A Minor Leadership Rant

Concentric CirclesWithin Reclaiming circles, I keep reading about leaders and hierarchy as if they were the source of the problems we face within western industrial society. That is news to me since I always thought it was the concentration of wealth, power, resources and information into the hands of a few. If concentration is the problem then the solution is increased accessibility to money, power, resources and information. But if we name the problem as simply hierarchy and leaders, then the solution can lead to the denigration of experience, skill and age.

Because without an acknowledgment of elders and mastery, we create a sort of mob rule which leads to an elevation of the mediocre.

I am intrigued and heartened by a definition of leadership from the I Ching, as the one(s) "closest to center."

IMNSHO, leadership can be contextual as when it arises spontaneously, it can be situational as in only a finite number of people can stand directly in front of the stove at any one point to stir the soup, or it can be structural as in we all agree that this person will facilitate the meeting. It can also be shifting as in the rotational chair model of meeting facilitation where the person speaking is the chair and is responsible for recognizing the next speaker/chair. And it can be knowledge based as in whoever has traveled to a location before is the one to give directions to the driver. Leadership can be as simple as announcing that dinner is ready, as complex as handling the bookkeeping for a group or as clever as the one who supplies the costumes for witch camp. In my view a leader is one who exhibits leadership.

What I have often found objectionable however is the notion that anarchism is somehow contrary to this concept of leadership. Or for that matter that anarchism is contrary to structure or accountability or the recognition of experience, knowledge and skill.

I freely admit that my background is more marxist than anarchist, but marxists share a great deal of our history with anarchists and even where we clash there tends to be general agreement around an analysis of power, esp in terms of class. Add to it the contributions from social justice movements such as a feminist analysis of gender, a black nationalist analysis of race, a queer analysis of sexual expression and the many contributions from the environmental movements; and the marxists and anarchists within Reclaiming, for example, often pretty much see eye to eye on most things.

So as a "former" marxist, I find it amusing when some folks in Reclaiming defend their lack of accountability, structure, and denigration of leadership as due to Reclaiming anarchism. Because in my heart of hearts, I know that often systems are left vague, obscure and demeaning as a way of ensuring power concentration and information restriction -- which is definitely not anarchism.

No it is not anarchism that creates these unwieldy strucures and unhealthy organizational dynamics, it is white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. Because such structures and dynamics within this society can only serve the status quo. The appreciation of youth and age, plus all the stages in between, strikes at the heart of the concentration of power, wealth and information. It is a system of domination that calls for us to become interchangeable cogs in the machine. It is indeed revolutionary to appreciate both genius and mastery, while at the same time nurturing and guiding growth and change.

My 2 cents, for what its worth.

Katrina, a leader since age 3 when I convinced my playmates to each take a turn bouncing the ball . . .

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Mon, 02/13/2006 - 12:24am.

A Busy Day

Greek Temple

As I sit sipping tea, listening to a collection of CDs I am evaluating and smelling the burning sandalwood incense, I find myself returning to the sequence of today’s experiences one by one.

The calico deity awakened me early; she seems to need nightly reassurance lately. But a sleepy Katrina has little patience or interest in complex conversations. Apparently, She managed to handle whatever needed attention, so I drifted back to the between places. I drifted in primary consciousness, re-membering my dreams.

I had been at a neighbor’s home, apparently overnight. I was again on my epic search for a bathroom aided by my neighbor Pat, who deemed each bathroom unsuitable. After wandering through several areas, each resembling an old church, convent or monastic quarter, I suddenly realized that these were areas left unused from within my apartment. My dreamtime apartment, a separate area from my dreamtime house, usually symbolizes how I compartmentalized my life. And in these rooms from my apartment, Pat was entertaining and housing her guests! Whoa!

And although this meant that Pat had intruded into my area, I seemed only surprised, not angry. And then I realized that I could return to my house to use the bathroom. So I collected my belongings and headed out. Outside I turned left to locate my home, when in my waking life I would have turned right. And instead of a row house, I saw these two ancient buildings, like ruins sitting on a darkened plain. I approached the first and sat down on the steps to rest. After only a second, the entire building began crumbling. And I was falling down with all the debris. As I surrendered to the fall, I noticed that I was falling on a diagonal – falling free of the debris. And all I remember next was calico “chatter”.

As I floated in the between state, I tried to go back into the dream to see where I landed. But the calico goddess was now lying next to me purring gently. “Maybe this is where I landed.” So I made an effort to remember the dream sequence for my journal. Then I simply drifted, thinking about all I need to do today.

I had a chiropractic appointment, then I needed to fax documents to my insurance company, check my PO Box, mail a check to the roof repair company for the balance due, deposit a check, transfer funds, and pick up art and ritual supplies. And then off to the arboretum for some sketching, at least that was my plan.

It was my chiropractor that mentioned the Buddhist temple and its lovely garden. As I sat eating my breakfast at my favorite sandwich shop in Takoma Park, I decided that maybe Dr. Z was a messenger from the gods, like my calico priestess. Maybe the Buddhist garden is where I needed to land. So finished all my errands and headed out River Road.

I usually avoid the suburban sprawl, dotted with McMansions and golf courses – and I am not even going to mention all the “fake” town centers. I do not understand why if you want to build a multi-million dollar home, why would you want it built in spitting distance of 25 other identical monstrosities? There are barely any trees, so there is nothing to break the field of vision between homes. I feel like I have more privacy in my row house in the middle of the city! And abandoned pastured after abandoned pasture, planted with crayon green grass. I seemed to drive forever. I remember when one hour outside of DC was farmland in every direction. I blast Prince more out of defiance than enjoyment, till Joint-2-Joint of course. But as I approached the temple, I even turned the Rude Boy down.

It had probably begun as a simple farmhouse, with each addition it had lost some of its simple charm -- at least it was not a McMansion. Prayer flags and painted rocks up the drive way marked its presence.

I discovered that the garden was inaccessible due to my aching joints. No problem, I was invited to instead sit in the prayer room. I was invited to use one of the chairs instead of sitting on the floor. I entered quietly after removing my shoes and hat. A young woman was chanting softly as I entered. So I sat down and just relaxed for a while before exploring. The room was so peaceful and smelled wonderful. I first allowed my eyes, joints and breathing to adjust, and then I began opening my energy centers. I slowly became aware of the low hum given off by the huge crystals. I remembered when crystals, small ones even, would make me swoon. Now I can listen to them and move through their fields and even hold them in my hand. But here in the temple, I kept my hands to myself.

After the young woman stepped out briefly, I began wandering around the space. Large crystals, some the size of a large comfy chair, varying sized statues of Buddha and Tara draped with jewels and silk, and paintings of ascended saints covered almost every surface. Most of the altars had offerings of candies, crackers, fresh fruit, incense and endless copper bowls of water. I could not help but notice that although the overall effect was evocative of abundance and beauty, several of the individual items seemed garish and ill suited. I kept trying to reconcile some of the odd pieces that often sat side by side with arrangements of exquisite beauty and depth. I surrendered to the effect, and as I rounded the last bend, I had even noticed a perceptible lift in my energy. That is, until I came to the large photograph.

I am use to seeing photos of beloved teachers with offerings, and I had browsed several when I entered the room. However I was unprepared for the photo of the temple’s primary teacher. A photo of her had been on display in the lobby. I remember thinking it was odd that she wore such bright red lipstick for the standard photos with her teachers. But nothing prepared me for the photo displayed within the prayer room. She looked like one of those advertisements used to sell Valentine’s Day glamour photos in a mall. Big hair, blush, eye shadow and again bright red lipstick, all while she wore a saffron robe and held a mala. I almost laughed out loud. It was so incongruous.

I moved quickly to the next altar, suppressing a giggle. As I signed the guest book and left a donation, I smiled inwardly. So this is where I land, chuckling to myself in a Buddhist temple.

As I drove home, stopping for a bite, I kept turning it over in my mind’s eye. Wandering through a beautiful temple settled in the midst of suburban sprawl. An impenetrable garden dedicated to peace. A great Buddhist teacher made up delightfully as a “hoochie” mama. An ancient ruin crumbled under me, and I landed smiling on my sofa drinking tea.

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:58am.

Gifted & Black

Black Woman I was thinking today about how often I have to justify my existence. I am not talking about my right to exist, but more my qualifications to be where ever I happen to be standing or sitting. In my job as an internet architect, it was as if folks just assumed that I wandered in from the street. Other times I would get the "secretary?" looks or the "cleaning staff?" looks. In stores, folks have often mistaken me for the sales staff, as in "she couldn’t possibly be a customer".

I find myself constantly on the defensive as I get older, which is odd. For awhile it seemed as if the need to justify myself had begun to shrink only to now suddenly explode back to the surface. This all reminds me of my childhood and has me asking questions on how much we claim that things have changed.

In my all black parochial grade school, light-skinned girls were always listed as top students. It was the fair skinned girls with straight hair who were accorded the highest attention by the white nuns and given the prime seats in front of the class. Although I was relegated to the middle of the room because of my coarse hair, I still attracted the attention of the teachers because of my fair skin. Girls with dark skin and all the boys were placed in the rear of the class.

I started doubting myself at an early age. I was always on the honor roll, but so where all the other fair-skinned girls. As the straight A report cards piled up and my mother lavished praise upon praise, I wondered out loud if I had actually earned the grades at all. My older sister, who struggle for every grade, responded in a surprising way. She grabbed me by my shirt and hiked me a bit off of the ground. She got in real close and what she said I would never forget.

"Never let those sons of bitches EVER make you doubt yourself like that." She hissed. "Of course you earned those grades. I saw you do your homework every night. And memorize all those words for the spelling tests. Hell, I taught you every thing I was taught years before you even started school." She was right of course, I could add, subtract and multiply before the first grade.

And although it took me years to figure it out, my classmates apparently had always known that my high grades had been earned. So while my fellow students always treated me with deference, the favored girls were avoided or mistreated at every opportunity.

At my elementary school graduation however, it was the parents who decided to suppress my top student honors and instead only announce two smaller awards. One for my dark skinned friend Gina who came in second and another small award I had earned. The parents, unlike their wise children, could not imagine I had legitimately won the top student award. They assumed it was because of my skin color. Later when the award was presented to my parents in our living room, my mother was livid. I cried bitter tears as the reality sunk into my young psyche. I learned that no matter how hard you work and no matter how well you perform, your accomplishments could always be questioned by strangers in positions of authority.

It was training for adulthood when so many people would believe that I had been promoted because I was a token black. In job after job, folks would react with shock and surprise when it was learned that I not only had the credentials but often I was over qualified. The "golden haired" boys so often glorified, often did not even have the experience nor the education. However none of the glory boys seemed to ever have to show their credentials.

If this was not hard enough, another strain continues from my childhood. I am still plagued by the assumptions of those black parents from long ago. What little success I have achieved is still viewed by some as if they are the spoils of the color clash. In my own family I have come face to face with the unspoken belief that my achievements were at the expense of my darker siblings. I remember a brother's shocked expression when I mentioned that I had never received money from our father since I reached adolescence.

"But your car, your apartment, and now your house?” he stammered.

"I paid for it all myself.”

This was followed by stunned silence. As I watched the multitude of emotions playing out across his face, I suddenly realized the source of the tension between us. This realization silenced me. All my brothers had at one time or another received money, at times fairly regularly, from my father till his death in 1992. It had never occurred to them that I had instead earned everything on my own. They collectively had assumed that, as the "pretty" one, I had somehow received more.

This illusion plays itself out again and again amongst my childhood friends. They too think I have had it easier because of some special coddling or opportunity denied them. It is the flip side of the same coin, denying me credit for my accomplishments.

So on one hand there is a small class of individuals who think I succeed because I am light-skinned. While a much larger society believes I could not have achieved anything and question my very right to even walk in the realm of the successful.

So I always have to defend my right to be who and what I am -- mildly successful. My credentials, experience, abilities, skills, and status are always and everywhere in dispute.

I am perpetually on the witness stand. Strangers daily interrogate me. And I am constantly asked to justify my existence. Who are you and why are you HERE? It is insane.

I have had store clerks tell me that there were no job openings when I attempt to make a purchase. I have had a room full of people with no legal training whatsoever ignore my recitation of the rules of evidence which I read from a document that we had all just received. My judgment based on years of technical research has been ignored in the face of pure conjecture from a man with a MBA and no technical training. I have seen a white man with nothing but a high school diploma promoted over myself with a MS and another black woman with a Ph.D. due to his promising to start college at some future date.

I have had my ability to speak as a woman, a black person, a city dweller, an engineer, a scientist, and a middle-aged person questioned just in the last week alone! I am simply not credible!

As a result, I am losing what little is left of my sense of humor. Here is a brief list of things I no longer find amusing:

  • When folks find it remarkable that I can use consonants, as in “You are so articulate!”
  • When taxis attempt to drop me off at the employee’s entrance at hotels.
  • When waiters “forget” to bring me water, eating utensils, drinks, or bread. Or when they somehow miss offering me ground pepper, grated cheese or other complimentary items.
  • When anyone reacts with surprise that I own a house, have an advanced degree, was never on welfare, never used drugs, and can pay my own way.
  • Whenever anyone is shocked that I ask for the manager, the supervisor, contact a government or other policing agency to complain about inappropriate behavior or policies.

So today, like so many days before, I may be forced onto the witness stand. But today, they had better be prepared for a hostile witness.

(C) 2000 Katrina Hopkins,Katrina Messenger

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Tue, 01/31/2006 - 2:03pm.

Through the Lens

Blurred Lens
Apparently I am having a teachable moment. All kinds of things are revealing themselves to me.

Recently I was thinking about how in my early years as a witch and priestess, I was often called upon to teach concepts that were difficult for me to verbalize. It has always been hard to teach skills that came naturally to me. I come from a family of psychics and oracles. Our everyday waking life was always full of inexplicable knowing and seeing. It never occurred to me to think psychic phenomenon as anything other than real. I tried, in my first Dark Flame Coven class, to teach visualization. I manage to create an outline, mostly shorthand visual cues. But I had difficulty finding the words to wrap around my experiences as a seer.

So when I was asked years later to co-teach a psychic skills workshop with shamanic artist and psychic extraordinaire Pomegranate Doyle, I was thrilled. Finally I would learn the principles that would help me to explain the abilities that were used within my family so easily. But then Pom fell ill and I had to teach the class alone. I tried mightily to use her lesson plan, and although my students probably did not notice, I often felt lost and adrift.

But on the other hand, frequently people claimed in my presence to see my dead relatives, hear voices of the gods, and interact with beings from other realms. I could see what was there and whom they were interacting with in these “conversations.” But I noticed that none of the teachers or elders would ever call their bluff, so I mimicked their knowing smile and pleasant nod. But inside, I “knew” these people were full of shit.

But now, after all these years of teaching and seeing and mentoring and counseling … I am not sure anymore. Whatever these people are seeing in their dreams, divinations, and visions, it is real to them. And if it is real to them, who am I to say otherwise?

So now I can comfortably explain psychic concepts in general, although I still cannot tell anyone exactly what I do. But with this newfound verbal ability, I now truly get why those teachers of old simply nodded and smiled. Everyone sees, everyone foretells and everyone speaks to the gods. It is our level of awareness that can be faulty. And now as I clean my newly acquired bifocals, I understand that even through foggy psychic lenses, we still can see. Learning to discern the shapes, textures, and colors however, may take a lifetime or two. So I too smile and nod.

Yeah, keep looking. Sooner or later, the view will improve. Mine has. I can see now with so much more clarity once that I gave up knowing what was there. And now I can see clear enough to realize that I have no idea what I am looking at. Oh, but the view, it is marvelous!

Gravitational Lens
The image within the looking glass above is a photo of a gravitational lens.

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Sun, 01/22/2006 - 8:29pm.

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