Dissolution of the entire group

All that lives changes. Weíve said that again and again throughout these notes. Itís also true that all that lives dies. So we turn from departures to dissolutions, to what happens when the group itself reaches its ending.

Circumstances of group dissolution

Groups dissolve under a whole range of circumstances. Sometimes the dissolution is planned; sometimes it comes as a surprise. Sometimes groups end with a bang; sometimes they just fade away.
 

PLANNED ENDINGS

Some groups, for example formal classes, are planned from the beginning to cover a certain curriculum over a defined period of time and then end. These anticipated endings may still be sad, but they are not shocking or traumatic. People can leave anticipating the next adventure.

EXTERNALLY-IMPOSED ENDINGS

Some groups end because of circumstances that are outside the groupís control and have nothing to do with the quality of the groupís functioning. These endings can be very sad, even traumatic. We know of one coven that ended when their leader suffered a sudden heart attack and instantly died.

     Under such circumstances, no hint of guilt corrodes the grief, and so healing is relatively simple. People just need some time to mourn.

ENDING WITH A BANG

Some groups explode in angry internal battles, perhaps leaving deep emotional scars. People need to heal. These sorts of endings are sometimes presaged by warning signs such as a general increase in interpersonal tension, but sometimes they come abruptly, seemingly Ďout of the blueí as it were.

     Gwyneth once watched in shock and amazement as a study group which she was co-leading disintegrated in fifteen minutes, through a serious of increasingly nasty arguments, accusations and recriminations that started with a memberís simple statement concerning difficulties in group communication.

FADING AWAY

Finally, some groups just quietly dwindle into nothingness, ending with a whimper, not a bang. The few members who are left at the end may need to understand why the group failed. Or, they may just feel relieved.

Practical considerations

Differing circumstances of dissolution carry different emotional overtones and require different actions. Following are some things to think about and do as you navigate through the ending of a group. Please use what seems applicable and ignore what does not. Some of these suggestions also apply to healing after the loss of a member.
 

HOUSEKEEPING MATTERS

Was there any group property? Where does it go? Often, items in common use were actually purchased or created by a single member. These items might go back to that person, or they might be passed along to an offspring group if one exists.

     Either option works just fine if weíre talking about ritual items, or something like sound equipment. But what if your group owns something really major, like real estate? We implore you to make arrangements at the time you acquire anything really substantial about what happens to it if your group dissolves. Otherwise you could be involved in some ugly disputes, or even lawsuits.

FINANCIAL MATTERS

How about money? A group treasury could be a tiny Ďcookies and candlesí fund, or it could be a substantial amount if you were saving toward a major purchase. Do you divide it among the last remaining members? Among all who were members in the last year? You might also divide it among offspring groups or donate it to a charity of your consensual choice.

ARCHIVAL MATTERS

If you are part of an initiatory lineage, consider who will maintain records, to protect your members' ongoing right to participate in your Tradition or lineage. Judy faced a similar problem in secular life, when the college from which she graduated closed down. A nearby university agreed to maintain the records and provide transcripts to graduates as needed. You may also need to ensure the safe custody of liturgical materials that are restricted to members of your tradition.

Grief Work

Weíve dealt with this topic in the section on early departures. What we had to say there serves equally well here. After the initial emotional storms have subsided somewhat, the group may benefit from a facilitated discussion of the issues surrounding the departure. Pay especial attention to gathering lessons learned, so that further difficulties of this kind will be less likely.

Learning the Lessons

Failure is a harsh word, but when groups explode in anger or dwindle in apathy, itís accurate to say they failed. Give yourself some recovery time. When the initial pain fades, you can learn from any failure, increasing your chances for success in the future. We recommend the following framework for understanding a failure. Hereís the model:
  1. Describe what happened as completely and objectively as possible.
  2. Describe your thoughts, feelings and hunches while this was going on. Also, describe the reasons for your choices and actions.
  3. In retrospect, what insights can you draw out about your own underlying motivations or hidden assumptions or any covert group assumptions or norms.
  4. Identify some other ways you or the group might have acted in the situation.
  5. See if you can abstract any general lessons or operating principles from all this.
You can use this for personal introspection, of course, but it works even better when two co-leaders compare their perspectives on how things collapsed. You may also want to ask a wise and respected elder to help you work through this or a similar retrospective process. If you feel up to it, consider writing an article about your experience, so others can learn from it and perhaps avoid making the same mistakes.

Celebrating the Successes

Good memories deserve to be highlighted and celebrated. Our friend Lady Galadriel suggests a ďnostalgia session.Ē Hereís her description:
"This should be focused on the good things and memories of the group, not be a bitching session. Everyone should be given a chance to speak (use a talking stick or something similar) and should recall some especially good and poignant moments with the group. Grief processing may also occur, if needed. The point is to help everyone focus on the positive, instead of dwelling on their gripes."

Rituals for closure

Rituals for closure will vary drastically according to the circumstances under which the group dissolved and the feelings left behind. A study-group class may simply share a bottle of wine at termís end, perhaps toasting one anotherís future. A group which was broken by its leaderís sudden death may find closure in the memorial service.

     If your groupís ending was more perplexing, you probably would benefit from a ritual intended to draw formal closure on the groupís experience and allow members to move along with their lives. The problem is that the more you need such a ritual, the less you are likely to be able to gather the former members together to wind things up in peace. So you may have to do it for yourself, or ask trusted friends to do it with or for you. The symbolic gesture can be simple: Judy remembers a friend who carried a handful of dried spaghetti onto the walkway of a bridge, snapped the pasta to break unwanted ties, then dropped the broken bits into the river. That sufficed.

The pitfall of rebound

Donít rush into a new group affiliation. Sure, it can work. When Judyís first coven blew up, she joined another within a week. But itís as risky as marriage on the rebound. Your chances will be better if you allow yourself a month, or better yet a quarter, to recover. Take some fallow time to rest and recover. Have some fun, far away from deep spiritual issues.

     Wait until you have digested and appreciated both what you learned and how you grew while the group was working well and what you can learn from its failure. Wait, also, until you clearly know what aspects you want to explore next, what kind of group environment will best nurture the next phase of your growth. 

Then, be open to surprises. The Old Gods still have many of those in store for us!


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    Last modified February 8, 2002