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Author Topic: Finding That Small Group  (Read 2832 times)
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« Topic Start: May 25, 2011, 05:09:47 pm »

(This post grows out of some prior contemplations and some discussion had earlier in chat.  Obviously not my issue, but something that I suspect some people would find useful to noodle at.)

So HypotheticalPagan is looking for a religious witchcraft group.  They've checked out WitchVox and similar resources, and don't find anything that resonates yet.  Maybe the stuff near them is very big on gender polarity, and they're queer; maybe they'd like to find something with a pantheist flavor; maybe the groups nearby are too ceremonial, or too casual; maybe there are various other incompatibilities.

What Hypothetical wants is not something that's totally outre.  It falls within the realm of eclectic Wicca or neo-Wicca or some other flavor of reasonably codified religious witchcraft, so it's quite likely that someone is doing it.  However, that someone is not near Hypo, or if they are, they're not advertising their presence on WitchVox and dropping off flyers at the local crystal shop.

What should Hypothetical do?  They would like to join rather than found a group, to have someone to share praxis and experiences with.  None of the groups that are visibly seeking new blood seem right.  There are quite likely more out there that don't advertise themselves, even if they are willing to take on new members, but Hypo has no idea how to find them.

Word of mouth is great ... if one happens to know someone who knows of a group that would be a good fit for Hypothetical.
Reputation is great ... if the groups care to have a public presence.  (And that raises the question of whether one would want to pursue a more secretive group.)
Both of these require being a significant presence in a local pagan community, which may be hard to do.

What are some other options or ideas?
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« Reply #1: May 26, 2011, 04:38:15 am »

(This post grows out of some prior contemplations and some discussion had earlier in chat.  Obviously not my issue, but something that I suspect some people would find useful to noodle at.)

So HypotheticalPagan is looking for a religious witchcraft group.  They've checked out WitchVox and similar resources, and don't find anything that resonates yet.  Maybe the stuff near them is very big on gender polarity, and they're queer; maybe they'd like to find something with a pantheist flavor; maybe the groups nearby are too ceremonial, or too casual; maybe there are various other incompatibilities.

What Hypothetical wants is not something that's totally outre. It falls within the realm of eclectic Wicca or neo-Wicca or some other flavor of reasonably codified religious witchcraft, so it's quite likely that someone is doing it.  However, that someone is not near Hypo, or if they are, they're not advertising their presence on WitchVox and dropping off flyers at the local crystal shop.

What should Hypothetical do?  They would like to join rather than found a group, to have someone to share praxis and experiences with.  None of the groups that are visibly seeking new blood seem right.  There are quite likely more out there that don't advertise themselves, even if they are willing to take on new members, but Hypo has no idea how to find them.

Word of mouth is great ... if one happens to know someone who knows of a group that would be a good fit for Hypothetical.
Reputation is great ... if the groups care to have a public presence.  (And that raises the question of whether one would want to pursue a more secretive group.)
Both of these require being a significant presence in a local pagan community, which may be hard to do.

What are some other options or ideas?

If Hypothetical Pagan isn't willing to make face-time and actually meet up with groups they hear of through word-of-mouth, then I'm not sure what to tell them. Many perfectly legitimate and well-known groups have no web presence, from Wiccan covens to Golden Dawn Lodges. In my opinion, you often have less to go on from an anonymous web listing than a friend of a friend who knows someone. And if somebody at the drum circle or the book store knows who they are, then they really aren't very secretive, are they? If the community knows them, then they have a public presence. And you have somebody to tell you what the group and its members might be like before you even meet with them.

If Hypothetical Pagan were willing to consider a Brit Trad coven, there is a whole mailing list dedicated to that purpose. Also, when BTW groups do have web listings, it's usually for a whole tradition or line, rather than individual groups - if there is another type of initiatory witchcraft tradition near you, they may be doing the same. (It's all in the keywords.) If nothing else, BTW covens are often well connected with various groups in their surrounding areas, and might be able to refer Hypothetical Pagan to a non-BTW groups.

Otherwise, meeting and greeting is the key to finding your niche. I'm as shy as shy can be - truly, painfully shy - but as soon as I dipped my toe in the water, I found that people were very friendly and perfectly willing to point me in the right directions. There's no need to make yourself a "big presence" in the local community, or to make any commitments right away. Explore as much as you're comfortable with, and make your own judgments. It's better than doing nothing.
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« Reply #2: May 26, 2011, 08:11:47 am »

If Hypothetical Pagan isn't willing to make face-time and actually meet up with groups they hear of through word-of-mouth, then I'm not sure what to tell them. Many perfectly legitimate and well-known groups have no web presence, from Wiccan covens to Golden Dawn Lodges.

I have to agree with you, many groups don't have a web presence, or any public Internet presence. Or they don't have a public Internet presence other than an email contact person, who may or may not be listed on Witchvox. They might have private Internet presence such as a members only mailing list or web site but that is the same as no Internet presence from the seeker's POV.  If one isn't willing to do some legwork like visiting local Pagan/Occult/New Age shops or going to local generic Pagan events, one isn't likely to ever hear of these groups nor are these groups ever likely to hear of the seeker.
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« Reply #3: May 26, 2011, 10:29:48 am »

Word of mouth is great ... if one happens to know someone who knows of a group that would be a good fit for Hypothetical.
Reputation is great ... if the groups care to have a public presence.  (And that raises the question of whether one would want to pursue a more secretive group.)
Both of these require being a significant presence in a local pagan community, which may be hard to do.

I, of course, have ideas Smiley

The first one is that I think Hypothetical needs to be realistic about the search.

Living in a metro community with a very active Pagan community (of the "multiple public events going on most nights" kind, and a lot of groups who are quietly out there doing their thing), I've seen people insist there's nothing out there because there isn't something of their very specific preference in the suburb they live in. (So, it's not "something in the eclectic/Neo-Wicca category within a 20-30 minute drive" but "I want something that focuses on Celtic deities and only Celtic deities, with lots of singing, but not too much focus on magic, within 5 miles of my home, meeting only on Saturdays")

Even in areas with lots of Pagans, that kind of specificity of practice, location, schedule, and focus is probably not going to work terribly well: we just don't have the population density. You *might* get lucky, but chances are, you're not going to find something that meets every requirement. Being open to at least checking other options can really help.

Beyond that, though, ways that can make the search easier that aren't just "Go to everything you hear about" or "Become big-name recognised local Pagan"

Is there a local or regional email list or other networking tool?
Sign up for that and keep an eye on it. First, people will post upcoming events, open rituals, etc. some of which might help someone find a connection.

But it's also often (list rules allowing) a good place to ask. I know a lot of people locally who have small groups that don't advertise their presence much, but who do keep an eye on those lists, and who if they see a reasonable request (i.e. one that gets that this is a give and take, not a demand) may well say "Well, we aren't advertising, but we might be a fit" or "This group over there, they might be a fit, here's how to get in touch..."

Same deal goes with stores - checking out their bulletin boards is good, but asking the store owner or other long-term employee is sometimes even better: they'll often have specific suggestions or ideas.

Picking high-impact events
There are some events where it's often harder for people (especially people who introvert around strangers) to make connections, and some events where it's easier. Me, I really hate loosely organized networking/social events, and find them really nervewracking if I don't know anyone. But I found more structured events a lot easier.

One option is class or workshop - taking a class, even if you know a chunk of the content already can be a good way to connect with other people who've got similar interests. Asking the teacher *and* the other participants if they know of a group that's doing [whatever] in a class that's at least somewhat related, can often get you some ideas of where to look that aren't as public. (And, if you're like me, the structure makes it easier to interact in a way that's comfortable - it's 5 minutes as part of the introduction, not having to say the same thing to a dozen random different people.)

Attending a local or regional festival of some kind can also help - again, not only will a range of different people be presenting or offering information, but it can be really easy to make other connections. Having a really brief thing you can say as part of an intro in a workshop (if the workshop does quick intros) may bring someone up to you after and say "Hey, have you talked to X? They're doing something like you're looking for..." that makes it clear you *are* looking for a group connection is really useful.

(By brief, I mean something like "Hi, I'm Jenett, and I've been doing my own thing for a while, but I'm curious about making more connections to explore [topic] in a group setting now. I live in [whatever] area." Two or three sentences.)

Pagan Pride events can be particularly good for this, but so can other festivals (camping or not) as long as they're something that isn't just hosted by one group and only one group. (Though those are obviously also possible sources.)

Asking online
Related to local/regional lists, sometimes asking in a general forum (like this one) that's got a wide range of members from various places can get you somewhere. It's often less direct than other options (just because there may not be someone from a given area, or people may not know a lot about the local options themselves), but it's a relatively simple thing to try.

(I have said, and continue to say, that I'm glad to meet pretty much anyone interested in Craft stuff in my area for coffee when my time and energy permit: I'm not the only person who does that. I don't know everyone in town, though I do happen to know a pretty wide range (due to the Pagan Pride board member bit) but I can often suggest other places to check out even if I don't know a good fit for someone directly.)

Being patient and checking back periodically
One of the realities of group work is that groups may ebb and flow, or be more inwardly focused and then outwardly focused for all sorts of reasons.

Sometimes that's about their own training and initiation cycles. (The group I trained with, for example, started training in late January, so someone who started looking for a group in February might not see an announcement from them for a while. I just saw the yearly announcement for another group's cycle of classes pop up.)

Sometimes it's about other things going on for the group or especially the group leaders: people may be less active checking online lists/going to public events/whatever if their lives got unusually busy (major illness, going back to school to finish a degree, family changes, etc.) and then a few months later will come up for air and get back into the rhythm of the larger community again. This is the one that's *really* hard to figure out from the outside, even for people who know the group exists, so some patience really helps.

(And, of course, sometimes people start groups and they fold or dissolve into chaos. If you don't get an answer back in a reasonable amount of time - couple of weeks, not days - move on to the next thing. If they get back to you later, you can figure it out then.)

Which brings me to ...

Remember that not everyone does things the same way
One of the things I'm seeing locally is that there are people who are active online in some format (listing public events, reading/chiming in on lists, etc.) - and then there's a whole layer of people who are great teachers, group leaders, etc. who don't.

Often, this is something of a generational thing, but not always.

However, those people who are less active online can have a lot to offer. Someone who's *only* relying on stuff they can learn from the comfort of their own home is probably going to miss out on those options. Someone who figures a group isn't active if they don't email back immediately is going to miss out on those options. (I know a fair number of older group leaders who respond to group emails once a month or so, or only if they've potentially got space in the group again. I disagree with that, mind you, but it's surprisingly common.) Once someone's in the group, often the communication is a lot better.

And finally, remember that you're not the only person contacting them
Also, the standard reminder that lots of group contacts get some really odd emails - everything from "I want 2 lern witchcraft, can u t3ach me?" (and that's it) to long emotional screeds pouring out every injustice they've ever faced in a religious context. A polite, moderate email goes a long way.

But even with that, group leaders know that for every 20 people who contact them, maybe 5 are going to follow through even to whatever the next step is - so most group leaders don't invest a lot of time, energy, or emotion in dealing with initial contacts. You just can't, if you don't want to end up burnt out and entirely too cynical.

So, someone making contact will do a lot better if they take responsibility for how they do that (following any guidelines the group suggests), and if they understand that group leaders (even not very public ones) get a lot of contacts that go nowhere. Being a bit patient, understanding that there may be some winnowing steps built in to help make that a bit easier for the group, that kind of thing, can help a lot. And that the group isn't going to go "Oh, you new lovely person are the gift of our dreams!" right off, but be a bit more reserved.

(The good winnowing steps, in my opinion, are those that are as useful to the person considering the group as to the group considering the person. But that's a whole other discussion.)
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