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Posts Tagged ‘group’

What it Means to be a Church

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize the word “chuch” in a Pagan context gives folks an almost knee-jerk nauseated reaction. The vast majority of Pagan and Wiccan practitioners are converts from monotheistic religions, mainly Christian denominations (I think I’ll leave the discussion of conversion for another day). When we trade in the previous religion for the Old Religion, we naturally expect to leave certain ideas behind, and are eager to embrace and try out the ideas that are new to us. Some people have experienced a kind of spiritual abuse from their former institution, and will require some healing as they make their spiritual escape.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! It is one thing to reject an idea because it doesn’t work for you, and another to shut down and never give the idea a chance.  The first time I heard of the ATC, a Wiccan church, I too had a knee-jerk reaction. As a newbie know-it-all, I’d never read about Wicca having churches, and wasn’t about to investigate a horrible institution like the ones my friends and I “escaped” from. I met a priest there, who I hit it off with, and we’ve had a wonderful friendship that began almost ten years ago. He told me about his experiences with the church, and what the church was about. I invited myself along to the next ritual, and the rest is history. I’m really glad I gave the idea of a church a chance.

The Parthenon was a Pagan church. Should we tear it down because Pagans don't go to church?

Typically, Wiccans practice in small covens, as solitary practitioners, or at public festivals and rituals. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For many finding a coven is difficult, and finding one that you want to learn from and dedicate yourself to is even harder. As a solitary practitioner, you have the mobility to learn and practice whatever you please, yet you don’t get the opportunity to bounce ideas around and ones practice can get stale. Public festivals are big and fun, but they are also rather expensive, and the price of admission doesn’t guarantee the quality of the ritual experience, or that you’ll agree with the ideas presented, or that you can learn with 1,000 other people present. Networking is obviously a big concern for Pagans as demonstrated by the large amount of networking sites for different areas. I know whenever I go to a new place, I want to know what groups are there and what activities are going on!

A Wiccan or Pagan church is a place to do that networking. It provides a different kind of group experience. Psychologists generally define two types of group cohesion: intimacy and integrity.

Intimacy is more like what you would experience in a coven setting–the group bonds emotionally, and creates group-mind through a common feeling of belonging and friendship. Decisions are made democratically or, most often, through consensus. Groups that follow Dianic Wiccan and Fairy paths tend to prefer this kind of arrangement. It seems to me a very feminine form of leadership and group cohesion.

Integrity is what you are likely to experience if you come to the ATC–the group bonds over a common purpose. Who “belongs” is based on rank, with higher ranking members expected to contribute more time and energy to the group. Hierarchy is valued, and decisions are made by members of sufficient rank with the group’s best interest in mind. Gardnerian and Alexandrian derived traditions, as well as those with Masonic roots, arrange themselves this way. This group cohesion style suggests masculine virtues.

Academically, I don’t see how one could be better than the other, although individuals may place greater value on one style at certain parts of their life. Both are perfectly valid ways to run a community, and both have their downsides too: intimacy could violate confidentiality for a group member or never achieve anything because of personal problems, and integrity might be run by power-hungry dictators.

At the church I go to, both are present, but integrity is the most obvious to visitors. Rank is given to those who have demonstrated hard work and dedication, and who choose to become a part of the tradition. Intimacy comes only through time, and is based in personal relationships, which no amount of rank can force to blossom.

Why a Wiccan Church is Valuable

  • Rituals are open to anyone. No one has to vouch for you. You can show up as a complete stranger and be perfectly welcome.
  • You do not have to believe the same thing to attend ritual. Many who come faithfully practice other religions and are educating themselves about Wicca.
  • There is no commitment, unless you want to. Even tithing (another dirty word!) is of your own free will, although we do bless it for Threefold return, so tithing is in your best interest.
  • The church supports the community through programs, festivals, education, and counseling.
  • The church can be a political force, representing lots of people for a single cause, such as getting the Military to provide headstones for fallen Pagan soldiers.
  • The church is a place to meet like-minded people, network, and form intimate bonds. Many tradition members work with covens that are not affiliated with the church.
  • Donations are tax-deductible. If you’re going to give your money to a charity, give it to one that supports your people!
  • The church provides clergy, often ordained, who can offer spiritual counsel and perform ritual services for the community–in no way are they attempting to force dogma, but rather help individuals who ask.

A Pagan church isn’t about belief or dogma, it is about praxis (that is, what one does). We gather at church to support the same causes, to worship the Gods, to participate in self-changing magic, and to learn from each other. The church is a tool for those who are sincerely growing into better human beings, and offers a kind of community unique in the world of religion in general and Paganism in particular.

Pft! I had WAY more badges than this lady did!

While coven work is focused personal growth, a church is focused on service to the community, an element I believe is crucial to personal growth and often overlooked. Working on projects with others and holding positions of responsibility gives you a chance to grow into it in a safe place, where people will support you and encourage you to succeed. The rank system is a way of easily identifying those with certain skills, which is important in a big organization, and is a tangible visual for personal growth. If you want to know what it is like to display your personal growth, ask a Girl Scout to show you her badge sash–it is the same general principal.

I occasionally will hear snippy comments about the validity of churches in Paganism and Wicca, but I honestly recognize it as that newbie know-it-all knee-jerk–very different from constructive criticism, which has actually interacted with the ideas. As a new religious movement, we are in the process of creating our religion, so the discussion of what is and isn’t Paganism is not a closed subject, but one that is evolving as we explore different ideas.

Here are a few Pagan churches:

Join the Fanclub on Facebook!

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Hooray for social networking! Witchful Thinking is now on Facebook! If you have a profile, join us there to ask your questions, join the discussions, share news and information. This is a great way to share articles and meet like-minded folks, and invite your friends to the fun.

Hope to see you there!

Jamie at Witchful Thinking

Various Names and Guises of Witchcraft

January 26, 2010 2 comments

Dear Witchful Thinking

Greetings, I have been exploring Paganism and Wicca for a few years now and am still searching for the path that feels right. One of the reasons I was drawn to Wicca is that there are no hard and fast rules other than, of course, the Wiccan Rede which I follow carefully.  About Nocturnal Witchcraft. I have read about it a bit an it seems to be another form of Wicca, simply practiced at night, with night Gods and Goddesses. Am I right? I am most definitely a night person, always have been. I find the night to be more gentle, I feel a great sense of freedom at night, and also one cannot see all the “cracks in the pavement” if you will at night. The negativity in this world is all too visible in the light of day.  Anyway, what are your thoughts on this? I know that Wiccans do NOT worship Satan, do not even recognize his existence so I don’t believe that this type of Witchcraft has anything to do with Satanism.  I would very much like to explore Nocturnal Witchcraft and the only author that I seem to find is Konstantinos. I will understand if you aren’t comfortable recommending a particular author but any input would be most helpful. Also, thank you for your piece on Magickal names. I am searching for one that feels right to me, but don’t find having one necessary. I would use it for identity protection. I find that many folks who are new to Wicca and Paganism get caught up in the trappings.  Look forward to hearing from you.  Blessed Be

Emi M.

Dear Emi,

From "The Goddess Oracle" by Amy Marashinsky. Art by Hrana Janto. This is one of my favorite decks.

Welcome to Wicca! May the Gods bless your path and may you find what you seek.  The world of Witchcraft is a wild one, and it is very much like a landscape. There are many paths already made through lots of terrain, but one could easily create one’s own path. In the end, it’s a question of “where are you going” and your own choices that will dictate the direction you travel.

I dare say I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to some definitions. Please do not think I am chiding you, for I’m not, and respect what you’ve already come to know. I only want to be clear in our definitions. I know I am going to get flaming hate mail for saying this (please be aware that I’m coming from an academic background as much as a spiritual one)–but there are certain things you MINIMALLY ought to practice and believe if you are to call yourself Wiccan:

  • Work with a God (often horned) and Goddess (often triple).
  • See all of nature and the cosmos as alive.
  • Include the use of ritual magic or spellcasting.
  • Follow the Wiccan Rede.
  • Celebrate the eight Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year.
  • Celebrate the Esbat rituals which often includes Drawing Down the Moon.

There are, of course, many variations and manifestations of these beliefs. For example, many Dianic Wiccans only worship a Goddess, although they acknowledge the God, and are still considered Wiccan. I don’t think it is right for folks to cherry-pick the parts of the religion they like and call themselves Wiccan–they should call themselves something else, because there is already a definition of Wicca. It’d be like someone going to a Buddhist temple, but never meditating or following the Eight Fold Path and calling themselves Buddhist–it just isn’t accurate, and it is rude to those who actually follow the tenants of Buddhism. If you only like some aspects of Wicca, but don’t follow the others, and do not belong to an established tradition, then please label yourself accurately as a Pagan, or whatever is more accurate for you.

I think some folks feel their path won’t be taken seriously if they simply go by the term “Pagan”, so they use the safety of the word “Wicca” to validate their path to outsiders. “Pagan” is the catch-all word for what we believe, not “Wiccan”. Wiccans do not believe whatever they want and call it Wicca, rather, they worship in however way they want, based on the list mentioned above. The idea is to create your own unique and individual relationship with the Gods. No one can dictate that relationship to you. The ritual trappings, the tools, hierarchy and liturgy are designed to help you cultivate that relationship, grow as a person, and manifest the good from it in the real world. But Wiccans follow a similar path to do that, and end up with similar theology and ideas about the world and the Gods. Their beliefs are based out of experience which is based out of religious practices–not the other way around. Paganism requires no such beliefs short of being one who worships nature–with no dictation about how that should happen, nor does it require or nessicarily believe in a relationship with the Gods. Pagans may focus on nature spirits, the Fey, or work with specific pantheons, but if they aren’t following a Wiccan path they are not Wiccan. Many writers who are not in the community confuse the two terms, so start reading folks who are in the movement to help clear up any misconceptions.

Of course, no one should tell you what religion you are–that is your right to make that declaration. Soap box rant over. Let’s move on.

The author of "Nocturnal Witchcraft", Konstantinos. Cute, yes?

I haven’t read the book you mentioned by Konstantinos, so I couldn’t give it a hearty recommendation (but on your suggestion, it is now on my ever-expanding “to read” list!), but I did do some research about it. It looks like you are correct in your assessment that it is a Wiccan primer that focuses more on the “dark” aspects (literally, in the dark, not evil–which he makes a big deal about not being). In a sense, it gives a guide to those who are more attracted to the moon and stars and the cover of darkness. When you think about Wicca 101 books, they always talk about Lunar Esbats being at the Full Moon, but as you expand your practice, you might choose to do Dark or New Moon Esbats, and you may come across Deity that prefers to be underground or only comes out at night.

Although it is true that you can’t see the “cracks in the pavement” and the negativity that exists during the day, different dangers appear in the night which, to me, are much scarier. The darkness is where monsters live. Not only the literal crime and seedy underbelly of the city, but our own nightmares and fears. The challenge of working Witchcraft at night is to face those fears. I believe it is a much harder path, but one that well-rounded witches will come to at some time or another, whether they want to or not! So really, Nocturnal Witchcraft is….. (drum roll) Witchcraft!

Two things are happening here: 1) because we don’t have established rules or doctrines beyond the basics I mentioned above, our religious vocabulary lacks descriptions of specific kinds of paths. 2) because we do not have a class of those who are religiously trained in said non-existent doctrines, there are very few ways for those talented in the ways of the Craft to make money except for writing and selling books, which, as you know, are marketed by people who want to make money.

A gifted Craft teacher may have a path that they have well-traveled that is different from other peoples, and want to write about it and share it with others who might travel behind them. So they write a book, knowing the information will reach a great many people, and allow them a paycheck so that they might continue on with their service to the community (yay!). Then the editors look at the book and talk about how to sell it. They have to create a brand and protect the intellectual property of the author, whom they hope to make more money on in the future, so they give it a fancy name, without considering if there is already a path like it. Sometimes the name sticks, and sometimes it doesn’t.

But all religions have movements and denominations that come and go, or go by different names and actually believe the same thing. If you don’t believe me, check out the book Which Witch is Witch. I found a pattern when I plotted the regions the different denominations of Paganism did their work: in the Pacific Northwest, for example, there is a big Druid group, a hearty Heathen population, a Scottish family trad, reconstructionists, Dianic wyminns circles, Fairie trad, Wicca and Gardnerian covens, traditions started by solitaries, and a few off-branches of Gardnerians that go by various names–you will find this exact same list of types in each area of the country, but they go by different names and are run by different people. Of course, none of them would dream of conglomerating under one name! The groups have their own names, though they often have the same beliefs and similar paths–but they all have different histories and members, which vary by region.

Getting back to your question: Nocturnal Witchcraft is just one of many paths you can take. Personally, I don’t think you need to specify if you are practicing light/white or dark/black witchcraft, as it just confuses people, and a well-rounded witch works with both. If you like the phrase of it, you can choose to call your practice that. But I suspect the author has the name branded, so unless someone has read his book, they may not understand what you practice, so be ready to explain! I can definitely recommend the book The Dark Archetype for delving into ritual for “darker” gods. This book will guide you in where to get started for a handful of deities like Hekate, Anubis, the Grim Reaper, Baba Yaga and Lillith, among others. What I think you’ll find in your practice, however, is that most Godforms have a light and a dark side, but I suspect they start us out easy, and only show us their darker nature when we are ready to see it.

Hail, Diana!

Want an example? Pick any Greek God or Goddess and you’ll soon see their wrathful side. Zeus has more lovers than he can count, much to his wife’s chagrin, even solemn Athena once punished a girl who was raped in her temple. These Gods aren’t here for us to imitate–they absolutely do not model perfect behavior, especially not for mortals. But they do show us the whole spectrum of human relating, emotion and depth.

Most often, Wicca 101 books start with the easy light stuff, just like the Godforms do, to ease us into a new religion and not scare our parents. If you are already interested in finding out what goes on in the darkness, perhaps you are ready for the challenge of this kind of Craft. But remember to come into the light, too. Wicca is about balance, after all.

You are dead-on in your assessment about Satan’s place here–he has none! He is part of Christian (and a little bit Muslim) theology, of which we are outside. His terrain is not on our map, if you will. Satanism as a movement, too, belongs on the Christian map, and not lumped with us…no matter how hard some Christians try!

I think of all these names and traditions as places on a map. For those at home in one area might share a deep affinity with a place, even as they explore different locales, yet others might know it by a different name. Of course, there is night and day in all places. As Pagans and Wiccans, we are all sharing the same map, but we aren’t all going to the same place, and we definitely don’t take the same path to get there. That’s what makes it so different, so individual and wonderful.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(and then check out this interesting interpretation)

Resources for Leaders

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment
Dear Witchful Thinking-

I was wondering if you had any advice or resources for pagan leaders (clergy, student group leaders etc.).  I’m particularly interested in problem solving, conflict resolution, and just being a good, kind, effective leader and supporter of people who come to me looking for insight.  Are there any books out there specifically for pagan clergy/leaders? And do you have any general advice or wisdom you’d like all pagan leaders to know?
Thanks,
Fearless Leader.
Dear Fearless,
The good news is that Pagans are people, so any resources about group dynamics, leadership strategies, and interpersonal relationships will serve you in your leadership position. I’ve listed a few at the end of this article, and they are all available for purchase in the Witchful Thinking Store. But there are some particularities about working in the Pagan community that leaders should be aware of…
The thing you have to know about leaders in any kind of Pagan group, is that they immediately become clergy to the people that follow them. Because we do not have a way of identifying our clergy (post to come!) anyone with any authority is seen as being of value to the group members. In a way, this is good, because being a group leader allows the group to see what kind of person you are–in other words, you get to know each other. And people will come to you because they know you can help them, not just because of your status in a group.
But group members may not know what is appropriate to bring up with the group leader. They may bring up conflicts or share experiences that the leader doesn’t know how to deal with.  Recognizing your limits, and having some good resources in which to redirect group members is important. You aren’t going to be able to solve all their problems (and no one needs that burden!) so know when to say no.
  • Learn when to say “No, however…”. There will be situations beyond your means to deal with. Simply saying no can put them off from trusting you in the future. While keeping your bounadries is important, having a way to redirect the group member, and supporting them through the process can do more for the person than simply having all the answers.
  • Keep a list of resources. I have one with phone numbers for crisis lines, suicide reporting, domestic violence, Child Protective Services, and other emergency contacts. I keep it on me when I know I might be in a situation  where someone may need advice beyond my abilities. Because these programs vary by region, you will need to come up with your own list. Or consider collecting lists of lists. I have pamphlets of emergency services for my county.
  • Fill your toolbox with communication strategies. Having multiple possible ways to solve a problem will give you more confidence, and help you in strange situations or differing personalities. You can learn strategies by reading, watching other leaders and if you…
  • Join an online community to learn more about being a good leader. I found this one with a simple Google search. This one has a lot of strategies as well.
  • Find out what kind of leader you are. There is no need to try and be something you are not. We talked in the last post about leadership styles. But not all groups require your style of leadership at that time.
  • Know your group rules and stick with them! Follow established procedures and precedent. It keeps you from appearing arbitrary and gives you some authority. Examine the rules carefully before choosing to vote on a change or act differently.
  • Know when to step down. It could be a feeling that it’s time to move on, a recognition that the group needs more than you can give, or a pre-arranged time of leadership change. Knowing the group lifecycle can help you identify when a change in leadership is necessary.
  • Be available for mentoring. After your time as the leader is up, being around the group and available for mentoring others can keep the group alive. Just because you are not the leader doesn’t mean you don’t have wisdom to share. But your position in the group is different–let the new leader lead and learn from their mistakes. You can set a powerful example just by being present in the group after your term is over–it shows your faith in the group as a whole, and builds self-efficacy among the members.
  • Practice Humanistic leadership. Every person deserves a chance to be heard. Every person deserves to be valued and respected. Begin by actively listening to the group members, and not running off on your own ideas. A Pagan group is no place for ego (although there has been a lot of it in the past…)! State problems as “I statements” so you don’t accuse others of being a part of the problem, which makes them more likely to listen to you.
  • Learn so you can serve. Keep up your Pagan studies. Besides seeing you as clergy, the group may also see you as an authority–even if it isn’t nessecarily true! So keep reading and studying. Try some of the more advanced books available in the Witchful Thinking Store.
  • Don’t let your group eat you alive. Many groups are entirely dependent on their leadership to put events together and organize them. If we accept personal responsibility, then success or failure must be up to the group. The more your group members do, the more active and integrated they feel in the group. So give them something to do. Don’t let them make you do everything. You will burn out, and then the group will not benefit from you.
  • Give thanks where thanks is due. Praise is reward for good work. It shows the rest of the group the kind of behavior you expect, and bolsters self-esteem. And don’t forget the “behind the scenes” folks, and people who are outside of your group membership. Even in a failure, a good leader can find something positive to praise. But don’t give it out for every little thing, or do so without sincerity. Studies show that intermittent rewards work better than consistent rewards in future positive behavior.
  • You might have to be the bad guy. You may have to bring bad news, or solve problems by letting people go. Keep your intentions towards the benefit of the group, and use the charter as a basis. For the benefit of the group, you may have to ask disruptive people to leave. You may have to work with authorities who don’t like you and what you are doing. Sometimes you have to tell the group no. Gather all the facts you can before you make these decisions. Involving the group in the decision making process (without spreading gossip) or telling them the reasons why you made the choice can help people understand and support your tough calls.
  • Answer all questions as if they are honest. Why keep secrets? Or if you have to keep one, tell them why it must be secret. Someone may ask a sarcastic question, but may really have a desire to know the answer. Why not talk about it? No reason to reply with hostility. Besides, it makes you look knowledgeable and calm, and that’s never bad.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Not everyone needs to know everyone’s business. Make it a policy that gossip ends with you. If someone told you something about a group member that needs to be addressed, by all means, address it! But no need to say what your source was if they asked to remain anonymous. It means a lot to people that you can keep a secret.
I’m sure there is so much more to being a good leader. I think it really starts by being a good, honest person. Your desire, Fearless, to learn more shows that you care and is a wonderful place to start. Those that you lead will pick up on that kind of stuff and respect you all the more for having their needs in mind.
Here are a few excellent books on the subject:
  • Wicca Covens: How to Organize and Start Your Own by Judy Harrow. Probably one of the best books on leading Pagan groups. Harrow is a counselor and uses her knowledge in Pagan circumstances.
  • Deepening Witchcraft by Grey Cat. This book is mostly about advanced practices, but has some excellent advice about starting groups and events.
  • Strengths-Based Leadership by Barrie Conchie. This was recommended to me, but I have not read it. The author is a scientist who studied leadership for 30 years and talks about why people follow certain people.