Birds in flight, photo by David SpinksDo you belong to a coven, temple, grove, or other sort of magical group? If so, you likely have one or two people at the helm in a leadership position. They may be called by various titles, such as Elder, Frater, Soror, Mother, Queen Mother, High Priest or High Priestess. Whatever their title, this is the person who makes the work happen.

I am a High Priestess of a coven in New York City, and I probably have a good idea what your leader is thinking. Maybe you think your leader is an enigma. Maybe you feel they are an open book. No matter what the case is, there’s more going on that you know, and I’m here to tell you what’s going on inside that initiated head of theirs. You’re welcome!

Your leader is wondering, Why couldn’t I have gone to school for this?

Mainstream religions have seminaries. While alternative or occult religions have some, most of our leaders are not formally trained at the same level as our mainstream colleagues. We are all feeling our way to solid leadership through trial, error, tears, and prayers.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s no manual for this. Why hasn’t someone written a manual for this?”

Even leaders with more training than others stumble a bit. Few books exist to help us and even fewer training schools specifically focused on running spiritual groups.

Spiritual leadership is more like playing jazz than a classical score. Your leader must act as though they know what proverbial song is being played, but in truth they are improvising all over the place.

Student, you know more than you know you know.

Maybe you go to your leader for advice on herbs and candles. Maybe you want to do a ritual but you have doubts about your plan. Your leader may give you a few pointers based on things they know they’ve taught you, plus reminding you of skills you knew, naturally. But truly, you know what to do. You either forgot you knew or didn’t trust yourself. Your leader isn’t necessarily wiser than you, but they probably pay more attention to your talents.

Student, you know less than you know.

In this age of fierce independence from religious institutions, it’s tempting to forgo the instructions of a more seasoned person and “go with your gut.” But isn’t there a reason you sought your leader in the first place?

Many of us crave instruction until the day we’re told “no.” No, you may not ready to channel the angry warrior god or goddess or invoke the most potent demon. It doesn’t matter if you “feel” you’re “so totally ready.” If your leaders says you’re not, there’s probably a good reason for it.

No, you can’t start your own group with your leader’s blessing, if your leader doesn’t think you’re ready. This may not be because the priestess or priest is pulling a power trip over you. Maybe they see you teetering next to a symbolic cliff that will put you in an energetic, personal, or magical sinkhole and would very much like to see you avoid it.

They probably don’t like holding you back. It’s much easier to say, “Sure. Go ahead!” than “No. Wait.” The latter requires an explanation, and probably an argument and frankly, your leader would probably rather say yes.

Your leader knows less than you think they know. 

Your leader does not have a more powerful relationship with the divine than you do. When they go to their altars and light their candles, fairies don’t come out of the walls or genies erupt with all the wisdom they seek. They ask the same questions as you. They have the same doubts. They likely go through a similar journey of having their doubts erased, then reinstalled, then re-erased all over again. They are not sitting on top of a proverbial mountaintop (unless their house is actually on a mountain). They are struggling up the same proverbial mountain as you…not ahead of you, and (probably) not behind you, just in a different place with a different viewpoint.

They’ve cried because of you.

Maybe you had a shadow moment, and said something you didn’t mean, projecting your latent issues with your parents all over them. They knew it wasn’t personal, but it hurt all the same. Maybe you said or did something so friggin’ brilliant and inspiring they wonder why you think you could possibly learn anything from them. Maybe something you did or said affirmed that their work was valid and important. Maybe you saw them cry. Maybe you didn’t. But know it happened and it’s happened more than once.

They do so much more than you realize.

Recently, I asked my coven if someone could take over the task of circulating information about the whens, wheres, and what-to-brings of all of our meetings and be the point person should anyone have questions. This had previously been on my plate, along with planning curriculum and rituals, being available for spiritual counsel, handling inter-coven disputes, etc.

I was surprised that they were surprised at the size of that one aspect of my high priestess role. I didn’t realize that they didn’t know exactly how much work is involved for their sake.

You might not be aware of the pile on your leader’s plate, either.

The group member who makes you want to pull your hair out? Your leader feels the same way.

So, why don’t they? They probably are more aware of the underlying issues that they’ve not shared with you out of issues of confidentiality.

The member who just can’t stop talking? The leader knows they have a social anxiety issue that comes out through verbal barrage. They’re working on it, but change takes time. The member who has serious weirdness around food? The leader is aware that they are in a recovery program for an eating disorder. The member’s use of “special spoons for certain dishes” may irritate you, but the leader is thankful they’re eating at all.

Being a leader of a small spiritual group is an exercise in depth of patience. They’re not immune to irritations, but their job is to manage them. P.S., there are surely plenty of times when you are that very person responsible for leader-pattern-baldness!

Despite all of this, they love being your leader.

This may just be the hardest job they’ve ever done, but you thrill and inspire them every day. There are few things more rewarding than watching a magical student take in information, digest it, and grow beneath a leader’s tutelage. The thrill of the conclusion to a ritual, when people have had a life-changing experience is what makes all the difficult pieces so very worthwhile. Never think for a second that just because something is difficult, that it’s not worth it. In fact, the things in this world that are most worth it are the most difficult.

You can make it easier on your leader.

Keep in mind that you are not the only person in their group. The group members are not the only people in their lives. While you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your leader for assistance, do be respectful of their time.

Be self-aware, so they don’t have to take time away from their lives to coach you on how to work well with others. Don’t be hard on them if you don’t like their answer to one of your questions or if their suggestions don’t work for you. They don’t have all the answers and they are helping you out of a desire to see you thrive.

Keep in mind that they are human… and love them for it!

Image credit: David Spinks