Answer: Burned by group contact
A.N. Hunter asks:
“When you were burned by group contact, did you find yourself feeling drained and unsure? How did you reconnect with your practice and your gods, and push past that and the “beginner” 101 phase into (what seems to be) a very deep, rewarding practice?”
I did go through a phase where I got burned out running groups or even participating them, and extremely disappointed by the whole experience. It certainly soured me on working with community, or even necessarily trying to organize or participate in any big group rituals or events. But, here’s the most important thing: my involvement with human community was not at all directly tied to my actual spiritual experiences. While of course my practice has been influenced by other people from time to time, being part of the online religious groups really had nothing to do with my personal practice. It certainly didn’t impact my relationship with my gods (other than figuring out what else Dionysos wanted of me, since I had assumed for awhile it would involve big mainadic rituals).
For one thing, online interaction is simply not compelling enough for me to feel deeply intertwined with other people in a religious sense. (And clearly it’s not just me, or else we’d all have an easier time building online community.) For another, my spirituality has always been intensely personal. Even when my first and only real world ritual group disbanded, even when I left my husband who had brought me into paganism, my religious life was not negatively impacted on an internal level. (The causation, in fact, often went the other way – I left my husband precisely because that relationship was hindering me from my spiritual path; doing so did step things up for me, but because I made a positive choice.) It has always been, at its core, about me and my gods and spirits – those relationships do change and evolve, but they aren’t dependent on any other people. So I didn’t have to reconnect with them, or my practice, after such group upheavals – really, the only major effect was that I then had more time and energy to devote to my actual religious life, rather than sitting in front of a computer, or spending too much time arguing with other people.
As for pushing past the 101 phase, in some ways I never really went through it. Because of my mystical bent and certain anomalous ways I seem to work, I kind of got thrown into the deep end right off, and then had to figure out how not to drown. I did spend the beginning years in intense study, but I was already having ecstatic experiences at the same time. So the practice I have now flowed directly from those early days, and I don’t know that I ever had to deliberately deepen it, it’s just been a natural progression.