I’ve written a lot about things to consider when looking at a group in the CARE pages (Conscious Awareness of Religious Environments), but I want to highlight a few particular issues when you’re first meeting a prospective group or teacher here.
- Meet in public the first time.
- Be thoughtful about the information you share (and why)
- Be able to leave easily if you feel uncomfortable.
- Be aware of warning signs and safety concerns.
- Trust your intuition.
Meet in public the first time.
There are lots of good choices for a first meeting. Sometimes this might be a coffee house. Sometimes it might be a food court at a mall, or a public restaurant.
Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be at your home, and it shouldn’t be at their home. You don’t know each other yet. I usually pick a coffee shop in my neighborhood – this means that people will have a general idea how long it will take to get later discussions/rituals they might be invited to, if things go well.
Meeting somewhere public acknowledges that you’re both getting to know each other. You’re not going to a stranger’s home (where it might be uncomfortable to leave if you don’t feel right about the conversation.) They’re showing some good sense by not revealing where they live to a random stranger.
(Most folks in the Pagan community are good people, but like all communities we have some people who get strange obsessions into their head. Sensible group leaders don’t want the occasional person like this to show up on their doorstep in the middle of the night.)
If a group leader won’t meet you in public (without a good reason – mobility issues are a good reason, but “I’d just rather not” isn’t), ask if you can bring a friend to your initial meeting, or if you can meet somewhere they can get to easily.
On sharing identifying information:
This is a personal choice. Often, groups will ask for some kind of initial information from you. Sometimes that’s a full name and contact info (email, phone, etc.) Sometimes it’s astrological information. (Many groups – including mine – use it to look at some general potential patterns, and see if there are any things we might want to explore in more depth when we talk.)
Don’t give information you don’t feel comfortable sharing. Healthy groups should be fine with you asking why they need that information (and why they ask for it at a particular stage in the process), or be fine with you giving only the information you’re comfortable with initially.
Have a way to leave easily if you need:
This goes both for an initial meeting, and for your first visit or two to the group itself. Having your own car makes this easy. If you normally take the bus, you should have a good idea of the bus schedule. It can also be a good idea to have cab fare handy (and know the easiest place to get picked up.)
If you’re really uncertain, ask the group if they’re doing a more public event any time soon, where you could bring a friend/spouse/whatever as a guest to see what you’re checking out.
Be aware of warning signs.
This goes both for signs of a disorganized and chaotic group, and for signs of a manipulative or abusive group. The CARE deeper question pages go into this in much more detail.
Be aware of other safety concerns.
As you get to know the group and group members, pay attention to what kinds of regular safety precautions they take. Ritual work – as I talk about elsewhere on this site – can have some risks and dangers, both in very practical ways (candles involve fire) and in psychological ways. You want to work with people who think about both parts of that. The Safety Tips and Notes essay has more things to think about.
Use common sense.
As I talk about elsewhere (on the Feeling Silly? essay), new things often feel strange or funny to us. However, most of us can tell the difference between something that’s new and different (and a bit weird to us), and something that’s scary. Trust those instincts. If something feels really off to you, trust your instinct to leave. Consider going to a public place instead of straight home (where you might jump at little sounds.)
[last edited January 14, 2011]