Let’s be clear: no practitioner joins a coven or group without some sort of expectations. We all have them. The ones we are aware of and the ones we aren’t aware of; both of which can be equally positive or insidious, intentionally or not.
And I think it’s time that we start talking about this within the occult community, especially given the “fringe, hidden” nature of groups and the dynamics that get accepted within it.
On the surface of course is the very obvious desire to learn. Also on the surface, but not always transparently so, is the desire for community.
But what does it really mean to us when we say we want to learn? What are we will to put up with, give up, or do in order to learn? And what does it mean when it feels like there are so few teachers out there?
Or, when we say we want community: what does community mean for us? How much work are we going to do to nourish said community? What happens when conflict arises in community? What are the unspoken power dynamics within a community, be it one you are at the helm of creating or one that you inherit by joining? And are we being honest with ourselves when we say what community looks like? Are we looking for a family? Best friends? Classmates? Acceptance and understanding? Unquestioned love or belonging?
I think that when these 2 elements are paired in any group dynamic, even perhaps more so in occult spiritual communities, we are ripe for group dynamic issues and we need to be mindful of this fact going into or staying in any group. This is even more true when we think about how much psycho-spiritual work will unsettle and push us beyond our comfort zones, making it hard to answer the question: is this a reaction or a warning sign? Is my gut screaming at me to go or am I freaking out because the work has exposed some things I wasn’t ready to deal with or didn’t expect?
In Wicca, we say that to walk this path we need “Perfect Love and Perfect Trust” but sometimes remembering to have both is difficult within a group because to some extent we are all navigating the world as open, walking wounds. We all have our triggers and our insecurities. We have have interpersonal dynamics that can undermine our best intentions.
Joining any group or accepting any student is to some extent an act of trust and love because we never know where it will take us or what will emerge in the process. Group dynamics are always going to be complicated. The only way to navigate them safely is through healthy communication and work.
What is fair to expect of a group/teacher?
- That they are doing the work and practice what they preach
- That they work at creating trust and group safety (safe space)
- That they respond to the work you are doing and give you honest, timely feedback
- That they don’t waste your time
- That they respect important boundaries and are mindful of important obligations in your life
- That they be honest and have integrity
What isn’t fair to expect of a group/teacher
- That they become your best friend/parent figure/counselor
- That they stop everything to respond to your every “emergency/question/need”
- That they continue to teach you if you aren’t doing the work
- That they accept every excuse you give them because it falls under the guise of an important boundary/obligation (because even the best intentioned adults can fall back into the most childish of behaviors when the work is challenging them)
- That they be perfect and infallable
That said, when the work feels one sided or the warning bells keep ringing, remember there are other groups, other teachers. We have choices and sometimes we need to look closely at why we join and why stay: what are our choices telling us about our more hidden fears and expectations? Are they setting the group up to fail for us (maybe the group works for others but not for us) or are they triggering our insecurities/reactions and thereby making it impossible for us to feel safe or able to get what we need?
A group is only as strong as it’s leaders and participants ability to see their expectations, discuss their conflicts, and work towards a goal together. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that sometimes we join groups for other reasons than what the group itself is designed to be.
There are so many different groups out there: it’s important that we figure out what it is we really want out of a group. It may take a few trials and errors before we really understand fully what we are looking for and that can be a hard journey, but thankfully we live in age where it easier than ever to find other occultists!