DPM 17: But You Can’t Make Them Drink.

I am going through the Devotional Polytheist Meme questions from Galina Krasskova’s blog, together with my lover Lon Sarver, over the course of several months.

We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers, as well as your thoughts on our answers, in our comments.

17. What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?

For once, I’m going to address “Tradition” specifically as “RedWood Vanatru”. Normally I shy away from that, not feeling ready to define things publicly yet, but the place where I am most obliged to answer this question is within the context where I am not only a leader, but THE leader.

The thing is, I struggle with this question almost daily. What, as the leader of this particular branch of Vanatru, should I be? What is it reasonable to expect of myself? What is it reasonable for the Gods to expect of me? What DO They expect of me? What is reasonable for the people to expect of me? What DO they expect of me? How do I represent this tradition? What do strangers think of the people I am guiding when they meet me and evaluate me as that guide?

My ordination vows ceremony went over as much of this as I could muster at the time, but that’s just the beginning. I may not expect all that terribly much of other leaders, but the bar I set for myself is insanely high.

Yes, I do mean “insanely”. The bar I set for myself when the Gods and my friends aren’t reminding me that I’m allowed to be human is high to the point of being dysfunctional.

Perfect is the enemy of Good.

So I have to start at the other end: What is it not okay for a leader in my tradition to lack? What do I require of a candidate I am willing to ordain in this tradition I am building?

General Leadership Skills:

  • Solid ethics.
  • Critical thinking.
  • Compassion.
  • Open-mindedness.
  • Patience (my partner says “beyond all mortal ken!”)
  • Organization.
  • Literacy.
  • Give-a-shit about whatever you’re a leader in.
  • Clear communication. Access to and willing use of reality checks.
  • Self-awareness such that you can adequately compensate for whatever disabilities and psychological challenges you may live with. It’s one thing to need help. It’s another to abuse people.
  • Healthy boundaries, including respect for other people’s boundaries, the ability to say “no” and “yes” when those are appropriate answers, and the ability to help others uphold their own boundaries.
  • Awareness of your own limitations, and what is and is not actually under your control (granted, we all wrestle with this one at times).
  • Decision making, and how to not back down on a good decision under pressure.
  • Active listening, especially when given feedback on possibly bad decisions.
  • The ability to admit you were wrong, publicly if necessary, and make requisite changes for the future.
  • Some performing arts, especially public speaking.
  • Feeling confident is optional, but acting confident when needed is essential.
  • Basic teaching. More if teaching is a focus.
  • Basic counseling. More if counseling is a focus.
  • Basic making-crafts-happen. (Can be outsourced.)
  • Basic making-food-happen. (Can be outsourced.)
  • Accessibility to those who need you – email, phone, whatever. If nobody can get to you when they need your help, you’re not much help, are you?

Pagan Clergy Skills:

  • Discernment!
  • A solid grasp of centering, grounding/crowning, shielding, setting and holding space, cleansing/banishing, meditation, and basic energy work.
  • Trance guiding and warding.
  • Some form of divination practice that can be used for others benefit. Preferably more than one.
  • Ritual theory, practice, and design. Ritual structure for weddings, baby blessings, and memorials.
  • Spellwork skills of some kind.
  • Awareness of spiritual healing methods.
  • Awareness of how science actually works.
  • A habit of differentiating between sources of knowledge, including Lore, Personal Gnosis, Group Gnosis, etc. On the one hand, I DO respect experience and gnosis. On the other hand, I also really appreciate good citations.
  • Familiarity with the history of your tradition. Awareness of general Pagan history.
  • Familiarity with sociopolitical issues like appropriation, colonialism, sexism, racism, gender-binarism, homophobia, ableism, economic privilege, etc

Specific to Vanatru:

  • Sincere belief in the Vanir as entities in Their own right.
  • Sufficient familiarity with the Lore about the Vanir.
  • Basic experience with all of the core and preferably those of the peripheral Vanir as we currently know Them.
  • Significant personal connection with at least one of the Big 4 (Freyr, Freyja, Njordh, Nerthus), and, if applicable, at least one primary personal patron among the Vanir. (Additional patrons outside the Vanir are fine.)
  • A functional relationship with the Ancestors and Landspirits.
  • Familiarity with the runes, seidh, and galdr. Solid competence in at least one of them.
  • Competence with the basic ritual structure of Blots and Sumbels.

Specific to RedWood Vanatru:

  • Competence in at least one form of communication with the Vanir, whether it’s consistent dreamwork, journey trance, automatic writing, divination, etc.
  • The ability to sing decently well is strongly preferred, but any given group just needs one solid singer, and that doesn’t have to be the leader.
  • Ability to perform and teach those ritual forms specific to our tradition of practice.
  • Familiarity with our liturgical calendar.
  • Any theology and group gnosis specific to our form of Vanatru.

A Leader Needs For Doing The Job:

  • Money, or sufficient non-money resources.
  • A supportive community.
  • Peers and mentors who can help when needed.
  • Sociopolitical Minefield Cartography.
  • Continuing education resources.
  • Reference list for competent service professionals. (I am frequently asked for help finding therapists, doctors, lawyers, uninvolved diviners, any kind of clergy I’m not, and people who have job or housing openings.)
  • Some space in which to do whatever it is you do with whomever it is you’re leading.

Last but not least:

A Leader MUST NOT be:

  • Abusive, Predatory.
  • Delusional.
  • An active criminal (a former convict who paid their debt of weregild and has moved on may well be a fantastic leader).
  • Chronically dishonest.
  • Incoherent.
  • Oblivious to your own privilege and uninterested in learning.
  • Stagnant in your personal growth.
  • Judgmental towards others (Good judgement =/= Judgmental).
  • Overly controlling, especially of things you can’t actually control.
  • Timid.
  • Responsibility avoidant.
  • Overly conflict avoidant.
  • Overly confrontational.
  • Possessive of your clients, congregants, students, followers, or fans, etc. (Protective is okay. Treating them like objects, prizes, or pets is not.)
  • Seriously misanthropic. (I know lots of people – myself included at times – who have a misanthropic sense of humor. If you actually hate people, though, a job working with people is not for you.)
  • A generally bad person. (Garbage in, garbage out!)

Wow, that list got long. It’s clear that my assumption is for meatspace group practice, since that’s what RedWood Vanatru involves so far. These answers might be different if I were talking about a more conceptual or virtual leadership position.

It sounds like a LOT when I put it this way, and this is just the list of things I think a competent leader needs, not necessarily an ideal leader. But the thing is, a lot of these skills actually overlap, and a lot of these are general Competent Adult and Decent Human Being skills that I expect of pretty well everyone, not just leaders. Similarly, many of these are as much personality traits as they are learned skills.

Perhaps it would be good if I went through again and subtracted all the things I think are simply necessary to be a good person, but I’ve found leaving any of them as “obvious” and “a given” tends to result in them going missing just when they’re needed most.

So, yeah… It’s good to write all this out. It’s stuff I need to know, and know how to teach in many cases. This is without getting into the specific details, even, of the particular theology, gnosis, and praxis of RedWood Vanatru in particular!


Lon’s answer: Wait, someone’s leading this tradition?

About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
This entry was posted in Ministry, Personal, Politics, Polytheistic Theology, Praxis, RedWood Vanatru, ST4R, Vanatru and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to DPM 17: But You Can’t Make Them Drink.

  1. I think these are really great: fair, reproducible, accessible, yet also likely to prevent a descent into evil-cultdom.
    I really love “perfect is the enemy of good”. If I didn’t put out into the world that which was merely good enough, I would never get anything done.


    • EmberVoices says:

      Thank you 🙂
      Yes, avoiding becoming a creepy cult leader is a major priority for me. That probably sounds crazy, but I know JUST enough about it, and know just enough about myself and my biochemical history to never want to lose sight of that concern.

      Luckily, one of my congregants is more familiar with what it’s like to be inside an actually creepy cult, and I can trust him to be honest with me when necessary.



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