Pagan Culture - Ritual & Liturgy
- Category: Group Ritual & Liturgy
Called to Lead
Three steps to forming a new magickal group
— one that lasts!
You feel an urge, a nudge, hear a voice in your mind that says, “It’s time for me to find a group to practice with.” But try as you may, there’s nothing suitable where you live, or you’ve tried a number of possibilities and none of them are quite right. Maybe you are a member of a group already, but you feel it is time to step out on your own; or maybe your friends are urging you to form your own group. But are you ready? What if something goes wrong? Is it arrogant for you to think you can lead?
The decision to form a magickal group can be a difficult one. It may begin with a desire for social interaction, education, or even just the chance at an ego boost. But most of us who consider such a step will feel doubt about it — are we the best one to lead the group? Is it going to be too much effort to maintain? Once it’s been started, what will we do? In the end, creating a healthy magickal group depends on three factors: defining your purpose, building connections to others, and building a group mind.
Define your role and the purpose of the group. The job description for the leader of a magickal group might read something like this: Leader needed to train a group of people in the mysteries of magick and divinity. Must have extensive personal knowledge of subject and a desire to work long hours without financial rewards. Teaching ability, counseling skills, intimate understanding of energy patterns required, calm and centered personality advisable. Now that’s a tall order! (I’ve been leading my current group for seven years now, and I still have trouble with the final qualification.) Although many people believe that the ultimate honor is to be called High Priest/ess (or whatever exalted title your tradition uses for its leaders), the prestige, respect and (especially) renumeration accorded to Pagan leaders can be easily overstated
That said, if you “feel the call” to lead, it can be a wonderful feeling of validation and excitement to begin planning to put your ideas into action. The first step to making your dreams into reality is a hearty dose of self-examination. Leading a group does not require that you hold a degree granted from an outside authority; in some cases you may not even have a great deal of previous magickal training (although it is very useful.) What is probably the most important thing to think about is what you want to see the magickal group do, and where you hope to see it go. (The Motivation Worksheet (see sidebar) is an excellent place to begin this process.
Being at the head of any magickal group requires a combination of leadership, administration, teaching, counseling, and group facilitation; think of it as the job description of the faculty of an entire high school — rolled into one person. Most people are very good in half or more of these specialties, can manage okay in some others, and are woefully lacking at least one. You do not have to excel in every area but you do want to recognize where you are weak and look for others who will balance your abilities. (See the “Leadership Roles Exercise” on p. 60 to discover your strengths and weakness.)
Finally, as the leader you’ll need to consider the group’s primary purpose. There are magickal groups that meet primarily to do rituals, share information, or explore the complexities of magic. Still others are primarily social in nature, gathering in a community of eclectic celebrations. Some focus on one aspect of the God/dess; derive their knowledge/practice from a particular mythological source or historical period; or explicitly mix traditions. As leader, your definition of the group’s purpose will affect its structure and the nature of the people you choose as members — or conversely, those who choose you. If it is to be a teaching group, you may wish to invite people who have little or no previous knowledge of magick; while if your focus is on a specific historical period or ethnicity, you’ll want to choose people who show interest in those areas. The group could be one in which expanding personal growth is a primary focus, or perhaps one of activists sharing stories, providing support for one another’s exploits. There’s a near-infinite number of reasons for starting a magickal group: make sure you and your participants are clear (and in agreement) about your goals.
Create connections. People looking for community are generally looking for a warm, friendly group, intimate enough that everyone knows everyone else, but large enough to keep fresh. What many don’t realize is that the satisfaction of being a member of any community often depends less on the group itself and more on your role in it. That said, there are steps that any leader can take to bolster the feeling of community in a new group.
The first step is deciding when, and how often, to actually meet. Check with your members (and remember your goals) to decide the frequency, timing, and nature of meetings; too often and you’ll likely put off some people and burn out others; too infrequent and your group won’t spend enough time together to “jell.” Also, you need to decide if you’ll have a ritual/magickal element to every meeting, or will some be purely social; in my experience, well-bonded magickal groups spend time both sharing personal information and working with group energy at each meeting.
There are a variety of exercises that your new magickal group can use; begin by keeping the focus on fun and getting to know one another, although some exercises can help you gauge each member’s level of magickal knowledge and perceptions. (In a business setting, these exercises are called “icebreakers.”) There is a powerful magick in telling a story, and having it heard by an audience, knowing you have imparted a piece of yourself to another. Establish the beginning of a group identity by leading your fledglings in exercises that will help them become friends, and your work is half-done.
Build a Magickal Group Mind. To do magick within a group requires that the entire group focus upon the defined and desired outcome. That intent, in part, requires us to trust that our partners are acting in accord with the outcome. Group magick requires that the individual psyches within the magickal group be fused into a singular entity, which is called the group mind. In Applied Magic, Dion Fortune says, “[T]he Group mind is built up out of the many contributions of many individualized consciousness concentrating on the same idea.”2 The group mind is not a consciousness in a self-reflective sense, but instead is the product of the focused and directed will of the entire group. As a result, the power and efficacy of magickal actions taken by a well-disciplined group can be multiplied exponentially over what’s possible by a single person. I believe magickal groups should do ritual, and frequently. “What could be more conducive,” asks Fortune, “to the formation of a powerful group mind than…an occult ritual?”3
The group mind phenomenon is constantly in effect, though people rarely notice it. The consciousness we all possess is very fluid and permeable. Each of us feels energy, emotion, and intent from others on a daily basis. We know when someone has a friendly “vibe” or a hostile intent even without any cues given by words or physical gestures. All of us are psychically sensitive to some degree, and when this sensitivity is refined in meditation, it becomes obvious that thoughts and feelings are very often a group phenomenon, rather than just a personal experience.
The Astral Temple
One way to strengthen your group’s collective mind is to create of an astral temple. It is a refuge, a place of learning and a holding place for the energies and power of the assembly. Its creation can take place in a single ritual, or with a series, mirroring the building of a physical structure (laying the foundation, erecting the pillars, marking spaces for the different rooms, etc.). The creation of the temple is a group project, and I recommend that the group reach consensus about how it looks before performing the ritual. In my tradition, both Yule and Imbolc are considered excellent times to begin this group endeavor.
Begin by describing your temple. Have your group meet in circle, perhaps even casting a formal circle to charge the space. Designate a person (or several, taking turns) to take notes. Each person takes a turn at describing what the Temple looks like in general. Examples might include: “it has Greek columns,” “the walls are made of Egyptian sandstone,” “it is very simple with clean lines and an uncluttered space,” “I see a fantastical gothic wizard’s workroom,” etc.
Make a list of common elements. Discuss if there should be specific motifs that are forbidden. (My group has a member with a snake phobia, so we have made a point of “no snake imagery” within our Temple.) Examine your temple as a group; do the different directions/elements have entirely different areas of the Temple? If so, do they look radically different from other sections? (The differing styles can appeal to various members, allowing each member to have a “favorite” part of the Temple.) Is the altar central to the Temple? Is the Temple open or closed? Are particular members drawn to specific areas? The group may decide to assign pairs to each direction/element, with the leader responsible for the altar area.
Finally, discuss how your group will “travel” to the Astral Temple. What elements will always be present, creating “triggers” within the magickal mind? From these discussions decide what the Temple will look like, and fill in the details of the Astral Temple Ritual.
Ritual for Creating an Astral Temple
1. Cast your circle according to your tradition; focus on the protective aspects of each element. If your magickal group works with specific deities call upon them. If not, I recommend Athena, Cerridwen, Hermes/ Mercury, Thoth, or Isis.
2. Get comfortable, then move into trance using your favorite induction method; choose one with a journey motif.
3. When everyone is deeply in trance, say:
You find yourself walking along a path through a dense forest. You are looking for a place, a place you have only been told of, but you know it exists. The path sharply turns ahead, and you find yourself at the base of a large hill. Set deeply into the side of the hill is a doorway. The door is locked.
You reach into your pocket and pull out a key. Use it to unlock the door and enter the temple. This place is sacred and secure. (In my Tradition, the key is given to initiates at their First Degree; dedicants and students who are taken to ritual within the Temple are accompanied by an initiate who unlocks the door.)
On the other side of the door is an entryway; within the temple there are four gates, towers, pillars, or doorways at the quarters in your temple leading to other places. You will explore them later.
Describe the temple as everyone had agreed. (Perhaps have several individuals each describe a specific section.) Return to the center and examine the entire area of your temple. Create the details of your surroundings. In the center, manifest your altar and circle space. When the temple is constructed as you all have agreed, gather in the center. Hold hands and chant:
As we willed, so mote it be!
Bless this space. Blessed be!
Feel the love and energy of your group fill the temple; let it consecrate the space. When you are ready, lead your group back to the material plane using the same path that brought you there, making sure to lock the temple door behind you.
A healthy magickal group is a place of joy. Build it on a solid foundation; grow it through the creation of strong relationships, and maintain it through group-specific tasks. These three steps will help ensure that your group lives long, and prospers.
This article first appeared in Witches&Pagans #22
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