Group Functions

One of the most important differences among groups is that they serve, or at least emphasize, different functions for their members and for the community and culture within which they exist. Understanding these is key to understanding how groups work well – or might work better.

The Association for Specialists in Group Work, a secular, professional organization for group counselors, recognizes four different types of group, comprising a model they call the “groupwork rainbow.” These four types are called therapy groups, growth groups, educational groups, and task groups.


It’s important to say, up front and out loud, that Pagan groups should not even try to serve as therapy groups.

Mental illness is a real and a tragic thing. People who are suffering from it need skilled professional help. Pretty please, don’t try this at home! Almost no Pagan group leaders have the necessary training to diagnose and treat mental illness.  Attempting to do psychotherapy without the necessary knowledge, skills, and backup can do much more harm than good. For the tiny number of Pagan group leaders who happen to also be qualified therapists, it is against professional ethical standards to practice therapy within a “dual relationship” with someone who is also a friend or family member.

Also please remember that Pagan groups usually straddle these categories, in all sorts of different combinations and proportions. We pick and choose, mix and match, to do what we think a group should do. So the groupwork rainbow is, for us, useful, but not definitive.

In my experience, three of the categories in the groupwork rainbow, plus two more, do often apply to Pagan groups. Here are those five functions:

·        Growth groups are groups in which members support and challenge one another as they work towards ongoing self-development. Although there are many dimensions of personal growth, our groups focus on spiritual and/or magical development.

·        Educational groups (classes) are venues where people gather to learn together, to develop and share knowledge and understanding and to acquire and practice skills. Most often, there is a teacher or elder who guides the learning process, contributing their own deep knowledge and experience. Learning is also easier and more efficient in a group context because each member brings a different set of perspectives and life experiences to the material, so each member will raise important questions that others may not have thought of.

·        Task groups (teams) gather to accomplish a project. Pagan groups organize gatherings, host open public celebrations, sponsor introductory classes, publish magazines, and engage in many other sorts of practical work in service to the Gods, the community, and the Earth.

·        Worship groups gather to celebrate the holy days and festivals of their particular Path or Tradition. These rituals are more intense and participatory, and usually less performative, than open community celebrations. Collective worship creates and sustains group bonding and nurtures every other kind of work a religious group undertakes. Most of us believe that it also contributes to the awakening of the Old Gods.

·        Families of choice rely on each other in many areas of life beyond the explicitly spiritual or magical. In a time when people move around a lot and may live thousands of miles from blood-kin, these are the people who will baby-sat, help with a home repair, celebrate our birthdays with us, visit us in the hospital. They are the ones who laugh and cry with us in all the intense moments of life. They are also sometimes the people with whom we can work out old “stuff” and practice better ways of interaction, another important aspect of personal growth.

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by Judy Harrow, HPs, Proteus Coven
© 2006, by Judy Harrow

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