a Successful Magical Group
At some point or other many of us are faced with the decision as to whether to
venture forth in Her service to teach and/or to lead a group. Sometimes the job is
thrust upon us by friends and acquaintances who want us to teach them the ways of
the Craft. Sometimes it is just a group of solitaries who decide to formalize their
relationship into a coven structure. And sometimes there is an internal calling to
reach out to others and provide a space where they can learn and worship in the
old ways. Whatever the reason, it is a step that should be approached with due care
and after considerable thought and introspection, for it is a step that will change
you and all with whom you come in contact.
Much though we would like to believe
that our common spiritual path is sufficient incentive for a group to grow and prosper,
the fact is that the life span of most Pagan groups is less than six years. Sometimes
this is the result of normal attrition, sometimes it is the result of interpersonal
conflicts, but more often than not it is the result of lack of prior planning that
should have taken place long before a group held its first ritual.
no one right way to form a group. I am going to propose a series of questions that
it has been my experience that individuals need to consider before they formalize
their group identify. Each group needs to decide for itself what works best for them.
And as long as it is the consensus of the group that this is the way they wish to
work, then that way should be correct for them. But do look at the advantages and
potential pitfalls carefully before deciding which alternative is best for you.
Define the Group's Purpose.
This may seem like a silly question at first,
but think a moment. If some of those forming the group are looking for a serious
place to worship and study and others are only looking for a social environment to
be around other Pagans it isn't likely that the group will be able to stay together
long before it isn't meeting someone's needs. Make sure that everyone agrees on
the purpose of the group first, that way there will be less friction between members
over some of the other questions we'll address here.
II. How will the
group be structured?
Are you going to have a High Priestess or High Priest
to lead the group? If so, how will they be chosen? What is their background and
training that make them suited for this role? Will you then have Initiates and non-Initiates?
Or will the group forego a degree structure and will everyone be on an equal footing
in running the group?
III. How will decisions be made?
are three basic ways in which any group approaches the decision making process.
Autocratic: Decisions are made by the group leader(s) and everyone is expected to
follow their ruling.
B. Democratic: Everyone has a part in the decision making
process, the options go to a vote, and the majority vote rules.
Everyone has a part in the decision making process and a decision is not made until
everyone in the group agrees on the outcome. One word of caution with this option.
It works fairly well with small groups under 10 or so. But it becomes unwieldy
in larger groups. It can also be hijacked by someone who refuses to negotiate.
Setting rules for behavior, handling grievances/disciplinary actions.
of us would prefer to believe that we can all act as adults and play nicely together
without having rules. But sooner or later something will come up and you will need
grounds to show why it is not acceptable behavior within your group. Deciding in
advance what behaviors are not acceptable within the group (ie: use of illegal substances)
means that all of the group members are aware of the limits of behavior and the consequences
if they chose to violate those limits.
There will also be occasions where
members of the group are at odds with each other. Having a grievance procedure in
place to help iron out these differences may mean the group survives and goes on.
Many the group that has floundered and failed because some of the members couldn't
get along and created warring factions that splintered the group. Have a means in
place to keep this from happening.
V: Decide on the size and makeup
of the group
Will your group be same gendered or open to those of both
genders? Will you keep the group small or will you be willing to add more people
as they hear of you and express and interest in joining?
VI: How will
new members be added?
Will you be open to anyone who expresses an interest
in your group? Will you have some sort of screening process? Will you have a probationary
period? Will new members have access to all rituals and activities of the group,
or will they be limited to open circles until they have completed training?
Will you have a teaching program?
If so, you need to start thinking
about what that program will consist of. What subjects do you consider vital for
your members to know? Are there things you want to teach that will be specific to
your group? Who will do the teaching? Will you teach in a class setting or in one-on-one
IX: When will the group meet to hold ritual?
are pros and cons to the possibilities here. You can chose to hold ritual on the
day of the actual event..on the Full Moon, or on the particular Sabbat. Magically
speaking there is a certain power in doing this at the planetary hour. But…it can
be difficult for people with jobs or going to school, or with daily commitments to
manage late nights in the middle of the week.
An alternative is to hold ritual
on the weekend closest to the event. This may well make it possible for more of
the group to participate on a regular basis, even if it loses a bit of the magic
associated with the precise moment of the event.
X: Will children be
permitted in circle?
This is always a delicate issue and can be a cause
of great friction in a group between parents who want to share their religion with
their children and those without children who find little ones in circle detracts
from their spiritual experience. There are several possibilities here for ways to
handle the situation and hopefully satisfy both sides of the argument. One would
be for the group to start having a separate circle for the smaller children, one
which could include activities more suited to their age group. This could be led
by parents or other coven members who volunteer to take turns doing this. Another
would be for older children, those old enough to understand and participate to stand
in circle if they wished, while younger children either remained at home or had separate
activities planned for them.
Another issue that bears mentioning here is
that of minors attending rituals. Please be aware that in the United States it is
illegal to interfere in the religious upbringing of a minor without the parent's
consent. That means that, no matter how much we'd like to open our circles to young
teens who are interested in the Craft, we could be putting ourselves at legal risk
if their parents disapprove. Many group will allow minors to attend only if accompanied
by a parent or legal guardian. Some will accept a written permission slip from a
parent, but our legal resources have advised us that such permissions will not stand
up in court if the parent states that they would not have granted permission had
they known what we were really doing with their child.
XI: What happens
when things don't work out?
Keeping a group together and running smoothly
takes effort on everyone's part. And in the process there are both emotional and
psychic bonds that are formed. But sometimes, no matter how much you want it to work
and no matter how hard you try, things just don't work out. Perhaps there are fallings
out amongst the members. Perhaps people find other interests or grow apart. People
will sometimes leave the group in anger. Sometimes there will be betrayals of trust.
It happens. And when it does there need to be methods in place to help the group
heal and go on and to cut those psychic ties. And if it happens that the group itself
is to end, then it is a good idea to have some idea of how to dismantle the group
mind/heart that has formed without causing pain to those leaving.
As you see,
forming a group that will succeed and prosper is much more than just a moment's decision
that it might be a fun thing to do. There are no right or wrong answers here, only
those that are right for your group. And the proof that you chose correctly will
be in whether your group continues to meet the spiritual needs of its members over
And finally, here is a list of recommended books and websites that will
help you in making your decisions and in keeping your group running smoothly.
"Wicca Covens", Judy Harrow, Citadel
"Antagonists in the Church", Kenneth C. Haugk,
Augsburg Publishing House, 1988
"Principle Centered Leadership",
Stephen R. Covey, Fireside Books, 1990
Judy Harrow, ECW Press, 2002
"Deepening Witchcraft", Grey
"Inside a Witch's Coven", Edain McCoy
Front Gate: http://www.draknet.com/proteus/frntgate/fg-toc.html
for Coven Leaders: http://www.tangledmoon.org/covenleaders.htm
Thoughts of a High Priestess: http://www.celestialtides.com/Coven/hps/l&s.html
of Structurelessness: http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html
a Grove-SLG's Story: http://www.adf.org/articles/organization/slg-story.html
Moon Coven Bylaws: http://www.tangledmoon.org/bylaws.htm
Checklist for a Well-Working
Copyright: Lark 2/14/2004