Leadership, Mentors, and Elders.

More and more things keep floating around in my head, and I am working away at getting them all typed out. I have been sick most of the week, and I have been quite busy getting ready for hunting season. In short, I do not feel as if I am getting ahead at all. Still so much to do, and so little time to do it. I still have forthcoming posts about the Michigan Wolf Hunts that I plan to have out soon, and another post for Skadi. I just have to get these thing finished up.

However, I have been doing a lot of reading lately, perhaps you could say I have been spending far too much time on the internet.

There has been some talk about the  idea of “elders” in our interconnected communities. In a way, this is my two cents on the whole issue, and there has been plenty of buzz about it recently. But first my cop-out/disclaimer. I do not consider myself in any way a pagan leader/elder or even really a teacher, except maybe through my writing. I am not even sure I am qualified to weigh on such things. I have no desire to be a big name, nor am I really much of a public person. I’m an introvert, and thus the reason I hide behind my writing. I am far less articulate in person, and do not express myself as cleanly orally. I’m perfectly alright with that.

To use a theatre analogy, I am much happier running the lights and working behind the curtain then I ever would be in the spotlight. Let those that are comfortable in the limelight take that role, but that is not for me. My work is still important, and in my own way I am contributing in the only way I know how, by writing. Take it or leave it.

Which is why I am writing about this in the first place. I was recently having a conversation with a mentor of mine about his radio show, where he recently interviewed Galina Krasskova. In the show, she referenced the “natural hierarchy” between students and teachers. I cringed, deeply, at this idea. I want to put this out there; there is nothing “natural” about hierarchy, it is a socialcultural construct used as a measure to organize a society. I am not saying it does not exist, because it does, but that there is nothing natural about it. I will come back to that in a moment.

She also spoke a lot about not disrespecting your elder, about not challenging your elder publicly, and dealing with your issues privately. To me at least, it sounded like ‘elders’ are beyond challenge, and this is not the case. Leaders and teachers are to be respected for their experience and knowledge, no doubt, but it is dangerous to suggest that because of that they are beyond challenge. Our leaders and mentors need to be held accountable, especially when it comes to things like abuse, they need to be called out, privately for sure, publicly if necessary. Respect is a two way street.

Let me strengthen this point by circling back to a point I talked about in an earlier post, from Keith Parson; “Paganism will be non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal, non-institutional, non-authoritarian, and non-evangelizing. There will be no pagan popes, bishops, ayatollahs, caliphs, or rabbis. It should hardly need saying that pagans will respect total equality of the sexes. Pagan leaders will not have the role of enforcing an orthodoxy or imposing authority of any kind. As with any coherent group, there will be a commonality of belief and perspective among pagans, and these will be reinforced by teaching and example.”

These are the points I am trying to make, non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian. By no means am I saying we should not respect our leaders, we should, if they are worthy of respect. But “elder” or “teacher” should not be used as a title of rank.

Here I quote from the introduction of Mesolithic Europe; “.. how social relationships and deference in egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies are largely mediated through what can be termed “prestige.” They describe prestige as associated with people who have particular valued skills, such as at flint-knapping or story telling, and as such it is a quality that comes from showing excellence in valued areas. Relationships mediated through prestige allow certain people influence through emulation or copying of their abilities. However, prestige does not confer any ability to dictate or sanction behavior, that is, prestige may be associated with influence but not power… Someone with prestige is listened to, that is, their opinions are heavily weighed. They are not ‘obeyed’, and by implication these individual are not feared and do not have ‘power over’ others.” (Pg, 13)

I think that really hits the nail on the head, the difference between a respected teacher and a hierarchal authority. To lead with prestige and respect, not power and order. That influence comes from respect, not rank or title. That is what our leaders should try to be. Those that are “obeyed” are hierarchical and authoritative, by contrast, those that have influence and are “listened to” are those I am happy to count among our leaders.

In the same vein that hierarchy is not natural, I offer a couple of examples. Once again from Mesolithic Europe; “Among the Semai, if someone seeks to assert their authority, it is generally accepted that others will cease to ‘hear’ them… For the Netsilik, ‘ Where there are named roles, the leaders, whose leadership role is taken by the ‘inhumataq’ or ‘thinker’ are not ‘obeyed’ but ‘listened’ too.”  Other examples are cited such as ridicule, where those that seek to impose their authority are openly mocked by the community until they back down. ” The Kung! are a fiercely egalitarian people… cutting down to size the arrogant and boastful.” As another example; “for the Mbuti ‘Some men, because of exceptional hunting skill, may come to resent it when their views are disrespected, but if they try to force these views they are very promptly subjected to ridicule.” (Pg 14)

There are some interesting applications here, not only for our leaders, but also potential recourses for our communities as well. After all, our communities are a ‘common’ work, and not just the result of a few workaholic leaders. Students and teachers alike have something to contribute, and as I said before, respect goes both ways.


Mesolithic Europe, Edited by Bailey and Spinkins




About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

2 responses to “Leadership, Mentors, and Elders.

  • Ariawn

    I really love this post. As a High Priestess and teacher myself, I have heard many stories wherein people were publicly humiliated if not down right abused for challenging a leader. I have always striven to keep the doors of communication open and to encourage questions and challenges, and for my seekers to teach me when I do not know something. All too often you see leaders who try to assert themselves aggressively, and there is mistrust and a lot of push-back when the ego is ruling. It can be easy to fall on the “because I said so” argument–but leaders and teachers will find their path easier if they earn respect, not demand it, and give patience and thought to their words and actions. It’s not easy, Goddess knows I’ve slipped and slid in my endeavours, but it’s worth the effort.

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