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A Troll is ....
A few years ago, a particular elder in a particular tradition had some trouble. A person joined this elder's group
and caused a lot of trouble and a lot of pain. In the process of attempting to heal from this very painful situation
the elder in question came up with the idea of a 'troll'. This would be a person whose malign intent and machinations
would be the detriment of any group that admitted him or her. A scourge to the honest and upright folk of the Craft.
The problem I have with this is that such a definition also creates a very handy scapegoat. After all, it wasn't MY
fault, the troll did it. Whatever 'it'
was. Defining a troll means that the definer is the good guy. The
wounded party. Innocent. And of course, such a paragon of purity bears no responsibility for the harm done by malicious
trolls. If I sound cynical, it's because I am.
Now, all that being said, feel free to hit one of the links, read through the troll stuff and use it if you find it
useful. To me, there is too much of a lack of personal responsibility in my labeling someone else that way - I don't
like what it does to me. That doesn't mean it can't work for you. One caveat: the site in question has recently been
re-designed such that I cannot seem to find a link that will go to the particular section, so for now, all the links
lead to the "main page". Sorry about that.
So, anyway here goes:
Once upon a time in the land of purity
- Jack and the Troll
Once upon a time, there was a couple who so desired children that they were willing to raise a troll. Despite
warning signs such as violence, deceit and hostility, it never occured to them to simply ask the Troll to leave.
Apparently, according to this story, that sort of thing just doesn't occur to 'nice' people. I think that people
can be smarter than that.
- Evil Sif
This tells the story of a sweet and happy coven leader, and the troll-in-disguise come to destroy her beautiful
coven. Sif does some terrible things. First she makes suggestions that the coven leader doesn't really think will
fit into the coven's practice. The coven leader ignores this opportunity to show some leadership and center a class
or at least a discussion or two around what symbology the coven uses. As later events will show, not everyone in the
coven is on the same page. Why not? Hmmm maybe that coven-wide discussion of symbolism was needed.
Might it reflect the same sort of mentality that the coven leader had when she
wanted these discussions 'kept private'? After Sif discusses things with some of the other coveners, the leader agrees
to 'try' some of these new things. What I don't understand is why. They really don't fit. Not surprisingly, there is
more confusion, less effectiveness in ritual. The coven leadership is off balance.
Granted, I think that Sif's suggestions were not appropriate to the coven she was in. However I do think that there
might well have been a benefit to discussing them openly and bluntly. The coven leader's attempts at damage control
only make things worse. Instead of opening up discussion, explaining things, soliciting feedback, it's all about trying
to "find out what's going on". Instead of maintaining a connection to the divine, the coven leader wonders what
others will think. This is no way to run a coven. For that matter it's no way to run a life.
Was Sif a troll? Maybe. It looks to me like her questions pointed up an ongoing communication problem - that could have
been a good opportunity. A question that I ask is did the coven leader handle this situation in a way that
expressed love and grace? Or at least honesty. Or at least not someone that dwells in fear of other people's
- Definitions and excuses
One thing this section does very well, if someone backwardly, is to point out some important and sometimes overlooked
aspects that can keep a coven running in a healthy manner. I'll address them point by point.
- A little fish in a big pond
My personal name for this is "High Preistess disease" since I see it quite a lot in female coven leaders, many of whom
actually have male partners. The easiest cure for it is to divy up the power. In our group, I'm the congress. I run
things. I call the shots. I lead the war party to war. My partner has only one power, and that is to give or withhold
his support. I'm the engine, he's the gas. Without his support, the coven doesn't run. If for some reason I was
clueless enough not to notice his lack of support, well, let's just imagine a vehicle suddenly running out of fuel.
Probably best it it wasn't being driven at the time.
- Distrust of Authority
Because any person in my coven has to choose to be there, there is something at play here that I better not forget.
I have to earn my group's respect. My people are here because my service to them is useful. When it's not, or
it's not what they need any longer, they leave.
- Checks and balances ... also known as communication skills
Many traditions do have formalized rules pertaining to fair treatment during difficult times. Those that don't, probably
still have an elder or two, whose advice can be sought. In any case, the biggest, most useful tool is communication.
What would have happened in the Sif story if the coven leader had used the first "Native American Symbolism" request
to start a discussion, or even a series of discussions on what symbolism her coven used, and more importantly, why.
- No Elder's Councils
Well, in these days of internet access, it's difficult to imagine a group that had no recourse at all to other Craft
elders or feedback. But say there was. If it's my group, and I can't solve the problem, I can eject people. I can
close down the group. Or they might well vote with their feet. Of course the better I am at facilitating actual
communication the less likely all this will be needed - but it's good to know it's there.
- Tolerance as a Synonym for idiocy
This goes back to the first Troll story. If someone is so 'different' that they are incapable of recognizing it when
they lie - and this has actually happened to me - then I decline to teach them.
- Personal Growth AKA Ignoring Actions
I once had a very capable, smart, friendly, charming and good looking (yes, he really was all that) man as a
pre-initiate. As it turned out, he was also an alcoholic, and he fell off the wagon, hard, while in pagan training.
My reaction was simple. He leaves. After a year and a day of sobriety, he would be welcomed back. Problem solved.
Would I kick someone out who "promised to work on things"? Sure. I'm running a coven, not a halfway house or a
therapy session. Work on what you need to work on. Come back when you can work on Craft.
The final point on the page is crucial. Actions - it's all about actions. I make choices as to who may participate in
my group based on how they act. They make choices about staying or leaving based on how I act. For me to ignore
either side of that equation is foolish at best, selfish and arrogant at worst. I want to bring my best to my Craft.
- So what is a Troll actually like?
Ah, I'm working on this one. First off, look in the mirror to address any problems. The quickie version of this is
- Your only mistake was trusting too much
- You settle problems by prohibiting certain conversations
- You break promises - but that's okay since you aknowledge it
Then you have some problems. However you probably aren't ready to look at them yet.
This has potential as a checklist for coven leaders. I'm inspired:
- Do you have a lot of enemies? Have people regularly left your group?
- Do you restrict the veiwpoints presented to your students? Have you ever told members of your group to NOT
discuss their opinions or interpetations? Now, granted I think it's a good idea to give people some space when they are
new to a group or to a degree and not just crush them under the weight of everyne else's opinion. So here I'm refering
to an attempt to control or restrict interpetations, not just give folks space to explore.
- Gossip. When conversation flows to other people in the Craft; is what comes out of your mouth positive or
negative? What proportion?
- Real Life and Coven Life. How much do you share with people? How respectful are you of their comfort levels.
How able are you to say "I need more" or "that was too much information".
- Credit where it's due. Do you take responsibility for the rules you make? The ones you choose to enforce? The
ones you choose NOT to enforce?
- Past Lives. Do you feel that you've "known these people before"? Does it change how you expect to treat them? Does
it change how you expect them to treat you? Do you play favorites because some people are just "naturally closer"
- Suck up stuff. Do you act differently if you "really want them to like you"? Do you forgive folks who apologize profusely?
- Greater and lesser Trolls
This page offers some thought provoking examples of miscommunication. For that reason I like it. Of course, there are also some
things that I find not so useful.
- Follower Trolls.
Well, I do agree there are people who are damaged in a way that makes them 'hangers-on' of really nasty
types. I recently re-watched the long version of Lord Of The Rings, and Wyrmtongue comes to mind here. I also think
that sometimes when more than one person leaves a group, it can be a signal that something is wrong with the
group, and not just with the
people leaving it.
- Sociopathic Trolls.
If an actual sociopath is in my coven for more than about 15 minutes, then I have a real problem with
my ability to screen folks. Hopefully I can find some help or good advice.
- Psychotic Trolls.
This actually describes someone I worked with. He really truly could not tell when he was telling a lie. Since
my ability to detect lies - such as it is - is based on picking up stuff like 'does the speaker buy into what he's saying'; this was
NOT a safe person to have in my group. So I declined to teach him.
- Psychotic Trolls, part II.
On the other hand, I've also had problems with multiple people who would tell me that they KNEW what
I meant, and blithly not be able to hear or accept my version of what was going on in my own head. These are not
people who I can have
a relationship with, because whatever they are having the relationship with, it's not actually me.
- Psychotic Trolls, part III.
The "Birthday thing". Charles T. Tart talks about a concept called consensus reality. It's another
way of saying that participation creates cultural norms and perceptions. Growing up, my family celebrated various events with food
and gifts. There was a certain code about the gifts, a certain minimum monetary value expected. People who didn't meet this minimum
standard were veiwed poorly, gossiped about and generally seen as lesser. Not all families work that way. Mine did. However they also
denied it. After all, no one HAS to give a gift, right? So when I'm leading a group, and people want to celebrate in a gifty way,
I'm careful to do my best to limit things and lower expectations. Maybe I'm a party pooper. Maybe my past issues are
coming up. So maybe I could look more closely at this example.
What were the actual issues in the "Birthday Party" scenario?
- The Coven held birthday parties. Yes, I'm nit picking. "The coven" is run by leaders. It is the leaders, not
that are choosing to hold, arrange, facilitate, organize and set paramaters for said parties.
- Since they were birthday parties, presents were given. Sounds like an expectation to me, but note the word
expected is not overtly present in this sentance.
Is there reallyan expectation? According to Tart, consensus reality as defined by the history and participation and perceptions
of the members would be able to answer this. But if it's not overtly defined, then what covert definition is being
- How expensive is expensive? In my family of origin, average price for a birthday or holiday gift was about 20$; and
this was about twenty years ago. Some might consider that expensive. Some might not. If we don't discuss it, with
numbers included in the discussion, we may not know exactly what the other person means.
- The coven leaders recognized that not everyone always had enough disposable cash available. How much is enough? How
did these leaders recognize this? Overt conversation? Discussions? If they were the same sort of leaders who would do
behind the scenes damage control with Sif, probably it wasn't openly discussed. Could it have been?
- What is really being asked here? Were the coveners feeling ashamed of their financial situation? Were the leaders
unwilling to spell out their social expectations of coven members? What is going on, and how would we know or
- Combination Trolls
- The text mentions that "itís not as important to pigeonhole the various types as it is to understand the forces
driving them." I disagree. If someone is being disruptive in my coven, it's more important for me to deal with it, to
act, rather than to "understand" them.
- The text says "Trolls have serious emotional problems, problems which you as a Coven Leader are probably not
qualified to solve, unless you have a great deal of training in counseling." I think this doesn't go far enough.
even if I am qualified to counsel, that is not my role as a coven leader. As a coven leader, if someone's
emotional or other issues mean they cannot function non-disruptively in my coven, then my action is simple.
Show them the door.
- The conclusion of the combination troll bit has this to say: Itís important to understand all this, because
you need to treat trolls in a way differently from how you treat healthy people, and in a way very differently from
how we, as Pagans, really want to treat each other. I disagree. I evaluate the actions of people, and respond
accordingly and appropriately. If someone hugs me, I will respond to that differently than if someone tries to mug
me - but in both cases, the response will be what I consider "appropriate".
- Ah, the nature of troll attacks.
Now we get to the meat of it. Maybe.
Ah, the nature of troll attacks.
Now we get to the meat of it. Maybe.
- The first style of attack is described as follows: "the most basic form of troll attack is unhealthy and
unwarranted criticism, usually directed toward a Coven Leader or other respected Elder." Tricky. If I criticise,
is it automatically a camouflaged trollish attack? How do I know the difference? How do you?
- Quality of the Leader's resonseThe article mentions that if said leader/elder responds negatively, this can be "used" by the troll in
further attacks. Which reminds me of a quote I've heard attributed to the bible: "each gives what he has". If
I, as a coven leader, am responding "negatively" to attacks - then I have a problem.
- The article uses inflammatory and repetitive language to make the point that some attacks aren't reasonable.
For me, if a person is not being reasonable, then I as the coven leader need to make sure they 1-change their behaviour
or 2-leave. It may be useful to talk things over in a group and see who does or does not share my perceptions. I
can learn from that.
- Trolls disctracting folks "For instance, if you go on a Coven outing to meditate
in a forest, a troll might invite a few of the junior members to join together for a swim, leaving you to either
be abandoned or to seem unreasonably hard-nosed." If I plan a coven outing in the wilderness and don't leave time
at the beginning to explore, swim or otherwise relax, I'm not taking human nature into account. All of the
people in my coven are human. I might want to remember that.
- The article talks about trolls being selfish, and uses the example of reluctance to participate in a potluck.
Well, like the birthday party issue, this may be about money. I know some folks that have gone through times of
Ramen noodles being pretty much what they ate. I know others on extreemely restricted diets who pretty much
wouldn't be able to eat anything at such an event. As a coven leader it's up to me to 1-create enough trust between me
and my people that they could discuss these issues and 2-be intelligent, creative or receptive to finding a way to
deal with them successfully and respectfully.
- Gossip by any other name "To prove youíre not unethical, youíll be tempted to promise to "stop
spreading rumors" about the troll. This is a particularly insidious strategy. Itís an attempt to prevent you from
sharing information concerning this troll with other people" That's about the fanciest justification I've ever heard
gossiping behind people's backs.
- Self-Examination As the end of this section points out, the ability to look at one's self is indeed an
important skill for a healthy person to regularly use. Of course the next sentance assures us that we really don't
need to use that skill when dealing with troll attacks. 'Cause they are bad guys.
- Allegedly Profound observation #1: "the desire to be respected and acknowledged is not necessarily unhealthy. In fact,
it's a pretty basic human need. But in trolls, this need manifests in very unhealthy ways. To a troll, any form of
attention Ė even anger or fear or hatred Ė seems better than no attention at all."
Er...the problem with that is that it applies to all humans. Try taking any basic psych class; or better yet take a semester
of abnormal psych and come to grips with why people will stay in very horrible situations. Okay, so most of the time it
doesn't really apply, since most people can get the attention and energy they need from others in healthy ways. And if the
person is being any sort of jerk - well, as Dan Savage might say: DTMFA.
- Allegedly Profound Observation #2: "To a troll, reality has very little objective meaning. What matters, perhaps to
the exclusion of all else, is the troll's perception of reality"
- Allegedly Profound Observation #3:
This section still in progress... e-mail me if you really need to see more (and if you made it this far, I'm shocked.
Shocked, I tell you).
- i i
- k k
- l l
- o o