At the Gathering for Life on Earth 2012, Robyn, Richard, and I ended up having a number of wonderful conversations with various members of the Pagan community and amongst ourselves, leading us towards the notion that it was time for our spiritual family, the Silver Spiral Collective, to have some more conversations about beliefs and spiritual needs. We’d had these conversations before, but the discussions had been informal, had not always included all members, and had not been happening recently, which meant that we didn’t always know where everyone’s spiritual evolution was taking them. We also had more relatively new members at the time, which meant that we were definitely due for a planned and organized sit-down.
The Silver Spiral Collective has always been a work in progress. We formed in 1998 because we were all Pagans of a similar age, in similar life stages, with similar enough beliefs to enjoy circling together. After forming a group, we gradually created rules about our rituals (must include a power raising, no junk food for the sacred feast, etc.), which evolved into an optional ritual structure, and is still changing to this day into a new ritual structure that has been created out of where we are now as individuals and a group.
We started this round by gathering questions from all the members. Everyone was invited to contribute their questions in advance to the email list we’re all on. With fewer than a dozen members and some questions that overlapped significantly, this resulted in a good number of questions covering a lot of areas, but not an overwhelming number. I took all the questions, re-organize them into an order that made thematic sense, then re-posted the list to everyone at least a week before the event so everyone could prepare their answers in whatever way felt comfortable to them. Some of us came to the discussion nights with answers that were virtually essays, some came with notes, and some just spoke from the heart in the moment, but I think everyone found it useful to know what the questions were in advance.
The second thing we considered was how to make sure everyone spoke on every topic. We have some introverts and some extroverts in our group, so it is easy for some to sit back and not contribute while others dominate the conversation. We decided to go with “an authoritarian imposition of rules to ensure the democratic distribution of the conversation” (a paraphrase of Robyn’s great turn of phrase). We started each round with one person reading the question out, then we went clockwise around the circle, each answering the question without interruption. We didn’t allow for questions or discussions between answers, but simply allowed each person their own monologue. We ended up not having to set time limits on individual’s answers, as everyone was very careful to keep their answers on track and not allow themselves to ramble, but a timer was an option we were holding in reserve. At the end of each round, we had a period of open discussion to ask each other for more information and to compare and contrast our opinions. When that conversation would start to get off topic or would simply lose steam, the person who answered first on the previous round would read the next question and the person to their left would answer first, and so on.
Here are the questions from our first discussion night that gave us the most interesting and thought-provoking answers, in my opinion:
On the colour triangle described in the article Pagan Deism: Three Views, where do you place yourself?
What is an essential part of ritual for you (like what has to be included for it to feel right)?
Do you practice religious/spiritual things in your own time?
What does the creation of sacred space look like for you?
What is a successful Silver Spiral ritual for you (what do you want to get out of our group’s rituals)?
How do you feel about our current level of “ritual standardization”?
I highly recommend that everyone read the “Pagan Deism” article before a discussion like this. The answers to that first question were particular enlightening for us, as we discovered that most of us had some “yellow” component to our individual beliefs, and many thought they were the only one.
Following the discussion night, I felt closer to my fellow members of Silver Spiral and felt like I could design better rituals and could share deeper spiritual experiences with the group. Not too much later, we scheduled a second conversation, as we all came up with even more questions for each other. Later posts will cover the subsequent questions and the evolution of our ritual format.