Sometimes finding a group to study or practice with feels impossible. You’ve searched, maybe even applied or met with members, and for whatever reason it just didn’t work out but you still want to meet with other like-minded people to talk about Pagan things, celebrate lunar events, or party on the sabbats.
Putting together a group from scratch is a big job, but if you’re up for it and have some skill at organization and planning, it could work out for you.
First, let’s go over the different types of groups there are to see which would be the best fit for your level of experience, your time, and your comfort level with leadership. Not talking about a Coven just yet, because that is a different level of group organization, but organizing a group to get together, maybe meeting each other for the first time, and possibly growing from there.
A Study Group is generally more egalitarian than a Circle or Coven setting. The organizer is kind of a de facto leader, but not granted the same sort of authority that one would expect (or should expect) in a Coven setting. This person facilitates (I’ll use the terms organizer and facilitator interchangeably) the meetings or lessons that the group is going to work on, putting together the schedule, coming up with the topic, and just making sure it goes smoothly. If you’re looking to take on this role, it’s expected that you have some experience in what the group is going to be about. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to have enough information and understanding to get over this first hurdle of coming up with the type of group you’re looking at establishing.
A checklist to make sure you’re up to the task is:
1. Do you have the ability to stay focused, and to help others stay focused on a task?
2. Are you organized? Can you put together an email or phone list and make sure everyone is contacted when needed to update about any cancellations, changes of venue/location, or other news?
3. Are you dependable? Do you have the availability to commit your time not only to the meetings, but the work that will go into preparing topics for the meetings? In my experience, a 2-hour group meeting will take at least twice that amount of time for prep-work.
4. Are you comfortable meeting new people enough to speak openly and honestly with them about what the group will likely entail?
4b. If the group isn’t meeting at your home, but will be in a public space (like a reserved room at a library or rec center) are you comfortable with being the contact person to get this handled?
5. If group dues will be collected, can you be responsible for handling the money with integrity and keeping it safe and separate from other currency in your possession?
6. If difficulties arise in the group among members, can you establish a protocol and enforce it for positive resolution?
Individual groups may have more specific needs, but you get the idea.
How will you gather members for your study group? Do you already have some friends who share these interests in common and want to put a bit more structure to their study? Do you know of others locally you could meet with because a friend of a friend mentioned they are considering looking at Wicca on a deeper level? Have you been poking around on message meetup boards, Facebook groups, or in local New Age stores in your area for possible comrades? Ever been to a public circle hosted by a local group or book shop and chatted up some of the other guests? These are a few possibilities for getting the wheel turning.
Suggestions for becoming a point-of-contact:
1. Create a new email address to use that is not connected to your legal name or any of your other personal information. If your name on everything online is William Henson, make your email something unidentifiable to you: “CelticBard247” or something. Don’t give your personal phone number out at this point either.
2. Create a Facebook group set to “private” for your potential study group, and use your new email address to set it up. As you gather email contacts, you can ask to send them an invitation to join the Facebook group. In the future, if you wish, you can make the group more open to others able to find you and join on their own. It’s better to start small and contained while you’re still getting your feet than to become overwhelmed by a possible flood of interest.
3. Seek out venues for your group to get together if you’re not planning to host the meetings yourself. Find out the logistics and what’s required for reserving a public space like a library meeting room.
4. Have a rough idea (at the least) of when your group can meet. Will this be one weekend a month? Two times a month on a Tuesday and Saturday? The full moon? Details can be worked out once the other people’s schedules are known, but at least know what the possibilities are. Libraries aren’t open late in the evening, for example. If you’re going to meet at a local coffee shop, will there be space available on a Saturday afternoon?
Okay, now you have a potential group of members. Your first meeting (maybe your first two meetings) should be all about setting up your logistics.
1. When/Where will you meet?
a. How often?
b. How long will the meetings be?
c. Is there adequate parking available.
2. Membership requirements.
a. Age minimum/maximum (at least 18 but under 40?) Be aware of potential hot-spots with a wide variance in generational ideology. It’s important everyone gets a chance to be heard and express themselves, young people can be overlooked if the majority of a group is middle-aged & vice versa.
b. Gender (all female, all male, mixed gender, etc.) Are you planning to start a single-gender group focusing on male mysteries/female mysteries, etc.?
c. Basic level for membership – everyone considers themselves beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc. or a blend of this. Be aware of how to keep it balanced so all maintain activity and interest if you’re going to have a varied group.
d. Will you screen potential members or use an application process, or will it be come-one-come-all?
3. What will the group’s focus or goal be for study/discussion?
b. Basic Wicca 101 stuff
d. Goddess studies
4. Money and materials.
a. Who brings supplies and such for meetings?
b. Will dues be collected, and if so, how much?
c. What will dues cover in terms of materials — photocopier charges, printer ink & paper for facilitator, notebooks, candles & incense, etc.?
d. Did someone mention drinks and snacks???
5. Kids, pets, and other people.
a. Yes? No? In another room with someone who can watch them? Allergies… to your boyfriend or girlfriend?
b. Someone is getting a ride from a friend… what happens if that friend is late picking them up?
Okay, now on to how the actual meetings will be set up for lessons!
In a Study Circle, if all are equal, then there is no single teacher or leader of the group. There will be someone to organize and put it together, but if it’s just going to be a more casual sort of thing like reading and discussing a book (future article on this topic specifically to come later), then that will require a different approach than say, learning about Wiccan philosophy or practice. Once you have narrowed down what your group is going to focus on, you can work on creating a lesson plan to achieve that goal.
Let’s say for example your group is going to be Wicca-esque in focus. There is a broad spectrum of topics to cover in this area: Deity (God/Goddess duality), Sabbats, Magic, Meditation, Divination, Ritual construction… and on and on. The framework that you use can help with keeping the focus on your topic and not just work as a calendar to go by.
I recommend using the Wheel of the Year as a framework in this model. This is because it breaks down into several portions.
In this example, your group is able to meet twice a month, on the second Saturday and a second time that might fluctuate depending on when most people are available — maybe a Tuesday evening closer to the end of the month. Saturday meetings are ‘mandatory’ and Tuesday meetings are ‘supplemental’.
For each month, maybe you’ll focus on a particular deity or culture/pantheon. Celtic tradition for October and November, Norse for December and January, and such. Or a single god and/or goddess from that tradition — Brighid in February, etc. Or a certain herb, stone, rune, or tarot suit. The possibilities are pretty endless, so use your creativity.
For Wicca 101, let’s start with splitting the year in half — light and dark. In my practice, the Light Half is from Beltaine (May 1) to Samhain (Nov 1). Conversely, the dark half lasts from Samhain to Beltaine. Other groups may split light/dark on the Summer and Winter Solstice (Oak/Holly Kings, anyone?) Maybe your group would like to focus on a light god and dark goddess during these times, he’s Bright Lord and she’s Shadow Queen. Maybe flip that, he’s the Keeper of the Underworld and she’s the Fertile Mother. Maybe a pair of them for both halves. See where I’m going with this?
Now, within this, you’ve got a few sabbats in each quarter. If your group starts close to the Spring Equinox (Mar 20), and you go through to the Summer Solstice (June 20) you’ll get Beltaine right in the middle of those. What lessons can you incorporate with a seasonal influence regarding new growth starting at the equinox and coming to full maturity on the summer solstice. It goes on from there.
Maybe you can choose a craft topic to work on that fits the theme of the quarter like making candles for Imbolc as a ‘festival of lights’, weaving flower wreaths for Beltaine, baking bread and cookies for Lughnasadh, and so forth… Divination and scrying are great focal points for a class approaching Samhain, just FYI.
And finally, have a Code of Conduct and Expectations in mind so that you can effectively handle any interpersonal issues that may arise. Even if it’s just as simple as saying:
Good manners are expected. No name-calling, belittling, or harassment will be permitted.
Respect the person leading the class/ritual and your fellow members. Please be on time — if you arrive late to a ritual, you will not be permitted to enter the circle.
Don’t arrive intoxicated by any substance. No alcoholic beverages for snack time.
Everyone will be given a chance to offer their thoughts and opinions. We will all take turns every two months coming up with a lesson and leading it.
Please pay your dues in a timely manner — if you miss a payment, pay it and the next payment at the following meeting or please do not show up. You can return when your dues are brought current.
Rules for the meeting place will be strictly followed. You will be given one warning about inappropriate behavior before you will be unwelcome at all future meetings or gatherings.
Now that you have some helpful information on getting a group started, go and start your group!
Links to related topics:
How to facilitate a public ritual
How to approach when asking to join a group