In my last post, I talked about there are some things I pay attention to when meeting Seekers. The first one I want to talk about is courtesy.
What is courtesy?
People sometimes think it means formal manners – but I mean something more general, the idea of making the other person feel comfortable and at home in the conversation. Different people and communities also have different standards of behavior or things they care about. For example: my workplace is fairly casual in terms of dress, but it’s expected that people eat lunch together in the lunch room and do some other cordial interactions that aren’t as common in other workplaces.
When someone’s looking to enter a new community (as Seekers are), and especially when it’s one that is fairly small and close-knit, one of the things I’m interested in is whether they appear to be able to pick up the community’s culture and work within it. This doesn’t mean you need to all think the same way, or react the same way! It just means that you can navigate the differences without a lot of rough edges and drama. For example, if it’s courteous in a particular community to bring food to share to events, or to take off your shoes at the door, can you do those things without making a big deal about how, in your house, you don’t do it that way? Asking questions is fine, throwing a temper tantrum is not so much.
When I talk about courtesy, here, I also mean something very basic: a simple respect for the other person and their time and energy. It’s about paying attention to any preferences that are expressed. In a number of in-person Pagan settings, you’re either taking someone’s time away from other things they might be doing (i.e. asking a favor), or you’re sometimes even in their home. How you approach that definitely gets noticed.
Some courtesies that I definitely notice:
I admit, I have a hard time with names – and it’s even harder in the Pagan community, where we may go by several. Here’s some ways to make it easier…
- Start simple. When you send an initial email, or make an initial phone call, use whatever name you intend to use should you meet someone.If you use one name in email, and another in person, it can get confusing!
- People will tell you the name they want you to use for them. For example, if I tell you my name is Jenett, that’s the name you should use unless you hear otherwise, even though some of my friends may call me Jen or Jennifer (my legal first name).
- People may also tell you to ask for a specific name. For example, my group’s website mentions to ask for a specific (Pagan) name when calling my HPS’s number. This helps her figure out fast what someone is calling about
I generally suggest avoiding titles (Lady, Lord, HPS/HP, but also academic degrees) in initial contacts and especially if you’re asking about joining a group. Why? They’re often simply not relevant. If we’re talking about a community event, either I know you (in which case you don’t need to use them), or if I don’t, you can explain your background far better in your request than by putting a title at the end of your email.
I’ve seen a couple of people include them on Seeker emails interested in joining a group. Honestly, in that context, they’re especially not relevant. At the initial stage of getting to know someone, I’m a lot more interested in their name, why they’re interested in the group, and what they know about it already than I am in previous formal training. I’m also interested in whether we’re a good enough fit to move onto the next step. The degree, by itself, doesn’t tell me any of that, but a sentence or two about it in the email might.
Ease the interaction:
Assume the other person is a friendly but busy person. This is a pretty good bet for people who are open to approaches from Seekers in the Pagan community. Make it easy for them to respond to you. If you’re writing to them, keep the following in mind:
- Write in full standard English sentences. Avoid net speak (i want 2 B a witch). Many very capable priestesses and priests aren’t active online: some will discard a message like that without a reply.
- Proofread: it shows a nice attention to detail (I’ll be talking more about that in a later section.)
- They’re probably busy people. You don’t need to share your whole life story immediately: start with what they directly ask about, or immediate questions.
I like knowing the following in an initial email (it gives me an idea what to send back as far as information.)
- Where did you find out about this group?
- If there are webpages or other online profiles or information, have you read them?
- Why are you interested in this group in particular?
- Do you have any immediate concerns or issues that affect the normal next step (for example, if you know the next step would be meeting at a coffee shop, and you can never meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays, feel free to tell me that. It’ll save me listing off those dates.)
Other questions that might come up early on include:
- A brief (no more than 4-6 sentences) overview of your religious background – especially as it relates to why you’re interested in either Paganism or a particular path.
- What kind of time and energy you can devote to this right now, and on what kind of schedule. (Are you free on weekends? Weeknights? Do you work an unusual schedule?)
- What you’ve read, learned, or done on your own. (It’s not a bad idea to bring a list of books you’ve read, or remind yourself of any open rituals you’ve been at to an initial meeting, but you shouldn’t list these in an introductory email.)
Respect time and energy:
As someone curious about a new group or emailing out of the blue, you are *way* down the priority list for many group leaders. This isn’t because you’re a bad person – it’s just the reality of 24 hours in a day.
The group leaders I know need to make sure that rituals happen, that classes happen, that current students who need extra time that week get it. They need to go to work, and do their chores and make dinner, and have time with their families, their pets, and their own deity work.
Answering questions from seekers – many of whom disappear after one or two exchanges, never to be heard from again – is rightfully not at the top of the list. You can make things easier – and if you do, you’re likely to get positive notice.
Learn what the standard process is.
There’s probably a good reason it’s done that way. Don’t assume you’ll be an exception
That said, if there is some reason a particular method is a problem, let them know. For example, if you have hearing loss and phone calls are hard for you, it would help everyone if you said so, briefly, if their usual first step is a phone call. Try to suggest options that don’t require more effort on their part than their usual choice. (So, for example, if you couldn’t do a phone call, you might offer to meet them at a coffee shop near their home, not one near yours, so they wouldn’t have to do extra driving.)
Understand that you may not get immediate answers.
Plan on 2-3 weeks before hearing back from an initial email (and don’t be surprised if it’s longer). It’s ok to email after a couple of weeks if you haven’t heard anything, but be polite and brief (a “I emailed you on X date: just wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost in the ether” with the previous message copied below works fine).
Allow extra time over holidays – both mainstream and for that path. Many people still spend time with their families of origin or choice over Christmas, Easter, Passover, the Jewish High Holy Days, or whatever else. And you never know if the person you emailed is on vacation for two weeks, at a Pagan festival, or sick.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket:
If you’re exploring different groups, keep reading, going to public events, and checking out other groups. It will help you make better decisions, and you won’t feel as frustrated while waiting to hear back. Groups may want you to focus more once you narrow down your choices, but not before you even hear back!
If you decide something’s not for you:
No one’s going to be offended if you say “Not for me, thanks!” – but a nice “Thank you for having me” or “Thank you for your information.” leaves a nice impression. The Pagan community’s small: you may find yourself working on a larger project with the same people down the road.
Also, letting them know that a group’s not the right place for you means they aren’t left hanging (or expecting you) and can remove you from their mailing lists or other contacts. That’s to your benefit as much as theirs.