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Author Topic: Egalitarian magical organizations?  (Read 4447 times)

Aett of Cups

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Egalitarian magical organizations?
« on: June 27, 2013, 12:28:21 am »
Hello.  I follow a non-hierarchical magical path and have a group of friends with whom I work on an egalitarian basis (there is no formal coven or other group structure, and we take turns in first-among-equals roles in order to share our knowledge with each other).

Does anyone know of an organization that practices egalitarian magic?  Thanks in advance for your input.
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Jack

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Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2013, 12:31:56 pm »
Quote from: Aett of Cups;113855
Hello.  I follow a non-hierarchical magical path and have a group of friends with whom I work on an egalitarian basis (there is no formal coven or other group structure, and we take turns in first-among-equals roles in order to share our knowledge with each other).

Does anyone know of an organization that practices egalitarian magic?  Thanks in advance for your input.

Do you mean one where everyone can lead, or one with no levels or markers of advancement?
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Aett of Cups

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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2013, 09:44:29 pm »
Quote from: Jack;113893
Do you mean one where everyone can lead, or one with no levels or markers of advancement?

 
Sorry that I'm not expressing this as clearly as I could.  Some of these ideas are in the formative stages for me; I'm revisiting others after, for the most part, achieving answers that needed some time to breathe.

I don't think "lead" is quite the right word - I think the notion that we should either lead or follow others may be an illusion created from selfishness or fear - but I do mean a place where everyone facilitates (or has an equal opportunity to).  I don't know that I have a problem with markers of advancement.  My energy body has initiatory markings which aren't hard to see for anyone who knows how to look, and I have a title (which I never use) associated with my level of study.  During initiations, those on my path often say, "Now you are free not to call yourself [journeyman, adept, acolyte, whatever]".  The purpose of the title is to remind me that I have merit, in balance, and to mark the lessons I've learned, not to impress others.

I look at coven and group structures, and I usually see that the "leaders" have forgotten they can still learn, while the "students" don't realize they can also teach.  I believe, as Kahlil Gibran said, "If [the teacher] is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind."

Stepping back from my original question, perhaps I should also be asking a couple of others - ones that might be more fundamental to the inquiry.  Is such an organization possible or would it, once achieved, be something we couldn't call an organization anymore (is "egalitarian organization" an oxymoron, in essence)?  If it were possible, would it serve a necessary or amenable function once achieved?  I don't (think I) believe that the act of organizing has to involve a lack of egalitarianism in persons - though it may, and needs to, emphasize the most appropriate tasks for the most appropriate persons.

Wow, I hoped I would end that post in a less muddled state than when I began.  Not sure I expected it, but I still hoped...
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Jenett

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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #3 on: June 27, 2013, 10:51:31 pm »
Quote from: Aett of Cups;113987

Stepping back from my original question, perhaps I should also be asking a couple of others - ones that might be more fundamental to the inquiry.  Is such an organization possible or would it, once achieved, be something we couldn't call an organization anymore (is "egalitarian organization" an oxymoron, in essence)?  If it were possible, would it serve a necessary or amenable function once achieved?  I don't (think I) believe that the act of organizing has to involve a lack of egalitarianism in persons - though it may, and needs to, emphasize the most appropriate tasks for the most appropriate persons.

 
That at least gives me a place to start suggesting stuff. This is very long, because I am very opinionated on the subject, but I hope it gives you stuff to dig into.

Let me lay my biases out here: I would personally *much* rather be in a situation where there is an overt heirarchy (even one I don't entirely agree with) than one that insists it is egalitarian but does not have *very* careful process in place to make sure it stays that way. (And I'm going to talk in a minute about all the ways you can very easily end up with a covert, never-discussed heirarchy that is imposed without negotiation or conversation or possibility of alteration, in what is supposed to be an equal group.)

I can argue with something people talk about, and ask for something different: it's a lot harder to do that if people are insisting that no, really, it's equal if it isn't actually.

Second, you really want to take a look at two books: Starhawk's _Dreaming the Dark_ (which is, in large part, about power and interaction) and then Nick Farrell's _Gathering the Magic_ (the first edition has a sort of off-putting cover, but the content is great.)

Onwards.

First, I agree with you that any self-respecting teacher should also be learning. That said, I do think that the roles of teacher and student in a given setting do have some uses: it makes it clear who is responsible for figuring out what material *needs* to get covered, that that material fits together without bad gaps, and that (if you're working in a system where certain stuff has to be mastered or experienced or whatever prior to initiation or making a decision to join a group as a full member or whatever else) that all of that stuff has been covered.

I think a good teacher will *also* learn from their student, and will also do what they can (when it's appropriate and there's available time/energy beyond the stuff that has to get covered) to do stuff that's appropriate to the student's interests. But it's the teacher's job to make sure the necessary stuff gets done, because they're the one who knows the whole picture and the student doesn't yet.

(Clearly, this is most obviously true if you have a "This is the way this coven does stuff" sort of set-up. But I think it's also true if you're talking more general skill sets/etc.)

So, second, the tyranny of structurelessness - which is the title of an excellent essay by Jo Freeman, and also worthy of your attention - she's talking about the 70s and 80s feminist movement in specific, but a huge amount of it is applicable to Pagan and magical groups.

Anyway, I agree with her point, which is that if you're going to have an egalitarian group, it has to be *really* clear how it works, you have to have a method for training people how to cope. (This is why consensus-lead groups often fail in misery, because most people? They do not know how to do consensus well. Unless they were raised as Quakers in reasonably active Meetings, in my experience. Everyone else needs to learn or relearn a bunch of skills. Which is possible, but people need to be okay with that first.)

Also, this process takes a *lot* of time. I have at least four rounds of group stories where groups crashed and burned because they had a fixed-term sort of project, and it got bogged down in process and "how do we make a decision about this" without resolution for several months.

One of these was a 'blocking consensus' problem where one person in a group of thirty had an issue with something, and wanted to argue about it (to the tune of a session and a half of a monthly group meeting) rather than either bowing out or letting it go.

One was a 'there is this person who wants to join this group who is currently engaged in significant legal wrangling with person I live with, and I cannot feel comfortable talking honestly about most aspects of my life if this person is present, which makes the group Not Useful to me, how do we resolve this?" situation where the group had no process to resolve it beyond "Can we just ignore this thing and hope it's not a big deal?" (which, since it involved a certain amount of potential stalking behaviour, no, we sorta couldn't.)

The others are less easy to explain, but along the same line.

Anyway. Any group that does not have solutions to these kinds of issues - both bringing new people in and getting them comfortable with what the group does and how the group does it *and* problemsolving - is not going to continue being a group for very long. (In my experience, if you don't sort the problem solving stuff out, you have between six months and a year, at best. Maybe more like three.)

So... what does that leave you.

There are definitely ways to rotate responsibilities, but you lose something else in the process - which is someone who's job it is to look at the larger picture. If, say, you have people rotating who plans which ritual, you can get a lot of really great individual rituals. But it's a lot harder to get a chain of rituals that all build on each other over the course of a year or more.

(It's possible, if *everyone* does their part, and no one has an awesome idea but then gets sick or people don't have to punt and find something last minute, or whatever. If you have someone coordinating the arc, whatever they fill with will better fit - or at least not run counter to - the larger arc. But the chances of everyone doing their part consistently for a long period of time together is sort of counter to human nature.)

There's also pragmatic things: if the same person usually provides the *space* for whatever you do (which is reasonably common in small groups, since some people don't have room, some people have partners/roommates who would be put out if there was group stuff, some people have pets or smoking habits that other group members can't deal with easily.)

But does the person whose home it is get priority on scheduling? Or who can be invited? Or how late stuff can run? Or what the house rules are about what foods people bring, or who provides what, or who does the cleanup? Those things are all a degree of non-egalitarian decision making that is *totally* reasonable if you're opening up your home on a regular basis for group work - but if they're not overt and agreed to and out in the open, they can get really messy really fast. Or cause a lot of resentment.

And so on and so forth. it's not that these things can't be worked out. But they take a huge amount of time and attention to do well, and that's time and attention that you can't then spend on doing the stuff the group really wants to together.

So one solution is that you have people who have specific duties in the group, you do what you can to spread those out and shake them up periodically as needed (but ideally at predictable intervals, so people have time to get comfy in old jobs, and not always be doing something new), and you make all the duties as overt as possible, so people can ask about them, ask for changes, whatever.

But then, y'know, you have titles and roles and such, and some degree of heirarchy, even if it's very flat.

I also think of the way my workplace works - I'm in an academic library, and there's technically three levels of heirarchy: the library director, the MLIS degreed librarians (that includes me) and the classified staff. In practice, we have a pretty flat structure for a lot of internal decisions (because our director likes it like that): anyone can be on almost any committee, anyone can *lead* almost any committee with two exceptions).

But at the same time, it is our library director's job to deal with our overall budget, and to go to certain kinds of campus meetings. (Just like it's my job to wrangle computers, and someone else's job to make sure all the student workers get trained and do their work) and so on. And if we weren't clear about all of that, it'd be chaos. And because those jobs are different, we have different titles (and different requirements for being able to do them) - and y'know, I'm okay with that, because it's pretty clear what those are. And there are jobs in my library I really would not want *ever* - but I know that because I know what those descriptions are. In my previous job, where some things were much less well defined, I turned out to be pretty miserable, because I was trying (and being asked to do) everything, and that turns out not to fit in a work day as well as some people might like.

Which is to say, for some people, egalitarian settings lead to a lot of "But I must do ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME", which is not actually healthy, where limited job duties make it much easier to say "That thing? I can let that go this month because it is NOT MY THING."

Right. I think I am done rambling. For the moment.
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Jabberwocky

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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2013, 05:45:56 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;113995

(This is why consensus-lead groups often fail in misery, because most people? They do not know how to do consensus well. Unless they were raised as Quakers in reasonably active Meetings, in my experience. Everyone else needs to learn or relearn a bunch of skills. Which is possible, but people need to be okay with that first.)

 
As someone who was raised like that, it should be noted that Quaker business meetings can take a staggering amount of time to produce results.  More importantly, Quakers are generally coming from a position where most of the people involved in the Meeting have similar core values and ways of doing things.  That ability to achieve consensus isn't necessarily going to help a liberal Friend who finds themselves in a Meeting made up largely of Gurneyite Friends.  (And I've certainly seen experienced Quakers struggle to work on a consensus basis when dealing with people outside Quakerism in things like the peace movement).

The shared values thing is vital and it's probably necessary for any consensus based group to last.  I have seen it work, but mostly with radical political "affinity" groups.  Who are mostly self-selecting and come to it from a position of basic agreement.

I'd just mainly agree with Jennett here.  I'm not saying don't work in an egalitarian group, just go in with your eyes open.  And do read Tyranny of Structurelessness.  It's the seminal text on this.

Some specific things to watch out for in groups that claim to be egalitarian.

Are all important decisions being taken informally by a small group of people who then present the idea to the rest of the group as a fait accompli?

Is the group unofficially led by the people with the loudest voices?  This is so common that the UK anarchist movement coined a phrase for it.  "Dictatorship of the big mouths".

Is everyone genuinely able to do their own thing, but without any concept of accountability to the rest of the group?  As an extreme example, I know of a case where this particular structure led to someone sending out highly controversial national press releases without even telling the other group what they were doing.  They only realised after making the national tabloids.

Are there proper procedures in place to deal with interpersonal complaints?  This is vital.  I've seen groups that seemed to be working okay quickly collapse because they didn't know how to deal with things like complaints of harassment.  

Aside from the last one, there isn't necessarily something wrong with groups that operate in any of these ways.  As long as you're aware of that and want to be in the group on that basis.

Personally, I tend to balance my natural anti-authoritarian tendencies with the need to function properly by sticking to groups that work on a OMOV basis, with recognition of the right of minorities to dissent.  That doesn't avoid the dictatorship of the big mouths problem at all, but I'm actually happy with the kind of chaotic freewheeling structure that tends to lead to.  It's not for everyone.
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Leanan Sidhe

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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2013, 10:24:38 pm »
Quote from: Aett of Cups;113987
Is such an organization possible or would it, once achieved, be something we couldn't call an organization anymore (is "egalitarian organization" an oxymoron, in essence)?  If it were possible, would it serve a necessary or amenable function once achieved?  I don't (think I) believe that the act of organizing has to involve a lack of egalitarianism in persons - though it may, and needs to, emphasize the most appropriate tasks for the most appropriate persons.


 
I don't know about organizations that do. I know, from experience, it is possible for at least a small group to work together in an egalitarian manner -- if they love, trust, and respect each other -- and know each other really, really well.

But I'm talking in the context of a small family working together occasionally on their spiritual paths, a family that has rules in place due the nature of the relationships involved -- rules that almost always carry over to ritual and magical work.

Generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend it.

From the perspective of spirituality, one of the reasons why I joined the Druid order that I did is because there is a specific, publicly know hierarchy in place. Most people in the Order are solitary, but there's no sense of "Who's running this thing?". There are people who know more than others, who have more training than others, and I'm mightily glad of it. As a connected reason, it takes years to set up a grove in that order. Again, I'm glad. I'd like to see more groves and study groups (and I hope to start one one day, provided I become qualified enough), but not at the expense of wondering if the person in charge is really capable of leading.

From an activism standpoint (bear with me, it applies), at a bare minimum, and off the top of my head, you need:

  • Everyone to know the rules.
  • Someone to enforce the rules.
  • Someone to babysit the permit/s and tangle/wrangle on issues pertining to them.
  • Someone capable of looking out for the general safety and well-being of those involved and those not involved.
  • Someone to organize and plan it.
  • Ideally, someone capable of dispensing food/ drinks (especially in freezing/searing temperatures).
  • Someone who knows the issues and can clearly explain them.


These can all be different people, as long as they're qualified. Or they can all be the same person (but ye Gods, that's a lot of work!). The thing is, when you're dealing with stuff like antagonistic bystanders, wary police officers, and politicians who are in disagreement -- someone needs to be in charge.

Hopefully, in a spiritual/magical/religious group, hopefully you won't have antagonism, wariness, or disagreement. Unfortunately, these things happen and no one agrees with anyone else 100% of the time. When the shit hits the fan, there needs to be a system in place to deal with it.
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Aett of Cups

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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2013, 05:03:28 am »
The following comments are intended to address ideas and not persons.  Also, please don't feel that my observations about spirituality are universal in any sense.  As a moral and experiential relativist, I believe it's possible - even amenable - for us each to inhabit our own universe.  It certainly doesn't seem to have stopped us from creating meaning together, at least not from my end of things.

Quote from: Jenett;113995

Second, you really want to take a look at two books: Starhawk's _Dreaming the Dark_ (which is, in large part, about power and interaction) and then Nick Farrell's _Gathering the Magic_ (the first edition has a sort of off-putting cover, but the content is great.)


Thank you for the book suggestions.  I'll try to track them down when I have the chance.  I'll read off-putting books; I don't mind.

Quote from: Jenett;113995

First, I agree with you that any self-respecting teacher should also be learning. That said, I do think that the roles of teacher and student in a given setting do have some uses: it makes it clear who is responsible for figuring out what material *needs* to get covered, that that material fits together without bad gaps, and that (if you're working in a system where certain stuff has to be mastered or experienced or whatever prior to initiation or making a decision to join a group as a full member or whatever else) that all of that stuff has been covered.

I think a good teacher will *also* learn from their student, and will also do what they can (when it's appropriate and there's available time/energy beyond the stuff that has to get covered) to do stuff that's appropriate to the student's interests. But it's the teacher's job to make sure the necessary stuff gets done, because they're the one who knows the whole picture and the student doesn't yet.


I can agree with you about the importance of the role of facilitator in given situations, but I try to focus on facilitator as only a role (one of several personalities within the whole).  Therefore, we either take a first-among-equals role or an active learner role, but it's more situational ethics than inherent worth or even necessarily experience.

Quote from: Jenett;113995
So, second, the tyranny of structurelessness - which is the title of an excellent essay by Jo Freeman, and also worthy of your attention - she's talking about the 70s and 80s feminist movement in specific, but a huge amount of it is applicable to Pagan and magical groups.


I think it's possible I read the Freeman essay years back in a gender studies class.  Unfortunately, even if I did, I don't remember it now.  I will try to read it in the next few days and comment.

Quote from: Jenett;113995

Also, this process takes a *lot* of time. I have at least four rounds of group stories where groups crashed and burned because they had a fixed-term sort of project, and it got bogged down in process and "how do we make a decision about this" without resolution for several months.

One of these was a 'blocking consensus' problem where one person in a group of thirty had an issue with something, and wanted to argue about it (to the tune of a session and a half of a monthly group meeting) rather than either bowing out or letting it go.

[...]

There are definitely ways to rotate responsibilities, but you lose something else in the process - which is someone who's job it is to look at the larger picture. If, say, you have people rotating who plans which ritual, you can get a lot of really great individual rituals. But it's a lot harder to get a chain of rituals that all build on each other over the course of a year or more.

(It's possible, if *everyone* does their part, and no one has an awesome idea but then gets sick or people don't have to punt and find something last minute, or whatever. If you have someone coordinating the arc, whatever they fill with will better fit - or at least not run counter to - the larger arc. But the chances of everyone doing their part consistently for a long period of time together is sort of counter to human nature.)

There's also pragmatic things: if the same person usually provides the *space* for whatever you do (which is reasonably common in small groups, since some people don't have room, some people have partners/roommates who would be put out if there was group stuff, some people have pets or smoking habits that other group members can't deal with easily.)

But does the person whose home it is get priority on scheduling? Or who can be invited? Or how late stuff can run? Or what the house rules are about what foods people bring, or who provides what, or who does the cleanup? Those things are all a degree of non-egalitarian decision making that is *totally* reasonable if you're opening up your home on a regular basis for group work - but if they're not overt and agreed to and out in the open, they can get really messy really fast. Or cause a lot of resentment.

And so on and so forth. it's not that these things can't be worked out. But they take a huge amount of time and attention to do well, and that's time and attention that you can't then spend on doing the stuff the group really wants to together.

So one solution is that you have people who have specific duties in the group, you do what you can to spread those out and shake them up periodically as needed (but ideally at predictable intervals, so people have time to get comfy in old jobs, and not always be doing something new), and you make all the duties as overt as possible, so people can ask about them, ask for changes, whatever.

But then, y'know, you have titles and roles and such, and some degree of heirarchy, even if it's very flat.

I also think of the way my workplace works - I'm in an academic library, and there's technically three levels of heirarchy: the library director, the MLIS degreed librarians (that includes me) and the classified staff. In practice, we have a pretty flat structure for a lot of internal decisions (because our director likes it like that): anyone can be on almost any committee, anyone can *lead* almost any committee with two exceptions).

But at the same time, it is our library director's job to deal with our overall budget, and to go to certain kinds of campus meetings. (Just like it's my job to wrangle computers, and someone else's job to make sure all the student workers get trained and do their work) and so on. And if we weren't clear about all of that, it'd be chaos. And because those jobs are different, we have different titles (and different requirements for being able to do them) - and y'know, I'm okay with that, because it's pretty clear what those are. And there are jobs in my library I really would not want *ever* - but I know that because I know what those descriptions are. In my previous job, where some things were much less well defined, I turned out to be pretty miserable, because I was trying (and being asked to do) everything, and that turns out not to fit in a work day as well as some people might like.

Which is to say, for some people, egalitarian settings lead to a lot of "But I must do ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME", which is not actually healthy, where limited job duties make it much easier to say "That thing? I can let that go this month because it is NOT MY THING."

Right. I think I am done rambling. For the moment.


I have found that an egalitarian structure definitely adds time to the decision-making process.  I've also found that we needed a very clear structure upon which we could all agree but which we were all free to ratify if necessary.  Another important aspect of an egalitarian group, I feel, is that all members are willing to do "menial" work if needed; I ought to be as willing to set up chairs as I am to facilitate a meditation.  Even with all these factors in place (and others I'm omitting for the sake of brevity, though it's probably too late), I don't see how we could maintain our structure beyond a small group - perhaps ten or twelve people under excellent circumstances.  And one of several reasons for that would be the "blocking consensus" issue - although I think maintaining accurate and effective communication might trump even that.

I would see the library (especially if it's anything like the music library where I used to work) as different from the small egalitarian group with whom I work.  In the library, as with almost any job, your skills are rewarded differently in terms of different pay - a factor which affects a huge number of other facets of your lives.  Sadly, although physical capital isn't present, many pagan groups have the problem of having members who are striving for social and cultural capital instead of the good of the group.  They arrive with a mental scorecard of who they've impressed or why they feel guilty instead of focusing on the energy they raise.  I don't feel this is the case with the small group with whom I work, and I don't think it's true of every person in any group, but it does pose a significant dilemma.

I think we may differ in the way we see egalitarianism.  You (and Leanan Sidhe if not both other posters) seem to feel that equality is a fairly unnatural state that exists perilously.  I can recognize that it's a fragile, but I still believe it's our natural one.  I think we're born thinking syncretically, with a deep, natural sense of animism (in the spiritual, and not educational psychology, sense), with a natural inclination toward egalitarianism.  But I think a lot of facets of our society - from nuclear family structures to religious institutions to televised peer-pressure - crush that.  I think we could very, very carefully destabilize some of the hierarchical structures in our world with great benefit to individuals and the group as a whole (although we're absolutely going to have to decrease from 7.1 billion - but one rant at a time, one rant at a time…).  For me, this is also fundamental to the nature of my spiritual practice.  Unlike many others, I don't see the gods as superior, and I don't worship them.  We are extremely differently aspected, and in ways that can be of great benefit to each other.  I try to do the best I can to meet the challenge of neither placing myself above nor below my spirit guides - so far, it's been far more difficult than when I related to them out of balance (as I saw it on my own journey), but much more worth it.
 
Quote from: Jabberwocky;114083
As someone who was raised like that, it should be noted that Quaker business meetings can take a staggering amount of time to produce results.  More importantly, Quakers are generally coming from a position where most of the people involved in the Meeting have similar core values and ways of doing things.  That ability to achieve consensus isn't necessarily going to help a liberal Friend who finds themselves in a Meeting made up largely of Gurneyite Friends.  (And I've certainly seen experienced Quakers struggle to work on a consensus basis when dealing with people outside Quakerism in things like the peace movement).

The shared values thing is vital and it's probably necessary for any consensus based group to last.  I have seen it work, but mostly with radical political "affinity" groups.  Who are mostly self-selecting and come to it from a position of basic agreement.

Some specific things to watch out for in groups that claim to be egalitarian.

Are all important decisions being taken informally by a small group of people who then present the idea to the rest of the group as a fait accompli?

Is the group unofficially led by the people with the loudest voices?  This is so common that the UK anarchist movement coined a phrase for it.  "Dictatorship of the big mouths".

Is everyone genuinely able to do their own thing, but without any concept of accountability to the rest of the group?  As an extreme example, I know of a case where this particular structure led to someone sending out highly controversial national press releases without even telling the other group what they were doing.  They only realised after making the national tabloids.

Are there proper procedures in place to deal with interpersonal complaints?  This is vital.  I've seen groups that seemed to be working okay quickly collapse because they didn't know how to deal with things like complaints of harassment.  

Aside from the last one, there isn't necessarily something wrong with groups that operate in any of these ways.  As long as you're aware of that and want to be in the group on that basis.

Personally, I tend to balance my natural anti-authoritarian tendencies with the need to function properly by sticking to groups that work on a OMOV basis, with recognition of the right of minorities to dissent.  That doesn't avoid the dictatorship of the big mouths problem at all, but I'm actually happy with the kind of chaotic freewheeling structure that tends to lead to.  It's not for everyone.


Jabberwocky, I got to the end of responding to Jenett's post and found I had answered a number of your points too.  I'm going to continue to new points I'd like to address, but I do recognize your contribution.  In fact, it was very helpful to see some of the concepts Jenett and Leanan Sidhe were discussing expressed in question form.  If you don't mind, I'd like to share your questions with the group I've been discussing.

I also appreciate your point of view about Quakerism.  I know very little about it.  I'd like to know if you have any suggested reading on the basic principles of the group.  I'd be even more interested in knowing where I could get a good outline on the principles and history of Shakerism, if you would happen to know, because I'm wanting to re-read a favorite novel with Shaker references (A Maggot by John Fowles) soon.
 
Quote from: Leanan Sidhe;114102
I don't know about organizations that do. I know, from experience, it is possible for at least a small group to work together in an egalitarian manner -- if they love, trust, and respect each other -- and know each other really, really well.

But I'm talking in the context of a small family working together occasionally on their spiritual paths, a family that has rules in place due the nature of the relationships involved -- rules that almost always carry over to ritual and magical work.


Leanan Sidhe - again, I've answered some of these points above but appreciate your unique perspective.  I started to say that it wouldn't have to be a family - but, when you work that closely, you become family.  Certainly, they wouldn't have to be blood relations, though.

Quote from: Leanan Sidhe;114102
Generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend it.

From the perspective of spirituality, one of the reasons why I joined the Druid order that I did is because there is a specific, publicly know hierarchy in place. Most people in the Order are solitary, but there's no sense of "Who's running this thing?". There are people who know more than others, who have more training than others, and I'm mightily glad of it. As a connected reason, it takes years to set up a grove in that order. Again, I'm glad. I'd like to see more groves and study groups (and I hope to start one one day, provided I become qualified enough), but not at the expense of wondering if the person in charge is really capable of leading.


Interesting!  I've always respected the high standards that Druids set for themselves, but I've always been a little dubious of their hierarchical approach to things.  I've studied a little about the Druids - and would like to learn more - but I could never see myself joining one of their organizations.

One of the really disturbing things I've seen way too often is incapable leaders.  But I often feel that stems from them not facing their true equality.  Whether we agree about the cause, though, it can be distressing.  I recently attended a public midsummer ritual with my family.  The main facilitator opened with the words, "This is the time of the equinox.  Equal day and equal night."  There was another couple there who were clearly on the make to recruit very shy, unselfconfident barely-adults to be their inferiors.  I could go on and on, sadly, but I'm sure you've seen enough of this type of thing yourself.

Quote from: Leanan Sidhe;114102
From an activism standpoint (bear with me, it applies), at a bare minimum, and off the top of my head, you need:

  • Everyone to know the rules.
  • Someone to enforce the rules.
  • Someone to babysit the permit/s and tangle/wrangle on issues pertining to them.
  • Someone capable of looking out for the general safety and well-being of those involved and those not involved.
  • Someone to organize and plan it.
  • Ideally, someone capable of dispensing food/ drinks (especially in freezing/searing temperatures).
  • Someone who knows the issues and can clearly explain them.


Your list is also very helpful.  My eyesight prohibits me from participating in as much public activism as I'd like, but I've certainly seen situations in which each of these is vital.  I don't think our little group belongs in the public sphere at this point (although I'll consider it fully if any member suggests I do so), but we do know that entering that arena would entail even more careful work than we're already experiencing.
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2013, 07:44:55 am »
Quote from: Aett of Cups;114346

I have found that an egalitarian structure definitely adds time to the decision-making process.  I've also found that we needed a very clear structure upon which we could all agree but which we were all free to ratify if necessary.  Another important aspect of an egalitarian group, I feel, is that all members are willing to do "menial" work if needed; I ought to be as willing to set up chairs as I am to facilitate a meditation.


What makes you think this is not also true in other groups? (With a codicil that I'm going to mention in a minute.)

I work in a heirarchical tradition. But one of the things that I think is incumbent on a leader in that kind of tradition is that a) they are capable of doing all the pieces required for ritual (which includes the stuff like the dishes, or setting up chairs) and b) that they do so often enough to remember what's annoying about it or look at how to make the process better/easier for everyone.

That said, people's time is not infinite. Nor is their energy.

If you have ten people in a room, and all of them could do the dishes or set out chairs, but only some of them can do the final preparations for the ritual, or explain all the necessary things to a guest or help provide appropriate pastoral counselling to someone in need of it, or whatever, then it is often a better use of time for the people who can't do those things to do things like setting out chairs.

This is something where I actually think there's a much larger gap between a group of 3-6 and a group of 9-12ish than many people realise: somewhere between 6 and 9 people, you shift from 'small enough to all have one conversation while you're getting ready' to 'enough people that you're in different rooms doing different tasks and/or the chances that at least one person desperately needs to talk about something in their lives go up a lot.' - both of which change the dynamics a bunch.

It's also obviously something where 'we have a group of 5 people of roughly equivalent knowledge/experience' is *vastly* different from 'we have 2 people with extensive experience and 2 people who are brand new to Paganism and 2 people somewhere in the middle' or whatever. The best egalitarian group experiences I've had have been people of roughly similar experience and goals - but many of the places I've seen it have broken down entirely when they've had to add someone new to the topic. Even if that someone is intelligent and hard-working and willing to learn, there's a lot of ground to cover to get them up to speed with everyone else.

(I am spending a massive amount of my time the past five and next two years in a project that is largely consensus based with a bit of formal leadership when absolutely necessary: I've been having a lot of conversations with people who joined the project in the last year about *how much* background and 'how this works' stuff they're having to pick up on the fly, and how that's working for them - and that's with everyone being willing to explain as we spot stuff.)

And there's also physical realities: I have chronic medical foo that means that some tasks take more out of me than others: if I want to be able to enjoy ritual or to run it, there are some things I should probably not be doing while we prep for ritual that same day.

In a situation where everyone is expected to chip in on everything, that can be really hard for me, and leave me less than functional for days afterwards. In a situation where tasks are assigned in advance, and where I know which things I'm primarily responsible for (and especially if those things don't change ritual to ritual very often, so I can optimise how I prepare for them over time), I have a much easier time and can do much more to support the work of the group overall.

(There are ways to negotiate this one in a more egalitarian setting, but again, they take a *great* deal of time and education initially. Also a degree of understanding about chronic medical stuff that experience has taught me is remarkably rare in society.)

Again, this is based on a fair bit of direct experience, in a variety of different settings. I do know of groups that manage to do other approaches, but they have been few and far between, or they have not lasted very long.

I will say that my *actual* preference for group management is something I refer to as haptocracy (I coined the word) which comes from the Greek 'to work' - which is to say that the person doing the work to make something happen in a group gets more say about how it happens (within the basic guidelines that the group sets up as shared goals.)

Which is to say, if I am HPS, and I am running the ritual, I get to decide the best way for me to plan that ritual, and the best way to prepare for it, and the best way to make it happen. As I ask other people to participate, they get to decide the ways they want to - but the person who spends 10 minutes discussing it before we get together to do it is going to have less say how we're doing the thing than the person who's spent hours putting it together.

The reason I like this is that it gives a model for "Ok, you want to do something different? Step up and do the work." And it also helps me (at least) let go of some things, once I've specified the necessary end result. (For example, so long as the altar is set at the needed time, and it's done with reverence, I don't care which order things go on, or how long it takes.)

Now there *are* limits - in my tradition, there are specific ritual activities and roles that are limited to specific points in training, and that are done that way for reasons of consistency, safety, and well-being of everyone in circle (because some of them, if they're done badly, can be bad for the person doing them, or for other people in the ritual.) But outside of those specifics, I've run quite a few rituals where people have taken on ritual tasks or planning tasks or teaching tasks or whatever, that would normally be outside their level of expectation, and they've gone well.

There is also another layer in structure. One of the things I've found about overt structure is that you will, in fact, get people saying "I am good with committing to this much work/responsibility/whatever, but I do not want to take more on." (Often for really good reasons: health limits, other things in their life, their recognition that they need to sort out X or learn more Y before they can make that next step.)

In an egalitarian structure - and particularly one where there's pressure (as there is in some egalitarian structures for everyone to chip in with everything), this can become increasingly uncomfortable for them over time. (Again, been there, seen it, seen the group dynamics issues.)

Quote
I would see the library (especially if it's anything like the music library where I used to work) as different from the small egalitarian group with whom I work.  In the library, as with almost any job, your skills are rewarded differently in terms of different pay - a factor which affects a huge number of other facets of your lives.


That rather misses the point. (And incidentally, pay is not the massive dividing factor - I work for a public university, so a lot of our pay data is somewhat public. There are distinctions between salaried and hourly (notably how we handle scheduling issues)). But my point was actually that they *do not affect* who steps up for committee work besides the few mandatory committees: people at all three effective bands of pay do so, and do awesome stuff.

That said, we also *do* have different job descriptions, and there are reasons for that: I have chosen over time to build some sets of skills over others (technology, in my case), or I've certainly got the training and education to catalogue books, but I know that it is not a thing I really want to do all day (like one of my co-workers does), and we are both happier doing the things we're doing. That's why we have the jobs we have and not different jobs.

I want, in short, the same opportunity to participate and *not* participate in my religious life: the chance to say "This thing, I would like to do more" and "This thing, can I not do it?" In a setting where all roles are shared around equally, I don't get to do that. Which is a problem for me, and particularly on the "not the thing I want to do" side.

Quote
One of the really disturbing things I've seen way too often is incapable leaders.  But I often feel that stems from them not facing their true equality.  Whether we agree about the cause, though, it can be distressing.  I recently attended a public midsummer ritual with my family.  The main facilitator opened with the words, "This is the time of the equinox.  Equal day and equal night."  There was another couple there who were clearly on the make to recruit very shy, unselfconfident barely-adults to be their inferiors.  I could go on and on, sadly, but I'm sure you've seen enough of this type of thing yourself.


I have, yes, and if you go back through this forum, you will see quite a few rants about poor leadership from me.

That said, there are also *good* leaders out there, people who try to use their influence to create stable, healthy, productive group environments. (I try to, or have in the past and hope to again; the aforementioned health issues and my current geography complicate some things.)

But I have also seen - and as you might have guessed - been personally far more hurt by supposedly egalitarian settings that turned out to be anything but. (those stories I told in my previous post.)

Which is, in fact, why I am deeply cautious about them, and why - while I know they can sometimes work - I'm very wary of the places they can fail very badly very quickly. (In particular, I think there's a fair bit of conversation in the larger Pagan community about bad leadership in hierarchical settings: there can always be more, but it's definitely out there. I see much less discussion of issues in other kinds of group settings, and that's problematic too.)
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2013, 08:41:38 am »
Quote from: Jenett;114351
It's also obviously something where 'we have a group of 5 people of roughly equivalent knowledge/experience' is *vastly* different from 'we have 2 people with extensive experience and 2 people who are brand new to Paganism and 2 people somewhere in the middle' or whatever. The best egalitarian group experiences I've had have been people of roughly similar experience and goals - but many of the places I've seen it have broken down entirely when they've had to add someone new to the topic. Even if that someone is intelligent and hard-working and willing to learn, there's a lot of ground to cover to get them up to speed with everyone else.


I suspect that this is something that also, to an extent, depends on the structural intent of the group.  If it's something where there is a learning curve involved, where people gain knowledge or skill along the way, where there are distinct points of achievement, then that's a fundamentally different fundamental underlying structure than something where people gather in a more free form or participatory manner.

If I am training with a group, I expect some level of hierarchy, because, frankly, I am coming in as a petitioner in an explicitly stated state of ignorance, and there will be people who can teach me what I came there for and there are people who can't.

If I am celebrating with a group, I still expect some level of hierarchy is likely, because someone is deciding on the parameters of the celebration, whether any Powers are invited and which ones, what the ritual format is, and so on.  (There are times when this hierarchy is mostly subsumed into the Assumed Format Of Ritual Paganism, and thus that nobody actually thinks through ritual formats because Everyone Does Public Access Wicca or whatever.)

At the level of stuff like my ritual circle, I expect a mix of hierarchy and non-hierarchy.  We have few enough people and little enough established praxis that our gatherings are pretty wide open for contributions from all members.  (Our most recent gathering was significantly driven by the member who would probably consider himself to have the least to contribute, because he felt it was important to mark that particular day.)  When it comes to contributions to ritual work and structure, it's people who have experience and knowledge who have the most say over what happens, because it's those people who have ideas about things to do and how to do them.

Quote
But I have also seen - and as you might have guessed - been personally far more hurt by supposedly egalitarian settings that turned out to be anything but. (those stories I told in my previous post.)

 
I do not believe I have ever encountered a group or event that billed itself as "egalitarian" that actually was.  Mostly in the form of "we will mislead you about how we deal with power" - saying there is no hierarchy while having set subsets of people who conduct rituals, decide what magical work is being done, which powers are welcome, and similar things; taking consensus as an assumption rather than orienting towards actively sought consent (a good example is a time I was at a gathering for one subject and suddenly it was "we're doing magical working for this political cause!" where I not only was not informed about the cause and not comfortable with the change of subject, but had no knowledge of how to raise an objection or politely refrain from participation); leaving newcomers entirely at sea to learn basic social knowledge about the group (ranging from 'who has knowledge and who doesn't' through 'whose input will tend to get respected and whose will get ignored' and 'what cues do we use to indicate assent or dissent' to 'how to express an opinion in a manner that it will be heard and considered by others').
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #9 on: July 02, 2013, 11:53:31 am »
Quote from: Darkhawk;114357
I do not believe I have ever encountered a group or event that billed itself as "egalitarian" that actually was.  Mostly in the form of "we will mislead you about how we deal with power" - saying there is no hierarchy while having set subsets of people who conduct rituals, decide what magical work is being done, which powers are welcome, and similar things; taking consensus as an assumption rather than orienting towards actively sought consent (a good example is a time I was at a gathering for one subject and suddenly it was "we're doing magical working for this political cause!" where I not only was not informed about the cause and not comfortable with the change of subject, but had no knowledge of how to raise an objection or politely refrain from participation); leaving newcomers entirely at sea to learn basic social knowledge about the group (ranging from 'who has knowledge and who doesn't' through 'whose input will tend to get respected and whose will get ignored' and 'what cues do we use to indicate assent or dissent' to 'how to express an opinion in a manner that it will be heard and considered by others').

I have to say that, while I understand that it's rare for an egalitarian approach to succeed in magical groups, it works with my OBOD grove. I suspect a number of positive factors come into play there, including the personalities of the group members and the informal 'family' feel they've managed to cultivate. But I've only seen benefit from the non-hierarchical approach that many OBOD groves take. An example is our rotating priestly duties that means even newbies can lead ritual as soon as they're initiated members. I've learned so much through that experience. But I'm not naive enough to think it would work often. I just do believe we've* achieved it.

*Our particular grove, I mean - I certainly can't speak for OBOD as a whole, having only experienced one grove up close.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2013, 11:55:24 am by Naomi J »
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2013, 12:20:51 pm »
Quote from: Sophia Catherine;114367
I have to say that, while I understand that it's rare for an egalitarian approach to succeed in magical groups, it works with my OBOD grove. I suspect a number of positive factors come into play there, including the personalities of the group members and the informal 'family' feel they've managed to cultivate. But I've only seen benefit from the non-hierarchical approach that many OBOD groves take. An example is our rotating priestly duties that means even newbies can lead ritual as soon as they're initiated members. I've learned so much through that experience. But I'm not naive enough to think it would work often. I just do believe we've* achieved it.


And see, here's a terminology issue, maybe.

There's a big difference for me between "People get a chance to lead ritual" (once they have the basic skills, even) and "egalitarian group". I agree the former is an excellent thing, but it's common practice in *lots* of groups.

But when we're talking about egalitarian, I also look at things like "Who gets to decide when/where/etc. the group is meeting? Whose schedule has priority? Who gets to decide if/when/whatever new members are joining? Who is responsible for training them? Who is responsible for dealing with it if there's a problem between two members? Who is responsible for dealing with ethical issues or other things-destructive-to-group-dynamics?" And in a particular tradition's terms, "Who is responsible for the well-being of the tradition as a whole, not just this individual group's iteration of it?"

(I am a 3rd degree in my tradition: I have responsibilities to myself, and to the group I'm working with, but one of my oathed commitments is an overall commitment to the tradition: there are things I *can't* change just because I want to, and things I can't just rearrange for my own preference, or even the preference of an ongoing group.)

I was trained in a heirarchical tradition in which we rotated responsibility for designing ritual (and potentially for leading it, if people wanted) once people were initiated, but most of those other management tasks were the responsibility of people who had chosen and committed to the responsibility of higher degrees (i.e. people who wanted to do that particular kind of wrangling) and those people (because they were the ones doing the larger portion of the problem-solving, training, and hosting) had more of a say if there was a difference of opinion in how those things got handled.

(If there was a schedule conflict between the person whose home we used and a student, then generally, we would run with the person hosting the ritual getting preference. Because otherwise, there would not be a ritual in the first place. Etc. etc.)

I think there's also a big difference between events that are hosted in public or rented or otherwise 'neutral' space, versus in someone's home, (because as soon as it's in someone's personal space, you end up with a lot of weird little eddies of 'how things get done'.)
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2013, 12:40:06 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;114369
And see, here's a terminology issue, maybe.

There's a big difference for me between "People get a chance to lead ritual" (once they have the basic skills, even) and "egalitarian group". I agree the former is an excellent thing, but it's common practice in *lots* of groups.

But when we're talking about egalitarian, I also look at things like "Who gets to decide when/where/etc. the group is meeting? Whose schedule has priority? Who gets to decide if/when/whatever new members are joining? Who is responsible for training them? Who is responsible for dealing with it if there's a problem between two members? Who is responsible for dealing with ethical issues or other things-destructive-to-group-dynamics?" And in a particular tradition's terms, "Who is responsible for the well-being of the tradition as a whole, not just this individual group's iteration of it?"

...

I think there's also a big difference between events that are hosted in public or rented or otherwise 'neutral' space, versus in someone's home, (because as soon as it's in someone's personal space, you end up with a lot of weird little eddies of 'how things get done'.)

I should perhaps have clarified. When I say 'egalitarian', I really, really mean it. We're practically anarchist. Meeting dates and times are decided by consensus, via e-mail discussion (which slows things down a lot, but also means there's almost never a situation where people can't make a meeting or ritual). New members are discussed at admin meetings and, again, we attempt to reach consensus - I've never encountered a situation where anyone objected, but my sense is that, if someone did object, the group would go with that. In OBOD, training happens through the course rather than in groves, and we have a policy that all grove members must be OBOD members, so that's covered there. There is a grove organizer* ('herald') who has final responsibility for ethical and trad issues. There are also specific roles, some administrative and some ceremonial, and those rotate fairly arbitrarily, based on who is willing to do what. So those are useful for final decisions if consensus can't be reached, too.  But really, due to our consensus-based decision-making, these issues don't arise very often. A much bigger issue is things not getting decided at all - but there are mechanisms to make sure that doesn't happen.

The 'space' thing is a good point. We have informal meetings in members' homes, but our rituals are held in a rented grove. That works very well for us.

*Edit: This is a rotating role, taken on annually by anyone who is willing to hold the role for that year.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2013, 12:41:26 pm by Naomi J »
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2013, 01:01:15 pm »
Quote from: Sophia Catherine;114371
In OBOD, training happens through the course rather than in groves, and we have a policy that all grove members must be OBOD members, so that's covered there.

 
I'm guessing that having training explicitly offloaded helps a lot.
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2013, 01:21:30 pm »
Quote from: Sophia Catherine;114371
Meeting dates and times are decided by consensus, via e-mail discussion (which slows things down a lot, but also means there's almost never a situation where people can't make a meeting or ritual).


I am surprised by that, especially if you're meeting in peoples' homes. Does everyone just work banker's hours or something? I have a hard enough time meeting up with two or three friends because I work evenings and my wife works mornings, M's kids have sports on the weekends sometimes, G sometimes has to work Saturdays... I'm a little envious and I would love to know your secret!
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Re: Egalitarian magical organizations?
« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2013, 02:11:24 pm »
Quote from: Jack;114375
I am surprised by that, especially if you're meeting in peoples' homes. Does everyone just work banker's hours or something? I have a hard enough time meeting up with two or three friends because I work evenings and my wife works mornings, M's kids have sports on the weekends sometimes, G sometimes has to work Saturdays... I'm a little envious and I would love to know your secret!

 
No, we're not all 9-5s - there are people who do evening shifts and others with lots of commitments - but somehow it works out that we can usually find one evening a month to meet. It helps that we only meet monthly, and that we tend to go for the second Tuesday of the month so that people can book it off (but we'd move this to a different semi-regular day if someone joined who was never free then). Again, things like having a small group and everyone willing to try to be flexible helps, but we're also probably just lucky too.
"We're all stories, in the end. Make it a good one, eh?"
- Doctor Who

Stone Onto Sand

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