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Author Topic: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice  (Read 5138 times)

RecycledBenedict

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Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« on: April 24, 2016, 07:10:01 pm »
In another recent thread in the beginner-friendly sub-forum, a discussion branched off into the topic of lodges, covens and other magical organizations, which is prescribed to be discussed here.

There are advantages and disadvantages of every sort of organization. All human beings are fallible. Every type of group or organization have the potential to function well and the potential to malfunction in a gruesome way. To claim that a group isn't an organization at all is not a useful way to go: Even a very loosely and informal working group is a sort of organization, although not a tight or well-defined one, and such a lack of definition contain risks of their own, just as a very centralised and hierarchical organization run the risk of opposite problems.

I start this thread for a general discussion about how to make magical groups of every sort as well-functioning as possible.

I have a few thoughts to share, but let us pool our experiences and ideas, and see what turns out of it.

Very informal groups run the following risks:
  • They may become defunct, because the group hasn't agreed who is responsible for calling the group together
  • The fear of structure keep the group from agreeing on regularity of gatherings, and the group becomes defunct because of that
  • The lack of defined purpose leads to a too broad member base, and quarrels about purpose causes the group to split - in good cases in two or three groups, each with purposes that are defined in a better way, but in bad cases a split into nothing
  • An insistence on that everyone shall do anything misses to match talents with responsibilities
  • A too informal and friendly atmosphere may cause the group to stop practicing magic and begin to drink coffee and eat cinnamon buns instead


Extremely hierarchical groups run the following risks:

  • The person most knowledgeable about magic is given the responsibility for economy and administration, which are talents not necessarily present in one and the same individual
  • The charter of the order, coven, lodge, temple, encampment, circle, grove, dolmen or whatever they call it, lack a way to demand the Head Officer to step aside in a case of power abuse, psychiatric instability, financial mismanagement or similar
  • The charter lacks proper checks and balances
  • Financial and/or administrative decisions are made while in an altered state of consciousness
  • Uncritical reliance on oracular statements from alleged discarnate entities are given decisive weight in financial and/or administrative matters
  • An inflexible structure or favouritism causes the group to miss to match talents with responsibilities
  • The formal protocol becomes more important than actual magical work
  • An old group run the risk to not update its mandatory reading-lists, which causes members to rely on outdated information. Although this not necessarily leads to bad proficiency in magical technique, the theoretical reflection will suffer

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2016, 07:29:22 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190321
In another recent thread in the beginner-friendly sub-forum, a discussion branched off into the topic of lodges, covens and other magical organizations, which is prescribed to be discussed here.

 
Edited the thread title to indicate that the discussion need not be limited to magical organizations; most of these issues also apply to pagan organizations that don't practice magic, or only as a small part of what they do.

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RecycledBenedict

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2016, 07:35:49 pm »
Quote from: SunflowerP;190324
Edited the thread title to indicate that the discussion need not be limited to magical organizations; most of these issues also apply to pagan organizations that don't practice magic, or only as a small part of what they do.

Sunflower


Oh. Yes. That seems reasonable. But my example of the inappropriateness of making financial decisions while in trance is probably more exclusive to the magical ones. As an old friend of mine once said (Culturally anglicized for comprehensiblity reasons): You ought not buy milk at Tesco, while you are in a mental state when you believe you are Horus.

RecycledBenedict

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2016, 08:22:48 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190321
I start this thread for a general discussion about how to make magical groups of every sort as well-functioning as possible.


Another potentially problematic matter, which all sorts of groups share (so I didn't put it in any of the two illustrative lists), is whom to let into the group.

An open-door policy - Everyone is welcome! - sounds nice and friendly, but let us say that a hypothetical group mainly consists of persons who like to gather together for the purpose of visualising pink unicorns and space dolphins, sending out rainbow-blessings over the Earth's aura, and the first thing a newbie does at his/her/hir first attendance is to chant an invocation of Belial into order to curse named persons, it is probable that such a behaviour will cause a certain amount of friction within the group - even in cases when the open-door policy still will remain after the colourful event.

A too restrictive policy, on the other hand, will, after a while, turn the group into a circle of friends and close acquaintances to friends, with the potential that the social aspects (however positive they are in their own right) comes to dominate over the actual and original magical purpose of the group, and by time will cause the group to stagnate and not manage to recruit any new members, because the social circle has become too closed.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2016, 08:28:03 pm by RecycledBenedict »

RecycledBenedict

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2016, 09:18:52 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190321
There are advantages and disadvantages of every sort of organization.


Re-reading what I have written, I see that I have focussed on the con side of evaluation. I hope, that more optimistically disposed users will add the pro side of it.

Groups aiming at celebratory magic will by their nature be able to be much more open than groups aiming at initiatory magic, while groups aiming at projective magic will fall in the middle between these two poles.

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2016, 08:19:52 am »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190321
In another recent thread in the beginner-friendly sub-forum, a discussion branched off into the topic of lodges, covens and other magical organizations, which is prescribed to be discussed here.

There are advantages and disadvantages of every sort of organization. All human beings are fallible. Every type of group or organization have the potential to function well and the potential to malfunction in a gruesome way. To claim that a group isn't an organization at all is not a useful way to go: Even a very loosely and informal working group is a sort of organization, although not a tight or well-defined one, and such a lack of definition contain risks of their own, just as a very centralised and hierarchical organization run the risk of opposite problems.

I start this thread for a general discussion about how to make magical groups of every sort as well-functioning as possible.

I have a few thoughts to share, but let us pool our experiences and ideas, and see what turns out of it.

Very informal groups run the following risks:
  • They may become defunct, because the group hasn't agreed who is responsible for calling the group together
  • The fear of structure keep the group from agreeing on regularity of gatherings, and the group becomes defunct because of that
  • The lack of defined purpose leads to a too broad member base, and quarrels about purpose causes the group to split - in good cases in two or three groups, each with purposes that are defined in a better way, but in bad cases a split into nothing
  • An insistence on that everyone shall do anything misses to match talents with responsibilities
  • A too informal and friendly atmosphere may cause the group to stop practicing magic and begin to drink coffee and eat cinnamon buns instead


Extremely hierarchical groups run the following risks:

  • The person most knowledgeable about magic is given the responsibility for economy and administration, which are talents not necessarily present in one and the same individual
  • The charter of the order, coven, lodge, temple, encampment, circle, grove, dolmen or whatever they call it, lack a way to demand the Head Officer to step aside in a case of power abuse, psychiatric instability, financial mismanagement or similar
  • The charter lacks proper checks and balances
  • Financial and/or administrative decisions are made while in an altered state of consciousness
  • Uncritical reliance on oracular statements from alleged discarnate entities are given decisive weight in financial and/or administrative matters
  • An inflexible structure or favouritism causes the group to miss to match talents with responsibilities
  • The formal protocol becomes more important than actual magical work
  • An old group run the risk to not update its mandatory reading-lists, which causes members to rely on outdated information. Although this not necessarily leads to bad proficiency in magical technique, the theoretical reflection will suffer

 
As someone who is not part of a group but would love to join one, I am very grateful for this breakdown. Thank you. :)
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Jenett

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2016, 12:12:52 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190321

I start this thread for a general discussion about how to make magical groups of every sort as well-functioning as possible.


First, in terms of evaluating groups, I have two pieces up on my Seeking site relevant: one with some general questions, and one with a much more detailed list of possible concerns and things to pay attention to.
 
Beyond that, I think there's another piece here that a lot of people don't talk about much, which is that a group can be a great group, but not be a good group for a specific person. Or that individual people can get along well, and collaborate on projects well, but not be a good fit together for the kind of work that a magical, ritual, or religious group does together.

What gets complicated with magical and ritual groups is that it's often the case that there aren't a lot of options if we're looking for a physically convenient group: instead, we get to choose the option that works best, or nothing.

None of those things make a group bad, or the people in it wrong - just not the thing that's right for us as an individual, y'know? There are plenty of groups out there where I like the people, but cannot imagine doing emotionally intimate ritual work with them, or where their method of deciding how to do things drives me up a wall, but works for them.

For example: I do really badly in consensus-driven groups when it comes to religious practice: I do much better with them in other settings. Since I know this about myself (and have given it a fair try in situations where I really wanted it to work out) I look for other options.

There's also the complicating factor that in initiatory groups or other practices that involve stages of training/responsibility, higher levels of commitment often involve taking on greater responsibility for the whole group or the tradition.

My own tradition is priestess-run, which is a combination of 'consensus is nice, but sometimes someone has to make a decision about when we're going to do things, and if we can't come to general agreement, the HPS is that person' and 'people in initiatory leadership roles take on some specific responsibilities to students and prospective initiates, and to the group and tradition in general, and therefore need to have the right to make final decisions that affect those things or it turns into something horribly abusive to the group leadership.'

These things are sometimes really hard to explain well to new students, because they do sound creepy if you do it wrong. But really, what it's about is the group leadership getting the right to say "I want to have a say in who I let into my physical and metaphorical living room, who gets to call me at 3am in a crisis, and I want to be able to balance my own stuff so I can fulfill all my different commitments and maybe have some time for some other projects." Which, when you put it like that, makes all the sense in the world.

So, a lot of it, I think, comes down to self-awareness, being clear about what your priorities are, what things you're willing to sacrifice for it, and what things you aren't.

I feel about it about the same way I do about people asking me for advice about library jobs - which is that you can choose one of general location, type of library, and type of job within a library, and (assuming you've got the necessary skills/experience/qualifications) probably find something assuming there are libraries hiring at all. But if you want to be really restrictive about more than one of those three things, you're either going to have a very long wait, or may be out of luck entirely, and you should be aware of that, so you can make appropriate choices in the rest of your life.

Similarly, you may have a choice between a group that's easy to see regularly but isn't your preferred focus (but is one you could be okay with) versus one that you can only see occasionally, but is a much better focus. Or one that does stuff you want, but you'll need to make some sacrifices elsewhere in your life to make the scheduling work, or you can pick a group whose leadership style isn't your ideal, but they do stuff you want, and they seem to get stuff done.

None of these choices is inherently bad, but people leaping into assuming that there's one true way to run a group or be in a group or do group work makes them harder.
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RecycledBenedict

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2016, 04:05:31 pm »
Quote from: ViolaRae;190347
As someone who is not part of a group but would love to join one, I am very grateful for this breakdown. Thank you. :)

Can't answer in detail. In a hurry with Serapis.

Don't interpret my initial contributions, as I am hostile towards groups. I am not. Groups are excellent, sometimes. I just wanted to lift worst-case scenarios and begin a discussion how to avoid internal problems of different sorts.

The threadstarter in that other thread I mentioned, had a bad experience with groups in his past, which is a pity.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2016, 04:06:52 pm by RecycledBenedict »

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2016, 07:33:18 am »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190366
Can't answer in detail. In a hurry with Serapis.

Don't interpret my initial contributions, as I am hostile towards groups. I am not. Groups are excellent, sometimes. I just wanted to lift worst-case scenarios and begin a discussion how to avoid internal problems of different sorts.

The threadstarter in that other thread I mentioned, had a bad experience with groups in his past, which is a pity.

 
I didn't feel that you were hostile towards groups at all. I have read through the other thread, as well. I understand that groups can go awry very quickly, but not all groups will, and sometimes groups just have a natural end point in which the members are no longer interested/dedicated, and, as Jennett said, not all individuals are meant for all groups and not all groups are run the same way.
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RecycledBenedict

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #9 on: April 28, 2016, 08:29:21 am »
Quote from: ViolaRae;190519
I didn't feel that you were hostile towards groups at all.


I wasn't sure how what I had written could be interpretd, so I wanted to assure myself, that I wasn't misinterpreted.

Quote from: ViolaRae;190519
I have read through the other thread, as well. I understand that groups can go awry very quickly, but not all groups will, and sometimes groups just have a natural end point in which the members are no longer interested/dedicated, and, as Jennett said, not all individuals are meant for all groups and not all groups are run the same way.


Yes, on all counts.

I have been a member of very different sorts of groups. I have experienced a multi-faith celebratory-magical group become a social gathering of the cinnamon-bun type. Very nice, but not the original aim.

Persons close to me have had some bad experiences of how hierarchical organizations may deteriorate if checks and balances are not in place.

Another factor, which I have experienced myself, is that it is best to keep membership in local units local. There will be lack of continuity if a group consist of persons from places all over the map. Travelling time, job schedule, ticket prices and several such factors will make it hard to keep a group going. The distance from north to south in Sweden is about 1570 kilometres (about 974 miles), so it isn't easy to just go away to the other part of the country over an evening. I suppose it must be much easier in Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #10 on: April 28, 2016, 09:55:44 am »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190521
I
Persons close to me have had some bad experiences of how hierarchical organizations may deteriorate if checks and balances are not in place.


And on the other hand, I and other people I know have had seriously miserable experiences in consensus based groups.

Which brings us back to "know which things you can cope with."

Quote

Another factor, which I have experienced myself, is that it is best to keep membership in local units local. There will be lack of continuity if a group consist of persons from places all over the map. Travelling time, job schedule, ticket prices and several such factors will make it hard to keep a group going.

 
One of the things I often point out about group work is that you can't have a relationship with someone who isn't there. Online communication helps with some of that, but having someone in a group who's only there a smaller part of the time can affect all the dynamics.

We had a student in the group I trained in who was regularly driving about 3-4 hours one way to get to us, but she only made it to about 1 event a month, plus classes. So for people who weren't teaching those classes, we had very little interaction with her compared with other people in her training year. (In hindsight, it would likely have been better if we'd tried rearranging schedules a bit.)
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RecycledBenedict

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #11 on: April 28, 2016, 11:13:31 am »
Quote from: Jenett;190522
And on the other hand, I and other people I know have had seriously miserable experiences in consensus based groups.


I touched that problem in my initial posts in this thread.

Personally, I am very fond of the classical lodge structure, but the difference between, let's say, the (admittedly non-magical) Masons and a Golden Dawn derived group, is that Golden Dawn flung the checks and balances, that had been in place in masonic lodges since the 17th and 18th centuries, out of their organization, and that opened up for problems. John Michael Greer has lots of sound and down-to-earth advice in his book Inside a Magical Lodge.

For future use, I have also given some thought to how a group in the middle of the range, between consensus-based and ultra-hierarchical, could be organized in a new and creative way.

I believe it is a good idea to form committees specialized in different areas, and so making use of the diverse talents of different types of persons within the group. Someone who is good at reaching altered states of consciousness in not always (perhaps even seldomly) the right person to keep the financial accounts. And there are other similar examples. Persons caring about the festive board is not necessarily peak-performing Masters of Ceremony, but without everyone of these talents within a group it would be a poorer group.

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2016, 12:58:10 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190524

I believe it is a good idea to form committees specialized in different areas, and so making use of the diverse talents of different types of persons within the group. Someone who is good at reaching altered states of consciousness in not always (perhaps even seldomly) the right person to keep the financial accounts. And there are other similar examples. Persons caring about the festive board is not necessarily peak-performing Masters of Ceremony, but without everyone of these talents within a group it would be a poorer group.


True - but I think there's also a question of 'size of group'

In a coven sized group (traditionally not more than 13 people), the number of things you need to deal with (or how much time they take) is naturally a whole lot smaller and often a lot simpler than if you have a group of even 20, or once you start getting into 'need to rent or maintain our own space for group work'. And larger events (festivals, conventions, etc.) definitely need more people doing more pieces.

Same way "I have a group of friends that gets together every month" doesn't necessarily require a lot of management once you establish the habit: people know who's likely to bring what, people ask if they need something different, everyone does a bit.
 
I also think that there are some reasons for the exoteric method of group process to match the esoteric ones, if there are esoteric ones in play - for example, if you are aiming at 'we are one group mind, focused and directed by a given person' then breaking up the exoteric work into lots of little subgroups may not work well, or may be a hard switch for people to make, where a model of different people taking different roles to support ritual and outside of ritual (without a formal commitee or power structure) may feel a lot different.
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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #13 on: April 28, 2016, 04:52:54 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;190525
I also think that there are some reasons for the exoteric method of group process to match the esoteric ones, if there are esoteric ones in play - for example, if you are aiming at 'we are one group mind, focused and directed by a given person' then breaking up the exoteric work into lots of little subgroups may not work well, or may be a hard switch for people to make, where a model of different people taking different roles to support ritual and outside of ritual (without a formal commitee or power structure) may feel a lot different.


I believe that something similar to the Roman Republic's two consuls and one tribune of the people is worth to consider - but not the only one worthy of consideration.

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Re: Magical (and not) organizations: Pro and con and good advice
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2016, 03:08:35 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;190321
Even a very loosely and informal working group is a sort of organization, although not a tight or well-defined one, and such a lack of definition contain risks of their own, just as a very centralised and hierarchical organization run the risk of opposite problems.


It's also worth noting that supposedly non-hierachical groups often aren't.  It's more that the hierachies are unstated and informal.  But not necessarily any the less strong for that.

One of my standard recommendations on this is Jo Freeman's The Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Andrew Cornell's Occupy Wall Street and Consensus Decision Making: Historicizing the Preoccupation With Process is dense and overly academic for my tastes in places, but is still worth a read.

Quote
Very informal groups run the following risks:

  • They may become defunct, because the group hasn't agreed who is responsible for calling the group together
  • An insistence on that everyone shall do anything misses to match talents with responsibilities
Alternatively, the lack of any formal discussion of who's doing what leads to a handful of people taking on the bulk of the work and everyone else doing almost nothing. Which can lead to serious burnout over time.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2016, 03:09:45 pm by Jabberwocky »
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