Three Styles of Religious/Spiritual Leadership

Over the years I have seen several different styles of leadership within religious and spiritual organizations.  I’ve broken these down into 3 main categories which I will list here, each illustrated by a Tarot card.  Not everybody will fit neatly into these categories as most of us are a mixture of different leadership styles.  However a person will tend to favor one style over another, especially during times of stress in which a person will suddenly “default” to their main category setting.  Here then are the three main leadership styles that I see in most religious/spiritual organizations.

The King.

The King/Queen is all about power and keeping order.  A leader operating out of the mindset of the King/Queen will have no problems making their authority felt.  Indeed they may rather enjoy making their power felt.  Anyone crossing this kind of leader will be in for a hard time.  I have seen leaders who fall into this category treat their followers like children and berate them publicly without regard.  They lay down the law with no concern over who in the organization may be hurt, so long as it protects themselves and their organization as a whole.  A person operating out of this mindset will not be the most self reflective sort.  Instead they will be quick to point the finger of blame at other people, even when it turns out they themselves share at least some of the blame.  Would be reformers who come up against this type of a leader had better be prepared to fight to the figurative death if needed, because the King/Queen will have no problem screaming “Off with his head!” when it comes down to it.  The King/Queen is more concerned with property and titles than they are with people and is the least spiritual type of leader you will see in any religious organization.  This style of leadership is best symbolized in Tarot terms by the King or Queen of Swords reversed.

The Priest.

The Priest (here symbolized by the Pope card) is decidedly more spiritual than the King, but is still pretty much concerned about maintaining power and control and can be obsessed by money and material matters as well.  The Priest is all about conventional structures and religious traditions.  The Priest will favor structure and tradition over new ideas or innovative solutions to problems.  Like the King, the Priest too will make his/her power felt when things come down to it.  But the Priest will be far more likely to step out of the way and sacrifice himself/herself for the greater good of the institution.  The Priest has the powers of self reflection that the King often lacks and will be more likely to admit fault and accept blame when it is appropriate to do so.  Whereas the King considers himself/herself to be the highest authority within the organization, the Priest places himself/herself under the control of the God/dess of their understanding.  And, if they feel they are  wrong in any given situation, they will be far more likely to admit it and make amends.

The Shaman.

The Shaman (here represented by The Hermit card) is the most Spiritual leader of them all.  He/she is also the most unpredictable leader of all.  The Shaman does not take his/her orders from the institutions or from the traditions of humanity.  Rather The Shaman is directed by the Realm of Spirit, and if the directives of Spirit come into conflict with the world of human rules and regulations, then so be it.  The Shaman will come down on the side of Spirit no matter how difficult it may be or how ridiculous  it may seem to others.  Think of the Prophets of old who flew in the face of social norms in order to make an important point.  This is the way of the Shaman.  The Shaman learns from the world of Spirit, and will carry out the instructions of Spirit to the best of his/her understanding.  If the Spirit wills for the community to carry on the way it has for decades, that will be the way the Shaman directs.  But if the Shaman believes a radical departure from normal activities is what the Spirit wills, then the Shaman will be the first one to begin burning the old structures down and building up new ones.  Not to say the Shaman is always the revolutionary.  Far from it.  In some communities Shaman have maintained structures that have lasted for thousands of years.  But when Spirit says it is time for a change, then the Shaman will come across as the radical.  In Western societies we tend to favor the leadership style of the King and the Priest.  The role of the Shaman is usually regarded with great suspicion, and Shamanic like leaders generally find themselves persecuted by their more conservative peers.  Yet the Shaman is invaluable in reminding the faithful of any organization what it is like to be truly led by the Spirit.

Each of these leadership styles has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.  Plus there is more to their individual personalities than what I have detailed here.  This is just a rough sketch of each leadership type, and most actual leaders will exhibit qualities of at least two and perhaps all three of these categories.  In closing I would also like to add that one leadership style is not necessarily better or worse than the other.  In actual practice we need a blend of all three leadership types in order to protect, defend and reform our religious and Spiritual organizations.  In a perfect world The King, The Priest and The Shaman would work together and learn from one another for the good of their community.  But, in an imperfect world such as the one in which we currently live, there tends to be an awful lot of fighting  and fussing between them.  Hopefully, in the end, all will work out as it should.


The cards used to illustrate this post are taken from The Tarot of Marseilles.  You can order this deck or others by clicking the link below:

Tarot Cards From Amazon