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Posts Tagged ‘study group’

Tanya's crystal workshop at a local park.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Tanya’s crystal workshop at a local park.  We sat in the shade of a pavilion, put all the materials on picnic tables, meditated together, and enjoyed a feast. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Planning the location of a group ritual may be as simple as “inside or outside” for some, especially if they rely on utilizing each others’ homes, but not everyone is comfortable with that.  Furthermore, not everyone has enough space to accommodate more than a few visitors. Traditions like Ár nDraíocht Féin emphasize public rites, so that can further complicate things.  There are many Groves and Protogroves that meet at one or two individuals’ private property, but that seems rare.  If you’re thinking about starting an ADF study group or protogrove, but you’re worried about having an unknown number of strangers in your home, you may want to look at other options.  This may seem overwhelming at first, but you have a variety of paths to explore!

    • Public Town or City Parks

      This is an obvious place to start.  Scout out local parks with accessible bathrooms (very important), shade, and a variety of shelter in case of inclement weather.  Pavilions may even have power outlets if you’d like to have crockpots or kettles plugged in for a potluck following the ritual.  Call the appropriate city or town office to look into a reservation if you’re concerned about having tables or the possibility of shelter from rain.  My group, Northern Rivers Protogrove, rented a small pavilion at one of the largest parks in the area.  All I had to do was look up the park office online and contact them.  They required a $15 fee (which I paid by check with group funds) and asked for some basic information, including a reason for the reservation.  If you’re nervous that a park will reject you for wanting to have a ritual, you could simplify your explanation.  For example, you could say that you’re having a fall celebration while maintaining your integrity.  A ritual and a celebration are the same; it’s just word choice based on audience.   Do check with local and state laws.  I’ve heard from some in other states that parks don’t always allow religious activities.  Looking to save money?  Just meet at the park and find a free place, but be prepared with a plan B in case others beat you to all the sheltered areas.

 

    • State Parks
      Altar to Manannan at a State Park along the St. Lawrence River- Photo by Jacob, 2015

      Altar to Manannan at a State Park along the St. Lawrence River- Photo by Jacob, 2015


      Northern Rivers Protogrove recently had a ritual that we called “A Feast for Manannan mac Lir” at a local state park along the St. Lawrence River.  For a group named after the local rivers, it seemed important that we arrange this and “pay the rent” to Manannan!  The information about city or town parks also applies to State Parks, but there may be additional concerns about what you bring in and take out.  For example, a park on a protected lake won’t be an appropriate place to leave certain offerings out of environmental concerns.  Other state parks are more developed.  The location we chose had newly renovated bathrooms, a clean beach with lifeguards on duty, marina, campgrounds, pavilions, and a huge playground.  It was also more expensive to rent a pavilion here ($60), and every car had to pay a $7 parking fee, but the park is immaculate and the pavilion we rented included clear signs as well as garbage and recycling receptacles.  Since the group made a day of the event, it was worth it in my opinion.  We’re about three-four years old now, so we can afford this from time to time, but smaller groups just starting out may want to to save a bigger park for another time if there are high fees.  Also consider the accessibility of the site.  Since ADF rituals are supposed to be open, having events in a more rustic park that might not be handicapped accessible could be a bad option.  You just never know who will show up!  Look for parks with wide paths, ramps, and accessible bathrooms.

 

    • UU Churches
      Parks are great places, and of course many Druids and Polytheists want to gather outside as much as possible, but if you live in a climate with four seasons, shelter and plumbing become very attractive amenities!  This is especially so with open rituals since some people may not want to (or be physically able) to attend rituals in inclement weather.  Think the handicapped, small children, the elderly, and pregnant women.  Many Pagan groups utilize Unitarian Universalist churches.  In the past, when I lived in Utica, I belonged to an eclectic group that often rented space at the UU church for rituals, workshops, and even a couple Pagan Pride-type events.  However, this was made possible because a few of the group’s leaders were already active members of the UU church, so they were trusted with the keys.  When my protogrove was seeking ritual space, we decided to look at other options because the UU church nearest us already has a CUUPs group, and none of our members went to the UU.  Without the connections, and with time and space already needed by the CUUPs group, we decided not to pursue that option.   Having said that, if you are already active in a UU church, you should look into using that space.  You’ll have access to bathrooms and, usually, kitchen space.  Depending on the specific church’s policies, and your involvement, there may be a fee, and you may need to coordinate with another person who has a key.  Scheduling in advance will be important here due to other programing.

 

    • Metaphysical ShopsIf you’re lucky enough to live near an established magical shop with enough space, you may be able to have some rituals there!  Back in Utica, there was a shop that hosted bimonthly gatherings, and they were opened to having other groups utilize the space.  This may be a good option for new groups that don’t have an established “home base.”  It could also be a winter solution for groups that usually meet in parks.  Here in Northern NY, a few metaphysical shops have informed me that they would be happy to have us should we ever need space.  They either have a set rental fee, or merely ask for a donation.  One shop even said those who rent a space will get a special discount the day of the event.  You’ll need to consider scheduling in advance because other groups, readers, or presenters may be using the space.  One big plus is free publicity! Many people will come to your group simply because the shopkeeper knows who you are and that you’re already meeting there!

 

  • Yoga and Holistic Centers

    The stone circle at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center, frosted with December snow.  Photo by Weretoad,  2012.

    The stone circle at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center, frosted with December snow. Photo by Weretoad, 2012.

     

    Northern Rivers Protogrove’s base is at the beautiful Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center.  Not all Yoga centers will be an appropriate choice for NeoPagan groups to approach for ritual space, but don’t rule it out.  Ours is not just a studio space in a building – it’s a whole property that includes a yoga studio, kitchen, bathrooms, barn, labyrinth, nature trail, gardens, and a fire pit surrounded by a stone circle.  That last point, as well as the location’s monthly drum circles, encouraged me to ask.  This path is for those who are patient.  I didn’t have an established relationship with the center at the time, and their board wanted to know all about us.  I supplied them with links to ADF, explanations on modern Druidism, and a step-by-step guide to our rituals so that they would see that we’re working with positive energy and not trying to do any harm.  I think my openness and insistence that we are an Earth-centered path really earned us some trust.  We’ve never used the space without their live-in VP in attendance, but he’s very open-minded and loves to take part in our workings.  Our relationship with the yoga center continues to grow and improve, and in the spirit of hospitality, we try to give back when we can.  We always pay a rental fee, often giving more than required when we have highly-attended rites.   We’ve helped with yard work, painting, and occasionally attend their other functions, including fundraising to update the facilities.  We also promote each others’ activities.  Just as with the other examples, you’ll have to do a lot of cleanup when you leave in order to maintain the trust you’re building.  Northern Rivers is lucky in that we have several dedicated members who stay until the floors are cleaned, the tables and chairs put away, and the dishes are done.  We also have to schedule a year’s worth of rituals in advance because they have many other programs beyond their yoga classes.  If you’re lucky enough to live near such a facility, and have the energy and/or funds to give back, I encourage you to explore this option!

The moral of the story?

It would be nice if each Pagan group could have an established temple that meets all their needs, but new groups should spend their energy establishing themselves and having group rituals where they can.  Whether you’re starting a group, or you’re looking for a new ritual space to meet your growing needs, I encourage you to look around your community and think about what’s available to you.  Don’t be afraid to ask, and never forget the virtue of hospitality when exploring these possibilities.  In fact, emphasize that virtue, letting others know that you will clean up at least, or help in other ways if possible!  Renting spaces for ritual will often bring up the question of money and how groups obtain it, but that’s a post for another time.  For now, I hope those thinking about starting a study group or protogrove will find this encouraging.  If any of my readers have found other solutions for open group rituals, please comment so those seeking options can get more ideas!

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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.

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The cover of

Ah, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Perhaps a parent or teacher read this to you when you were younger, or perhaps your child borrowed it from the library or purchased it from a school book sale.  If you’re anything like me, the mere thought of this story makes you choke up a little. Just in case you need a refresher, or if you’ve never heard/read it before, you can see and hear it narrated by the author on Youtube.

This simple but poignant story about a boy and the generous tree is a wonderful teaching tool for children and adults alike.

As a parent, teacher, or grove organizer/leader, you can ask the children what they notice in the illustrations.  They’ll see the human child getting older and perhaps notice that the tree never stops referring to him as a boy.  “Why do you think that is?” you could ask.  Invite children to recall the various gifts the tree gives.  “Does the boy give anything back?”  Some may realize that the boy never even says thank you!

If you’re reading to children at a grove function, or if you decided to read this story before discussing nature awareness, the Nature Spirits, or the importance of reciprocity within Druidism with a group of adults, you can go into deeper discussion.  The tree could be a symbol for the Earth Mother while the boy symbolizes all of humanity.  You could meditate on the purity and simple desires of the child versus the more complex and arguable destructive wants/needs of the adult.  How can we be more like the child than the adult in the story?

Children and adults alike could make a personal connection.  “Do/did you have a special tree?  What kind of tree is it?  What does that tree give you?  How can you say thank you to the tree?”  This could become a brainstorming activity in which people think of individual or group projects to give back to the Nature Spirits.

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