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.
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
mapping, which also support group bonding, helping us develop the
collective consciousness we need for shared spiritual work.
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
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
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
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
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
Expressed as an infinitive – e.g. “to help restore the Old
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 back to
Judy Harrow, HPs, Proteus Coven
© 2006, by Judy Harrow
the address of this page is: www.proteuscoven.com/dynamics/setting.htm