One question I hear a lot is “How can I find groups near me?” It can be a frustrating search, and some of the best resources aren’t obvious to newcomers. While there are different ways to go about this, here’s my suggested method.
Be realistic (before you start)
Expect the process to take time.
Finding a smaller, focused ritual group, a teacher, or a specific path can sometimes take a long time, because you need to find the right people, not just ‘some people’. Think of it like finding a romantic partner or the perfect job: you might get lucky immediately, but it’s more likely to take some time.
Finding a open group, a networking group, or something like that is often much simpler: either they’re in your area, or they’re not. Because of this, they’re a good place to start out: they give you ways to interact with others while you’re looking for a specific focus.
Also, group leaders are busy people. Don’t assume you’ll get an immediate response to an email. If you don’t hear after 2-4 weeks, it’s fine to politely try again (sometimes things go missing, end up in a spam filter, etc.) But patience is often necessary!
Pagan groups aren’t everywhere.
Even in large metro areas, there are often only a few groups of a given type. Not all traditions or paths will be represented. Once you move outside the metro areas, you’ll have fewer options. Be realistic about what this means: if you have more limits or requirements, you may have a longer search, fewer options, or harder choices. If you’re willing or able to be more flexible, you’ll have more options that might work for you.
What do you want, and what are you willing to share to make that happen?
If you are only free rarely and unpredictably, you’re probably a bad fit for a small close-knit group with regular meetings right now. If you want that closeness, an open ritual setting or casual networking group may not be satisfying long-term. Does your life currently allow what you’re looking for? What could change there? When?
There are many different paths, traditions, and communities out there – some of them far less known than others. Focus on the fit you have with a group and its members, not just the name of the path or other initial details. You may be able to find a group that meets many of your desires – just not all of them.
Small groups have limits.
Small groups are often closed to new members at times. Sometimes it’s space (only so many people can fit in a living room!) Sometimes it’s time (if training is involved, the group may focus on one or two students at a time.) Sometimes it’s timing: some groups only take new members at specific points in the year.
Don’t take these limits personally: they’re often for good reason (and help the group stay productive and healthy.) It’s fine to ask them to let you know if space opens up, or to ask questions about when they might consider new members again.
Keep checking back.
Six months from now, that closed group may have a new opening. A year from now, a new group may have formed – or a new group may hive off an old one, opening up multiple spaces for new members. Three years from now, a group may have a quite different focus and feel – or you may have changed in ways that make their focus far more interesting to you.
Some people come into Pagan groups assuming they work like other religions – that they’re open to anyone and should be accessible to all. That’s true in some cases (like public ritual or networking groups).
It’s not generally true for covens or other small groups, especially ones that meet in someone’s home or that work with material that involves significant trust. In these groups, the people have to like you, have to want to commit to spending regular close and emotionally intimate time with you: you can’t force that, anymore than you can force someone to be your friend or romantic partner.
Step 1 : Look around
Once you’ve decided you want to find other people, reading can be a good way to find out more about specific paths or traditions, and to get a feel for what you want to focus on.
Your library and bookstores have books, but online is a good way to get a feel for a range of groups and paths. Try searching the web for terms like “Pagan discussion” (or whatever path you’re interested in). You can also search the listing at email list hosting sites: the biggest and best known is Yahoo Groups. Once you find one site or list, you’ll often find references to others.
Online conversations have some good and bad points when it comes to Pagan discussion. Check out my general advice here, but here’s a few more things to think about:
- Words only convey part of some paths: be aware that some paths require shared experiences (rituals, etc.) to fully understand them. This ‘must experience’ aspect is what makes a religious mystery.
- Some paths and groups have things they don’t talk about with non-members. Don’t take this personally! It’s usually to help make sure people can talk about sensitive topics in group ritual, and to preserve the emotional impact of some activities.
- Some topics require a lot of background. You may ask what seems like a simple question – but it may be more involved for the person you ask. If someone asks how I cast circle, there are things that won’t make sense without knowing more about the tradition I’m trained. That can take a long time to explain.
- Words like Wicca are getting used in a huge range of ways. Be aware that the usage on different lists or by different people may vary a lot. It’s a good idea to check how someone’s using a term (or online, see if an online community uses a specific definition.)
Step 2 : What are you looking for?
Once you have a sense of some of the options, you’ll want to narrow things down a little. Where do you want to focus? What calls to you? When you read books, which books do you come back to or keep thinking about? Online, whose comments do you keep coming back to? What paths are those people on? Do they have things in common?
I suggest starting three lists:
- what you’d like in a group
- what you’re pretty sure you don’t want/couldn’t make work
- things you’re not sure about.
Having a list can help you look more carefully at a group’s information, ask questions, and make clearer decisions. For example, if there’s a group you know you absolutely can’t get to, you can cross them off the list. If there’s a group that looks like it has some of what you want, you know what questions you still have. Be as flexible as possible: it will leave more options open.
Check out my list of questions about groups for all sorts of things you might want to think about.
I suggest doing it this way for two reasons. First, it helps you sort things out faster. More importantly, it can help you avoid group that have problems, or that would be an unhealthy choice for you more easily (because you won’t be making decisions just based on how you feel about them. Feeling is important, but it’s not the only part of you.)
Once you have your ideas of what you’re hoping for, it’s time to go look at what’s actually out there.
Step 3 : Resources
A great place to start is Witchvox, an international networking site. Select the area you live in from the drop down menus at the top left. Their listings include:
- Stores: Check for bulletin board listings of events or classes. Store owners often know the local community well and can suggest other options or upcoming events. They also may have class space used for different topics.
- Groups: Groups can list general information about themselves on the site. Some may not be taking new members at the time, but may be willing to help provide introductions to other less public groups in the area.
- Public events: These include social/chat gatherings, open rituals, and sometimes performances or artistic events. They’re a great place to start meeting people without an ongoing commitment.
- Classes: Some are short series, some are ongoing, and some are one-time workshops. They can be a great way to get familiar with options in your community, even if the material in the class is something you already know.
Local networking lists:
Many areas have local or state email lists for general announcements and locally focused discussion. Try searching for words like “Pagan” or “Wiccan” (or whatever path name) and the name of your state, area, or nearby city. Many are hosted on Yahoo! Groups. These lists are used for announcements of open events or classes, but you can also try posting a polite and brief note to the list with what you’re looking for – people may well respond.
Tradition or path email lists:
Many traditions and paths now have discussion lists that are open to seekers of that path. These can be a great way to find out more, get some reading suggestions, and find out if there are groups of that type in your area.
Many areas have events like Pagan’s Night Out or Coffee Cauldron: these are a chance to hang out and chat with like-minded others in a public place (like a coffee shop.) You won’t click with everyone, but you can meet some neat people. Also check out the Meet-Up site for Pagan groups near you.
Yearly events like Pagan Pride Day or local festivals can be a great way to meet other people in a casual setting. (Festivals can be a little overwhelming if you’re new, but some have day passes.) These events may also have websites with other local links.
Step 4 : Invest some time
Even if you want to practice mostly on your own and are just looking for Pagan friends or social conversation, attending local events can help you meet people. If you want to find a group, they’re a great way to see ritual in action, figure out what things you care most about in group work, and meet people who know of openings in smaller groups.
It can feel like a waste of time to go to public events or open rituals if you’re looking for a small group. It’s not, though! You’re not aiming at ‘best ritual experience ever’ or even ‘find the group here’. You’re aiming to get a better sense of what you want and don’t want. For example, one early public ritual I went to convinced me I wanted more guided meditations – but in a setting that avoided a particularly noisy five year old. Network a bit. Introduce yourself. Feel free to mention you’re looking for a group: people may introduce you to just the right person.
Consider checking out intro-level classes,
… even if you know the material. Many are inexpensive (enough to pay for space and expenses), and last a short period of time. The group I trained with does 5-class sessions, which is enough time to get a sense of the group, some of the group members, and see if it’s worth exploring further. (It also gets you invitations to guest-friendly group rituals, which are not open to everyone.)
I do advise people to give it more than 1or 2 sessions, assuming cost is not a huge problem. As a teacher of these classes, I’ve found that the first class is always a little artificial – a lot of any first class is explaining how things will work and doing introductions. This doesn’t give you much information about how a group approaches various topics. The second class gets into more of a lecture/discussion/questions mode, and it takes a class or two to see how you like that and for people to really relax and participate most fully.
Likewise, with public rituals, be aware that in many areas, who is responsible for putting on the ritual rotates through different groups or people. This ritual may be quite different from the next one. Unless a ritual or group makes you extremely uncomfortable or feels unsafe, consider giving it 2-4 chances before you give up.
Step 5 : Have integrity
Some groups prefer you to focus on one group at a time, once you get an invitation to attend events with them. Others don’t mind if you’re looking at multiple groups at once. Ask how they’d like to handle it. Just be aware that groups with limited openings will probably focus on the people who seem most serious about them, too.
Likewise, once you know a group isn’t for you, don’t leave them hanging. Being polite (a simple “Thank you for your time and invitations, but I don’t think this is what I’m looking for right now” is far better than disappearing. (And it makes things much easier when you run into them again, which you probably will given the size of the Pagan community.)
And finally, but most importantly – don’t do stuff just to make a group like you. Don’t do stuff that truly worries you or concerns you or makes you feel unsafe. Take your time, trust your instincts. Learn to tell the difference between something that challenges you (and which may be uncomfortable or make you a little nervous because it’s new or different) and something that makes you feel unsafe. Same thing for people.
Step 6 : Be safe.
There are abusive and manipulative groups (and group leaders). There are also just plain clueless ones, who can cause a lot of hurt with the best of intentions. Talking about how to spot these groups is beyond the scope of this page, but I’m working on an essay about that.
In the meantime, pay attention to your instincts. There’s a big difference between ‘discomfort at something new’ and ‘this is wrong’. Learn to tell the difference: it’s a great life skill in general. If you’re not sure about a situation, talk through it with a friend, or take some time to think it through. What in particular bothered you? Why?
Look at how group members treat each other, how leaders treat members, how members treat leaders. Avoid groups where there’s scapegoating of a specific person, or where the leaders are on a pedestal.
Look for process. Healthy groups have a method to what they do, and how they make decisions. Groups that don’t have any process or method or decision making structure are easy to abuse – and easy for abusers to manipulate. This is not fun for anyone.
Look for people honestly enjoying each other’s company. Some groups spend a lot of social time together, some get together solely to do work and learn together. Either way, people should generally appear to be enjoying their time together, not resenting it or being nervous. (At any given time, individuals may be frustrated by or working through something that’s causing some tension, but in general, most people in a healthy group should be relaxed and comfortable being there.)
Step 7 : Do stuff in the meantime.
Read books. Garden. Talk a walk. Welcome the sun in the morning, and the moon at night. Cook food that nourishes your body and engages your soul. Journal. Make art, and make music. Dance around your living room. Observe your local seasons, and how the world changes. Find online discussion groups with a good cross-section of thoughtful members, and read and learn more. Create something. Do something nice for someone you love. All of these things also help in finding a group. They just don’t lead there obviously.
I’m also working on a recommendations post of places I’d start with some of these things.