Behaving Yourself in Circle (Part 2 of 2 Parts)

Continued from Behaving Yourself in Circle (Part 1 of 2 Parts)(Pagan Blog Project #3)

Solstice ritual circle set-up.  Fire pit in the center of the circle, holiday lights around the circle and path.

Now for the rest of Lorna’s Rules to Behaving Yourself in Circle, and while  it’s a long and painful list of don’ts, it’s most painful because of the need to ask people to behave.

#6.  Don’t make sex part of the event unless it’s supposed to be. When the group leader schedules the Great Rite as part of the event, no problem.  When distracted members are going at it like bunnies in the closet, it’s time for them to get a room…elsewhere.

This was why my second circle ended. One of our more prominent members, a middle-aged woman, began an affair and hid it from her husband by telling him she was at events at my house, whether she was or not.  She lied to him, she lied to me, I worked with her husband, he blamed me for their break-up, drama ensued, etc, etc.   The first time I realized the boyfriend was more than just an interested guest, I was giving a workshop on astrology.  I happened to glance up at a small sea of interested faces and noticed that the boyfriend had snuggled up behind her and was busily squeezing her double-D’s.  I had just divorced and was celibate at the time, so my train of thought went right out the window!   Within a few weeks, their public displays had become so blatant that most of the group members felt too uncomfortable around them.  I failed to kick them out early enough. I ended their participation and the friendship as well, but by then, the circle had dissipated.

Still, the public groping does not compare to her and the boyfriend sneaking away while the rest of us were in an intense working.  Imagine hearing howls–a la Porky’s Lassie scene–while you’re conducting a banishing.

#7. Don’t bring drugs to the ritual or workshop.  Seriously.  I may not care what you do on your own time or in your own home, but please don’t bring illegal substances onto my property.  I work for the military, as do other members of my circle, and your insistence that no one tell you what to do can have tremendous ramifications on our careers, reputations, and finances.  Park down the street, leave it in your car or hide it in the woods, and walk to my house.

#8.  Don’t get naked unless your group leader says it’s okay.  Don’t insist that you absolutely must be skyclad for a ritual or some other pagan event.  That may or may not be the practice of a particular group.   Be especially vigilant if there are children around.  I bowed out of a much-anticipated pagan community camping trip during the time my divorce was going on because two male campers  in their 20’s insisted they would go naked if they damned well pleased and there was nothing us prudes could do to stop them. The camp coordinator had purposely set up a separate area for “natural” enjoyment of the weekend, away from the family/children area, but they told us they would not abide by it and those of us with kids should “get over it.”  Since my soon-to-be-ex had just discovered Christianity, I was the (gasp) witch and therefore questionable parent,  and custody issues were being decided, I stayed home with my kids as did most of the others with children.  That was my prerogative, though–I was a participant but not the leader of the group.  It was also the end of my family’s involvement with that group.

#9.  Don’t come to circle drunk. I know, I know.  I’m the one who made the joke about “Friends don’t let friends astral project and drive.” I’m not against drinking and do serve wine at some Sabbat feasts as well as champagne at my Burning Bowl Ritual for Winter Solstice.  Being too drunk to stand up in ritual is more than just bad form–it’s a numbing of the senses and the group energy.  I have found that many things can affect energy in circle–too much sugar, alcohol, drugs, anger, jealousy.  The problem with drinking too much is that people tend to either get sloppy or mean.  You don’t want to trip and fall in the bonfire (kinda the first rule of not burning a witch).  While that hasn’t happened in any circles I’ve been in, I have seen participants show up tanked and spend the evening making cutting remarks about and even to the leader of the circle.

#10. Don’t carry on side conversations or interrupt with pithy observations. Do you really need to be a comedian during a ritual for healing?  Yes, we know you’re there and in need of attention and  want to have your existence validated, but your antics distract from the focus of energy.  If you want to know why something is done a certain way, wait until the ritual is over and ask.  Don’t disrupt the flow of energy to ask a basic question, especially if your High Priestess expects you to know that answer due to actual study.  Learning is  a wonderful thing, but it can be done silently, too.  As for other side conversations, I can’t think of a single time that it would be appropriate to discuss a football game, your former friend’s pregnant teen, your idiot boss, or Newt vs Mitt while the High Priest is performing an altar devotional.

#11.  Don’t assume that because you’re older, you are an Elder to the group. This rule is for older participants who are new to working with groups, particularly multi-generational groups.  My current group has one of the sweetest, gentlest older women I have ever known.  She is not a spiritual leader and is usually very much in the background in the group–and then she opens her mouth and spouts incredible insights.  I’ve never seen her order around the younger group members or pretend she knew what they should do with their lives.  However, I have had temporary members (on probation, yes) who took it on themselves to tell my 20-somethings how to live or what to do that would have been great advice in 1975.  They could not understand that my students were not showing up at a workshop to hear their advice.  These Baby Boomers were neophytes on this path, not Elders.  Ironically, that lack of respect for their teacher and other students came through in other ways, including cell phone interruptions (because their calls were more important), side conversations, and nit-picking.  They didn’t understand that you can have a 25- or 35-year-old teacher and a 65-year-old neophyte and that “kid” should be revered for his knowledge and experience he’s willing to share.

#12.  Don’t steal. That may sound like a no-brainer, but my God can be a vengeful God and so can I. I will send my flying monkeys after you.

In developing my current circle, I went through a period of allowing strangers into my home in small groups, sometimes based on referrals and sometimes after having a sweet tea with them at a cafe to make sure they weren’t crazy witch-hunter preachers in disguise.  Sometimes, I just took a chance because my intuition told me to.  For the most part, this worked out very well, and the first 3 people to come to my home have been core members of the group for years.   Here in the Bible Belt, it’s sometimes hard to make connections with other pagans until you know a few people and have their trust.  When we became a closed group, we began relying more on referrals from current members so that new people would have the right energy to mesh with ours. That’s a popular complaint I hear from people who really want to be a part of a group but don’t have an “in,” but there’s usually a good reason a group becomes a closed group.

Just before I closed our group officially, two probationary members (yes, sign language fans from Part 1)  brought an acquaintance who was a bit older than I am and didn’t clear it with me first. My alarm bells went off when she walked in.  Something didn’t feel right.  During the dinner I provided and social time, the tag-along refused to tell the rest of the group about her path or anything about her other than a first name.  Since my group shares deeply, this was another red flag. When one person clams up, others don’t want to share.  During the workshop, she went into the bathroom where she was heard rummaging through a cabinet.  After she left and the probationary members left, my daughter discovered that several personal items were missing that she had stashed in the cabinet before dinner.

Okay, I got the message–time to restructure into something better.  Perhaps nothing else would have made me close my circle but this.

#12. Keep an open mind. Don’t nitpick and fault-find how the workshop or ritual is done.  Especially if you are not paying for it. Almost every circle leader and teacher I know has some story about a member or guest muttering under their breath–or worse, loudly arguing with the leader or teacher–that THAT isn’t how he or she does it or was taught.  My writing partners and I covered some of this in Celebrating the Tower Card:  Third Degree Challenges, Shielding, Witch Wars, and Cult Detection where two new Third Degrees slammed other Third Degrees for not using the exact Quarter Call wording from a certain page of their lessons.  Everyone has a different way of getting to the same place, I believe. Some paths are more structured than others.  I myself cannot easily stay within a particular structure and I’m forever finding new things that amp up my spiritual life and abilities even more.    So listen up and even if you don’t want to try something new in your own practice, try to gain an appreciation for the differences and similarities in other paths.

If a workshop is worth attending, then it’s worth listening to respectfully…or quietly leave so others can. Don’t interrupt to tell the teacher she’s all wrong or that you don’t like the topic. I do regret that I didn’t tell my last guest to do this in a workshop to leave immediately.  I had put together a ritual-writing workshop and one of our newer members had asked to bring a guest whom he believed would be a nice fit because she’d been to many, many different groups like ours. (That should have been a hint.)  The topic was pre-announced, with plans to do 1 or 2 rituals near the end.  Less than 2 minutes into the workshop, she began asking questions that were really just demands for why I was wasting her time when she didn’t believe in rituals.  After that, nothing could be said without an interruption from both her and the new member who suddenly had decided he didn’t like rituals after all. My bad.  I should have said, “I’m sorry, but this workshop obviously isn’t for you.  Thanks for joining us for dinner and have a good night.”  But I was trying to be a good hostess and wrongly put one persnickety guest’s whining ahead of my tried and true students.  When she left with  her sponsor, the rest of the group stayed for several hours, way past my bedtime, to get the info they’d come for. Which brings me to….

I am a student of my own experiences. So are you.

Part of dealing with the “contrast” of disruptive attendees is that we figure out what we do want in a group or circle and what we won’t put up with.  In discussing this subject with other circle leaders, what I heard again and again was that the disruptive person who was called out on behavior once was eventually asked to leave, sometimes after great detriment to the group.

Not just us pagans:

Over a decade ago, a Wiccan High Priest from New York–with a fairly large pagan church under his guidance–showed me a book about dealing with the dynamics of personalities within a church.  It was intended for Christian pastors. He explained that even though the spiritual groups were Christian in the book, he had encountered the same issues among pagans, and that the book had been very helpful in dealing with the “people issues” of being a spiritual leader and teacher.  I remember being amused at the time. I’d grown up Southern Baptist and had seen all manner of hypocrisy and disrespect in my hometown church.  In fact, it was that kind of mistreatment of others that drove me away from the Christian church.  At the time the High Priest told me this, I’d been a solitary for years and hadn’t dealt with many pagan groups, either online or offline.  There was still a part of me that thought my new religion was somehow less tarnished that the Southern Baptist antics I’d so often seen.  As he tried to tell me, people are people, regardless of their spiritual path, and some will be prone to drama and misbehavior, regardless of the tenets of their religion.Flying By Night novel

In summary, I’d like to point out that my current circle, a closed group with occasional open events, has not had any of these annoying behaviors  from our core group.  But it did take a while to fine-tune the membership until we had just the right people.  We do try to bring in new members occasionally, at least on a trial basis.  I’ve led 4 different groups (from my home) over the last decade and been involved with 3 or 4 others as an occasional participant.  The other groups I’ve led, the ones with the problem children, did not last longer than 6 months because of the kinds of problems I describe here.

What it’s all about, that common denominator in these WTF instances I’m describing, is respect or lack thereof.   My current circle’s membership has genuine love and respect for each other, and that has made us a family.  But it’s more than just respect for me as the group’s leader or teacher. It’s respect for other students, respect for yourself so that you get the most of out of the precious knowledge made available to you, and respect for your Gods.

The lack of respect I’ve seen isn’t limited to one particular age group, by the way.  In my own experiences, it is often the parents rather than the teens who act out but that may just be my own dynamic.  I have never had one second’s worth of disrespect from any participant under 22, perhaps because they are so eager to learn and soak up anything I can show them.   That’s the best kind of student, in my opinion:  enthusiastic, mentally engaged,  open-minded, and committed to learning more–through reading, listening, participating with us, and experimenting on their own.

As for the others, I have this fantasy that they are one day right smack dab in the middle of an exorcism and wish they’d been paying attention….