Technology and the coven

So, my day job as a librarian has a certain amount of spillover into how I priestess – I’m very committed to connecting people to information they care about, and this goes just as much for the coven setting as for the library.

But how to do it? Sitting this week at a library technology conference, I realised I really wanted to talk about some of the great resources out there, and how they can be used to make group work a little easier.

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More than a year

All right, so I’ve been more than a little overwhelmed since my last post – lots of job-related stuff keeping me busy, and limiting the amount of energy I have to write or focus when I get home. (And what’s left has been going into work with the coven and with other commitments, not writing about them.)

I do want to do a “One year later” post, though, so even though it’s a little late, here we are!

We’re still here!

First things first – we still exist! And, at this point, seem pretty likely to keep doing so, assuming that other factors (jobs, etc.) don’t force a change in physical location. We’re very happy with that.

We’re still small (two people, and in the process of considering a prospective member), but my covenmate has also been working privately with a student outside the coven context. Given our other commitments and things in our lives, we knew we wanted to take it slowly to start with – and I don’t regret that decision at all.

One of the things I believe very strongly is that balance between different areas of life is critical – and my job situation has been unusually complicated in the last year, with a lot of uncertainty and and change and resultant stress. So, I’ve been very careful not to push ahead too fast with the coven work, and instead to do things that stretch us, yes, but not overwhelm us. There will be other years.

What have we done?

  • Celebrated the Sabbats and the moons (generally full moon, but we swap to the new moon in months where the full moon and Sabbat come close on each other’s heels.)
  • Developed deeper and multi-faceted relationships with the deities we work with and honor. (You’ll notice I haven’t talked about this in detail, because it’s personal, but we’re doing it.)
  • Had ongoing discussions spurred on by various books and other topics. This year, we’re embarking on an in-depth study of the Anglo-Saxon runes, after taking a rune class together last December.
  • Done a lot of talking about *how* we want to do things, and why we’re making that choice – and documented them. It seems a little silly on one hand to document for a very small group, but we think it’s worth it to help new members understand where we’re coming from (and to remind all of us what we were thinking about when we made specific choices.)
  • Had a lot of good food and good drink and good conversation that challenges us to think of things in new ways.

What I’m glad we did:

  • Taking our time. I’m so glad we haven’t rushed this process, or set arbitrary deadlines for ourselves.
  • Writing things down: Both in public like this, but also in private and in coven-only notes.
  • Not trying to make every ritual the Best And Deepest Ever ritual. We’ve backed off from trying to do 4 or 5 things in every ritual – many of ours have had one central focus, and a bunch of conversation around that. Not only are these less stressful to arrange, but we’ve had many beautiful moments of serendipity by leaving that space.
  • Keeping things simple: we’ve deliberately kept our ritual set-up and coven items minimal and simple, so that we can set up and take down our ritual space in under 15 minutes (usually, it’s well under that.) Not only does this reduce stress, but it gives us more time for other things.
  • Deciding well ahead of time what we’ll generally be doing – but not scripting intensely. We have an idea, we talk about it, but we then run with it once we’re in ritual. Advance discussion gives us a chance to do personal work related to the ritual on our own, and to think about any things that might be an issue.
  • Taking a break from ritual with others. (Though I’m about ready to see about visiting our parent group sometime when my schedule frees up again.) I knew intuitively that I really needed the time to do our own thing, and I’m really glad I insisted on taking that time.

What’s next:

Assuming that a couple of things in the near future go the way I hope they will, our next step is going to be working on a bunch of student content – and then continuing to be open to new potential students and group members. I’m really excited about this, because I deeply enjoy teaching, even if Phoenix Song is not intended to be a teaching-focused coven.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the use of technology in coven work, but will be writing about that separately. (Can you tell that I just finished attending a conference on library technology? I’m always thinking about how to apply what I do in the day job to the other parts of my life, and especially so after lots of great conversation about different ways to use tech tools.)

But really, we want to keep doing more of the same – but with enough new that we continue to challenge ourselves to go deeper, further, and become more entangled with the mysteries we’re exploring.

Thoughts on guests

I’ve been thinking a lot about coven guests recently, and therefore figured it was as good a time as any to lay out our current practices about them. (Why thinking about them? Well, first, we finally got the scheduling right to invite our former HPS to join us at the next full moon. And then someone else I know through some shared online spaces (who’s local) inquired very politely if we’d be open to a guest at any point. Plus, I’m working on writing up our decisions about practices, and I’m working on the bit about the guest one currently.)

One thing I want to be really clear about is that a lot of our choices about guests are born out of some very specific circumstances and decisions on where we want to focus. They’re not the right choice for every group – and they may well not be the right choice for us in a few years. But for now, we think they’re the best way to go for Phoenix Song. Your mileage may very well vary.

So, first, background, and then our choices.

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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.

Preparation:

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:

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.

Discussion:

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.

Classes:

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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