Many people want to know what they can do on their own, and why they might want to find a group to share their religious practice with (and learn from.)
A few myths about group work:
A lot of people start out with some myths about group work, and what it means – which really aren’t helpful in figuring out what will work for you. So, let’s start by looking at these.
Myth 1: Everyone has exactly the same practice
Usually people who believe this myth think they need to believe and practice exactly the same way as everyone in the group. Absolutely not true.
While working together you do need to agree on what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it. (As well as who makes the decisions about those things and does them!) That’s true of any group – think of it like a musical group, putting on a play, or playing on a sports team.
People in Pagan groups may have quite different ideas about the nature of deity, what they believe, what happens after death, or many other topics. What matters for group work is if you feel you can work with the practices of the group, while working in the group.
Generally, you can do what you prefer outside of group work. (The one exception is that some groups ask you to take a break from other practices during part of their training, to make sure that you have a chance to focus on and learn the group’s practices fully. It can be a little like switching from one language to another.)
Myth 2: Group members don’t get any say in decisions.
This is something that varies a lot between groups and traditions. However, even in groups with a clearly defined leader, a good leader will always listen to what the group needs and wants. And group members always have the right (and the responsibility) to go elsewhere if they feel they need to.
Sometimes everyone decides together about most things. In other groups, the leaders figure out what the group’s practices and focus will be and how everything fits, but ask for ideas from group members, include them in planning, or otherwise find ways to make sure their thoughts are heard.
There are also lots of ways to include personal preferences in group work, even if you’re all using the same agreed on ritual method. For example, a group might do a working for new opportunities. They might use the same ritual format, but then make tokens to represent their individual goals. Each member might not only use different symbols, colors, or types of materials – but the very way they see prosperity, or the thing they’re focusing on could be different. One person might be looking for a job, another hoping to get into the right college for them, and someone else might be working on ways to meet more friends.
Myth 3: People in groups don’t ever work on their own.
Some people think that those in groups never work on their own. This isn’t true: it’s important for group members to do their own personal work as well. Fortunately, this is a handy way to resolve the previous problem: you might focus on one set of deities in your personal work, and a different set in group work, or might use different practices in each case.
Why work on your own?
- You can work around your own schedule – you don’t need to find a time when everyone can meet.
- You can focus on just the things you want to do – you don’t need to find something everyone in the group agrees on.
- You can use the correspondences and ritual practices you like best – and work with the deities you are closest to.
- You can adapt your rituals to focus on the things you need most, rather than following a larger arch or cycle that might not fit your life as well. (For example, as someone who’s worked and learned on an academic calendar most of my life, fall and winter are times of intense work, not rest and introspection.)
- You can spend as much time on a topic as you need,
What are the benefits of a group?
- Some paths require that you learn them from someone else, often in a group setting. If you’re interested in one of these paths, you need to follow their conditions of training.
- Specific ritual techniques require more than one person. (Think of it like singing harmony in a chorus as opposed to singing by yourself in the shower. Both can be great music, but they do different things.)
- Sometimes, group ritual is just plain more fun: you can play off of each other, explore, be surprised by someone else’s ideas.
- You can learn things you didn’t know – and that you didn’t even know you were interested in or good at.
- You can get feedback and ideas easily and regularly – often leading to a fast improvement in your skills and understanding.
- You may find it’s easier to make time for your religious life a priority when it involves other people.
- You can build close friendships, relationships, and community with like-minded people.
- In the hard times, it’s easier to get support and ideas from people who know you well.
Group work does have some expectations.
- You need to be able to commit to regular participation with the group. (It’s hard to have relationships with people who aren’t there.)
- If you have lots of change in your life that affects your schedule, amount of energy, practical things like transportation, or health, it’s probably better to wait to seek out a small group until those things settle down. Getting to know a new group takes extra time and energy, and the group will want to see what you’re like when things are stable.
- Many groups do require that their members be of a particular age: 18, 21, or ‘living independently’ are all fairly common. This is again so people can focus on their work with the group while they’re learning.
If a small group is not a good fit for you at a particular time in your life, don’t despair! There may be open and public ritual and discussion groups that will allow you to connect with the community, learn interesting things, and find like-minded people without the expectations and responsibilities of small group work.
[last edited December 26, 2016]