Building an Irish Polytheist Community Part 3; The Issue of Authority

Authority has been the largest portion of the conversation so far; practically every post has contained some addendum about how we don’t need to have anyone with authority within the community… That there is no need for resources, that there is no need to raise people into positions of authority (spiritual or otherwise), and that we don not need to “be like other Communities” in order to function. Their reasoning?

“A community is not made by specialists, nor by leaders, spiritual or otherwise.” [X]
“I don’t think that [having community leaders] would really lead anywhere good” [X].

But quite frankly, I have to be the voice against the current here: I don’t like the way the discussion is going in concern to authority, or what it means for us moving forward as a Community.

It has been blatantly obvious this past week that we as Celtic* Polytheists have an extremely negative view of authority and what it means; we have a knee-jerk and ultimately negative reaction to it… No one wants it, and no one wants others to have it. I don’t like this assertion. In fact, I hate it; it- and the other assertions like it that have been echoed by other users- honestly makes my skin crawl because of the mentality behind phrases like this.

Outside of our own negative experiences with people in authority (because abuse of authority happens), there is no real or legitimate basis for this kneejerk reaction concerning all authority… And Spiritually, it makes no sense to me- especially when a common point brought up was the clear divide between the priestly cast and the laypeople, and doubly especially when we look at the Governmental systems under which the religion we follow flourished; clearly defined authority structures existed there. We cannot erase or ignore that because we are uncomfortable with the idea; cherry picking is not an option.

But I don’t just dislike it because it makes little sense in context of our faith… I ultimately dislike it because these assertions are and will always remain wrong; Communities are built by specialists to some regard, they do have leaders, and they cannot exist without some semblance of authority. The division and creation of authority it is a byproduct of any sort of Community Building, and it happens naturally whether we want it to or not.

Overall, authority is gained several ways, has a multitude of meanings, and even has several integral functions. On its own, it is not inherently bad, and neither is having people in positions of authority. While some people certainly abuse it, the careful organization of a Community can go a long way to curbing this. And not everyone is going to abuse that authority, either.

Ultimately, though, it is integral to the flow and longevity of a Community; if you want a close knit, long lasting, fully functioning, and supportive community, then you have to provide things with value to those who are members of that Community. This means organizing group events, making resources available, having people on hand to answer community questions, and having people to deal with community problems and conflict- and on the list goes. So if you have any hope of having a long lasting community, then these and others are not things that you can simply opt out of having.

But if you are going to provide these things, then at some point you need people to step up and take action and responsibility for organizing the various elements which are required… And when people step up and take that responsibility- whether it is for organizing resources, organizing group events, and so on- then they are inherently placed in a position of authority within the community.

As TheTwistedRope chimed in on the discussion:

I know you mentioned that you didn’t think leaders were necessary, but I do think that they will naturally form to some extent. Over the years, I’ve found that people seem to naturally be drawn to those who have more experience, have more information or knowledge or advice for learning. And to an extent, anyone who pushes content out regularly, and makes themself accessible and open to others will likely eventually find themself with some amount of following, and therefore might be considered a “leader”.

Even by simply being a part of the conversation about Community Building, contributing ideas or encouraging Community Building discourse, we are each becoming authorities that new Community members will come to or look to for guidance in the future… And this happening whether or not we are actively seeking that authority; whether you actively seek to have authority or not, by putting yourself front and center or by taking responsibility and action, you are going to gain it regardless of your wants or intent.

But ultimately it is up to use to decide what having that authority means and how we handle it. 

[…] A lot of people seem to really hate the idea of a person in a position of power, but to some extent I think it’s unavoidable due to the nature of people. What’s important is making sure your leaders and power-holders don’t misuse that power, and do right by the people that are supporting them. (TheTwistedRope; continuation from earlier quote)

However we decide to handle it, though, we can’t keep pretending that we can have a functioning Community without it. Refusing to recognize how authority functions, how it can be gained, and what it means is counterproductive if we want a long lasting community; our extremely negative kneejerk reaction to even the slightest mention of authority is ultimately going to bite us in the ass in the end if we continue down this path of thought.


For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.tumblr_od9z4kycsq1urp3f5o1_540

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