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In essence, charisma involves the idea of a divinely inspired power or talent, and this notion is as old as mankind. The oldest surviving work of fiction, the Epic of Gilgamesh , tells of a warrior-king, part god and part man, who quests for the secret of eternal life. He has many adventures in the lands of the gods and even attains that which he seeks, only for it to turn out to be an illusion. Despite his divine gift and his numerous successes, in the end he dies a failure Heidel, ; Kopp, The Greek term is charizesthai and it means favour or gift of divine origin.

For Aristotle the megalopsychos was the great man who dared to live alone in secret worship of his own soul. Later usages derive from St Paul, who also saw charisma as a gift from God, although he had a much less heroic account of it:. To one there is given through the spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy.

Because the Christian use of the word has become so widespread, even being used to designate the variant of Pentecostal religion, it is instructive to examine what Paul originally intended. Three things are consistent throughout his writings. Second, there is much diversity of such gifts and, in addition to wisdom, knowledge, healing, miraculous powers and prophecy, Paul also lists service, teaching, encouraging, giving to others, leadership, being merciful, administration, and speaking in tongues as divinely bestowed gifts — and there is no suggestion that this is an exhaustive list.

In this, Paul foreshadows our modern usage in that he lists a number of talents that may be gifts from God and he allows for the possibility of there being many more such gifts.

What does charismatic mean?

These may not necessarily be associated with leadership, although he recognises that anyone with a prodigious talent may become a leader of sorts, be they male or female, old or young, healthy or sick. Many people, from mathematicians to Olympic gymnasts, possess extraordinary talents that seem quite uncanny, and often such people do become leaders, if only among the community they grew up in, although perhaps equally often they do not. Paul also allows that just as there are great gifts, so too there are more modest gifts, yet these also come from God and thus are in a lesser way also charismatic.

A good example of such a modest charismatic gift might be the man who never does anything extraordinary yet who manages to survive well. In difficult times anyone who has good work, a sound marriage and a happy healthy family will be looked to for leadership, be they merely the kindly family doctor, or a wise and compassionate grandparent. Another example might be the artist or master craftsman whose work carries a special aura of transcendence; we have all experienced feelings of awe and wonder when examining an exceptional piece of art or craftsmanship.

Sometimes we ourselves experience moments when others look to us in appreciation of our skills or knowledge as if these denote something great. Such quasi-charismatic sentiments — feelings of love and awe — are a normal reaction to apparently extraordinary people, including parents.

It seems that we are primed by nature to detect authority and substantiveness in others, for that is how we learn and progress, although our judgment may be mistaken at times. When a good actor pretends to have such attributes, or when the behaviours of a dangerous misfit coincide with what we expect wisdom and authority to look like, we might find ourselves giving our trust and faith to someone unworthy, with disastrous consequences.

Still, we must recognise that even such mistaken idealisations are variations on basically normal, healthy and realistic themes, including the need for loving parents, the quest for guides and supports, the search for wise and virtuous leaders, and the hope of transcendent meaning, all of which seem to be implicit in our make-up.

The most primitive form of charisma occurs in shamanism.

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This is the religion of the small tribal unit and the witch doctor. Typically he or she, for among the! Kung of the Kalahari, fully 10 per cent of women become shamans; Lindholm, , p. He or she shows peculiar behaviours from birth and experiences spirit possession, trance and epileptic seizures while still young. Such a youth is apprenticed to a senior shaman who trains him or her in occult practices. After hearing a call from a god or a spirit the trainee withdraws into the desert or the woods to meditate in solitude, often undergoing some kind of spiritual test such as a journey to the underworld.

This culminates in a spiritual rebirth from which the shaman emerges with an inner strength and uncanny sensitivity, emotional intensity and detachment; in sum — charisma. Transformed, the graduate shaman returns to the tribe to claim his or her place as tribal witchdoctor. He or she is able to explore sacred realms and to mediate with the spirit world on behalf of the tribe. Allied with this are the skills of psychopharmacology, healing and the mastery of trance states.

These enable the shaman to preside over the ceremonies, ritual functions and crises of the tribe. The shaman is unpredictable and fearless, holding office by virtue of his personal spiritual attainment and psychological voltage, and is credited by the tribe with mysterious and dangerous supernatural powers.

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It is this power that earns the shaman his place, for he is feared rather than loved. Another charismatic variant found in more complex societies is the prophet. In the Old Testament the prophet arose in a time of crisis, usually from among the people rather than the priesthood or the aristocracy, and he called the faithful back to the old ways by preaching a warning from God. In other societies prophets are also associated with crises, and they usually propose a solution that challenges the traditional and legal authorities.

Further, once a tribe or society has incorporated the Christian notion of the prophet into its beliefs, typically by taking up Christianity through missionary activity, it becomes able to generate new prophets in the image of Old Testament prophets; there are dozens of such figures in contemporary Africa.


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In more modern times, the niche of the prophet has enabled religious entrepreneurs from Asia to evangelise the West with Eastern religions. Nations usually only turn to them when the problem they are facing is especially acute, sometimes being prepared to risk grave danger by turning to an extremely unstable charismatic figure such as Adolf Hitler as their saviour. So compelling is such energised hopefulness that, in a crisis, the delirious dream of the epileptic child may take on totemic dimensions; the child being taken up by the group and worshipped as the saviour until the inevitable disappointment occurs, but this is not charisma in the sense intended in this book.

The great German sociologist Max Weber studied charisma and introduced the concept into sociology. Purists demand that charisma be defined as either a psychological trait or a construction by the group; would that things were always so neat. In contemporary society we all know of natural leaders, those gifted men and women who seem to have the golden touch.

They are confident, charming and popular, energetic and smart. They come to head countries, corporations, and religious and other groups. They are inspirational and seem to promise much, and they attract others whose aspiring hopes need a focus or a support. Yet despite their great talent, sometimes such figures do not have a very good record of sustained success. If they attain high office they may sabotage their own best efforts, as Bill Clinton did. If they head large corporations they may overreach and self-destruct through rash decision-making, as Thakshin Shinawatra of Thailand recently did.

If they lead a religious group there may be scandal or worse, as with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Sometimes the followers and associates of such personalities emerge scarred and disillusioned from their associations. As well, when we examine the personal lives of such individuals we find that often there are major inconsistencies, such as antisocial behaviour; emotional problems, such as alcoholism or depression; or there may be infidelity, or a reign of terror in the home.

It is as if the leader has one benign and successful face for their followers and another discordant, contradictory face for their private lives. They almost never have close friends. They tend to polarise people, evoking love and devotion among their followers, while generating hatred among critics and defectors. There is a paradox here that deserves explanation. A particular and recurring kind of personality — easily recognisable by such key traits as immense self-belief, enormous energy and great charm — who seems to be a natural leader and who rises to a position of dominance, turns out to be unstable and may end up hurting others or self-destructing, despite their expertise.

It is as if charisma involves some kind of psychological dysfunction.

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This is the charismatic personality, a combination of genius and madness, yet possessing an easy mastery for manipulating the hopes and fears of others. The charismatic leader may actually solve the problems, but there is always a risk because he has problems of his own, and sometimes he is not in great psychological shape.

Hence, many people have wondered if perhaps there is some mental illness that makes some disturbed people more, rather than less, likely to succeed in society. They wonder this because sometimes their leaders seem to behave so irrationally. To discover that indeed, there is such an illness, and that charismatic personalities embody the psychodrama of the masses, turns a curious scepticism into something much more worrying. To summarise, charisma means much more than mere popularity or infamy.

Charisma has existed at all times and places in various forms. It exists wherever there is a human relationship that feels extraordinary or even divine, and it is sharpest where leadership in crisis is involved. Its psychological origins lie in infancy and are based on a natural tendency to respond with love and awe to what is extraordinary, strong and benign.

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At other times, such feelings may be inspired by quite ordinary people doing apparently extraordinary things, to which we again respond with awe and love. But sometimes a particular kind of personality is involved, the kind of person who is attracted to problems and who feels entitled to lead others. We may not ourselves respond with feelings of awe and love to them, but we recognise that others do; to them they are charismatic. Thus, there are great and small variants of charisma, from the revolutionary call of the Messiah, to the winning ways of the new boss, to the sublime substantiveness of the craftsman; from the shaman to the religious reformer, and from the guru to the demagogue.

First and foremost he was incalculable. He ran true to no form. There lurked in every thought and word the ambush of the unexpected. I felt also that the impact of life, ideas, and even words upon his mind was not only vivid and immediate but also direct.


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Between him and them there was no shock absorber of vicarious thought or precedent gleaned either from books or other minds. His relationship with all experience was first-hand. The life of Winston Churchill shows the charismatic personality at its best. Despite a damaging childhood he went on to play a spectacular historic role that confirmed his boyhood dreams of heroism and greatness. Churchill was the grandson of a duke, and in the hierarchy of the British aristocracy a duke is beneath only the royal family. Thus Churchill, although he inherited no title, was raised within the uppermost social class.

This must be kept in mind because at least some of his ambition and sense of entitlement, and also his sense of duty, were quite normal for one so born to rule, or at least they were for many. Unfortunately, this was also a time of utter decadence and corruption within the ruling elite of Britain, or so it has to appear to anyone reading with a modern sensibility.

Her father was a corrupt and decadent American robber-baron whose customary diet was oysters and champagne, and Jennie received a cultured education, becoming an excellent pianist and finishing her schooling in Paris. Steered by her father towards the British aristocracy she married the untitled wastrel Randolph Churchill after they conceived Winston out of wedlock.

She later coached and led Randolph into a successful career in politics, writing his speeches for him and organising his campaigns. She took an early interest in criminal justice, and prison reform became a lifelong passion for her; later she influenced Winston in penal reform when he was a minister in government. Another of her admirers, the Earl of Falmouth, after she resisted him, raped her on her drawing-room floor, but she forgave him and treated him warmly for the rest of her life.

Jennie performed several major good works in her life, and engaged in several misadventures.


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  7. During the Boer War she funded and operated a hospital ship to care for wounded soldiers; later during World War I she funded and operated another medical facility for soldiers. She started a journal it soon failed , wrote and produced a play it too failed , launched a large-scale cultural festival it also failed , espoused animal rights, and was swindled by a conman out of a large amount of money, after which she was maintained by the rich banker Natty Rothschild partly in return for political favours. She published several books one of which purported to be autobiographical but was full of lies , and was the inspiration for several novels.

    She secured important positions for young Winston and later organised his political campaigns. She then married again, this time to an even younger man 24 years her junior.