An oft-overlooked aspect of working with others in a spiritual group is consent.
For many of us, the spirituality of our family of origin was unsatisfying; for too many it was also full of toxic messages and behaviors. It lacked consent and taught us that “higher authority” could do as it wished, ignore rules, while still requiring us to follow its rules — and punished us when we failed to meet its standards.
With the lessons of boundary transgressions and other violations imprinted on us, we must learn about consent as adults and often forget to bring its rules to our new spirituality. Or take its presence for granted in the new playing arena of tolerance and acceptance.
Consent is an active principle, one based on dynamic participation of all parties. We must ask for consent and the other party(s) must respond affirmatively; silence is not truly consent, nor are tepid responses. Moreover, consent must be ongoing and can be withdrawn at any time.
When we initiate new members a key aspect is their introduction to the coven’s egregore, or group mind. The egregore is not conscious in the sense of being sentient, but it does have its own personality and provides specific benefits to coven members. (We’ve been around since 2000 and that is a long time for a group to have a specific consciousness.) We now make sure that a key component in the process of preparing for initiation includes asking for the person’s consent to be introduced and enfolded into the egregore.
Which is a little tricky.
You can’t meet the egregore until initiation, and while we do our best to describe it and potential changes that result from meeting it (and the initiation process itself) it remains a Mystery until actually experienced.
It requires a demonstration of profound trust on the part of the Dedicant.
Trust in us, in our group. Trust that we, hopefully, have garnered over the time they’ve spent with us by showing who we are more than we tell them. Trust that we have no hidden agenda or secret intention. Trust that when we offer a ritual scenario it is meant to be good for everyone involved.
We support that trust by also telling them, explicitly, that they can leave at any time.
Yes, that’s what I said, ANY TIME. We actually start this when they are students, by sharing ritual texts several weeks before the event. In the first live class we talk about consent and the difference between pushing a boundary, getting a little uncomfortable and being in a place where they feel trapped. Mentors talk with students individually about this as well, and we always, ALWAYS, accept any version of “can’t make it” with complete agreement. As Dedicants this is reinforced in various ways. Perhaps most obviously, with open discussions about the different roles within ritual. Some come to us with rigid gender ties and can’t take on a role for a different gender. Others are experiencing issues tied to sexuality and don’t want to take an active role in the rituals that celebrate sexual freedom. We never push and always support wherever they are in this moment.
All groups should practice consent, both by demonstration and discussion.