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Jax has written about group practice a few times recently. This week, she wrote about us visiting a kindred this weekend, which I am excited about, and last month she posted about the challenges of celebrating as a Pagan community in a non-Pagan. Her posts got me thinking about the different types of group practice in paganism. I have always known about group practice (vs. individual practice), but never pursued it fully. Jax and I have celebrated together, but a duo is not really the same as a group.
So what makes a group? Good question. I suppose, technically, a group is anything larger that two, but that doesn’t really capture the spirit of group practice in paganism. As I understand it, the spirit of group practice is to congregate for observance, celebration or ritual, like Christians in a church, Jews in a synagogue and Muslims in a mosque. I’m pretty sure that all denominations in Pagandom include group worship. And I’m pretty sure group practice is as varied across denominations as the Pagan pantheons themselves. But “pretty sure” is not “for sure,” so I went on an information-gathering mission with this question in mind, “How do different Pagans congregate?”*
Most folks are familiar with Wicca, so I’ll start with what I know of group practice among Wiccans. “Traditionalist Wiccans,** by and large, meet in groups (usually identified as “covens,” “groves,” “circles,” or rarely “orders”)…” (Gillette and Stead 1994). At least some Wiccan groups hold that a coven should contain 13 members (or less), an idea that appears to have originated from the 1662 trail of Isobel Gowdie in Scotland. Many covens strive to maintain an equal number of men and women in the membership (not including leadership) to achieve balance between masculine (god) and feminine (goddess) energy. Covens have a relatively formalized leadership structure — a High Priestess or Priest leads observances, and these leaders may be ordained in a degree system (i.e., initiates can be first-, second- and third-degree clergy).
Heathens (aka Ásatrú) also practice in groups, known as “kindreds,” “hearths,” or rarely “steadings.”*** Kindred is much like it sounds, a group of people related in some form. This relationship may be by blood or by faith. A strong community is very important to most Heathens, even though a strong sense of leadership is not. Most Heathen kindreds are egalitarian in membership and democratic in practice. Kindreds are closely tied to the concept of frith that Jax posted about several months ago.
Kin → Old English cyn “family, race, kind, nature,” from Proto Germanic *kunjan (compare to Old Norse kyn, Old High German chunni, Gothic (East Germanic language of the Goths) kuni “family, race,” Old Norse kundr “son,” German kind “child”), from Proto-Indo-European *gen- “to produce.” Online Etymology Dictionary
Celtic Reconstructionists (CR) also highly value group practice with an emphasis on hearth, home and family. And family, like a kindred, can be bound by blood or by faith. In fact, the information I found suggested solitary practice didn’t really fit into the CR gnosis. I got the sense that group worship was less about gathering for particular observances and more about finding “ethical ways of integrating historical findings and research with the activities of daily life (Wikipedia).”
Neodruid group congregation occurs in “groves” or “henges” — the most famous observance being the Summer solstice at Stonehenge. There is a hierarchy in neodruid groups, as some are ordained as priests and priestesses, but The Oracle didn’t have much to say on the process or ordination. Actually…that’s about all I found on group practice in Neodruidism. Fooey. I was hoping to learn more.
Other pagan groups are more conventional in that they have churches and a theological structure that includes formal education and ordination, such as Unitarian Universalism (which is a mix of non-Pagans and Pagans).
Do you have any thoughts on group practice (vs. solitary)? Do you practice mostly in a group or mostly solitary, or an even mix of both? I actually had a little trouble finding good information on how different pagan groups congregate. Do you have any information to add?
* What actually happens in group practice would take a lengthy post per denomination, so I’m just going describe the format for congregation here.