Finding Them and Surviving Them
By Barry Walker
Originally published at Imbolc 1999
The last few years have seen the emergence of new groupings of a loose and informal nature adding to the large formal Masonic type Magickal Orders of the past. Gatherings such as the pub-moot scene and open "public" rituals to mark the turning of the wheel of the year and other events of a paganic nature are now commonplace. Each type of group has different pros and cons and the internal dynamic is often shaped by the function of the group and how its members feel about each other. In this essay I will look in depth at magickal groups and examine what they might have to offer you; I will look at the most common types of problem people you may encounter when you feel like joining up, how to find a safe group and even how to form and run your own.
Are groups useful?
Having such a wide choice of groups and organisations is fine, but are groups of any use to people who are into magick or paganism? This is a question a lot of people ask when first coming into contact with the idea of working magick with others, or even just meeting up in a more social and informal way for magically oriented talks and a game or two of pool down in some local pub.
The solo life for me?
The vast majority of magickians these days tend to start their magical careers as solo workers. While not wholly the case with everyone, this tends to hold true for most no matter what "school" of magickal thought they start out following. This solo life can make a person cautious of joining a group, or even going so far as to fail to see how real magick can be achieved with a bunch of strangers around. I met a solo witch (of the old school) once who told me group magick seemed more like acting; "sham magick", she called it. This is a fair point, as the nature of magickal states of mind reachable alone are different of those reached when working in groups.
There are a few hazards of working alone that having contact with others is helpful with. The first problem that a solo worker often meets is the feeling of being all alone in the magickal world and while it is true that this "outsider" stance can be interesting it does tend to lose much of its glamour in the end. Even today with the Age of Aquarius in full swing (or is it?...) one can feel a bit daft trying to talk to friends or work mates who are not into the weird stuff you are about what you did in your spare room Temple last night or what Hekate said when you bumped into her in the underpass down at Five Ways (a huge traffic island in Birmingham). In fact talking to non-magick people about magick is one sure fire way of being branded a nutter. This can be just annoying, or it can lead to having a brick end tossed through your window in the small hours.
An advantage of having a circle of contacts who are magickal people is that they can provide what has been called a "magically supportive environment", where the consensus reality that results is often far more conducive to your magick working than if you are a loner. You have probably already experienced this kind of localised reality matrix yourself while watching a good horror film on video; one person gets a bad case of the "willies" and before you know it no one will go into the kitchen to make a brew for fear of the face-sucking alien that must be under the sink!
Magus-itus, and how to avoid it
The last advantage of group interaction, and it can be a real sanity saver, is the protection a group offers from you going down with a bad case of "Magus-itus". This is an unfortunate condition that tends to strike many a solo witch or wizard in their prime, a common cause being invoking the same god/goddess too often. The main symptoms are an increasing awareness of your own magickal omnipotence and acting like you are an all powerful adept, while at the same time being an abysmal failure in the everyday world of social interactions needed to function in society; you may be able to harrow the astral each night and blow demons away with mind crunching rituals, but you can't hold down a job, get a girl/boyfriend or even pay the rent on time - in other words you have become a sad occult stereotype.
In situations like this a group should spot the early warning signs of nascent Magus-itus and formulate workings to restore balance in the individual affected, while employing pressure to conform that can be covert and subtle, often a trip into the Discordian paradigm is called for to burst an over blown ego. The peer pressure a group can bring into a situation can often act as a break on people, forcing them to examine and constrain their more extreme and socially unacceptable behaviour. The problem with magus-itus is you don't know you have it unless you meet people who can spot the symptoms and hopefully cure you of this nasty affliction.
Types of groups
Function defines structure is a way of saying the job a group wants to do will dictate what sort of group it is. The kinds of occult/magick groups you can find today range from the small pub moot who meet in the corner of a local inn, to a multi-national corporation with a world-wide power base such as the OTO and the IOT. The list below, while not exhaustive, does thumbnail the types of group you may encounter.
Pub moots are most peoples first point of contact, being an informal social gathering makes this less threatening if you are just dipping you toe into the occult scene in your town and don't yet feel ready to commit to a group. Some pub moots can be a bit "clannish" with a number of cliques making it difficult to break into conversation. But with such a wide choice of pub moot it's not hard to find one where you 'fit in'.
Open Rituals These tend to be held on Beltane and Samhain at various locations, often at some archaeological site near to Cities. Often having a wiccan feel about them, open rituals are not for everyone but they are good places to go and see and be seen. And anyway, being outside around a fire in midwinter in the middle or nowhere is fun, honest.
Workshops and working groups are another way of getting into group magickal work. Joining a workshop on some aspect of ritual, often being run by a, "name" can be expensive if you attend some New Age centre in places like Glastonbury. But it is common even in grim northern Cities to find affordable one day workshops on subjects from astrology to zen.
Magickal working groups are often run as "outer courts" for covens and occult Temples; these can offer training to a high standard in certain aspects of ritual work, but in return expect more dedication from their members than the weekend workshops. If you would like to end up joining a coven or a ritual magick group, finding and joining a working group is an ideal way of seeing if they are for you, while at the same time letting them check you out as a candidate for initiation.
Joining up - or how not to sell your soul
Having made the momentous decision to get out into the world and meet others of a like mind, maybe even joining coven or working group, the first step can be the hardest for a soon-to-be former solo magickian or hedgewitch; just where do you find the group and how do you contact them?
It might be a case of stating the obvious, but the kind of group you join will depend on what you want to get out of it. Also, as any group interaction will be a two way process between you and your chosen contacts, it is worth thinking of what you have by way of skills and resources you can give in return for membership of their group. An example might be the fact you have a car and would be willing for the price of some petrol to be part of a car-pool and bus fellow members around to where you meet or to some local power spot for an open air ritual. Having a car and being willing to give lifts in it can be the Golden Key to many an occult Order, as there seems to be something about magickians and getting a full driving licence that does not mix too well!
But to back track a little, where do you find information about groups? As you are reading this magazine, pause for a moment and flip to the back pages, here you will find a list of pub moots and other events which you can go along to. From there you can make yourself known and what your interests and experiences are and that you are open to joining some kind of magick group. If on the other hand you are thinking that some more formal organisation, such as the Servants of the Light (SOL) is what you might be looking for, then scanning pagan and occult mags for their ads or even buying their own mag if they produce one for public sale and writing to the address given is the best way to make initial contact. It's a nice touch if you add an sae with your letter of introduction.
Other channels of contact are the public gatherings and symposiums that are organised around the country by various Orders and Groups, events such as the Pagan Federation conferences, or the Psychic Questing Conference are good places to go and network to see what's on offer and what they expect from would-be members. A lot of these events take place at Conway Hall in London. This central location is easy enough to get to via the tube from the London main line railway stations. It's always worth trying your local "new age" shop to see if they have any ads for workshops etc and you can usually buy various pagan and new age mags that are a good place to find information and addresses.
Watch your backs
There are a few words of warning though about joining magick/pagan groups that need to be kept in mind, even more so if you are female. Despite much of what you read in the Sunday newspapers the occult sub-culture is not full of sex-mad drug taking nutters who will drag you off to indulge in unspeakable rites of a blasphemous nature, well, unless you are into chaos magick that is. It is worth keeping in mind though that not everyone you meet who offers to initiate you into their coven will have your best interests at heart. To be blunt, if you are a woman, more so if you are "young and good looking" (very subjective, I know), they might just be hoping to get a shag out of you. You do need to keep an eye open for the sort of slimy git who gives the world of magick a bad name, so here is a short list of the commonest ones you may have the pleasure of meeting.
1. The Sad Bastard These people have no life outside their coven or group and who's life is a desolation of failures. Often these people have border line psychiatric illnesses. Danger rating - 3/10
2. Power Seekers These people only want followers to lead and rule over who they can impress with their arcane knowledge. They only pose a real danger if they have natural charisma. Danger rating - 2-4/10
3. Sexual Predators This is the most common type of occult undesirable you will run into. Don't feel safe from this threat if you are male as I have met a number of women in my time who fall into this category. The problems they tend to invoke are around multi-participant sex or sex through coercion, such as during some, "initiation" or breaking up a relationship you may already be in. Danger rating - 6-7/10
4. Paranioics These pose the most danger as their unbalanced nature can lead to ideas about you cursing or in some way attacking them that can escalate to violence. If you meet one of these, run like f**k! Danger rating - 10/10.
The only safe way to avoid running into problems with members of the above list is not to get too close to a group or coven before you have had contact with them for some time. Avoid groups or individuals whose main conversation centres on sex or if they are interested in whether you are happy with your boyfriend etc. Always make sure someone knows where you are when you meet a group for the first time, and never take up an offer of overnight accommodation unless you are very sure that they are safe. Big organisations tend to be safer as they have their corporate image to worry about so they tend to actively police their members for undesirable behaviour. Problems are more likely with people you meet at a pub moot who have a small private group. Any valid group will understand your need to build trust before you commit yourself to joining, so don't worry about being over cautious or feel they will think you a time waster.
Forming your own group
There comes a time when you have been a member of a group for a while when you may have formed a small circle of people who share the same interests and would like to explore these in an affinity group, to explore certain aspects of magick or to worship a particular divinity. This is where forming your own group can be a real education in magick and the psychology of people.
Ideal size and balance
As in most things in life, size matters. The most effective number of people in a group tends to be around five to eight, any larger and it can be very hard work to build up the trust needed for useful magick to be worked. Five is a good size as it equates with the classical elemental attributions of earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Each member being able to take on the role of that element during workings etc. It's worth remembering that in any group of people, even those who say they share common aims, there will be subtle personal interests at play. Most of these will be to do with what kind of ritual they like doing most, and will try, maybe even in an unconscious way, to steer the group towards only working like that. This can lead to a problem of imbalance, and is where leadership is called for.
In these somewhat PC days, the concept of leading a group is a bit out of fashion, with a bias towards consensus groups. This is all very well, but a "democratic" group can soon lose its direction with meetings consisting of "heated debate" about what will be done tonight and how it will be worked. As a leader, you can listen to what people have to say and then organise work around this, heading always in the desired direction. If someone is less happy with an aspect of how things will be done this time, you can work out how they can be accommodated at the next meeting. It's a bit of a balancing act, but with work you can get things done, keep everybody happy and work affective magick.
Where to meet?
If you own some gothic ruin on the edge of town your problems are over. But back in the real world you will be lucky if you have a spare room you can convert to a Temple; even then you have to consider how much sound will travel through the walls and worry the neighbours. Pubs are sometimes happy to play host to moot type groups if you can convince the landlord your mob will sink a great deal of beer during the evening. They are sometimes even willing to let you have a back room to work in for a reasonable charge - just don't draw circles on the carpet with chalk as it doesn't wipe off!
Community centres are another good place to try if you are setting up a working group. If you work under a cover name, such as a "non-performance drama group", you can get away with a fair bit. The only hazards tend to be lost people looking for the young mothers' group wandering in during your ritual, or the fire alarm going off if you burn too much incense. If you want to make a lot of noise and have a bit more cash to spend you could hire a rehearsal room at a local studio or arts centre. As these places are built for bands to practice in the walls are well sound proofed, allowing you the freedom not to worry about your invocations being heard next door.
Some of the best ritual sites are outdoor ones, even in a large city you can find a quiet spot where you can work undisturbed if you scout around a bit. Don't automatically think about ram-raiding the local sacred site for your workings; be creative - what about the old abandoned factory? Where better for calling up untamed elementals than in an area of industrial decay as these areas are often nexuses of strangeness (See: John Keels, "Strange Creatures from Space and Time").
Now you have some information, why not join up or even start your own group going?
Walking Between the Worlds, all by Phil Hine
All the above books have good insight into forming and running groups