my boss thinks he is a mayan shaman

A reader writes:

I took employment at a nonprofit as an economic researcher about seven months ago. Overall, I love my job and what I get to do and helping people, but there is one major issue: My boss, who is the founder and head of the organization, thinks he is a mayan shaman. I am not joking.

He spends crazy amounts of money (sometimes company money) to fund his “spiritual projects” and recently has been telling me to do ludicrous projects like comparing chakra colors in different cultures and staring at a candle to find a sacred angle. Seriously. I’ve been able to handle it just fine until now. He is getting crazier by the day and I don’t know how to handle it anymore because if I tell him anything, he will say the “darkness has possessed me” and then be uncommunicative when I need information.

What can I do? Is there anything, because I don’t want to quit my job but this is getting out of hand. He sends texts to us at the middle of the night with his “visions” and when one of our employees was pregnant he would call it the “christ child” and say that one quarter of the DNA must be his. I swear this is not a fake situation or question.

Shamans have to have day jobs, I guess.

And he’s welcome to believe he’s a shaman. Who knows, maybe he is. But the problem here is that he’s letting his spiritual beliefs interfere with work and apparently misusing the organization’s resources.

But I doubt there’s a lot you can do here. This is your boss, the head of the organization, and ultimately he’s calling the shots here. If you really wanted to try to get this addressed, you’d have two options: Talk to him directly, or talk to the board of directors.

If you talk to him directly, I’d say something like this: “Percival, I respect your religious beliefs, but I’m not comfortable discussing religion at work or being given religious assignments to work on. I was hired to do economic research and our organization isn’t religious in nature. Is there a way for us to work well together without bringing religion into it?” Ideally, you’d do this with a group of coworkers who feel the same as rather than on your own; it’s harder to ignore a group of employees than one lone one — but either way, it’s a reasonable thing to say.

That said, will it work? I doubt it. This is a guy who’s telling you that darkness has possessed you and claiming some sort of parentage over a quarter of an employee’s baby. In other words, probably not open to reasoned conversation on these topics.

So that leaves you with the second option: Talk to the board. Every nonprofit is required to have a board of directors that serves as its ultimate governing body and which is responsible for ensuring that the organization is well managed and fiscally sound. The board is basically this guy’s boss — even though he’s the founder and even though he’s in charge of day-to-day operations. He might have a seat on the board, but there are presumably other board members, which means that he can be outvoted.

The board would presumably want to know that the head of the organization is using resources to find sacred candle angles and freezing out employees when he thinks the darkness has possessed them.

But that said … unless you care passionately about this organization and want to take an active role in getting this situation straightened out, your better bet might be to leave. This isn’t likely to change overnight, there’s likely to be some tension if you go to the board, and — maybe most importantly — do you really trust this guy’s leadership, even if he cools it with the shamanism talk at work? I mean, let’s say that the board puts a stop to all the behavior you’ve written about, and it even happens quickly — you’re still going to be working at an organization led by a guy who thought all of this was reasonable to begin with. Is that the job you want?

In light of that, it might make sense to skip past all these steps and just start working on leaving.

(Alternately, maybe just embrace the whole thing and have him influence the spirit world in your favor. That could be useful too.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. TheExchequer*

    This is an amazing post, destined to live among the hall of fame where the black magic curses and 20 people in a conga line for an interview live.

    1. Amanda*

      As soon as I read the headline, my first thought was if there was a way to get the Mayan shaman and the black magic curse worker together…

    2. Stephanie*

      I’ve been out of town the last few days and not checking AAM regularly. I’m glad this was the first thing I saw upon my return.

  2. AMG*

    I wonder if he has family member/s that would want to know this so that they can help address what is almost certainly some type of mental illness. I also wonder if you could kill 2 birds with 1 stone by reporting it to the board, who may know his family and therefore may be able to have the appropriate discussion with them.

    1. Burlington*

      Eh, this is pretty close to actual new-agey-type religious stuff (chakras, crystals, auras, etc). My mom is totally on-board with all this stuff. And, like, she has depression issues but the religious stuff isn’t really impacted by them.

      Don’t get me wrong… I think all religions are crazy. But I don’t think people are likely to receive it well when you tell them/their family that you think they have a mental illness because they have a reasonably common set of religious beliefs. :)

      1. Bea W*

        My mother was totally on board with this stuff as well. She wasn’t psychotic or otherwise mentally ill. These were genuinely her spiritual beliefs…including her saying to her best friend she would visit after she died, but not right away to give her time to adjust. (Mom was terminally ill at the time and getting her affairs in order.) So the only part of the post that seemed totally weird to me was the baby thing. That’s a first for me!

        1. AMG*

          Again, I don’t believe it’s because of his religious persuasion, but the application that makes me wonder.

        2. Ann without an e*

          As many probably already know, I had a major manager claim full paternity the week I announced I was pregnant, and the only play he got outta me was a handshake when we met. As a joke of course…..because damaging your co-workers personal and professional reputation in a small town is hilarious. I’m still angry, OK fine I’m bitter, dare I say cervix hurt over it, get it…..sometimes I crack me up.

          OP on days like WTF Wednesday I chant. “You can’t predict crazy, and you can’t fix stupid.”
          “The thing about the crazy train is you don’t know your on one until its too late, then all you can do as get off at the next stop and hope you didn’t get off with any extra baggage.” ~ Melissa

          1. Pucksmuse*

            Ann, please tell me that someone reminded the manager that claiming paternity over a coworkers child was inappropriate and unprofessional at best. (And harassment if he did it often.)

            1. Ann without an e*

              I know I am responding rather late. Its an on going saga. I said something not nice and unprofessional to him, some one reported me to HR…..I told HR person what happened to provide context. Was sent home for three days, unpaid b/c maternity leave at up all my PTO. Came back and was given a letter explaining to me how everything is all my fault and I need to behave more professionally toward him and if I talk about it to anyone at the company ever I’ll get put on a PIP.

              His comment resulted in a raging rumor, how could it not, and I have been forbid from defending myself by telling people what really happened. The good news is that we have a new HR director, the bad news is that letter in my file is very misleading, as it does not mention the incident at all.

        3. yasmara*

          My conservative, Methodist mother is convinced that her mother has visited her several times after death…to me, the weird stuff is bringing it into the office, texting in the middle of the night, etc.

      2. StarGeezer*

        Chakras & crystals? No problem.

        Middle-of-the-night vision texts and claiming 1/4 parentage of a subordinate’s child? That’s into the realm of mental issues.

        1. Folklorist*

          I was wondering if the “he” in the 1/4 parentage was referencing Christ, not the boss. (Since the boss is calling the baby a “Christ Child”).

        2. AMT*

          Yep. Delusions often incorporate existing religious beliefs. If he were an evangelical Christian, his delusions might be about speaking to Jesus, or if he were a Muslim, he might be claiming to be the successor to Muhammad. A belief being religious in nature doesn’t rule out it also being a delusion, and calling this guy delusional doesn’t say anything about the validity of his belief system.

      3. INTP*

        But people who are into New Agey things don’t usually lose their sense of what is appropriate to say and do in a business setting this way. Thinking people who disagree are possessed and that he has magically helped sire an employee’s Christ-baby are pretty indicative of delusion, too. Mental illness sounds likely here (and I normally hate when people speculate that every odd/violent/difficult person must have a mental illness).

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I’ve got to agree with you here. It looks reasonable to me to think about the possibility of delusional behavior here.

          Along those lines, when we talk about potentially seeing mental illness (including eating disorders) in someone else, people often hear it like an accusation about that person, which sucks. When we suggest that a co-worker might have the flu, or some sort of infection, nobody thinks we’re accusing them – just making (potentially uneducated) observations. This is stigma about mental illness – that’s it. The fact that it’s so socially unacceptable to bring up the possibility of mental illness is part of the reason that more people don’t get treatment that would make their lives less stressful and more fulfilling.

          1. INTP*

            Agree with this, and I only see it being suggested as a possibility here. I don’t see anyone issuing a final diagnosis or anything. It’s a possibility that he’s just some bored asshat using all of this to entertain himself because he thinks he’s the founder so he can do what he wants. But given the situation (not the odd beliefs but the extreme defensiveness and rapid progression of them), mental illness is also a reasonable possibility to bring up. It’s not really coming out of left field here. Sometimes it’s totally unwarranted to bring up (i.e. people love to proclaim borderline or narcissistic personality disorders based on a few difficult traits) but this is not one of those times.

            1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              Yes. I agree that its a very reasinable thing to wonder about. My (perhaps poorly worded) point was that it is totally okay to wonder if it’s mental illness, and that speculating shouldn’t be seen as an accusation about the person. More like wondering if someone has chicken pox, less like wondering aloud if he’s a pedophile.

        2. Connie-Lynne*

          I hate to stereotype my town, but, I live in San Francisco and that sort of behavior, while not appropriate for the workplace, is not uncommon here. Certainly although it sounds outrageous, I honestly would not put it in the realm of mental issues immediately. Just someone who’s really earnest about their ridiculous spirituality and has a serious lack of boundaries.

          Real mental illness is rarely as entertaining as this guy. If it is mental illness, it’s probably more along the lines of having some kind of social awkwardness than schizophrenia, ie, he’s got the brain equivalent of mild allergies instead of a broken leg.

          1. Anonsie*

            I’m also from somewhere this is pretty common and I’m so on the fence here. My mom has a lot of great stories from when I was a kid, like one of my teachers contacting her to say she thought I was an indigo child (and now you all know my age!). She still lives there and recently saw an honest to god legitimate licensed physical therapist who held vials full of various crystals and herbs up to different parts of her body at the beginning of her appointment to find out where her energy was disrupted or something like that.

            I have both known people who were this invasive with their new-agey stuff and known people who were erratic and weird because there was something else wrong, so… I don’t think I could guess just from saying kooky stuff.

            1. Connie-Lynne*

              Oh my god, I remember when that whole Indigo child thing broke on the scene. I knew people who were otherwise super-proud of their “skeptic nature” bragging about how they must have been Indigo children.

              I thought my eyes were gonna roll right out of my head.

    2. Nerd Girl*

      Let’s not assume that he’s got a mental illness. There are people who have beliefs and behaviors that are radically different than those most people are comfortable with – Justin Bieber fans for example :) It doesn’t mean that they have a mental illness.
      That being said, I do think a discussion with the board is necessary. Allocating time, energy and funds into projects that aren’t directly related to the work at hand is something I’m sure they’d be most interested in.

        1. Kelly O*

          Congratulations, you just won the internet.

          Where shall we send the lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat?

      1. Ezri*

        Seconded on the mental illness thing. Let’s not mix up being super religious with a disorder. OP has plenty of business-impacting behaviors that can be addressed without telling the board her boss needs medical attention – that’s not really her call.

      2. Anon for this time*

        I agree we can’t assume, but most people who have unusual belief systems realize they will be perceived as unusual and maybe even crazy and adjust; I have a friend who lives a low impact lifestyle (one month of her garbage fits in a Ball jar and her whole house is literally the size of a large bathroom), and one of her standard conversations is the “No I’m not nuts and no I’m not judging you” talk. Granted, her lifestyle is ever so slightly more common than Mayan shamanism, but what makes me lean toward thinking a mental issue may be at play is his seeming assumption that other people won’t find this weird. If he had said something like “I know my beliefs aren’t exactly mainstream” at any point and refrained from doing things like publicly claiming parentage over his employee’s baby, OP would probably just think he was an odd duck and not be bothered by it. The same delusions that are presenting here could even be what gave him the courage to take the incredible leap of faith required to start a nonprofit. I’m not a doctor, but if this was my family member, I would be very concerned. Of course, DH’s boss shuts down any disagreement by claiming that demons have possessed the person who disagrees with her, and I don’t think she’s mentally ill, I just think she’s a horrible, manipulative person.

        1. C Average*

          I’ve had friends like this. They weren’t crazy (at least I don’t THINK they were crazy–IANAP), but I can only WISH they were as self-aware as your friend. They were very keen to spread their low-impact gospel to their circle of friends, eventually resulting in them not having a circle of friends anymore.

          1. Adonday Veeah*

            I’ve seen all manner of crazy get missed by a well-meaning and involved board. Just too easy to hide it from them.

          2. 2horseygirls*

            Especially if the founder/head has stocked the board with people he knows . . . birds of a feather and all.

      1. Artemesia*

        In my experience boards are of now value in reigning in founding CEOs — the guy founds the organization to let his crazy run wild and picks a board that let’s him do so.

      2. Chinook*

        “If the guy is a founder and head, the Board is probably well aware of his level of crazy.”

        They may be aware of his leanings but not that it has grown to include claiming partial parentage, midnight calls and the misuse of organizational funds to research sacred angles of candles (which I usually see as round items, so I don’t know how you could ever figure out which angle was the sacred one and which is the profane).

        I do agree though, that one can’t equate crazy beliefs with mental illness, though. (Which I am grateful for as, on paper, my religion openly practices a form of canibalism and is run by an old guy in a white hat in an ancient city who is elected by a bunch of old guys in red hats). But, the misuse of funds to support these beliefs and/or the implied insult of claiming partial parentage of an employee’s baby (does that mean she can claim child support?) absolutely crosses the line where the board needs to be updated.

      3. sunny-dee*

        Actually, they may not if the guy is mentally ill because it could be progressing. Like, he was totally normal 10 years ago when he set this up, and they just haven’t noticed the oddities in the once-yearly meetings (or whatever).

        On board with this — both mainstream and minor religions can seem odd to non-believers, but there is generally 1) a set of guiding principals (as opposed to crap someone makes up) and 2) an awareness that others believe differently or are outside the faith. This guy seems to have no concept of that and his behavior is erratic; if he believed he were anything but a Mayan shaman and doing the same things, I think it would be pretty apparent there was something wrong.

    3. AMG*

      I don’t believe he is mentally ill because of his religious beliefs. I believe he is mentally ill because of the way he treating them as work projects. This is not stable and even if he isn’t mentally ill, he needs an evaluation before his behavior has serious negative impacts.

      1. Melissa*

        Lots of not mentally ill people do all kinds of weird things with company time and money. The fact that he believes in New Age religious stuff sincerely does not mean he’s mentally ill. The fact that he asks his employees to work on it doesn’t mean he’s mentally ill, either. There’s nothing in the original post suggesting that he’s unstable.

        Most hallucinations and delusions (in the actually quite uncommon psychotic disorders) don’t manifest themselves as new-age type stuff. They manifest themselves as relatively normal things, sometimes with a slightly weird twist; the problem is not that they are weird, but that they are not there. The other thing is that by and large people with psychosis realize that their delusions and hallucinations are not real, especially if they are medicated or otherwise getting treatment (and even often when they do not). The fact that they are not real doesn’t make them any less terrifying, though.

        1. Zillah*

          Yeah, exactly. The boss is acting really weird, but I think it’s important to avoid speculating about mental illness just because someone is acting really weird.

      2. Colette*

        The part that stands out to me is that he’s getting worse – i.e. the behavior is changing, and in somewhat erratic ways (he believes that 1/4 of the DNA in an employee’s child is his?) . That would be worth bringing up to his family, if the OP knew them.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Good point. Part of the issue is if this is a sudden, drastic change for him, especially a personality change, it could indicate a physical disease causing psychological symptoms, like Pick’s Disease or another frontal lobe dementia, or adult-onset schizophrenia. I’m not armchair-diagnosing, I’m saying that if you see a sudden, drastic change in someone’s personality or behavior that it’s worth trying to get them to see an MD, preferably with a specialty in psychiatry.

        2. INTP*

          Yes. It’s a combination of the lack of awareness of what might be abnormal, the rationalization that anyone disagreeing with him is just possessed, and the fact that it’s progressing rapidly. Maybe he’s just a bored ass who figures he can do and say whatever because he’s the boss but suspicions of mental illness aren’t irrational here.

        3. stellanor*

          At the end of the day I’m not sure it matters one way or the other if he’s mentally ill or just has some really unusual spiritual beliefs. Either way the way it’s starting to impinge on the workplace means someone needs to hit the emergency eject button. AAM is right, OP needs to decide whether it’s worth taking this to the board or whether she should start quietly planning her escape.

        4. A Non*

          The letter did say the OP’s only been there seven months – unless they have confirmation from other employees that the situation is getting worse, it’s also possible that the boss is just revealing his nuttyness slowly to the new employee.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I think it’s appropriate to alert the board, but I think it would best be framed as what is impacting the company. Once you pass it on, let them deal with it.

      And I’d be looking so hard for a new job. This is crap. It’s as bad as if he were asking employees to stuff envelopes for his church and saying that they were going to hell because they didn’t tithe or something.

    5. A Non*

      If the board members have a longer relationship with this guy I would leave any suggestions of mental illness to them. Assuming they’re normal responsible human beings (which is kind of a big assumption, sadly) they’re much better placed to know the severity of the situation and/or how to address it. The LW doesn’t even need to bring up the possibility of mental illness. It makes zero differences to her exit strategy whether it’s illness or an uncommon belief system + horrid boundaries.

  3. NotMyRealName*

    I know WTF Wednesday is not an actual thing, but wow, that’s right up there with the employee placing curses on her co-workers and supervisor.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      I was coming here to say the same thing re: WTF Wednesday. Last week we had the Mafia boss, now Mayan shamans. The letter writers might not rate a WTF, but their bosses are sure earning it.

    2. LBK*

      Alison has repeatedly said there’s no officially sanctioned WTF Wednesday, but I find it hard to believe it’s coincidence that these totally insane posts all seem to end up being posted on the same day of the week…

      1. Laufey*

        Except they’re not, because people frequently make comments wondering if it’s Wednesday already, etc.. I wonder how much of it is confirmation bias.

      2. Cautionary tail*

        Not all of these posts happen on WTF Wednesday. I’ve seen plenty on Mon dieu Monday. ;)

            1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

              Being a day ahead of the rest of y’all, I have started referring to WTF Wednesday in my head as “The F*ck?! Thursday” ;)

              1. Cautionary tail*

                I’m from the States and I love NZ so much I spent my honeymoon on North Island: Aukland, Hamilton, Waitomo and Rotarua. Sigh…the memories.

    3. Anon tipser*

      She had mentioned last Wednesday in the mafia post there is no officially sanctioned WTF Wednesday but that maybe these things are more than a coincidence…this message will self-destruct in 5,4,3

  4. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    God bless Wednesday. Or maybe “Mayan spirit world bless Wednesday. ”

    To be clear, I think it’s the situation as a while that’s “wacky Wednesday” appropriate, not the OP, who I really do feel for.

    1. Tax Nerd*

      Clarification–I, too, feel for the OP. I would not care to be in her/his circumstances one tiny bit.

  5. hayling*

    This sounds awful. I agree that the only thing for the OP to do is to find a new job.

    Alison, how would you recommend that someone trying to get out of a whacky situation respond to the “why are you leaving your current position?” question in interviews?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, maybe “our executive director has started shifting the organization’s priorities in a different direction, and I’m really most interested in working on economic research.”

      1. Matt F*

        Interviewers appreciate honesty. Tell them that you were possessed by darkness when your chakra closed off your third eye’s source of chi when the moon was in the third house.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        What about being more direct? I would want to say something like, “The executive director has been behaving erratically, and it has made the job very different from what I signed up for.” Would you be worried about a candidate who said something like that?

        1. Anna*

          I don’t I would be concerned about the candidate, but I would have a hard time not asking them to tell me more. :)

      3. Alma*

        As a member of several nonprofit boards, the missed point is that OP stated the Mayan Shaman sometimes used company funds. This is something the Executive Committee should be alerted to. It puts at risk the nonprofit’s reputation, grant financing if applicable, and points to a breach of fiduciary responsibility (in the same way the utilizing of nonprofit funds for one’s personal benefit would be a breach).

    2. Kyrielle*

      This. Seriously, how do you even begin to message this? “The role has been changing and has moved away from my skills and interests” seems a little…mild.

        1. Jennifer*

          I’m reminded of “the Darkness” on Reign, which is some kind of weird pagan evil…thing…plotline? they trot out occasionally.

          1. Kelly O*

            Just chiming in with my unhealthy love of all things Megan Follows, and what an absolute treasure she is as Catherine de Medici.

            And yes, I am over 35 and watch a racy, vaguely historical show on the CW. I also watch Downton Abbey and Bob’s Burgers.

            1. Persephone Mulberry*

              We just started watching this a couple weeks ago and I totally did not catch that Megan Follows is Catherine. Squee!

              Downton is the BEST. I hear Bob’s Burgers is fantastic but the art creeps me out so I’ll never know for sure.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Depending on my read of the interviewer…I might answer this one honestly, without going into too much detail. It’s so wacky that if I as an interviewer heard it, I would think, “You can’t make this stuff up” and probably immediately sympathize with the candidate!

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        That was my thought as well. This one is so far out there that honesty might be the best policy.

        1. MaryMary*

          I think I might go with the truth too. Something like, “A lot of people complain that their bosses are difficult to work with, but when mine started telling me I was possessed by the darkness when I disagreed with him I decided our professional relationship might be beyond repair.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Actually what is happening here is the boss is saying he can’t work with OP.

            I will say, if I truly believed someone was an evil person, I would not be able to work with them. (I have never reached that point, I doubt I ever will.) Although, OP is probably one of the few sane/good people at her workplace her boss does not think so. This does not bode well for OP.

      2. Stephanie*

        Key would be to not dwell on it too much and mention why you want *this* new job. You don’t want to make it sound like you’ll take anything to get away from the shaman.

    4. Anonathon*

      “The founder and ED has decided to shift the organization’s focus and priorities rather dramatically, and not in a direction that was right for me.” (Said with just a hint of side-eye, so that the interviewer understands that there is a little bit more going on … but that you’d rather be tactful and not go there. How well this would work might depend on the rapport with said interviewer.)

  6. Van Wilder*

    Maybe after you leave, report the organization to CharityWatch? (Or whatever org rates charities – and maybe the auditor or whatever governing body is supposed to certify that the funds are going where they’re supposed to be going?) I know I wouldn’t want to donate to this non-profit.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Oh yes! If the director is using funds for purposes unrelated to the mission of the organization, donors should definitely know about it.

    2. Koko*

      Charity ratings tend to be scores mathematically calculated based on standardized criteria rather than investigations or places to file reports. You can certainly leave a user comment on the org’s Charity Navigator page for others to see, but it won’t impact their rating. The rating is based on yes/no items like “Does the organization have an independent board?” and “Were the charity’s financial reports prepared by an independent accountant?” and “Does the charity’s website offer a privacy policy, names of key staff, and copies of tax filings?” as well as a bunch of financial calculations related to funds spent on overhead vs programs.

      1. Kyrielle*

        And they don’t have a question for whether the head of the organization thinks he is a Mayan shaman? :)

  7. brightstar*

    My first reaction upon reading this was “Wow”. But my 2nd reaction was to wonder how the board would react to his spending organizational funds on his religious activities even as head and founder of the group?

    I hope I don’t sound stupid, I’ve never worked for a non-profit.

    1. Chocolate addict*

      Not a stupid question at all, since it can depend on the particular organization. If the organization itself was founded with the intention of focusing on such religious activities, that would be one thing. But assuming it’s not (just based on OPs description), I doubt that would be considered an appropriate use of funds. I also wonder if the funders (foundations, government agencies, private citizens, etc) themselves know how the money is being spent.

        1. Nellie*

          I’m not going to pretend I know the legal particulars, but there are actually activities that are illegal for non-profit managers when it comes to use of funds given their tax-exempt status. This is what the board is responsible for.

  8. LOLwut*

    I have to know… is this guy even Mexican? Because if this is a blonde dude saying these things, the problem is even worse than imagined.

    1. KerryOwl*

      Why? Lots of people end up with religious beliefs different from those of their parents’. If you think about it, it makes MORE sense to believe certain things because you’ve thought about them, rather than just because that’s what your parents believe.

      1. Elysian*

        That’s true, but its not just shamanism here, its mayan shamanism specifically. There’s one level where an actual Egyptian tells you he’s a reincarnated pharaoh, and there’s a whole other when David Abramovitz in accounting tells you he’s a reincarnated Egyptian pharaoh. If this boss isn’t even Mayan, I’m dubious about his ability to be a mayan shaman.

        And that’s about all the logic I can extend to this situation with a straight face.

        1. tesyaa*

          Are there actually any Mayans still around? Didn’t (sadly) the conquistadors extinguish them all?

          1. LOLwut*

            There are actually Mayans (I learned this on a trip to Mexico), but not many. And I wonder what they’d think of this business.

            1. KerryOwl*

              There are approximately 7 million Mayan people living in Mexico and Central America today. That is not not many.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think Iro’s point was Mayans don’t make up a large portion of the world’s population.

                  I think, though, that we’re going off on a wordsmithing tangent that isn’t necessary, particularly on such a delightful letter as this one.

            2. Liane*

              I learned this ages ago when I took my Gen. Ed. Courses in college. I took a Modern Anthropology course and 1 of the texts was Machine Age Maya.

          2. Helka*

            The Mayan Empire actually collapsed well before the arrival of the conquistadores (it was the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in South America who had to deal with them) but Mayan people, along with their language and culture, are still around today! I had a teacher at one point who had married into a Mayan family and had some very interesting stories to tell about spending time with her in-laws.

          3. cuppa*

            I got a Mayan massage by a co op in the jungle (i.e. not on a resort) in Mexico and it was one of the greatest (and most fascinating) things in my life.

          4. Lizzy*

            Yes, they still exist. I have a small % of Maya heritage on mother’s side (she’s from El Salvador).

          5. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            Maybe I am just tired, but the fact that you found a way to use the word “conquistadors” in a relevant comment on AAM has me laughing so hard I think I might fall out of my chair.

        2. KerryOwl*

          Bringing reincarnation into it is a red herring, in my opinion. It is possible to adopt a religion that speaks to you as an adult. This is what this man has done. I’m not sure that “shamanism” can be adopted in a generic way as you describe. I think that would be like someone saying he’s a Christian, with no denomination, no church, just . . . a Christian. Possible, but people would be giving him the side-eye a lot more than if he just said he was a Lutheran. Or even an evangelist. Different shamanistic groups have different beliefs and rituals, and are located in communities throughout the world, speaking different languages.

          I can’t discuss, say, Catholicism with a straight face either, though, so I do see where you’re coming from.

          1. Marzipan*

            I dunno, in the UK it’s pretty common for people to just describe themselves as ‘Christian’ without actually practising the religion at all or being part of any specific congregation. I would guess that if pressed they might consider themselves Anglican but it’s really not unusual to come across people who would describe themselves as Christian on a form but only ever actually enter a church for weddings and funerals, and maaaaybe midnight mass at Christmas.

            1. KerryOwl*

              Well then my analogy is not a great one. I feel that the original point still stands, though. “Shamanism” seems to be an anthropological term; if you truly believe in this sort of thing, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that your beliefs would align with one particular belief system (in this example, Mayan shamanism.)

              1. Ezri*

                To be fair, we can’t prove he isn’t adhering to a particular belief system. The OP probably doesn’t know much about it except what he’s said, and she may not be able to tell particular sects apart. There may very well be a shamanistic new age system that believes what he believes. If some guy told me he was a shaman, I certainly couldn’t figure out what kind by looking at him. Same with modern denominational religions.

          2. Bailando!*

            “I can’t discuss, say, Catholicism with a straight face either, though, so I do see where you’re coming from.”

            How’s about we not criticize other people’s religions here??

        3. Chinook*

          “There’s one level where an actual Egyptian tells you he’s a reincarnated pharaoh, and there’s a whole other when David Abramovitz in accounting tells you he’s a reincarnated Egyptian pharaoh.”

          Wait – I could believe David Abramovitz was a reincarnated Pharoah (maybe the illegitmate son of Moses, second in line to Ramses before seeing the light of the burning bush?

          Now, Colum Mackenzie of the Clan Mackenzie claiming this might get questioned on how much of that whiskey he had been drinking.

      2. Kelly L.*

        There’s a really gross thing that happens sometimes, though, where white people read one book about a marginalized group’s religion, and suddenly think they know everything about it. It’s #notallwhitepeople, but it’s enough of them that it can give one pause. Especially when he’s combining his Maya shamanism with things like chakras that don’t even belong in that belief system.

        1. Helka*

          Yeah, this is pretty much what I’m hearing. And my general sense is that the more they talk about it, the more likely they are to be that type.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When I first got the question, I actually wrote back to the OP to ask if the boss is from a culture that has a tradition of shamanism. The answer was no, that he’s a white dude in his 50s with what the OP called “rich kid rebellion syndrome.” (Being a white dude in your 50s doesn’t preclude you from taking on a different religious faith other than those that are mainstream here, of course, and I certainly don’t mean to imply otherwise, but I do think it adds interesting context.)

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I wonder if he’s also had…some kind of break with reality. Like, I personally don’t think any of this is that much stranger than the religion whose traditions I was raised under (frankly, it makes as much logical sense for me to follow teachings/beliefs developed in Israel and Rome 2,000 years ago as it does for this guy to follow Mayan shamanism).

        BUT, most of us can recognize that our personal beliefs are personal and we should keep them at a minimum in the workplace. I know there’s always some dancing around those lines, like people who sign their emails “have a blessed day” or leave biblical literature around, but VERY few people go to the level this guy is.

        It makes me wonder if he might need a thorough medical exam, to be quite frank.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yeah, “rich kid rebellion syndrome” is a neat and eloquent way of putting what I was thinking. I’ve definitely known people like this (and, to be stereotypical, most of them are affluent white Boomers).

    3. Colette*

      I don’t think it’s necessary for him to provide a detailed family tree to back up his beliefs, though. Lots of people have ancestors from different ethnic groups than you’d expect.

      1. HR Manager*

        And I’d give side-eye and my WTF face to any boss of whatever ethnicity who texts me in the middle of the night and tries to claim part parentage to an offspring.

      2. Zillah*

        That’s true… but there’s also a lot of cultural appropriation in the world, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

    4. LuvzALaugh*

      I completely get why you would ask this. I used to (past tense for various reasons including the comment here) have a friend/roommate that insisted they are a Cherokee Indian even though they were born in Columbia where they were adopted before coming to the US. Both birth parents are Columbian according to the Birth Cert. Still the person insists that they are a Cherokee complete with having others call him White Wolf. It’s an identity crisis, not a mental illness. It’s very difficult to maintain respect for someone who is living under a dillussion even when confronted by contrary evidence. Apathy and pity are more the feelings that come to mind. Believing in a Shamanic religion doesn’t bother me. The inability to seperate personal beliefs from running a business does unless this is a specific Shamanic company then I would expect the behavior the OP is receiving.

      1. Relosa*

        But if White Wolf was raised in a Cherokee culture, or even joined it later of his own accord, why wouldn’t he identify? If he was adopted from Colombia, that’s great that his biological heritage is South American. But he isnt required to maintain a connection if its not how he identifies.

  9. Ann O'Nemity*

    If it were me, I’d determine how much of my day I was willing to spend on this craziness. And then I would attempt to limit my involvement to that amount. If the boss expected more, I’d look for another job.

    I say this as someone with a previous boss who routinely tried to use work time to discuss or participate in their favorite hobby. The hobby had 0% connection to our work, but I guess it could be classified as “wellness.” I decided that 1 hour a week was my max for that sort of thing. Any more time and it affected my ability to get my (real) work done. I found that occasionally forwarding the boss some online news or blog post on the hobby made them really happy and seemed to lessen their demands for more involvement. In other words, drinking the crazy Kool-Aid every once in awhile got the boss to back off. I should also add, I really loved that job and my the co-workers so I was willing to bend a little on this one thing.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      That’s a good point. Being willing to put up with a certain level of craziness, but no more, helps with the coping. No matter how the craziness manifests itself.

  10. HM in Atlanta*

    Are non-profits still bound by the same employment rules that for-profits are supposed to follow? Because the first thing that popped into my head was – this seems kind of like religious harassment.

    1. Chocolate addict*

      Organizations can sometimes be exempted from specific regulations based on religious beliefs and the nature of the organization.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the organization was religious in nature and this stuff was part of its mission, it would likely fall under a religious exemption. But assuming that it’s not, they’d be bound by the same rules as organizations in other sectors.

  11. AdAgencyChick*

    My inclination would be to look for a new job and tell the board why when resigning. I’m with Alison in guessing that the best possible outcome in going to the board (should OP stay on) is an awkward and drawn-out situation. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  12. Celeste*

    Is there ever going to be an AAM Zazzle or CafePress shop? Because I might need a “Shamans have to have day jobs, I guess” mug, very much.

    1. AMG*

      I would also be interested in a mug (or t-shirt). In fact, I think there are a number of quotables that could be produced.

        1. Josine*

          I would buy that cup. And bring it work with me, possibly meetings too if a thermos cup was available.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I want it! I’ve already amused people by bringing in my Halloween mug to work. It says “Drink Up, Witches!”

    2. Lillie Lane*

      Also want a Hanukkah Balls…something. And items that say “Your manager sucks.” and “You work with a bunch of loons.”

      1. Chinook*

        Will there be a non-facebook related lnk to the end product? And I would defintiely want an official chocolate Teapots LLC teapot.

        1. GOG11*

          Has anyone else hatched a plan to carry their mug around the office as much as is humanly possible in hopes that it will ferret out other AAM reader? Because that is my plan and my hope.

    3. AnotherFed*

      I need this! Preferably in travel mug format. There’s got to be enough of us willing to buy these to justify a few café press designs!

  13. Cath in Canada*

    This is a spectacular question (and answer).

    Not really helpful to the OP, but I just have to share: I once met an acquaintance’s new girlfriend who, when asked what she did, replied in a very bashful and apologetic manner, “um, I’m kinda training to be, um, a shaman, sort of thing”.

    IMO if you want to be a shaman, you have got to OWN that! No apologetic or bashful tones, please. At least OP’s boss is doing OK on that front, I guess.

    1. Audiophile*

      With all those pauses and “ums” I’d be expecting something salacious. Like, “I’m training to be a dominatrix.”

        1. GOG11*

          I’ve had a horrible day, but this made me snort with laughter. When will I learn to not have things in my mouth while reading the comments?

    2. Lily in NYC*

      LOL. I went on a first (and only) date with someone who told me in all seriousness that he has ninja training and did mysterious “ninja stuff” in the middle of the night for some shadowy (imaginary) group.

      1. HeyNonnyNonny*

        I actually knew a bunch of people with ninja training! It is a real thing.

        But the only mysterious ninja stuff they did was once demonstrate kicks on garbage cans and then run away and jump over a wall to hide from angry neighbors…

        1. Dan*

          To be fair, the Ninjas have always been about achieving their ends through covert methods while hiding in the shadows. It is entirely possible that all that “Ninja stuff” they’re doing is super cool, but just not visible to mere mortals like you and I.

          Don’t mess with the Ninjas.

        1. Rana*

          Me too! I think the beginning of the end began when he hauled out his sword (no euphemism, an actual pointy weapon) because he heard something outside.

          1. OldAdmin*

            The dude I once met was a secret agent, and had a Porsche motor built in his junker car… yeah, right.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Was his name Jason? Fake ninjas, Navy SEALs, and the like are always named Jason. I don’t know why.

        (Probably just that approximately 120% of the men my age are named Jason already.)

      3. Chinook*

        Is it wrong that I would want to take the guy seriously and start asking him for all sorts of details to see when he would mess up?

        Then again, I know for a fact that the ones with the cool army jobs describe themsleves as “clerks” or “cooks” when asked what they do while the clerks and cooks all claimed to be intelligence or JTF (i.e. Canadian SEALS)

        1. Dan*

          Never thought of it that way, but if one was really JTF, or SEAL, or some covert operative, keeping it a secret would probably be part of the deal.

      4. Jennifer*

        Ooh, my mom’s old neighbor, a la Hugh Grant in Love Actually, apparently knows trained assassins that are just a phone call away. That was fun to find out.

        1. Sheila*

          Was he looking before, because she was difficult to deal with (for possible assassin reasons, I guess) or is he looking now because of all the attention? From the little I know of the company I don’t imagine it does them any good to be on the gossip pages.

    3. Jennifer*

      Anyone telling someone they’re anything “weird” generally needs to proceed with caution. Never know who’s going to go all ballistic if you say something like that in public.

      Admittedly, this dude is going beyond the pale, but in general, there’s a lot of good reasons to feel awkward about admitting to stuff like this.

  14. SRMJ*

    THE CHRIST CHILD. so a Christian Mayan shaman? I love this post. I mean, I feel badly for the boss, but I still love this post.

    1. Helka*

      You could make an argument for the Christian overtones, since contemporary Mayan religious practice is heavily intermixed with Roman Catholicism… the chakras, not quite so much.

      1. Anonathon*

        Yeah, I was going to say … I’m hardly an expert, but isn’t “chakra” a Sanskrit word? I’ve only heard about chakras in the context of religions with yogic traditions (say, Hinduism). I don’t really think he has a coherent system going on here …

        1. Helka*

          Correct. The concept of the chakras originated in the Hindu system, and spread to the faiths that grew out of it.

    2. Fee*

      Ha in this whole mess of weird that was the bit that raised my pedantic eyebrows :) Although the Mayans were pretty good at predicting stuff, right?

    3. AnotherHRPro*

      We need a “Like” button for just this kind of thing. A Hindu Christian Mayan shaman. You can not make this stuff up!

    1. Golden Yeti*


      I read the post, and thought WTF Wednesday (which commenters have definitely covered). Then as I started getting into more comments, I started snickering. Hoping my desk mate doesn’t wonder what’s going on….stupid open office plans…

  15. Juni*

    These are the days I wish I could comment with a .gif on this blog, because the “Homer Backing Away Into a Bush” is pretty much all I can think of with this.

    1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      I was thinking “Grampa Simpson comes in, hangs his hat, walks in a circle, picks up his hat and walks out” myself!

  16. Chocolate addict*

    I’m particularly bothered by claiming DNA of an employee’s child. Even if that were a joke, it’s creepy and awkward for everyone.

    But hey, now that he’s claimed the child as part his, should he be paying child support?! :)

    1. A Dispatcher*


      And yes, that part bothered me very much as well. It’s not really sexual harassment per se, but it does weirdly allude to sexual relations between him and one of his subordinates. I’m also curious about this 25% thing? So does the 25% come out of the mother’s half since she’s the one who works there. Do the parents each only donate 37.5% in an even split? Is there another 25% that belongs to some ancient Mayan God? So many questions.

    2. Folklorist*

      I’m thinking that the “he” in the letter is referring to Jesus Christ, not the boss. The boss is saying that the “Christ Child” belongs 1/4 to Christ (otherwise, wouldn’t he be calling it “Boss Child”?). The sentence was ambiguous, though.

          1. Ann without an e*

            I read lower case he/his to mean the boss becasue typically when he is used in reference to God or Christ it is capitalized……He, His.

            1. folklorist*

              You’re right that people usually do that, but OP doesn’t capitalize “christ” either, so I don’t think that was the biggest thing on his/her radar.

            2. Caroline*

              I think that’s really just something that folks who believe in Christ do. As a Jew, I wouldn’t ever capitalize the word he in reference to Christ (as the OP wrote, for example, if indeed, the 25% parentage is supposedly Jesus’s and not the boss’), because I don’t believe in a divine Christ, (or any Christ, although there very well may have been a rabbi named Jesus in the galilee 2000 years ago, I don’t know and it’s not important to me).

              So I don’t really think the capitalization clarifies the claimed paternity, only says the OP is probably not a devout Christian.

  17. Non Profit Anon*

    I have a story of hope for OP. I once worked for an executive director who was terrible as a nonprofit director. I literally only saw him three times in the course of nine months, and I was his main direct report. The three times I saw him were for board meetings. I was absolutely flabbergasted that the board allow this to continue. He was doing no work, raising no funds, and misusing company property, not to mention taking a paycheck every month for nothing.

    The other 2 employees, who were part time, and myself, the only full-time employee, wrote a letter to the board. That very day, I received a phone call from the board chair questioning me in detail. The board had been completely oblivious to all that was going on. After about a week of checking up on the things we wrote, the ED was asked to resign. I was promoted to interim Executive Director and thanked by the board for letting them know.

    In retrospect, we should have written the letter much earlier.

    1. Iro*

      I’m so glad this worked out for you but I would also caution, depending on the size and set-up of the organization, that the board may very well know and not care because they are the best friends of the founder and are drawing compensation from this thing as well.

      I’ve been in non-profits where this is the case, and its’ usually very small, very targeted causes but if you need a reference from this person I’d be careful about going to the board before landing another job.

      1. Non Profit Anon*

        Definitely agree. In this case, I knew the board for 5 years before the ED was hired and had a pretty good idea they didn’t know.

  18. Night Cheese*

    At least he’s not putting curses on anyone, like the employee from that infamous letter.

    That being said, the OP should probably get out of there sooner rather than later. Especially if he is in charge of writing performance reviews and might not take kindly to staff who don’t want to participate in his religious activities.

      1. Andrew*

        He’s more likely to perform an exorcism. Now THAT would be really interesting. Definitely want an update for this one.

  19. Forrest Rhodes*

    Having found myself working for some off-the-charts wackos on a couple of occasions, I sympathize with OP. My first reaction to the letter was to wonder whether the board is already aware of the shamanhood and is okay with the shamanic intrusions into daily office life—and even into employees’ personal lives. I mean, seriously, one-fourth fatherhood of an employee’s baby? Maximum yikes.

    If there’s a board member that OP trusts and feels comfortable with, would it be appropriate to have an off-the-record, and likely off-the-premises, conversation to find out if the board is, um, on board with the shaman thing (no disrespect intended)?

    1. Clever Name*

      Good call. If there is a board member you trust, this would be a very low-key way to alert the board. I can just see the board member’s face when told the ED is using company money to pay for his “shamanism”.

  20. Nonprofit Professional*

    Unless the employee already has a relationship with the board, or at least one board member – I really can’t see someone who’s been there for 7 months making much of an impression. Presumably in one way or another, the head of the organization has kept it afloat – even if just by maintaining relationships with wealthy family friends who continue to write checks and don’t ask for extensive reporting. So it could be that no matter how much of a nut he is and even if the board knows – they may fear that a change to a more professional ED could risk a number of primary funding relationships.

    Also in the grand scheme of “my crazy bad boss at a nonprofit” – this doesn’t really rank very high.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Here’s my obligatory correction to: “In the grand scheme of ‘my crazy bad boss at any kind of employer‘ – this doesn’t really rank very high.”

      Nonprofits have no monopoly on crazy bad bosses, as we see here all the time.

      (That said, I think this rates high in any sector.)

      1. Folklorist*

        I imagine Alison opening these crazy emails at home, screaming “JACKPOT!” and doing a happy dance so exuberant that it scares the cats, then sitting down to write with a joyful grin on her face. But that’s just me.

          1. Shell*

            When the OP has to qualify their letter–repeatedly–with “I’m not joking”, then I know I’ll be trying to muffle my laughter of mingled horror and incredulity.

            While I totally understand that this is a genuinely frustrating situation for the OP, Alison, would you say you enjoy answering off-the-wall letters like this more? For novelty’s sake if nothing else?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              They’re absolutely my favorite thing. I only worry that people may at some point feel the site has gone off the rails if I keep using them at every opportunity.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Yes! I love the mix of useful advice about ordinary situations that happen to almost everybody, and batshittery.

              1. TCO*

                Oh, I love these crazy letters. They always make me feel grateful for my normal workplace with normal people. I think they keep the site interesting, and even if some of the basic discussions get a little repetitive for longtime readers, these letters give us something entirely new to enjoy!

              2. GOG11*

                I think it’s easier to take the advice and scale it back for a situation that is similar in nature but not nearly so bad (for instance, Alison’s phrasing for answering “why did you leave your last job” in the comments).

                However, I think it’s harder to know how to adapt a mild solution and apply it to a MAJOR problem at work.

              3. JayemGriffin*

                Are you joking? These keep me sane! Yeah, one of our higher-ups refuses to touch a computer and our holiday parties are ridiculously awkward, but I have never had to study sacred candle angles!

        1. Katie the Fed*

          That’s the reaction I had when I opened AAM this afternoon. I NEEDED THIS. The homeless conversation was too heavy yesterday. Thank you Mayan Gods for sending us this letter!

    2. LBK*

      I cannot imagine what ranks higher than this on the crazy boss scale. You must have worked for some truly delusional people. More terrible, evil bosses? Sure. But in terms of sheer lunacy, this takes the cake.

  21. anon attorney*

    Just to say, I am a charity trustee and I would absolutely want to know about anything our ED was doing which might undermine the organization and its effectiveness or reputation (is your director daubg this stuff to outside contacts or donors?!?!?). Thankfully we have an excellent ED!

    1. puddin*

      Is there a code of conduct violation channel to use? We have an [supposedly] anonymous reporting system so that front end grunts all the way to the VP can report any discrimination or company policy violation. Have had this at most jobs I have worked at – except for the really tiny employers. This does sound like a ‘keep religion out of it’ violation from what you have said.

      OP if you go to the board, I would recommend suggesting they implement something like this. I think it is even more important to have safeguards and a fair inquiry process for complaints like these in non-profit work where the work you do is typically scrutinized from an ethical/moral/social value context much more than in for-profit enterprise.

  22. De Minimis*

    Until the OP leaves, they might want to invest in some salt and maybe some kind of iron implement, just in case things go wrong.

    Yes, I binge watched Supernatural over the holidays….

    1. HeyNonnyNonny*

      OP should definitely paint a Devil’s Trap in the office and see if the Boss gets stuck. How else will you know?

    2. Chinook*

      “Until the OP leaves, they might want to invest in some salt and maybe some kind of iron implement, just in case things go wrong.”

      Sicne he believes in a Christ child, they give away holy water for free at any Catholic Church. All you need to bring is your own container and ask.

      1. AB*

        I have always wanted to have a supersoaker full of holy water, but being Catholic, I feel that it would be frowned on by our priest.

        1. Seedling*

          I was talking to my boyfriend the other day about Holy Water super soakers. (I was raise Catholic, he’s agnostic). I pictured people running over the city squirting others with Holy Water as a form of surprise baptism. Spray! You’re now a Catholic!

          I do think the clergy would object to this method of conversion.

        2. Chinook*

          I don’t know about a supersoaker but I knew one priest who was partial to use evergreen branches to distribute the holy water over the congregation and those things really do hold and throw water quite well, especially if the priest has a strong arm.

  23. Lizabeth*


    Just when I thought the KoolAid© couldn’t get crazier. I vote for finding another job THEN discuss it with the board.

    Can we have a follow up on this one?

    1. Nerd Girl*

      So funny that you mention the KoolAid. The whole part about the boss claiming 1/4 paternity reminded me of Jim Jones and the Jonestown cult. Before he had everyone drink the KoolAid (though it was actually a different brand of flavored drink) he convinced a couple living in Jonestown to give him their child. He actually convinced them to list him as the father on the birth certificate. The child lived with Jim Jones and though his parents ended up leaving Jonestown and going back to San Francisco, the courts sided with Jim Jones. The parents never got their son back and he ended up being murdered by Jones when he was given the Flavor-Aid (the actual name of the drink! See? I remembered!) with the poison. On an interesting side note the famous Harvey Milk , who was in office when this couple was trying to get back their son, wrote a letter supporting Jim Jones and saying some nasty things about the parents. He was actually murdered several days after the Jonestown Massacre (unrelated) but I wonder if he’d lived how much influence he would have carried if this information had a chance to surface.

  24. B*

    I live in a city filled with woo people who talk to trees and consult crystal pendulums and talk about their clairvoyant dreams and conversations with angels publicly. 99% of them are obnoxious, sad, utter bullshitters. I also had a boss about 10 years ago who was a straight-up legit psychic, although he hated being called that and tried to downplay it or hide it constantly. Whenever someone new started in the office, we would all trade glances in staff meetings as he accidentally called the new staff member by his or her childhood nickname, or would suddenly start talking about their deceased family members with this funny, far-away look in his eye. He also had an uncanny ability to diagnose family members’ illnesses without ever meeting them. His instincts about people were always 100% spot on, especially in interviews and meetings with consultants. I am and always have been a total skeptic of new age bullshit, but this guy was different. You could only witness so many random coincidences and “lucky guesses” before you threw up your hands and said “OK, maybe there is more to this world that we can understand”. (Also, he was the best, most empathetic boss I have ever had.)

    1. Iro*

      In the Kolbe Index Strength Finders “woo” actually refers to a group of people who constantly try to gain others affection (as in woo them). So as I read your first sentance I was like, wait crystals!?

            1. Elizabeth West*

              We say tree hugger and still use hippie (or New Age hippie, since it’s not strictly the same thing anymore) in the US Midwest, but yoghurt knitter is a new one to me, ha ha.

          1. Anonsie*

            Oh my GOD I’ve never heard this but I love it.

            I always call these folks crunchy, which used to be more in the hippie direction normally than the new-agey direction but as more and more people seem to blend right in the middle it seems appropriate.

    2. hildi*

      That is totally fascinating about your old boss!!!! Childhood nicknames?! Deceased family members?? Did he ever guess anything about you? I want to meet someone like that to see it firsthand. Amazing.

      1. Chinook*

        “Did he ever guess anything about you? I want to meet someone like that to see it firsthand. Amazing.”

        I ended up betting involved, through a friend, with a woman who worked as a “life counsellor” who was legitemately psyhic and could do all those thigns too. I brought DH into a session with her and just told him we were there for couples counselling. It was so hard not to laugh outloud at his reactions as she would do something in reaction to his non-said question (ex: she went to turn off something with a remote. After a pause, she looked at him and said “no, I don’t record these sessions. This is just for my radio.”)

        1. hildi*

          Crazy! I had no idea that people could actually be psychic. I remember taking a psych class in undergrad called Psudeoscience where the professor debunked things like life-after-death experiences and pyschics and stuff like that. I remember that the TV psychics really just talked to the people beforehand while they were waiting for the show to begin and were masters at pulling out information and speaking in generalities that appeared like they were specific to the person. Duh, obvious stuff when it’s pointed out to you. But to meet someone that legitimately didn’t do those things and can still come up with personal information about you – I think that’s so cool! I want someone to do that to me!! Either I’m naïve or gullible, but I don’t care – my world is a fun and happy world to live in :) :)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I could tell you family ghost stories, but this isn’t the place.

            Remember though that many “psychics” who pull personal information (the TV people and people at carnivals, who read palms, etc.) are very adept at a technique called cold reading. They observe clues about you kind of the way Sherlock does and extrapolate from there. Combined with pointed questions based on those observations, they can appear to be gleaning information through extrasensory means. This is why I hate that sick, twisted Long Island Medium woman and people like her, because they prey on the gullible.

            I have no explanation for the psychic boss, however. That is weird. I do believe in ghosts and that ESP is real and perhaps we’re not able to measure these things in a tangible way yet. But there are so many con artists out there that they make people who try to seriously study these subjects look bad.

            1. hildi*

              Yes! Your second paragraph is what I remembered learning about (and agree that it’s all a sham and preying on people). So I really didn’t think a legitimate psychic person could exist. How interesting.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I don’t think it doesn’t exist; I just don’t believe that anyone who advertises themselves as psychic is legit. Someone who could really do this would probably hide the shit out of it.

            2. B*

              Oh, yeah – once we kinda figured out what my old boss had going on, we would occasionally joke around about him running a “hotline” or doing a TV show, and he HATED it. He was much closer to another manager who told me that he also had an intense hatred of people who charged to do “readings”/went on TV or tried to make money off of that bullshit stuff.

          2. Chinook*

            Working with this woman and her friends opened my mind to psychics and my own ability to read people. It is weird to know that that gut feeling I always had about people was me really reading their thoughts and also explained why a friend and I could have conversations even though she spoke no English and, at the time, I spoke no Japanese (which would freak out our bilingual friends who couldn’t figure out how we did it).

            Don’t get me wrong – there are fakes out there but I also believe there are also a lot of people with this talent who don’t realize it.

      2. B*

        It wasn’t really a “ooh-ahh” moment, but the only time his woo involved me was when my grandma died. I got the phone call at work around 10 a.m., and seconds after I hung up he came tearing into my office saying “oh my god what’s wrong”. His office was down a hall and around the corner, and i was talking very quietly – so I am pretty sure he couldn’t have heard me say anything. I just shook it off.

    3. Mango Hulk*

      That’s a novel waiting to happen.

      Or a sitcom. I’m picturing The Office, but with Steve Carell as a secret psychic.

      1. Nichole*

        I would watch the heck out of “Michael Scott, Secret Psychic.” If Steve Carell ever gets bored, I hope he sees this and does a web series.

  25. AW*

    I’m going to quote Colette: “The part that stands out to me is that he’s getting worse – i.e. the behavior is changing, and in somewhat erratic ways”

    Because while I don’t think diagnosing people over the Internet should be a thing, that’s definitely a red flag. If there is someone the LW can inform, I don’t think it’d be totally out of line to do so. Obviously the LW should tread carefully and, in my opinion, this should be part of an exit strategy, but I don’t think they’re obligated to pretend this isn’t a warning sign just because they can’t actually prove this is a symptom of a bigger problem.

    That said, I don’t think the LW should feel obligated if they don’t feel comfortable with it. But the fact that the behavior is escalating still means they need to leave.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      I definitely agree – that stood out to me as well while reading. If he’s to the point where he’s getting “visions” in the middle of the night and involving all his subordinates, and his behavior is obviously escalating, who knows how far his behavior could end up going. Maybe everyone needs to be locked in the shaman’s basement for a week to cleanse their spirits!

      I agree with some other commenters who said that if you have an existing relationship with any board members or higher-ups, to talk to them about it. And start looking for a new job, obviously! But I would just stay very aware of his behavior (maybe start recording everything he’s been doing, if you haven’t already), because someone who’s crossing boundaries, acting erratically, and escalating seems like someone to be careful around.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Yep. I had the same reaction. I think bossman might need a full medical workup as a start.

      Fun fact: one of the biggest civil wars this planet has ever seen was started by a guy who came down with a bout of malaria and in his fevered dreams met Jesus who told him he was his Chinese brother. So he started this massive, MASSIVE milleniarian-style revolt in China. It’s called the Taiping Rebellion – there’s a great book about it called God’s Chinese Son.

      Oops, my nerd is showing. :(

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I agree with you, AW. The OP does not need to prove there is a MH issue or anything else. All she needs to do is say “here is what is going on…”. Just recite the facts. The facts clearly show that there is a LOT going on here.

      If there is a board then they are accountable to someone, somewhere. Board members should be interested in what OP has to say. But I cannot in good conscience say “go to the board” if you do not know your board or any member of the board. That may or may not be good advice for you.

      Unfortunately, we don’t know what the organizations focus is. However, this is detracting from the focus and seems to be escalating, as another poster pointed out. Probably because no one is telling this guy to STOP IT. The organization is losing its way because of this guy.

      OP, is this a hill you are willing to die on?
      Your choices appear to be:
      Stay on and say nothing.
      Stay on and try to resolve the problems.

      Since the boss is referencing you in the same sentence as darkness that to me is a warning about how he feels about you. To win him back may require giving up too much of yourself. Is that something you are willing to do?
      Conversely, standing up for the company could be a protracted battle. Do you have any clue how much support you would get for attempting this? My experience has lead me to this rule of thumb: Don’t help people that do not want to be helped. You will end up injured. If you cannot find support, serious think before taking any rash steps.

      Try not to get too lost in discussions or your own private thoughts about his mental health- that is a topic that could be discussed forever and what you need is real answers now. Focus on how his actions impact the business. That will give talking points you can actually use.

      Stepping back from this whole situation, please ask yourself “what is best for me? what is best for my career? If my friend came to me with a situation that so similar it was uncanny, how would I advise my friend?”

  26. HR Gorilla*

    “Shamans have to have day jobs, I guess.” – Best sentence I’ve read thus far in 2015.

  27. HR Manager*

    I would agree with the talk to the board, if you have any sort of contact with them. I think an anonymous or otherwise random email to them about this situation would only leave them scratching their heads (this is a pretty out-there story).

    If this were me, unfortunately, I’d get out of Dodge. When he’s the captain of a ship, it’s hard to find a corner where his crazy Mayan shamanistic influence doesn’t reach. It’s one thing if he just talks about it all the time, but as others have noted, his other behaviors are crossing the line. Unless they are paying something so obscenely above market and the rest of your work is in line with your professional aspirations, I can’t imagine putting up with that behavior.

  28. puddin*

    Is anyone else reminded of Tina Fey’s character’s boss from Baby Mama. He was the CEO of a “whole foods” type store played by Steve Martin. “As a reward for such splendid work you get 5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact.” She just went with it…

    1. Mrs. Psmith*

      I kept thinking of Kevin Nealon’s character (the boss of the video game company) from Grandma’s Boy.
      “I had a dream last night. I was a snake slithering through the grass, until I came upon a dead elk, and I climbed into his soul, and its there I stayed until morning, which meant I will underestimate someone very close to me.”

      1. puddin*

        Oh yeaaah, that is a good one too!

        JP is the phenomenal character from that movie, “But, underneath this genius…I’m simply a human. You know. But I’m working on that.”

    2. Anonsie*

      True story, my dad lived in Austin for many years and he swears against Whole Foods because he says the real-life founder used to crash people’s parties and act like a jerk: hitting on women with partners and not taking no for an answer, making a mess, and so on.

  29. Ruby*

    I am actually a real life psychiatrist with quite a lot of experience in dealing with psychosis. Although it is impossible to make a diagnosis based on a letter, I do find this very concerning. The defining element of a delusion is lack of insight – specifically it is a “fixed, false belief” that they will continue to believe in despite all evidence to the contrary. Religious and grandiose delusions are fairly common, as delusions go. He would need to see a professional to determine if he just has some outside the mainstream beliefs or if he is truly delusional. My money is on delusional. The comment about the baby clearly goes over the line. That doesn’t mean that he’s dangerous, but it does mean that he needs help. Tell the board what you are witnessing.

    1. HR Manager*

      I wonder if he has actually consumed any hallucinogenic plants (sometimes part of shamanism) that might be influencing his behavior as well.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Good observation. (LSD was one of the things I thought, because I’ve known some people who got pretty kooky after extensive LSD use, but your idea never occurred to me and might make sense.)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I was thinking mushrooms. I think there are some that really drive that spiritual stuff.

      3. Connie-Lynne*

        If he’s going for Mayan-style psychedelics, ayahuasca is what all the new agers are drinking these days.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Thanks for your perspective! I had the same thought but I hate to be an armchair psychiatrist – it’s nice that an actual one is here as well :)

      1. The Maple Teacup*

        The behaviours described in the letter are sufficiently unusual (I think) to point to a medical condition as being possible. Something like being 25% the father of an infant sure sounds delusional to me.

        So what can the OP do? Odd beliefs are one thing, but the boss is misusing company funds. And doing strange things like contacting the employees in the middle of the night. I’d descretely talk to the Board about these tangible things. It’s probably far, far, away from the mission of the organization.

        1. The Maple Teacup*

          Hmmm. What I ment to say is I’m glad an actual psychiatrist thinks the situation is very unusual.

  30. AnotherHRPro*

    While I normally do not recommend this, in this case an anonymous letter to the board may be in order. If I was on this non-profit’s board I would want to know what is going on. I would still recommend looking for another job, but I know that can take time.

    You definitely win the crazy boss award! My condolences.

    1. RJ*

      Yeah, I was wondering how someone with a 7 month tenure with the organization would be able to get the board’s attention. I agree that an anonymous letter would be better.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I wonder what the OP’s co-workers make of all this? Could they talk to the board together?

  31. Alistair*

    Man, when the LW has to qualify that they are not joking, you just know the rest of the letter is going to be that weird mix of fascination and horror. LW, I feel for you. No advice, but good luck!

  32. Amber Rose*

    My first reaction was “… whaaaaat.” Followed by smothered laughter. LW, I don’t mean to laugh at what must be a truly frustrating situation for you. But as I have no advice that hasn’t been given, let me offer this small silver lining.

    You can now counter anyone complaining about their job with, “You think that’s bad? Let me tell you about the time my boss [Insert strange activity here].”

    I guarantee your stories top anyone else’s.

  33. De Minimis*

    I think I’d rather research chakras and sacred angles than have to talk about “personal branding,” though.

    1. Cath in Canada*


      Earlier today I sent a link to this post to a friend saying “makes [weird stuff that happened when we worked for the same employer] look positively normal”.

  34. Chriama*

    This is literally the first time a post had me literally laughing out loud at work. I don’t even know how I would respond to someone who told me the darkness has possesed me. What do you say to that?

    On a more serious note: is it possible that this guy has some sort of mental illness or is in the first stages of some disease? The fact that it’s escalating makes me thing something in his medical condition may have changed or may be progressing. Unfortunately I don’t know if you’re in a position to mention anything to him OR ask people who’ve known him longer, but it’s a consideration.

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      (blink) “OK, well, I’ll check back with you later after the darkness has left my system, then.” (go to lunch and look at job postings on cell phone).

      or “Oh dear! Is there a ritual I need to be performing to get rid of the darkness possessing me?”

      I would have trouble keeping a straight face for these. But I have a friend who has a wicked deadpan and could probably pull these off.

    2. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I’d tell someone who told me that the darkness had possessed me that he should just cast Magic Missile at it.

      (…am I the only one who remembers that joke…?)

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I would not say it out loud but I would believe that he was projecting his circumstances on to me.
      I don’t think there is a “darkness” about me and I would realize that he was probably telling me where he thinks he is going to go to next.

      I guess I would say in my out loud voice, “Thanks for the heads up. I will not allow any darkness around me.” Or maybe I would just say, “Interesting” and pretend not to really notice.

      1. Andrew*

        Oh no, it’s way too early to be speculating on that. If we compared this to last year’s list, I don’t think this guy would even rate a spot.

  35. Kristina*

    First time poster here. First of all, how atrocious that he practicing rampant cultural appropriation in the workplace and making others participate. Perhaps that is an angle that can be used? Like, hey, I understand you have these beliefs, but they make me feel uncomfortable and I am wondering if we can create some separation between your beliefs and our workplace.

    That said, I am a fifteen year veteran of the non-profit workplace, occupation: Director of Development. My recommendation is never go to the board. Get a new job. It rarely works. They will never side with you over an entrenched leader, so matter how crazy he is. This was advice that was long given to me by my mentors. However, I went against it recently when I thought there was no other option. I revealed in my last job that a long-time director was borrowing money from the organization – around $20,000 over two years. He literally was just signing checks to himself when he needed the cash, and then working out a repayment schedule with the finance manager, who he supervised. The finance manager approached me explaining they felt uncomfortable with the situation – which by then had been going on for two years. I took it up with the board president, thinking they would be aghast and take action. But in the end, it just created many more problems for the organization, probably worthy of their own post on here. I eventually left and took a new job.

    Good luck with such a crazy problem!

  36. Been There*

    I had a coworker go this way once when I worked with visiting foreigners. He was perfectly fine in his native language but bat$h!t crazy in English. I demanded he get medical clearance to be in our office – turned out he had a very aggressive brain tumor.

  37. Ms Enthusiasm*

    Best post this week! It is especially these types of posts that I would love to see an update on. We can only speculate for so long… is he crazy? Did the OP go to the board? Did the board do anything? Did the OP get a new job? OP, please tell us!! haha

  38. Robert J*

    I would love to hear how this turns out. Please, please, please write an update after you’ve done what you’ve done!
    I would also like to find out what the turnover rate is at this particular non-profit.

  39. Liane*

    Alison, we have the Infamous Letter–thanks, whoever called it that earlier–and now this. How many more like these before you add a Supernatural category?

    [totally facetious]
    How can I professionally ask my boss to give me a large raise because I need to be able to afford all the Black Magic…, Shamans Need… and Chocolate Teapots, LLC merchandise you offer?
    {[/totally facetious]

  40. Suzanne*

    I read this trying to convince myself that it couldn’t be true, but after 30+ years in the world of work, nothing surprises me. A close relative of mine is going through this right now–her boss is certifiable.

    Sadly, there is really nothing you can do. A whack-job is a whack-job who won’t listen to reason. How do places with someone like this in charge stay in business? It’s anybody’s guess, but many do.

    I would encourage the OP to look, look, look for another job and when she finds one, don’t let the door hit her on the way out. And go immediately to and write a review to warn others away from the fracas.

  41. JAL*

    This just came up on my Facebook newsfeed and the title immediately made me crack up. Thanks, Allison and LW. I needed this today.

  42. Pedantic*

    Whelp, this completely blows out of the water my story about new boss relocating who refused to house hunt in the neighboring town (with a better school system and better home values) because the name of the town started with W, and towns beginning with W had always been unlucky for her.

  43. Mander*

    My anthropologist brain is stuck on “what the heck do chakras have to do with Mayans?” and “do the Maya even practice shamanism? Did they ever?”.

    Never mind the crazy-making aspects of working with someone like this…

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I know–it sounds to me like something made up from a bunch of unrelated elements, and he either made it up himself or someone else did and he adopted it. There is no shortage of goofy mashups on the internet.

  44. FD*

    Didn’t the Mayan priesthood practice ritual bloodletting? If you start finding suspicious stains in odd places, I think you should get out of there.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Yep! It involved genital piercing, too, I believe….

      (I am not going to Google that for details.)

  45. Another Job Seeker*

    OP, I do feel for you. I’m wondering how serious your supervisor is about the baby. I don’t even know what to suggest here. I just know that I would not want a nutcase like that around my child. I hope that you are able to find another position soon.

  46. stb5114*

    I think we have a serious contender for Worst Boss of 2015 here. Look out pushy weight-loss manager, you might get de-throned.

  47. Barefoot Librarian*

    “Shamans have to have day jobs, I guess.”

    This made me snort my coffee! I honestly think I’d work for this guy. At least he’s crazy in a fairly harmless (and colorful) way. I’ve worked for much worse people lol.

    1. Merry and Bright*

      Barefoot Librarian – so right there! Give me the crazy manager over the toxic one any day.

  48. Boogles*

    My own personal ethics would require me to talk to the board about this whether I had a previous relationship with them or not. If you’re coming from a place of concern, state the facts, and leave it to them to move on, there shouldn’t be an issue.

  49. Anna Smithe*

    Just Wow! I know I am late in responding. I just found this wonderful site because someone was actually asking me questions.

    So, I have my own horrid story, but I what I did won’t work for you. Sorry.
    The only other thing I think you could do that wasn’t mentioned above (and I am not certain that would work either), is to find a way to keep his and his over productive spirits at bay. (Couldn’t resist)
    You may just have to tell him that you are not into that kind of thing. Yep, you may just have to say it, but diplomatically – like: “while you have an appreciation for his spiritual journey, you are not in the same path he is at this time”. Doing so while finding something you know he would be interested in, like a chaukra rock or something would probably help. Smile, do it while not being condescending. If you do give him a small token (not expensive) while you discuss this in a positive way, it may help him take the “blow” to his own ideals, while giving the much needed space from his “chantings” . I hope you can find a way!

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