It can be sort of scary to send an email to a stranger about a subject that’s new to you. You don’t know when you’ll hear back, or how friendly they’ll be. Fortunately, you can do some things to make it easier for yourself
Know why you’re asking this specific person:
You might write to someone because:
- They are the contact person for an event you’re interested in attending.
- They are the contact person for a group you’re interested in learning more about.
- They’ve said that they’re glad to help people with the kind of question you have.
- You’re looking for a connection with a particular tradition or practice, and they’re the closest group in that tradition or practice you can find in your area, or they’re open to helping people connect with the tradition/practice.
- You’re interested in a topic they’ve written about on their blog, website, or other resource, and would like to know more or to get pointers to other possible sources.
Clear, specific emails are easier for the people who get them to answer – and it’s easier for them to give you better information if they know exactly why you’re writing and what you’re hoping for. If you can’t explain to yourself why you’re writing to this particular person, take a minute to think through whether there might be someone who would be a better choice.
Check to see if they’ve already answered that question:
Before you write to someone, take time to do a little research. If you’re interested in a group, for example, make sure you read thoroughly through the group website or announcement first.
- You will have more information to help you decide if you’re potentially interested in the group or event. If you know it’s not a good fit, you’ve saved yourself an email.
- You won’t ask questions they’ve already answered on their website.
- They may have a specific request for how they’d like prospective group members to make the first contact.
Let me give you an example of the last one. I ask that people interested in my group send a letter of introduction that covers some basic background. This is so I can figure out whether we might be a good fit for each other before arranging an in-person meeting that will take time for both of us. It’s also a chance to balance the exchange of information: someone who reads my group website and my blog can find out quite a lot about me, so I want to meet them knowing some general background about them.
(You can find out more about that where I talk about a sample letter).
Avoid looking like spam:
These days, it can be too easy to get caught in a spam filter. You can avoid it by:
- Following any instructions for the subject line you should use. (Some people may set up a specific filter for a particular subject line.)
- Avoiding really generic subject lines like “Hello”.
- Avoiding a subject line that looks like spam, a sales opportunity, or anything like that.
A good subject line might be “Interested in [group name]” or “Help with Pagan connections in [area]” or “Question about Samhain event” or something else that is relatively specific.
- You don’t need to be incredibly formal, but it is nice to start with a basic greeting, and to spell their name the way they do. (If you don’t have a name, “Hello” is great.)
- Do your best to write clearly: use standard English punctuation and spelling.
- Be reasonable in what you ask – don’t demand hours of a stranger’s time, for example. (more on this below)
- You can pick any closing you like – “Thank you”, is fine, but “Blessed be” or something similar is fine, if you prefer.
- Include whatever name you prefer to be called and make your email address clear.
- Be willing to follow through (if you ask something, they respond, and you never write back, that’s hard on the person who took time to answer you. A “Thanks for you time” at least lets them know you read and appreciate their time in answering.)
Get to the point:
The person you are writing to does not need 2000 words of your past experiences with religion, magic, and other events. (If they do for some reason, they’ll ask.) They don’t need a long rant on politics, other people’s churches, or your life history.
An ideal initial email that I love to get looks something like this:
I’m writing because I’m [whatever: looking for local connections, curious about something I said somewhere online, whatever]
[1-4 sentences about what they're asking about. A bit longer is okay, but I love it when the basic question is first, followed by any background.]
[Any specific practical information that's useful: additional background detail, time, location, etc. limitations, accessibility concerns, good times to reach them, etc.]
Group leaders and community organisers have a lot of other things going on in their lives. Besides their Pagan community interactions, they’ve got the same combination of jobs, family, friendships, health, and other demands going on in their lives, and the same 24 hours to do things in. If you send a last minute question about an event that’s the next day, they may not see it in time.
People also have different priorities about how they spend their time.
- Some Pagans answer email very promptly, others don’t.
- Some will answer some kinds of email (a specific brief request for information about the group) much more easily than a more general email asking for very vague help.
- Some people answer email to the group address every week or every month, or only when they’ve got room for a new prospective student.
- Other people make a point of answering within a day or two unless there’s clearly no point in responding.
- And sometimes people get overwhelmed, or sick, or have a family crisis, or something else happens, and email from unknown people to the group address is very low on their to-do list.
Again, you can give yourself the best chance for an answer by having a clear idea why you’re writing to this specific person and by making it easy for them to reply to you (by using the steps above.)
As noted above, people may reply in widely varying amounts of time. For events, you should hopefully hear soon. I usually suggest that if you haven’t heard after 2-3 weeks, it’s fine to try again, once you’ve double checked the following:
- You’re fairly sure the group or contact address is still active.
- You’re using the best possible email address.
- You’ve followed any instructions about subject lines or other ways to avoid their spam filter
- You’ve avoided the other problems listed in the “Why an email might go unanswered” page.
You might want to allow a bit longer at some times of year.
- Between mid-June and mid-August (summer vacation and festival season) when people are often out of town or away from computers.
- Early October through early November (Samhain, for many religious witchcraft groups has a particularly large amount of planning and preparation involved.)
- Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s (when people often have family and other community commitments.)
- If you know the group or teacher is heavily involved in a particular event. (They are likely to be very busy the 2 weeks before the event, and recovering for a week or two afterwards.)
Keep exploring other options:
While you wait for a response, continue to explore other options. Consider going to meet up, coffee cauldron, pub night, and other events. See if there’s a public ritual or class in your area. Keep looking for other groups and possible connections, both online and offline. Explore ways to connect with different cycles, explore different areas of Paganism, and other general topics that will serve you well no matter where you end up.
[last edited November 17, 2011]