive.

Kenny Klein wrote an article admonishing Pagans for what’s often referred to as “Pagan Standard Time,” however, for me, this could just as well refer to the other choice phrases we use to identify ourselves. Like, “Pagans are broke,” or, “Pagan leadership is like herding cats.” Words have power, words shape reality, and these phrases do not tell the story we want for our future. 

“Get over it! You represent the Pagan community! Pull yourself together! I know, it is a hallmark of our culture in general that people are rude, late, and self-centered. But as Pagans, shouldn’t we be above that? As people who, after considerable thought, gave up the status quo to pursue our true selves, shouldn’t we be the shining example, not the common problem? I think we should.” - Kenny Klein *
http://www.witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Culture-Blogs/pagan-standard-time-1.html

*I added the boldface, it’s not in the original article.

If Not Herding Cats…Then What?
Herding cats roughly implies that Pagans are too individualistic to ever follow someone else, and trying to organize and lead such individualistic people is impossible.

However, that hasn’t been my experience at all. Most Pagans I meet are desperate to find a group that is stable and healthy where they can get basic education. Sure, many Pagans are also argumentative and rude. In fact, many Pagans also lack some basic social skills, and I’ve gone on about why I think that is in the past, but I can dig up a link if folks are interested in more depth on that topic. I think the previous posts in this leadership series probably do a decent job of looking at some of the core problems.

What are the Problems?
There are a number of key problems that contribute to the difficulty that Pagans seem to have in achieving healthy groups and healthy leadership. In the world of design–product design, event design, urban planning, etc. –there’s a saying that the solution is within the problem, and that you can’t really solve the problem until you deeply understand the problem.

Here’s a quick list of some of the problems I’ve witnessed:

  • Poor access to leadership training: Most people who end up as leaders didn’t want the job, and never got any training in communication, group dynamics, or psychology. They make honest mistakes that have big impacts.
  • Leaders who are jerks: As discussed in previous articles, grassroots and ad hoc communities are vulnerable in that anyone can step up to be a leader, there’s no “gatekeeper.” And, many of the folks who do step up to be leaders have issues ranging from untreated mental illness to severe egotism, or they may even be sexual predators. Often it seems that the people who are stubborn enough to tough it out as leaders also are motivated by self-centeredness, ego, or other instabilities.
  • Numbers: It’s a numbers game. If Paganism is less than one half of one percent of the population, that means that Chicago should have thousands of Pagans. However, how many come out to Chicago Pagan Pride? Maybe 500. That’s the most well-attended Pagan event in Chicago. Most of those Pagans won’t come out to anything else the rest of the year. There are only so many Pagans in any given area, spread out across geography, and interested in different things. There are only so many people who are actually interested in leadership, or willing to be a do-er and volunteer.
  • Burnout: The lack of motivated volunteers and leaders tends to burn out the leaders we do have.
  • Sins of the past: Many people who used to be heavily involved in the community got burned out by the conflicts of the past. This disproportionately impacts leaders, such as a leader who stepped into a leadership role even though they didn’t really want to, and then another local leader started backstabbing them and badmouthing them. Many people can only undergo stress like that for so long before they give up and go into hiding.
  • Rejecting: Most Pagans are folks who, for whatever reason, did not find a home in another faith community. In fact, Pagans tend to be members of several overlapping subcultures. Renfaires, SCA, BDSM, Polyamory, Hippies, Scifi/Fantasy geeks, liberal activists…it’s not to say all Pagans are these things. However, if you’re talking numbers, there’s frequently a heavy overlap in many of these subcultures. Generally, many Pagans seem to value being unique individuals, but more than that, many Pagans were rejected by the dominant culture, or, rejected themselves from it. I believe that this leads to one result that becomes the kicker–we have a fairly small base population to begin with. And, what I have witnessed anecdotally is that Paganism has a higher-than-average percentage of people who have mental illness, treated or untreated. Thus, you often have a lot of people with a chip on their shoulder about something, making it more difficult for them to get along with each other.

There’s other challenges, but those are a few of the significant ones.

What you end up with is a ridiculously small base population, spread out over distance. You have people who tend to be apathetic. That’s not a Pagan thing, that’s They want people to do things for them, not to be the ones doing it, or a do-er. Do-ers are rare. Most people are more interested in “being,” or Be-ers as I call them. In fact, the drive to be a leader or event planner is fairly rare, as is the drive to step up and volunteer.

What I see in the Pagan community is a high percentage of leaders who are 1. unskilled and untrained, or 2. their drive comes from them being stubborn egomaniacs or from untreated mental illness.

It’s kind of a recipe for disaster.

What’s the Solution?
I have a hunch–no solid evidence, just things I think about when I’m staring at the ceiling trying to get to sleep at night, pondering the nature of life and Pagan community. I’m an insomniac. I do this with some frequency.

My theory is that some of the sociological root of many religions’ admonishment against contraception and the religious direction to procreate and multiply is to solve some of the above “numbers” problem.

As a minority religion that lives spread apart, there’s only so much you can do both in terms of proximity and money. A hundred Pagans that have to drive 1-2 hours to get to a ritual are going to have a hard time making that commitment. However, a hundred Pagans that all live within blocks of a church/temple/community center make that far more viable.

Plus, more people in closer proximity like that have the potential to raise more funds. Many Unitarian Universalist churches have only 100-200 tithing members at a church and they are able to support a building, minister’s salary, and other administrators’ salaries on that. I’ll be doing a whole article series on Pagans and fundraising as part of the leadership series to follow up on my Pagan Activist post on Pagans and money.

Here are some things that are way more helpful than making the joke about herding cats.

Teach our Emerging Leaders Good Leadership Skills
Give them the tools to do the job well. This means–yes–paying for training. We don’t have all the skills we need within the Pagan community. We’re going to need to pay for training for our leaders if we want to build that capacity within the community.

Focus on Mental Health
Let’s all get healthy.
That means me, and that means you. I can’t even articulate how often my own depression and anxiety issues have made me a poorer leader. What has made me a better leader is working on my issues of self esteem; it turned me from a stubborn egomaniac into a reasonably stubborn visionary who can hear the word “no” without throwing a tantrum.

Focus on Physical Health
What does that have to do with leadership? I’ve written about my own process of getting healthy at some length in past blog posts, but the bottom line is, when I figured out some of my food intolerances and cut those foods out of my diet, my own mental health improved. Pagans tend to lean on the “Screw you I’m fat and I don’t care” side of things. But this isn’t about fat, it’s about health. Physical health leads to mental health. I’m 180 pounds, “fat” by the standards of the dominant culture, but healthier than I’ve ever been in my life because I’m eating foods that aren’t poisoning me.

Personal and Spiritual Growth Work
I can teach you all sorts of amazing communication tools, conflict resolution tools, and I can teach you about group dynamics. None of that is going to fix anything for you if you’re just a total jerk. Once upon a time, I had a boss. He was one of those total asshole bosses, a really toxic guy.

One day, he asked for my help and that of the other designers on my team in preparing some design concepts to the executive vice president of our company. I asked him what he’d like for me to do, and he did a poor job of explaining it, I asked him, “Like this?” and he just grabbed the board out of my hands and muttered, “I’ll do it myself.”

I was fuming. I went back to my desk almost in tears. And then I realized.

I. Totally. Do. That.

That was not a good day for me. I realized what a totally shitty leader I was at times. This was in context of the (geek alert) scifi conventions I used to attend where I led a team of Star Wars nerds in creating Star Wars reproduction scenery. I would do a terrible idea of explaining the concept of what we were doing, and when people failed to do what I had in my head, I’d grab their work out of their hands and just do it myself.

Leadership pro tip: Nothing disheartens a volunteer more than this behavior.

However, we’ve reached a key point here. In recognizing that I did that, I was able to confront my shadow and work to shift the behavior. I’m still not the best volunteer manager, but at least I’m not a jerk about it like I used to be. There are so many things that we each do, as leaders, that we probably aren’t aware of. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot all the time. When we explore our shadows and our issues, we can work to become better leaders and better people.

Looking Forward
Trotting out the “herding cats” joke just makes crappy behavior okay. Let’s instead work to be better, to tell the story of what we could do if we worked together. When we hold a vision of the future, when we speak it, that’s an act of magic. Words are magic. Let’s use words that paint the picture of that stunning, shining dream of what we’d like to see, not the poor behavior of the past.

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, shadow work, sustainability