What groups look for in potential members

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Just like you have things you’re looking for in a group, groups have things they’re looking for in potential members. These vary a lot, based on the group, so I’m going to talk about some general ones, and then a few specifics for my own group work, so you can see how a particular group’s focus might change things.

Things going through the group’s head:

Do they have misconceptions or illusions about what our path is about?
If someone comes in thinking that Wicca is just like what you see in various Hollywood movies, that might be a problem.

Have they learned a little bit about what we offer?
A single group isn’t going to offer every option out there. Each group has a specific focus, set of interests, collection of practices, and much more. Has this person taken time to learn about what our group can and does offer?

Can this person express some of what they’re looking for?
It doesn’t need to be the best expression ever – often, people need time to figure out how to say what they really mean. But groups usually hope for people who can go beyond a sentence.

Why are they interested in our group, in particular?
It’s not much fun to be on the receiving end of “A witch, any witch, is great!” Groups want people who’ve given some thought to why a particular group or path is of interest to them.

Is there reasonable give and take?
Do they share in the conversation, or are we getting one word answers back? (Group leaders are not mindreaders. You don’t need to bare your soul, and people understand being shy or needing to get to know people before you open up. But you do need to give something to the conversation.)

If we need to correct or clarify something, how do they take it?
Groups are generally looking for people who can take in new information – even if it goes against something they thought they knew. They don’t want someone who’s going to argue with every single “Here’s how we do this here.”

How do they respond to the structure of the group?
Do they try and power-play, or try to convince the experienced members of the group that they know more than they do? (Even if it’s true, it’s rude to do in a first meeting. Plus, why are they looking at this group, if that’s true?)

Do they show up on time, get basic give-and-take in hospitality, etc?
Someone who perpetually shows up late isn’t going to be a good fit for groups that want to get things done. And it’s hard to work with someone who doesn’t share in basic good manners (things like please and thank you, offering to help clear things if needed, etc.)

Does this person seem reasonably balanced and functional in other ways?
Are they working or doing something else meaningful with their time? Are they familiar with the sacred mysteries of the soap and the water? Do they talk about other experiences in their life in a balanced way, or are they always a victim of circumstance?

Are they consistent?
Sometimes people try to impress – with how much they know, how long they’ve been doing this, whatever. And yet, when the group asks questions, it falls to pieces. It’s much better to be honest, even if the answer is “I just started learning about this…”

Are they emotionally appropriate?
One of the things that turns me off most quickly is someone who says “I just *know* I’ve found my new home and my new family!” on the first or second meeting. Relationships aren’t just about the person seeking: the group is likely looking for people who get that a relationship needs time to grow and develop (and without the emotional manipulation of “I just love you all, why don’t you love me yet, even though we just met!”)

(If you really do feel amazingly comfortable with a group or teacher, phrases like “I really feel comfortable talking to you.” or “I really love the energy of your space” or “I’m looking forward to getting to spend more time with you, if you think we’ve got a good fit” are all good ways to get that across in a more appropriate way. Think job interview, not ‘Let’s elope and get married tonight’.)

How do they fit with the existing group members, and with the deities and other entities we work with?
Lots of people, the answer to this is a neutral “We’ll try it out and see”. But sometimes group leaders can see a clash a mile away, in which case going thoughtfully is really appropriate.

Is there anything setting off warning bells?
Intuition is a tricky thing – it’s often not very specific. But if one or more experienced people in the group are getting twinges that something’s off, it’s worth taking things slow until you figure out what’s up. Sometimes it’s just a bit of cultural clash somewhere, that can be dealt with. Sometimes, you’re picking up signs of a major problem later.

A specific example:

For example, my coven has a specific focus: I’m looking to build

  • a small (5-8 person)
  • working coven (so, not lots and lots of students all the time)
  • with a strong focus on music and dance in ritual practice
  • with people who are a good fit for me and my general working style.

I am not Queen of the World. (We’re all probably lucky there.) But I do have some opinions about what I’m looking for in a potential group member. Most of these are not at all about what someone knows or doesn’t know about Wicca, witchcraft, or Paganism: they’re actually a lot more basic.

How the seeker interacts with each member of the group.
I’ve got a commitment to existing group members, so I want to make sure no one rubs the wrong way right from the start. We have a long get-to-know process to help make sure this works smoothly for everyone.

How the seeker handles different kinds of questions.
Specific, open-ended, big picture thinking, and details. People usually have some they do better with, but our training will include a little of all of these (as does our general work together.) I make sure that our early interactions include a little bit of all of these.

Whether the seeker is interested in the work we do together.
Are they interested in working in a specific tradition? In our tradition, as much as they can tell from what they currently know? In our particular focus as a group?

How the seeker approaches new experiences and learning.
There will always be times we’re not as open as we’d like to learning something new – but in general, I want to spend my time with people who are intellectually curious and engaged with the world around them, not just in terms of Paganism, but in terms of the world at large too.

Whether the seeker has  generally followed our requests about group courtesy and behavior.
Don’t worry, I don’t mean remembering everything all the time – but I do pay attention to how often we need to repeat things having to do with our comfort and well-being, and how the group works. Once or twice is fine. More than that, we check into.

How the seeker has handled any challenges or problems.
Initiatory work often brings a lot of changes for people, and it’s often helpful to know how they’ve dealt with other changes, challenges, or frustrations in their life.

Can they cope with how we work – and in particular, how I work.
I’m a librarian who enjoys geeking about a whole bunch of topics. In person, I tend to talk fast (I work on that one, but I do get enthusiastic…) If someone’s going to be put off because I use a wide vocabulary, talk about great books I’ve read recently, or my defaults of communication, we might be a bad fit for each other.

(I don’t expect people to keep up with my reading range, and I’m fine with “Hey, what *does* that mean?” or “Hey, slow down!” But I need to work with people who can do that, not suffer in silence.)

And finally, if there’s anything specific that makes us go “Oh, yes!”
Sometimes, people do come with a particular talent or interest that’s an amazing filler for a need we see in the group. That gives them some bonus to play with – if we’re not sure about them for other reasons, this might be a reason to take a closer look at whether we can solve those.

[last edited December 26, 2016]

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