I ask people interested in my group to send a letter of introduction to me. This page describes what I ask, and why, so that if you want to send a more detailed letter of introduction, you have an idea of some specific topics you might want to address. (Groups may, of course, have their own requests, but the things I ask about are relatively common questions.)
My group website begins by explaining the letter, and what I use it for. I say:
Through this website, we’ve shared a fair bit of information about Phoenix Song and our High Priestess with you, but we don’t (yet) know anything about you at all! The letter gives us a way to change that.
- helps us learn more about you and your specific interests.
- helps us decide if a face to face meeting is a good use of your time (and ours.) Sometimes, the specifics someone shares make it clear there just isn’t a good enough fit with what we can offer or our focus.
- if we meet, it helps us spend less time covering general background and more time digging deeply in a true conversation. We much prefer the conversation – it’s a lot more fun than running down a list of very basic questions.
Don’t worry, we don’t need your life story in every detail! We’re looking for a general overview.
While all of these are true, there are two additional things I’m curious about:
Has this person read far enough into our website to find the link to the details of what I’d like to know?
The information about the letter of introduction is intentionally fairly buried: to get there, someone has to read through a page of general information, a page of some specific practical information, two pages about our process for considering new students/members, and then the letter of introduction. I’ve done my best to make these clear and easy to read, but it’s still a fair bit of information.
The reason for this is that while I use a variety of teaching methods, I expect that there will always be a fair amount of reading text involved somewhere along the way: I want to know that someone can either handle that or that they can say “Hey, I have a harder time learning like that: are there some other options?”
How do they handle a request with some specific guidelines?
My tradition has a number of specific practices and requirements as part of training. Many are open to some level of negotiation about how we handle a particular issue, but a few aren’t. One reason the letter has some specific requests (while noting that we’re open to alternative ways to handle the question) is that I want to see if someone can either follow the directions or suggest a functional alternative.
For example, if someone doesn’t want to share a piece of information before meeting, that’d be fine, but I’d want them to say so, or otherwise address it, rather than just leaving it out.
What I ask for:
We ask for a relatively brief letter: 10-20 sentences per numbered question. (Of which there are six.) I don’t need or want someone’s whole life history or their complete religious background in every detail: instead, I’m looking to see if they can give me an overview and an idea of where they’re coming from, while respecting my time and energy.
We’re clear about not needing identifying details, and about the fact that we will, at specific points, need some specific information about any medical, accessibility, and other specific needs.
Finally, I ask people to use their own words. I really want to hear why someone’s attracted to the group and its focus in their own phrasing, not just a repeat of something I wrote for the website.
Question 1: Tell us a little about who you are.
- What name should we call you? (And if the pronunciation isn’t obvious, we appreciate some help.)
- How do you spend your time? This might include work, school, hobbies, or other interests.
- Do you live with anyone else? If you have a spouse or partner, are they aware of your interest? Are they supportive? Do you have children? What ages?
- Astrological information: date, time, and place of birth if you’re comfortable sharing it at this time. (Got questions about this one? See the bottom of the page.) Please don’t attach a chart – just send the listed info.
This question is designed to get a basic idea of someone’s life. My answer to it might look a little like this:
“I go by Jenett in the Pagan community – my given name, Jennifer, is so common I don’t answer to it well, and my last name is common enough to be identifying, so I don’t use it online. I’m a librarian by profession. I’m single, though at a stage where a romantic relationship would be welcome. One cat, no children. I’d prefer to share my astrological information once we meet.”
As you can see, that’s quite simple and straightforward: I don’t expect lots of detail (like exactly where someone works.) It does help, however, to have some idea if they work a regular schedule, they might have on-call periods or shift work, and whether their spouse and immediate family are comfortable with their search for a group.
Question 2: Your path
- Briefly, what is your religious background?
- How do you describe your desired religious path? How have you learned about this path so far? (Books, online, classes, teachers, groups, etc.)
- Please tell us briefly about a few specific sources you found helpful, and a few you didn’t. (These can be books, websites, experiences – whatever makes sense for you.)
Here, I’m looking for a brief (couple of sentences) overview of where they’re coming from.
Did someone grow up in a strongly religious family? What kinds of experiences did they have? How long has it been since they left the religion they previously held? If they weren’t previously religious, that’s also good to know. These things help me understand where they’re coming from, and help me pick examples and explanations as we talk.
What they’re looking for:
This question is the first question designed to see if what they say they’re looking for is something I can offer. Are they asking for something that I’m just not offering? (Large group work, single gender group, general classes not focused on coven training?)
I’m also looking to find out what initiative they’ve taken in learning about options for themselves. Are they relying on other people to take them by the hand and lead them? (Not a good fit for my group, and probably not a good fit for religious witchcraft in general.) Can they talk about sources they found useful and confusing in any kind of detail? People often do a very poor job on this one, so the people who take a little time really stand out here as people I want to get to know better.
My answer to this question (at the time I was first looking for a group) might look like this:
“I grew up in Episcopalian, but my parents re-joined and I joined the Catholic church when I was in my early teens. I was very active throughout high school and college, before getting frustrated with some political and practical aspects of the church. I took a year after I moved to Minnesota to think about what I wanted out of my religious practice. I’ve gone to some public rituals, but know I’m more interested in a smaller group of regular attendees, in some kind of Wiccan or religious witchcraft practice. [a couple of sentences about sources and resources].”
Question 3: Groups
- Why are you seeking a group at this time?
- What do you hope for from group work?
- Have you worked with any Wiccan, Pagan, magical, or esoteric groups in the past? If so, please describe your involvement briefly.
- Are you currently working with or applying to/considering any other group at this time? Studying with a teacher or mentor?
Why are they seeking a group?
What do they hope to get from group work? Are they looking for someone to lead them, for some sort of structure to help them grow, are they seeking direct interaction and growth with others? Do they have an unrealistic idea of what a group can do for them, or is it a realistic and balanced goal?
I want to know if someone has worked with other groups, and what their current status with those groups might be. (Did they leave on good terms? Move away?) I don’t need all the details immediately (for example, if it was an uncomfortable separation from the group), but I want to know what to ask more about if I’m seriously considering them.
I also do not want to poach from someone else’s group, so I want to make very sure that I know about any other current exploration, interest or groups that someone is attending. And again, knowing what they might already be familiar with also helps me choose terms and explanations that may work better, as we start talking in more detail.
Question 4: Us
- How did you find out about us?
- Given what you know about us so far, what particularly interests you about our group?
- We hope our new members will add new and wonderful things to our group. What would you particularly like to bring to or do more with in group work?
- Do you have any questions for us that are not discussed on our site?
Here, I’m looking for why someone is interested in us in particular: when I founded Phoenix Song in Minnesota, there were many Pagan groups in my immediate geographic area, so I wanted to know why Phoenix Song, and not someone else. Now, I’m living in a much more rural area, with many fewer options – but I still want to know what in particular someone’s looking for, and why.
I am looking to see if they’ve done enough reading (of our site, of other local material) to at least hint at a reason why. And I want the people who can at least begin to put that in their own words, rather than saying what they hope I want to hear.
I’m also looking for people who are self-aware enough to suggest at least a few things that they can offer, and who are thinking through the process enough to ask questions. (Think of this a little like a job interview: I want to work with people who realise that just as they’re checking us out, we’re checking them out.)
The ‘How did you find out about us’ question is mostly to figure out which methods of ‘Hi, we’re here’ are working and not working for us. (We’re quite laid back about this, but in the group I trained with, it was really helpful to know if someone found us via Witchvox, via a referral from someone else in the community, via a flyer in one of the local stores, or something else.)
Question 5: Practical details
- We strongly prefer email for group contacts. Please let us know your preferred email and about how often you check it. (multiple times a day, daily, every few days, etc.) If email is not feasible for you, what’s the best way to contact you?
- Is there anything we should know that might significantly limit or affect participation in the group as described? (Scheduling, specific needs, other commitments, etc.) Specifically, are you able to meet on both weeknights and weekends as described, and do you have any questions about our other expectations?
- When are generally good days/times you might be available to meet for a conversation?
Practical issues are practical! I want to know if someone’s read the site in enough detail to have an idea of our practices (since we spell out likely scheduling) and whether there’s anything we should be aware of around that.
There are places I’m willing to consider adjustments, but in general, having regular (every 3-5 days) access to email to read and share material is pretty important to me: it’s a way I manage time and energy, since my in-person energy and ability to meet can sometimes be limited by other things (work commitments, need to rest at home to have energy for some other commitment, etc.)
And finally, I want someone who can be proactive about suggesting some potential general times to meet. If they are very specific (only a couple of options across several weeks), that suggests we might have other scheduling problems down the road.
We close with a request for any further information we should know but haven’t asked about. We also make it clear what kind of physical and mental health information we’ll be asking about (and approximately when we need to know it.) This last one is perhaps the most complicated: while I care about accessibility and related topics, I’m also well aware that there are some things I can and can’t support right now (given the physical reality of my home, for example.)
Being able to talk about those sooner than later, in very broad terms is important to me, partly so that if I make other suggestions about other possible groups, I can keep it in mind.
Some reasons I might decline to meet:
As a general rule, if I’m not sure whether someone might be a fit or not, I arrange to meet them for coffee (assuming my energy and time are available: if not, I let them know when that might change and see if they’d like me to contact them if it does.)
There are exceptions, though. My short list of reasons I might not choose to meet someone includes:
Lack of attention to detail.
There is no time limit on the letter: the writer can take as much time as they’d like to present themselves in the best light possible. If they don’t do that, that says something about them. Possible issues include a letter that completely ignores a question or more, or that has lots of typos and very confusing writing (missed words, etc.) Of course, if someone mentions dyslexia or small motor control problems, I’m glad to suggest alternatives or take the issue into account.
A particular note on names: I won’t say no to someone just because they spell my name (Jenett) wrong, but it does end up as a point against them. I want to work with people who pay attention to details, and who take the time to get something important like a name right when they’ve got time and the ability to review their work. (And double check the spelling.)
The person did not address all of the questions asked (especially the practical ones).
Usually in this case, I’ll give a gentle nudge, and see what they do with it. Practical considerations (Are we free at the same time? Can they get to where we meet reliably?) are important.
What they want and what I can offer are not a match.
The person went on at substantial length about something that makes it clear they’re looking for something I’m not offering. One example is that I’ve had several people talk about joining a community of other women: while the current group members have all been female, that’s not the way I’d like it to end up long-term and our website says so.
Someone goes way overboard with too much information.
It’s possible to write a good introduction letter that answers these questions in 250-500 words (one or two pages). If someone is going on for 3 or 4 times that length, or including lots of details I didn’t need at this point, that often indicates other possible areas of concern. Part of fitting well in a group is figuring out how to navigate different people’s preferences around when and how to share.
The person has been rude, nasty, or insulting to me directly.
This has happened a couple of times when I did not immediately welcome someone with open arms. If I write back a “I’m not sure we’re a good fit for this kind of work with each other” and get nastiness back, I’m going to decline further contact.
Ditto someone who has had significant problems with people who I respect and value. (Though I may go through with a meeting if I think that that issue will not continue to be a problem for whatever reason. People do grow and change.)
When I do meet with people:
I still pay a lot of attention to how they approach me. Since I’m going to take limited students and group members, I really want to focus on people who are the best possible fit for the group. Someone who takes the process of getting to know me (and us) lightly, who brushes off requests, who makes assumptions about what I can or will do for them, I’m going to be less inclined to welcome as a student.
And really, that’s a lot of what the letter is meant to do – give me a chance to see how they approach a specific task with some guidance but quite a lot of freedom about how they go about it.