Too Many Alphas

The pagan community needs fewer leaders.

As usual, scandal has set the ol’ brain to boiling—in this case the allegations against Kenny Klein. Happily, I came across these thoughtful posts by Yvonne Aburrow and Sarah Lawless (an oldy but goody), which made me consider this idea again, that we actually suffer from too many leaders rather than a dearth.

Throughout the blogosphere I read, “We need more teachers!” Or, “We need to train the High Priestesses and Grove Fathers of tomorrow!” Or, worst of all, “We want everyone to be a leader!”*

No. No, we really don’t.

First of all, not everyone can, should, or wants to be a leader. That’s fine, and frankly, it’s the natural order of things. Leaders provide the public face of a group—having a single point of contact is a proven way to interact effectively with the broader culture. With any luck, a pagan/polytheist leader will also converse with leaders from other spiritual traditions and with government as necessary. They spearhead events, found publishing houses, and raise temples. They have tough, tough jobs, and frankly, I don’t envy them.

However, we have plenty of people for the leadership role already. The problem is not that we need newer, better, more leaders (with frickin’ lazer beams!). The problem is that we need to support the ones we do have. And part of that support includes calling our beloved elders on their shit.

This brings me to my main point: what we desperately do need are good betas.

Often called second-in-commands, or right-hands (or left-hands if you’re a Themelite), these are the people who can act as both assistant to and conscience for our leaders. This requires a certain strength all its own, one that is not generally fostered or recognized in our communities. Betas aren’t flashy. There’s little name recognition for them. A good beta must not be a yes-man or -woman to the resident alpha or Big Name Pagan. They know the rules of the group, and will enforce them equally across the board.

So how do we encourage betas? I wish I had a good answer for that. I think the most important thing is to realize that they are not simply failed alphas. They have their own skill sets that need to be nurtured. Often, betas are the people that the a group member will feel most comfortable approaching if they have a problem. This is where betas can use the most support, in learning how to receive accusations against other group members and not automatically dismiss them because of a power differential. With them rests the responsibility for ensuring that complaints are heard and survivors/victims are supported, especially if those complaints are against a community leader or BNP. The beta is in that rare position of being able to call out a community leader when they’ve violated the rules of the group. It can be with kindness and love, but it still must be done for the bonds of trust within the community to remain strong.

Coming back to the opening sentence of this post, “The pagan community needs fewer leaders,” when accusations are brought, the accuser needs to feel heard and respected regardless of whom they are accusing. If the accuser wants to, support them in filing charges with the authorities. If those accusations are substantiated and convictions are made, we need to act to remove the convicted from positions of leadership within our communities—let’s take a lesson from the Catholics here, and not cover up abuse when it happens.

If supporting survivors means that means we end up with a lack of leaders for a little while, so be it. I’ll take fewer leaders and BNPs of quality over the alternative any day.


*To be clear, if you are solitary, then by default you have sovereignty over your practice. The whole “every man is a priest, every woman is a priestess” (filched from Martin Luther, by the way) is absolutely true when it comes to personal practice, or practice within a family unit—take ye olde pater familias model for example.

4 thoughts on “Too Many Alphas

  1. YES! Thank you for this post.

    I have often tried to explain to people why exactly my view of leadership is so different from what I see being modeled in the Pagan community (which I think is often much more like celebrity rather actual leadership). I think your distinction between alphas and betas, and the absolute necessity for a community to have good, strong betas who can call leaders on their shit is pretty much spot on.


    1. Thank you! I actually just heard a wonderful interview with the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, where they said that building a community was like writing a song: there was melody, harmony, and rhythm all coming into play. Not everyone can be a melody–in fact, most of us won’t. But without the supporting harmonies and underlying rhythms, the melody can sound thin indeed.


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