Working with others is hard, doing magick makes it even harder, and most magickal group leaders are given little, if any, training in the core principles of group dynamics. Things like anger management, boundary issues, childhood trauma, mentoring, setting expectations, and accountability. In Bridging the Gap: Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society, Crystal Blanton addresses the need for magickal groups to relate to their individual members, as well as the need for groups (and their membership) to relate beyond their own boundaries to the larger society we exist within.
The latter aspect -- working within the larger society -- seems especially important at a time when our 'community' is seeing the effects of decades of avoidance of its issues and problems coming out in nasty, terrible ways. How many times must we get angry and rail against the predators when they continue to be supported by the very groups that are so very necessary for our communities strength? How many Kenny Klein's and Frosts must we endure because it is easier to look away, to preach pseudo-tolerance, than it is to draw the line and stand by it? How much unconscious racism must we carry around, draining our energy into negative, useless pathways, until we can finally admit there is a problem and then go on to fix it?
/end soap box
Members of our 'community' may look askance at Bridging the Gap for two reasons. One, it is written by someone who has a strong background (decades) in counseling and particularly with addiction counseling. Two, she is talking about group work to a community that is largely made up of people who worship solitary and only interact with groups occasionally, perhaps at conventions like PSG. But she puts it succinctly when she says: "We owe our people more than first-class ritualists who are second-class leaders. (p. 10)"
Let me quote from her: "Navigating through group work is one of the hardest yet beneficial experiences from which to learn. It can be easy to forget that living as spiritual beings does not separate us from dealing with negativity on an everyday basis." [Oh my God/dess, YES!] "It is crucial to understand that we should live a life of balance and polarity. There is not one without the other; there is no black without white. We have to acknowledge and honour those things that are not beautiful and "white light" in order to grasp those things that are. If everything in the world was beautiful, then we would lose the ability to create a baseline for what is beautiful and what is not. Without a contrast, everything is the same and loses value. . . A coven or group is a microcosm of a larger community and a perfect opportunity to learn how to build healthy relationships. Using this setting to learn and practice communication in order to build relationships can be beneficial to your future interactions not only with others but also with yourself. Every time we engage with our coven mates we build another layer to the outcome of the connection. Being present allows us to make conscious choices in what elements we want to add to different relationships in our lives. Coven work gives us the chance to develop this with others who are also learning to polish the same skills. "
Blanton's foundation for this deep development is honesty. We're all good at being honest with others when nothing is wrong, but how many of us can tell another person something difficult? Its a position where we can cause pain, or get hurt, and we are often reluctant to do anything, we question ourselves . . . we wait. Yet, that waiting, that kind of blindness ultimately leads to problems which are difficult to heal or move past. And thus we cause damage in our desire to prevent pain. Blanton points out, accurately, that in order for us to have healthy relationships we need to respect boundaries, needs, and desires – our own and others' -- and to do so we need to know just where those boundaries lie.
A few points I especially appreciated: her categories for different types of groups (p.18-19), her correlations between the dysfunctional family and dysfunctional magickal group (p. 63-64), all of chapter 5, all of the exercises sprinkled throughout the book.
This book is an excellent introduction to group dynamics, and along with Nick Farrell's Gathering the Magic, and Magickal Connections, makes up a solid foundation for anyone considering leading a magickal group, of any size.
Author: Crystal Blanton
Megalithica Books, 2010
Full disclosure: I am the author of Magickal Connections, an earlier attempt at tackling group dynamics in Pagan groups.
(Note: Facing North doesn't mind re-reviewing/ publishing multiple reviews of the same item. This book, for example was reviewed by us not longer after it was first published.)