Pagan leadership: this is not a competition
I have to start this post by thanking Devin Hunter for the idea. It seems that once a month he tweets “your fellow occultists are not your competition – there is no competition”. Occultists, pagans, druids, witches – we are not in competition with each other.
Competition is ingrained in our dominant society. We go to school and even though the grades are not displayed, we know who the A students are, who the B students are and who the “hope to succeed” students are. Sport is all about beating your opponent. A big part of the story is who won which war. Even in our entertainment, we’re bombarded with Nielson ratings, box office results, and top 10 song countdowns.
I am not anti-competition. I love sports and when I play I want to win. Competition inspires us – and sometimes forces us – to improve our skills and do our best. The problem is not competition.
The problem is to see other pagan rulers as competitors – as adversaries to be overcome.
And that’s because despite our religious, spiritual and magical differences – which are very real and should not be minimized – we all play on the same team.
Good writing drives demand for more good writing
I remember when Mat Auryn first joined Patheos Pagan. He started posting at an incredible rate. Someone – I can’t remember who – said “before long he will have the most popular blog on Patheos Pagan”. My response was “I hope he does.”
Now I like having the most popular blog on Patheos Pagan (although back then I was usually # 2 and Jason Mankey was # 1 – I passed him because Jason now spends most of his time writing books instead of blogs (given the salary differential, he probably made the right decision). But above all, I want my work to be read by as many people as possible. If Mat, or Jason, or now Thumper Forge or Laura Tempest Zakroff becomes more read than me, that doesn’t mean I’ll lose readers to them.
Rather, people will read their stuff and then they will go and read my stuff. Or they’ll read mine and then go read theirs. When the chain as a whole does better, I do better.
This does not happen only with Patheos Pagan. When The Wild Hunt does better, I do better. When Witches & Pagans do better, I do better. When freelance bloggers do better, I do better. And when they do worse, I do worse.
Good writing drives demand for more good writing – people read something and they want to read more.
And also, good writing spurs more than good writing. Last week, Jason Mankey wrote America’s Most Important Occultist (s) in direct response to my Darker Than You Think, which was in part a response to What If ?: Alternative Stories of Witchcraft and Paganism by Jason.
Want to start your own blog? Here are 15 tips to get you started, plus links to – you guessed it – other pagan bloggers and their tips.
Teachers and diviners tend to be specialized
Blogs are free to read (for the most part) and more supply drives more demand. Books aren’t free, but most pagan books are relatively inexpensive and those who buy one will usually buy more.
The equation changes when we move on to fortune telling, classes, artwork, and other areas where we do direct sales. These things tend to be relatively expensive, and more supply doesn’t create more demand.
But that still does not mean that we are competitors.
Good fortune tellers tend to build relationships with their clients. You give them great insight and advice – they will keep coming back. You give them rote interpretations and psychological advice – they’ll go elsewhere. If you lose a customer, it’s unlikely to be a competitor’s fault.
The courses tend to be specialized. Jason Miller is not my competitor. He teaches magic from an occultist and Buddhist point of view. Lora O’Brien is not my competitor. She teaches paganism and witchcraft from a native Irish perspective. I teach paganism and magic from my perspective as a contemporary polytheist.
It’s not Coke vs. Pepsi. This is Cabernet Sauvignon compared to single malt whiskey. If you just want to get drunk, I guess either will do. But if you’re looking for something to drink with dinner, or something to sip after dinner, or care about very different tasting experiences, you want one or the other. They are not interchangeable – they are not competitors.
If you want to get into reading or teaching, find your niche. What are you doing that no one else is doing? What perspective do you bring that no one else brings?
Because at the end of the day, you can’t be John Beckett or Lora O’Brien or Jason Miller. You can only be yourself. If you want to compete, compete to be the best version of yourself that you can be.
Good leaders support each other
No one goes into pagan leadership to make money. I know a very small handful of people who make a living from writing and teaching, but they don’t get rich. We do this because we believe in what we do, and we especially believe in the gods and spirits with whom and for whom we work. We may have mixed feelings about the wider pagan community, but we love and respect what we do and for whom we do it.
And so we support each other. I knew a lot about blogging when I came to Patheos – Jason Mankey taught me a lot. Jason Miller, Lora O’Brien and Thorn Coyle have all advised me on the business aspects of teaching. Mat Auryn still shares more pagan content than anyone I know – and his social media reach is about ten times the size of mine. Ivo Dominguez Jr. is a role model for me in many ways, although I know I can’t duplicate what he does.
I do my best to support others when they ask me to.
Because we are not competitors. When one of us does better, we all do better – and our movement does better.
Who are our real competitors?
It doesn’t mean that we don’t have competitors – we do. We live in a market of religions and not all of the religions offered are healthy religions. At least we have to provide some good alternatives. In some cases, we need to actively oppose it.
Our most obvious competitors are the various fundamentalists: those who insist that they have the One True Path and everyone is wrong, deceived, or just plain wrong. In this country our greatest danger comes from Christian fundamentalists who are trying to spread their religion with the power of government and to apply their doctrines with the power of law. But there is also a subtle danger from atheist fundamentalists, who insist that anything that cannot be proven by scientific experiments cannot be real, even though we have a lot of experimental evidence that says so.
Advertisers and marketers are our competitors. A whole industry exists to convince people to base their identity on what they consume: houses and cars, clothing and jewelry, food and drink, and pretty much everything in between. When we help people find identity in their gods, in their communities and in their practices, we are helping to break the spell of advertisers and traders. And they don’t like it.
The unhealthy members of our own traditions are our most direct competitors. Racists, folk, TERF. Sexual and financial predators. Anyone who uses our sacred traditions to enrich themselves and / or promote bigotry. We cannot simply disown them (see the No True Scotsman fallacy), and it is not enough to denounce them. We must outdo them in the religious market and destroy their platforms.
They are our real competitors, not our fellow writers, teachers, diviners and artists.
Just be better than you were
When competition pushes us to stretch, grow and become Following that what we were before is a good thing. When that causes us to respond with jealousy and see ourselves as adversaries and enemies, that is a bad thing.
My fellow pagan writers and teachers are not my competition, they are my colleagues. When one of us does well, it improves the environment for all of us.
And while integrity demands that we speak out against those who hijack our traditions, we will not defeat them by destroying them – even if we would. We will defeat them by being better than them.
And that comes from being the best versions of ourselves that we can be.