More than a year

All right, so I’ve been more than a little overwhelmed since my last post – lots of job-related stuff keeping me busy, and limiting the amount of energy I have to write or focus when I get home. (And what’s left has been going into work with the coven and with other commitments, not writing about them.)

I do want to do a “One year later” post, though, so even though it’s a little late, here we are!

We’re still here!

First things first – we still exist! And, at this point, seem pretty likely to keep doing so, assuming that other factors (jobs, etc.) don’t force a change in physical location. We’re very happy with that.

We’re still small (two people, and in the process of considering a prospective member), but my covenmate has also been working privately with a student outside the coven context. Given our other commitments and things in our lives, we knew we wanted to take it slowly to start with – and I don’t regret that decision at all.

One of the things I believe very strongly is that balance between different areas of life is critical – and my job situation has been unusually complicated in the last year, with a lot of uncertainty and and change and resultant stress. So, I’ve been very careful not to push ahead too fast with the coven work, and instead to do things that stretch us, yes, but not overwhelm us. There will be other years.

What have we done?

  • Celebrated the Sabbats and the moons (generally full moon, but we swap to the new moon in months where the full moon and Sabbat come close on each other’s heels.)
  • Developed deeper and multi-faceted relationships with the deities we work with and honor. (You’ll notice I haven’t talked about this in detail, because it’s personal, but we’re doing it.)
  • Had ongoing discussions spurred on by various books and other topics. This year, we’re embarking on an in-depth study of the Anglo-Saxon runes, after taking a rune class together last December.
  • Done a lot of talking about *how* we want to do things, and why we’re making that choice – and documented them. It seems a little silly on one hand to document for a very small group, but we think it’s worth it to help new members understand where we’re coming from (and to remind all of us what we were thinking about when we made specific choices.)
  • Had a lot of good food and good drink and good conversation that challenges us to think of things in new ways.

What I’m glad we did:

  • Taking our time. I’m so glad we haven’t rushed this process, or set arbitrary deadlines for ourselves.
  • Writing things down: Both in public like this, but also in private and in coven-only notes.
  • Not trying to make every ritual the Best And Deepest Ever ritual. We’ve backed off from trying to do 4 or 5 things in every ritual – many of ours have had one central focus, and a bunch of conversation around that. Not only are these less stressful to arrange, but we’ve had many beautiful moments of serendipity by leaving that space.
  • Keeping things simple: we’ve deliberately kept our ritual set-up and coven items minimal and simple, so that we can set up and take down our ritual space in under 15 minutes (usually, it’s well under that.) Not only does this reduce stress, but it gives us more time for other things.
  • Deciding well ahead of time what we’ll generally be doing – but not scripting intensely. We have an idea, we talk about it, but we then run with it once we’re in ritual. Advance discussion gives us a chance to do personal work related to the ritual on our own, and to think about any things that might be an issue.
  • Taking a break from ritual with others. (Though I’m about ready to see about visiting our parent group sometime when my schedule frees up again.) I knew intuitively that I really needed the time to do our own thing, and I’m really glad I insisted on taking that time.

What’s next:

Assuming that a couple of things in the near future go the way I hope they will, our next step is going to be working on a bunch of student content – and then continuing to be open to new potential students and group members. I’m really excited about this, because I deeply enjoy teaching, even if Phoenix Song is not intended to be a teaching-focused coven.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the use of technology in coven work, but will be writing about that separately. (Can you tell that I just finished attending a conference on library technology? I’m always thinking about how to apply what I do in the day job to the other parts of my life, and especially so after lots of great conversation about different ways to use tech tools.)

But really, we want to keep doing more of the same – but with enough new that we continue to challenge ourselves to go deeper, further, and become more entangled with the mysteries we’re exploring.

Advertising events

One of the forums I read got a post this week that got me thinking about how one best advertises events in the Pagan community (or to be more specific, how one does so efficiently, but politely.) What I came up with are a series of questions. I don’t think they’re the only questions possible, of course – but it got me thinking about some new ways to approach letting others know of events of interest.

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The question of gossip

One of the things I’ve been thinking about (due to some professional work talking about online harassment and disagreements) is the role of gossip and social commentary in the Pagan community.

I believe that there is healthy gossip and unhealthy gossip, but I want to talk about some examples.

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Speaking with others

This seems to be my month for it – last Wednesday, I was at a wonderful lecture by Dr. Eboo Patel, one of the founders of the Interfaith Youth Core, a group that seeks to “1) build widespread public support for interfaith youth work; 2) equip youth-focused institutions to positively engage their religious diversity; and 3) cultivate long-term impact by emerging leaders in this movement.” He’s an extremely engaging speaker, and if you’re at all interested in interfaith community building or youth leadership in any area of your life, and get a chance to hear him, take it.

What he said definitely made me think. Not only about how this plays into general life – but where and how the Pagan communities fit into it. (Note the plural, there.)

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Making a habit of community

A post on one of the Pagan forums I spend time on caught my attention this week. This person was very unhappy with a post in a thread, and was upset that he couldn’t go and respond there. In other words, he didn’t really get the community culture.

All communities have an internal culture – at least if they’ve been going for more than a month or two. Some of this culture may be obvious – but some of it often isn’t. There are many nuances, and it’s often assumed that people will pick up the details as they go along. This isn’t hard – but a lot of people don’t seem to do it, or don’t seem conscious of how to. The list below – my list of “Stuff I pay attention to” isn’t new and bizarre. It’s stuff that works in your work life. If you move to a new area. And it works if you’re looking for a face to face group, whether that’s knitting or a coven.

Why care?

These days, online,  many people create an account, and immediately start posting – and then wonder why they’re having problems in their conversations. This is uncomfortable and unpleasant – but it’s also a direct result of some of their choices. The thing that’s always gotten me is that many of these issues are easily avoided: a little time, attention, and patience go a long way in making an entry to a new group fairly comfortable. You don’t need any special tools beyond what you’d already be using – just a little time, patience, and self-control.

Step 1) Do your homework.

Don’t sign up for every group you can find on a topic all at once. It’s easy to get confused between different forums, and it can be harder to learn a particular list or forum’s style and approach. (It’s also easy to get overwhelmed and have a hard time keeping up with new posts, and that’s not much fun.)

Focus on a couple of groups that seem like the best fit for what you’re looking for. Read their rules and guidelines – often these will tell you whether or not it might be a good fit for you. The guidelines often will mention their expectations, sensitive topics, and other things you will want to know to avoid a rough entry.

Larger groups often have rules about everything from signature size to where or how advertisements can be posted, to how they handle people asking for research participants. These rules are there because the situation’s come up, and needed to be addressed – even if the reason isn’t obvious to you, there’s probably a good reason for it. You can ask about it – later – if you still have questions, but for right now, just follow their rules.

2) Listen more than you talk for a while:

New posters online used to be advised to ‘lurk’ (read without posting) for 2 weeks or so when entering a new group. You’ll get a good sense of frequent posters, common topics, and issues that keep coming up. (My take on this is “I prefer to learn from other people’s mistakes – less painful!”)

You also begin to get a sense of the more frequent posters – who do you find thoughtful? And a sense of  people you might want to ignore or at least pay less attention to – people who constantly turn the discussion to their pet topic, who troll looking for emotional responses, or who are needlessly cruel or snippy. And you’d get a good sense of the way specific terms are used on the group, both terms in the area of interest – and some group in-jokes.

Restrain yourself from jumping in to correct someone who is obviously mistaken – chances are, in a larger forum, that someone else will post and correct factual errors – and people will tend to prefer their own opinions, preferences, or experiences to that of a total stranger. Give people time to get to know you, and you’ll be more persuasive. If you still really want to comment on something, let it sit overnight before posting: you’ll probably find ways to make your post a little calmer when you review it.

3) Learn the forum’s culture:

Some forums are fine with long, detailed posts. Some have many shorter posts, and people who apologise if they go over two paragraphs. It’s probably clear which of the two I tend to do better in! (Brevity and conciseness are not my virtues without a lot of editing work.) Some forums like examples and informal references – others rely heavily on personal experience and see references as distancing or elitist.

And in the Pagan community, there’s one particularly strong distinction: some forums are focused on fellowship and support, while others are focused on debate, discussion, or critical thinking and evaluation. People who want one and end up in the other tend to be uncomfortable – but fortunately, many forums make it clear which way they lean.

4) Take it slowly:

Once you’ve read for a bit, you’ll have an idea which topics may be sensitive, prone to producing lengthy discussion, or that may get a bit heated. If you’d like a more comfortable introduction to the forum, avoid those. Start with something else. As you continue to get a feel for the forum, you can branch out into more complex discussions more easily.

Plus, as regulars on the forum get a feel for you, they’re more likely to give you a little bit of leeway if you say something a bit odd. If you have consistently come across as friendly but very new to this and you say something that’s potentially insulting, you’ll get different responses than someone who’s come across as antagonistic from their first post.

5) Consider how you want to present yourself:

As in face-to-face settings, people will form opinions of you based on how you behave – this is especially true in your early interactions on a forum (the first 25-50 or so, depending on how often you post, and what about.) It’s worth paying some extra attention to how you come across – take a moment to check what you’ve written for clarity, and whether there’s anything that might be misread.

Don’t make your first posts to a new forum at a time when you’re really rushed, emotional, or unable to think clearly unless you really do need urgent help with something. (And if that’s the case, ask your questions, calm down, and *then* come back and post more.) Just like meeting a group of new people in a face to face setting, why not put your best foot forward?

6) If you have questions, be polite:

Assume that a rule is there for a reason. Don’t single people out. Be thoughtful and polite. (Please and thank you never hurt.) For example, the person who got me thinking about this would have gotten a different response if he’d said “Hey, what’s the reasoning behind the full membership thing? I saw something in a folder I can’t post in that frustrates me, but I can’t respond.” than he did by posting something more antagonistic (and quoting the specific post.) Sometimes, it’s all in the style.

(By polite, I don’t mean obsequious – I just mean that you should avoid insults, dismissals of others, and other things like that.)

And here’s the thing:

These things? If you treat them like habits, will make it easier for you, if and when you do go looking for a group in person. Or you move, and want to break into a new social community. Or you start a new job. They’re not an obsolete set of random rules, they’re things that are common to human communities.  But that only works if you make them a habit – and apply them in different areas of your life, so they become second nature.