I’ve been mulling over this post for awhile now because of things I continually see in the Pagan community. Although some of us prefer to be solitary, there are plenty more who would like camaraderie. Maybe it’s just to make friends so you have someone who already gets you and your bone collection. Maybe it’s so you actually have people to celebrate or practice magic with. Once you decide that these things are of value to you, what do you do next? You probably do what most of us do – hit the internet big time. The options are seemingly endless. Meetup, Facebook… Not to mention the plethora of smaller social networking sites geared towards Pagans. But once you start finding Pagans in your neck of the woods, what do you do then?
Now I don’t count myself an expert on any of this, mostly because I’m still young, but I’ve had a fair share of experience in seeking out Pagan community. I’ve been a member or visitor of various groups over the last decade or so. I’ve also been part of forming, reorganizing, and joining well-established groups. As I learn more about Druidism and Paganism in general, I also have learned what makes a good group. To me there are three things that really matter: Is the group a dangerous cult? Does the group have something to do with your path of interest or is it opened? And finally – Does the group possess a certain amount of etiquette?
Etiquette. Good behavior. Decorum. Courtesy. Niceties. However you put it, it all comes back to how you treat someone. Some of that could go along with Isaac Bonewits’ cult danger. If someone treats you as if you are below them, there’s a possibility that the group leader or member is part of something you don’t want to belong to. But lets leave severe egomaniacs aside.
The following is a sign to me that the group in question is not worth looking further into:
- If the group is supposedly “all paths,” eclectic, or a Pagan network, yet the focus is clearly on one specific path. This is a tricky one sometimes because you might simply be a minority in an area that is heavily populated by another path. Before giving up entirely, see if they are opened to a ritual in your tradition for an upcoming high day. How do they react when you share your own beliefs?
- If the group shoots down all of your suggestions, ideas, or traditions, especially if it is an open group with no established high priests or priestesses, do you really want to stick around?
- If you are talked down to. This is a big one, especially for people who already have some experience under their belts. Nobody likes to feel as if they are a child. There’s a difference between being a teacher to an adult and a teacher to a child, and you’ll know if you’re experiencing the latter. Nobody likes it when someone acts as if you cannot read or don’t understand. Nobody wants to have their suggestions continuously shot down by established group members.
- If the body language of the leaders or more established members suggests that they do not care about your tradition or your beliefs. Attend a few times but if you feel like you’re continuously hitting a wall, why bother?
- If a group does not do an adequate pre-ritual briefing and then ridicules you, acts terse, or is gruff when you do something wrong. A group that cannot explain how it expects you to move, ignores teaching opportunities, and fails to have a sense of humor or patience is not worth your time. It can hurt to be told that a part of ritual you worked so hard on just didn’t go over well, but you have to be able to reflect on your failures and get over them. Don’t take your blunders out on your ritual participants.
- Group leaders should not expect that everyone comes with the same amount of experience or knowledge. Even a more experienced Pagan could have been taught differently. Group leaders should value those teachings and patiently explain new ways of doing this. If a group leader acts as if you are unintelligent or that your previous teachings were all bunk, he or she is probably not someone who has the patience to be a good teacher. Some material isn’t as good as others, but they should be viewed as stepping stones – schema – to better understandings. The moment a group leader shuts someone down is the moment that person loses interest.
For a Pagan group to continue flourishing, new members are necessary. Nobody wants to become stagnant. New members with fresh ideas are important! Discussion about diversity is tremendously important and should not be silenced in open groups. Even closed groups with a set tradition benefit from such discussions in a comparative sense. Now, if people are very new, you want to treat them as a valued member. For covens or groves that have an established tradition, tactfully inform newbies when a suggestion doesn’t feel appropriate and explain why kindly. When a suggestion isn’t something that is totally backwards to your workings, be willing to experiment a little. Just as in a classroom, students learn best when they feel successful and creative. Help them learn how to be both in the framework of your path. Be balanced in how firmly you adhere to tradition. If you are creative enough, you will find how to incorporate many new ideas into an established liturgy!
I was once told by another Pagan that I didn’t come to their group enough to have an opinion worth sharing to others. At the time, I was more worried that I had hurt someone’s feelings, but I later reflected and realized how wrong he was! I had every right to share my opinions about a group with another. It’s said that first impressions are everything, and I had had at least five before deciding I needed to devote my time and energy to other things. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t have a right to share your thoughts with others. If you feel that a group just isn’t for you, then trust your instincts.
However, as someone seeking community, etiquette goes both ways. Keep the following in mind:
- Established groups have a history that you may not be aware of. Some resistance to your traditions may be due to the actions of a previous visitor who was not the best representative. Visit more than once to see if the group is opened to trying again. Pay attention to body language. Sometimes it’s not worth the heartache, but don’t burn your bridges entirely. You could be a better model.
- Always be civil – even when your tradition is in the minority and may be misunderstood. You may have to stand up for yourself, but always breathe and think before you speak. Remember, in an open circle, you are a representative of your path. Bring your Gods, ancestors, teachers, and spirit allies honor by acting the best you are capable of.
- If you know the group you are approaching follows a specific path, do not insist that they change their ways for you. A circle, coven, or grove established around a tradition or hearth culture different from your own is not going to change. Visit if you genuinely wish to learn, but don’t go as a combatant or with a plan to usurp control.
- When there is a potluck, always bring a dish. Ask ahead about dietary restrictions (if any) and do your best. Ask for suggestions if you’re stumped. If budget is an issue, drinks are an easy and affordable option – brew some iced tea or bring a bottle of orange juice.
- Don’t expect to lead rituals right away. You should visit a few times. Take smaller parts in ritual. If something isn’t clear, ask. A good ritual leader will inform you early in the pre-ritual briefing and have a time for questions. If something is left out and you still don’t grasp it, ask after ritual.
- Don’t expect all rituals to be the same. This is especially true if you are visiting a group who follows a different tradition than you’re used to. The Kindreds aren’t always praised, Outsiders aren’t always acknowledged, four quarters aren’t always called, circles aren’t always cast, doors aren’t always cut, and not everyone thinks the same about the spirit world.
- Don’t make assumptions, especially when it comes to communication. If you have an issue, take it up privately with that individual or with the group leader. Do not slander people publicly. It just is bad form and makes you look crazy.
- Know that the group does not revolve around you and your needs. Often, a group meets with a specific goal in mind – a seasonal ritual, an initiation, etc. Don’t attend and expect the ritual or magic to address your personal needs. Most circles are more than happy to do healing rites, blessings, banishings, etc – but only in advance and with a majority of support! If in doubt, ask the group leader(s) and try to arrange something.
- If a group just isn’t right for you, don’t make a huge deal of it. Move on. Again, try not to burn bridges. You can and should be friends with people in other spiritual traditions! It’s how you keep learning.
I’m certain there’s more to be said, but I’ve encountered and heard about too many of what I described above that I’ve come to see these as common issues. In the past, I have been guilty of one or two – and trust me, it’s not fun. Nobody wants to attend a circle when everyone is tense. It’s always unfortunate when there’s drama… thankfully, I haven’t encountered much of it off the internet. Most of the time, Pagan groups I’ve worked with are full of very wonderful people. Kudos to the wonderful people!
Part of what I like about ADF is the emphasis on hospitality and reciprocity. Hosts are good to their guests and guests are good to their hosts. If you try to be the best host/guest you can be, you should have a pretty successful experience with forming or joining Pagan groups. You can disagree but everyone should be civil. Etiquette can go a long way to making a better overall Pagan community, both online and off!