Who is a spiritual leader? What makes them a spiritual leader, and what are the responsibilities of a spiritual leader?
Who is a Spiritual Leader?
In a few Pagan traditions, a High Priest/ess, coven leader is simply someone who starts a new group or coven. Maybe they hive from a larger group due to disagreement, or maybe the other group was too large, or maybe the new group just wants to try something different. Maybe the leader is just the person who thought of it first, the first one to say “hey, maybe we could try this on our own.”
That’s okay, if the rest of the group is fine with it, but to me, that’s not what makes a leader.
I also do not believe that someone declaring themselves a leader, or ready for leadership, makes them a leader.
Doing so is, in my opinion, extremely presumptuous. It’s making the assumption that others–the individuals who are to be lead–want that person as a leader. Maybe they don’t. Maybe the rest of the group has a different idea of who should be the leader, or even a different approach to how the group should be lead that does not depend on one person.
To me, if a group is going to have a single spiritual leader, that person should be elected to the position by the group. It should be the person who has shown the most experience, respect to the entire group, and the person who has proven themselves knowledgeable and trustworthy to hold the position. Being chosen by the group proves one has gained their trust, support, and respect. Simply declaring oneself a leader does not include this sense of having earned it.
Most of all, I believe what I’ve said for years: the people who want power, should not have it, and the people who don’t want it are the ones who should have it (more, the ones who need to take it). I think people who want to be leaders should take a step back and evaluate their reasons.
What Makes a Spiritual Leader?
Everything in this blog post is, of course, my opinion. I do believe that what I’m saying makes sense, though.
A spiritual leader is someone who genuinely cares about the people who’ve elected them to the position. They are someone who has proven they are worthy of respect, and gives respect in turn. They want what is best for the group and all of the individuals in it, and if one day that means stepping down from the leadership position, they will do so gladly and without hesitation.
A spiritual leader is knowledgeable in their tradition, and at least familiar with a few others; this way, they are capable of guiding people who maybe find that they don’t fit with that person’s tradition. This also means that a spiritual leader does not cling to members of a group, or feel jealous if the members decide they don’t fit, and want to seek elsewhere. Because, remember, a true spiritual leader wants what is best for the members of their group, even if that’s not being a member of the group anymore.
A spiritual leader is capable of giving balanced, objective advice… and of knowing when they can’t. They will accept when they don’t know something, and admit to it with grace and humor, if humor is appropriate. They will also be able and willing to send someone on to someone more qualified to offer said advice. And of course, a spiritual leader also knows that we live in the physical as well as the spiritual, and will never tell anyone to rely on magic alone to solve problems that are physical in nature.
A spiritual leader knows their strengths, and knows how to use them in the best way for the group, the people in it, and themselves.
A spiritual leader knows their own limits, and respects those limits when others try to pressure them to the breaking point.
A spiritual leader knows the limits of their group, and respects those limits.
When a spiritual leader makes a mistake, they own up to it, and do what they can to fix it, or make reparations.
A spiritual leader does not see themselves as the end-all-be-all of everything, but more of a facilitator for others.
A spiritual leader is, basically, just a decent person.
What are the Responsibilities of a Spiritual Leader?
This one is where, I think, much of the Pagan community becomes scared of having official Pagan clergy. For many, “clergy” brings to mind mainstream, Abrahamic faiths images of priests who set themselves up as the only true mouthpiece for their god, leaders in the strictest sense of the word, who expect their congregations to hang on their every word. Many Pagans fear coming under the rule of Pagan clergy who control everything from how we worship, to how we are allowed to interpret our own spiritual experiences.
This is not what I see or think of when I think of Pagan clergy.
The examples above of abuses of power by so-called clergy who have forgotten their responsibilities entirely.
When I think of a Pagan clergy, I think of one word: service.
I’ve been dinged for this, because many Pagans are afraid of this word, too, because they fear being chained. But being Pagan clergy–or any kind of clergy–is a service one should always enter into willingly, and no one is saying anyone has to be clergy. But those who do, should focus on service.
Service: to the gods (if you are theistic), to the Earth, and to other Pagans.
Service means putting others, if only for a little while, before yourself. It does not mean subsuming yourself for others, or sacrificing your entire life, or forgetting that you are an individual with your own needs.
Conclusion: What it Really Comes Down to for Me
Being clergy–being a leader–to me, is really being a servant.
Remember that being a servant and being a slave are not the same. You are allowed to say no: to gods, to spirits, to the Earth, to others. To yourself. Even once you’ve accepted the responsibility of leadership, you can say no–to everything but being a decent person. That really should be required.
I feel like I haven’t said everything I intended to say, but I don’t know what else to say or how to say it. So I will end on this.