Monday, May 3, 2010

Anatomy and Organization of the Star Group

This is an article that ran in the online magazine, Rending the Veil, so I thought that my readers would like the raw article before the more intensive editing shaved it down a bit.

Ever since the advent of Masonry, individual occultists have sought to unify and organize themselves into a collective to facilitate group ceremony, study and collaboration often using the Masonic lodge as a model. A Masonic lodge has temporary leadership roles and Masonic brothers are considered to be equal no matter their social status, degree or role. Perhaps this is why many of the founding fathers of western democracies were members of some kind of Masonic group. Masonic lore seems to perpetuate the ideal that all men are created equal, despite the fact that initiates and cowans (outsiders) are treated differently. Yet a spirit of egalitarianism seems to pervade Masonic organizations even to this day. This is especially true in the more basic Blue Lodge, which promotes only three initiatory degrees and a rotating hierarchy.

Grand lodges and larger aggregated organizations seemed to forgo this spirit of equality and produced a hierarchy of individuals vested with various degrees of authority and power. The “Soc Rose” and the Golden Dawn were based on this later kind of organization, and other groups, such as the O.T.O. also sought to invest certain individuals with authority to ensure that the local bodies as well as the grand lodge had a certain number of trusted individuals to maintain continuity and stability. These larger groups may have been modeled on special groups formed within the Catholic church, such as the Jesuit order. The precursor to the Masonic lodge may have been the monastery, although without the permanent authority figure of the abbot.

Today, many occult groups have modeled their organization loosely on the model of the Masonic blue lodge or grand lodge, and others have found other kinds of hierarchical organizing structures as well. Some have deviated quite remarkably from the Masonic belief in the equality of all members. However, Masonic lodges have shown themselves to be capable of extreme longevity, withstanding changing times and still operating long after the death of the original founders. Fraternity and equality probably play an important part in their endurance. 

In the various religious groups of Wicca and Neopaganism, there is a trend where a grove or coven is headed by an autocratic leader or a small group of elites ruling a larger group of novices, often with no checks on their authority and little accountability. I have personally experienced the  kind of abuses that can occur within Wiccan covens, but the fault can be found wherever groups invest their leaders with near dictatorial powers. This is true whether or not these individuals have the qualities and experience to be good leaders. If leaders are gifted and good at leading, then a kind of benign aristocracy is formed, otherwise the worst kind of cult of personality and autocracy can develop. The fact that ritual magick and godhead assumptions can be practiced in such groups makes the effects of bad leadership even more damaging.

This is probably why many ritual magicians prefer to work alone and retain their autonomy despite the benefits of belonging to a group. Many magicians may have started out belonging to some group or organization, but they seldom stay for more than a few years. Being alone and completely isolated is not a good idea, either. Regardless of the religious or spiritual background of magicians, they tend to branch out, discovering that performing magick for its own sake is more rewarding than belonging to some cult or creed.

The purpose of working magick within a group is because all magicians need peer review, objectification and solidarity, which are critically important to one’s spiritual growth. There is nothing more stultifying and potentially dangerous than to practice complex and intense forms of ritual magick in complete isolation. While working magick alone is at times necessary, a magickal practitioner should have recourse to a peer group of other magicians to balance the intensely subjective nature of ritual work. Having a group of experienced and knowledgeable friends to judge one’s work is very important. In fact, it’s probably the only way that a ritual magician can maintain balance and objectivity. A peer group keeps individuals honest with themselves and helps them to understand their spiritual and magickal processes in an objective manner.

Since ritual magicians are not common, such a peer group will be small and intimate. It may not even be centrally located in one’s own community. Because of Facebook, Myspace, blogs, email and Yahoo! groups and chat rooms, the social network of a ritual magician may be entirely virtual. Yet it’s important for a practicing ritual magician to have friends and fellow magicians who live in the physical neighborhood so that he or she may periodically meet them and have intimate conversations about various personal, spiritual and magickal topics. I maintain that a virtual community, although helpful, can never replace real social contact between individuals. Much more is communicated through phone conversations and face to face to meetings than what could be written in blogs, chat rooms or email. These same close friends will share common ideas, swap books, look over rituals together, examine excerpts of each other’s magickal journal and perhaps even perform some rituals and ceremonies together. When a loose confederation of ritual magicians starts working magick together, then some kind of group organization will naturally develop.

Rituals magicians, like many occultists, aren’t known for their social skills, diplomacy or empathetic abilities. They are usually very self-absorbed in their own practices and perspectives and they generally despise authority figures within their own discipline. They don’t like being ordered around or told what to do. They are very independently minded and probably even a bit anarchistic, eschewing any kind of formal group dynamics. So this is my question and the central theme of this article. How do you get a group of ritual magicians to function as a creative, sharing, objectifying and harmonious organization? The answer to this question is to use what is known as a “Star Group” model.

What is a Star Group, one might ponder, and how does it differ from other kinds of groups? First, a Star Group is an autonomous egalitarian collective where each member is an equal and respected partner, functioning as an integral facet of the whole group. A Star Group is particularly sensitive to the phenomenon of the egregore, also known as the group-mind. The leadership roles in a Star Group are temporary and carry little or no real power or authority. The true authority is vested in the group itself and all decisions are determined by a process of consensus.

I define consensus as a mutual agreement that for any given decision, a majority of the members of the group are for it and no one is against it. An objection from any one of the members of the group will force that decision to be either shelved or altogether abandoned. This kind of rule by consensus ensures that a majority will not override the objections of even the humblest member. All individuals are heard and decisions have the backing of nearly everyone. The person who presents the idea or direction to the group has the responsibility to sell it to everyone so that no one finds fault or objects to it. Getting a small group of ritual magicians to agree nearly unanimously to a given plan of action is no small matter, but it can be done. In fact, it must be done so that everyone feels that they have been intimately involved in the decision making process. When the group makes such a decision by consensus, the outcome is guaranteed to be satisfactory to all of the members. Leaders are essentially facilitators with all of the responsibility and none of the authority. Thus no one person can abrogate the power of the group and the equality of everyone is fully protected.

I can almost sense the eye-rolling from my readers after proposing this kind of group. The first objection is that such an organization will not be able to accomplish anything substantive if there isn’t someone who makes the final decision and acts as an overseer. Hierarchical groups seem to be more efficient, goal directed and practical. Anything done by committee is guaranteed to be mediocre at best, and terribly disjointed and chaotic at the worst. It often ends up representing the untutored whims and creative hubris of the least capable in the group. I have seen rituals constructed by committees and I would agree that they are usually ineffective. Yet a Star Group is deliberately small. The execution of consensus agreements incorporate the best abilities of the most able members.

What does that mean? It means that a Star Group is not driven by ego gratification, since everyone is a respected and valued member. Each has a role and a part to play. In such a situation, the group will vest an individual with certain tasks that they are best equipped to accomplish, incorporating other members to aid and assist them as required. People work together and cooperate jointly to produce the best product that they can. A Star Group is an egalitarian team with objectives and goals, and they work together with the powerful commitment of having unanimously agreed to do a given task.

Suppose a Star Group decides to perform some elaborate theatrical rituals that require props and even some sets. One person who is a gifted artist may produce the sets, another who is a writer would write the script, another who is a musician would assemble the music, an electrician would provide the lighting, yet another might be a costume maker and would design and sew the costumes. One individual might be chosen to act as the director and to direct the others to take on various parts in the ceremonial play. None of these individuals would act alone, since all of their contributions would be screened and examined by the whole group. Everyone would contribute materials, time, labor and money. The net result would be the combined efforts of gifted individuals working together as a group. The quality of such an effort would be far greater than what one of the members could do alone.

Would there be disagreements and sometimes heated discussions? Certainly, since that would be part of the dynamic of such a group. However, the overall objectives and goals of the group would have been set up early in its formation, and the members would be motivated to work out their differences in a peaceful and cooperative manner to get the work done. It might take longer to complete a project, but the level of group satisfaction and the quality of the work would be very pleasing to everyone.

Contrast this same effort as applied to a hierarchical group. If the leader is smart and knows how to motivate people, sensing their needs, strengths and weaknesses, then the assignment of roles may show a high degree of wisdom. It may also show a high degree of favoritism and cronyism, since those who are favored by the leader would get the best roles in such an undertaking. It would be guaranteed to be done in a lot less time, but it probably would not be satisfying to the whole group unless the leader used good judgment to correctly and accurately call the shots and make the best decisions.

If the leader is an autocrat, then the outcome of any project may be just as disorganized, poorly contrived and executed as it would be had it been done by a committee. In such a situation, the hard labor would be delegated to the least favorable members and the best jobs reserved for the favorite members. A skilled seamstress may be completely overlooked because the leader’s girlfriend wants the job. Similarly, a gifted writer may be forced to do carpentry work because the leader either doesn’t know about her skill or purposefully ignores it to favor someone else. Often the leaders reserve the best parts for themselves. When the overall project fails to be fully satisfying, he blames the least favored members for failing to do their jobs. Other members who know what is really going on will resent the leader’s biased authority and either leave the group or eventually force a confrontation. A hierarchical group may have to contend with a leader’s ego inflation, unethical conduct, exploitation of other members, favoritism, despotism, incompetence and outrageous behavior.

Of course, not all hierarchical groups are dysfunctional and certainly large groups can’t function without a hierarchy. Large groups use bylaws and formal procedures to ensure that leaders are accountable, so despots or incompetents can be removed from their positions of authority. However, we are talking about small groups with less than twelve members. In such a group the temptation to acquire and hold power over others is just too great. Magicians don’t have much stomach or tolerance for such blatant examples of hubris and ego inflation, but with a Star Group, there is an alternative that is useful and capable of accomplishing goals and tasks with everyone fully engaged. This is much more satisfying than what might occur with permanent authority figures.

The qualities of a Star Group can be summarized by the following points:

  • Egalitarianism - each member is treated equally, valued and respected,
  • Consensus - each decision is made through the process of consensus,
  • Leadership roles are temporary and frequently rotated,
  • Sensitive to the formation of egregores,
  • Authority and power is vested in the group, not any individual.

An example of the bylaws used to organize and run Star Groups in the magickal Order of the Gnostic Star can be found at the following web address.

Frater Barrabbas

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