Organization Articles

IsaacBonewits's picture
All intelligent beings have the right to worship who, what, where, when, why, and how they wish; provided that they do not violate the similar rights of others. All intelligent beings have as well the right (some would say duty) to develop their talents -- mental, physical, psychic, and others -- to the highest degree possible; subject as always to the equal rights of others. It is in this complex interplay of rights that the children of the Aquarian Age may be distinguished from their ancestors of previous ages.According to astrological tradition, the term "Aquarian Age" implies a time in which there is increased concern with the ways in which each individual can live by his or her own lights, while guaranteeing the same freedom to all others. All those, therefore, who work for the greater evolution of consciousness and freedom may be justly called "Aquarians," regardless of the day or year of their actual birth.Aquarians -- Neopagan, Neochristian, Agnostic or of any other faith -- are by definition tolerant of all life affirming beliefs and organizations. They do not proclaim the existence of any "One-True-Right-And-Only-Way" but rather that every intelligent being must find her or his own path.We will not, however -- in the name of tolerance or any other ideal -- allow ourselves to be persecuted or exterminated by anti-life individuals or organizations, whether secular or religious.As Aquarians we do not, in our religious services, magical rituals, psychic activities or in our private lives, engage in the commission or encouragement of felony crimes with victims (as defined by civil law and modern sociological research). We do not therefore engage in murder, rape, maiming, torture of animals, grand larceny, or other heinous crimes; and we will no longer quietly accept accusations that we do so.Neither do Aquarians use our talents -- whether we call them "psychic," "magical," "spiritual," "paranormal," or something else -- to achieve ends or through means that, if done physically, would constitute such felony crimes with victims. Accusations in this area will not go uncountered either.We know full well that the new witchburners are seeking to once again light the stakes of persecution with the fires of bigotry and hate. Equally well do we know that, despite our innumerable differences with one another, the time has come for us to stand together against the forces of fear and oppression. The very survival of ourselves, our children and our planet depends upon the outcome of our present struggles.Therefore: we will use whatever means exist to preserve, protect and defend our religious, civil, economic and human rights, as well as our reputations, from all those who would slander, libel, defame, suppress or otherwise persecute us for our beliefs.We will no longer allow self-righteous followers of anti-life beliefs to prevent us from the free exercise of our human and constitutional rights. We will no longer allow anyone with impunity to publicly accuse us of being "Satanists," "devil worshippers," "charlatans," "lunatics," or any other loaded terms of slander and libel designed to denigrate, defame or prevent us from the peaceful and legal spreading of our beliefs. We will no longer hesitate to bring civil and/or criminal charges against our would-be inquisitors whenever possible, no matter how wealthy or powerful they may be.Aquarians together -- Witches and wizards; Pagans and psychics; priests and parapsychologists; mystics, mediums and magicians; astrologers, diviners, and occultists of both sexes and all races, many faiths and traditions, ages and nationalities -- hereby agree upon our battle cry as we declare war upon those who would persecute us:Never Again the Burning!(c) 1973, 1989 by P.E.I. Bonewits. Permission to reprint is granted to all Aquarian individuals, organizations, and publications provided no editing is done and this notice is included. Publishers should donate $1 per copy sold to: ADF, Box 9420, Newark, DE, USA 19714.
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none's picture
Starting a Grove: SLG's StoryLaw, Policy, Tradition, & Custom in ADFThe Aquarian ManifestoWeeding the GardenA Personal Inventory for LeadersADF Entry in the US Military Chaplains' Handbook (174KB .pdf)
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IsaacBonewits's picture
Originally published in Druid's Progress #14 One of the things that has made ADF controversial from the start is our focus on order ,and structure, rather than the free-flowing chaos and anarchy so popular elsewhere in the community. The reasons for our preferences on the Order/Chaos polarity scale are as follows: The primary duties of the Paleopagan Druids were threefold: (1) transmitting knowledge and wisdom from previous generations to following ones; (2) maintaining the cosmic order through the correct performance of the sacrifices-- i.e., ensuring that humans and other spirits stayed in proper relationship to each other; and (3) guiding their tribes towards physical and spiritual wholeness. While those of us who choose to follow a Druidic path today may have very different definitions than the ancients had for the key words in the preceding sentence, I believe that most of us who have been attracted to Druidry have been in large part attracted to exactly these concepts and roles. We can't just imitate ancient Druidry's attitudes towards order and chaos, however, for several reasons. Firstly, the many varieties of Paleopagan Druidism existed within intact cultural matrices. Secondly, our ancient predecessors lived in a world of much simpler technology and limited communications. Thirdly, most Paleopagan cultures had little awareness of the needs or rights of individuals (as distinct or even opposed to those of the tribe, for example). Lastly, sheer survival required most Paleopagans to cling to order and avoid chaos as much as possible. By contrast (1) Neopaganism exists as one of the many overlapping and sometimes warring subcultures that compose the modern Western world; (2) we live in a world of high technology and multi-media communication; (3) the average Westerner is very concerned with the needs and rights of him/herself, and those of whatever special interest groups include him/ her, but has little or no concern for those of other groups, let alone of the "society" as a whole. (4) All humans now live in a world of what often seems randomly distributed order and chaos. Since many Neopagans come from tyrannical religious backgrounds, and have learned to reason in dualistic ways, it's easy to see why some prefer the extreme of anarchy and chaos to the only other perceived choice, that of extreme tyranny and order. Thus, while we in ADF may be inspired by the order-rooted beliefs and practices of our Indo-European predecessors, we must adapt them (as with everything else Paleopagan) to the needs of Neopagans, who require a great deal more personal freedom than any Paleopagan ever dreamed of. From the start, ADF has avoided dualistic extremes by creating organizational, liturgical and behavioral structures chat were ordered just enough to provide us a strong skeleton on which to grow our new/old faith. At the same time, we have striven to make those structures organic and flexible, just as real skeletons are. Yet we have often had to defend ourselves against accusations of being "too rigid" and "too structured". I'd like co present some suggested terminology ('There he goes again!') that may help all of us decide whether a given aspect of ADF (or any other group) contains appropriate or inappropriate amounts of order and structure. This will then provide us with reasonably dear boundaries that members or nonmembers may choose to honor or not, with logical consequences following. Terminology I propose a value spectrum labeled "law" on one end and "custom" on the other, with "policy" and "tradition" in between, thusly: Law -> Policy -> Tradition -> Custom. Various pronouncements by myself, the Board of Directors, different Officers and heads of ADF's many subgroupings, etc., that concern the behavior of our members and the expectations we have of each other can be placed at points along this spectrum, depending upon the degree of seriousness that we attach to any given issue. The category of "law" is fairly dear. The By Laws of the Corporation and other official statements about certain actions- such as human sacrifice-- being forbidden to the membership (or with other issues, required of them) constitute the few items on this end of the spectrum. "Policies" are official decisions that have been made and published in various ADF publications, primarily about how ADF groups and representatives interact with the rest of the organization and with the general public. "Tradition" literally means something that is handed down from generation to generation. In the Neopagan community it also means "denomination", or those things which we think characterize our religion as being distinct from other religions, both Neopagan and mainstream. In terms of "rules", items in this category deal with such matters as the official liturgical design for public worship rituals, the general cosmology in use, training requirements for Druid clergy, etc. "Customs," however, are merely the quirks, habits, and styles that various members (from the Archdruid on) have developed to enhance their enjoyment of ADF. Wearing white robes at rituals, or Sigil jewelry, etc., are examples of customs. Consequences Any given law, policy, tradition, or custom can be considered major or minor, and the results of breaking one may accordingly be major or minor. We don't want people violating major laws, nor do we want them fearing to change minor customs. As I see it, in ADF if members break a major law, they'll be expelled from the organization. That's why we should have as few major laws as possible. If members violate a minor law or a policy, they might get put "on probation" for a while, at least as far as their participation in ADF is concerned, or be removed from office temporarily or permanently. If members change a major tradition, they're expected to present some mighty convincing arguments to the Mother Grove. If we agree with their reasoning and like the results they are getting, we'll modify the major tradition. If we disagree, we'll ask them not to do it again, or at least not to call it "ADF"'. If they insist on doing it anyway, we'll ask them to schism off and start their own denomination. If members change a minor tradition, we'll want to know their reasoning and results. If we like them, we'll change the previous minor tradition or add a new minor tradition. If we don't we'll grumble a lot and wait to see how their tradition evolves. There can't be any penalties for violating mere customs. How can it make any real difference to the Earth Mother, or to the future of ADF, if a grove decides to wear triskals instead of Druid Sigils, or marks people's foreheads with emblems of the Three Worlds instead of passing cups at the Triad Invocations in the liturgy, As some customs become older, they may eventually work their symbolism deeply into ADF's polytheology and self-definitions, thus becoming traditions, but that's likely to take a decade or two. Only the Mother Grove can declare Druidic laws and policies for the members of ADF as a whole. Local groves can evolve local policies, traditions and customs, in fact they almost always do- it's part of the process of creating a group consciousness. But violation of a local tradition (let alone custom) cannot entail the same problems as would the violation of an ADF-wide tradition. I want to make it clear that all this talk of rules is not meant to restrict anyone's freedom. On the contrary, it's to explain that there is a lot more freedom in our system than many folks seem to believe. As the rest of this essay will show, we have only a few rules that could be considered laws and policies. Everything else is tradition or custom, which the members are free to experiment with to their hearts' content, within the overall organic structure of ADF. If some members really dislike any specific law or tradition, they are always free to complain about it and try to get the Mother Grove to change it. Failing that, they can always vote with their feet by starting or switching to some other group with laws, policies, traditions, and customs they can agree with. Let me note for the inevitable outraged outside observers: just as non-Wiccans cannot be bound by 'Craft Law', nonmembers of ADF are not bound by ADF's policies, traditions, or customs - nor do they have the right to pressure ADF to make changes-- but they are bound by ADF's laws when attending ADF events. Here are some specific examples of the different categories, based on things we've already published and a few extra thoughts as I was typing this essay. Laws of ADF Human sacrifice is absolutely forbidden under all circumstances. Period. The specific polytheological term for this is "homicide". If anyone (Macha forbid!) were to commit such a crime, he/she would be turned immediately over to the police, before being expelled (if a member). The commission of other felony crimes-with-victims (murder, rape, arson, spouse abuse, torturing animals, etc.) is also forbidden and would reap appropriately similar consequences. Prisoners who are incarcerated because of having been convicted of committing such comes, and who want to be members of ADF, are required to renounce such behavior and are on lifetime probation as far as ADF is concerned. Discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, language, gender, disability, affectional/sexual preferences or creed is forbidden in all ADF activities (save ordinations, where membership in an inimical creed may be taken to be grounds for refusal). Swastikas or other symbols now associated with racist movements and organizations, regardless of their historical origins, may not be used in ADF activities, whether public or private. Members of ADF may not wear white robes with pointed hoods that completely hide their faces. Membership in any racial supremacist organization or movement will be grounds for expulsion. Illegal drugs may not be used in official ADF ceremonies. Alcohol, tobacco, and other dangerous drugs may not be distributed to minors (except that a minor may sip from a consecrated chalice containing an alcoholic beverage). People under the influence of any mind altering substance, who disrupt a ritual and/or endanger members at any public or private ADF event, may be removed from the scene forcibly and suspended or banned from future attendance. Policies of ADF An "official ADF ceremony" is one that is either public or semi-public, i.e., open to participation by well-behaved visitors. Provisionally chartered groves are allowed three closed High Day liturgies before their first open one, and these will be considered "official" as far as fulfilling their grove activity requirements is concerned. Ordinations to the clergy may have private sections but must include one or more public or semipublic parts, including the ending, in order to be official ordinations. Initiations into special interest groups (healing circles, bardic orders, lunar magical groups, etc.) may be limited to the members thereof but are not official ADF ceremonies. Animal sacrifice is forbidden in all official ADF ceremonies. If the members of a grove want to have a pig-roast, for example, they should thank the spirit of the animal before eating, but they may not make its slaughter (which must be quick, done by a professional, and as humane as possible) a part of an official ADF ceremony. This is just as well, since it is very difficult to get bloodstains out of white robes! Individuals and special interest groups may do self-bleeding rites for healing purposes, establishing blood-siblinghood, etc., provided that only symbolic drops are spilled, but may not do these as a part of an official ADF ceremony. AIDS testing is highly advised before doing any rituals where two or more people may come in contact with each other's blood. Nepotism is severely frowned upon. Erotic or financial favors may not be offered nor requested in connection with any official ADF activities, including de granting of any rank or position of leadership. Individual members of the Mother Grove may discuss, but not vote upon, leadership candidates with whom they may have a significant personal relationship. The requirements for attaining and keeping official status as a chartered grove listed in The Grove Organizers' Handbook, including the Good Neighbor Policy, the obtaining of a F.E.I.N., etc., are all significant policies, since every chartered grove is legally and socially a "branch church" of our religious corporation. Malfeasance or nonfeasance by grove officers reflects badly on ADF as a whole, especially in the eyes of a hostile mainstream culture. Main Traditions of ADF Our Logo and the Druid Sigil. Our "Standard Liturgical Outline", as printed in various ADF publications, without the addition of Wiccan, Christian, or other non- Druidic steps. While this outline will continue to evolve as time goes by, sticking to it is critical to maintaining a common ceremonial "vocabulary", which in turn enables members to move from town to town and still understand what's happening in any ADF public ritual. Our basic polytheology as outlined in "What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?" This will also grow as time goes by. Our emphasis on ADF being polytheistic rather than duo- or monotheistic, as well as being inclusionary, open and public. Our overall system of Circles and Tracks published in The ADF Study Manual and the handful of absolute requirements for admission to the clergy (must be Pagan, must get rid of addictions, etc.). These too will evolve. Our calendar of Major and Minor High Days, along with our method for calculating their occurrence, as published in The ADF Members' Guide. Our commitment to making Neopaganism a part of the western religious and cultural mainstream. Our commitment to focusing our attention on the Paleopagan Indo-European peoples and their deities, while still honoring others. Our commitment to excellence in scholarship, art, liturgy, and personal spiritual growth. Our commitment to balancing the exoteric obligations of public Druidism, including ecological, charitable, liturgical, and educational service to out communities and our plant, with the esoteric work of mystical development and spiritual growth through Druidry. Our support of friendly debate and artistic competition, diversity in Druidic beliefs and practices, and mutual assistance with other legitimate Druidic organizations. Our opposition to fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation on the part of writers, teachers, and other authority figures in the Druidic, New Age, and Pagan communities. Our willingness to use the best that science and technology have to offer us as tools to accomplish our goals and as metaphors to expand our philosophical horizons. Minor Traditions of ADF Specific details of the Druidic liturgy, such as passing cups, using whiskey as the waters-of-life, deities associated with specific High Days, the use of liturgical languages, etc. Specific polytheological opinions about particular issues. These are slowly coalescing as the members think about and discuss them with each other. Specific details of the ADF Study Program, such as what requirements to use for each Track and Circle, testing procedures, etc. These are also still in the process of being developed and will rake several years to solidify. Specific use of local nature spirits and local non-Indo-European deities as minor additions to ADF Liturgies. Specific decisions to be made by the members of different groves about their preferences in such areas as ethnic focus, public works projects, special interest groups within each grove, etc. Groves and SIGs having their own publications, which they distribute to other groves and SIGs. Groves collecting dues from local members, using part of the monies collected to renew memberships automatically every year, and using the rest for grove expenses. Customs of ADF The wearing of white clothing, especially during ritual. The all night vigil as part of self-dedications and initiations. The use of the Druid Sigil or ADF Logo in or on jewelry, T-shirts, banners, etc. Regional ADF gatherings open to members of other Druidic and Druid-friendly groups. Local groves "adopting" new protogroves nearby and helping them to grow to full grove status. Conclusions These are my thoughts so far. I would enjoy seeing reactions to this essay from members, preferably in the pages of The Druids' Progress -- and don't forget the First Druidic Dogma!
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ToddCovert's picture
While I've never personally been involved in a so-called "12 Step" program of recovery, I've always felt that there are valuable life lessons to be found within the steps. For leaders of groups like ADF Groves and Protogroves, the fourth step can be extremely valuable to undertake:"We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."Notice that there is no counsel to catalog the moral failings of others. Notice, too, that there is no limitation to listing only one's moral shortcomings and ignoring one's strengths. But the exercise of examining one's own accountability for the situation one finds oneself in can be tremendously important for a leader, especially when faced with the difficult task of considering disciplinary action against a member.One of the biggest factors in contributing to conflict within a Grove...and, in my experience, most generally neglected...is the leader's own contributions to the antagonistic behavior. The majority of the time, antagonists are antagonists and are going to disrupt any group they are in. However, sometimes, unfortunately, defensiveness or just simple misplaced pride on the part of a leader can create frustration and division. A good leader—in my opinion and in my experience—needs to do the very difficult work of first asking him or herself (and other trusted members, if possible) what she or he might be contributing to the situation.It can be very easy to decide, especially in a small group, that you have an irrational malcontent on your hands...because...see?...no one else is complaining...when what you actually have is one candid person and five people who also have issues with your leadership style but don't want to hurt your feelings (because your founded the group/do most of the work/contribute so much money/etc./etc.). The unreflective leader will not be capable of distinguishing between a malcontent and a passionate critic who may actually be making points that need to be heard.None of that is hypothetical: I've seen it in action, including in ADF. And why shouldn't it happen? Particularly because ADF does not offer systematic training to prospective leaders, it is very important that Grove or Protogrove leaders take real responsibility to check in with themselves—in a fearless and truly searching manner—as well as with other members and be willing to take constructive criticism in an open and non-defensive manner. That is often very difficult for the sorts of individuals drawn to leadership...it takes a lot of self-discipline and generally an ability to suppress exactly the sort of confident ego a leader needs to have.The following are some suggestions drawn from personal experience of some things leaders might check in with themselves from time-to-time, especially before passing judgment on a "disruptive member":What purpose does leadership serve in my life? What do I think "leadership" means generally? Have I thought about that? Why did I found the group (or seek my office)? Do I crave attention? Do I strive to put the needs of the group (as I see them and as expressed in founding documents) ahead of my needs when I feel like they are in conflict? Do I feel I'm in the office because no one else would take it on? Do I feel "miscast" in the office at all?What skills do I feel I bring to leadership? What makes me consider myself a leader? If asked...say in an interview with the media...what evidence from education or professional experience would I cite to document those skills? What skills do I feel I lack? What have I done to work on acquiring those lacking skills? Have I asked any trusted members for honest, uncensored, feedback on my leadership abilities and style? Do I feel anyone can be a leader? If so, what has led me to think that?How do I lead? How do I recognize when consensus is forming? Am I capable of forging compromise? Do I enjoy forging compromise? Do I dictate? Do I vacillate? Do I pontificate? Do I have a hard time keeping a meeting orderly? Do I feel like meetings become too high-spirited and I can't be heard? Do meetings run longer than I'd like them to? Do I provide an agenda for meetings? Do I follow an agenda for meetings? Am I reluctant to say, "We need to move on"? If some members don't want to move on in a meeting, how do I handle that (or imagine I would handle that)? Do events begin on time? How do I provide notice of events? Has anyone ever complained that s/he wasn't informed of something?If my group isn't growing at all, what reasons might there be? Have we settled into being a clique that doesn't welcome newcomers well? If I hug members in a public setting, does that extend to only some members? Do I identify a member in the group as my "best friend" to others? Do I play favorites? Do I make equal time for all who approach me about membership or at least have a system so that all who approach can be directed to the same member or group of members for answers?Do I make an effort to identify potential problem individuals before they enter membership? What do I do when I encounter a person who makes me ill at ease who wants membership? Does the group have any filters in place? Can I get along with people whose personality or lifestyle choices make me uncomfortable? How do I tend to deal with those sorts of individuals in social settings? Do I do the same things in the Grove/Protogrove? Should I do the same things in the Grove/Protogrove?If my group is growing rapidly, do I have a plan for responding to growth? What are the core principles I expect all members to affirm? When was the last time I actually explained them to someone? How do I articulate those to all newcomers? (Do I articulate them to all newcomers?) Is there a fair and objective system in place for newcomers to advance in rank...if there is rank in the group? If there isn't a formal advancement or training system, on what basis do I decide whom I ask for advice and whom I don't among the members? Do I just work with elected officers of the group or is there an informal "inner circle"? If challenged by a member saying the group had an "inner circle" or "ruling faction" that seemed closed to newcomers, how would I respond?How are decisions made in the group? How many decisions have I made in the last month without asking for consent from any other officer or member? The last year? If asked how the decision-making process was arrived at, what source would I identify? Another group's bylaws? Intuition? Formal leadership training? Experience in another group? If experience in another group: Why do I believe that group's structure or culture lines up with the culture and needs of my current group? Am I trying to force the other members into a mold into which they don't really fit? Am I honestly following the example(s) of a role model in building structure for the group or am I trying to be someone I'm not?Do I criticize others publicly? To what ends have I criticized others in the group publicly? Have I been criticized publicly? How did that feel? Was I able to experience hurt feelings without rejecting the content of the criticism out-of-hand? Have I ever said to a fellow member, "Thank you, I didn't know I was doing that"? Have I ever shouted at a fellow member? Was I embarrassed afterwards? Did I apologize? Or do I still feel it was justified? Do I feel they owed me an apology for prompting my anger?Do I feel unappreciated? If so, why? Who have I spoken to about that feeling? Do I feel I'm getting more criticism as a leader than I thought I would when I founded the group/accepted the office?Do I delegate enough work? Am I playing martyr by hanging onto enough work for the group that I can always appear overworked? Do I ever justify failing to follow through on a promise to the group or meet a deadline by saying "I had too many other things on my plate?" Was I being sincere if I said that? Why do I allow myself to have so much on my plate that things aren't done as well as I might like? As others might like?Am I planning for the future? Do other members have a sense of what those plans might be? Do I engage in active long-range planning with the membership? If I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, would the group survive? Do I have information that would be lost if I left the group?Whom do I think the group serves? The members? A larger community? Both? How does my group define membership? Where exactly is that definition to be found?If someone who belongs to a minority subset of the group asks for accommodation for his/her practices or interests, how do I respond (or imagine I would respond)?How much does my group communicate by e-mail? How many of the interpersonal conflicts I see within the group originated in e-mail communication? Do I use e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face communication? Have I educated myself as to the shortcomings of e-mail? Am I facilitating as much face-to-face interaction as possible? Have I ever disciplined or reprimanded a member by e-mail? Have I done so on a list? Am I more comfortable...do I feel more articulate...in e-mail than face-to-face communication? Why?Do I ever feel intimidated when other members come up with ideas I wish I'd thought of? Do I ever nitpick those ideas? Have I ever rejected another's idea out-of-hand without explanation? Do I consider myself an "alpha" type? If so, how do I react when another "alpha" comes into the group (or any other setting where I'm in leadership)? Do I make conscious efforts to find productive roles for other assertive and/or creative personalities in the group? Do I ever marginalize such individuals? Has anyone ever told me they'd like more to do in the group? How did I respond?I've had to ask myself virtually all of the above questions during my tenure as first Grove Organizer and then Senior Druid. Many of them I have had to ask repeatedly. Maybe we've been lucky, but in almost five years of existence and with well over fifty people having come through Grove membership during that time, we've had exactly one serious confrontation and have never had to discipline anyone (apart from one formal warning). I don't believe that is an accident—and I can honestly say I've seen us avoid problems other groups have fallen into through hard work and ongoing planning.I believe that some Protogroves in smaller communities have a higher likelihood of encountering disruptive members because there may be a limited number of visible Pagan groups in the area and it is a truism that Paganism has an attraction for marginalized personalities. (This is what I call the lure of the "archetype of the empowered outsider" and it is endemic...and can be both valuable and toxic...in Neopaganism.) Also there is a greater likelihood of needing to accommodate to various interests in the group (cultural or otherwise) in places where Pagans are thin on the ground. But I've seen groups in major metropolitan areas with plenty of choices of paths run into problems with disgruntled members, so I think it's important to resist the temptation to say that it is a given that we will be beset with antagonists for particular reasons...and, more importantly, in my opinion, to assume too readily the way to deal with antagonists is automatically to show them the door.It is critically important to do very serious self-reflection...and often reflection within the "core" membership of the group...before asking someone to leave what they have identified as their spiritual fellowship. Once you are clear about your own contributions to a conflict, if you still feel someone needs to be asked to leave, it is a much healthier place to be and you will have more resolve to carry through on the action. A leader should never be afraid to confront a truly disruptive individual who threatens the well being of the group and coming from a place of clarity as to one's own place in the conflict is an important step in facilitating this.
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Member-416's picture
There is no one right or wrong way to develop a Grove. There are probably things that work better in one part of the country than in another, and things that suit one Grove Organizer better than another. This article reviews some of the things that worked well for Shining Lakes Grove, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.Rev. John "Fox" Adelmann and I founded Shining Lakes Protogrove in March of 1994. Fox always wanted to lead a neopagan group, and his move to liberal Ann Arbor helped to crystalize his dream. We started by choosing a name that had local significance (although we didn't realize what the acronym would be until later!), and performed several ADF-style rituals on our own or with friends to become familiar with the cosmology. Very shortly after that, as a result of my visibility on alt.pagan, a pagan at my office approached me and we convinced him to join ADF, and become our third member. In May of 94 we were granted our provisional Grove charter.One of the first things we did was write by-laws. These were modeled on Stone Creed Grove's by-laws. In the interest of accessibility, all events were free, with the exception our favorite activity -- hottubbing! We raise money using raffles. There were some commitments we made right from the start, and we have kept those commitments no matter how hard it was at times. We performed an advertised public ritual at each of the eight high days. If we advertised an event, we showed up to it, even if we were the only ones (and this happened several times in the beginning).We were open about our path both within the pagan community and outside it (although we did use spirit names and a P. O. Box address to start with, but very shortly thereafter we did not keep either our names or address secret). We promoted our events in pagan and non-pagan venues, believing that we should draw from both communities. We made a very strong and lasting commitment to fostering open and honest communication within the Grove, along with an awareness of group dynamics. We hold regular workshops to teach grove members these techniques, and hold people responsible for using them. Finally, we had a broad vision of an established church, serving our people and acting as a focus for our community for many years to come. As a corollary, we specifically decided to be open to all who were interested.There are no initiation requirements (other than the yearly $13 membership fee), and we committed to working with all who showed interest. That said, though, we did focus on a somewhat older audience, and one interested in intellectual pursuits. This was not initially deliberate - those are the sort of people Fox and I are, and so we naturally attracted more of the same. It worked very well, though, as this tended to be a more stable segment of the community in this college town. One of our challenges was to help people feel part of a group, and for this we created grove necklaces. Each person who joins receives a necklace that has beads added to it with every passing year, and every additional activity or post the person holds. The necklaces have been very successful, with people regularly wearing them in public, and showing off their beads.Some of our subsequent actions also helped our continued development. From the very beginning, we published a calendar sheet listing our events. This calendar was produced and mailed free to anyone who signed up on our mailing list (circulation averages 200). It also included listings of other pagan-friendly events in the area, as a service to other local groups, which fostered goodwill in the community. We also publish a quarterly journal which features articles and artwork from our members. The journal is free to members, and $5/year to non-members.We conduct regular 'Grove Intensives', which are members-only sessions dedicated to open communication and resolution of issues. As a result of one of these sessions, Fox realized that we were concentrating too heavily on secular matters, and were neglecting the spiritual growth of the group. The result was the creation of An Bruane, a spirituality group dedicated to exploring, defining and deepening our Grove's cosmology. It has been through a couple of incarnations, and has contributed greatly to the spirituality of the grove.There were some other elements that I think served us particularly well. Fox has an incredible store of energy, and is truly and deeply committed to the welfare of the Grove. This means that he often puts the needs of the grove and its members ahead of his own, and always makes time for members of the community.He sees himself in the role of pastor, or minister, and acts accordingly, offering counseling services, performing handfastings, weddings and sainings, coming to people's aid in times of trouble, and serving as a liaison with other religious organizations in our area. His level of commitment and his enthusiasm are fundamental to the success of the group, and are contagious to the rest of us. His management style has also helped keep the group stable. He provides strong leadership, encouraging others to take on positions of responsibility as he comes to believe that they understand his vision for the future. This approach has created a unified and consistent leadership council that fully supports him and his efforts.Shining Lakes Grove has come a long way in the two years since our inception. With 48+ ADF members and an additional 30 local members, we are larger than many Christian congregations. We have weathered our formation, and continue to change. We have many places to go from here. With continued growth will come the challenge of remaining responsive to individual members while serving the community as a whole with all its many needs. With the continued dedication and enthusiasm of our members, we hope to emerge stronger and ever more committed to our path.
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This article is about chronically disruptive people in Neopagan groups and what we can do about them. We'll examine who these people are and why we seem to attract so many of them and talk about some of the common types of troublesome people. Finally, we'll explore a simple yet effective strategy for dealing with the problem.As Senior Druid of Red Oak Grove, ADF, I have been leading a Neopagan group for almost 7 years and have had to deal with at least 9 individuals who were disruptive to the point where they became a major problem. All eventually left the Grove, but some of them caused serious problems for years before they left. I've also talked to the Senior Druids of many other Groves and found out how they handled their problem members. In addition, I have been on the Mother Grove of ADF (its international Board of Directors) several different times, and we have had to deal with disruptive members on an organizational level. I've also been the leader of several non-pagan groups and been teaching leadership skills for the past 11 years.All of this experience has given me some insights into this problem that I'd like to share with others. Hopefully, other groups can learn from all the mistakes we've made and the result will be more Neopagan groups that grow, blossom and bear fruit.AcknowledgmentI am indebted to the book Antagonists in the Church by Kenneth C. Haugk for getting me to think about this problem and its potential solutions. Although written by a Pastor expressly for Christian congregations, it's a good book and ought to be studied by any Neopagan group leader. It does an excellent job of exploring why certain people behave antagonistically and gives some excellent general advice on how to deal with them in the early stages of their discovery, but I don't think he ever gets specific enough about what to ultimately do about them. In this article, I try to explore the problem in light of our own unique situation and take his advice to its next logical step.What do we want?You probably belong to a small Neopagan group. You most likely joined this group, or started it yourself, because you wanted to worship the Old Gods in your own way and you want company. For most of us, it's a lot easier and more fun to do this when you have a group of friends and supporters to help. You can share the roles and speaking parts in ritual, and the magic seems so much stronger. You also probably like the social interaction of a group. There is friendship, opportunities to learn from people who are knowledgeable in areas you are not, and there may even be romantic possibilities. You can share jobs, like cooking and cleaning up, and there will be people to help you put your tent up when it's getting dark. And you can share resources, like books and ritual tools and camping gear.When you join or start a group, you hope that everyone will be friendly and open and nice. While you may love the diversity and excitement of associating with many different kinds of people, you don't want them to be too different. While it may be interesting to talk openly with someone who, for example, has a sexual lifestyle that is completely different from yours, you expect them to follow the same rules of behavior that you do: to take turns speaking, to listen attentively, and not be too offensive or rude, etc.Many times, when a group first forms, everything seems to work out fine. You get all of the above benefits and then some. And as the group gets bigger many of these positive aspects blossom even more, and you have more opportunities, more resources, and more support than ever before. It's great!But sooner or later, the group has a problem.What's the problem?All too often a small Neopagan group begins to notice that one member, or a small group of members, are repeatedly causing problems. They might be arguing more than most people, or raising their voice a lot more than average, or disrupting the flow of meetings or rituals in some way. They may be making demands about changes they want to make in the rules or Bylaws of the group. Or the problem may be with their interpersonal relationships with other members of the group. There may be sexual factors involved, or financial problems, or erratic behaviors, or an inappropriate number of personal favors that are asked for. Frequently, there's a combination of several of the above problems.When this disruptive behavior is first noticed, the other members of the group will begin talking about it and how it is affecting them. Chances are it will be ignored for quite a while—maybe months, maybe even years. While many people will agree that "something should be done" to change the behavior, there probably won't be a consensus of what that "something" should be. Most people will agree that any steps they take to try to correct the problem will only have a slim chance of being successful but will almost certainly be uncomfortable, so they won't be anxious to take them.Many people will hope that the problem just goes away. Maybe the person will change on their own. Maybe they will get tired of acting like that. Maybe they will just quit the group and move on. "Let's just wait and see what happens. Maybe it will all work out."And sometimes that's exactly what happens. Sometimes people change drastically, on their own, for the better. It could happen. But it usually doesn't. And if the problem doesn't go away, it will probably get worse.Perhaps a few hints are dropped. Perhaps a go-between has a few words with the troublemaker, asking them to be more "reasonable". That might work; but even if it does, the change usually doesn't last. The leader of the group will get involved at some point. They may try official means to stem the disruption. Once that happens, the troublemaker will usually turn against the group's leader (if that hadn't already happened) and begin a concerted campaign to show everyone what a poor leader they have. It will become very personal.In all too many cases, the behavior just gets more outlandish, more noticeable, and more troublesome as time goes on. The severity of the behavior will increase and so will the frequency. There may be loud arguments in which the "good people" say some not-so-nice things and some things they shouldn't. There may be some vicious emails exchanged, full of accusations and defenses. Sometimes the content of these emails will become a new problem in itself. And sometimes that problem becomes even more important than the original problems were. A tremendous amount of time can be wasted in reading and writing emails which do little more than attack or defend the contents of other emails.Other people in the group will find themselves talking about the troublemaker a great deal of the time. It becomes a favorite topic, something that almost everyone can agree on. Sometimes people may even enjoy talking about the problem person. They'll make jokes at his or her expense, behind their back. People will roll their eyes when the person speaks or indulges in their objectionable behavior. They will catalog the many instances of the bad behavior and recite them to each other, back and forth, many times, memorizing the details and fixing the chronology in their minds. This division of "us good folks" vs "that problem person" can actually become a focus for bonding—bringing other people closer together in a mutual cause. Bonding is good. But there are healthier ways to do it.Very often innocent people that had nothing to do with the original problem will quit the group or just quietly fade away. New guests may show up once or twice and never be heard from again. It will probably be suspected that the troublemaker is the reason for this, but it may be hard to prove.If the problem gets bad enough, eventually something will have to snap. People will form clear sides and make a stand. Someone may say something like, "Either she goes, or I go!" The troublemaker may quit or be forced out of the group through social pressure or by established group procedure. Because almost everyone has a few friends, very frequently other members of the group will also leave at the same time the troublemaker does. If the group survives the split, it will usually be weaker and probably quite bitter about all the aggravation that it went through. Many groups completely dissolve over a situation like this. Other groups stay together but grumble about each other for years after the split. Their ongoing mutual hatred can hang over the entire Neopagan community in that area, influencing decisions about who to invite to what events.It's a very nasty scenario, and unfortunately it has occurred over and over again. Will we ever learn?Why us?All churches attract a share of "odd" people. Even the most conservative Christian church is likely to contain a few individuals that don't integrate well with the others. It's to be expected. Most people desperately want to associate with other people in groups for mutual support and social interaction. The vast spectrum of human personalities covers a very wide range, from saints to sociopaths. While most of us would be called "normal" (by definition), there are plenty of people on the fringes, and many of them want to belong to clubs and churches as much as we do. So in any group, there are bound to be a few that fall far enough outside the norm that they cause problems for the others.A Neopagan group is probably much more likely to attract unusual people than the local Presbyterian congregation. The fact that we are a minority religion with beliefs and practices far outside the mainstream makes it more likely that we will attract people who live far from the mainstream in other areas. Neopagans are usually very open to alternative lifestyles and sexual behaviors. Count how many people have tattoos and body piercings in your Neopagan group. And how many are either gay or bisexual or engage in alternative practices? Compare that percentage to other groups you have been in, and you'll probably see a big difference. Perhaps there is some correlation between people who choose a Neopagan lifestyle and the tendency to exhibit other unusual behaviors. Or perhaps the range of Neopagan behaviors is wider than it is for non-pagans.Because Neopagan groups are usually much smaller than the average small-town church, the presence of even a single disruptive member will cause far more damage and commotion than it would in another group. In a group of 150 Methodists, a single person complaining about the service is far outnumbered by all the people who liked it. If the dissatisfied person finds one or two friends to agree, they are still in a very small minority. But in a group of 10 Neopagans, that person would make a considerable influence and, if joined by one or two others, would seem to be a much larger percentage of the group than they really are.Neopagan groups are so small, in fact, that many of them are constantly on the verge of being too small to function. We tend to have fairly complicated rituals that are normally conducted by 6 to 12 different people, all working together. Frequently, every member of the group has a part in the ritual. If several people all seem upset at the same time, maybe we bend over backwards to keep them happy, rather than risk losing so many people that we feel we need. So we tolerate outrageous behavior and let it grow worse.And because Neopagan groups are composed of many people who live outside the mainstream in other areas of their life, we are probably conditioned to be extra tolerant of strange behavior. So we might not notice a problem person as quickly as the First Baptist Church would, and once we do notice the problem behavior, we may be more hesitant to object to it because we aren't so "normal" ourselves. Our standards for "normalcy" are far more flexible than those some people.What can we do about it?We want to play in a garden of beautiful flowers. We want to be supported by their company while we enjoy their diversity and be enriched by their abundance. But every so often, we find a nasty weed right in the middle. No amount of watering and fertilizing is going to turn it into a rose or a lily. It just gets bigger and tougher, and usually it spreads. Where there was one weed, now there are two or three. They are taking over the garden. There's only one thing we can do: we have to pull out the weeds and throw them out of our garden.Do we have the right to weed our garden?Of course we do! In America, we talk about Democracy so often that we sometimes get mixed up about what it means. It means that every sound-minded person over 21 years of age has the right to cast a vote and be represented in the Government, but it does not mean that we have to let a few individuals spoil things for the rest of us. The Bill of Rights grants us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to associate with whom we want, when we want and to not associate with people we find objectionable.Although there are certain cases where a person cannot be excluded (you can't refuse to serve Spaniards in your restaurant, for example), we generally have the right to form groups of supporting individuals to accomplish common goals. We have the right to restrict membership to those people who are actually helping and to keep others out.On June 28, 2000, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had the right to bar homosexuals from membership because the scouts felt that the homesexual lifestyle was inconsistent with the BSA message. It doesn't matter what you think about that particular case, the important thing is that based on the right of associative expression, the Supreme Court has upheld a group's right to determine who its members are. It is unlawful to bar membership based on certain specified characteristics, such as race or gender, but the law does not require clubs to accept everyone who seeks admission to the group. Ironically, the same law is being used by the United Way to protect its right to withdraw financial support to the Boy Scouts because of the Boy Scouts' homophobic practices!But aren't we supposed to be making the group grow?Yes, that's probably a goal of your group. That makes it extra difficult to pull a weed and possibly lose some other members at the same time. But your focus must be on the long-term health and well-being of the whole group, not just the short-term number of members.Remember, a noisy weed can cause other people to quit and scare off many potential members before the weed is pulled. The longer the weed is in the group, the more damage it can do. The faster it is pulled, the faster the group can recover and begin growing again. More than once I've noticed that as soon as a weed was pulled, a couple new members suddenly turned up to take their place.Who are these weeds?There are many, many kinds of weeds that can invade your garden. They have a wide variety of attributes and come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. The one thing that they all have in common is that they cause trouble. They draw an inordinate amount of attention to themselves in some way, and the rest of the group has to work extra hard to deal with the results.Here are 15 varieties that I've managed to identify, so far:The Know-It-AllThe Sexual PredatorThe Amateur LawyerThe Evidence CollectorThe Needy PersonThe Generous GiverThe Vocal MinorityThe WhinerThe ShouterThe QuestionerThe LatecomerThe Alcohol ProblemThe OutlawThe NutThe AntagonistWe'll probably never finish compiling the definitive list of all the different types of weed, because new varieties are bound to show up from time to time. But by studying some of the common types of weed, we'll learn to recognize them quickly; and we'll be able to deal with them fast, before they spread too far or get too deeply rooted.Some varieties require special handling, too, so we need to understand them and know what to do when we encounter each one. And as new varieties appear, we need to be alert for new techniques and new strategies for dealing with them.Please understand that the use of the term "weed" is only meant as shorthand to identify:a person who repeatedly exhibits one or more objectionable behaviors to a particularly annoying degree within the context of a specific group in a given set of circumstances and doesn't seem capable or willing to change those objectionable behaviors.I don't really believe that there is any such person as a "Know-It-All" or a "Whiner", and I don't believe these people are "weeds" within the context of general humanity. They are only "weeds" in the very limited context of a specific Neopagan group, which is trying to attract and keep a number of similar individuals who get along together. In reality, each person is a unique and priceless individual, made by the Gods and worthy of being loved. But some of those people are so annoying that it's best to stay away from them.Keep in mind that most weeds exhibit behaviors from more than one of these "types". Most importantly, remember that just because a person exhibits some of the following behaviors, that doesn't mean that the person is so bad that they should automatically be thrown out of your group. Talk to them first. Give them another chance. None of us are perfect.Here's a few of the types that I've noticed:The Know-It-AllThis annoying weed frequently contradicts others who are speaking, no matter how little they know about the topic at hand. No matter what the subject, this pesky weed always seems to have contrary information and proof that some other point of view is correct. They will interrupt a speaker with a phrase such as, "No, actually...." or "The real truth about that is..." and then launch into a long explanation that may or may not make any sense or have any relevance.The Sexual PredatorThere is nothing wrong with joining a group because you are looking for friendship, company, or even a romantic relationship. In fact, Church is one of the very best places to go looking for a potential spouse, because the two of you are more likely to share similar values and beliefs. That common bond will help you in many aspects of life, especially if you plan to raise children together. But some people seem to join a Neopagan group because they think that it is an easier way to get sexual gratification. While it might be true that some devout Neopagans happen to have a more casual attitude toward sexual encounters, the weeds are there for sex first, religion second. They may begin flirting through email, before they even meet you; or they may try to strike up a romantic relationship the first time they visit your group. If they are rebuffed, they may very quickly move on to someone else. I've seen people like this try to form sexual bonds with three different people during three consecutive events.The Amateur LawyerSome people have a love affair with rules and laws and cannot resist interpreting them in interesting ways. Beware of anyone who asks to see the Bylaws very early in their involvement with the group. (Most people are with a group for years and have no desire to ever see them.) The Lawyer will scour the Bylaws and find conflicting passages or instances where someone has broken the letter of the law, even while following the spirit of the law.The Evidence CollectorWeeds love to gather evidence. Yet just collecting evidence is not proof of a weed, because the good leader may need to collect evidence against the weed to get them out. But weeds seem to start collecting evidence before anyone knows there's even a problem. They will often tip their hand by quoting back emails to show that they are "right".The Needy PersonWe all enjoy doing favors for each other. It feels good to help someone out. And it feels good when a friend does something nice for you, in return. But there is a subtle balance that goes on in a true friendship; and if it starts to tip over too far in one direction, both people will feel it, and someone will take steps to put things back in balance. The needy weed loves that imbalance—as long as it's tipping in her favor. She'll request favors continually—small ones as well as big ones. There may be very compelling reasons why this favor needs to be done. It may be a matter of a child's health or the family's income or some such important issue. But the requests will keep on coming, and they may get larger and larger.The Generous Giver (with strings attached)The Giver uses the opposite strategy from the needy weed—she gives and gives and gives, but always with some string attached. The string may be just emotional support, or public attention, or expression of gratitude. The gifts may be inappropriate. They may be too expensive, or too personal, or given at inappropriate times. They will usually require a lot of attention to acknowledge them.The Vocal Minority—MisplacedThis will frequently be a person following a slightly (or vastly) different path from the rest of the group. They might be Norse in a Celtic group or a Wiccan in a Grove of Druids, or a Reconstructionist with a bunch of eclectics. Whatever they are, they will feel oppressed and under-represented. They will loudly lobby for more equal time. While there is certainly a lot of value in accommodating all of our beliefs or preferences to some extent, it quickly becomes obvious when a small minority makes unreasonable demands upon the majority in the interest of fairness.The WhinerThe Whiner seems to complain about everything: the dates and times you pick for rituals or meetings, the parts you assign to them and to others, the food, the weather, everything. You can waste a lot of time trying to logically explain why a certain date was chosen or a certain course of action was undertaken, but that won't satisfy the Whiner. They don't really want the answer, they want the attention.The ShouterThis weed makes lots of noise. He gets upset easily and yells and screams at other people at high volume. All other conversation in the area will usually have to stop as people sit around uncomfortably and listen to the ranting.The QuestionerIt's great when people ask questions about the ritual and your beliefs and the mythology you use. But when someone seems to ask too many questions, or asks the same questions over and over, beware! They may be just manipulating your time and attention, and they can't think of any better way than to repeat a question you've already answered.The LatecomerThis late-blooming weed can be particularly annoying if you like to start things on time. They will repeatedly arrive late, or find something else they have to do when all the rest of the group is getting ready to begin a ritual, a business meeting, or some other event. They will beg you to wait for them, and you'll be surprised by how long it takes them to use the restroom, or to change their clothes.The Alcohol ProblemThis might be a person who drinks every day, or it may be a person who only drinks a few times a year—but those times seem to be at your events and always seem to cause problems with your group. Conversely, this might be a person who is very opposed to alcohol and loudly complains when alcohol is present. Most people are tolerant about the moderate use of alcohol, and most people use alcohol moderately. When someone falls too far outside the norm and causes problems—whether they are falling down drunk or screaming at someone for drinking—they are disruptive. Most of this applies to other intoxicants, as well.The OutlawMany people break a law from time to time—maybe by driving too fast or not reporting every dollar of their income. I think we can expect that and live with it. But when someone has legal problems that seriously interfere with the normal functioning of the group, they become a disruption. Some people seem to have recurring legal problems, or their legal problems are just more severe than the group can stand. For example, if a member of my group were a rapist, I'd want him gone.The NutI think it's very important that we don't pretend to have medical expertise that we don't really have. To do otherwise is to invite legal trouble, or self-delusion at the very least. But at the same time, it's obvious that some people have behavior that is so far outside the norm that they are uncomfortable to be around. They might be too happy, or too sad, or too scared, or too brave. They might see or hear things that no one else does, or they might come to conclusions that no one else can understand. Just exhibiting one or two of these traits to a mild degree doesn't usually make a person a problem—but if someone exhibits them to an extreme, or too often, they can be impossible to be around. This type of person is very perplexing because their thought processes are so hard to understand. In fact, they may be beyond comprehension. If you seriously think someone in your group is a danger to themselves or to others, I think you have an obligation to alert the authorities. But many nuts are not dangerous, just terribly annoying; and in those cases, you might just want to be rid of them.The AntagonistThis is a person who is hungry for power and influence and will use various methods to attain his goals. He is well described in Antagonists in the Church by Kenneth C. Haugk.What do they all have in common?Many of them seem to want attention and power over the group. Getting a greater-than-average share of attention and holding on to it are ways to control the group. If we are focused on the troublemaker, we can't be doing other things. Sometimes we can be pretty sure that they are acting very deliberately and with great cunning.Others seem to be oblivious to the trouble they cause, or seem to be victims themselves. I sometimes wonder if subconsciously they are very much aware of what they are doing But we have no way of knowing, do we?The only thing they all have in common is that they are causing trouble and problems for you and the others.How serious is the problem?Look, we all have problems. And we expect that we will have to deal with a certain amount of problems that come our way through others. Just because a given person causes a problem or two doesn't mean they aren't worth having in your group. But when someone has consistent or serious problems that interfere with the smooth functioning of the group, you have to ask yourself if they are worth the aggravation. Most people will be. But some people will be more trouble than they are worth. These are the ones that I am calling "weeds".How do I really know this is a weed?You don't. Despite your very best intentions and all the care you are taking, you might be making a mistake. So you don't pull a weed lightly.The very first thing you should do is make darn sure the person's complaints are not actually valid. Be open to the possibility that the root cause really lies elsewhere. Perhaps there is a problem with the leadership of the group, or a certain clique of members, or a particular policy. You should be especially cautious if you find the same sorts of complaints coming up repeatedly. Maybe you really have a problem with your own leadership style or something else within your group that you need to fix. Since most of us don't see our own shortcomings, it's a good idea to ask one or two trusted members of your group to give you some honest feedback on whether you might be contributing to this situation in ways you don't realize. Then listen to them carefully and without argument. You want to be on very firm footing before you cast the blame in another direction.Even if you are sure the problem stems from the person in question, you should still think about it carefully and pray about it and ask your Gods for guidance. You need to thoroughly explore other ways of dealing with the issue, preferably when it first appears and hopefully hasn't grown to be a major problem. You might offer the person some pastoral counseling, if anyone in your group is qualified to give it. Or you might recommend that they get help from outside your group.If none of the above works, and you are convinced that the group would be better off without the weed, you consult with the other officers in your group, or the other members, and you act only when you are reasonably sure that you're pulling a weed—not a strange flower.Ultimately, you accept the responsibility that you might be making a mistake, but that you are doing it with good intentions and very careful thought. You are doing the best you can. You acknowledge that you may not be perfect, but you have to act. Then you just do it. It's not easy. But I believe it's one of the prices of leadership.So what do we do now?Once you are reasonably sure you've identified a weed, and the important decision makers have decided that it's got to go, you should pull it as soon as possible. You want to minimize contact between that person or their group and the rest of your group. Don't worry about legalities and rules—just send a short, polite letter to the individual or individuals, on behalf of the group, saying that they are no longer welcome in the group. Use the most euphemistic, generalized language you can. Resist the impulse to make your case and prove that you have the right to expel them. Anything you say at this point will most likely fall on deaf ears and only open you up to further questions and conversation.We made a lot of mistakes over the years and tried many different approaches. Here's an example of the kind of letter you might consider sending:Dear Weed,As we told you in January and again in March and May, you have repeatedly created a disturbance in our group by raising your voice in meetings and demanding equal time for the Hawaiian Gods you worship. When you told Mary that she was "a low-down, conniving snake" for voting against your pot luck supper idea, we felt that you were being mean-spirited and an obstruction to the joyful camaraderie of our little group. When you were late for ritual on August 3rd, after being warned about unnecessary tardiness on at least three or four occasions, you disrupted the energy of the whole group.Therefore, it is with deep regret that we must ask you to please resign from our group. If you refuse to resign, we shall be forced to banish you in accordance with Bylaws 5, 6, and 9.Do not write to any of our members; and if you show up at any more of our functions, we will be forced to contact the Grand Bishop of Eris to have your membership revoked. We might also be forced to call the police to have you removed.Sincerely, Joe Smith High Priest, Local Congregation, Church of ErisPS: We've all talked it over at great length, and we think you need professional counseling. As your friends, we strongly recommend that you seek the help of a competent psychiatric professional. If you get the help you need and can prove to us that you are significantly better, we might be willing to take you back.Sounds pretty reasonable, right? In fact, this is the worst possible letter you could write. I should know—I have personally tried all of the techniques within it, and they usually backfired on us. Here are some of the problems the letter has:1) As we told you in January and again in March and May... Too many details, and it sounds like you are collecting evidence. The weed can claim that he didn't get that email, or remembers the meeting differently. It's unlikely that you can prove that he received every email, and it's unlikely you recorded all the meetings. It becomes your word against his.2) ...you have repeatedly created a disturbance... That's subjective. The weed might find a member or two who disagrees with that conclusion.3) ...by raising your voice in meetings...etc. More details that are subjective and can be refuted.4) ...we must ask you to please resign from our group. This technique has worked for us a couple times, but what if they refuse? It prolongs the process and creates more pain.5) If you refuse to resign, we shall be forced to banish you in accordance with Bylaws 5, 6, and 9. Anytime you have to use specific Bylaws to justify your actions, you are opening yourself to those Bylaws (and all other Bylaws) being interpreted differently and possibly even have them being used against you.6) Do not write to any of our members... Don't tell them what to do. You have no authority. If you expect a barrage of hate email, warn your members and help them set up filters, it they want. Or ignore them. Or set up an auto-delete filter for all their email. But you might want to keep a copy of all email from them in a folder, just in case.7) ...and if you show up at any more of our functions, we will be forced... It doesn't hurt to have a couple of backup plans in mind, if things don't go the way you want, but you gain nothing by tipping your hand or making threats. And what you lose is the element of surprise, and you also risk their using the threat against you.8) ...to contact the Grand Bishop of Eris to have your membership revoked. If the person has been that much trouble, you should have already told the Grand Bishop about the problem, privately and confidentially. But you probably don't have the authority to have their membership revoked, so you're just being dramatic and unnecessarily confrontational.9) We might also be forced to call the police to have you removed. This is escalating the problem unnecessarily. Some sorts of people will take this as a personal challenge and show up, just to see if you'll follow through with your threats.10) Sincerely,...Joe Smith The more impersonal you can make the letter, the better. If you sign it with a single person's name, all of their anger will be focused on that person. It can easily become a personal battle, with name calling and accusations against the leader, if pointing out any flaws of the leader, whether real or imagined, would make the troublesome person somehow more acceptable to the group. Sure, the leader of the group probably wrote it, or maybe just approved it, but the recipient doesn't know that for certain. Their anger will be diluted by being diffused.11) We've all talked it over at great length... Sure you have. You'd be foolish not to. But to point this out to the person you've been talking about is overly rude and humiliating. You're just trying to ease your conscience by spreading the blame around to more people.12) ...we think you need professional counseling. I know how tempting it is to do this: on one side, you feel in your gut that no sane person could act like that, and you'd like to think that a mental health professional would agree with you. It would give you validation. On another side, you naturally feel bad about pushing a person out of the group, and this makes it seem like you are actually doing it partly to help them. But save your breath. They are not likely to take your advice; they will resent the suggestion and take it in the worst possible way. They might even think that you have overstepped your bounds and are practicing medicine without a license. (Which might be true, depending on exactly how you phrased your suggestion, what your position is, what your training is, and the laws in your area.) Just come to terms with the fact that you are kicking them out to make the group better. That's your job. Let someone else be their counselor. If you feel they are a danger to themselves or others, call the police. If you simply must tell them to seek counseling, for your own conscience, then have an individual member of your group (or several of them) do that on their own. And make sure that they make it perfectly clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the group—they are just expressing their own personal concerns and opinions to a "friend".13) ...If you get the help you need and can prove to us that you are significantly better, we might be willing to take you back. What, are you crazy?! That's the last thing you want to offer. You think that they are going to visit a therapist for a few months and run back to you with a note saying that they are nice now? Sure, it could happen, but don't count on it. Again, you're just trying to make yourself feel better. Make a clean break. If they actually do get their heads together and decide to come back to you (both are unlikely), then cautiously reevaluate them.Almost every point in the above letter is, at best, an opening for a weed to come back to you for clarification, rebuttal, and endless argument. And at worst, some of the above could be used against you as evidence to show that you are in some way unfit to be the leader. Some of it might possibly be used against you in court. Either way, you will just be dragging out the process and probably causing more pain.But there are no laws that say we have to like anyone. A much better approach is a very short and polite note that doesn't contain any specifics. Like this:Dear Weed,We've noticed that the interpersonal dynamics between you and some of the people in our group are not as smooth as we'd like. We've agreed that while you have many positive qualities that would be an asset to most groups like ours, in our specific case the overall balance would be disruptive.We wish you all the best in your future spiritual path.Sincerely, Local Congregation, Church of ErisYou might want to customize the above letter a bit to better fit the circumstances, but avoid the impulse to add any more detail than absolutely necessary. Notice that this letter doesn't accuse them of anything, doesn't mention any specific details that could be refuted, and doesn't make any sort of legal claim or give any internal justification. It just says that the way they act doesn't mesh with the group. It's short and simple.Don't we need to prove our case?No, that's the LAST thing you want to do! You are not "charging" the troublesome person with a crime, so they don't have to defend themselves. In fact, if you try to get rid of someone because they broke Bylaw 6.3, and according to Bylaw 8.5 you have the right to banish them, subject, of course, to Bylaw 9.2b, you'll probably regret it. Many troublesome people (or their friends) will delight in scrutinizing your Bylaws and finding loopholes, inconsistencies, different interpretations, etc. You'll end up arguing over the Bylaws even more than you argued over their initial obnoxious behavior! You're trying to END the problems, remember?So what you do is simply make it clear, in polite, general, non-threatening language, that your group doesn't care for the way they act and doesn't want them to be a part of the group. End of story. What are they going to do? Sue you to make you like them?That's awfully rude, isn't it?Maybe it's a little rude to tell someone you don't like them (or to be more PC, you don't like their behavior), but it's true. And they were being far more rude to you or you wouldn't be resorting to this. Yes, it's a little harsh, but it's quick and far less painful than any other method we've tried.Will that be the end of it?Yes, if you're really lucky. But lots of times, you'll hear more from them. If they send you a blistering email telling you what you can do with your %$#@! group and what a terrible leader you are, you got off easy. At the other end of the extreme are people who will bad-mouth you every chance they get, on every public list they can. You may have to defend yourself from some of these attacks and tell your side of the story. But I urge you to do so with the utmost restraint and brevity. Then ignore their counter-strike. If your group was right and they really are the problem, other people will see that, too. The weed will be known for what they are and will be shunned and banned by others. Everyone has had experience with this type of person, and they will sympathize with you. Have some faith in yourself and your group and in the good wishes of others in our community. It'll all blow over.A little preventive medicineIt might not hurt to put a clause in your Bylaws that makes it clear that you will not tolerate disruptive people at your events. You can also discuss the issue with the whole group and make a group decision that you will tell disruptive individuals that they are not welcome. It might have a preventive effect on some potentially troublesome people, and if not, at least they were warned.ConclusionThere are a good many troubled and troublesome people in the world, and Neopagan groups seem to attract more than our fair share of them. These folks are usually loud, obnoxious, and a constant nuisance to the majority of us that just want to enjoy a smooth-functioning community of like-minded individuals. We have the legal and moral right to form communities that nurture and support us. We have the right to choose our friends. When a particular individual is found to consistently disrupt the harmony of our group, or to cause more trouble than the group is willing to put up with, it is the group's right to exclude that individual from its presence.And as the leaders of Neopagan groups, we have certain additional duties and obligations: We must be observant of the actions of our members and guests, so we will notice disruptive behavior early, rather than late. We must listen carefully to the words of people in our groups that we trust, because they may be trying to tell us about a disruptive person, in a subtle way. We must try our best to be fair and open-minded so that we don't mislabel a person as disruptive, just because they happen to disagree with a certain policy or decision or don't get along with a certain individual. And finally, when we become convinced that a person is truly a "weed", we must act swiftly and surely to remove them from our garden.
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