Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Conflict in Covens

A Coven Priestess had problems with a newcomer which greatly disrupted her group. She recently wrote to me requesting some advice on this subject. I quote part of her email here:

....A year ago, we admitted a novice into our group who has caused so many troubles in her 13 moons. We were once a very stable group and now we are preparing a meeting to discuss the future- if any- remains. She is exactly as you describe in your article on Lost Children.

Note: She is referring to information in those articles titled "It's A Mystery": Part I (Dysfunctional Behavior) and II (Healthy Groups & Individuals)

I am at a loss. In the two groups that I have run (this being the second) , never before has this type of situation arisen. Can you offer any guidance on how to deal with this situation?

As is happens I'm working on an article on conflict in covens, so I took time out today and wrote to her. (I would have answered her in any case, but she walked into the clearing just as I'm building a bonfire for this ritual, so I poured a libation to the Goddess of Serendipity and took that morning to make my reply):


Hi ---, Sia here :-)

Thank you for the nice note. I'm glad that you liked the articles and that you found them helpful. To answer your query: Most Pagans come from dysfunctional families, so if you want to know what happened read about those. Start with "John Bradshaw On the Family".

Do you come from such a family, yourself? If so, now you know why this girl was sent to you. She is a "difficult gift"; one meant to shake things up and let people take a look at what works for them and what doesn't. In my experience, a Goddess, (Kuan Yin perhaps?) sends these lessons to people she feels are ready to move forward and go deeper in their practice. It's a rough compliment, but it's a compliment all the same.

Why is this Lost Child a gift? Well, It's never just about *them*, is it? - it's about the dynamic in the group - for the group to heal, this dynamic has to be addressed. The Teacher, too, has lessons to learn.

As I noted in It's A Mystery, dysfunctional groups - all dysfunctional systems - have roughly the same dynamics as dysfunctional families, so learn a bit about them, and you'll know what you're really dealing with.

This Is Important: You cannot fix or change this gal. All you can do is set firm, respectful boundaries for your group so that she cannot hurt anyone there with bad or "poor me" behavior. When she encounters these boundaries, she will either choose to grow and change her behavior or she will leave or you must ask her to leave. In some cases we ask people to go get some therapy or work in a 12 Step group or Earthwise Support Group and then return to us when they are ready. Not everyone is ready for Circle work - some of us have to get some more tools in our Life's tool box before we are ready to accept the empowerment that Paganism offers.

Now, I'm assuming that you have read both Part I and II and the attached articles, as well, yes?. If not, I suggest that you do so now. Pay special attention to Wren's article on Pagans and Self Actualization. More will then become clear (she said hopefully). Without further details and no knowledge of your group, I can only give general suggestions, but I will do my best. I'm not an expert, nor am I always right, so take what you need and leave the rest :-)

First, it helps to start out with - or renew/establish - clear guidelines, boundaries, and standards for your group, standards which everyone knows and understands. For example:
1. This is what we expect from our members,
2. This is what we don't want in our group" (gossip, acting out, etc.).

Say to your members. "If you circle with us, you agree to abide by those standards". (I've noted a list of what healthy groups do in these articles, which I think will be helpful to you in future. Take such a list to your group and vote to include whatever works for you).

Then, set consequences for bad behavior (missing too many circles, coming unprepared, disrespectful coven mates, etc.), let everyone know what your boundaries are and follow through :-) Easy for me to say, huh? Hard for you to do. Do it anyway.

It's a good idea to have a group vote (or have your Council decide) on fair and appropriate consequences, as a body, so that you have some support when you need to enforce same. Everyone needs to be on the same page and issues that are kept secret or silent will hurt the group. But before you tackle these issues head on, establish rules for fighting fair or things will get out of hand. Before you engage in any conflict resolution or negotiation, consider these questions and make sure that your own skills are up to par.

If you wish to continue as a leader/teacher, please read these books:"Positive Discipline" and "Raising Self Reliant Children in a Self Indulgent World" - I'm not kidding. With a little mental tweaking, the advice in here works equally well with adult groups. (Frankly, taking a few "Time Outs" in some cases would not be a bad idea ) As a former teacher, I can say that these are the best books I've found on running groups. These writers treat people fairly, firmly and with respect for their potential and their ability to grow and change, and their suggestions will keep things running smoothly. The writers offer common sense, real world techniques which will help you avoid the classic pitfalls: Becoming either a Doormat or a Nazi. These suggestions work with teaching gang kids in L.A., with boards of Directors, and in running Pagan groups. I know because I've used their ideas successfully in all three situations.

Do you drive? If so, get these books on tape and turn your car into your college. You'll never get so mad at traffic again.

By the way; how are *your* boundaries? If you need some help here (and don't we all?) read "Codependent No More". Google topics such as "Control Issues" and "Patterns of Codependence." Odds are that some people in the group have these issues. Bradshaw talks about these topics in detail, as well, which is another reason why I recommend his books.

Part I of my article has a section titled "What to look for in groups and teachers". Your group make want to make a list of what to look for in new members. Read also "Spiritual Mentoring" and "Antagonists In the Church". The first book discusses healthy relationships between student and teacher. The second book has suggestions on what to do about the "Problem Children". These people find their way into any and all spiritual groups and they can do great harm if they are not handled with compassion, firmness and wisdom.

Now comes the fun part: You get to ask: What was it about *us* that drew her to us, and why was she able to cause so many problems for such a long period of time? Books like "Dealing with Difficult People" and information on codependency and fighting fair will help you here. (Part II: Healthy Groups and Individuals) has a book list at the end which may be helpful here. So will groups like our on-line Spiral Steps group. (or any 12 step group in your area that deals with codependency and/or adult children of alcoholics).

Consider the boundaries of the group. Ask yourself:
1. Are these healthy boundaries? If not, why not?
2. Given what we've learned from this experience, what boundaries would be useful now?

Forget what "should be" and look at what is. Now change what you have to change to make things work. The attached articles in Part II on The Shadow Knows, and The Bard and the Poser will be helpful for identifying these problems in future. Send out the links just as a share among the Circle, and then stand back and see what happens :-)

Question: What are you going to do about the people in your group who won't face their character challenges, are addicted to their pain or who choose not to grow? Read: "Why People Don't Heal and How They Can". Know that you can't fix or change them (you don't have that kind of power). You can only set your own boundaries, and work on yourself and your growth. You are welcome to join our Spiral Steps group where we discuss this sort of thing in detail. Please note, the emphasis is on our own recovery. This is an anonymous group, and we use "I messages" and do not cross talk (i.e. give advice or judge one another's shares as either good or bad). You come in here to work on yourself or not at all.

To be honest, if it were me, I'd keep those people I trusted and knew that I could work with, release the rest (with respect) and begin the Circle anew. Bless the ones you let go, give them some useful information for their path. I recommend that you do a private ritual, offer up a prayer, or light a candle for their Highest Good. Forgive yourself and them, learn the lesson and move on. Not everyone is True Tribe, remember? You need to find your's and so do they.

Remember too, that "The only constant in life is change." Don't beat yourself up - this happens in groups all the time. It's the nature of things: growth, destruction, renewal, regrowth. The important thing is to learn from this and move forward bearing new strength and wisdom. The worst thing a leader does is to mistake numbers for strength. Wise leaders know that "Vitality is mightier than size."

Finally: Girl, you've had a *hard time* and you need to laugh. Read: Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Masquerade. Carpe Jugulum- all by Terry Pratchett. He has also written outstanding Witch Books for kids titled Wee Free Men & Hat Full of Sky. Most people write what they think we Witches do. Terry knows what Witches are for. He sneaks very deep Pagan teaching in amongst the jokes, and for that reason, I use his books in most of my workshops and circles.

Now, I've just blathered on and on and on - aren't you nice to listen :-) Think about this for a bit, and then, if you have time, write to me and tell me what was actually useful to you here. I'm writing an article on Conflict in Covens and I'll include these notes in my next article (without naming names or Circles, of course).

All good things,

Sia Vogel

P.S. All the books I list here also come in CD and tape formats. I like to listen to these while I do housework. It's geeky but effective.

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