(Part of my series on coven life in practice)
One thing I’ve thought about a lot is designing a site about the group. I go through and tweak things (or clarify things that come up as having confused someone) periodically, but it’s been roughly the same content for years now.
The intro page describes a general range of things I’m up for. Well, as the first paragraph says: “These pages are designed to tell you more about me, my training, the tradition I practice, and what I am able to offer”
It lists four options: for people wanting to meet other witches in the area, people curious about religious witchcraft, people looking for workshops or short-term training, and people interested in coven work. As it explains, I’m only up for ongoing group work in a tradition-focused setting. (The reason for this is that I’ve got only so much stamina, and I want to spend it on my tradition on a regular basis, not open circles or public rituals – as much as I’ve learned from those things and enjoyed them in the past.)
There are links to more info about the first three options: the rest of the site focuses on coven work.
The bulk of the site is seven pages that talk about different aspects of group work. The first one gives some key information (am I currently open to new students? What about general scheduling?) and links to the next six pages.
There are two big goals for the coven site (besides ‘share public information about the coven and tradition so people can decide if they might be interested’.)
First, I wanted to give people a taste of what I’m like
(If you can’t deal with the fact I produce text in paragraphs on a regular basis, I am maybe not the right person to teach you: I’m fine with people who need different approaches, but I need them to be able to articulate that and what does work for them.)
Second, there’s a fair bit of information about me out there (blog, coven site, Seeking, other sources) so part of it was thinking about how to ask people to share information about themselves that felt like a fair exchange, and that would help me decide what the next step could be.
A brief history
The first page talks about the history of the tradition and my own background. This part is often a page on many coven sites, but it’s even more important for me because we’re a small tradition, and my sites are (I think) the only place currently mentioning the tradition in any detail. I want people who have an understanding of traditions and various forms of religious witchcraft to be able to put me in some kinds of general context.
Besides this context, the rest of the information is intended to give a pretty clear idea of things I find interesting in coven, religious, and magical practice – if these things aren’t what someone is looking for, I want them to figure that out early.
Answers to some common questions
Some of which I’ve actually been asked! These are questions that people have had, or that are logical things people might be wondering about. It sets out some baseline requirements (I won’t take students under 21) but that I’m glad to work with a range of existing experience. It also talks about a few things that might be dealbreakers for some people, like having oathbound material.
Initiatory and coven work
Initiatory coven work isn’t like getting together with a group of friends. Hopefully it will be that too, but it isn’t just that. It takes time and focus to build some skills, and it takes time and working together regularly to build trust. If people can’t make it to events and classes regularly, that’s going to be a problem on both fronts.
This is also where I outline some specific requirements. I’m open to people with a range of health (physical and mental) issues or chronic things, but I am neither a doctor nor a therapist, (and even if I were I’d want them to have outside resources for support and treatment if needed) so I want to make sure any chronic conditions are reasonably stable before we add additional complexities like initiatory training to the mix.
This is also the point where, when reading letters (we’ll get to the letters!) I start going “No, that’s not going to be a fit.” For example, I’m open about how people solve transportation issues, but I can’t be the person doing the transit. I have things to be doing before people arrive that involve being home (never mind people showing up early, etc.) and when we’re done I may need to fall over and rest for a bit because of my own health issues. (Not a good state to be driving in!)
I live near several major bus lines, and there are multiple cab and ride services near me, so I feel okay having that line. (If I were more remote, I might be a little more flexible about this, but it would also change how far I would be willing to go in ritual or classes.)
I am a big believer that membership in a small coven or similar group should be hard to get and easy to leave if someone decides it’s not for them.
The other side of that coin is that I’m inviting people into my home, repeatedly and regularly, and I need to feel okay with saying no to a given person if I feel I need to. I think hard before doing that – but I want people who think about this as an important step they’re taking, and understand there’s give and take involved.
That’s why I spell out that I expect the initial process of feeling each other out will take several months – two to five, depending on scheduling. That gives us time for an initial meeting for coffee, for Seeker classes (a series of five). At the end of that time, we should have enough of a feel of each other and how things are working to make better informed long-term decisions.
When I’ve talked to people in other Pagan contexts, incidentally, the lack of idea about process is one of the things they find so frustrating about many coven and group sites. It’s hard to put numbers or details on (because honestly, there’s a lot of variation: the right approach for one person isn’t the right one for the next person interested.) But at the same time, I think it’s important to lay out the limits and expectations.
I go back and forth about how detailed these are (or should be), honestly, but I’ve come down on the side of more detailed (with a summary at the top) both because accessibility issues are something I care about, and because there are accessibility things I can’t offer.
That’s because we do ritual in my home, and unsurprisingly, I’ve made choices that make my home more accessible for what I need – reasonably close to work, within my budget, with a layout for laundry and trash that works for me) that presents challenges for other people (stairs and layout). Not all accessibility needs are mutually possible at the same time in the same space (especially when we’re talking about rented apartments, rather than public buildings!).
Anyway, having the information here helps people with their own specific needs figure out if there’s some reasonable middle ground or not.
Letter of introduction
The last section of the site with significant content asks for a letter of introduction for anyone interested in group work and training. The goal of this letter is to equalise some of the information imbalance of having lots of information and nothing from them. I’ve also poked at this section over the years, to find a balance between useful information and being too nosy.
I’m trying to do three major things with this letter:
1) Get information from the person that will help me understand where they’re coming from and what htey’re like.
2) See how they respond when they have plenty of time to figure out how to respond. There’s no particular pressure.
3) Figure out if it’s worth meeting in person.
That’s why there are six questions.
The letter as designed is actually very helpful, and has been working fairly well. I get some really brief responses, and it’s hard for someone to recover from that. I give pretty clear instructions.
I don’t need an incredibly long letter, but if you send me four sentences and only answer two questions out of six, I’m going to raise my eyebrows and probably not meet with you in person.
Someone who acknowledges the questions but doesn’t answer all of them, however, has a much better shot. (For example, saying they’d rather discuss their group history in person, or they’d rather not share details of their personal life yet.)
I ask for:
- A bit about who they are, how they spend their time, if they live with anyone else. (And I ask if they have a partner or children, and some related questions about what they know.)
- How they describe their current path, and what they’ve done so far.
- Why they’re looking for a group right now, and what they’re hoping for.
- How they found out about Phoenix Song, and what’s particularly interesting to them.
- A check on some practical details.
These all tell me different important things. Knowing someone’s basic living and working situations (or how they spend their time, if not working outside the home) help me ask questions about scheduling, time for training exercises, if they’ve already got a lot on their plate.
A lot of people aren’t very articulate about how they got started on witchcraft or related paths, but knowing a bit about where they’ve been doing things or learning things helps me peg where I start with more detailed conversations.
I’ll start in very different places with someone who already has group experience versus someone who’s read one or two books and has never done ritual with other people.
The third and fourth questions help me weed out people who haven’t read the information on the site, or who have some significant gaps between my understanding of that and their understanding of it. Sometimes I’ll still meet with these people, but it helps me hone in on questions that I really want answers to early on.