Well, we're not there yet. But together, Jeff and I have taken the first step and officially announced the formation of an informal study group called Sycamore Circle (the group can be found on facebook, and perhaps eventually we'll have some other webpage for it as well). At the moment, the study group is not affiliated with any larger Druidic Order or organization, though it will be largely informed by our experiences in Revival Druidry and the slightly anarchistic mud-and-blood approach of Emma Restall Orr and The Druid Network. When I first conceived of the idea back in February 2008, I wrote a brief description of the group as "embodying a tradition of inclusiveness, for those with interests in: art, music, poetry and other sacred expressions of Awen; regular meditation and contact with nature as essential aspects of the spiritual life; scholarly study and intellectual integrity; exploring experiences of Spirit and encouraging personal growth and community evolution..." (If any of my readers live in or near the Pittsburgh/Allegheny County area, I invite you to explore the group page on fb or contact me for more information.)
Back at the end of August, Jeff and I began to set aside times during each month as "meetings," in order to establish a routine into which we might be able to introduce new members. We've been following TDN's Perennial Course in Living Druidry for the past month, holding informal meetings in the local park on the evenings of new and full moons, and occasionally times between, and these have already become very special and sometimes intense times for me, and I think for Jeff as well, as they've sparked experiences of the sacred and moments of connection as well as fascinating discussions that spill over into our mundane lives. True, with just the two of us, we make more of a line than a circle, more of a Sycamore Twig. But it's a start, a way of getting our feet wet.
Then, just this past week, two people from my work noticed the group announcement on facebook and approached me with some vague, hesitant interest. I was surprised, and a bit embarrassed, frankly. When I'd posted the announcement, I'd thought perhaps we'd eventually get a few strangers, people already involved in Pagandom in one way or another and who were looking for a local group... I never expected interest from anyone I already knew. I'm not sure why this caught me off guard, but I suspect it was just that it helped to bring home the reality of the thing, the very real potential that soon I would have to start navigating the complicated world of Group Politics (cue doomsday music). I've heard a lot of scary things about Witch Wars and Pagan Standard Time and other generally petty, irresponsible and power-hungry behavior from adults who should really know better. I want to strive to avoid these things, to cultivate a group atmosphere based on trust and mutual respect as well as shared interests and community practice. But I'm not usually a big group-joiner, let alone a group leader. So it's going to be a challenge.
Pondering Group Dynamics
My brief moment of panic has led to some deep thought and long discussions with Jeff over the past week about what we hope this study group will become, what we're looking for and looking to avoid. This discussion was helped along by a post to a Druid message forum recently that included questions about group politics and preferences. Some of the issues brought up were:
Other questions regarding particular topics and practices, how group meetings are run, how often the group meets, and so on, are also essential, of course. But I feel as though, if we don't first think carefully about some of the above issues, these other concerns don't make much difference.
In a post next week, I'm going to outline a "vision" for this new group, a personal exploration of what I hope Sycamore Circle can become. In the meantime, I would really appreciate feedback on some of these topics. What are your experiences in groups (Pagan and otherwise)? What were some of their rewards, things that kept you coming back or really helped to shape your spiritual path? What were some things you wished were different, that you found distracting or frustrating or detrimental? What, in your experience and understanding, is the role a group should play in the spiritual life, and how does it relate to the idea of spiritual community, and to solitary practice? Inquiring minds want to know!