We often talk about how to find the right path or make a group but we don’t often talk about leaving one. Magical people gather in all kinds of groups: covens, circles, groves, lodges, fraternities, churches, schools, associations. When we join a group we form relationships with the people in it as well as the group as a whole. Leaving the group means ending one or all of those relationships. This can take as much preparation and processing as ending a marriage. Having a plan can help minimize the pain and maximize the chances of a positive outcome. Here are some ideas for how to make a plan to leave a magical group and execute it.
Making the Plan
Write out why you are thinking about leaving
Putting your reasons into words can help you figure out if this is the right thing to do. It can also help you explain to the other people in the group why you are doing it. For example, people leave magical groups over leadership conflicts or personal conflicts. Sometimes the group changes in a way that you can’t support. Maybe it’s just that the magic doesn’t work for you, or you’re admitting to yourself that it never did.
Identify what you are leaving
Is it the area, the group, or the people?
- The area: if you’re moving geographically you may be able to meet long distance. Can you attend remotely? You might also be able to find a related group where you are going.
- The group: do you intend to keep the people as friends? How you leave will play a big part in making that possible. Even if you’re steaming mad now, communicating calmly can keep your bridges open if you decide to return later.
- The people: sometimes individual relationships just don’t work out. This can be a no-fault situation with a positive resolution. I’ve had Wiccan students who went on to initiate with me. I’ve also had students who didn’t gel with my teaching style so I referred them out to people who eventually initiated them, and we all remained friendly.
Consider a sabbatical
The longer you’ve been with a group, the harder it is to leave. Maybe you can take a step back and spend some time outside the group. One option is to take a formal sabbatical. Tell the people in the group you won’t be participating for a period of time and set a clear end date. Then stick to it! Don’t show up for group activities during that time. Do reach out to the people you want to keep contact with. Also make an effort to get involved with activities outside the group. This is a good time to set up a separate email for group correspondence if you haven’t already done that.
At the end of your sabbatical period you have three choices: stay, go, or extend the sabbatical. As a group leader I’ve managed any number of sabbaticals with all of those outcomes. One advantage of a sabbatical is that it gives you time to adjust to the change in your life and gives the group time to adjust too.
If you decide to return to the group after your sabbatical, this is your chance to talk about the reasons you were thinking about leaving and the reasons you decided to stay. Hopefully the separation has given you time to process what you were feeling so the conversation can be calm. It’s important to have that conversation so you can reconnect with the people in the group and give them a chance to understand what’s happening with you. This will help the group meet your needs. The group may also clarify what they need from you to make the relationship work better for them too.
I’ve seen people dither about leaving a group for years. I’ve been that person too. If you keep thinking about it and talking to your friends about whether or not you should leave you might be stuck. Here are some of the reasons people have said to me they hesitate to make the jump:
- It’s the only magic I know
- If I leave I’ll lose the work I’ve already put in
- If I stay I can help it change
Any of these reasons are a clear indication that it’s time to build resilience. We create identities based on our associations, and if too much of our life is tied up in one organization that’s not a healthy situation. While it’s common for teaching organizations to require a commitment for a period of time, some groups encourage and even mandate that they should be the only magical organization you belong to for the rest of your life. That’s a red flag – it sets up the conditions for exploitation and abuse.
Building resilience is a good idea whether or not you decide to leave the group. It will help you get perspective on the situation and put you in a position where you feel that staying is a choice rather than a trap.
- Talk to your family
- Spend time with friends outside the group
- Connect with a non-magical organization
These steps help you establish an identity outside the group. This is a net positive whatever you ultimately decide. If you stay you’re working from a position of strength rather than dependence. If you leave, your support group is already in place to help you make the transition.
Leaving a group can be as simple as not showing up for meetings any more. However if you have a formal membership you may need to tell the group to drop you from their rolls.
- Send a resignation letter or email. This is a simple statement – I resign effective this date.
- Return materials. If you have confidential documents or objects that belong to the group, give them back.
- Let people know. Post a short paragraph about why you are leaving. If you don’t people will make up their own reasons (trust me on this). Keep it simple and informative. If you have anger or grievances write those out and sit on them – you can always air them later but it’s really hard to retract.
Acknowledge the loss
Leaving a group is like getting a divorce. An important relationship has ended. Part of your identity has shifted and you’re letting go of dreams. Give yourself time to grieve and heal.
Everything you are feeling is normal and expected. It’s okay to be angry and hurt. It’s okay to feel guilty and ashamed. It’s okay to feel relieved. It’s okay if you don’t feel any of these things and just go on with your life.
All the things we do to process any loss work here too. Get outside. Go for walks. Eat well and get enough sleep. Spend time with pets. Lose yourself in someone else’s story, read novels or biographies or watch shows. Put together a playlist (there’s a Taylor Swift song for every feeling!)
Disengage from the energy of the group
Every group has a particular energy that you have participated in. Initiation might also have formed an attachment between you and the energy. You’ll need to separate yourself from that energy in order to move on with your magical life. If you belong to a tradition you will continue to carry that tradition, and the ways that the energy has changed you will stay with you. What you are separating yourself from in particular is the energy of the group that you are leaving. This protects you and it is also a kindness to the group.
Say it out loud
Just say, out loud, “I have left (the group). I separate myself from (the group)”. Speaking words out loud has its own magic. You might be tempted to say “I am leaving” but that means that you haven’t done it yet and leaves an open end. Saying “I have left” means you truly have gone.
Cord magic to cut the bond
Create a cord that represents your connection with the group. Pick colors that represent both the group and how you feel about it. Hold the cord and focus on your desire to leave. Say “I leave this group” and cut the cord with scissors. Take the pieces of the cord and destroy them – burn them, bury them or throw them into running water.
Visualization to break the bond
Find a quiet place where you can be alone for a few minutes. Breathe deeply and ground yourself. Focus on your solar plexus. See or feel a rope of energy attaching you to the group. Say “I leave this group” and sever the connection. Put your hands on your solar plexus and see and feel the rope disengaging from you. If you have an athame or magical knife you can swipe it down in front of your solar plexus to cut the energy.
Once you’ve cut the bond, take a few moments to acknowledge your own energy boundaries. See and feel your aura and strengthen its edges. See and feel strong positive energy moving from the top of your head to your feet. Pull strong earth energy up through your feet up to the top of your head.
Restore and protect your energy
When you leave a group it’s important to re-affirm your magical boundaries. This is a good time to do any energy practices you already know to clear and strengthen your chakras, energy meridians, and your aura. If you don’t have those practices this is a good time to learn them! Jean Louis de Biasi’s book Mysteries of the Aura is an excellent start.
This is also a good time to renew the magical protections on your house, your stuff, your pets and yourself. Space is limited here but I’ve talked extensively about warding and shielding in Practical Magic for Beginners and Cord Magic. Heron Mitchell’s post Warding Ritual for Spiritual Protection of your Home has some great tips too.
Moving Forward with your Magical Life
However you name yourself – Witch or Wiccan, magician or Thelemite, Pagan or Druid or heathen, or any other description – you are that person independent of the group. You may feel the need to re-establish your ability to do that magic independently of the group. You may decide to start an entirely new path. You may decide to take a break from magic – I know several people who did a stint with Buddhism after leaving a magical group. Whatever you decide, the most important thing is to know that it is your choice and your magic belongs to you.
Reclaim your magic
Every magical path has a basic ritual. When you’ve left the group you can do the ritual on your own. Witches and Pagans can cast a circle, magicians can do a Qabbalistic Cross or Star Ruby. This can be a formal step to affirm to the universe that this magic is yours independent of the group.
This is also an excellent time to try your hand at creating your own version of the ritual. If you cast a circle, you can try using different quarter callings, using a set of Goddesses or animals or spirits. You can try making your own form of the Qabbalistic Cross or other personal ritual.
Talk to the Gods
If your tradition works with deities you can make your own altar and talk to them directly. Let them know that you have left and why. Re-affirm your relationship with them and ask them for their assistance.
You can also connect with deities you haven’t worked with before. Is there a Goddess or God or spirit who has called to you? One deity to consider is Isis. The ancient writer Apuleius told the story of The Golden Ass about a man who found himself cursed to be a donkey and was rescued by his praying to Isis. It’s a story about someone who got in magical trouble and got out of it. Reading that story may inspire you to organize your own magical rescue.
Find a new path
When you’ve had a chance to recover your energy and you’re ready to reconnect you might find yourself on a different magical path. Annwyn Avalon’s post 9 Tips For New Witches has some ideas to get you started. Even though you may not new to magic my post Tips for Magical Beginners is worth reviewing to remind yourself how to keep yourself protected and safe.
If you have experienced abuse, or if the group is engaged in an illegal or unethical activity, your timeline to leave accelerates. You have a right to take whatever actions you need to protect yourself and you don’t owe the group or any individuals explanations or consideration. Your priority is yourself.
Leave now. The most important thing is to get yourself to a place of safety as quickly as possible. Stop attending group functions in person. Leave social media and egroups and block the people who are engaging in the activities on your own social media accounts.
If you used your main email address to receive group correspondence you can set up a folder to separate it out (or just send it to trash directly). You may also consider making a new email account, you can forward email from specific people or groups to your new account. If you have already set up a separate email for group correspondence you can just set an out-of-office message that you no longer check the account.
Document your experiences. This is a file that may go public later, so it’s different than the journaling you may do to process your feelings. Keep this one factual and brief. List the activities, who engaged in them, and the date. Also list the date in which you left the group.
End any legal ties. If the organization has a formal membership, resign that immediately. Remove your name from any bank accounts or other legal attachments, such as being a registered agent of a corporation in your state.
Separate your stuff. If you have any property that belongs to the group, return it immediately. You don’t have to do it in person, you can box it up and mail it, or give it to someone else to deliver. That person can be someone in the group that you trust, or it can be a friend or family member.
If the group or individuals have some of your property and you want to retrieve it, you don’t have to do that on your own. Again, you can ask a group member you trust to return it, or you can ask a friend or family member to pick it up for you. You never have to put yourself in contact with someone who has abused you or threatens your physical or legal safety.
Take the situation seriously. Abuse doesn’t just happen between individuals, groups can also be abusive. Thinking about it that way can help you separate yourself and recover. It might help to read up on how to get out of an abusive relationship. This also gives you a way to talk to your family and friends about what you have experienced.
Emergency magic. It’s important to clear the energy of the group form your personal energy field and from your house. Box up any magical tools and jewelry and tie a cord around the box to contain the energies. Contact an intuitive reader or psychic healer to do a cleansing of your chakras and your aura, you can search online or check with magical friends outside your group for recommendations. Wear a stone like carnelian, or a silk scarf, or a single red thread for protection. Don’t be afraid to ask your magical friends for help.
I’ve personally engaged in all these practices. I’ve helped other people leave magical groups too. It can be disorienting and painful. Take the time you need to make the transition, and be kind to yourself.
Leaving a group isn’t a failure or a tragedy, it’s a normal part of life. Healthy people grow over our lifetimes. We change jobs, move from one place to another, break up with lovers and friends. Any of these transitions can end our relationship with a group. Our magical path also shifts over time, and it should! Magic changes us.
We have an image of finding the perfect group and staying with it for life. It’s very similar to the idea of finding our true love and marrying for life. This does happen, but many more of us have a lot of relationships before we find someone to live with. Also, no relationship is permanent; people change and grow apart, and death parts us all. The same thing is true with magical relationships. A few of us may find or create a group and stay with it over our lifetimes, but many more of us spend time with a particular magic, learn what we need to from it, and move on. Leaving a group isn’t the end of the adventure, it’s just one more step on our magical life path.