When I first heard the word Pagan, a word I could use to describe how I felt about the world the main way to learn was in a group. There weren’t the plethora of books available, the internet had yet to become more than a gimmick, and the quest was to find a Coven to join that had a High Priest and High Priestess who would teach you and guide you on your Path.
I explored Wicca and Witchcraft at the same time as exploring Druidry, and I found the pull of the trees to be irresistible, so I joined the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids and used their courses as the framework for my learning. No course will teach you everything, but what I found with the OBOD’s course is that it helped give me a focus, a place to rest my gaze for more than the span of the few hundred pages offered by a book. It was also an initiatory Mystery School, so it did feel as if I belonged to something bigger than myself, that there were others walking the same forest paths, but that my direction, my choices, were still my own. It gave me the best of both worlds. I had the support of a wider group, but walked the path at my own pace, and in my own way.
There were other people around me at the time also finding their way and many did go the recognised route of joining a Coven. I remember that I was working with some of them in an eclectic group. It was fresh and exciting, but as each one joined their Covens, many were forbidden to work with anyone outside of their new groups, so gradually that little eclectic group became smaller and smaller, until it existed no more.
Maybe it’s the nature of the beast but most of those Covens no longer exist. Groups do that sometimes. It’s hard to rely on human beings for our spiritual guidance.
I was at an event on a panel once and one of the questions asked by a member of the audience was, “What advice would you give to someone new to this path, on finding and joining a group?” The microphone travelled with each person on the panel offering their advice. One of the panel said, “Do whatever your High Priest or High Priestess ask until it becomes extremely uncomfortable.” I didn’t like, or agree, with that response. To me the connection we have with our spiritual path is always a personal one. Group work should compliment our personal connection and, although I have worked with groups over the years, I could never surrender myself so completely to another human being. To Spirit, the Earth, to the Gods yes, but a human being? No, I don’t think so. I said as much when the microphone reached me.
For me the connection comes from inside. From my Soul Connection to the Soul of the World, the Gods, the Spirit of Place. I have worked with countless people over the years and each one made that connection in a slightly different way. There was no one way fits all approach. It’s good to have guidance on our paths, and those well-trodden forest paths are well-trodden for a reason, but there are countless smaller paths to explore. Where do they lead? Often to deep life-changing places. Places and paths less travelled. Above the Temple of Delphi were the words Know Thyself, not Let Others Tell you Who You Are… We need to learn to open to our own intuition. To discover for ourselves what is wrong or right, and to do that, we need to be able to walk to our own rhythm.
I’m certainly not against group work. I have been part of a Druid Grove for 15 years and love our meetings, our bond, and our work together. But I don’t believe a group can give us all of the answers. We need a strong personal practice, a strong personal connection with our own Path. If we have that, and don’t rely on a group to give us everything, but allow it to add to what we already have, not only will we be stronger, but the group will be stronger too.