I recently listened to an interesting podcast from Circle Talk: Four Witches on Coven Hierarchy. I was pleased to note that most of the speakers on the podcast were advocating for a pretty flat hierarchy. I have written a fair amount about the roles and expectations of the different degrees in Wicca (in All acts of love and pleasure: inclusive Wicca) and quite a lot about coven leadership and the concept of “elders” (in The Night Journey: Witchcraft as Transformation). I regard the Wiccan degree system as being like the apprenticeship system in medieval guilds (apprenticeship, journeyman, master). There was very little in the podcast that I disagreed with, except the one guy who makes his first degree coveners clean the coven brassware. I’m with the woman who said she is happy when people volunteer to help, but she doesn’t make them do tasks.Continue reading
The subject of group dynamics is complex, but one way of observing group dynamics is to ask the simple question, “Where does the power go in the group?” In other words, who is wielding the power?
In many groups, there is an elected or appointed leader. In most churches, the minister is officially the leader – but woe betide her or him if they upset the committee. In Wiccan covens, the leader is usually the high priestess. In a Druid grove or a Heathen hearth, there may be a small group of leaders, or a single leader. Quaker meetings usually have a group of elders.
In a small group, it can be an excellent idea to rotate the leadership role. Different members of the group take it in turns to write and facilitate a ritual. Most progressive and/or inclusive covens encourage their members to create and lead rituals.
Most people find that working in a group with a flat hierarchy is preferable to working in one with a very top-down hierarchy. Flat hierarchies are characterised by shared decision making and informal communication between team members.
Groups often go through a process of forming, storming, norming, and performing. First the group comes together (forming). Then there is a struggle to resolve the group’s differences (storming). Once that has been resolved, the group’s values, goals, and beliefs converge (norming). Once that process is complete, the group is ready to perform. These stages can actually be a cycle rather than a linear process.
During the formation of the group and the convergence of its ideas, who is in the group, and who is outside the group, will become apparent. This is known as the in-group / out-group dynamic. The formation of the in-group can be a positive thing, in that it makes the group feel closer together, but it can be dangerous, because if the in-group projects its shadow onto the out-group, this can result in persecution of the out-group.
The projection of group members’ shadows onto other people in the group can be a dangerous dynamic. If you are the leader of a group, this a thing to watch out for, as you don’t want one person to be demonised or outcast by the rest of the group. The shadow is the aspect of our psyches that we have repressed because we don’t like that aspect of ourselves, and we often project it onto other people, especially if they resemble the repressed aspect of personality.
Another interesting dynamic in groups is “somebody has to do it” syndrome. This is where one person takes on more responsibility than the others, and an expectation is created that they will always do the task that they have taken on. This might be always being the one who leads the visualisations, or always being the one who calls the quarters, or something else less obvious, like being the person who provides a ritual if no-one else is feeling inspired. The way to break out of this dynamic is for the person who always does the thing to let go of feeling responsible for it, and for the people who never do the thing to have a go at doing it. It also means breaking the ritual tasks down into small manageable chunks so that people who might find it daunting to take on the management of a whole ritual can build up gradually by doing a small piece at a time. Luckily, Wiccan ritual lends itself well to being broken down into manageable chunks.
It is a good idea if the locus of power in a group is visible. If it is not obvious who holds the power, then it will default to the person with the loudest voice or the most stubborn resistance to new ideas.
One way to ensure a fair and balanced approach within your group is to make the rules by consensus. In this exercise (preferably on the first session of the group), ask members to suggest what the rules should be. The purpose of the rules is to make sure that everyone has the power to ask questions, to feel safe in the group, to ensure confidentiality, and to prevent conflict.
The role of the leader of a coven is to empower others and enable them to develop as priestesses or priests. This model is sometimes known as servant leadership – because the leader is mindful that the group is not there to serve them; rather they are there to create safe space for the group, to hold the space, and to empower others to be creative in that space.
In my book, All Acts of Love and Pleasure: inclusive Wicca, I explore the issue of group dynamics extensively in the chapter on running a coven.
Inclusive Wicca is not just about including LGBTQIA people; it is also about including people of colour, people with disabilities (both visible and invisible), and working the rituals in a way that includes everyone and enables all participants to contribute.
- Keep pure your highest ideal: personal ethics in Wicca by Alder
- Wiccan ethics – Sarah Howe
- Caveat Emptor: Money in Wicca – Sophia Boann
Model policies, group guidelines, etc