As my current readers know, I started a Druidic study group a few years ago that eventually blossomed into an official ADF Protogrove. We’ve been very successful so far, and I think a lot of that has to do with taking things slowly and beginning as a study group. Now I’m seeing more and more people ask about starting such a group, seeking advice from those who have done it, and I thought it was about time that I wrote some advice here on my blog. As with many of life’s challenges, we should consider the Druidic virtues in our endeavors. Some people may not agree with all or some of what I say, but each group will face different circumstances. I hope you find some of my thoughts useful in your journey!
- Wisdom - I was very lucky to have had experiences with other groups. These experiences taught me many things which gave me a little wisdom in how successful Pagan groups behave. I learned from my experiences with a diversity of people, traditions, and group roles. Most importantly, I learned that a good group requires a smaller group of people running the show, working together to keep things going and preventing any one person from burning out. There’s usually one person organizing and leading in some capacity, but there is also a fair amount of democracy. Groups exist for the group, not for the leader. My first bit of advice is to get experience with other Pagan groups. Isolated? Drive an hour or two every once in awhile to see how your closest grove does things, or attend a festival once a year. If that’s still not possible, draw on other experiences in which you might have had to take on a leadership role and work with others – high school or college clubs, work, other religious groups. What worked? What didn’t? Think about these things before you create an event. When you do create your first event, I highly suggest that it is a simple meet and greet to gauge interest. Be a good, democratic facilitator and see what everyone is interested in trying next. Would you rather meet up and practice the Two Powers Medtation or take a nature walk and make offerings? Give some guidance, offer a set number of choices, trust your instincts, and guide the group.
- Piety – Similar to one of my previous points about how a group exists for a group and not the leader, the group also exists to continue the old ways and honor the Kindreds. Never lose sight of this. Even though starting as a study group is an important first step, don’t merely lecture. People learn in different ways, and a great many learn by doing. Work towards doing a full ADF ritual together. In the meantime, do smaller things that people will see in ritual. Remind people that Druidism is not something to do eight times a year – it’s a way of life. Demonstrate your piety by sharing in common, daily Druidic activities together. Again, take nature walks, make offerings, and pick up litter. Even if you don’t feel ready to do a public ritual, expose everyone to prayers, chants, and cultural traditions. Have a special supper for the Ancestors around Samhain, for example. If personalities ever start to clash, help everyone remember why the group exists to begin with.
- Vision – Before you create an event, have clear goals in place. If you intend for the study group to turn into an ADF protogrove and, eventually, grove, make your vision known to those who attend your first meeting right away. In fact, state that in your event description. Some people may attend who have other goals in mind. Wiccanate seekers may hope for the group to form along those lines, and you’ll need to be firm about the ADF tradition. Yes, the group exists for the group, but if you are setting out to start an ADF grove, refer to the virtues of piety and integrity. If you are ok with forming a more open Pagan circle, then clearly, make that goal known. If you are truly not interested in that, step away and allow those who are to continue along those lines. Along with having the wisdom to wait until the group is ready to do a ritual together, share your vision for ritual with those who attend. Express the desire and get people excited to help and learn more. Because many people learn best by observing, share that vision with others by watching some of the rituals that have been recorded and placed on Youtube. Discuss these and let others start to share their visions for the group.
- Courage – This virtue is necessary to even get started. If you live in an area where there are few Pagan groups, let alone Druids – courage to build community. If you live in an area where protogroves and groves formed then disbanded – courage to try again. If you are like me and live in an area where Druids (for some reason) had a bad reputation – courage to demonstrate your positivity and seek redemption for the overall community. It takes courage to put yourself out there, meet new people, and basically out yourself as a Pagan in certain (but not necessarily all) circumstances. You will need to keep this courage when others challenge your group’s shared vision that is sometimes at odds with other types of Pagan expression, when interpersonal drama arises, and when delegation is necessary. You will need to share this courage with others when the group holds its first open ritual, seeks places to meet, and represents itself at Pagan Pride. Help foster others’ courage by having meetings in public places were newcomers can feel safe.
- Integrity – I touched on this in vision. If you are like most of us, you want to start a group because you feel called and because you would like a community of like-minded people. Perhaps you’ve looked elsewhere and just didn’t feel that it was a good fit. Many communities have open circles, and they tend to be very Wiccanate. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it naturally won’t appeal to everyone. Some of us want something different, and ADF fills that need for many people such as myself. Be true to your vision in starting an ADF study group. This sometimes requires a balancing act between firm tenacity and gentle guidance when it comes to issues such as appropriation, the cultural focus of a group, what is and isn’t a part of liturgy, etc. Remember why it was that you started the group. If nobody, and I mean nobody, is interested in an ADF group, let it go, but keep looking for others. Don’t fight over something that hasn’t formed yet. When you do meet others who share your vision, politely point those who don’t to groups who could be more helpful to them. Keep it positive because you don’t want to burn bridges. Always make sure visitors know that they don’t have to be Druids to attend, but they should have an open mind and respectful attitude. Thankfully, my group has drawn a lot of like-minded individuals, and I think part of that has been because of my integrity. Keep in mind that, even though ADF draws people in part because of its scholarly approach, not everyone drawn to your group will be as keen on that. Some may be more or less recon-oriented than you. Compromises will have to be made, but try to focus on what your shared vision is.
- Perseverance- As stated in the integrity point, don’t give up if you’re having trouble finding others who share your vision. Continue to reach out to new seekers. Let others know that they’re welcomed to rituals even if they don’t practice Druidism. You’ll be amazed what could happen. Sometimes people don’t know they were seeking Druidism until they see it in action. Keep the old saying, “You can’t please everyone,” in mind and continue to move forward with your group’s vision. Also remember that not every workshop, book discussion, craft night, or ritual will go as planned. It’s ok – keep learning and improving as you grow!
- Hospitality – ADF exists with the purpose of offering open rituals. With that in mind, I started my study group so that we functioned that way from the beginning. We still meet in public places so that newcomers feel safe. We send out invitations to other Pagans each High Day, reminding them that they do not have to be Druids to attend – all we require is an open mind and respectful attitude. We have potlucks to foster our sense of community. We established that our group is to be family friendly and so we try to make it a safe place for breastfeeding, we remind visitors not to smoke, and are continually working to offer child-friendly activities. Part of hospitality is the reciprocity of the guests. We try our best to return the hospitality of our hosts by cleaning up after ourselves. We expect others to help. In fact, as we grew into a protogrove, we modeled ourselves after other groves and protogroves by only giving certain people the privilege of making major decisions and leading rituals (here’s wisdom at work again!). That privilege goes to those who continue to help and reciprocate our hospitality. This keeps things running smoothly and ensures that only those who value the group and its vision are in a position to make decisions. This also helps reduce my burnout as a facilitator. If someone consistently shows up too late to set up and leaves before cleaning, do not give that person the ability to organize or lead an event until they prove themselves. It doesn’t matter how experienced or knowledgeable that person is – there’s more to Druidism than ritual and book smarts. Demand excellence and use the Nine Virtues as a rubric.
- Moderation – Piggybacking on hospitality, wisdom, integrity, and vision, remember to find a balance. Not everyone will be as interested in a particular subject as you. Not everyone will be as drawn to a specific hearth culture as you. You will need to compromise. Whereas you needn’t do that in your solitary practice, I feel it is necessary for a functioning, democratic group to thrive. Try your best to keep things interesting and applicable to different learning styles; alternate between listening, talking, and doing. As the organizer, remind yourself that you need time for you every now and then. If you’re like me, I know you’re passionate and want to do everything well, but delegate and allow others to experiment.
- Fertility – For the purpose of this entry, fertility here refers to growth and creativity within the group and not baby-making orgies. (Sorry.) I’m not going to lie – I wanted my study group to grow just as I want my protogrove to grow. Now I’m not saying that quantity equals quality, but you need a certain number of dues paying ADF members to transform into a grove. We don’t need a huge congregation to be successful. What we do need are more talented people to help! The more people in our group who embrace the ADF tradition and want to add their own talents and perspectives, the more interesting our rituals will become and the more energy will flow. The more people we’ll have available to volunteer for park cleanups, tree planting, ritual parts, and such. We won’t be so spread thin. It’s natural. Until certain people arrive, you’ll have to fill voids creatively. By keeping the virtues of moderation and hospitality in mind, the group will grow and continue to flourish and, hopefully, grow into an amazing grove!
Good luck forming your study group! Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.