Making the tech work

(Part of my series on coven life in practice)

Phoenix: silhouette of phoenix in white on blue circle

One thing that’s changed a lot since my own training is technology. I started as a Dedicant in 2001, when access email was fairly common, but many people didn’t check it every day (or even, sometimes, weekly) and dealing with complex discussions about files could be annoying because you’d have to keep track of which version you had.

Cell phones existed, but not everyone had them, so you also had to check whether it was okay to leave a Pagan-specific message at the number someone gave you, or whether it was a work phone number or a shared family one. 

These days, the world looks a lot different! Here’s how I’m using technology with my Dedicants.

General communication: 

I let them know that I prefer most things in email – it’s the easiest tool for me to mark something for later (I can send it right to my todo list), it’s the easiest tool for finding information later, and I have a record of what I sent.

(Most of the time I’m good with this right now, but a flare of some of my chronic health stuff can mess with my executive function or bring brain fog as an unwelcome houseguest, so I try to have tools in place all the time that will help if those things happen.) 

I make it clear I’m okay getting texts or phone calls, but chances are pretty good I may not pick up or respond quickly both because my phone isn’t always handy, and because both my office and my apartment have sometimes iffy signal. 

We have a Google calendar with dates for upcoming events. 

Class notes:

I write up my class notes (usually in a fairly minimalist outline form, but noting any specific information or details I want to make sure are accurate.) I don’t share these since they’re so minimal – they’re reminders for me of what I want to talk about, rather than full teaching notes. 

This is by far how I prefer to teach, as it works much better for me to keep a class conversational rather than a lecture. It feels a lot more natural to pick up a related topic because of a question, or to note a thing to come back to.

I use my iPad (which has a Bluetooth keyboard) to read from while I’m teaching, and I add quick notes about things that come up or to send along afterwards. That helps me remember to send those things out or follow up about them. 

Other files

We have a Google Drive folder with several subfolders. 

The Group Practices folder has general group information – a document with some practices we’ve discussed so they can be referenced later (what happens if you’re sick, what about confidentiality, what about guests, what about other activities together, etc.) 

The Dedicant Class Materials folder is for class files (I usually keep the the most recent couple at the main folder level, for ease of reference). 

And then I have a folder for individual files – each person has one which is just shared with me and them. They can put things in there they want me to look at or check over, without sharing it with everyone. (I tell them that I won’t look at things in there unless they ask me to, so email me or otherwise let me know to look at things when they’re ready.) 

After each class, I set up a document in the shared drive that has notes about any upcoming things to be aware of, links I wanted to share from class, and pointers to the tags related to this class’s topics. That serves as documentation for all of us that we can check, and makes it easier for me to be sure I’ve shared key information in a way we can all reference later if we need to. 

Pinboard

Finally, to share links, I have a Pinboard account. Pinboard is a great bookmark sharing site.

For the Phoenix Song account, all bookmarks are public, and I am adding them gradually (from my own personal account, from rummaging for things I know are online, etc.) as we go. That helps keep it manageable: I’m adding 5-10 links most classes, rather than trying to go through hundreds on a wide range of Pagan topics and having to remember where I left off. 

Each bookmark gets at least one tag, and then I can tell my Dedicants to check the particular tags for a class topic. For example, class 2 was about research and learning, and one of the relevant tags is ‘research.skills’. Keeping it easy to maintain is key for me with this kind of thing: if it gets too bulky, it’s too easy to get behind. 

Ritual scheduling

(One of my series of posts on coven life in practice)

Phoenix: silhouette of phoenix in white on blue circle

One really good question – and one I found myself getting hung up about – was “How often are we doing ritual?”

How I was trained

I’d been familiar with the training circle I trained in, which did ritual for the full moons (usually a bit shorter: 1-2 hours in actual ritual, plus prep time before and some social time/potluck meal after) and Sabbats (often longer: 3 hours for the ritual, give or take, and a more elaborate setup.)

Samhain required a good 4 hours of setup, and ritual often ran 3 or more hours. It was a gorgeous ritual, but it was physically exhausting, as well as emotionally a wringer. (As you might expect for a Samhain ritual.)

My initial thoughts

If that makes you tired, I’m right with you! I’m pretty sure I can’t do that anymore, at least not without really paying for it later. (I’m fortunate in that some kinds of ritual exertion are less tiring for me than they would be outside of circle, but I don’t like to keep betting it’ll be true.)

Another aspect is working with students as the only initiate. If they have a weird experience that needs to be talked through, or something goes awry, I need to make sure I have enough reserves to help with that and get them to a more stable point. That’s part of the commitment of being their teacher!

Our scheduling specifics

As I mentioned in another post, our scheduling is currently drive somewhat by childcare for one of my students – having a consistent day (middle of the day on a Saturday) works for her, and works for us, even if doing a lunar ritual at noon still feels a little weird to me.

The larger question is “how do we do the other scheduling?” Naturally, if we meet every other week, we’re not going to be meeting close to every full moon, or even necessarily within a week of a given Sabbat.

After giving it some thought, I decided for right now that we’ll do the 8 Sabbats (on the closest reasonable date). I have a slight preference for doing the Sabbat ritual slightly before the Sabbat, but this varies a little depending on the feel of the season for me. (This is so they can then do a little more on the day themselves if they’d like. Same for me.)

In the months with no Sabbat ritual, we’ll do a full or new moon ritual, depending on the scheduling, so they can get some experience doing different kinds of rituals, with different kinds of focus.

Once they are at the point where they can cast circle themselves, I’ll be sending out information for a thing we can all do independently for the full moon in the months we’re not together,  and talk about afterwards.

What happens once they stop being Dedicants, if they’re initiated? That’s a good question. Some of the scheduling issues will remain, so we’ll figure out what makes sense, but maybe we shift to doing longer rituals (with no class after) some weeks, and a discussion/class on a topic on the others. Maybe we come up with a different plan. We’ll find out!

How this is working

So far, this is working pretty well for us. Meeting about two times a month, every month, seems to be a reasonable amount of time. We’re getting through about as much content in classes as I was hoping to, with a comfortable amount for questions and things that come up in the course of doing things. 

Scheduling

(Part of my series of posts on coven life in practice)

Phoenix: silhouette of phoenix in white on blue circle

One of the things I’ve thought a lot about and struggled with is scheduling.

Don’t we all have that fantasy of a perfect schedule, where we meet on Sabbats, and full moons (and maybe new moons too) and everything flows and fits into a rhythm?

And I definitely was shaped by the group I trained with having a rich and full schedule. 

Except. Wait. No. Also other things. 

How things worked in the training circle

The group I trained in was great in many ways. We had ritual for the full moon (sometimes on a weeknight, sometimes on a weekend). We had longer rituals for the Sabbats. My high priestess had amazing beautiful items for the altar, seasonal things, a host of different coloured altar cloths and lights and other details. Walking into the ritual space could be entirely magical.

Classes for Dedicants were generous in length, meeting twice a month. Three hours once a month, five hours the other, to leave plenty of time to try things out. Classes were rich with information, with notes and exercises and meditations, and with a moderate amount of assignments to do at home (about 15-20 minutes of personal practice, and some reading or written assignments.) 

Initiates met once or twice a month for class, and the group leadership (people teaching and the upper degrees) met regularly. That last one involved dinner, the others didn’t unless there was a ritual. Initiates took turn in creating ritual for the group, and in taking on different ritual roles (great for learning, but more challenging than doing a role you knew well.) 

Only, over time, I realised some things. And then I ended up with chronic health issues that make fatigue a real thing to contend with (and often, I’m up for the group thing, but then it will take me days to recover if I overdo it, and probably affect my work. It will definitely affect my ability to write, to create, and to do other things I care about. And my ability to sort out food and laundry and other basic human needs.

First, that was a lot of time. By the time I was a second degree, I was regularly spending 10-15 hours on circle things many weeks, and that was before any of my own study or personal witchy practice got done. Other weeks it might be only three or so, but that was still plenty. 

Especially when you consider that there was a semester in the middle of my second degree that was utterly ridiculous. I’d moved into the covenstead in the middle of getting divorced. I was working full time (in a school library, so I was at work by 7:30 in the morning) and went back to grad school. I’d helped run the first two day Pagan Pride event as Programming Chair, and right around when the event happened, the partner of a dear friend (someone much loved in a different part of the communities that make up my life) died, suddenly. And I was helping her. 

I didn’t exactly have much spare time – and because I worked in a school, I couldn’t take vacation days mid-semester to catch up (or even just get a grip on my laundry). I had to hang on until winter break. I turned in more assignments that semester 15 minutes before the deadline than any other time in my education, by a factor of about 10.

That was the most absurd semester of that experience, but it left its mark. As handmaiden and second degree, I was also responsible for a lot of sorting and arranging things for ritual – and a lot of that turned out to happen on a schedule that really didn’t work for me.

Even before my health crashed, I had days where I could do several hours of steady physical work (like cleaning the temple and then a moderately involved ritual), and days where I absolutely couldn’t, and I was already constantly pushing my reserves that year. 

What I took away from that

It meant that when I hived, I wanted nothing to do with that. I wanted a practice that was sustainable. Even minimalistic. 

I joke that my requirement is that the coven stuff has to fit into a basket. It’s a fairly big basket (about 2 feet long by 1 foot wide by 18 inches deep) but still. It’s not the stacks of items in a large altar space, and Rubbermaid tubs full of seasonal decorations. More on this when I talk about objects.

Still, I don’t want a practice where I’m constantly looking to top the last big ritual, or where I feel compelled to come up with complex ritual ideas (especially right now, when I’m the only initiate in the circle). I want something where we can have meaningful, heartfelt rituals – but they aren’t necessarily super complicated or require a lot of setup time.

What does that mean now?

One of my students is a single parent, so actually, her childcare options are driving a chunk of our scheduling. Fortunately, that’s also working pretty well for other reasons. We’re currently meeting for about 3 hours every other Saturday, from 11 to 2. They bring food, I do the preparation of the space. (And they do the dishes, after. It’s great!) 

One session in a month, we do ritual (currently pretty short and sweet, but enough to try out different things.) It’s been a long time since I did group work in the tradition, so part of what I’m figuring out is how some of that will go in this place with these people.

I’m going to make the discussion of ritual scheduling its own post.

Times have changed

Phoenix: silhouette of phoenix in white on blue circle

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot – and talking to some friends who have extended periods of time in the larger Pagan communities – about, is how things have changed. 

I did a review of Seeker emails I’ve received earlier this year, and I was thinking about how they were both similar to and different from a decade ago (I was regularly answering them for our training circle for a couple of years.) 

I’m seeing some interesting patterns, and other people I’ve talked to have seen some similar ones. I don’t know that these are universal, by any stretch, of course! 

A little history

I should put this slightly in context: 

Between 2001 (when I started) and 2008 (when I hived) the training circle I worked with regularly ran a series of introductory Seeker classes. This was a 5 class series, held in a public-transit accessible location, either a Pagan/esoteric store, or a cafe with meeting rooms. We asked for a small donation ($5 a class was fine) to cover photocopies and things like the teacher’s parking and maybe a drink.  

When I started (I did my own round of attending Seeker classes in May of 2001), there were 15-20 people starting the series, four times a year. By the time I hived, the Seeker classes were smaller: there was both less apparent interest from people looking for groups, but also a few more options in the community, of people offering similar options. (We thought, on the whole, this was good for everyone: it’s really good for people to have choices if they’re available.) 

But it did also seem like, instead of interest in small group growing, it tapered off, and looser, larger groups, got more interest (I want to say from around 2005 to 2015 or so, based on other conversations.) People seemed to want public rituals, or open circles, or larger communities (some kinds of festivals, groups that got together for Sabbats and some classes, but not necessarily initiatory training) rather than small focused group work.

What I’m up to these days

I’m very clear on the coven site that I’m open to people interested in group work, but that I’m only interested in ongoing in-person work with people who are interested in or willing to learn my particular tradition and practices for what we do together. (Limited time, limited energy!) 

I get a request every month or two, on average, from people from a range of backgrounds. 

Strong desire for group work

The past year or two, I’ve been seeing that desire for group work flowing again – I’ve seen a lot more requests (proportionately speaking) from people who are thinking seriously about group work and what it means, even if they’re not really sure yet what’s right for them. Before that, I was getting more questions from people who were curious about witchcraft, but less sure about group work. 

(This is all totally not statistically valid, by the way: it’s impossible to judge trends in the larger community or population based on emails they happen to send me. But the shift has been noticeable enough for me to think about.) 

Less experience

One thing I am seeing that’s different than during my own training, is that a lot of people are emailing about group work fairly early in their own learning experience. They’ve read a few books, but not dozens. They may not have much experience with group ritual of any kind, even public rituals. 

Both my current students have tried some different things on their own – meditation, some magical – but not a huge range of what’s possible (or generally discussed in the broader witchy community). 

When I started out, and up to about 2005-2007, it was pretty common to see people who had already done a fair bit of exploring. They’d been to a few different public rituals, they’d read more than a couple of books, and they’d tried out some different things, often a fairly wide range. 

The differences are really interesting to work out. 

Less awareness of community options. 

Some of that may be locational. Boston is in a weird position, because there isn’t a lot of public ritual or intro class material out there. (As opposed to the Twin Cities in the early 2000s, when for a while it felt like I could be at a different public witchy event, no invite needed, shared on public calendars you could find with a search engine, every night of the week and half a dozen times on Sabbats.

I argue that Boston’s community is warped by Salem’s (which is a complex thing) and also by the fact that a lot of Boston still runs on an academic calendar, and the occasional impermanence of college populations. That’s shifted some (I’ve noticed it since I moved back) but it still affects a certain amount of scheduling. (Also, finding public transit accessible affordable spaces for ritual around here can be tricky!) 

At any rate, most of the people I hear from find me either on Witchvox or on BostonPagan.com (which is run by the Cornucopia Collective folks: I occasionally make it to an open ritual, and do a class or two a year for them, which is great fun.) I get an occasional other request from my website. 

More openness to conversation

Interestingly, I am seeing more openness to conversation – when I reply with questions, or thoughts, I’m getting a better quality of response back. Thoughtful people, more of the time. (Of course, there are and will always be people who don’t reply at all.) 

Some of that may have to do with the design of the coven site, which is very deliberate (and that’s probably a whole other topic, so I’ll make it one.) 

Updates and posts to come

You may have noticed that I’ve updated the images for each broad category here – I wanted something a bit more visually unified. (The icons are via The Noun Project, if you want to go find more like them.)

You’ll also be seeing an upcoming series of posts (weekly on Wednesdays through at least early April) about coven life and some of the practicalities like seating, food, managing technology, and other things that very few people seem to talk about. I expect there will be some future posts to come as things come up, beyond the ones that are already scheduled.

As always, signing up for my newsletter will get you updates on everything I’ve posted anywhere (plus things I find interesting or amusing.)

Bodies and bodies

I met another witch for coffee today. And it got me thinking about embodiment again, as one does. Icon - Adaptations - red watercolor heart

I’m usually pretty amiable about doing meeting people for coffee, if I can make my schedule work out for it. I’m especially when it’s someone like this, who is an initiate in a different line of witchcraft from mine, but interested in some of the same things.

Continue reading

It came from the search terms (plus some updates)

My newsletter continues to be the best source for all the things I’ve written recently (plus other links and things of interest I’ve come across that fortnight) but I just added four new articles here:

Looking through the site statistics, I also thought it might be fun to take a look every so often and do some pointers and quick answers for things people were searching for. If you’ve got questions you’d like me to answer of that kind (where to find a thing or wondering whether I’d write something about a particular topic) feel free to contact me through the contact form.

It came from the search terms…

Here are some queries from the last quarter:

Deities:

I had several queries about this: “honoring god and the goddesss”, “how to work with a deity”, “deities that work”. I have a series of articles up about deity work that will get you started with the first two. (You can find all three on the Doing page.)

The last one hits a question that’s come up a few times in other places – “I asked my deity for this thing, why didn’t it work”. That one’s on my list for an article sometime soon.

Witchcraft in practice

Queries for “religion and witch craft”, “how to practice wicca every day”.

I have an article on Daily Practices, and the Adapting section has a number of articles about adapations, especially the Chronic Illness and Pagan Practice article which has a number of low-exertion daily or regular practices.

Another query was “Steps to do a ritual”. Here’s my article on the steps of ritual. 

Another question was about “grounding spells”. I actually don’t consider grounding to be a ‘spell’, and this made me realise that explaining spells versus other kinds of magical work is an article I haven’t written yet! Added to my list. Grounding, however, has an article, and I just expanded it with a section on elemental grounding.

Questions not for this site!

“what do you put on a buddhist shrine”

And just baffling

“leprechaun at altar places” I’m still trying to figure out how to parse that one. (Maybe “What does it mean if you see a leprechaun near an altar?” or “where can you see a leprechaun at an altar?”)

Many updates and a whole new look

Between Solstice and Boxing Day, I overhauled the site! New things include:

  • New categories of pages
    • Beginning : basic terms and ideas to help you understand the rest of the site.
    • Building: how to begin to build a practice for yourself.
    • Doing: specific skills and practices in religious witchcraft
    • Learning: books, resources, and library information
    • Connecting : help with reaching out to groups and Pagan events.
    • Adapting : if you have specific needs, check this out for ideas and help.
    • Questions : common questions that didn’t fit in other places.
    • Concepts : quick links to key concepts like magic, ethics, and divination.
    • Resources : additional resources that you might find useful.
  • New graphics on each page that indicate what the focus of the page is.
  • Updating formatting to be consistent across all the pages of the site.
  • Updating tags, menus, and other navigational tools.

Basically all the pages that were here are still here, but some of them have been added to an archive page (and are not included in tag or the category pages linked at the top menu)

Besides the cosmetic updates, I’ve also added two pages, below, and added images to several others, including the tools page and the altar and shrine page. The new pages are:

New pages in November

I spent a chunk of time doing some writing in November, and here are five new pages for the site.

I’m planning to do some major rearranging at the end of the month (probably right between Solstice and Christmas), so you can expect to see things moved around to make them easier to find.