The Pain Of Losing The Pack

The Pain Of Losing The Pack February 27, 2020

Just last week, I was accused of something I didn’t do.

Someone I barely knew, and hadn’t spoken to in years, publicly claimed I had helped ban them from their Pagan group. In truth, I had nothing to do with this person’s dismissal. I attended and spoke at many of this community’s events, but had no organizational role with them, and certainly wasn’t involved with community dismissals. Yet my tangential involvement with that community led this person to believe that I was directly responsible.

It was an unfair accusation, but not an unfamiliar one.

It’s been three years since I stepped down from being High Priestess of my Coven. Nothing “went wrong.” I was simply tired. It had been the main focus of my life for nine years, eclipsing my career, friendships, and even family. My husband and I wanted to move to the West Coast, and I can’t run an NYC-based Coven from Oregon. My leaving upset a lot of people. Strangely, though, few of those upset were still in the Coven. The people who were most angry had already moved on.

I was supposed to simply be there, in case they ever decided to come back. I found even stranger reactions from others.

Related content: 5 Reasons NOT To Join A Coven (Or Other Magickal Group)

In my nine years running a Coven, I only asked a handful of members to leave. Most who left did so of their own volition. The strange thing is that in the years since I left, many of these people now publicly claim that I “kicked them out.” I have the emails they sent me, detailing why they wanted to go. I remember mutually agreeable conversations in which they said their path was taking them elsewhere, or they no longer had the time to dedicate to the Coven.

Why were people claiming, so fervently, that I kicked them out when I had hard proof that they had chosen to go?

Maybe they regretted leaving and wanted to blame someone for it. Perhaps their departures were tests, waiting to see if I’d beg for them to return. I never did. Enough sordid romantic relationships taught me that begging someone to stay is never fruitful. In a spiritual group setting, one of the great hallmarks of Not-Being-A-Cult is that people can easily leave.

But I’m reading Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized. (I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it so I can’t say whether I recommend it.) While it hasn’t yet clarified for me why my country is so divided at the moment, one passage in slapped me with a clarification for me why a Covener’s departure, even of their own volition, was such a jarring thing for both the Covener and those who stayed:

“We tend to dismiss the agony of social isolation or stigma as merely psychological. It isn’t. To feel abandoned by community, to fear the opprobrium of others, triggers a physical assault on the body. You may have heard statistics like loneliness is worse for you tan obesity or smoking. Medical professionals, like Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general of the United States, say social isolation acts like a disease or an injury, crossing from psychological state to physical malady. The mechanism is evolutionary; our brains know we need our groups to survive.” 

 Whenever I write an article about Covens, I get a number of (frankly smug) responses that say. “This is why I’m solitary!”

But these comments also come from people who join online groups. If they were truly solitary, in my mind, wouldn’t they abstain from groups all together? Even if they don’t join a group, they are taking the time to read a Pagan blog. In a sense, they are creating a group in their mind, collecting the voices of like-minded individuals. Even if they never meet the person, the author becomes their friend and ally. How many of us were dismayed and betrayed when J.K. Rowling revealed herself to be a virulent transphobe? We felt abandoned by someone we believed we could trust, even though this person had no official role in our personal mental well-being.

Related content: Spotting and Stopping Energy Vampires.

Covens aren’t for everyone, but they have their place and can be great resources for many. I’m proud to say that my initiates have started excellent Covens in their areas. Covens may not be required for a person’s well-being, but the sense of belonging is. Capitalism has tried to make us believe that we are individuals when in truth, homo sapiens have always been pack animals. In a time of such rampant uncertainty, between the rise of right-wing fascism and the perils of climate change, groups are going to become even more important to the well-being of individuals.

This belonging is so crucial to individuals that even a mutual separation or departure by their own choice can feel like rejection.

The pain of rejection can create shadows on the walls, in which we believe that everyone around us is helping in that rejection—even when that’s not true.

If we are to lead or work in spiritual groups, this is crucial to remember. However, it shouldn’t mean that dismissals shouldn’t happen. Dismissals should not be arbitrary (such as over their race, gender or sexual identity, a disability, or over a simple difference of opinion). But dismissals, too, have their place: if someone is repeatedly disrespectful, absent, violent or otherwise disruptive, they should be asked to leave. Proper dismissals are vital for healthy groups. Voluntary departures, too, are equally vital.

Here is the challenge: it is very easy for spiritual groups to become the all-purpose safe haven. They cannot be, nor should they. But the presence of such groups has likely never been more important. As they grow in numbers of total groups and numbers of members, it is crucial that group leaders or organizers be very clear about the purpose and role of such groups:

  • Not a support group
  • Not therapy.
  • Members will come, and members will go. This is natural and healthy for both the group and the members in it.
  • Groups cannot dictate how you live your life. If your group tries to do so, leave it. If your members try to make the group dictate their life, the member is in the wrong group.

Clarity about the reality of inevitable departures within a group may help lessen the sting. And when the sting causes a person to act unkindly, we must set boundaries but with compassion. Humans are pack animals. Losing our pack, whether our choice or not, will hurt us on a level so deep we may not have appropriate words or understanding for it.

We’re in caustic times. Whenever we can invoke compassion, let’s do it.

 

About
Courtney Weber is a Witch, author, Tarot adviser, and activist. She is the author of "The Morrigan: Celtic Goddess of Magick and Might", "Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess", "Tarot for One: The Art of Reading for Yourself", and the forthcoming "Hekate: Goddess of Witches". She is a co-host of That Witch Life podcast. She has been featured in the New York Times, Maxim, Playboy, Huffington Post, Vice, and the Thom Hartmann Show. Visit her online at www.courtneyaweber.com. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Kelly M.

    So relevant!! Just recently I have witnessed this in a Coven, and as well felt like I had lost my own Pack as I moved 1000’s of miles across country. In terms of people feeling that they were kicked out, even though they actually stated they wanted to leave – what I just saw here was a feeling of immense discomfort with one or more Elder members of the coven, so the newer member felt they were not welcome so they offered to leave. I think sometimes, this is not a real wanting to leave, but more of a wish to have a dialogue about why. I think in the situation I witnessed, instead of accepting the offer to leave right off the bat, then issuing a letter of dismissal from the group, perhaps getting involved in a dialogue with everyone would be better. However, the dynamics of personalities can be huge. Its not an easy one, and even the most experienced of Witches can have this happen.

  • Bob_Knows

    There is sometimes little difference between being dismissed, asked to leave, or being criticized or disrespected until they felt driven out. The actual departure may have been the person walking away, but the process began long before. When Courtney attended and spoke at many community events she was establishing the tone of the community, and that may have served to turn the community against some individuals who felt otherwise. Not having formal authority is not absolution from being a part of the process of driving someone away.

    I agree with much else Courtney says about being social animals who need a clan or group to feel comfortable. When pagan villages were the culture, being kicked out or banished was tantamount to a death sentence. Today our physical “village” is much larger, but our emotional well being needs compatible friends and group mates. With that said, not all groups have the same priorities, politics, or other activities. There is a group for every Pagan, but not everyone fits in every group. Sometmies its hard to find the right one for you.

  • I know of 2 situations where peopel were asked to leave or decided to leave in my coven. Both were very emotional and hurtful on different levels.