The Group Mind in Ritual

(Revised: 09/07/2009)
Over the years I have become more select when choosing who to work with in ritual. While I am a huge advocate for group workings and rituals as they can, when structured well they can be wonderful conduits for healing and magick. I should clarify that I don’t do group rituals often but I try to make sure that I’m protected on a personal level for a few days beforehand. Such things like anointing yourself with protection potions and regular cleansings of aura and chakras (my personal favourites are the LBRP and MPR respectfully).
To explain myself a bit more. I’m not being snobby for the sake of it. My group ritual experiences and those of people I know have often created emotional and psychic bonds between the group. In discussing this with friends one of them commented that she’d been involved with a group of people following a different path than her. It would seem that rituals were successful, well if nothing else emotional ties between the lot happened. While she maintains several great friendships towards the end very little work was done between the gang. I have similar experiences from group rituals myself.
Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone in their book, Progressive Witchcraft, suggest that when a small group of people gather in ritual they create what is termed a “Gestalt Mind” or group mindset. The Gestalt Mind hails from Gestalt psychology and seems to refer to how certain social groupings come to identify themselves. I must confess I know very little about Gestalt psychology and Farrar and Bone seem to hone in on the Gestalt Mind in a specifically Wiccan and Witchcraft context.
There are two ways to view this. On the one hand, the view that Gestalt Mind is more of a sociological occurance than a strictly psychological one. As I said I don’t really grasp it in this context because there are other theories more formulated in psychology and sociology. Indeed cultural theorists have a better understanding than Gestalt psychology seems to have. More mechanical than magickal really. While on the other hand, if accepting the Farrar and Bone understanding of this paradigm then the Gestalt Mind correlates to the astral planes and a unique mindset that is formed psychically between the group.
I can’t escape the feeling that Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone are using the formation of the group mindset to validate the presence of the astral realms and the group mindset. While this is far from a crime it lacks a full explanation to the reader. For instance, I’ve heard in mentioned that something created on the astral planes is always created, perhaps a look at the initiation process is in order here. Initiation dedicates one to a particulate path while the presence of a new member into the group further feeds the astral presence of the group helping to forify it. Such ties as we have mentioned can be very initmate and so it is generally thought that much introspection and meditation should be undertaken before admittance is granted and accepted.
In my studies of ceremonialism I’ve encountered what is referred to as an egregore. My understanding of the egregore is also limited but I understand it to be a force that protects the Temple or lodge from counter-productive influences to the larger group and indeed to the individual. In ceremonial circles the egregore seems at times to be more detached from the indivudal members. The only clear difference I can see is that an egregore seems to be embodied in a known form, something like a deity usually yet often times regarded as a thought-form. Farrar and Bone don’t seem to go into the role of the group’s patron/matron deity in the Gestalt Mind, one notable difference between Wicca and ceremonialism is that Wicca doesn’t always view the gods as merely projections of the divine based on personal understanding. Some traditions seem to differ in this regard though. I wonder now if the Gestalt Mind is simply a smaller version of the current of an Order.
Whether one adopts the purely sociological perspective or a more psychic or spiritual viewpoint theres no denying that working ritual can be profoundly intimate. I would recommend that anyone initerested in group work consider that because one has friends interested in magickal workings that they approach things carefully and to share out how the working is going to proceed and in what manner. A good question I link to ask myself when asked to attend a circle or group is “how honest can I be with this group of people?“, if the answer is that I feel the need to hide something then there is a trust issue there. Usually time illuminates further by showing that its a two-way street. Doesn’t mean I am rejecting their friendship and I make that clear but simply that I don’t feel my presence would be helpful to the working.
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