Wild Olympics

Here Be Giants
Once there were giants
Not creatures of myth
– though they too are for another story –

But beings of earth and water and sky
They stood, gathered sentinels
Roots reaching as deep into the earth
As their trunks rose to the sky.

They were the center of everything
entire ecosystems existing on every square inch

They helped make us, protected us
Their breath our breath
Reminding us of our role here:
Stay grounded, reach for the stars
Form communities, shelter each other
Be the union between earth and sky.

But we forgot how to listen
Ignored the whispers in their branches
We felled the giants
Severed them from the earth
Severed ourselves from the connection

The giants fell
So then shall we,
to rise again only
in their grace.

Clearcut along the Hoh, Photo by Syren [Image Description: land scattered with stumps stretches toward a forest of closely planted farmed trees and then rises to a green mountain in stages of regrowth]
I drove north along Highway 101, the Washington coast rising and falling in great curves that seemed to match the sound of the waves breaking upon her shore. I was at the wheel of a 20-foot moving truck, navigating the road that was bringing me to my new life, my new home, on the Olympic Peninsula. As I passed clear cut after clear cut, I couldn’t help but feel that this stripped landscape reflected so much of my own loss. Then the view shifted: great trees dripping with moss leaned beside the roadway, the rain no longer pelted my windshield but fell with gentle grace, slipping softly down the trees’ branches. Every shade of green filled my sight, an impossible vision of life and growth following such desolation. I was home.

Quinault Rainforest, Photo by Syren [Image Description: a ray of sunlight through the forest illuminates moss hanging from a tree and a large downed log]
In the short time that I have lived here, I have placed my feet on dozens of trails. When I experience the Olympics, awe and gratitude often strike me to the core, like a ray of sun suddenly slicing through the canopy and illuminating the forest floor in a shocking glow. This has inspired me to protect this place and all who live here: human and nonhuman, plant and wildlife, rock and river. I think of all those who are no longer with us and all those who are yet to come. I want to honor the memory of the past and preserve the inherent possibility of the future. This love drives me to protect clean water, forests, and fish, now and for the future.

[Image Description: two open clam shells are placed on a green mossy rock, resembling butterflies] Photo by Syren
Love of this place has also inspired me to give back to the community and welcome others. Disabled Hikers was founded to help support and inspire the disabled community to explore the Olympics – you are welcome here, too. There are a number of trails that are accessible for a range of abilities, and there is a growing movement to improve accessibility and options for disabled people. It is definitely one of the things that I love about this place. There is so much potential here, but if the sources of our inspiration and the reasons for visiting are destroyed, that possibility is lost too.

The Olympics have given me a home. They have been a source of beauty and joy and solace; they have challenged me and taught me about who I am. Nature reminds us of our own wildness, of the connection we have with the world and with other beings. This connection remains whether we acknowledge it or not, and demands our attention and reciprocation.

[Image Description: the sunset backlights Akalat/James Island at Rialto Beach. The island is dark against a orange and blue sky. Waves are in the foreground.] Photo by Syren
The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is one way to ensure that the rare beauty of this precious place is protected. The act would permanently protect over 126,000 acres of new Wilderness areas in the Olympic National Forest, and 19 Olympic Peninsula rivers and their tributaries as Wild & Scenic Rivers – the first ever Wild & Scenic Rivers on the Peninsula. Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water, and enhance outdoor recreation, the Wild Olympics legislation has been endorsed by over 550 local businesses, sportsmen organizations, outdoor recreation groups, faith leaders, conservation groups and local elected officials; and more than 12,000 local residents have signed petitions in support. Sign the petition and help preserve these amazing lands. Learn more at WildOlympics.org

Mole Brigade: for the outcasts

Those who have been sent to the shadows
who exist unseen yet reviled:
retreat beneath the ground

Move under their world
with stealth and secrecy.
Take your sustenance

Grasp it by the roots,
in the darkness
from which it grows.

Create paths through
the underworld;
build caverns underground.

When it is time to rise,
push mountains
through the soil –

Shake the surface
Destabilize their world
Plant gardens in the freshly churned earth.


An Open Letter to Everyone Joining the Fight

Dear people who are aghast at the abuse in this country and the presidency and want to do something,

Welcome. Glad you could make it. We need everyone to jump in on this.

But here’s the thing: you’re late to the party. If you’re white and middle+ class, you’ve just arrived from the airport with coats in arms and bags on the floor. But coat check is full, and your baggage is tripping people up. Find another place for it, maybe at your white neighbor’s house.

Rather than making a “fashionably late” entrance, come in quietly. Listen to the conversations in the room to figure out what has already been said – you’ve missed out on hours of discussion. Pay attention to what people are doing, and ask if you can help clean up a bit so the party can continue. This is not the time to climb up on the counter and propose a party game.

Find a group that is talking about something you want to be involved in, and ask if you can join the conversation. Listen and ask respectful questions – again you’ve missed out on a lot of discussion.

Leave the party to check on your baggage frequently.

Once people at the party have gotten to know you, you’ve listened to their conversations, and you’ve unpacked your bags, you can propose the next activity. Always remember that this is not your house, and that you are a guest of the First People here.

If you find yourself succumbing to a cycle of rage and fatigue, remember this:

The news cycle is meant to inflame and desensitize you. Watch for the patterns:

A horrific story breaks. In a rush for ‘ratings’ (which also means likes and shares now) articles are published that highlight the horror. People rightly become enraged and want to do something.

And the articles keep coming, and keep coming.

A few days pass. Right about the time everyone is feeling overwhelmed, new information rises from the grassroots level (which is how long it takes for thorough information to be released). This information contains nuance that was previously missing.

Unfortunately, this cycle of overwhelm does not leave much space for the understanding of nuance. Everyone is experiencing some level of fatigue and secondary trauma.

This information is received as a relief, as a sign that “oh it isn’t as bad as we thought, thank god.” It becomes a reason to question the entire atrocity.

So shortly afterwards, the rage is forgotten, the story is shelved, and we wait for the next cycle with little change happening.

There is no conspiracy in this. It is the nature of information = profit and the enforcement of the status quo. But if you know the cycle, you can break the way it influences you.

Yes, what is happening is that bad. Yes, there is nuance and information that is lacking, especially at first.

Here is my suggestion: pick 1 – 3 issues that you will commit to working on and focus on those. You will be more effective and less fatigued. This is especially important for spoonie fam, and for all people who are experiencing the direct harm of the oppressive systems in this country.

Modern Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

Modern Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

There are a growing number of people interested in a polytheistic monastic lifestyle, or at least growing awareness of it as a possibility. Many of these modern-day monastics lead a life in which devotion is present in every daily activity, service to others is considered service to the divine, and hours are spent in study, devotion, and contemplation rather than excessive socializing or other external activities.

I consider myself among those interested in creating this way of life and working toward building awareness and acceptance of it within western polytheism and modern culture. This lifestyle is a powerful resistance to American society; indeed, it goes against almost everything this culture values. I see four main areas of resistance in which a monastic lifestyle serves:

Resistance to the exploitation of time and labor
Our time is one of the most precious gifts that we have. Why should we spend it in service to lining the pockets of the wealthy, when we could spend it in service to the divine and each other? Our time is not a commodity to be traded and our labor does not determine our worth as human beings. Our existence, our innate divinity and connection with the divine, is sacrosanct. The monastic is not interested in accumulating unnecessary wealth, in owning more than is needed for basic needs, or in engaging in activities that do not support devotion and service. The monastic’s productive time and labor is committed to meeting their own and other’s basic needs to allow space to open for contemplation and devotion – no more and no less.

Resistance to the disenchantment of daily life
Our modern lifestyles leave little time for appreciation and connection with each other, the world around us, and the divine. Our power as creative beings in relation with a great web of existence is reduced to a few shallow moments that we can wring from the constant pressure to produce and do and go-go-go. This disenchantment, this disconnection from who we are, is the core of the systems that harm us. The monastic who steps back from the external pressure, finds joy in the simplicity of daily life, and re-enchants their days with deep contemplation and connection with beings human and divine holds a key to remembering our true selves. Like The Hermit card, they hang a lamp showing us the way.

Monastics bring enchantment back to the community. As devotionalists and frequent mystics, they serve a bridge between the mundane and the sacred, bringing the sacred into the every day and making every day sacred. Through their creativity and service, they make connection with the divine more readily available, and in contemplation they access deep truths and awareness.

Resistance to oppression and the devaluation of human beings
As Silence Maestas wrote in a post on devotional justice it is much more difficult for people facing threats to their existence to surrender to devotion. I have experienced this myself – while in, and recovering from, my abusive marriage, and while faced with the financial and housing instability that resulted from my divorce, surrender has been incredibly difficult. If we want more people to be able to lead spiritual lives, we have to make sure their basic needs and safety are met.

If one truly believes that all humans contain some spark or aspect of the divine, then anything that harms and oppresses humanity should be revolutionized. Those of us who place ourselves in service to the divine are also placing ourselves in service to humanity. Not only out of compassion for other humans, but out of love for deity.

Resistance to resource extraction from the earth
Many pagan monastics regard all parts of nature, moving and unmoving, as having their own unique spirit or to be a part of the divine. Just as we consider humans to be divine, so are all of the other beings on this planet. So, the monastic also aligns themselves with the earth and the beings of the place in which they live. The pagan monastic is often inclined to spend time in contemplative appreciation of the wild and natural world which we are a part of, and to protect and learn from those places.

The concept of extraction and exploitation is in stark contrast to the values of service and devotion; thus, the monastic practices an anti-capitalist resistance, though often without naming it that way. As such, this lifestyle is not easily accomplished in this society. There are many systemic barriers, external and internal. But the call to create a contemplative life firmly rooted in devotion and service is strong.

For myself, the past two years of trauma and insecurity has been clarifying and informative alongside terrifying; the ongoing process of shedding my old life, my old expectations, my old attachments has been difficult and painful. During this time that I have spent in relative solitude, I have experienced joy, contentment, and loneliness. But I realized that the loneliness is not new – being dependent upon an abusive husband and abusive wage labor jobs for security, caring about other peoples’ perceptions of me and my work, forcing myself to be productive when my spirit was screaming for time to just be, was in fact incredibly lonely and isolating. Upon realizing this, and the harm I was causing myself, I embraced my situation as an opportunity for healing and transformation. Yet, embracing the situation would have been impossibly difficult if it were not for the generosity of friends and strangers who provided support in many ways.


As I allow this process to unfold, the call to live my most authentic life becomes stronger. A contemplative life of devotion and service is a life that feels right and good to me, a life that engages in as little harm as possible and is aligned with my values and connection with the earth. One of the things that I gained in coming out of an abusive relationship was an unwillingness to harbor abuse towards myself or abuse towards others. I cannot harbor blame against myself and I cannot willingly subject myself to something that I know will bring deep pain for minimal reward.

This too is not easy in our culture. The culture of the United States, so deeply rooted in capitalism and colonialism, is incredibly coercive and abusive. Wage labor is one of the most coercive aspects of capitalism: requiring us to be in service to capital or risk starvation. What do we lose, what potential does not get realized, while all of us are working ourselves to exhaustion in service to capital? That is not the practice of service I am here for. I am not here to bow to kings and capitalists.

Perhaps this is the result of being overly idealistic, mental health issues, or just my basic constitution (all of which have been “suggested” to me at some point). But I don’t think so. I think it is, as my friend Danica says much more eloquently, a revolt of the soul. Working a wage labor job feels like chaining my soul to everything that I don’t believe in. And while I recognize that I can bring my spiritual practice of devotion and service to everything that I do, including a wage labor job, experience has shown me again and again that the cost is too great. The cost to all of us is too great.

And yet, we still live in a capitalist society. There is no opting out, there is no freedom to choose; there is no true consent. So, what does this mean for someone like me, who wants to live a monastic lifestyle? How can I best move into this space of deepening into my truth and purpose and doing my true Work, while also meeting my basic needs within a society that puts a price tag on existence?

I’m most interested in creating a life in which wage labor is minimally necessary, if at all. The past year has certainly shown me that I can make do with far less than I thought I needed, that indeed I can be very happy by fulfilling my basic needs. Some food in my pack, water in my canteen, a warm dry place to come home to and a way to leave it when I’m ready, a source of communication with the rest of the world, my pen and notebook, my devotion, and my dog. That’s all.

So, what does the material foundation of a monastic life look like to me? It is pretty simple really:

  • Land that is my own/held in commons/conservation with other people
  • A small house or other structure
  • Labor focused on meeting needs, trade and service-oriented self-employment income to meet remaining needs, occasional supplementation with wage labor

I envision communities that are supportive of solitude and spiritual service, with access to a beautiful expanse of land, to be in a relationship of reciprocity with people and place.

In the interim, I am working on creating as much of this contemplative life of devotion and service as I can. I’m removing my own blocks and barriers to practice, feeling into where my service is most needed now, and opening to divine and ancestral guidance. I can only continue to flow where the current takes me, remaining hopeful that when it comes time to leap, Maa will open Her hand. I will continue to resist the conscription of my time, the chaining of my spirit to capitalism as much as I can.

I seek out support and community around these values. I am working on building a network of monastics through LANMIPP – the Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically-inclined Polytheist Pagans (link to the public Facebook group). Another community is the Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism group (this Facebook group is currently set to “secret,” if you are interested in joining let me know). I also look to the work and friendship of Danica Swanson of the Black Stone Hermitage. I draw upon the Hindu tantric and bhakti traditions; as an initiate of Shakta Tantra, devotion to Kali Maa is the thread that weaves throughout my practice and draws me forward to awakening. There is a long history of monasticism, mysticism, and service to look to, even in the Western world. This desire is not new; indeed, there is evidence of people devoting themselves to spiritual service from the oldest of indigenous cultures. But as another wise hermit friend who practices Advaita Vedanta asked me, now that I have expressed this desire can I release it to the universe? That too is a part of the path.

Do you enjoy my writing or want to support this vision? Consider joining me on Patreon.

Avoid the Pedestal, Empower Others: Cultural Change

I am sharing this article with you in honor of the Capricorn Full Moon, which my astrological friends are telling me is, in combination with other aspects, really bringing up issues of power dynamics. This piece was originally published in the Pagan Leadership Anthology in 2016, written in 2014. 

The bigger they are, the harder they fall: or, how to avoid the pedestal

We are starved for good leadership. We seek individuals that are willing and able to lead, who are wise and knowledgeable, ethical, and passionate. Humans are social pack animals, and while we may not want to admit it, we look to our pack leaders to help guide us. Unfortunately, the model of leadership in our patriarchal, one-upmanship society has left us with many poor role models and a skewed vision of what good leadership really means.

So, when we encounter an individual who really seems to “get it,” who leads by example and cares about their community, people start to flock to them. I call it the moth to the porch light effect; there is a bright light shining and we can’t help but to be drawn to it. The people that are drawn to this bright light are “moths,” beautiful individuals that perhaps haven’t been appreciated or realized their beauty yet. This person, “the porch light” may or may not be willing or ready to take on the mantle of community leadership, but suddenly find themselves surrounded by individuals with a deep and crying need. This person, being who they are, has a difficult situation but an easy choice to make. When the Goddesses call, and the community cries out, you must answer.

This is when the pedestal begins to be built. Inevitably that pedestal must tumble, but in this phenomenon it is not due to any intentionally negligent actions of the leader. It is a pitfall I have seen many times, particularly in women’s groups. Women particularly have been socialized to accept power over them. We have come to expect it. We will hand our power to someone else and not even realize that we have done it. Yet we also have a deeper, instinctual knowledge that tells us that no one can or should have power over us.

When women start to awaken to the power that they inherently hold within themselves, they are suddenly thrust into a cognitive dissonance, recognizing the mixed messages they have been receiving from the outside world and their inner knowing their entire lives. This process is often catalyzed by a solid leader and guide. This leader, the person that they have trusted and often given some authority to, is now perceived as one of the people who have held power over her. They must be taken down.

This is usually not a conscious process. The “moths” have no real understanding of what they are going through, and need a place to release the rage and backlash from a lifetime of power and control. The leader (provided they are healthy) has not asked for nor taken any power from anyone they are leading. But they suddenly find themselves at the center of a coup.

Unfortunately, sometimes this process cannot be stopped. It is a part of the awakening of the people involved. It is healthy as long as they are guided through it and have enough self-awareness to recognize what is happening. So, it is extremely important for a leader to understand this phenomenon and do what they can to reduce the backlash and more gently and safely awaken people to the power they hold within.

Many of the ways to prevent the pedestal are, in essence, just good leadership skills. Honesty, humility, and accountability are all necessary traits for a spiritual leader. Here we will apply them to deeper discussions around power and control to create a model of leadership that, while perhaps not fully shared leadership, will resist the building of a top-down structure.

Forms of Power

There is nothing inherently wrong with power. We all possess it, but it is the wielding of it that can be harmful or beneficial. Reminding each other of the power that we possess, or what is referred to as empowering others, is essential to reclaiming our power and revisioning the world. Leaders are in a position to do this but it is important to remember that every form of power has its positive and negative side, its potential for benefit and its potential for harm. There are three types of power in groups, which have been written about thoroughly by Starhawk and the Reclaiming collective.

Power-over: This is the power structure we are most familiar with and in which we have all been indoctrinated. Power-over is essentially the power to make decisions and mete out punishment. When power-over is utilized in a corrupt system, as our society is structured, it becomes a way to subordinate and oppress the majority while the minority benefit from decision-making power that enables them to maintain control. In small groups, power-over looks like one individual with all of the decision-making power and none of the accountability, while the other group members are forced to abide by the decisions without the opportunity for input or feedback. When balanced by responsibility and mediated with input from people that decisions affect and accountability for those decisions, power-over may have a valid role. But we are all so deeply indoctrinated into the corrupt use of power-over that achieving this can be challenging in groups.

Power-with: This is a shared power structure. Power-with is the ability to influence, from a place of equality and shared respect among all group members. Power-with is the moment when one person claims power and suggests a decision or an action to a group of people who are all considered equals and each have the potential to claim that power in any moment. The group has the option to follow the suggestion or not. It often happens organically and in inspired moments. Power-with takes a turn to the harmful wielding of power when it turns into one person who frequently has the “best ideas” being followed without input or question, or one “elder” or other person of respect who is allowed to take action without accountability; both lead to one person holding authority over all others. Power-with can also be flipped, so that people who do not know how to access their inherent power will try to exert influence and authority over the group instead.

Power-from-within: This is the power that is inherent to us as beings. Power-from-within is the ability to see the value and resulting power of all things, and see the connections between one individual and the whole web of nature. Power-from-within is not competitive or influential, it does not oppress or exalt, it simply is and it sees the world for what it is – a system of interlocking connections. Power-from-within is the power you access when doing magic or ritual, when accessing the mystery, or when writing poetry or creating symbols. As such it can also be seen as the creative force. Recognizing the power within all beings is essential to being able to wield power to effect change, which is the purpose of power-with and power-over. When people don’t recognize their own power, they will try to take the power of others which puts leaders at risk.

Have discussions about power and control

An important part of leading groups, especially women’s groups, is to have an understanding about oppression, abuse, power, and control. We live in a patriarchal society and each of us has been brought up in a culture that values power and authority and demeans women and the egalitarian. We learn that the only way to be successful is to come out on top, and the only way to come out on top is to step on the backs of others on the way. This creates competition which perpetuates oppression.

Indeed, our societal structure depends upon classes of people remaining oppressed. We are all indoctrinated into this system, and unconsciously internalize the oppression. For some, this manifests as a greater desire for power so that they can feel a sense of control over their own lives. We use the tools that have been given to us through internalized oppression to perpetuate the system because it is the only thing we know.

In our groups, we have the opportunity to break this cycle. In every group I start I include a discussion about patriarchy, oppression and privilege, and power and control. We work together to unpack our experiences living in a patriarchal society. In a women’s group this can begin with the women taking stock of the ways they feel discriminated against and objectified. Discrimination in the workplace, media images, and feelings of safety can be explored. In all groups, relationships with friends, family, and co-workers can be explored to discuss if the individual feels they hold the power in one relationship and feel subordinate in another, and how those dynamics play out.

To look at the bigger picture you can also explore how the need for control and superiority affects our interactions with the environment. If group members have a difficult time exploring personal relationships, their connection with the Earth may help them reveal how they try to maintain control in their lives and their resulting abuse of the environment. Questions about how they try to tame their lawns and gardens, the health of the water around them, and how they see wildlife, can all unveil internalized oppression and the drive for control.

You can then go into leadership styles and discuss alternatives. Consensus-building and shared leadership can be explored. At this stage it is appropriate to decide how the group will be organized, who will be the primary decision-maker, and how tasks will be shared, but it is important for everyone to remember that this can and likely will shift as the group changes.

Be honest about your personal life, challenges, and weaknesses. Set boundaries.

We’ve all heard it – no one is perfect. To try to maintain a façade that you are is to lie to yourself and everyone around you. Honesty is a paramount trait in a leader. You must be able to be honest with yourself before you try to lead others. This doesn’t mean you have to make everything in your life align with some ultimate spiritual ideal. On the contrary, showing your humanity to others is the greatest model you can be.

I have sat in groups and felt like I couldn’t share anything personal because I was the leader and couldn’t be seen as weak or troubled. How would anyone trust me to lead them if they knew I was having trouble at home, or was struggling in my own spiritual practice, or felt completely inadequate in leading? So I would listen and support the other women in the group, nodding or offering advice when asked, but I would never truly open up to them.

I now know this is a huge disservice to them and me. It made me appear to have transcended personal challenges; to be someone enlightened with wisdom and without struggles. This only served to build the pedestal higher and secretly bred resentment that fed the dissonance in the mind of the group members and hastened the fall. None of this was intentional. I wasn’t trying to look like I had ‘risen above’ the struggles of life; I was trapped in thinking I couldn’t share these things and still be respected – it was the internalized sense of what holding power means and the fear of showing weakness in the competitiveness model. The women in the group weren’t asking me to be an ‘enlightened savior’; they were just eager to have someone actively listen to their problems and support them in their struggles.

Whether you are leading a small ritual group or are a public figure in your community, remaining open and honest about your humanity will be inspiring to others. Of course, you are your own authority in your life and you should use your own discretion and intuition when deciding what to share, when, and with whom. Balancing over and under sharing can be difficult. And of course, only share as much as you can safely share.

Setting boundaries from the beginning will help to avoid any confusion and group members later feeling like you weren’t really there for them. Let the group know how much time you have to devote to group activities, when you are not available, and what kinds of things you are willing to do. Also be clear about what you expect in return, whether it is financial compensation or a certain level of engagement. This goes hand in hand with being honest about your life and your own struggles, so that no one has false expectations.

Empower others

Leadership is as much about teaching leadership skills to others as it is leading. Shared leadership means not only sharing the power and responsibility of leadership, but empowering those who would like to lead. In a spiritual group, your ultimate goal should be to lead others to their own skills and wisdom within. “Empowerment” has become a bit of a buzzword, and as such much of its true meaning has been hard to define. The classic definition is to “give” someone power or “make” them exercise their power and authority.

Neither of these definitions includes the concept that individuals inherently have power; we cannot give power to them and making them exercise it places power over them.

So what does empowering others actually look like? To continue with the metaphor of the porch light, it is to guide others to their home, their sense of place and power within. It is to help them recognize the power they inherently hold. Recognizing systemic and internalized oppression is the first step to remembering the power that each person holds. Enabling others to express their emotions, their anger and fear through allowing the space for the process is essential. This process can be difficult and fraught with challenges that a leader-guide must be prepared for. The scope of those challenges goes beyond this article, but there are many resources available for clergy and lay counselors that have useful tools and techniques.

Once the dam is removed and the stymie of emotions has been released, a leader must be diligent in working with the individual to help them remember their power and allow the space for them to exercise it. If they have often turned to you to help them make decisions, now is the time to give that decision-making responsibility back to them. When counseling them, encourage them to ask themselves what they feel they should do, holding the space for them to tap into their own intuition. Reflect their feelings back to them and ask open-ended questions.

If you have been primarily responsible for coordinating events and conducting ritual, you should consider giving some of that responsibility to the group. In the case of teaching circles, every few weeks following teaching and practicing a certain skill, I set aside a meeting to encourage the group members to share their own insights into the practice and help teach each other. Another easy way to work this concept in is to designate the Sabbats, if you celebrate them, as group rituals in which everyone takes a piece and works together to develop the ritual. As the group continues to work together, begin sharing more ritual work with the rest of the group, until eventually rituals are being rotated or collaborated with everyone.

Recognize red flags

There are several red flag behaviors I have noticed that indicate that the individual is starting to struggle with feeling subordinated to power, and they will begin to tear down the person perceived to be at the top. At this point, it is perhaps too late to utilize some of the preemptive techniques discussed here. But you will still have the opportunity to discuss power and control, ask for feedback, and help them process what they are feeling. If appropriate, you can then share more responsibility and help them have more control in their own life.

Unfortunately, some people are just not self-aware enough to be able to recognize what they are experiencing and don’t have the vocabulary and experience to truly grasp the effects of power and control in their lives. These individuals sometimes have their own dreams of power and want to be at the top themselves, and see tearing down a leader as the swiftest route. This is an issue we must address in the community as a whole and learn how to more effectively support good leadership.

Some potential red flags I have noticed:

A person joins your group claiming to be completely new and is seeking guidance. They then begins to tell everyone in the group all about the things they have done and does not remain open to instruction or guidance. This can be a subtle way to breed distrust in your leadership and encourage others to uproot you and follow their lead. While they may cloak their actions with the claim that they are trying to help, encourage sharing, and provide their own point of view, the fact that they are not open to feedback is a clear indicator that their motives may not be pure.

There is a line between sharing leadership and letting someone else run the show. Don’t let someone turn these techniques on you under the banner of shared leadership. If this happens, share your concerns, but be prepared if they say you are misinterpreting their actions or are just trying to maintain control of the group. If they do, I encourage you to have a conversation that perhaps this is not the right group for them and they should find a group that is working more with their apparent skillset.

You find the rest of the group members are meeting without you. Concurrently, behavior and the overall vibe of the group is changing. This can be a slippery situation. You should never ban anyone from doing anything. However, if the group is meeting behind your back and one person is secretly undermining you, this can be very unhealthy. My suggestion is to keep a close eye on the group dynamic. Do not begin to tighten your grip on the group to try to maintain control—this will only serve the purposes of the person undermining you. Encourage a group discussion about what the group wants and what direction they would like to go. Ask each group member to share a particular skill with the group and begin to incorporate those techniques into meetings to decentralize power and take some of the energy out of the sails of the person undermining you.

There is one individual who consistently blocks you in consensus-making or always has an idea that is “just a better solution” than yours. This is extremely uncomfortable and can be another way that someone uses shared leadership against you to gain attention and control. In this case, it is important to discuss the issue individually with the group members. If this person is blocking movement and decision-making, it is likely frustrating to the rest of the group as well. As a group, you should decide how to handle the situation. You could adjust decision-making for a while or decide to remove the person entirely if they are being obstructive.

These few examples can take any number of permutations but have the same end game, to (whether consciously or unconsciously) undermine and tear down the group leader.

In my own experiences, by not addressing these issues preemptively, our group relationship shifted to me being perceived as the untouchable leader who had all the answers and the group members feeling undervalued and like they needed “fixing.” This is not healthy and enables and perpetuates power-over, whether you actively utilize that power or not.

As a leader it is essential to have an objective third party as a sounding board. A mentor or peer that you trust can be the most valuable tool you have. Share your ideas about leadership with this person, explain the dynamics of your group, and ask for their feedback. They can help you decipher behaviors and look at the group dynamic from the outside to determine if there is a power struggle happening.

Changing the way we interact with others at the grassroots, in our groups and micro-communities, will have the greatest impact upon our culture as a whole. As the power shifts and equality gains momentum we can reach critical mass. Soon these discussions will be common and people will be more willing to unpack their own patriarchal tendencies and shift group dynamics. Abuse of power is rampant, but we also hold the power to shift culture. This is the work we are here to do. And it starts with you in your own community.

Starhawk. (1987). Truth or dare: Encounters with power, authority, and mystery. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.
Starhawk. (1997). Dreaming the dark: Magic, sex, and politics. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Harrow, Judy. (2002). Spiritual mentoring: A pagan guide. Toronto, ON: ECW Press.
Mountainwater, Shekhinah. (1991). Ariadne’s Thread: A workbook of goddess magic. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.

The Pagan Leadership Anthology is a fantastic resource. Purchase yours here.

Want to support this work and see more like it? Check out my Patreon. My patrons received this article 3 months before publishing it on the blog.

The BIG Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge Network

Image by Danica Swanson

I have taken the BIG (basic income guarantee) Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge !

The what?! 🙂

Its a pledge network created by Danica Swanson, as inspired by Scott Santens. Both Danica and I have been supporters and advocates for an unconditional basic income for many years. We all suffer under the protestant work ethic and the requirement to conscript our time in the service of capital. As a polytheist creator and community builder, I would much rather offer my time in service to creativity,  devotion, and community. And I think our world could be vastly improved if more people were able to offer their time to the things that most call to their own hearts! What could you do if you knew you were guaranteed to receive an income every month, enough to meet at least part of your basic needs?

Of course, a socially provided basic income is probably a long way off in the US. But we are seeing movement in that direction, and Patreon is a step! Community support of creators through providing us a guaranteed income every month allows us to meet some of our basic needs. Every hour you ‘purchase’ for us is an hour we do not have to sell to capitalism; it is an hour we can spend to bring the world the work of our hearts.

I have pledged that every dollar above US $1000 per month will be pledged to other polytheists on Patreon who make the same commitment to limit their patronage goal in support of a basic income for all. 

It is my hope that through this pledge network we can not only raise awareness about basic income, but help more polytheists receive the support that they need. This will enrich our communities and help shift the often-unspoken expectation that we offer our work and service for free.

If you are a polytheist or animist on Patreon and would like to take the same pledge, contact Danica at shrine.of.skadi at Google mail.  Curious to learn more? Check out her page here .

Eve of the Elections, Precipice of Change. And a new Grief Support group

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today on the eve of the elections to face our fear and commit our hearts to the work of a better world.

Or something like that.

If you are hoping for something light and inspiring telling you that we have the power to change everything if we wield our magic and our will, you won’t get that here today. I’m also not going to shame you into voting or not voting. If you’re feeling anxious and fearful, that is very real and I’m not going to tell you to make it go away with positive thinking. You’ve been brow beaten with all of that enough. I am going to be honest with you though and share with you where I am and what I’m seeing.

And well, I’m really really worried. I haven’t felt so ominous since the days leading up to September 11 2001. It feels like we are at the top of a roller coaster, having slowly creaked and clacked our way up, and now we know something is coming but we don’t know exactly what – a long drop probably, and a bunch of twists and turns and loops that will leave us confused and knocked around, but hopefully exhilarated at the end.

Whatever happens in the elections isn’t going to change that. It might change the speed; are we on a super fast coaster or an old wooden one? But regardless we have a long and bumpy ride ahead of us. We’ve reached a point of no return and the only way off this ride is through it.

If anything is giving me hope, it is that it seems like more and more people are finally seeing behind the curtain, are acknowledging our political machine for what it is: an elaborate and complex thing that is held up by the bodies of the oppressed, to the benefit of the rich and powerful. We are all being played by the system, pitted against one another, divided and conquered. Capitalism and kyriarchy rules us all.

That isn’t going to change by voting. Never. Two party, Third party, makes no difference. Even the most ideal candidate is vested in maintaining the machine. I’m not going to say voting is pointless, or that not voting is valid protest, but voting isn’t going to save us. No one in a position of power in the greatest Empire the world has ever seen is going to save us.

It really is up to each of us.

Change is going to have to happen on the ground in our communities. It always has and always will. This is why we are so swept up in promises and appearances of change (Obama, Sanders, and H. Clinton, and even Trump) – because real change is hard and we would still rather not shoulder the burden. But I am convinced that whatever way this election goes we are going to have to finally get REALLY REAL about building community and creating change where we are.

Focus your power and your magic and your will on that. Even if you are still vested and believe in the political-capitalist machine as it runs now. We have to figure out how to meet people where they are, where our hard boundaries are and what we will do to defend them, and how to support and be in community with others who are suffering. We have to do this now.

Doing this work won’t take away your anxiety or fear, but it will help. And it is essential to the safety of PoC, LGBTQ people, women, the disabled, the poor, and everyone who is being Othered.

I’ll be working on some more well thought out posts about tools and methods for building community. In the meantime I have two offerings to help us do that:

If you are staying home Tuesday night and want some company as the election results come in, I will be online on a video conferencing platform beginning at 5:30p Pacific time. If you want the link, just contact me or comment here. You do not need to install any software and set up anything.

As I deepen my grief work, I want to specifically focus on the needs of pagans, polytheists, animists, spirit workers, and the like. I have created a Facebook group called Pagan and Polytheist Grief Support as a place for our grief to be heard and witnessed as well as for the discussion of traditions and cultural and community based approaches to death and grief work. Whether it is the result of personal loss such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or stems from disability, oppression, politics, or ecological distress, all forms of grief are valid and welcome.

Caryatid Bearing Her Stone by Auguste Rodin PC: S. Nagakyrie It seems like we all feel like this right now