Dreaming Of Reluctant Leadership?

Nov 04

A Bed Time Story, From Paths often come with confusing directions. Or no directions.
The Fortune Teller’s Tent*

Once upon a time, a much younger Fortune Teller (who had not yet learned the wisdom of hiding behind fictional characters) found herself on a rather poorly marked spiritual path. There were many brambles and forky twists in the road, and the Fortune Teller was afraid she would lose her way.

She thought it would be nice to have few more landmarks and maybe a map (not to mention a few less brambles).

So she sought out others who were on a similar path, others with experience and knowledge and hedge clippers.

And she found them!

But the Others didn’t offer her a map. They didn’t have a compass either, and worse? They didn’t really appear to be *doing* much of anything.

They just sort of milled around, muttering about moss and North and trees, and the spiritual infusionality of non-existant sorts of energy.  It appeared that they were building a sort of  compound on the crossroads of the path, but without any method or plan.

The whole thing looked  very haphazard and Dr.Suess-ish, made mostly out of bits and pieces apparently stolen from nearby towns and trash piles.

And when she approached them, the Others shocked the young Fortune Teller, by immediately turning to *her* for their own direction and guidance!

Flustered, but moved by their need, she did her best to help out where she could, telling herself that it was only for a few days… then weeks… then months. Slowly, she helped shore up their community, taught them how to brace the walls of their mismashed homes-of-belief (so that they didn’t topple under their own weight). She even told a fortune or two, here and there, where it seemed appropriate.

Then ’round about a year later…

It all went horribly wrong.

A few of the Others began referring to her as their “spiritual leader,” which gave her a case of the blithering-wonkers.

(If you don’t know what the blithering-wonkers are, I can’t really enlighten you. I can only assure you that they are indeed very blithering, and quite wonkers.)

Now, she didn’t much care for being called a “spiritual leader”, and she was certain that the “g-word” (guru) wouldn’t be far behind. Images of airports, flowers, and red Kool-Aid floated through her head, and her ego was horrified rather than flattered by the prospect of “followers”.

She’d embarked on this trip in hopes of guidance and a sense of center for her own life, not so she could play at being a guru-ess, and she had no intention whatsoever of taking responsibility for other people’s spiritual goof ups onto her shoulders.

Besides, she’d look terrible in saffron robes. Totally wrong for her complexion.

She was…




And she was frightened to within a hair’s breath of catatonia, without the comfort of the cats.

So the Fortune Teller threw a very public temper-tantrum-hissy-fit, and made her position quite clear: She was not their leader, she was not their teacher, and they were to immediately stop giving people the impression that she was anything of the sort.

She brought her point home by stamping her feet repeatedly, and offering up her current behavior as supporting evidence of her unsuitability.

After all, real spiritual leaders don’t go around throwing temper-tantrum hissy fits, right? Right!?

This is a sheep. You can tell, because it is wooly, and says "Baa". But the Others wouldn’t drop it. And one woman in particular? She started bleating, loudly, that the Fortune Teller *was* the leader, and she was going to follow, and that she’d damn well better get used to it!

The rest of the group took up the cry, and soon the forest path was filled with calls of “Our Leader, our Shepard!” and “Do not abandon us in our hour of need!” and “Where are the cookies? Will they be shaped like ponies!?”

Hearing this, the young Fortune teller plopped down where she was, and cried.

“How had this happened?” she sniffled to herself. “One minute, I was blundering along a bramble filled path, and the next, I was being shoved into a leadership role by a bossy, self-declared sheep! It’s down right disrespectful, it is!”

But it wasn’t the bizarre, backwards sort of disrespect of calling her their spiritual leader, and yet refusing to listen to her, which troubled her – it was her own fears of responsibility and failure.

What if she led them down the wrong path?

What if she was mistaken in her ideas? What if they misunderstood her intent, if she mispoke, if they got MORE lost, because of her?

So she fretted and fussed until her guts were in a knot and beyond, until well after 3 am or so.  (You see, back then, her preferred form of devotional prayer was the ritualized twisting and knotting of internal organs. In case you’re wondering? She no longer recommends the technique, and has mostly discontinued the practice in favor of more ordinary anxiety attacks. It’s saved her a fortune in antacids.)

Eventually, she drifted into a pseudo-sleep with the help of a grocery-store-bargain-paperback rescued from the trash pile of the not-really-a-compound-at-the-crossroads-compound.

A supporting character in the novel was an absurdly stereotypical Hasidic Jew. He sleuthed through the chapters in orthodox clothing (hat, underwear and all), liberal sprinklings of Yiddish accenting his conversations, then he sleuthed into her dreams.

“Oy, vey!!” came the voice in the Fortune Teller’s head.

“Always the nervous khalere!”  (She knew, from the book, that “nervous khalere” meant, roughly, that she was a blithering, wonkified wreck.)

A broad, bearded face appeared out of nowhere, nodding back and forth as if to say Tsk, Tsk, it’s movements accentuated by the a wide brimmed hat.

Lead like a Goat. A Goat, with a bell. “Do not be such a meshugeneh!(madwoman) Lead like a GOAT!”

At the word “goat”, the face pop-POPPED! out of existence, only to be replaced by an image of a carousel goat, as sharp as if it had been plucked straight from a stock photo service.

It was carved in intricate detail, each curve of his curly coat gleaming, a blue ribbon and gold bell around his neck. Slowly, one corner of the image began to curl, and it was handed to the Fortune teller out of her dream, as if it were a page torn from a book.

The voice rang out again, “Gai shoyn, gai! (now don’t be silly, scram!)” The dream vanished with an audible *BANG* and, then she was wide awake.

“Lead like a goat!! Of course!” Comforted, the young Fortune teller tucked the image of the bellwether deeply into her mind, snuggled back into her pillows, and drifted into a deep sleep, accompanied by the purring cats of catatonia.

The End.

*This previously published in a slightly different form on MindTweaks, ’round about 2007ish, and told in multiple ways before that. In other words? This is one of my go-to tales. So if you’ve heard it before? Deal with it. If this was your first exposure? Expect to hear it again.

There is a moral and meaning to this story, but I’d love to hear what you take away from the poor, tortured ‘Teller’s tale.  Share? Pretty please? Don’t make me beg!


  1. *head tilt*

    Lead like a goat?

    But… Goats are stubborn and ornery and (pardon the phrase) pig-headed. They do what they want and seem to tell others to go to the devil if there’s an issue. They also have a habit of getting their heads stuck in fencing and freaking out young owners.

    Then again, maybe there’s something to it? (The doing what you want thing, not the head stuck in the fence thing.) If you do what’s right for you, that’s the best you or anyone can do. If people choose to follow you, or do what you do, that’s just as much their right as it is for you to completely ignore them.

    Though, to that end, leading like a goat wouldn’t be leading at all.

    Granted, all of this could be highly influenced by my current concentration on the Queen of Swords Tarot card right now.

  2. I loved it. Your descriptions are vivid and whimsical; that’s something I’m working toward myself. I certainly do understand the blithering wonkers 🙂

    Now, this is a true (at the kernel) story, yes?

    There are lots of stories, proverbs and parables about sheep and goats and the differences. I’ll spare the geeky boring discourse on that and just add this:

    Goats are led; Sheep are driven

  3. Kellie Walker /


    Goats don’t lead. They go where they want to go. If someone follows, that is their choice. So, to lead like a goat, you just go where you want to go. If others follow you, that is their choice vs. your responsibility.

    The moral of the story for me is that many leaders are not really “leading” and would not choose to do so. The decision/designation is made by the followers.

  4. Lead like a goat? Hein?

    I was all nodding along before the Hasidic Jew and the goat showed up. Now I’m confused.

    All I know about goats is that they headbutt things and eat everything. And they’re good with rocks and mountains. And they have creepy knees. Yeah, I got nothing.

    Only that self-declared sheep might not be worth leading, even if you can figure out how. Just scamper further up the rocks and they’ll leave you alone.

  5. Tori Deaux /

    Oh, thank you all *so* much!

    I’ll reveal what this means to me tomorrow (in case there are are a few more replies left to show up)but your comments are really helping me find weak spots.

    I will say this much: the story is largely autobiographical, minus the actual compound and what not. I really did torture myself over people wanting to look to me for answers, I really did have that wacky dream, and it really did resolve things for me.

    And though I’ve shared the story many times, it’s the first time I’ve ever put it in third person, so that it’s not-obviously-about-me.

    After your comments, I think the symbolism needs some tightening up to be in 3rd person. If a reader knows I’m talking about an actual dream I had, no one blinks about a Hasidic Jew popping into the dreams of a Texas girl. It’s just a dream, and dreams are weird.

    But if it’s going to be fictionalized, the resolution and the guru-voice-in-her-head needs to make some sort of more obvious sense.

    I’m just so darn excited about getting useful feedback. Ya’ll rock.

  6. Tori Deaux /

    A little later than promised, thanks to a blinding headache (maybe too much goat-inspired head butting?) but… here’s what I took from the dream imagery.

    Lead like a goat – go where you will, and if anyone follows, it’s their problem. (If my head didn’t hurt, I’d say that much more prettily, you know)

    The goat wore a bell around its neck, suggesting that it was a bellwether, an influencer of the flock, but not with the level of responsibility of a Shepard or even a sheepdog.

    The goat goes where it wants to, and does what it needs to. The sheep often follow (and the Shepard and sheep dog may find the sheep by following the sound of the bellwether’s tinkling bell) but the goat really can’t be said to be responsible for the sheep.

    That’s what provided the relief from the tension and pressure. With that image in my head, I could just do my thing, and if they insisted on following, that wasn’t my concern.

    That the image was of a carousel goat carved with flowers and ribbons suggested carefree innocence to me, and took away most of the less-flattering or even threatening associations we get with goats, including sacrificial scapegoats (although I always have been a bit nervous about that aspect, carousel or not!)

    As for Mr. Traditional Jewish advisor dude? He really did come from a book I’d fallen asleep reading. A Jewish girlfriend helped me with the words, because I didn’t remember them clearly (and probably didn’t get them right in the dream, either). I doubt that his Jewishness had much significance, other than that he seemed to me (Suburban Texas Girl that I am) a rather exotic spiritual figure from a tradition that values spiritual symbolism, and that the specific symbolism often involves goats in a the benevolent role of a provider than the more threatening way of some other traditions.

    And on another personal note, I’d also read “Hinds Feet In High Places”, a Christian allegory of a woman being given goats feet so she could climb the high rocky mountain paths to the Divine. That seemed somehow connected, in this dream, but in a not quite direct way.

    I think that as a third person fictionalized tale, it might work better if the Wise-Elder is of a less specific tradition.

    So Kellie, you were spot on.

    Scraps may be onto something extra with the head-stuck-in-the-fence thing, because I do sort of do that sometimes.

    Monette, because of this and another goat dream, I wound up looking at so many of the parables and stories, and that difference between sheep and goats I’m sure was in this too.

    And Willie? Shh…. don’t tell, but shortly after this I went hiking just so I could scamper up some big rocks, and look down disdainfully upon invisible, bleating sheep.

    Thank you all for your comments, they really did show me some bits that need to be worked on, changing this from a first person story-about-a-dream-that-doesnt-have-to-make-sense to a third-person-tale-that-really-should.

    (I do hope *this* makes sense. Ow. Head. I’m off to get Advil!)

  7. Kellie Walker /

    Very, very sorry about the headache. I hope it’s gone away and stays away!

    Thanks so much for the clarification re: what this all meant to you and for sharing so much of you with us!

    It makes perfect sense and, in my opinion, was very prettily said. 🙂

    Big hugs!

  8. Maureen /

    Don’t be so cylindrically silly m’dear. ALL leaders are reluctant. That is what makes them such good leaders.
    I didn’t put much significance in the goat image either. It was just a spirit guide anyway.

  9. Maureen /

    Don’t be so cylindrically silly m’dear. ALL leaders are reluctant. That is what makes them such good leaders.
    I didn’t put much significance in the goat image either. It was just a spirit guide anyway.
    I think I’m all imaged out from this poetry course I’m taking. Learning tons but sometimes I just like reading poetry cuz it feels good.
    Kind of like the stuff you write.

  10. RIchard /

    Cool story! I wondered why it sounded familiar too. Reminds me of Seals and Crofts, “Funny Little Man” in a way. ‘In his search for something to build, perhaps a church on the side of the hill, when rain comes, the hill will go sliding down, and will not hold. … When will he go up? Can time wait until, the funny little man can see beyond the hill?’

    Of sheeps and goats … I know not a thing. Thanks for the lessons. I was taught to “lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.” I’ve learned that management is to know which to do when. Oh, and that goats taste REALLY good.