Starting a Spiritual Group and Getting the Energy Just Right

Jasmine incense, right after one of my famous Sunday Night Gatherings.  This smoke art is copyrighted by Aislinn Bailey, used with permission.

When I was first looking for a like-minded spiritual group in Northwest Florida, I found several existing circles rather easily.  These were people who were either pagan or pagan-friendly, with anything from a nice mix of different religious beliefs to a finely honed circle with a specific focus.  I contacted each of them and, without their knowing anything at all about me, they all told me that they were currently closed to new members. I felt a little miffed and rejected at the time–weren’t they even willing to meet me and give me a chance?–but now I understand.  A few did offer an explanation  about energetic harmony but having not had my own group before then, I didn’t understand the precariousness of the balance of energy among a small spiritual group, circle, or coven.

Last year, I closed my own group, my fourth, to the public.  Why?  To maintain the “good energy” we’d achieved.  I didn’t want to close it completely and I did want to be able to grow it here and there as members deployed or moved away, so I made to closed to strangers but current members could bring a guest or two occasionally if they thought it would be a good fit.  And, of course, I could bring in other people whenever I wanted, given that it was my group and I was the High Priestess-slash-Facilitator of it.

Wow, have there been lessons!

1. If you’re starting the group, set the rules to suit you. I’d had several small circles between 2003 and 2006, but internal politics always played a role.  Some members wanted to host at their homes, and that just didn’t work.  For the circle I started in March 2008, I decided that the meetings would be at my house every single time.  No exceptions. I enjoy having friends in my home, but I also didn’t want to go back to the problems my second group had where I was often making my way home at 2 AM from a healing circle I’d been misled to think was 40 minutes away instead of 2 hours away.  I wanted the control of when the meetings would be, how often, and without having to worry about babysitters or, more importantly since I was having some problems with my night vision, I didn’t have to drive after dark.

So, in exchange for that control, I set it up so that I provide dinner–usually something simple and buffet-ish, we socialize and discuss the previous gathering’s lessons for the first hour while enjoying dinner, and then I teach an hour-long class or workshop that ends in a free-for-all of questions.  That’s the way I wanted it, and the energy in my house is usually pleasant and steady.  This is a far cry from driving an hour at night to have dinner that won’t be ready until 9PM, teach a class, and have to break every few minutes because the hostess allows her unruly kids to interrupt almost as often as she and her husband yell at each other.  Hey, I don’t think that makes me a control freak…but if I’m making the effort to start a group and teach it, then I make the rules to suit myself.  The people whose energy is congruous with mine will show up.

2.  Be aware of the strangers you allow into your house because they can be the best and worst things to happen to your circle. You never know where that energy’s been! My previous circles had been crafted from friends, best friends, and friends of friends–often with their own agenda.  Circle #2 came to a screeching halt after a married member of the group began inviting her newfound married lover to our meetings so they could meet in a safe place…not to mention sneaking off during my workshops to have loud sex in my bathroom.

When I started my current group, it was after looking around and meeting one-on-one with potential candidates for over a year.  I finally decided to just see who was out there and started the original Wiccan Concepts group in Niceville on Meetup.  I paid all the fees myself, didn’t charge admission, provided dinner and class, and still had at least 75% of every RSVP list turn into a no-show.  That’s a frequent problem on Meetup, yes, but in spite of that, I met my core group through that service.  The first three people to show up  on the first night are still tried and true members after two years, and one of the three chose to pursue Wicca as an Initiate.  Other core members joined within the year, and we had a really nice energy together with true caring among the members.  That kind of balance of energy is what you want to aim for because if the participants are in harmony, then you’re working together with that energy instead of using it to pull in different directions.

Just a side note here:  Though I didn’t originally intend it, my home is a sanctuary for members of my circle.  It’s the one place that some feel they can come to get away from stress and drudgery and luxuriate in an evening of magic and friendship.

Of course, if you’re inviting the general public into your home, you really don’t know what you’re getting.  I got wonderful and I got…problem children.  Normally someone whose energy didn’t mesh with the group would show up once, insist everything be his or her way, and then stomp off in a huff.  I didn’t cry over it.  Occasionally, someone with their own set of problems would show up and spend the evening putting me down or being disrespectful of what I was teaching–I still cannot abide people talking on their cell phones or via sign language while I’m trying to hold a class.  Some would show up and really mesh well with the group but had too many issues with parents or family not wanting them to attend and soon they faded away.

The final straw that caused me to close down my Meetup group and move it to a private, invitation-only basis was  when my daughter caught one of the first-timers going through her things in a cabinet, and later we realized that some of my daughter’s cherished possessions were gone.  Okay, big hot button:  you don’t steal from me.  The Wiccan Concepts group is still on Meetup but–little did I know when I canceled the group–MeetUp allows other people to take over a canceled group and claim it as their own if the moderator steps down.  Otherwise, it’s a good option for meeting candidates for your group whom you’d never meet.

3.  If someone doesn’t show after several invitations, drop it. I’ve had several cases where someone begged me for an invitation, then never showed–usually after I’d cooked for them and made sure enough parking was available so as not to upset my neighbors.  On one hand, I’ve not really understood.  How can you beg to be invited because you’re sure I can show you the one thing you’re looking for and then stand me up several times?  The irony is that the thing they’re looking for is almost always at my house and available to them.  Perhaps the thing I have to offer them is something they shouldn’t really have?  I don’t know, but my rule is, if you turn down my invitation three times, you don’t get invited back.  If you ask to come repeatedly and yet never show, you don’t get invited back because I don’t think you’re serious.

4. Beware of inviting people you’re romantically involved with. I’ve done this several times and have had great and terrible luck, depending on the guy.  In an earlier group, my date was welcomed with open arms and enjoyed the evening, with lots of good input; however, the other women really wanted his attention, and not spiritually.  In my current group, my sweetie quickly became part the group and was adored for himself and for his Tarot talents.  He attended multiple meetings  and was very much a part of the group harmony.  The energy was powerful and balanced.  More recently, I’ve invited three different guys I’ve been involved with.  They’ve all either turned me down instantly because they weren’t comfortable with subject matter or simply didn’t show.  The difference is that the first two men were held similar spiritual interests while the other men in my life haven’t been interested in either attending a gathering or becoming part of the group because their relationships with me lacked the spiritual element.

5.  Other than the lack of consideration, don’t worry about the no-shows. Not long before I decided to pursue formal training in Wicca, I learned a valuable lesson from Maggie Shayne, who created a special open circle with Evelyn Vaughn and me at a Romance Writer’s of America conference in Washington, D.C.   Someone on the way to the open circle, which we led out in a park-like area, had twisted her ankle and couldn’t participate.  Maggie passed on to me that sometimes people aren’t part of the ritual because of reasons we aren’t meant to know.  If they’re supposed to be there, they will be.  I’ve seen people come to rituals and celebrations with anger and jealousy that disturbed the balance of energy, so I no longer question that…though I will question why someone can’t pick up the phone and let me know not to plan for them.

6.  Just because a person is your best friend (or even your spouse) doesn’t mean she should be part of your circle. I brought my open-minded, pagan-friendly, New-Age-Christian, bestest-friend-in-the-world into the periphery of my first circle and more heavily into my second and third.  It wasn’t smooth.  We both wanted it to work but it just didn’t. She was used to being a teacher whenever she was in a crowd and those natural instincts always took over.  No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t be a student.   She struggled with being in “learn” mode vs “teach” mode, and  only occasionally was the energy nicely balanced, usually when we were working together to help someone else.

7.  Just because a person is harmonious with you doesn’t mean he’ll be harmonious with the group. I have had people I adore shock me. I have had friendly, balanced relationships with individuals who shared many of my beliefs and were open to learning and I’ve excitedly invited them to attend a couple of meetings, only to drop them from the invitations later.  I couldn’t believe how different they were in a group–patronizing, negative, disruptive.  It was as if they suddenly forgot they were guests or students in a class, or that the other attendees were  not there for a newcomer’s advice but rather, for what I had to teach them.

8. When inviting new people, try to meet them one-on-one before considering bringing them into the group. There are people I’ve lunched with and never looked back at.  There are others whom I lunch with regularly, but will never invite them to a group function or a workshop.   The energy just isn’t right for the whole group.

9.  When inviting new people to join the group, start on a trial basis. They don’t have to know it’s a trial.  After attending once or twice, you’ll have a feel for whether they contribute to the group energy or detract from it.  You don’t want to commit yourself and then have to end a friendship because the rest of the group can’t bear to have them in the same room.

10.  Consider having long distance or deployed members join the meetings by Skype or speaker phone. I’ve done this with members of different circles, and while it wasn’t the ideal of having them physically present, it does allow for some interaction we’d all be sadder without.  It’s still very possible to “attend” a class by webcam or phone, and even to allow different members of the group to pair off with the phone or webcam for a Tarot reading or detailed discussion.

For me, the hardest part of having a successful group is in maintaining the balance of energy.  I’m now enlisting my daughter to help more with hostessing and sergeant-at-arms duties, mainly because I feel I need to give some attention to newcomers while not forgetting about my tried and true core group.  Sometimes newcomers demand a lot of attention–which has more of a “take” feel that pulls on the group energy, and those people don’t tend to be a good fit for the group.  But every now and then, someone new attends who is respectful and willing to share and just fits in from Day One.  Those people don’t drain and lower the group energy:  they amplify it.  It’s a delicate balance but well worth it if you can achieve it.