I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book (anthologies can be hit or miss) but this turns out to be an excellent resource that I’m sure I’ll return to as time goes on. This is a well-organized collection of deep topics addressed by people who have been through the fire and come out more thoughtful and experienced. For anyone who is already a leader or who is thinking about becoming one, this is a useful resource that offers plenty of food for thought.
More than three dozen essays are organized into eight categories based on the types of issues spiritual leaders are likely to encounter: Personal Work; General Advice; Leadership Models and Processes; Group Structure, Agreements, and Bylaws; Delegation and Volunteers; Building the Long Term Infrastructure of the Pagan Community; Conflict Resolution and Dealing with Crisis in Groups; and Recognizing and Dealing with Burnout. As you can see, these are all pretty heavy topics. The individual essays are chock-full of personal experience and useful details that can help the reader navigate the pitfalls (and joys!) of the leadership role.
Editor Shauna Aura Knight warns in the introduction that there are many different and often contradictory viewpoints among the essays in this collection. I like the fact that she recognizes this issue and was able to include all these different voices in the anthology. The Pagan community is so diverse, with such a wide range of ethics and ideals, that there are many different ways to view and experience leadership. This is an important lesson that many leaders still need to learn, and the very structure of this book helps teach it.
There are so many essays on such a wide variety of topics that I can’t honestly review them all without practically writing a book myself, so I’ll just highlight my favorites.
Selina Rifkin’s piece about managing multiple-role relationships is perceptive and helpful. While I was reading it, I flashed back to a number of situations I’ve been in over the years that I didn’t always handle well. Now I have the tools to do better. She offers a helpful Tarot spread in addition to the essay, a nice bonus.
In addition to editing the anthology, Shauna Aura Knight offers an essay about her Three Leadership Tools. I wish I had had this information years ago. This is my favorite essay in the book. It’s imminently practical and helpful. The advice about finding, respecting, and working within people’s boundaries is simply awesome and applies to so many life situations, not just Pagan groups.
Jade’s steps for starting an organization are brilliant and inspiring, and Melissa Hill’s thoughts on sharing leadership are encouraging. Hill’s essay includes great, practical ideas for spreading out the work so you don’t burn out and still ‘have it in you’ to move on to other things later on. Her advice is wise: “Sometimes people don’t realize that without their help the leader will burn out and the group will eventually fail.”
Catriona McDonald’s discussion of beta leaders gave me some new information and ideas I hadn’t come across before. Beta leaders are those valuable individual who aren’t the Big Name or public face of an organization but who can be counted on to get a lot of the work done. They can make or break a group. McDonald is especially perceptive about the nature of betas: “Betas are emphatically not failed alphas.”
The only downside to this collection, and if I’m honest it’s just a quibble, is that the tone and voice of the essays differ widely from one to another. The individual pieces range from dryly academic to casual and chatty, and everything in between. I occasionally felt a bit of ‘literary whiplash’ trying to adjust to the different writing styles as I was reading. I feel like the book could have been improved if the contributors had been given some sort of style guideline so all the essays were more closely in line with each other in terms of tone and voice.
Still, this is just a detail and the information in the book is really quite valuable for anyone aiming for a leadership role in the Pagan community. It’s absolutely worth your time to listen to these people’s experience and learn from it. This book is full of practical, useful details and not just ephemeral theory. The Pagan community needs more thoughtful, dedicated leaders. This anthology is a powerful tool for reaching that goal.
~review by Laura Perry
Editors: Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood
Megalithica Books (Immanion Press), 2016
pp. 387, $18.99