Many Pagans choose to form study groups rather than covens. The word "coven" implies some degree of hierarchy -- in other words, there's someone in charge who probably has more knowledge than everyone else -- typically a High Priest or High Priestess. With a study group, everyone is on an equal playing field and can learn at the same pace. A study group is far more informal than a coven, and offers members a chance to learn about different traditions without making a major commitment to any of them. The following tips will help you in forming and facilitating a study group.
First, you'll need to decide how many people -- and who -- to include. Do you want have a group of friends already in mind who are interested in learning about Wicca or some other form of Paganism? Or are you planning on starting a group with new people you haven't met before? Regardless, you'll need to figure out how many people to have in your group. Typically, any number up to about seven or eight works well -- any more than that can become difficult to manage.
If you're going to lead a study group, some basic people skills are critical. If you don't have them, plan on developing them soon.
- You need to be able to manage discussions so that everyone has a chance to express their ideas.
- You'll need to be able to help resolve conflicts if they arrive -- don't be surprised if you end up as the group mediator.
- You'll need to be able to help the group set goals and make decisions as needed -- or make those decisions and set those goals for them.
- You'll need to be able to wrap things up when done, rather than letting people sit and linger for an additional two hours.
If you're going to seek out new people for your group, figure out how to find them. You could place an ad at your local Wiccan or Pagan shop, if you have one. Your local library or even your school (if you're a Pagan college student) might let you post a notice as well. Decide in advance whether or not your group will accept anyone who's interested, or if you're going to choose some members and reject others. If you're going to be picking people, you'll need to create some kind of application process. If you take anyone who wants to join, until all spots are filled, then you can maintain a "wait list" for people who want to join but didn't get in.
You'll need to figure out where to meet. If your group consists of people you already know, you might want to hold meetings at someone's home. You could even rotate among members' houses. If you're including new people in your group, you might prefer to get together in a public place. Coffee shops are a great place to do this -- as long as you buy coffee and other items, they're pretty great about letting you meet (don't be one of those groups that shows up, drinks a lot of free water, and hogs all the good tables without paying for anything). Bookstores and libraries are also good places to meet, especially if you're going to be discussing books, although you should be sure to get permission first. Decide when to meet -- usually once or twice a month is plenty.
Are you going to simply be discussing books, or holding Sabbat rites as well? If you're going to hold Sabbat celebrations, someone will have to be responsible for leading them. Is there anyone in the group who could do that, or will you take turns creating and leading rituals? If everyone in the group is new to Paganism, it may be best to start off as just a book discussion group, and add rituals later when everyone has more knowledge and experience. Another option is to take turns creating and leading rituals, so everyone gets a chance to learn by doing.
Once you've figured out who's going to be in the group and arranged a meeting place, have a kickoff meeting. Each person should be able to speak freely about what they hope to gain from the group, and what sorts of things they'd like to read. The best thing to do is take turns with each person selecting a book and then leading a discussion on it. For example, if at the first meeting Susan says she'd really like to read Drawing Down the Moon, then everyone reads it before the second meeting. At that meeting, Susan can lead the discussion on Drawing Down the Moon.
When books are discussed, make sure everyone gets their fair share of time to say what they think. If you have one person who tends to dominate the meeting, the person leading the discussion can say in a friendly way, "You know, I like hearing your opinions on this, Hawk. Do you mind if Della tells us what she thought of the book?" Some groups have a structured format for discussion topics, others have a more informal method where everyone just talks whenever they feel like. Decide which works best for your group.
Be sure to check out our lists of reading suggestions for a variety of different paths: The About Pagan/Wiccan Reading Lists.
Finally, make sure everyone's needs are being met. If there's someone who really really really wants to learn about feminist Wicca, and in ten meetings you haven't read a single book about feminist Wicca, that person's needs are not being met. On the other hand, if one person is choosing all the books to be read, you may need to intervene and give the other members a chance to make a selection.
The most important thing is that the group should be enjoyable for everyone. If someone feels like reading a book is a chore, or "homework," then maybe your group isn't the right one for them. Make sure everyone's having fun -- and if they're not, find out how to change that. Ultimately, you'll end up with an experience everyone can learn and grow from. If you're really lucky, you'll meet some people you like enough to form a coven with later on.
Rather than having people simply say about a book, "It was good" or "I hated it," come up with a list of questions. These could include things like "Why did you like this book?" or "What did you learn about the author?" or "How has this book affected your practice of Wicca?"
Scour used bookstores for multiple copies of the same title -- it can save everyone money in the long run.
Keep a list of books the group has read, and books that people WANT to read.