Time costs of group work

This post goes with my previous post on financial costs of group work, as I think that being aware of the time we spend on something is also an important conversation to have.

Getting there:

Obviously, besides gas to get there, it’s going to take you time to get to where you’re meeting. My current driving time is 0 (for things I host) to about 30 minutes each way (heavy traffic, right after work) at my covenmate’s. More normally, it’s about 15-20 minutes. At 2-3 trips a month, that’s 40-90 minutes of driving time. Pretty reasonable.

In my former group, the drive was a bit longer – more like 35-40 minutes, and sometimes worse. When I was doing 8-10 trips out there a month, I was spending at least 4-6 hours in the car. This was slightly less fun, especially with later evening events and getting up early for work.


If I’m hosting, I need to spend about 2 hours preparing in advance. I live in a little tiny house (more on which in a future entry, because I want to talk about how I’m thinking about what a covenstead is), but 2 hours is plenty of time for me to do a thorough cleaning, sweep, do all my dishes, move the furniture that needs to be moved in advance of ritual, move the computer, and so on.

The good news is that much of this is work I should be doing anyway (general housekeeping) and I can keep on top of it fairly easily, or split it up over 3-4 days. The ‘day of ritual’ preparation (stuff that must be done that day) takes about 20-30 minutes, mostly moving furniture and computer and sweeping afterwards.

Ritual bread baking (for use in ritual) also takes time: the basic recipe I use means I need to be home for about 3 hours. However, most of that time is rising time: I can be doing things on the computer, cleaning, petting the cat, or working on a hobby for all but about 20 minutes.


Ritual takes as long as it takes, but generally, we plan on 2-3 hours (including setup and food after) for a moon, and generally longer (4 hours, sometimes more) for a Sabbat, because what we’re doing in ritual is often designed to take longer.


We schedule our discussion nights for a worknight, and I get up early (I start work at 7:30, so get up around 5:30.) So far, we’ve been finding that a 6-9 or 9:30 discussion works really well for us, and we’re trying to do 2 a month. 7 hours, give or take.


In my former group, classes were twice a month, once for around 3 hours, and once for 4-6 hours. In the new group, I want to leave it somewhat more open ended, with the idea that student and teacher should be seeing each other twice a month (because this helps build connection, and keeps things on track) but that times can be variable.

Class preparation time, now, that’s a tricky one. With an existing curriculum, like the one my former group had (where teachers for a specific class had notes to work with), preparation is mostly reviewing the material, and teaching – pretty quick for most of us. For the new group, I’m redesigning from the ground up, so of course, it’s taking hours and hours and hours for each class, plus a bunch of time for the overall structure.

(This is what happens when I work in an excellent high school for years: there are all these educational theories I’ve seen in practice that I want to make some use of.)

Personal work:

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe that the foundation of good group work is personal work. Yes, this is hard. No, I don’t always manage to do it. My personal goal, these days, is 5-10 minutes of moving meditation work in the morning, 5 minutes or so of devotional work as I begin my day, and ideally 10-15 minutes worth of meditative or astral work in the evening. I’m trying very hard to add 10-15 minutes of musical work each day, too.

It’s a goal – I usually manage two of the three on a good day.

I also spend a fair bit of time (probably an hour a day) reading material that directly impacts my religious life – online Pagan discussions, books, magazines, and so on. I also spend time on a regular basis writing material – posts in those discussion, entries on this blog, posts on LiveJournal, and so on. (This probably comes out to half an hour a day, but there are days I’m writing for 4 hours, and days I do none.)

Costs of group work

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about are the actual costs of group work – in terms of both time and financial cost. I’m not talking about paying for training, mind you – just about the other things that go into it. With rising gas prices and other costs, I’ve seen more discussion of this in people looking for groups, but there are very few specifics out there.

Now, obviously, I have one set of experiences: the numbers below are not going to reflect everyone’s experience. But I do want to put some concrete numbers out there (along with where they come from) so that other people can get a general idea of some patterns.

(This gets very long, so you click on to read the details)

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The advantage of group rituals

Yet another post inspired by interesting search strings that show up in my stats. (Incidentally, I am greatly delighted by the interest in my recent book lists and HPS theory posts. Thank you, all, who’ve been reading and commenting and passing links on!)

The search string in question was “advantage of group rituals” It’s pretty obvious, if you read various other posts in this blog that I am a big fan of group rituals. But I have not yet talked about exactly why that is.

Scratching the itch:

First and foremost for me, group ritual scratches itches inside my head that personal ritual never does. It’s something about the interaction between me and other people in a sacred space. Don’t get me wrong: I value personal work as well, and I think it’s essential for a well-balanced religious life. But if I go more than about 6 weeks without group ritual, I notice myself getting more and more off-kilter.

One of my motivations, yes, for getting my 3rd degree, is that it means that no matter where I am, I can form a new group, should I have to. I very much hope doing that from scratch in a totally new place without any other groups around I can visit won’t ever be necessary – but I feel a lot better knowing that I have the tools and skills and abilities to do so.

But why does it matter to me? Good question, and there are some reasons I still haven’t puzzled out in the more than a decade since I noticed this. But there are some I’ve figured out…

Singing in harmony:

My standard comparison on this one is singing. You can sing many wonderful, amazing things by yourself. You can move minds, change the way people see the world, relax or annoy them. But what we can’t do with the human voice is sing interweaving harmony parts by ourselves. If we want to do that kind of music – which, again, has many wonderful options – we need more people. It’s not that one is better or worse than the other. But they are different, and they sometimes do quite different things.

The experience I get from singing to myself is different than the experience I have been in the circle with a round sung by multiple people there. The energy flow is different. The sense of holding and creating sacred space is different. All sorts of things.

Different isn’t always *better* – I can have fantastic experiences on my own, and fantastic experiences in groups (and, sometimes, lousy experiences in both settings.) But I find the difference brings a lot of benefit, just because I’m getting varied experiences.

The practical bits

There are also some practical ways that group ritual is different (and has beneficial differences in at least some cases.)

Make time: It’s sometimes easier to make time for something when it’s deliberately scheduled on your calendar and involves other people (so you need to prepare ahead of time, and there are more obvious consequences if you blow it off.) We’re more accountable. But it’s not just – at least for me – about making time to be there.

It’s also about making sure there’s time in my life to prepare for it. To get myself there, to prepare mentally for ritual. And, of course, these days, there’s also planning time for the ritual that needs to happen if the ritual’s going to take place.

Requiring myself to make that preparation time also oddly makes it *easier* for me to make personal time: I’ve got a better sense of what things I might want to focus on, work with, learn about, practice, or whatever else on my own. And, sometimes, an idea of what I don’t want to spend more time on right now. In other words, it helps me set priorities and goals in my personal work, by outlining some possibilities.

Articulate: Related to this, when we’re doing things with other people, we need to be able to articulate what we’re doing. Some of my best ritual designs are because I had to get out of how my own head works and come up with something that makes sense to people who do not live in my head. (Which is to say, everyone else.)

Feedback: Other people can give you continual feedback on what they see from you, and how to deal with problems or changes that come up. This can be frustrating at times, but it’s also a powerful learning opportunity.

New ideas: You often get to experience approaches you would never have thought to work with. The group I trained with rotated who designed full moon rituals among the initiates: it was fantastic to see how different people approached different topics, and what style of ritual they chose to do. It challenged me in ways that wouldn’t happen if I were working entirely on my own.

Support: You don’t have to do everything yourself. Seems logical, from the above points, but there are times when I’m really glad I don’t have to track everything going on in circle, and can just trust other people to do their bits, and get a rich and full experience. And, of course, in emotionally challenging rituals, you can get support from the other people there in doing deep and intense work.

Challenge: Perhaps my favorite. Now, I try very hard to be rigorous in evaluating what I do on my own. But I’ve found that working with other people requires me to challenge and develop my ideas and practices in a way even the most rigorous self-examination doesn’t always reach.

My current covenmate is a great example of this: I’ll poke at things over time, come up with something – and then she will, very clearly and precisely – ask me a bunch of questions that allow me to take it to the next level, or that make me look hard at certain assumptions. (She says I do the same for her: we’re a good fit for each other because we both find this incredibly useful and enjoyable.)

The only downside, so far as I can see, is that we have a very hard time having *short* conversations with each other.

Taking a week

One of the good things about working for a school is the vacations.

(There are also downsides: my breaks are unpaid time, and I don’t get any say in when I get them – it makes it very hard to do things requiring time off during the school year.)

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Ritual and context

I’ve been quiet for a few days, because I was busily off at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention (I had a fabulous time and I am already looking forward to next year: many excellent conversations with interesting people about books and thoughts and the world in general.) It’s also sparked some thoughts about some things I really want to change in my life, and more on that in the coming days.

Today, though, a short post on something I was discussing else-net. One of the panels I was at this weekend was about the issue of message in a story: is it a good idea to be deliberately push buttons in your readers to make a point?

Emma Bull (one of the panelists, and one of my favorite authors to boot) made a comment I’ve been thinking about ever since: that all stories have your assumptions about how the world works. This comes through in the story, no matter what else you do.

This got me thinking. Ritual is, in many ways, a story.

Rituals are also stories, in their own way. Not in the sense they always have a plot, mind you – but in the sense that they have a context they exist in (what’s in their world), that stuff happens (there is a change between the beginning state and the end state of some kind), and that the successful ones have some kind of desireable emotional effect (because otherwise, we would eventually find them boring and never do them again.)

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