Setting the Course

Before starting a new group, or deciding how to improve an existing one, we need to know just what we want the group to do and how we want the group to be. Investing the time and effort it takes to make your group’s values, vision, and purposes clear and explicit to all members, mapping the future you desire, will help your group find its way towards whatever it is you seek together.

The situation plays out differently when a new independent group is forming, when a group is forming within a lineage or Tradition, and when a new member is joining an existing group. Please think about these matters in terms of your own group situation.

 Process

Our various Paths and Traditions have given us a rich legacy of tools and techniques that can help us discern our true goals and choose how we want to move towards them. Meditation, divination, dreamwork, oracular trance and more are intrinsic to Pagan spiritual practice. I especially recommend guided trance journeys into a vibrant group future. From contemporary psychology, we can borrow techniques, such as brainstorming and concept mapping, which also support group bonding, helping us develop the collective consciousness we need for shared spiritual work.

 Values

What do you believe is most important in religion and in life? What, in the kind of extreme situation we all hope we will never face, would you cling to and what would you let go? How do you hope to behave in a crisis, and how do you expect to behave over the long haul of everyday life? Those are your core values. Groups only work well when core values are substantially shared among all members.

All religions, including our many Pagan Paths and Traditions, teach a set of values or virtues, but these are not all the same. Their differences both reflect and instill different ideas about the nature of Deity and about what it means to live well. What, for you, makes Paganism different? What distinguishes your own Path, Tradition or group within Paganism?

Sometimes values are explicitly stated. For example, the Wiccan “Charge of the Goddess” presents eight guiding virtues as four pairs, in apparent tension with each other: “beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence.” Sometimes values are implicit, silently but powerfully present. Perhaps an even deeper value underlying all four of these pairs in the Charge is dynamic and balanced integration.

At other times, values are indirectly revealed in our rituals, symbols and myths. What did this Goddess, God, ancestor, or hero do in that situation? What energies and ways of being do we honor at this particular festival? Since these metaphors are open to interpretation, different people and groups may derive quite different lessons from the very same stories. If we take our metaphors literally or assume that our own interpretations are obviously correct, painful discord may rend our groups.

So it’s essential to know what really matters to us, and to keep learning as we keep growing, for perfect understanding is never attainable while we live. Shared values center a healthy group.  

Vision

Why did you join – or why are you forming – this particular group? What are your dreams and hopes for your group? How will you know when your group is working well? What do you hope to achieve? How will that feel?

Visions are values projected into the future. By putting these dreams and hopes into words, metaphors, symbols, we give ourselves a star to steer by, a source of inspiration, and a way to assess how well we are doing.

In the secular study of organizational development, this description of shared hope is called a “vision statement.” We can recognize it for what it is: pure magic, an image that focuses our energies and induces powerful and effective goal-directed actions.

We can only strive towards our highest ideals if we first understand just what those ideals are. A group can only be harmonious and effective if its members share a vision. So a good vision statement must arise from our core values, and express our best current understandings of how to live our faith. It should be clear and easy to understand, and it should develop as we develop in wisdom and in spirit.

This is at least as much about being as about doing. It’s about the ways we live our values in every moment of group life, not just about whatever actual work we may undertake together. So it is broader, deeper and more complex than a statement of purpose, important as that may be. In fact, it forms the basis for the purpose statement.  

Purpose

Values and visions are made real by our actions. The link between vision and action is a more specific statement of purpose, which itself contains two parts: 

1. What, specifically, does this group want to make (or help) happen?

Expressed as an infinitive – e.g. “to help restore the Old Ways”  

2. How do we propose to go about it?

Statements about specific projects or methods – e.g. “by developing and sharing ritual skills, and by training ritual leaders for the future.”

Now, that example is one succinct sentence, but Pagan groups, which normally have more than one function, will need statements of purpose that are longer and more complex. A short paragraph is fine. A bulleted list is better.

In secular purpose statements, it should be possible to observe whether or not the stated goal is accomplished. In fact, they may even include a time target. (“we will help beautify our town by giving talks to school groups during the fall and winter and by organizing a park cleanup in early spring”).

Some Pagan group goals are equally objective: you regularly celebrate the festivals, you learn to read the Tarot or to understand Old Norse, your trainees are properly prepared for Initiation.

But remember that some of our work is more inward, more subtle, and therefore success is not so objectively clear. How do you observe deeper and clearer conscious contact with Deity? Only indirectly and imprecisely by actions that demonstrate growing congruence with core values – and there are also no objective criteria for that. So our statements of purpose will often include a certain amount of ambiguity.



You can go forward to Forming

You can go back to




by Judy Harrow, HPs, Proteus Coven

© 2006, by Judy Harrow

the address of this page is: www.proteuscoven.com/dynamics/setting.htm