How to Spot a Toxic Leader

This post was originally written by me and posted on the Council of Witches FB Community page June 11, 2019.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”


While social media has made it easier to find teachers of the occult, and rub elbows with authors online, it is important to recognize the signs of a toxic leader before putting yourself in a situation where they have authority over you.
Follow their online footprint. Watch how they treat others and make an informed decision about who you want to learn from.

  • Arrogant demeanor. These people are quick to remind you about their accomplishments, their books, and any titles or offices they hold. While only a minor red flag, it is unbecoming in someone claiming to be a spiritual leader and truly powerful people usually don’t feel the need to constantly remind others how powerful they are.
  • Knows it all. Toxic leaders are sure they are always right. This may sometimes be hard to distinguish from someone who is knowledgeable in their field though, so keep an eye out for folks who claim to have all the answers. Folks that claim to have settled a topic definitively after coming up with a single hypothesis, pretending that their work is the definitive authority on a subject, and especially the willingness to speak authoritatively on subjects outside their field are some major red flags. They are shameless, being unfamiliar with a subject one day and writing authoritative articles the very next day.
  • Unquestionable. Asking about their practices, methods, or results makes them defensive and confrontational. They will respond by using contempt to belittle and shame the questioner, who is usually someone they perceive as inferior. This creates an environment where members are unable to speak freely without fear of negative consequences. In an online community this often manifests with the leader removing dissenters from the group.
  • Absolutism. Being unquestionable is often combined with absolutism, where the leader assumes an attitude of “this is how it is” on topics that have plenty of room for differences of interpretation. While they may say they welcome questions, in reality they only accept debate from people they personally consider worthy or with whom they are trying to curry favor.
  • Hypocrisy. Toxic leaders often hold others to high standards without applying those same standards to themselves. This may come from a sense of personal superiority, born from overestimation of their own abilities. Also watch for equivocation and word games as they try to judge without being judged.
  • Narcissism. Look for the narcissism in your prospective leaders. Do they require constant praise and affirmation? Are they quick to change the narrative of a story to paint them in the best light? Sometimes a leader does have to take action to keep the peace of the group. Do they treat it as an unpleasant task, or do they gloat about it and seek praise?
  • Shilling. While many folks in the occult community sell services, write books, and teach, it can be toxic when combined with the red flags above. Their full online presence becomes a way to hawk their own business. This is fed by the above red flags, and they see themselves as one of the elite few “doing it right.” They engage in gatekeeping, and won’t hesitate to tell you how difficult something is and waving you away from self study, unless it is to their classes or books.

While this is not an exhaustive list, I hope it helps people steer clear of toxic groups and toxic group leaders. Remember, there may be a lot of people who speak well of these toxic leaders. That is often because they only show their true colors to people they think are inferior, or who can’t benefit them.

Good luck on your journey.

A. Chicosky

Alison Chicosky
Author: Alison Chicosky

Alison Chicosky is a scholar and practitioner of a variety of forms of thaumaturgy with a focus on results-based magic. While especially interested in both Solomonic magic and the Graeco-Egyptian magic of the Greek Magical Papyri, she is also well versed in soul-flight and psychic magic of various kinds. The founder and force behind Practical Occult (, she strives to provide pentacles and other enchanted items drawn from a broad background of rigorously studied ancient arts, leveraging the systems of the past for practical modern use.