I’m a big fan of knowing what you’re looking for when you start searching for something. The following list of questions is designed to help you figure out different aspects of what you might be looking for or want (and which things you don’t want!).
- Practical issues:
- What you want to do:
- Path or tradition:
- Who do you want to do things with?
- Are you looking to join a small group?
Transportation and location:
Where can you get to?
- How far are you willing/able to travel for the right group? How often?
- Do you have your own car? Do you share a car with someone?
- Do you need a group near public transportation or rides?
- Are there lots of other Pagans around? Not many?
- Are there nearby areas that have more options? (look across state/province lines, too, if you’re near one.)
Time and energy:
- Ideally, how often would you like to attend group events? (A couple of times a year? Monthly? More often?)
- Do you have specific times you’re available or not available? Do you have lots of last-minute changes in your schedule? Does your job require you to be on call?
- Are you responsible for getting other people to things? (Like children to evening or weekend activities?)
Your specific limits and needs
Do you have specific medical, physical, or mental health concerns that might affect how you interact with a group?
- Mobility: If a group’s meetings involve stairs, can you handle that? Do you need to sit rather than stand during a ritual or other event?
- Does anything affect how you comfortably communicate with others? For example, if you have hearing loss or read lips, you might look for settings with good light and that make it clear who’s speaking.
- Do you have allergies to pets or foods or incense or anything else that might come up in a group setting? Especially one meeting in someone’s home?
- Do you have food allergies that limit what you could eat or drink in ritual? Do you avoid all alcohol for any reason? (It’s usually easy for a group to work around this with a little warning.)
- Do you have concerns about being anxious or extremely shy when in a new group of people? (If so, you might want to look for ways to meet a few people from the group in a better setting for you.)
- Do you have any limits on how you get to events (like using a mobility service with limited hours, or a long window for pick up and drop off?)
Do you have kids?
Some groups are child-friendly, but many initiatory groups limit when and where kids are invited, so they can focus on specific kinds of work together.
- Do you want kids to be welcome at all group events
- Or are you looking for time without them to focus on specific things?
- Would you need to arrange childcare? What are your options for this?
- Do you have regular computer access? Many groups use email for announcements or conversation: you might miss stuff if you have very limited access.
- Can you be reached by phone reliably? (With schedule changes, last minute needs, etc?)
- Do you share your answering machine or email address with others? Is it okay for people to leave Pagan specific messages on whatever contact method you share with a group?
- How much can you afford to spend on gas or transportation to get to group events?
- Can you arrange to bring suitable food to potlucks?
- Can you afford to spend money (at least sometimes) on workshops, festivals, or other gatherings? If so, how much, and how often?)
- Can you buy occasional books/magazines/other resources related to your path?
- Could you join in group events that involve specific charges? This might include a celebratory meal out, a movie theatre trip, or a trip to a museum or gathering.
What you want to do:
Kind of commitment:
- Are you looking for something low-commitment (you show up when you can, help where you can, but don’t feel obligated when you can’t?)
- Or are you looking for something like training or small group work where your absence limits what other people can do?
- Do you want something in between?
What kind of group are you looking for?
Most groups focus on a couple of these options, not all of them.
- General conversation and networking?
- Open rituals?
- Children’s events?
- Ecstatic ritual?
- Fellowship or community building?
- Social action?
- Magical or other ritual workings?
- Something else?
Do you have a preference about structure?
- Some groups have a defined leadership and structure.
- Others run based on consensus or democratic process.
- Do you want clearly defined methods and process, or something more open?
- Do you want to become part of making things happen for the group (eventually?) Or would you rather let other people organize things and simply participate?
- Do you want something that’s deliberately created and designed in advance or something spontaneous?
- Formal? Informal?
- Something usually serious, or something with lots of humor and laughter (barring specific times it’s inappropriate to the work)?
- Consistent structure and methods, or different methods and approaches depending on what you’re doing?
Number of people:
- Do you want a large group with lots of opportunities?
- A small one that’s more intimate and focused?
- Do you feel overwhelmed by lots of people?
- Do you prefer getting lots of different input?
How do you learn best?
(If you’re looking at a group that will require or provide training)
- What kind of teaching appeals to you? Lecture/discussion classes? Reading on your own and asking a mentor questions? Learning through experiential classes?
- Are there any ways you learn really poorly?
- Do you prefer to work with a small group of teachers and students, or one on one with a mentor?
- Do you already know a fair bit about your path, and don’t want to be stuck with the basics again?
- Are you willing to set aside what you already know to learn about a new path?
Path or tradition:
You may already have some idea of traditions or paths that attract you. What attracts you to them? Are you set on finding something in these traditions, or are you open to other paths that have those same qualities? There are lots of options out there, many of which aren’t widely known or are only in a particular geographic place.
What matters most to you in a path?
- What do you really want to share with others in the group?
- Practices? Ethics? Philosophical approach? Deities? Beliefs? Culture? Focus of the group?
- Are there beliefs or practices you really want to share with others in the group? (Remember that most people do some things differently in their personal work than in their group work.)
- What beliefs or practices are you flexible on? You might have opinions, but they would not be the deciding factor in a group.
- Are there any beliefs or practices that are common in the Pagan community that really aren’t for you? (For example, some people mention working skyclad here.)
What are you hoping for?
- What would your ideal group experience look like? Your ideal ritual? What goes into that?
- Do you have a particular focus on specific deities or a pantheon or culture? Is it important that your group work reflect that? (I work with different deities in my personal practice than I do in group work. So do most people I know.)
- Do you feel a strong intuitive call in a particular direction, to a particular deity, or something similar? Is this important to your in your group work as well?
Who do you want to do things with?
- Many groups include both men and women. Some groups are women-only or men-only.
- Some groups focus on gender-based polarity: these groups generally are open to a range of sexual preferences, as long as individuals are comfortable with gender-polarity myths or working methods.
- There are groups who are particularly welcoming of gender as a spectrum or who do not focus on male/female polarity.
- How old are you? How old are most of your friends/social circle?
- Would you be comfortable learning from someone younger than you are (but who knows more about that path or tradition, or is a group leader?) Would you be comfortable being in a close group with people a few decades older? Do you prefer people around your own age?
- Are you interested in group work with people from a rage of life stages and ages, or do you prefer people in a similar stage of life (for example, with other parents, or with other people who don’t have kids at home).
Other preferences or backgrounds:
- Some people want groups that are specifically GLBT friendly and open.
- Some may prefer groups that reflect ethnic and cultural diversity.
- Some may want to focus on a particular culture or pantheon.
- There are many other options – what are yours?
Leadership and background:
- Beyond your preferences about structure (already discussed), are you comfortable working with a leader or teacher? Or do you want a shared-responsibility setting?
- What kind of leadership style do you prefer in a group? Are there styles you work really badly with? Things you’ve had bad experiences with before?
- Lineage: In some paths or traditions, lineage (or being able to trace how the path and the energetic connections were passed down) is important. Does this matter to you, or do you prefer to focus on what’s happening in the group right now?
- What kind of background would you like the group’s leaders/organizers to have (recognising that everyone needs to start somewhere!)
Are you looking to join a small group?
You may also want to consider the following questions, that apply mostly to working regularly with the same (consistent) group of people.
Is your life generally reasonably stable?
- Is your schedule fairly stable or always changing?
- Is your life in generally good order, or are you regularly moving from crisis to crisis?
- If you have mental health concerns, are they currently under good control or are significant treatment changes or decisions having a big impact on your life?
- Do you have reliable transportation, or ways to work around it (like using public transit?)
- Do you have potentially major changes in the near future? (Finishing college, finding a new job, moving, planning a large wedding, being pregnant are all examples of wonderful things that still take time and energy: it may not be the best time to seek out a tightly focused group or formal training.)
What’s your schedule like?
- Can you adapt when you’re free to suit a group’s schedule (given enough advance notice, of course.) Or do you only have very specific days and times you’d be available?
- How much time do you have to do work at home? (Personal practice, homework, training exercises.)
- Can you contribute to the group in a way that works for both you and them? (Even in groups that don’t charge, people often share expenses like candles, wine, and incense.)
- Does your chosen path require specific tools? Can you get those within your budget?
- Can you afford other expenses for your own learning – books, etc?
As you can see, there are many different things to think about: I hope that this has highlighted some of the things you might want to keep in mind. Again, please let me know if there are things I should add (or if there are things that are confusing!) in the comments.
[Last edited December 25, 2016]