Posts tagged ‘leadership’

Improving Online Mental Health Self-Help Culture

Online mental health self-help culture has its pros and cons-  most of these are also true of other medical conditions and disabilities- particularly ones that are less well-understood or acknowledged by mainstream health care professionals and institutions. These are some observations I’ve made after long-time participation in autistic adult & neurodiversity communities. Note that I am far more familiar with helping adults with autism & parents of kids with autism than say, people who have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.


* Spread of good information about mental health, self-help techniques, both mainstream & alternative mental health resources

*More access to information & support particularly for people in under-served populations- uninsured, low-income/working-class people, people of color, GLBTQ individuals, folks with disabilities in addition to mental health issues, people in countries or regions that have minimal or non-existent mental health care

*People finding community, sometimes pride in neurodivergent, mad, disabled and queer identities.

*More understanding for family, friends, community members and mental health professionals

*Advice on how to navigate healthcare/social service/education bureaucracies, and less conventional ways of accessing basic needs (barter, sharing, crowd-funding)

*Peer supported/confirmed self-diagnoses for people who might have a harder time accessing formal diagnosis. Sometimes a person later gets an official diagnosis, services and accommodations.


*Spread of bad information on mental health, ineffective or inappropriate self-help techniques (either for everyone or for specific individuals) Framing either mainstream or alternative mental health structures/techniques as either 100% good or bad.

*Professionals & family members who are otherwise unaware of the broad range of mental health self-help communities may see more extreme factions and assume they are representative of the whole. But this is a problem with every subculture, internet or otherwise- especially if something is either unfamiliar or someone is already prejudiced against it, they will pick the most extreme version of it, and that’s the part that becomes most well known, even if it’s a small minority. (This is why respectability politics never works!) And if some part of the media gets involved, well St. Dymphna help us!

*False self-diagnoses that lead to a person to engage in self-help and self-medicating that harms them, spreads inaccurate information about a condition to others. (I’d add “uses self-diagnosis as an excuse- but those of us with official diagnoses are so frequently told that “we’re just using X as an excuse, it’s all in your head, not real, that didn’t exist in my day, blah blah” that quite frankly I doubt that many people specifically seek neurodivergent labels for themselves while knowing they are not accurate. Yes, sometimes there are hypochondriacs or maybe even trolls that try to infiltrate communities. But this is not something people seek out to be “cool”.

*Confusion by both participants and outsiders between  identities and subcultures perceived as unusual/eccentric- such as- otherkin, multiple systems, various alternative spiritual beliefs & practices, gender & sexual minorities that *do not* by themselves indicate a person having mental distress issues vs. assuming that if this person claims this identity they must necessarily be mentally ill, add extra stigma helping.

How to we increase positive results of our communities while reducing negative results?

*Self-care and knowing your limits- do what you need to do to take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If that means taking a break from these communities- both online and in-person support groups, fine!

*Figure out clear boundaries for what you are and aren’t willing to do to help others- a therapist can help with this.

*Get out and be social, hang out with people who are supportive but don’t have mental health/substance abuse issues themselves

*Get lay-level training about how to deal with mental health crisis- both for yourself and others from orgs like National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Note: I know some of my fellow activists don’t care for NAMI- I am just suggesting them as a baseline, you don’t necessarily have to agree with them on everything to learn from them.

*Suggest and redirect people towards groups that focus on resources in their area (I’ve often encountered pleas like “I’m about to become homeless/lose X type of benefits etc” from people without them telling us where in the United States they are, let alone where on the entire frickin’ planet!

*Encourage people to seek out in-person help in their local area, and not wait til things have gotten to an emergency level (or what they perceive as an emergency!)

*Recognize when/if you have a Savior/Martyr/Compulsive Parent Figure Who Must Help/Adopt all the Lost Puppies & Orphans type mentality. Helping people is a wonderful thing! It can also become an addictive and dysfunctional behavior!

*Learn about Minority Stress Theory, and particular issues facing various minority groups that can affect them while accessing mental health care. Learn about different cultural views of mental health

*Share information about how to get professional help, while being understanding of concerns people may have about doing so.

*Moderators of different communities/fora should talk to each other to share information about problematic individuals. Even if some of their behavior is related to their mental health or neurodivergence, that is not an excuse for breaking rules that are clearly stated, being disruptive, or harassing and bullying other people. Hence why, in these communities in particular to clear rules that all participants agree to, and steady & active moderation. Confidentiality is also a must.


May 30, 2015 at 3:05 am Leave a comment

What Do Healthy Spiritual Communities Look Like?

(Note: this advice is coming from my experience dealing with Pagan/magical/New Age communities, however much of it is relevant to other spiritual/religious communities as well as secular ones)

Healthy Friendships

If someone is mostly a negative influence on you, remove them from your life. Cut off contact. Make friends outside the Pagan community, in secular settings who are positive and supportive. Look for friends, who while they may not have everything in life figured out, in general have fairly stable lives that they are holding together. If you have friends who constantly ask you for help, a place to sleep, store stuff, money, rides etc. but do not seem to be doing much to improve their situation *when it is within their power* and keep giving excuses, seriously re-evaluate these friendships. Make boundaries that you are comfortable with.

Personally I have a limit of having one friend at a time that I help with serious issues (mental health, looking for jobs/housing/healthcare/childcare etc) I focus on referring them to services and giving them someone to talk to (about non-professional level appropriate things), while drawing the boundary of not allowing my health or finances to be dragged down by them.

True friendship requires give and take- much like relationships with our gods and spirits. There are times when a good friend needs to give more support to a friend in need, but everyone must use their own judgment about how far that support should go.

Healthy Leaders/Elders/Clergy 

How is the status/title/power of this person determined? By the person and their claims? By a group, or a broader community? Is it based on fame and trendiness or more on hard work and learning, regardless of how glamorous or not?

What boundaries does this person have over their personal life- choices in career, relationships to family, expectations of being public with their religion, being able to take care of health? Are the expectations they have of themselves, or that the group members have of them the same, and are they realistic and sustainable?

What responsibilities do they have towards members of their group or community?

What responsibilities do the members have towards them?

What responsibilities do the members have to each other?

Do the members have stable/sustainable lives outside of the group (i.e. their basic needs are taken care of, personal difficulties they have do not drag down the rest of the group.

What is the stated purpose or mission of the group, and does it live up to that mission, or clearly seem to be working towards it in a realistic way?

This was originally titled Recovering from Toxic Pagan Communities, but the topic drifted a bit..

To be clear about what I am talking about:

*Recovering from dealing with dysfunctional individuals, groups and relationships within Pagan, Heathen, polytheist or occult/magical and New Age communities.


*Having difficulties with one’s spiritual path development- a “crisis of faith”, Dark Night of the Soul, etc. can be related to this but is a separate issue

*Recovering from mental health problems, past abuse/trauma, alcohol & drug abuse (or coming from families with such problems) This are important and need to be dealt with (and hopefully helped by healthier spiritual communities!) but if nothing else I’m drawing a line between “problems you had before you become pagan” and “problems that were mainly exacerbated or originated due to bad behavior among Pagans- i.e. abuse of drugs/alcohol in community, abusive relationships, discouraging of getting help for health/financial or other problems (or of only using spiritual/magical/alternative techniques) I will address these matters when relevant…

October 7, 2014 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

A Privileged Low-Income/Disabled Pagan’s Thoughts on Money

(90% of this is pretty relevant to non-Pagans)

The whole time I’ve been Pagan, I’ve been low-income- either a student (thus socially OK to be unemployed) unemployed (not so OK) or underemployed. I also have several learning disabilities that have made employment and everyday life harder for me. But I’m also comparatively privileged- I’m considered “white”, college-educated, from a college educated family. Though I’ve had money worries, I haven’t had to go without food, housing or other necessities. I get healthcare thru the state, and my parents who live out of state own a home, so I can live there rent-free and rent out rooms to tenants. My partner has a good job and he helps support me. I also don’t own a car or have children, so those are major expenses I don’t have. I am fortunate to live in a metropolitan area with a fairly decent public transit system, and many Pagan groups. So I have unique view of some of the articles I’ve been reading about the money should play in the Pagan community. I’m not even going to touch on the magical/metaphysical aspects of this, as I’ve never been a practitioner of magic, but I’m linking to articles about magic nonetheless.

I always donate at least a little something to Pagan events I attend. However this is something I’ve been able to do. I’m a fan of sliding scale fees and scholarships to make events more accessible. I’m a fan of carpooling and sharing rooms at conferences- and I will offer to chip in with people who give me rides. (Heck I don’t even mind sleeping on the floor- I’m young and able-bodied, have air mattress, will travel!) I try to volunteer when I can.

I’ve worked on weekends and evenings a lot at my current job, and I don’t think it’s an evil capitalist conspiracy that events are typically scheduled at those times. I’ve had trouble organizing Pagan groups before due to people’s conflicting work schedules. You need to have enough people that have a compatible enough schedules that they can work together. The person with the random, unpredictable work schedule may just have to show up when they are able. It would be great actually to have a coven or grove that specifically met at times compatible for people who work second or third shift. The people doing this would probably have to be less fussy about what specific type of Paganism it entailed, but it can get lonely having a schedule that is the opposite of most of your friends.

Having rituals is homes may be cheaper than renting space, but it often means they are not handicap accessible, or in places not accessible to public transit. It will also mean people will have less control over potential issues like chemical sensitivities, pet allergies etc.

There are people who choose jobs that give them more time than money- in order to focus on spiritual work, arts, family. We need to do more to support these folks.

I’ve also known people-both Pagan and not- whose lives constantly were in a state of chaos, or moving from crisis to crisis. It is true what Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth say in the Patheos comments- chaos and poverty can be a self-perpetuating cycle. The essence of poverty, as I’ve learned is the lack of choices. We need to create environments where people can talk about the issues they face especially before they reach a crisis point. If they don’t feel ashamed, then we may be able to help them get a job (or one that pays better/has benefits/is more compatible for scheduling) or with transitional housing, or foster their dog so they can get a more affordable apartment, navigate social services, legal systems etc.

There are some people, however who do keep making the same Bad Decisions– over and over and over again. And we may try to help them, and realize after we rescue them from several crises, that we are encouraging them. But they are adults. We can’t force them to get mental health help, or treatment for their addictions, or learn to better manage their finances, or dump the abusive partner, or use birth control/condoms,or show up to their court date/case manager meeting/doctor appt/job interview etc.  And I believe in redemption, and second and third chances and trying not to judge people too harshly. But we also need to take care of ourselves, and our communities, and our leaders/clergy who can get overburdened easily. I will also use this opportunity to plug support for funding/volunteering for transitional programs that help people get out of poverty and give support to people who need it (recovering addicts, mentally ill, disabled folks etc) rather than the bare minimum emergency services that are often the only thing left after budget cuts.

(See Rose’s post on Homelessness to better understand the need for transitional services, and the flaws in current shelter policies.)

Blog Posts on Paganism/Magic & Money

Why Free Events Discriminate Against the Pagan Poor by Sable Aradia

I wanted to like this article, I felt there were good intentions behind it but way too much sloppy political and economic thinking.

Ruadhan has a great response here: LOLbertarians & Rampant Classism on Patheos

A Poor Magician is a Poor Magician & Poor Magicians, Good Magicians by John Beckett

No One Will Be Turned Away for Lack of Funds, and Money is Bad, Right? by Pagan Activist

Some views from Atheists/Humanists:

How to Make Organized Atheism More Accessible to the Poor

June 26, 2014 at 1:34 am 4 comments

Clarifying Callings

Part of the reason I wrote that long post on Functions of Clergy was to develop ideas on what role(s) I feel called to play in my communities. Among Pagans, there is sometimes an assumption that anyone who is a “serious” spiritual practitioner has the goal to be clergy. In Wicca, getting a 3rd degree initiation generally means you are considered a priest/ess, and it was once assumed that was the goal for all Wiccans, but it’s not necessarily the case these days. It’s even trickier when your entire religion is rather misleadingly named after an elite caste of educated clergy/judges/magicians etc- Druids. ADF has a clear definition and training system in place for our clergy, and we have many other roles that are greatly valued within our organization. We have the Guilds- Bards, Warriors, Brewers, Artisans, Scholars, Liturgists, Magicians, Seers, each has its own training program. We have Orders that focus on particular deities and mysteries. You need to go through the basic Dedicant Program to go on to these other types of training, but we try to be clear that the DP is not required to be a good upstanding ADF member.

Anyway, back to me- after my numerous attempts at involvement in Pagan ritual groups, I’ve found that leading and participating in them doesn’t seem to be working out. There may be a right situation, with the right people that comes along, but I am not going to force it out of desperation for community if that community is dysfunctional or just doesn’t fit with my schedule/transportation needs.  This situation reminds me a lot of being single but open to relationships that arise (quirkyalone), vs. compulsive dating even when you’re burned out because you feel like you “have to” be in a relationship. Or staying in bad relationship for the wrong reasons.

I am interested in being possibly being involved with broader groups like Paganicon and discussion/meetup type groups (a friend of mine is thinking of starting one up) I am interested in helping with projects in ADF and various polytheist groups. I am interested in working one on one- or in small groups to help seekers and solitaries learn more about various polytheistic religions. This may involve teaching a class or leading a workshop. In other words- peer solitary ministry. Because guess what: 80% (or more?) of Pagans are solitary and lack access to many of the social functions that organized religion provides- then again so do most Pagans who belong to ritual groups.

My biggest interest right now though, is to help empower other adults and teens on the autism spectrum.  To help them live happy, full successful lives- and by success I mean as they define it, not as hyper-capitalist society defines it. Pursuing their interests, connecting with other people in healthy ways (friends, romantic partners, family) finding work that is economically, emotionally and intellectually sustainable, stable housing, healthcare etc. And finding a spiritual path and perhaps community, if that is what they seek, that suits their needs as an autistic person. To do this work I will need to partner with many different types of communities and organizations. I would love to use my skills and experiences as an autistic adult to help people in Pagan, spiritual and geeky subcultures because I believe there are many people with autistic traits who are not getting the help that they need. Many of these people are not identified or do not identify as autistic, and I do not consider it my place to label them as such. I will educate other folks about autism, and ways of coping and working with it, and if people recognize traits in themselves or others, and they see solutions that might help them or their loved ones, then awesome. If they need services and accommodations that require a documented disability, then I can help refer them. But for some folks recognizing, “I’m an introvert, or have trouble with non-verbal communication, or sensory issues- and that’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just wired a little differently, and here are some ways I can deal with a world that isn’t designed for people like me.” is a huge first step.


April 8, 2014 at 12:35 am Leave a comment


“Irish diplomacy is the art of telling a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to the trip”- origin unknown (my good man Oscar Wilde maybe?)

I don’t shy from controversy- I speak my mind, often quite bluntly. Other times, I know when to keep quiet.  I have been poring thru posts on Wiccan privilege, polytheist/pagan relations and attempting to add posts of my own, but then I realized there wasn’t much more productive that I could add. I wondered why is that with all these different factions fighting, I have been gaining a diverse group followers on my blog- from staunch polytheists, to spiritual atheists, to “pop culture” influenced pagans and so forth- and so far managing to get along with them.

Over time, I’ve gained a pragmatic approach to interfaith relations, and being an open religious minority. One approach can work well in some settings, with some people and subcultural groupings, but not others.  I have a degree in political science, and much experience working on various activist campaigns. From them I have learned a lot about how to get messages across to people, what key words open up minds and discussions- and what shuts them down.

Telling personal stories- rather than using generalizations and statistics that people find hard to relate to. Meeting people where they’re at. We used these techniques a lot while calling people about the Minnesota anti-marriage amendment. We talked about our marriages, our family/friends’ marriages, and asked people to talk about their own feelings about marriage.

Ask polite questions about assumptions people are making- for example when someone at Pagan Pride tells you that you need to present a Wiccan format ritual because it’s “more familiar” to the public than a Hellenic ritual- ask How did it feel to go to your first Wiccan ritual? Was that confusing?

Positive redirect- When someone mentions using sources of information you think are bad, suggest better sources rather than just ripping apart the old ones. If they give scholarly sources a chance, they might start to see for themselves why they are better.

If someone seems to be engaging in cultural appropriation, suggest respectful ways about learning and approaching the culture in question. Use examples from your own experience- like I might mention going to an American Indian pow-wow and observing the etiquette that they discuss on the program of the event (easy!) and observing how other people around me behave.

Overall- Listen to people. Slow down and think before you respond in person or at the keyboard. And yes, set up a Pagan Tea Time (or whatever you want to call it) We miss a lot of nuances of communication due to lack of body language on the Internet. I wonder if, as an autistic person, whose natural communication style is purely verbal or written that I have some kind of advantage in this area?

Pagan Blog Project 2014

February 17, 2014 at 5:16 am 2 comments

What is a Pagan Elder?

In Pagan communities, we often claim that in keeping with our focus on being in harmony with nature, we accept the cycle of life and all its stages, including old age.  That, unlike the dominant consumer culture,  we don’t idealize youth above age, and thus honor our elders rather than shoving them aside. But is this really true? And what is an “elder” anyway?

A while back I went to a talk at the Sacred Paths Center about 2nd Generation Pagans. One of the speakers mentioned that Pagans really have 2 “ages”- their biological age, and how long they have been a pagan. He said that he felt his experience with being pagan his entire life, was not taken as seriously as adults who had not been pagan as long.  That said, we can certainly honor people for their life experience from before they became a Pagan.

I did a google search for “pagan elder” and found some interesting views. Amy Hale, who is also an anthropologist comments that Neo-Pagan use of  “elder” is a form of cultural appropriation.  I don’t think using this term is inherently appropriative any more than using “warrior” which also, for me conjures up images of Native American braves, but then again it also conjures up images of Klingons.  However, we should consider what motivations we have for using the term.

One thing I can say, is that “elder” is a title that is conferred by a community, and must be accepted by the individual. There is way too many  title-collecting,  and attention-grabbing going on.   There is no one  “Pagan Community”- only a common space in which many religions, traditions, and disparate individuals calling themselves “Pagan” converge.  Certain traditions have their own ideas of what is an “elder” Because of these and other problems, it is probably best to limit the use of the term “elder” to within one’s own tradition (if you have one)  where there is a particular group of people that can agree on their own definition.

Another problem is that all too often we take the contributions of older generations for granted.  When I first became interested in paganism, I had the internet, many books available, and a society that while not totally accepting, wasn’t actively persecuting pagans.  For those who came before, spiritual knowledge was much more difficult to come by,  and so was  finding other pagans.  We should not just say we’re grateful- show them.  Pay them for their services, or in some other form.  If they are in fact elderly, and needing more help- offer to bring them meals, do yard & house work, visit them in the assisted living/care center or hospital.  Drive them to events.  Take on community work yourself- organizing/putting on rituals and events, educating the public,  researching and teaching.  Doing these things because they need to be done, not for social recognition for its own sake. And ask them to tell you their life stories.

June 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm 1 comment

On the Value of Democracy

Democracy, the revolutionary idea of choosing ones’ own leaders as a community, originated in polytheistic societies. The most obvious of course being Athens, Greece but Iceland had the Althing, and the Founding Fathers of the United States took inspiration from the Iroquois Confederacy in forming a system of government and writing the Constitution. Now, technically, democracy refers to directly electing leaders, and representative democracy is called a republic.

I think democracy needs to be reaffirmed as a modern Pagan value. Both as citizens of countries who happen to be Pagan, and as a way of governing Pagan organizations. From observing groups in our community I’ve seen the pros and cons of different forms of leadership.

In Traditional Wiccan covens, and other initiatory systems, members rise in rank and power with time, effort and study. This system insures that the coven is led by a cadre of experienced elders who can impart the traditional knowledge to the next generation of seekers. There is value to be found in this kind of system, there is a lot of potential for abuse in it. While certainly there are many hierarchical groups which are quite ethical, they need to tread carefully.

For other examples among Druids- both OBOD and AODA are run by leaders, a Chosen Chief and Arch Druid respectively who hold these positions for life, barring resignation. These leaders are at high danger of burnout, and how can they be answerable to their membership if they keep their position, no matter what? Hence why, even though I think these groups have some interesting ideas I could learn from, I don’t think I would join them.

One of the things that appealed to me about ADF was that it is a democratically run organization. Not completely so- the Clergy Council is not elected. But the Mother Grove (Board of Directors) which I’m on is, including the Arch-Druid (President). There is also a Council of Lore made up of officials elected by Guilds, and a Council of Regional Druids who are elected by their own regions- rather like the House of Representatives.

That said, democracy does have its pitfalls. Sometimes people run for office for the wrong reasons. Granted, people may try to get their Third Degree for the wrong reasons too. In ADF, we sometimes have trouble finding enough people to run for all the leadership positions we have!

To avoid a “tyranny of the majority” a mechanism needs to be build in to a groups’ by-laws so that the minority is protected in some way. In ADF, one of the ways we protect the minority is by having a Members’ Advocate who can hear individuals’ concerns and take them to the Mother Grove.

In a smaller group, some form of consensus-based decision-making could work, though it seems impractical in a larger group. But there are Friends (Quaker) Conferences who make decisions this way from what I understand!

Post for International Pagan Values Month

June 18, 2009 at 11:55 pm 2 comments


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