Getting the most out of community events

Connecting : heart made of smaller hearts on teal circle background

One thing I’ve heard from a number of people is that they go to a public event, don’t get much out of it, and are frustrated. This essay is about some different ways to approach public rituals and other general Pagan community events to make the most of the time and energy it takes to go to them.

Types of public Pagan events:

Broadly open public Pagan events fall into a couple of common categories, and knowing what you’re going to will help. I’ve listed them here in order of complexity and generally cost.

Networking events

These can happen in coffee shops, family restaurants, or similar places (in the UK they often happen in pubs) and have a variety of names. Some take place at Pagan or esoteric stores.

Usually scheduled regularly. Some places that’s once a month, some it’s twice a month, a few are weekly.

Time involved:
Sometimes it’s just open discussion for an hour or two, at others there’s a topic (a lecture or discussion) followed by social time.

Range of people:
Usually a couple of people who are there most weeks to facilitate, and then other people who show up more or less frequently. This can mean the event is really great for you one time, and not so useful another.

Costs and other expectations:
If it’s at a coffee shop, pub, or restaurant, it’s polite to buy something there (it doesn’t need to be big: a soda or cup of coffee or tea should be fine). In other spaces, there will often be a donation jar out, and the usual donation is a couple of dollars in the US.

Advice and ideas:
If you’re curious about one of these events but not sure about whether you’ll like it, find something else in the same area (or on your way there or back) you’re also interested in doing, like checking out a store, park, library, etc. If you have a great time at the networking event, you can stay, and if not, you can excuse yourself with a “It was great to stop by, but I’ve got an errand I need to run” and feel like you haven’t made a specific trip for something you didn’t enjoy.

Public rituals

These are what they sound like, rituals open to the public. Their format is most commonly Wiccan-derived (in very general ways) unless otherwise noted but there are many different methods of doing ritual, and a lot of details depend on who is putting on the public ritual. There’s usually social time after (and sometimes before) the ritual itself, and often some kind of potluck.

Some events are announced in public but require contacting someone organizing the event for specific details of location – these are pretty common if the event needs an idea of the number of people coming, it’s on private property, or there is specific information they want to make sure everyone has.

Frequency:Some areas have open ritual events for every full moon and Sabbat, but in a lot of places you’re more likely to see a couple a year – Samhain, Beltane, winter solstice, and Imbolc are particularly common times (end of October, beginning of May, around December 22nd, and beginning of February, respectively.) They’ll often be on the nearest weekend.

Time involved:Normally allow 30-60 minutes before the ritual starts, 1-2 hours for the ritual, and 1-2 hours for social time and cleanup afterwards. for a total of 3-4 hours or so. Sometimes (especially in good weather) there may be longer social times, workshops, or other activities as well as the central ritual, and it might be an all-day sort of thing.

Events with good announcement practices will often give  specific details in the announcements about timing.

Range of people:
Some of these events have a core of people who are often there. Sometimes you’ll get people who come for one event and disappear, or come to one or two events a year. Usually it’s somewhere in the middle. Samhain events tend to get more once-a-year folks and be the largest, so if you’re looking to make more local connections, trying other options may be a good idea.

Costs and other expectations:
Since people usually need to rent space (or pay for park permits) there is usually a request for donations, generally in the $5-10 range or so.

You may be asked to bring a potluck dish (some places ask for specific types of dishes based on your last name or birth month). If you’re not sure what to bring, fruit, cheese, handheld foods, or non-alcoholic drinks all tend to go over pretty well. Make sure there’s an ingredients list if a food has multiple ingredients.

If there’s food at the event, bringing your own dishes may be very helpful. Items made for patio or beach meals work pretty well and are usually available cheaply. Bring a plastic bag to stick dirty dishes in: there may not be somewhere to rinse your plate easily.

Public events

These include Pagan Pride events and other public Pagan networking events more involved than a conversation. They often involve at least one ritual, and may also include workshops, discussions, networking opportunities, and sometimes vendors or other activities. Some places have special events for Samhain (and sometimes at other times of the year) with formal meals, dances, or other activities.

This varies a lot. A lot of these kinds of events are a once a year thing, but in some places there are more frequent options.  Even if you’ve missed this year’s event, it can be worth checking out any public information (like a website) to find out more about groups, vendors, and other events in the area.

Time involved:
Varies, but often the event runs for a significant portion of the day, and may have several different pieces or parts.

Range of people:
This also varies. Pagan Pride events in public places with a lot of walkthrough traffic may have one or two people who identify as Pagan for every 10 people there. Pagan Pride events that take more effort to get to are probably filled with more Pagans (but they may be people who don’t know others in the local community.) Other events may have a strong turnout from people who go to the event every year, or be very welcoming to newcomers.

Costs and other expectations:
Pagan Pride events are free to the public (but will ask for a small donation and a food pantry donation, usually). Samhain balls might cost $50 or more, if they include a meal, special performers, or other similar items.

Conventions and festivals

These events last more than a day, and generally include a combination of workshops, rituals, arts and music, vendors, and much more. Some of these events are held at hotels (like science fiction and other hobby conventions), others are held at camp grounds or other similar sites.

Most of these events are held yearly, usually the same basic time every year. Some events have a spring and fall version, or something similar.

Time involved:
If it’s a hotel based convention, the core events usually run from Friday evening through Sunday early afternoon, but there may be additional workshops, activities, and other events on Thursday, Friday morning and afternoon, Sunday evening, or into Monday.

Camping festivals range from a weekend (arrive Friday evening, leave Sunday afternoon or maybe Monday) to 10 day festivals (a week plus the weekend on either side). Because of the locations of camp grounds that can host a significant gathering, they’re usually a good drive outside a city. Sometimes they’ll be at scout camps or similar sites before or after the main season for sleepaway camps.

Either way, most people are there for the vast majority of the time. (For hotel conventions, people who live in the immediate area may come and go a bit more.) This can make it easier to have ongoing conversations, meet new people, or learn things in more depth than a briefer workshop or event could allow.

Range of people:
One particular note about these kinds of events is that they often have one or more guests of honour. Usually these people give highlighted presentations, workshops, or lead key rituals.

Some people at these events are at their very first Pagan event! However, because of the greater investment of time and resources, many of the people there are more likely to be established in their paths. If you’re looking to go a bit deeper in your practice, looking for one of these options, with guests of honour you’re particularly interested in, can be a great choice.

Costs and other expectations:
Costs are obviously very different depending on if you’re camping or at a hotel. In general, registration for events starts at around $50 and goes up for longer events or with more special guests, plus whatever it will cost for food and housing.

Other events

Probably the last big category of other events are workshops. These may run from an afternoon to a full weekend (or a series of weekends over the course of a year.) A few events like the Reclaiming Witchcamps are a moderately structured series of activities (rituals, focus on particular topics, maybe workshops or learning specific techniques) that take place over a series of days (a long weekend up to a week).

Costs will depend on the length and other details (Do they need to rent space? Is the workshop presenter flying in or coming from a distance?) Some workshops may have some things to read or consider in advance (or you may want to be familiar with the presenter’s work for your own reasons.)

Some people also attend things like psychic fairs, faerie festivals, Renaissance festivals, and other related activities where they may find other Pagans or even specific Pagan community groups represented. Costs and time commitment for these range very widely – check out the details before committing.

Making the most of the event

Pick events that work with your goals (and you)

If you want to meet other people who do similar things, pick events at which you might get talking to other people. If you’re not comfortable striking up a conversation with strangers, a smaller workshop or interactive activity (like volunteering) may work a lot better for you than something like a lecture or larger presentation.

If you want to learn about a particular kind of practice, do some research to figure out who can talk about it well, and focus on finding those opportunities, rather than going to session with someone who knows only a little more than you do, or who is not a great presenter.

Have a plan

Go into the event with a clear idea of why you want to go, and what you hope to get out of it. I usually identify one or two things I’m hoping to learn or do at the event, and if I make progress on those, it’s a good day.

For example, when I’ve moved to a new place, my goal at the next Pagan Pride (or equivalent) has usually been “Get a sense of what’s going on in the broader area, and whether any of those are things I’m interested in”. When I’ve gone to conventions, it’s been “Let me find one or two workshops or events each day I’m particularly interested in, and make sure I have time to catch up with friends and talk to people.”  When I’ve done workshops, it’s “This person teaching about X thing, here is what I’m interested in learning.” I consider anything else a bonus.

Know your limits

Going to new events can be exhausting! (And doubly or triply so if you have chronic health issues, have small children with you, or other things that take extra care and attention). Don’t try and do everything. By knowing your main goals, you can pick and choose, or figure out which couple of hours are the best fit for what you want to do.

Ask for other places to check out

People at an event who have similar interests may have recommendations (or anti-recommendations) for other events or books or information sources. Don’t take their advice as an absolute, but a “Hey, you mentioned X in your question – where could I learn more about that?” can sometimes pay off really well. Or a “You said you were involved in Y – I’d been curious, but wasn’t sure how to find other people.”

Make it short and polite, and many people will be glad to give you a pointer, or maybe even be glad to follow up afterwards. Bringing cards with your preferred contact information or some index cards or notepaper to write info down on can help a lot.

Tips for better experiences

Take care of yourself

Being in a new kind of situation can be exhausting, and on top of that, many events can just be physically challenging. You may be standing up or walking more than you’re used to, you may be out in the sun or in heat (or cold rain) for a bit. You’ll be having lots of new experiences.

Make sure you drink (water or something else hydrating), sit down when you need to, pause and eat at regular intervals. (Also, some of the best conversations can happen over meals). If you need medications or have specific health needs, check with the event hosts about specifics you need to be safe and comfortable in advance, make sure you bring what you need with you (meds, seating, etc.), and do less than you think you can do.

Be in the moment

While you may need to check emails or texts to meet up with people, consider limiting that kind of thing to the bare minimum. Bring a journal or sketchbook, people watch, or otherwise just experience what’s going on rather than falling into the same habits many of us have of checking our phones, talking to people who aren’t there.

(Also, be aware that many events have photo policies to protect the privacy of people there, so photos, etc. may not be an option or only at specific times and places.)

Give yourself processing time afterwards

It can take a while to process the event after you get home. For a short networking event, you might just want to write down a few notes so you remember names or specific interests for next time. But for longer events – workshops, full day ritual events, etc. will need more time, even once you’re past being tired and needing to catch up with other things, you will probably need some time to sort through what happened.

Journalling, making notes for yourself, spending some time in quiet reflection can all help. A good bath or shower help some people, or doing some chores around the house you like. Some people deliberately plan re-entry things to do (a particular movie, music playlist, project, etc.) that lets them process the event while easing back into regular routine.

Look for the people you’d like to become more like

Religious paths don’t necessarily shape people in a specific way, but looking for people who are like what you want to become isn’t a bad place to start. Often this is an unconscious process – see whose stuff intrigues you, how you feel when you talk to them.

Be aware that the people you come across are people – a lot of people will be a bit more silly or relaxed or whatever at a big public event like Beltane or Pagan Pride, for a variety of reasons. (And sometimes people have a thing in their personal life that makes their interactions a bit different the first time or two you see them, so if someone is just not your cup of tea – not horrible, not creepy, just not your thing – being open minded and trying another conversation in a month or three can sometimes be worthwhile.)

When you find people who are maybe interesting, ask them about what they do, what they’re willing to share, but also ask them about who else you might want to talk to. Sometimes that can be a great way to get in touch with like-minded people.

You don’t need to find everyone who might be interesting, bear in mind – you just need to find a sufficient number for you. And once you find one person, they often know other people.

Last edited December 26, 2016

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