Some Advice to Group Leaders and Members
A great deal of time and energy goes into establishing, running, and maintaining an esoteric study group, regardless of its tradition or structure. For this reason it is important that the time, talent, and treasure poured into it bear fruit that is desirable to all who participate. For this reason, it is important to have a firm conviction in one's mind, as a group founder, leader, and member as the aims and purpose of the group, your role and that of others, and what is expected of you, and what you can expect from others. Ideally, this should be clearly stated before any instruction, ritual work, or initiations are performed. However, more often then not, people stumble into either starting a group and learn as they go, or find themselves invited into an existing group by one of its members, but little is known about the organization's leaders, members, teachings, or practices with this information only coming after one has affiliated. While a balance of privacy and openness is essential to all work – be it mundane or esoteric – the following guidelines will make it easier for everyone involved.
1. A group should be as easy to get out of as it is to get into.
You can have an open door or invitation-only policy, but it must be in writing. If you have an open door policy, members must know that their participation is semi-public knowledge. If you have an invitation only policy, you need to have established means of vetting new potential members.
2. “It is better to rent than to own.”
If you are meeting regularly at a private residence, then the member(s) whose dwelling is used becomes the de facto owner of the group. This is often the group's founder, but can also be at another member's house, apartment, or even place of business after hours. This is fine in the beginning, but if a group is to grow it needs to avoid being overly dependent on one or two people. Find a Unitarian-Univeralist Church, New Age bookstore, or other magical group from whom you can rent space for your meetings. This will also make it easier to have an open door policy – as strangers are not just showing up at someone's home – and provides access to possible new members. It is also a good way to vet potential members as well if one is working on an invitation-only policy. To this end, also get a Post Office Box for mail – yes, you will still get some – and a checking account that requires two or three signatures for checks to be drawn on the account.
3, “Many hands lighten the load.”
Every member is valuable, every member does something. Even in group of less than a dozen people it is important to have a president, secretary, and treasure. The secretary and treasure can be combined, but then a third office need to be added. If possible have the administrative duties be the concern of one member, and the teaching/ritualistic duties the concern of another. If space is rented then dues must be paid be each member in a timely manner. To this end, they should be paid annually or every six moths so that the groups knows what it needs to do to meet its obligations – not matter how large or small they may be. Give every member something to do and they will keep coming back.
4. “A Friend and Guide”
Assign a mentor to every new member who officially joins the group. This will give them someone to ask questions to, as well as prepare each member for leadership positions.
5. In for the Long Haul
Every group must have a vision; be clear about yours, keep it simple and attainable, and your group will last longer than you expect. Create a goal or set of goals that are within your reach and measurable (ie, a. to have 12 active members over a period of five years, b. to have 90% complete the four years of training, and c., to sponsor one sister-group after a period of seven years of continuous teaching and practice).
6. Stay on the Path
It is very common for oganizations regardless of their original purpose to experience “mission creep” as they grow. This means that they continue expand into related areas of activities until they experience overreach and collapse. They move so far from their first purpose that they loose sight of what their original mission. The purpose of esoteric groups is to teach, study, and practice esotericism. To this end, the discussion of religion and politics is often forbidden. While the apparent reason for this is simple, there is a second and more important reason – pride. It is very common among those who undertake “alternative'' paths, be it spiritual, medical, dietary, lifestyle, or political to see themselves as being superior and more enlightened than those who do not or who disagree with them. This pride quickly swells into a social arrogance with destroys relationships and groups with it. When you can call control the weather and heal at a distance, then you will be in a position to advocate for wordly concerns, until then, stay quiet and humble, and focus on your own awakening.
Stay focussed on your group's original goals and avoid any support in the open body of the group or in the social period thereafter of political, social, or other projects not DIRECTLY related to your group's mission. In general it is best not to support anything outside of your group and to leave that the individual members. This is particularly true if you start undertaking fundraising for capital projects – if someone gives you money and you give away, you risk not only offending that source of funding, but also learning the hard lesson that you can only “go to the well” so many times. Use your resources wisely, and your members's time, talent and teasure are your greatest resources. Cultivate trust, support, and demonstrate good stewardship.
7. Learn When to Say “No”
It is rare for a group or organizational leader to tell a volunteer to stop. In fact, what often happens is those seeking identity and meaning in their lives become involved in volunteer activities and then let it consume them. Their personal lives, careers, family and even health can break-down through an over abundance of enthusiasm for “the cause” - whatever that cause maybe. Leaders need to pay careful attention to not taking on too much and to delegate duties, and they also need to look out for members to be sure that too much is not being expected of them in return. Go slow, take it easy, check your results, and “make haste slowly” to avoid burnout.
8. Preparing for the Path of the Hermit
No one comes to the Path for the best of reasons, all come, in one form or another, for what they can get from it – power, health, self-confidence, a purpose to their life – and each in turn must learn how to serve and assist others if they are to achieve their goal. Anyone who has participated in an esoteric group, regardless of what it may be, will often tell you that the experiences they had – good, bad or indifferent – were among some of the most important experiences of their life. Intense relationships are formed in the cauldron of ritual. Personal demons are brought to the surface to be exorcised and integrated as latent and potential powers and abilities are recognized and manifested. It is easy to make one's lodge, circle, or group the center point of one's life – and as we have show, to the detriment rather than benefit of the equally important but more mundane aspect of daily living.
For those who serve as leaders it is easy to become dishearten, cynical and jaded – yet it is enthusiasm, encouragement, and joy that we must constantly cultivate in ourselves and in others. To avoid over identification with one's group and role in that group, it is important to train each member for their inevitable separation from the organization. This separation may be temporary or permanent (such as relocation or death) but it will happen, and for the individual and group to benefit from this separation, it must be planned for and done successfully.
Hence, any member who has been in the group for seven years should take a sabbatical of their choice in their eighth year. They may attend group meetings, but are forbidden to participate in any active role. This is a year of rest and reflection. They may choose not to attend, but will be welcomed back when their year is over. Members who have been active for ten or twelve years are to take the year off from group activities and are to avoid any contact with group members. They are to undertake a magical retreat during this period. This Path of the Hermit will prepare them for being of greater service to their fellow Travelers when they return.
Of course, other possibilities exist, and it is up to each group, its leadership and members, to decide who best to meet everyone's needs as they travel the Path of Return together. In this way, the seeds planted now will continue to grow and bear fruit not just for this generation, but for generations to come.
An excerpt from, Light on the Path – A Study Guide for Qabala, Alchemy and Astrology by Mark Stavish. Available from Amazon at: