Pagan Groups: Seeking To Find

I’m a strong proponent of group practice and worship. While there is no substitute for regular personal spiritual practice, there is also no substitute for the fellowship, encouragement, reinforcement and accountability that comes from being in community with like-minded folks. And there are things you can do in a group you can’t do alone: you can’t do a spiral dance by yourself and one person can’t raise the energy that thirty can raise.

I know a few people who are die-hard solitaries and successful at it, so I’ll admit there are some people who are best served by the myth of the witch living alone in a cottage deep in the forest. But the exceptions do not disprove the general rule – humans are social animals and most Pagans are better off in a good group.

Of course, we’re all better off solitary than in a dysfunctional group, but that’s another rant for another time.

Different Pagan and magical groups have very different requirements for membership. Some simply require showing up. Some require signing up. Some require petitioning for membership. Some require invitations. And once you’re in, there’s the question of initiations and progression through various grades.

My local hands-on group is Denton CUUPS, a chapter of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. I first went there ten years ago when I was looking for a group, intending to make it my first stop in a “group shopping” process. Instead, I never left. I’d love to have an OBOD grove nearby, but CUUPS is my home. This is where I honor the gods, celebrate the seasons, and work with others to learn, grow, and build a better world. This is also where I’ve met some of my closest friends.

A CUUPS groups is not a coven, grove, or lodge. A CUUPS group is a UU covenant group and by definition it is open to all who are in agreement with its principles and who support its mission. Some CUUPS groups have a very loose membership definition, but Denton CUUPS has found it’s better to require people to formally join the group. We welcome all who are interested, but we don’t want you to join unless you’re serious about being an active member.

Recently I’ve had several people express reluctance to join because “I don’t know nearly as much as all of you.” I’ve given one response to all these people: “we want you.”

Yes, we have some very experienced folks in this group. We also have some very new folks. When we’re camping, or picking up trash, or trying to coordinate our calendars for a movie night (which we need to do again some time soon), none of that matters. In ritual, there are simple parts and there are not-so-simple parts – ask for what feels right to you. Want to lead a circle but don’t know how? Assist someone else a time or two, then have someone assist you – this is an opportunity to learn by doing. Don’t want to lead a circle? That’s fine too.

Everyone who joins a Pagan or magical group brings something to the table. Sometimes those are religious skills or magical skills, sometimes they’re life skills and sometimes they’re just a warm smile and a helping hand. All are welcome – and all are needed.

We don’t have a dedicant program. That means we don’t have a formal training program we can hand you. It also means we aren’t tempted to force you into a box that may not fit you well. Explain what you’re interested in, describe who or what calls to you and we can probably point you in the right direction. And whether you end up in a structured program or a guided study or mentored study or solitary study, you still have to do the work. There is no substitute for doing the work. It’s just easier and more fun with others.

OK, John – that’s a nice plug for your CUUPS group. Now tell me what this has to do with Patheos Pagan readers who don’t happen to live in North Texas?

The process is the same no matter where you are, spiritually or geographically. Unless you’re the rare bird who really is the Witch In The Forest, sooner or later you’re going to reach the end of what you can accomplish on your own. Continuing your learning and spiritual growth will require a group – for a while if not forever.

Unlike the situation even 20 years ago, it’s pretty easy to find a group these days, at least if you live in or near a metropolitan area. The internet and social media have enabled more groups to form, which improves your odds even more. There are numerous virtual communities which, while not the same as a physical community, can provide some of the benefits no matter where you live. If you want a group, start looking!

Maybe you’ll be like me and find what you’re looking for on the first visit. Maybe you’ll have to test drive two or three or ten to find the right group. But when you find a group that fits your needs and your personality, ask about the membership process.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Don’t be intimidated by experienced members – and if any of them are trying to intimidate you, find another group. The clichés are clichés because they’re true: everyone was a beginner at one point and you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t start. Most groups welcome seekers who are seeking to find instead of merely seeking something new and different.

For more advice on finding and settling into a group, check out Sable Aradia’s post on the Agora blog titled Seekers and Guides: Covening for Beginners.

Our Ostara Circle is Saturday night. I’m hoping we end the evening with a few more members on the roll.

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • http://anowlandtheatre.blogspot.com/ Conor O’Bryan Warren

    As a Reconstructionist, I have found my local CUUPS group to be a huge boon to my own religious practice. It encourages me to get out there, engage, and understand my own Gods better, and sometimes someone brings something up about Aphrodite or Pan that makes me re-examine what I think of the God/dess. It has also helped me move past the problem of “one-wayism” that so frequently plagues the Recon community. Without CUUPS, I’d still be a helluva lot more ‘stodgy’ and ‘prickly’ than I currently am. If a person doesn’t have a group to be with, seek out your local CUUPs group, that is all I have to say about that!

    As regards the main point, group worship, I entirely agree with you. Sure, there is something wonderful and meaningful about pouring libations in the morning by one’s self, but at the same time, worshiping the same Gods, together is just an amazing experience. The Human Element is a wonderful one, and I think a lot of Neo-Pagans (and even recons) needlessly neglect that aspect of worship and connecting with the divine. It is a shame really.

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