Setting Up Groups
by Phil Hine
Here are some brief notes on various types of groups which I have been involved
Purpose: Open meeting for pagans/occultists etc. to meet, fraternise, etc.
When & Where: Once a Month, in public bar.
In the late 1970's, Leeds Pagan Moot was one of several
established Pagan gatherings across the North-West of England.
The Moots provided a point of entry into the pagan/occult scene
of the time, and the Leeds Moot was regularly attended by people
from other moots in Bradford and Manchester. The Moot also
spawned two one-day conferences and, also eventually produced a
magazine called "Griffin" (after the venue, the Griffin
In 1988, I decided to try and revive the Leeds Moot, as part
of the activities of PaganLink Network, which was just
beginning to grow in Yorkshire. To do this, I chose to revive the
former venue - the Griffin Hotel - and also, the old date of the
Moot's meeting -the last Thursday in the Month. The steps taken
to achieve this were twofold: firstly, to advertise the meeting
in various newsletters and magazines (and by word of mouth), and
secondly, to keep turning up at the venue until a meeting became
established. This was helped considerably by the establishment of
other Moots in Bradford, Wakefield, and York, and people from
each moot tended to travel to the others to keep the impetus
Leeds Pagan Moot continued for at least 4 years after I had
ceased to be an active member, going through a variety of venue
Purpose: Lecture-based meeting followed by discussion &socializing.
When & Where: Monthly, in hired room above a public house.
Since the 1960's there has been, on and off, a
University-based Occult forum in Leeds. In the mid-eighties, this
group was known as the Leeds University Union Occult Society -
LUUOS, and held regular meetings in the Students' Union, and in
addition, ran occasional 'outings' by coach (for example, to the
Oxford Magical Art Exhibition). There was also a fortnightly
Saturday Lunch-time meeting in a pub near to the University.
Towards the end of the Eighties, there was also a LUUOS magazine,
called VITRIOL, which ran for two issues.
LUUOS suffered from the usual problems of University-based
Occult groups - having room-bookings changed at the last minute;
having to sign non-student members in; hassle from fundamentalist
Christians on campus. While student members ran the society from
the University end - booking rooms, submitting grant requests
etc., it was usually non-student members who had the knowledge
& contacts for booking speakers.
By 1991, Occult activities at the University had been dormant, and I decided to attempt a non-University based forum, which became known as KABAL.
From the beginning, KABAL was to be a "team" effort.
My own role was to be largely related to booking speakers, and
advertising the forum in magazines, & newsletters. I also
decided to try and create a KABAL newsletter to help promote the
meetings. So the first step was to get other people involved, and
then keep them motivated to perform their allotted tasks. I made
it clear from the outset, that if all jobs were left in my hands,
then KABAL would very quickly cease to exist.
Booking Speakers, arranging dates, networking in 'zines and newsletter creation.
Booking venue, hiring any equipment necessary & treasurer.
Creating & putting up posters in suitable locations.
For the Venue, we used a pub opposite the main University
complex, at first using a small side room, then progressing to a
large upstairs room.
The KABAL Newsletter was a folded A3 free-sheet which
contained details of 3 consecutive talks, with some information
about the speakers. It also contained general pagan/occult events
listings, a couple of book reviews, and a few display ads. The
newsletter was funded by three businesses - Id Aromatics (Leeds)
Caduceus Books (York) and Golden Dawn Books (Manchester) agreeing
to "buy" advertising space in it, and distributed
locally. Some copies were sent further afield to various
The entrance fee to a KABAL meeting was £1.50/per person.
Speakers were offered traveling expenses, and after paying for
room hire (we later managed to get the room free if over 20
people turned up), other expenses were drawn out to cover posters
& other sundries. Any remaining money was held in the
By relying, in the beginning, on local speakers (friends who
could be pushed up to talk about their areas of
obsession/interest), we managed to build up a fund to invite
"big guns" from farther afield.
Due to personal circumstances I moved away from Leeds after
KABAL's sixth meeting. No further newsletters have been produced,
but at the time of writing this, I understand that the forum
still exists, albeit meeting less regularly, and that it has
moved beck under the aegis of a University group.
Purpose: Skillshare & exploration of theory/practice
When & Where: Weekly Meeting, in Local Adult Education
The Shamanic Development Course was a sixteen-week joint
project initiated and managed by myself and magical artist &
lecturer Sheila Broun. Our aim was to gather a group of people
who were interested in exploring Shamanic, artistic and
drama-based techniques in the context of a course, some elements
of which would be set by the two of us, and others brought up by
group discussion & activity.
Although the project was styled as a "Course", what
we actually did was form a closed group of highly motivated
people, all of whom would be able to offer some kind of skill or
perspective that the rest of us would find useful.
Initial advertising was by word of mouth, and an opening
presentation by ourselves at LUUOS. A few posters, giving a box
number for written inquiries and a telephone number were
distributed around Leeds.
The venue chosen for the majority of course meetings was the
local Adult Education Centre, where rooms could be hired cheaply.
As the emphasis of the Course was skill-sharing & active
participation rather than a clear teacher-pupil set-up, we
decided to collect money to cover (a) Room hiring (b) costs to
cover materials & photocopying, and for bringing in outside
All prospective Course participants were interviewed by myself
and Sheila, either together or separately.
The preliminary meeting of the Course members was a session to
outline the general subjects which would be covered by the
course, to compile a 'reading list' from each member of the
course, to discuss diary-keeping, to ask people to consider
running course sessions themselves, & to ask if there were
any particular topics which people would like included. This
first meeting was followed by a social "Icebreaker"
party at Sheila's house.
Each session was planned in advance by Sheila & myself,
and, if another person was running the session, we acted to give
them support and advice. Each session was followed by a similar
'debriefing' for those who had been running the session, and a
session leaders' record was kept, with comments as to the
"flow" of the session. Any handouts/materials required
were prepared beforehand. Each session ran for 2 hours with a
- Introductory Meeting + introductory exploration of meditation techniques.
- Enhancing Visual Skills
- Sound (Music & Voice)
- Smell (Scent & Making Incense) - External Leader (Dave Lee)
- Working with Crystals - External Leader (Betsy Thatcher)
- Spatial Perception
- The Shamanic Wheel (incl. ritual)
- Working with Masks
- Creating a Personal Shield
- Improvising Musical Instruments
- Structuring Group Musics
- Magical Weapons & Power Objects
- Ritual Dynamics - I
- Ritual Dynamics - 2
After the course ended, a "report" was given to the
University Occult Society, with an exhibition of Masks, Mandalas,
& Musical instruments which had been created by Course
The course began with 12 people including myself and Sheila.
We lost two people (both students) after the first 3 sessions,
and both said that they did not feel themselves ready for this
type of group work. Towards the end of the course, we lost 4 more
people - mostly due to relationships (i.e. 2 couples who were
attending the course) breaking up. One participant was thrown off
the course due to disruptive behavior & general
The Course achieved it's aims. I found it useful in giving me
experience in group management outside a clinical setting & I
also learnt a great deal from working with other people with a
wide range of interests, most of whom were not
4.MAGICAL TRAINING GROUP
Purpose: To explore basic Magical techniques & Skills
When & Where: Weekly, Hired room above Leeds Peace Center
MAGICAL EXPLORATION GROUP (1989)
This group was initiated by myself and Robin Turner, a former
member of the Shamanic Development Course as an experiment in
running a magical exploration group. Advertising was entirely
byword of mouth, and we chose a venue which could be easily
accessed by participants & could be used for group work
(Leeds Peace Centre).
The aim of the group was to be a kind of less rigorous
follow-up to the Shamanic Development Course, and we opened the
group using a similar progression of work - looking at sensory
exercises, dance, and basic ritual.
The group began with 16 people including the organizers. This
number tended to fluctuate, and after the first six meetings or
so, a number of people began to request that the group changed
it's rationale from being an 'exploratory' group to become a
'coven' or magical group proper. When this change in direction
was mooted, a "split" occurred, with the result that
Robin and 4other people who did not want to participate on the
basis of a magical group left, and the group became "Circle
of Stars", which remained in existence for a further 15
months - meeting on a fortnightly basis, with a strong core
membership of six people.
Once the decision had been made to work as a magical group, we
ceased to use the Peace Center venue and instead chose to meet at
various people's houses. Arranging meetings was fairly easy as
most members of the group lived in close proximity to each other
& had mutual friendship networks.
Although I was nominally 'leader' for this group, I used the
Elemental Role Formation Schema (see Prime Chaos) to allow each
member to play a key role in maintaining the group. Following the
break-up of the initial group, I interviewed each prospective
member of the new group as to their aims & expectations
apropos the new Magical Group. At the new Groups' first meeting,
in addition to preliminary magical work, we also set up a group
kitty for the purchase of material, a group library for mutual
use, and decided upon a work agenda. This took the form of
rituals to celebrate the 8 seasonal festivals, a basic Magical
Training Course which members could pursue in their own time,
and, by asking each person to give a subject (i.e. a magical
paradigm) they would like to explore in the group, a basic
structure that would begin with three months' exploration of the
Qabalah, followed by three months Results Magic, etc. Each period
would include work done at group meetings, solo work, and
'projects' that people would do in sub-groups. I also encouraged
people to work together outside of the main groups' meetings.
Circle of Stars ran for about 14 months (meeting weekly). I
left following a group Oracular ritual which gave me the result
that I should work on my own for a while. The group remained in
existence for about four months after I departed, and then the
various members went their separate ways, two of them starting
their own groups up. Working with this group gave me a great deal
of useful experience for running & structuring magical
WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL GROUP?
The criteria for evaluating the "Success" of a group
relate very much to the aims & objectives which it was set up
to fulfill. I once heard of a magical order who, like the IOT,
required initiates of a particular grade to set up and manage
groups. Their base criteria was that a group could not be deemed
successful unless it was still in existence for a full year after
the person who had initiated its existence had left. While this
cannot apply to all types of group situations, I feel that, in
general, this is a good yardstick to apply. Having experienced a
wide variety of magical group situations, I would also say that
if a group leader increasingly becomes distanced from other
members, and that if those other members spend a disproportionate
time muttering in groups behind the leaders' back about things
they are unhappy with, then it is probably time for a rethink.
Magical Groups have their own problem areas which make them
distinct from other kinds of Group. One of the first is that,
magicians almost by definition being individualistic and
strong-minded (hopefully), there is likely, in any group, to be a
certain amount of tension between each individuals' magical
agenda, and the perceived needs of the group as a whole. How a
group handles this tension tends to delineate it's capacity for
survival and development. Magical Groups which are set up along
fairly rigid parameters do not tend to cope well when members
develop interests which are outside their scope. Often this can
occur because the groups leaders' feel their authority is
threatened, or that the dominant magical system that group has
entrenched itself within is threatened. More often than not, the
reaction to this sort of situation is that the leaders (&
other members) begin to "lay down the law" about what
is acceptable magical practice or belief.
Alternatively, a more flexible approach is to accommodate and
encourage a new magical interest by allowing that person to
introduce new ideas through workings, grade papers, workshops
Generally, I would say that a mark of a "successful"
group is that it has enough cohesion to openly discuss problem
areas that arise, without this threatening the long-term survival
of the group. As is often the case with groups, (magical or
otherwise), the aim of Achieving the Great Work, Establishing the
New Aeon or whatever is shifted as a priority as other, more
pressing, human aims take precedent. These tend to include,
making friends & influencing people (in large organizations -
establishing a power-base), having one's ego (or other bits)
stroked, and getting laid. In a healthy group, all of these
examples might be happening at once, and how the group copes with
them will very much determine its' success in surviving. A
successful group is one where members gain or learn something of
benefit from the group's activities, and themselves, add
something to the group.
The duration of a groups' existence is an important factor
here. Obviously, the longer a group survives, the stronger its'
egregore or gestalt should be, and so interpersonal crises should
be easier to weather. Part of the leadership task here is to be
attentive to what is going on in the group, and to be able to
decide whether a potential problem can be dealt with by a quiet
word in someone's ear, an open group discussion or punitive
action. A good leader should be sensitive enough to spot
potential problem areas and quietly monitor them, hopefully
before the situation "blows up". In my experience,
people who have interpersonal problems with other members tend to
be unhappy about drawing them out into the open - and tend also
to leave the group. If someone does suddenly decide to 'leave'
(not turning up to meetings is a good clue), then it is a good
idea to try and find out why, if only to try and prevent further
departures stemming from the same problem source. Another issue
which tends to crop up within magical groups is that of personal
initiatory trials, "Dark Nights of the Soul", and bouts
of magical megalomania and paranoia. Some magical groups seem to
be able to survive only if there is a designated
"enemy" onto which all problems (imagined or internal)
can be projected. So a good deal of the groups' gestalt-esteem
depend on having the enemy to blame for any problems. Designated
enemies can range from imaginary 'Black Adepts' to former members
who have been cast forth from the temple. This is the magical
equivalent of starting a war to distract the population from
problems at home. Personally, I think it's a sign of weakness.
For a further discussion of paranoia & schism in magical
groups see King of the Castle.
On a more serious note, dealing with the "Dark Nights" and personal magical trials of members tends to fall to the more experienced group members. If you've had them yourself, then it helps a great deal when you're discussing other people's. Generally, I find that the best approach is to be realistic - flights of cosmic drivel or comments on the lines of "ignore it - it'll go away" are not useful, in my opinion. In my experience, people who tell you that you are experiencing some kind of Cosmic Illumination are more interested in having you around to bolster up their own egos, whilst people who dismiss any kind of intrapsychic trauma are missing the point that magical work does tend to trigger off such states of awareness, & that then they can be extremely beneficial to one's long-term development. If you've never seen a magician go stark raving mad over a fairly short period, then it can be instructive. If however, that magician is someone who you've built up a close working relationship with, then the least you can do is try and do something about it.