A few years ago I started an ADF study and discussion group. We were just three ADF members getting together in a coffee shop. Membership and attendance remained small, but we kept on meeting, taking a small break in the winter for bad weather. After a while we became a Protogrove, and I volunteered to be the Grove Organizer because no one else was volunteering for the position. There was one other member farther along in the study programs than me, and who took a leadership role in meetings, but due to a chronic illness, he would not take the position. So I became the organizer, but all of us really looked to him as our leader. We carried on as we were for a while, having coffee shop meetings, and a few others joining us as time went by. Sometimes we’d talk about having a ritual for this or that High Day, but it would always get canceled a few days before the date due to fore mentioned person’s illness. We were essentially a discussion group, and I was fine with that.
Then suddenly, this person I mentioned stopped showing up. I was a nervous wreck. I am a lifelong shy introvert and suddenly it was all on me. Attendance dropped down to just three; myself and a married couple I’ll call Sue and Sam. Sue and Sam were not ADF members and seemed not too interested in ADF. I believe they attended because they couldn’t find an open Wiccan group. Sue was a real talker. So there were no awkward silences. There was also no structure to the conversations. Sometimes I would try to interject something Druid-y into the random conversation, but most of the time I would get interrupted so many times that I would forget what I was going to say. Since there was consistently only three of us at these meetings for months, and I was the only ADF member there, I became very discouraged. Sometimes a new person would come to a meeting, not say much, and then not come back. At the time I wished that I had that option, but I knew that my role was all too official for me to give up, and I couldn’t think of a way out of it.
Then a new person came to a meeting. I’ll call him Andy. Andy was already a member, and committed to ADF. He told us all about himself, was witty and interesting, and became a regular attendee and member of the Protogrove. I tell you, he was the Protogrove’s saving grace. So then it was four of us; me, Andy, and Sue & Sam. For some reason, Sue didn’t seem to like Andy all that much, and when we started talking about having one of our twice monthly meetings in a neighboring town, Sue and Sam left the group. That’s when more members gradually started trickling in. Before I knew it, we had seven active members, and several non-member attendees. We outgrew our location and starting meeting at a park and having rituals there too. Conversations at meetings were not difficult anymore. I didn’t need to steer the conversation toward Druidism because, with that many ADF members, it naturally went in that direction.
As for rituals, I was really nervous at first. Historically, when I have to speak in front of a group, I would get a feeling of dread for days, then when it came time to speak, my voice would shake. That’s how it was leading these rituals at first. Then people started volunteering to take on talking parts or even lead a ritual themselves. I grew really at ease with the group. We had great conversations. I stopped being nervous about meetings. Then, one day, I stopped being nervous about rituals as well. My voice evened out. The dread and worry disappeared. I started enjoying speaking in ritual, and if you know me in person, you know that’s really saying something.
So how did this change in confidence happen? I think a lot of it had to do with my getting to know the group through our discussion meetings. I gradually became at ease with talking to them. I also changed the conversation with myself in my head. The last time I got nervous before a ritual, I was able to stop feelings of nervousness and dread by reminding myself that they’re all my friends. I told myself “This is just like when we have discussion meetings. I’m talking with my friends in the park. Its going to be fun, as usual.” Those words were like magic, and have lasting power! (Also, it didn’t hurt that I asked Odin for good speech, and Thor for strength.)
So if you’re wanting to start an ADF or other Pagan group, and think you are too shy and/or introverted, think again. Finding self confidence is more about practicing social skills and getting comfortable with other people than about trying to impress. If you are struggling with a small group with poor dynamics, hang in there! Sometimes you have to face what you dread, and wait out the bad times, to get the community you want.
If you are thinking about attending a local Pagan group, but are having second thoughts or thinking that it wouldn’t matter if you show up or not– just show up! You might be some group’s saving grace, or at least play a very important part of the dynamic. Do not under-estimate the value of belonging to a spiritual community.