Pagan Paths

Witchcraft Philosophies, Action, Leadership, Humor, Outrage, Awkward Mishaps, Lovable Lessons, and a search for Grace with a clumsy Witch.

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You know you're a new leader when the mouths start flapping...

b2ap3_thumbnail_witch14.jpgLast week, a younger member of my outer community emailed me with a story that bothered her. She’d attended a ritual led by people she didn’t know and when she told one of them about her path as a Witch, they started running down a list of everything she was doing wrong in her practice. While understandably bothered, what bothered her most her disappointment. She thought that within the Pagan community, she wouldn’t run into the kind of size-you-up-what-are-you-well-that’s-stupid attitude she’d encountered in the Church of her youth.

I told her, sadly, that no communities were exempt from that attitude; even, and maybe especially, our own.


Early in my Priestessing days, I frequently ran into this sort of attitude. At first, I liked having the freedom that came with people not taking my work seriously. No one cared enough to come in and try to change what I was doing. Little chuckles and “Oh, Courtney…you’re so cute….” Comments didn’t bother me. Outright rudeness, however, did. Rudeness is just plain rude and I’ve never learned to ignore it.



I’d just earned my Priestess cords when I was invited to another group’s ritual at Central Park. It was a beautiful day and I was excited to meet some new people. I dressed in my ritual best, proudly wrapped my cords around my waist, and met up with the friendly new people to celebrate the Sabbat. I’d been there perhaps ten minutes when a man (not the leader) approached me and asked who I was, what I practiced, who I practiced with, who initiated me, and other aspects about my Tradition.

“I’m not with a Tradition,” I said. “I’m Progressive Wiccan. We’re more a philosophy.” 

“Do you have degrees?”

“No,” I said. “It’s not like that.”

“Says the lady with the cords,” he said. “So you’re a Tradition that’s not a Tradition? Are you some High Priestess who’s not a High Priestess? Do you celebrate Sabbats that aren’t Sabbats or gather in Circles that aren’t Circles?”

There was no discussion, just a series of half-answers I tried to make and japes from this guy until the High Priest pulled him aside to lecture him on hospitality and how to greet new people with respect.

It’s a shame to admit it, but the Pagan community is not exempt from judgment, snark, ridicule, snobbery, and more. We’re humans and when humans gather in groups, they can and often will cast judgments about others. Sometimes, the heavy judgers are people who have had difficulty fitting in in other areas of the world. Upon finding themselves in a community that accepts them, they can be even more judgemental that the average Witch. It’s a fear-based thing. They fear being replaced or booted out of the community they have craved for so long that they try to vet the newcomers. It makes them feel safe. It’s childish, yes, but it comes from a place a child trauma. I try not to judge. I also don’t judge wounded rats in the subway tunnel. I generally avoid both. 

Maybe it comes from others in your Tradition. Maybe some insecure High Priest/ess is nervous and thinks that your Elders suddenly like you more. Maybe it’s true and maybe Mr./Ms. Insecure knows it. But their coming in and criticizing you is far more about them than it is about you.

Maybe it comes from an Elder. You might get a Elder who floats down into your world with the enigma of Glinda, but none of the grace, to tell you what you “should” be doing with your practice or leadership. 


Maybe they're self-proclaimed, maybe they really are what they say they are. But if it feels like they're constantly monitoring you without you having requested their help or support, it's anything but helpful or supportive. Usually, people who do this really are trying to help, when it normally comes across as critical (and often is) and often not helpful at all. The strongest Elders I know who are happy with the work they’ve done and happy to see other people carry it forward. They might step in to help if they really see you going off the rails, (they’ve done that for me!) but most Elders will be satisfied to let you make your own mistakes and wait for you to come to them if you need help. But once in awhile, you might come across someone who isn’t confident in the contributions they’ve made and take that out on you by acting like a Witchy drone, swirling around you and your work. Take a deep breath and smile. Stay close to the Elders who constructively correct you at appropriate moments when you’re in the wrong, and stay away from anyone, Elder or not, who digs around and pounces, constantly.

 And let’s face it….if you’re new, your inexperience will show. There’s no way around it. The more you try to hide your inexperience, the more it shows. Keep in mind that the people rolling their eyes at your have seen their share of green leaders botch rituals (at best) or wreck the lives of their students (at worst) due to a lack of information and usually, lack of support, too. There’s a reason why the mainstream religions have seminaries. There’s a trust inherit in the Master of Divinity degree (or its equivalent). “You have the paper, you have the training.” Because so few of these sorts of training establishments exist for our faith practices, new leaders need to prove themselves. Understanding that the judgments come from a long line of seeing people like yourself make big mistakes has a bit of founding. Learn from what these others have done to derail our community and don’t do those things.

If you do run into this kind of Witch-lash, here are a few things that I’ve found to be effective:

Try to answer questions as thoroughly and thoughtfully as possible. Someone asking you about your practice doesn’t automatically equate to grilling or critique. They may be genuinely curious about what you do.  Some people just aren’t good with delivery and should work on that but until they do, dig around to find a little patience for them.

Nothing pulls the “air” out of arrogance like a good laugh. It’s okay to laugh at yourself. As a bullied kid, I learned that if I could laugh at me first, no one had the power to laugh over that. If someone is being condescending or picking at you about your lack of experience, turn the conversation into a joke. The Gods love laughter over mortals, anyway, and tend to like to aid those who are the funniest. (That’s my hope, anyway….)

There is no shame in being inexperienced. You know you’re inexperienced. Don’t become offended by someone labeling you as such. It’s like them also commenting on the color of your hair or the number of freckles on your face. “Yes, I’m new at this.  Yes, I have purple hair and seven perfectly placed beauty marks on my face. My, you’re observant.”

“Well, what would you do?” Did someone just make some side-mouthed comment about your plans for the closing ritual at the group festival? Give them the opportunity to offer a better solution (and watch how fast they walk away…). Hell, maybe they HAVE a better solution! But likely, they don’t. Truly experienced people and solid leaders know better than to comment on what someone else is doing as they know they’ll end up doing it. They’d be far happier giving that opportunity to someone else.

Give people the opportunity to be wrong about you. If you keep doing good work, watch as the snarky folks come back around and try to be your BFF. Don’t block them all out because they were rude to you at the start. Maybe they had a change of heart. Maybe they underwent some serious personal work and learned to stop being so judgmental. Maybe they were simply wrong about you and would like to try working together. Talk it through with them, if it helps, and if you feel comfortable opening the friendship/working relationship, do so. Some of the people who didn’t take my community or me seriously at first (and were less than kind about it) have become excellent colleagues and allies.


Then again, some of those snark-sharks are just that and shouldn’t ever be let close to you or work. It’ll take some trial and error, but you’ll figure out who wrong about you and who is wrong for you.   

Don’t hide. Don’t wait until “you’re ready” to be out in public as a leader. My High Priestess and I agree on several things but one of them is that there is no shame in stepping out in front even if you’re not wholly sure of what you’re doing. I’ve been at this almost eight years and I still am not wholly sure, myself. (I hope that’s normal. I’ve been told it is.) Chances are good that many of people showing up to your rituals will be inexperienced themselves and will be glad that someone with at least a little more information is showing them the way. Grounded, experienced people in attendance will understand where you’re at, experience-wise. Grounded, highly experienced people will be thankful you’re doing the work so they can sit back and not have to run a ritual for once and won’t have anything but a kind, supportive word to say.


In the end, it’s about you and your relationship with your group and if you don’t have a group, your relationship with your view of the Divine. These people don’t get to come home with you (unless you want them to, which is a whole other topic_. And they certainly don’t get a space in your head unless you plop them right inside there. Of course it can be hard to shut out voices of critique, but you owe it to yourself and to your relationship with the Spirit to do just that.


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Courtney Weber is a Priestess, writer, Tarot Advisor, performer and activist originally from Portland, OR living in New York City. Her writings on Witchcraft have been published in numerous publications, including Spiral Nature and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess" and "Tarot for One: The Art of Reading For Yourself", both through Weiser Books. She is the producer and designer of "Tarot of the Boroughs" a contemporary Tarot deck composed of original photography set in NYC. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and cats.


  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Wednesday, 13 January 2016

    Forgive me if I've said this to you— i've said it so many times for over a decade, i forget who i said it to—but you may find it supportive. I've kept telling people the following: a great deal of Paganism has become yet another group of organized religions with set liturgies and set belief systems, both rigidly adhered to in ways that invalidate and crush thousands of sincere seekers. I know this because those seekers contact me in their heartache. Email after email after email. One way I commiserate with them is to explain i know it must be awful to experience such rejection in the very community they expected to finally find safety and camaraderie. They seem so relieved when they knew I understand. For what it is worth.

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