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Setting Up Groups

Here are some brief notes on various types of groups which I have been involved

1.OPEN MOOT

Purpose: Open meeting for pagans/occultists etc. to meet, fraternise, etc.

When & Where: Once a Month, in public bar.

LEEDS PAGAN MOOT

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 Hotel).

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 going.

OUTCOME

Leeds Pagan Moot continued for at least 4 years after I had ceased to be an active member, going through a variety of venue changes.

2.DISCUSSION FORUM

Purpose: Lecture-based meeting followed by discussion &socializing.

When & Where: Monthly, in hired room above a public house.

KABAL

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.

ADMIN ROLES

Booking Speakers, arranging dates, networking in 'zines and newsletter creation.

Booking venue, hiring any equipment necessary & treasurer.

Creating & putting up posters in suitable locations.

VENUE

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.

KABAL NEWSLETTER

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 magazines.

COSTINGS

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 treasury.

SPEAKERS

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.

OUTCOME

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.

3.WORKSHOP-ORIENTED GROUP

Purpose: Skillshare & exploration of theory/practice

When & Where: Weekly Meeting, in Local Adult Education Center

THE SHAMANIC DEVELOPMENT COURSE (1987)

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.

1.ADVERTISING

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.

2.VENUE

The venue chosen for the majority of course meetings was the local Adult Education Centre, where rooms could be hired cheaply.

3.COSTINGS

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 speakers.

4.INTERVIEWING

All prospective Course participants were interviewed by myself and Sheila, either together or separately.

5.FIRST MEETINGS

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.

6.SESSION MANAGEMENT

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 coffee break.

7.THE COURSE:

  1. Introductory Meeting + introductory exploration of meditation techniques.
  2. Enhancing Visual Skills
  3. Sound (Music & Voice)
  4. Smell (Scent & Making Incense) - External Leader (Dave Lee)
  5. Working with Crystals - External Leader (Betsy Thatcher)
  6. Spatial Perception
  7. Taste
  8. Touch
  9. The Shamanic Wheel (incl. ritual)
  10. Working with Masks
  11. Creating a Personal Shield
  12. Improvising Musical Instruments
  13. Structuring Group Musics
  14. Magical Weapons & Power Objects
  15. Ritual Dynamics - I
  16. 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 Participants.

GROUP MANAGEMENT

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 unreliability.

OUTCOME

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 "occultists."

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.

CIRCLE OF STARS

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.

GROUP ROLES

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.

OUTCOME

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 training groups.

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 etc.

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.