Ritual limits: role of the event planner

A comment from a friend about my last post brought up some excellent questions about the role of a larger organisational body in the question of ritual or workshop or whatever limits. (As, in the case in question, when a ritual is taking place at a larger event.)

I didn’t talk about this in the previous post, both for length reasons, and because the event organiser side is a bit more complicated for me to talk about clearly, but my friend made some excellent points that I do want to talk about more.

Background and disclaimer:

This is my personal blog, and here I am speaking only for me, and not for any organization I’ve volunteered with, either currently or in the past. All clear? Good.

That said, my experiences shape my opinions: and you might want to know where that experience comes from.

I’ve thought about many of these issues (and the more general question of how to make public and large scale events more accessible to more people) a great deal in part because of my time on the board of Twin Cities Pagan Pride since 2005, running both the fall Pagan Pride event (a two-day event in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, though we’re planning on going back to one day in 2011 to find a space with better walk-through/casual traffic) and our new project, Paganicon, (taking place later this month), which is a weekend hotel-based conference (albeit much smaller than Pantheacon: we’re likely to have somewhere between 100 and 150 people this year, which is just fine.)

I’ve also attended a small invite only Pagan festival for several years, and ran and helped with some other community focused events in the Society for Creative Anachronism and in science fiction fandom over the years, both places I’ve learned some things I apply to my current Pagan focus. Reasonably varied experience, basically but I haven’t seen and done everything, either.

I’ve got a particular interest for various reasons in overall accessibility of events – not just mobility needs or food allergies or identity limits, but things ranging from choices in accessibility tools (i.e. lipreading seats vs. ASL interpreters vs. real-time transcription options for those with hearing impairment) to looking at things like learning style differences, scheduling, and other details.

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Responsible ritual announcing

I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations around a ritual at last week’s Pantheacon that turned away both transgender women and men at the door without previously making it clear that it was a limited-access ritual. (Two posts with background and links to additional comments can be found here and here.)

[It’s worth noting that other rituals at the event were somewhat more explicit about limitations: my quick count through the program found 4 rituals identified as for women only, 2 identified as for men only, a couple with age limitations, and one ritual with additional limitations: all-white clothing and that participants not be bleeding (either via menstruation or cuts/scrapes)]

My thoughts on this are complex, both because of some of my own deeply held beliefs about ritual, and because I’ve had several years of doing Pagan event organizing. And also because of the knowledge that gender identity, the creation of women-only spaces (and how one defines who can participate in them) are both complex topics, and ones where there’s a lot of history, and many people on various angles of the conversation who have strong feelings, many of whom have felt hurt, left out, or otherwise not listened to at various points in the debates on the topic.

My first belief is that when we are talking about participatory religious ritual, that touches about transformation of the self, vulnerability within community or before the Gods, or anything else of that kind, that a fundamental right of the potential participants is to decide whether or not to participate in that ritual at that time. That means providing sufficient information to make an informed decision.

My second belief is the idea of religious group practice as a haptocracy, a word I coined from the Greek hapto or ‘to work’. In other words, the idea that the people doing the largest work to make something happen get the most say in how it happens. The people doing the work to plan and facilitate the ritual don’t stop being participants because they’re planning the thing: they still get to decide if there are circumstances in which they would not be comfortable participating.

Based on these two principles, I do clearly believe that if a group of people want to put on the effort of a ritual, they get to decide who can come. Those choices have a wide variety of consequences and results – but they still get to choose.

Likewise, people who might be interested in attending get to decide if they want to be in that space in that way, given the stated limits, requirements, or other description.

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Health and Craft – the personal bit

Hello, dear fearless readers of this blog. I realise I haven’t updated here since May. It’s been a complicated summer, as I’m job hunting again. (Which thus far has involved two trips out of state for interviews, plus all the ordinary stuff like resumes and cover letters and so on. If you know people hiring librarians passionate about connecting people with information they care about in either the Upper Midwest or New England, feel free to drop me a note. )

The other part is something I talked about back in March, which is health issues. And reminded by a letter of introduction from someone potentially interested in group work with me, I thought I’d take a moment to lay out some of my thoughts about the intersection of health and Craft work. This part deals with the personal bit, and my internal observations, part 2 will deal with how I think this impacts group work more broadly.

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Thinking about limits and responsibility

On Saturday, I’ll be posting some of my thoughts for Blogging Against Disabilism Day hosted by Diary of a Goldfish . In working on that post, I realised that I a) wanted to talk about some of my own thoughts about dealing with my needs but b) it was distracting from the other things I wanted to say in that post. So, you get the ‘me, as someone wanting to do things’ post here, and the post about my thoughts on the issues in the Pagan community on Saturday.

As a Pagan with specific needs:

I need to take responsibility for my needs. This is both for philosophical reasons, but also for practical ones: no one else is going to know my needs and limits as well as I know myself. I feel that I should be able to do the following, in order to help others in the community figure out what they can offer, and how they can offer it.

Recognise my limits:

I am fortunate to live in a metropolitan area with a wide-ranging and active Pagan community. On many days, there are a couple of different events going on. Many happen in ways that just aren’t accessible to me: for example, they end at 9pm or later on a worknight, which means I can’t get enough sleep to function the next day if I go.

I could try demanding that all those events meet my specific needs (unlikely to happen, and frustrating for everyone.) Or I could recognise that at least right now, I’ll need to miss some things. Lots of things.

Be able to communicate specific needs clearly and well in advance:

I know that group leaders and event planners are busy people. Keeping my questions and request short and focused will make it easier for everyone if I have to ask for help or additional information.

The larger the event, the sooner I should ask: I know there is a limited amount that even the best-intentioned folks in the world can do last minute. I’d suggest at least a week in advance, more like two or three if it’s a major event (a once-a-year festival.) Mostly, this isn’t a direct issue for me right now (I’m more likely to be the one running something than attending), but it’s good to keep in mind.

Clearly share what I can offer:

This is true both as a group leader and as a friend to others in the community. One of the things I’ve struggled with this winter is how to be a good priestess while my own resources (energy, time for anything other than basic necessities) are so slim. I think I’m walking that line about as well as possible, given the limitations, but every time I have to hold myself back from offering help or even just seeing a friend, it’s hard.

Being clear about what I can and can’t do right now means people don’t have to guess. And that saves time and energy and lets us get onto more of the good stuff, and less of the disability-management stuff.

Be a good guest:

It is not nice to spring things on your hosts, and tends to make everyone less happy. This is true whether it’s a specific food need, the fact you have a service animal, or that you have specific allergies. In general, I’d say that it’s important to be especially clear for an event hosted in someone’s home, and to realise that not everything may be an option given those circumstances.

Issues I’ve seen show up in the past include:

I’ve seen or heard about all of these situations (and more!) in my past experience, though I’m doing my best to leave out any specific identifying information.

If there are things you absolutely can’t be around:

Communicate these early and clearly (if you do it in person, follow up with an email, so they have the complete list of concerns in writing.) This includes

  • Foods you can’t be in the same room with
  • Incense, herbs, or scents that you can’t be around
  • Cleaning products, ditto
  • Pet allergies that you can’t medicate for
  • Major mobility issues (as below) that require specific furniture or arrangement of space

Food and drink limitations.

If the group tells you that they share food (often bread and alcohol in small amounts) in ritual, but that they can include alternatives with warning, tell them in well in advance (by which I mean ‘in enough time they can add something appropriate to the shopping list’, not ‘when you show up at the ritual.’) I know I don’t always have juice that’s seasonally and thematically appropriate to the ritual unless I buy it specially.

Time limits.

If you use a ride service due to mobility issues, and they give a wide time frame for pick up and drop off, check with the hosting household to make sure they’ll be home and available enough in advance. They might have been planning on last minute cleaning, a leadership discussion before everyone else arrives – or even a rehearsal of the ritual that needs to be private. You should expect to entertain yourself (bring a book, etc.) until everyone else arrives, rather than have a nice long friendly chat with people in the household (who, again, may need to be doing other things.)

If you have a service animal:

Discuss this clearly and up front with the hosting household as well as the ritual planners – people will be able to accommodate different needs. (The ADA doesn’t apply to private homes or invite-only settings, and religious settings also have specific exemptions.) This is for good practical reason. Some people have allergies sufficient to make it hard to host any animal in their personal living space. Some have pets who live in the home who do not do well with other animals. There may be specific concerns around space, mobility, or allergy needs of other attendees.

(Having had a very bad experience around this one in the past, I think it’s also good to provide some advance information that can be sent to everyone in the ritual about what to expect, and so people with mild-to-moderate pet allergies can medicate or make other choices appropriately. If your service animal has never been in this type of ritual space or work before, make extra sure to let people know that.)

Check with the hosting household about any mobility issues.

Good questions to consider include:

  • Are there stairs to get into the home? How many?
  • Are there stairs to get into the ritual space?
  • Will we be standing during ritual? Could you have a chair available?
  • If there is sitting during ritual, could you have a chair instead of sitting on the ground?
  • If outside, is the ground level, or is there a hill or valley, gravel, or other difficulties?

Plan ahead around food:

Expect that in a potluck situation (common for many Pagan groups after ritual) that there may be some foods there that you can’t eat for whatever reason. Since people have so many different (and sometimes conflicting!) food needs, especially after intensive ritual work, you should make sure you bring food you can eat that will satisfy you, and expect that you may not be able to eat everything offered, unless it’s been carefully arranged in advance.

You should be aware that some people experience blood sugar or other related reactions to some kinds of ritual work. If you have any concerns, you should let the event hosts know in advance, and ask what you should do if you need to be excused from the ritual for a minute. (In groups using a formal ritual circle, they may want to let you out in a way that doesn’t disrupt the existing energy and focus of the circle for others if at all possible.)

Provide brief information about any potential emergency needs

I’m asthmatic: I always tell someone there where my inhaler is. (And that I’m asthmatic in the first place). Seizure disorders, vertigo or other things that make standing up suddenly a problem, significant blood sugar issues, and anything where you’ve got significant limitations on the amount of standing, walking, exercising, etc. you can do are good things to communicate. The group doesn’t need all the details, but they really do need to know whether it’s more useful to hand you food or medication or to call 911. We all hope none of these emergencies will happen, but preparation helps a lot if they do.

It’s also good to let people know if you have a compromised immune system (so that if the whole group is coming down with something nasty, you can get a warning), or if you have any particular considerations that might affect others. (Like a disease that might be transmitted by casual contact, or by blood if there was a minor household accident – I’ve seen enough broken glasses and similar things to like to know this one for clean-up precaution purposes.)

Be aware that not all accomodations are realistic

We’d like them to be. But I think we also do better if we admit we live in a world where sometimes, the options don’t allow that. And likewise, sometimes, that accommodations are mutually incompatible.

One common problem of the first type is mobility, and I’d like to take some time to break down the choices here, to look at the range of considerations that come up when evaluating long-term changes in ritual and magical practice.

Let’s say that rituals currently happen in a space that involves stairs, and someone who can’t climb them would like to attend. On one hand, it looks like there might be a simple solution: hold the ritual in a space that doesn’t have stairs. In reality, that may not actually produce the same kind of potential space and work.

Option 1: Rent a space

Many rental spaces have better mobility compliance than private homes, it’s true. But they also have some limitations that significantly affect what kinds of ritual work can be done in them.

  • It is much easier to find rental spaces for a Pagan group in some places rather than others.
  • Cost can be prohibitive for a small group. My tradition has 22 rituals each year: rental spaces in the Twin Cities commonly used by the Pagan community run $50 to 100 a time – that’s a fair bit of cost to share between a few people.
  • The times the space is available may be limited – and often, the group that owns the space gets priority on scheduling.
  • Groups may need to be done and cleaned up with a strict time limit – this can make some kinds of ritual work challenging, or may make doing ritual work on weekday evenings impossible in that space.
  • Many spaces have restrictions on the use of candles, incense, food, and drink (all of which may be used in many practices at some point.)
  • Group members have to pack up and carry all of the needed items. (I’m going to come back to this point in a minute).
  • Outdoor parks can be an option in some settings – but you are at the whim of the weather. (And in some areas, outdoor ritual for a significant part of the year might be an accessibility issue all by itself. I live in Minnesota, where I think ritual planners need to pay attention to both heat issues and cold issues, depending on the season. More on that on Saturday)
  • Many spaces do not offer much privacy, or much control over the space.

It’s this last one that’s particularly challenging. Some groups do actively present open rituals (that anyone from the public can attend). Some groups hold rituals that have a very low entry bar (open to anyone who asks for the location information). And some rituals are celebratory, or are open to distractions or interruptions. But many Pagan paths include at least some elements are very private, personal, or challenging for the participants. Some more intense ritual practices can also be especially draining or even unsafe for the participants if they’re interrupted.

Let’s look at an example. The ritual celebration of Samhain in a number of paths focuses on remembering our beloved ones who have died. This can be a deeply moving and emotionally powerful time for many people. Now, imagine that you’re crying your eyes out, after telling a story of a beloved friend, partner, or family member, and someone opens the door to the space, walks through the large meeting hall you’re in, and disappears into the bathroom at the other end of the hall. And a few minutes later, they do the same thing in reverse. This is often very common in rented church or community spaces: the larger function rooms without fixed furniture often have the bathroom or other important facilities (utility closets, storage, sound or lighting controls for the building) attached or nearby, and if there are other events in the building, people may need to access them.

Or imagine the same ritual in a building where there’s a drum jam, concert, or noisy meeting taking place on the next floor, or behind the next wall. Would you be as able to focus on your memories and grief as you would in a place that was quiet and undisturbed? Sometimes spaces share light switches (or are either in total darkness, or glaring fluroescent), meaning that it can be challenging to create a soft, gently lit, sacred space for worship.

In other words, the rituals that work best in rented space are often the more public ones. More emotionally intimate ones often don’t translate well, or require a lot of special arrangement to feel like safe and meaningful space for the participants. In some cases, creating an appropriate space for a particular kind of ritual may be impossible in rented space.

Option 2: Use a different space hosted by someone in the same group

Again, if this is actually an appropriate option, this can work great. But often, the number of people in the group who can reasonably host a small group ritual are relatively small.

  • Does anyone else have sufficient space to host a group of your size? That includes being able to move furniture out of the way to clear enough open space for ritual.
  • Do you actually have a space that solves the mobility challenges? If everyone else lives in upper story apartments, or other places with lots of stairs, you might not.
  • Is the prospective host able to deal with the necessary cleaning, furniture moving, etc. to prepare for ritual? If not, is that a problem that can be reliably solved with help from the group, or not?
  • Does the prospective host introduce any new accessibility concerns – pets, other allergens, mobility within the space, space for people to sit during the ritual.
  • Will it limit someone’s spouse or partner, housemates, or children from reasonable freedom in their own home for the duration of the ritual? If they can’t move between the kitchen, the bathroom, and their preferred space to curl up when the living room/other likely ritual space is in use, frustration will likely build. These spaces might work well for a very occasional need (like a rain location in a place with generally decent weather in the summer), but they create hard feelings if they’re used all the time.

Sometimes, neither of these are good options. In which case we’re back to our less-than-accessible space as a hard limit.

The problem of tote-and-barge Paganism:

This is, perhaps, my favorite term for those groups who meet in places where they must bring our equipment. (I have the kind of experience with this you might guess when I say that in my former group, one of the best presents we ever got our HPS when we were still regularly renting space was a set of matched rolling luggage.)

How much a group needs to bring varies a lot on their practice. However, it’s fairly common to have a selection of candles and candleholders, something to share ritual food and drink, artwork or statues of deities to be honored in that ritual, and whatever appropriate ritual tools are needed. Many of these may be breakable. Altar cloths appropriate to the ritual. If the site doesn’t have suitable tables, the group may need to bring those too.And then there’s the ritual decorations, which can take up about as much space as you’re willing to haul. Some items are small. Some are fragile – glassware or ceramic. Some are large and have to be carried separately – a broom, for example, or a staff. This often requires very specific packing skills to be able to move everything safely and securely in as few trips as possible.

On top of this, of course, we must include the items that the people bringing the ritual stuff need for their own personal needs – which could be anything from food and drink to share, to a chair to sit in and cooler (if it’s an outdoor ritual), to bags with personal items.

It adds up to a lot of stuff. And it adds a good 20-30 minutes of physical effort to the day’s activities. For some people, this is no big deal – but for some people (and that includes me, right now) that’s going to substantially change the other things they can plan for that day.

There are ways to do it with less stuff. My own group has a one-basket policy (with a couple of exceptions like a small cauldron). If it doesn’t fit in the basket (which is about 9″ wide by 18″ or so long, and about a foot deep), it doesn’t get acquired. However, I’m rigorous about this because I also don’t have room to store a lot of items (little tiny house!) rather than because of the hauling complications.

The hauling’s hard enough, but in my experience, is the need to pack and unpack the stuff multiple times is even worse.

If we’re doing ritual in my home, it’s no big deal if I suddenly discover we need one extra tea light candle, or if I can’t find the lighter that’s supposed to be in the basket. I snag another one (because we’re at home, and I have such things handy.) I can do a final check of things for the ritual as people arrive, if I’m home.

If I’m elsewhere, I have to find time to double check the basket and make sure everything’s there – that we haven’t used the last stick of incense, that we have plenty of candles, that the lighter’s full enough to light things easily. This can easily take 10-20 minutes, and it’s a task that’s particularly fragile if you get distracted or lose focus for some reason.

And of course, there’s the issue of cleaning things after use. If I’m at home, my chalice often stays out on one of my shelves: it gets rinsed and cleaned, and then goes back there. If we use the one in the basket, it needs to be rinsed and washed, and then packed back down there – into the bottom of the basket. This also means you end up unpacking stuff when you get home, cleaning the stuff that needs cleaning, and then repacking it – tasks that add up to a fair chunk of time after what has already been a demanding day.

You might also notice that these are hard tasks to share. If we’re meeting at my home, I can hand much of the set-up over to other people, and focus on the bits only I can do. I can leave the washing up for a day or two, if I’ve already rinsed everything out. If we’re meeting somewhere else, but the *stuff* lives at my home, I either have to do it all, or make arrangements for someone else to do it (which might limit my schedule, other things I could be doing, etc.)

None of these are great solutions, if the person who is responsible for the stuff also has health concerns (either of focus/concentration or of energy)

Personally, I’ve found that doing rituals at home – even with the house-cleaning expectations that go with that (but I’d want a reasonably tidy house anyway…) – is perhaps a tenth of the work of doing ritual somewhere else, just because I don’t need to invest nearly as much time in double checking everything and making sure it’s available if we need it. It also makes for a richer ritual experience because I’ve got more space to improvise if I have a last minute brilliant idea. And I can spread out the work over a couple of days if I need to, rather than doing it all at once.

It also – as someone who’s dealing with exhaustion issues – means I don’t need to drive home afterwards. I can push myself to the further edge of my limits, because if I need to go to bed right after we’re done, I can. I have the comforts of home, and I don’t need to go far to make use of them. That’s pretty invaluable right now. There *are* ways to share the work in many groups – but some of them work better than others at some stages in an individual’s or a group’s growth and cycle.

So…

As you can see from all of this, sometimes there isn’t an actual practical solution that’s accessible in the ways we might like – in an ideal world – to be able to offer. I think it’s important to keep looking at these questions, and whether we’re missing an answer that would improve accessibility without removing anything from the core practice of our path.

But I also think it’s important to realise that – in Pagan terms – there are many reasons we might be a poor fit for a particular group. Scheduling (when the group meets), the group’s focus, the time expectations (both for group events and personal practice or study at home), the specific practices, and many other things like the personality of existing group members all also matter.

Sometimes we can fudge on some of those and make everything work out in a way that preserves the tradition’s tested practices and meaningful experiences but can include people with specific needs or limits. Sometimes we can’t, for reasons that are not anyone’s fault or blame in particular, but that come from all sorts of other things going on in our lives. It’s fair game to ask what might be possible – but also our responsibility to know what we can and can’t accommodate.

Leaving a group

This is a question that’s come up in two different places recently, which usually is enough to make me consider a post here. (One was a question from someone online about how to approach that conversation with a group she’d been working with, the other was a conversation with my student about my expectations around that once someone commits to being a Dedicant, just so we were both clear.)

The following applies to a group that someone’s made a significant ongoing investment in – I’m talking about becoming a formal student, member, or whatever else, here, rather than showing up when you feel like it, basically (that’s a whole other set of guidelines.)

Basic principles:

In general, I think that it’s good to avoid burning bridges unless you absolutely have to. Even if you think the people in a group are the lousiest people on the planet, the Pagan community is still pretty small. Chances are decent that you’ll end up crossing paths with them at some point down the road, or talking to someone who’s worked with them, or whatever.

Thus, while a good parting doesn’t need to be ‘happy and cheerful’ (it’s okay to have hard or hurt feelings), handling it maturely and thoughtfully, taking the high road, and tying off loose ends as much as possible has long seemed the best choice whenever you can. It will give you the widest range of future options in the community both immediately and in the future.

Existing commitments:

The first thing to do is stop and think for a minute, because it’s going to simplify the next steps a lot. Different groups, traditions, and paths have different ways to part, and different things to keep in mind, but here’s things to look at:

Have you made any commitments, agreements, or oaths…

about how parting from the group happens or should happen? For example, students in my group are asked as part of their Dedicant oath that if they decide the group isn’t a good fit for them, they will return to the group for a formal parting if at all possible. This is a recognition of the very real personal and energetic ties formed at Dedication (and at Initiation, etc.) and is meant to give everyone a chance to tidily resolve those energetic loose ends.

Having been on the other side of someone just disappearing a number of times, I was very clear on why this was a good idea even before I hived. Avoid breaking oaths. (If it’s a truly abusive setting, or there are good practical reasons you can’t do whatever the preferred mode is, see later in this post.)

Do you have any upcoming commitments to the group?

Are you currently mentoring someone? On the list to lead or create a ritual in the next 2-3 months? Have you taken on ongoing responsibilities for any task? Is there information about how to do something that lives in your head in the current use, and is not yet down on paper?

Take time to figure out some ways to handle that. You don’t need to find an answer for everything, but it is a useful thing to be able to hand the group leadership a clear list of what they need to find alternatives for, and how to maintain what you’ve been doing.

For example, I was the technology-answering person in my group for several years before I hived. I spent the time to write up the clearest directions I could about how each tool the group used worked (how to add an event to the calendar, someone to the mailing list, etc. etc.) They still asked questions about specifics, but it helped a lot to have a reference.

What will you say?

If other people ask you why you’re leaving the group, what will you say? Someone will probably ask, and it’s a lot easier to have an answer to this one if you think about it in advance. Good answers are generally brief, and avoid anyone’s dirty laundry. If you’re parting because you just want to go another direction, a cheerful “They’re wonderful folks, but I found myself going off towards [other thing].” can work well. If hte parting is a bit more fraught, something like “We were clearly going in different directions.” or “It wasn’t as good a mutual fit anymore.” or something general and simple works well.

(You may find that you do want to talk specifics: in general, I’d suggest this only with people who specifically ask you about the group because they’re interested in it themselves, and who ask you for your direct experience. Move forward, in other words, rather than getting stuck venting about what didn’t work.)

Think of what you want to say to the group members.

This may be more than one set of things. You may have things you want to share with the group leadership, but you should also consider what you want to say to other group members who may not hear all the details of why you’re making this choice. Again, focus on tying up loose ends rather than casting blame or getting stuck in past problems.

Consider the outcomes:

Are you considering leaving, but aren’t sure yet? Or are you really sure that it’s the thing you need to do? Is there anything that might change your mind?

If there is, this would be a good time to arrange to talk to the people who could do something about that – probably the group’s leader or leader’s. Make sure they know it’s a serious conversation (not a casual catching up) so they can plan appropriately.

If you know nothing’s going to change your mind, that’s okay too. Just make sure you’ve thought through each of your concerns first.

I do encourage people to take time with this step. Sometimes we feel pushed to leave a situation because it’s pushing us toward a change we’re not sure we want to take, or we’re hitting old baggage that we haven’t fully unpacked yet. If we don’t deal with that, we stand a good chance of hitting the same problem over and over again in other settings. If we deal with it a bit – even if we end up leaving that group anyway – we’ll be in a better place in the long run. That’s worth quite a bit of self-examination, I think.

It’s also possible that a group isn’t the right place for us right now – but that in a couple of years, either we change or the group changes (or most commonly, both) and it might be worth considering again. Being really clear about why you left helps make it a lot easier to see if coming back is the right choice down the road.

Communicate

Do not assume the group leadership are mind-readers. It’s not a good assumption. They may know you’re unhappy, or want to explore other areas, or just are struggling to deal with a complicated schedule, long drive, or something else practical, but they may not realise all of what’s going on. Having a clear conversation with them will help you as well as them.

You might have this conversation in their home, but it might be easier to have it in some neutral location like a coffee shop. (preferably somewhere that no one in the conversation has really strong ties to: don’t pick the HPS’s favorite morning stop!)

Maybe they have a solution you haven’t considered (if you aren’t set on leaving). Even if they don’t, it’s courteous to give them a clear explanation if you can, so that they can consider if they might want to change things in the future for other people.

Go into the conversation with an idea of what you want to say (which could range from “I’m really unhappy with how things are going, here’s what I think would change that” if you’d consider staying, to “I really don’t think things are working out, and I think I need to leave the group.”

They may have stuff to say. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) put up with abusive language, harassment, or anything else like that, but otherwise, you might consider staying – again, there might be something that you hadn’t considered that would at least make the parting easier for everyone).

Practicalities:

You will want to communicate any of your existing obligations. A list is handy here, that you can give them. Something like “I’d signed up for the May moon, Mallow might be a good person to handle this thing I’ve been doing and here’s directions on how I’ve been doing it, and here’s the books I borrowed from you.” Obviously, they may make their own choices, but at least you’ve done your best to point out the places they need to double check.

You may also need to ask the group for items, if, for example, they hold your measure as part of your commitment to the group, or it’s common for members to leave some items in the covenstead. (If this is the case, you probably want to think about how to get them back: depending on the situation, you might ask them to bring them to the conversation, to return them at a parting ritual, or to mail them or otherwise get them to you or make them easy for you (or a friend) to pick up.

Sharing with everyone:

You should talk about how to communicate your decision to leave to the group. Will you return for a parting ritual (at the next moon, Sabbat, or some other time?) Will there be a general announcement?

Will you want to continue talking to people in the group for any other reason (social events, overlapping circles of other interests, etc?) It might be good to talk about how to approach that. A good option is to give the group leaders time (a week or so if it’d be by email, the next obvious event if they’d do it in person) to communicate the decision, and then follow up privately with the relevant people. Again, don’t do a lot of venting and focusing on the bad parts, but do take a minute to say things like “I wish you well with Group, and I still look forward to getting together for horror movies every so often if you’re interested.” or whatever your shared interests are.

This is the thing I most regret about my hiving, actually – we all sort of knew when my last ritual with the group was going to be, but we weren’t as clear about it to students and prospective students as we might have been. I wish that I’d asked directly for some sort of announcement, or beenĀ  clear that I’d like to send something brief. I think it’s worked out okay, but people were a bit uncertain for a while whether I still wanted to see them or chat in other ways, or what was okay to bring up – and a simple email at the front end would have made that much simpler.

All that’s left at this point is to do the parting ritual if there is one, and to move on with your lives. Hopefully, by taking time to part well, you’ll have a much more pleasant experience if and when you run into each other down the road.

In really lousy circumstances

Sometimes leaving a group is absolutely necessary – but you know that one or more people in the group might be anywhere from totally inappropriate to emotionally abusive or even dangerous about it. (This last one is very rare, but just like romantic relationships going bad, sometimes other interactions take turns we really didn’t expect.)

Obviously, don’t do things you feel are unsafe (and do your best to catch this kind of situation in advance and get help if you need it.) Don’t go meet people if you’re pretty sure they’re going to gang up on you without any meaningful conversation. If you’re not sure, but want some options, think about bringing a friend from outside the group (who can sit with you, or at a nearby table) and help keep things on a more civil tone, or get help if they turn really nasty. (And again, meeting in a public space like a coffee shop helps a lot. Mall food courts generally have an active security presence, if you’re concerned about safety.)

If you feel you can’t discuss your leaving in person, sending a very simple email (no explanations needed if you don’t feel they’d be useful) is a good move: it helps make a clear break with the group. You may wish to consider turning your phone ringer off, asking a friend to check messages for you, or even staying somewhere else for a few days, just to help with the initial outburst of either questions or strong emotion.

Centering, grounding, and cleansing and/or warding your personal space might all be reasonable choices as well – not because most people will energetically attack you effectively (because most won’t!) but because it will help firm up your identification as separate from the group mind. And of course, if you have any realistic concerns about physical risk, talk to the police or other appropriate resources.

I’d also strongly advise packing away any tools, jewelry, or other items that are particularly strongly associated with the group for a while in this situation, and taking them out of your living space entirely for a period of time. In six months or a year or whatever you can come back to them, cleanse them if needed. They’ll have much less overwhelming emotional resonance for you, and you can deal with them in a more thoughtful way.