I recently wrote two articles on how to give--and how to receive and work with--feedback, particularly as a ritualist but also in general as a Pagan group leader. I mentioned feedback sessions and a few folks asked me what's a good way to run one of these. It's a good question, because getting useful feedback is difficult, and the details are often in how you facilitate the session.
Ever since I’ve been on a Pagan path I’ve heard of BNPs.The acronym was told to me to indicated Big Name Pagans.Over time, as more people found their way to one Pagan path or another, or began to create their own paths more specific to their particular worldviews, the term BNP took on a negative connotation.I started to hear it explained as Big-Nosed Pagans.
Most of those referred to as BNPs had published a book or several and were known for that.Of course, when I was coming up, there were few books, and those there were tended to be elementary.They lacked depth, refinement, and nuance.Today, thankfully, creative Pagans have explored Paganisms in much greater depth.They’ve done academic and historical research, as well as incorporating anecdotal evidence for their theories – good ol’ UPGs.Practitioners of reconstructed traditions of many kinds have explored the traditions they’re reviving, and thereby have advanced this learning tremendously.As well, walkers on more personal Pagan paths, including “hard polytheists,” have contributed to our growing body of resources.
We had been busy--for years, actually. Between leading public rituals and attending festivals, there was a mess of parties thrown by other Coveners. Several members were performers of different kinds and had shows. A couple of people started teaching locally. Then there was our standard working group time. Like "good" Coveners, we traveled to the festivals together, attended the parties, formed cheering sections at the shows and dutifully attended the classes our members led. We somehow still found the time to offer rituals and work as a group, but not a lot. I felt badly offering Coven homework when we were already such a busy group.
Any leader or rituallist is going to get feedback. In Part 1, I addressed some methods to discern what feedback is useful and what isn't. It's also important to learn how to give good feedback, which is what I'll go into here.
While I love hearing, "That ritual was great!" what this primarily tells me is that this person (or the people telling me this) had a good time. It’s not, however, specific. “I loved the chanting!” or, "I've never experienced a ritual like that, I was able to connect to my ancestors in a way I couldn't ever before," is more specific and thus, more useful.
I've facilitated rituals where I had an equal number of people tell me, "The energy in that ritual was great!" and, "The energy tonight really kind of sucked." So what makes good feedback?
Just weeks ago I had the honor of leading the main ritual at Paganicon, a Pagan conference in its fifth year taking place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I felt the main ritual went really well, and over the course of the weekend I received a lot of positive feedback from people who had a deep, transformative experience during the ritual. I also heard from the convention staffers that fully a third of the feedback forms positively mentioned the ritual or one of my other workshops.
As a teacher and ritual leader, it's always really exciting to hear that my work has had a positive impact!
However, after I returned from the event, I was directed to a blog post from another presenter at Paganicon who really disliked the ritual I facilitated. In fact, this presenter also had some problems with my presence on at east one of the three panels I spoke on. And it made me think a lot about feedback and leadership.
So many of the leadership problems that I see in the Pagan community come down to issues of our personal identity. There are leadership techniques for building healthy communities, models for understanding group dynamics, and tools to mediate conflicts. But the truth is…all of that stuff is a house built on a faulty foundation if we don’t also do our personal work.
To do that work, we have to understand identity.
And we also have to admit that all of us need to do this work. Unfortunately, the way identity functions can make it hard to change our own bad behaviors, and ego is pretty good at denial. When a group blows up you’ll often hear, “It’s just too much ego.” They’re sort of right, but it’s a little more complicated.