CARE : Deeper questions

As described on the intro, this is a longer and more detailed look at a range of different issues in Pagan and magical groups.


  • Engage your brain – only you can decide what you see and feel.
  • Be realistic – you’re looking for healthy, supportive settings, not perfection.
  • Learn over time – you want to see how groups respond to challenging situations as well as common ones.
  • Adapt these questions to the specific group – not all questions will apply to every setting.
Connecting: heart made of hearts on a deep teal background


How connected to reality are they?

Obviously, when we’re talking about a collection of religions that believe in a variety of things – some easy to demonstrate, others not – it can be hard to figure this one out. However, you do want to look and see how they interact with the rest of the world.

Do they have friendships outside the Pagan community? Do they thoughtfully consider different explanations for something, rather than assuming everything has some special magical reason behind it? Do they have a plan for health and well-being that involves more than magic? (i.e. will they see or suggest seeing a medical professional or legal professional when those things are appropriate?)

And finally, do they listen to other alternatives, understand that people may make different choices than they do, and for different reasons?

Red flags include:

  • Insisting that a magical or ritual solution is the only thing that will help most problems.
  • Claiming authority based solely on an experience you can’t verify (“I was initiated on the astral plane by….” is not reason to take someone’s advice without having seen them do a range of other things as well.)
  • Claiming that doing a particular ritual or magical act (especially one that is very expensive) will solve all your problems. (This is a well-known scam, when it’s done for money, but some people do it for power reasons, too.)
  • Putting down a wide variety of different options. (Someone might not care for mainstream Western medicine practice as a starting place, but that’s not the only healing approach out there, for example: if they dismiss a wide range of options, it’s a bigger concern.)

How do they treat others?

Do they treat others fairly and respectfully? How do they interact with those who are different than they are (in terms of gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, age, economic class, educational level or whatever other category you can name)? How do they treat pets, children, or anyone else they have direct control over?

Red flags include someone who:

  • Regularly puts others down, diminishes their skills or interests, or speaks poorly of others/participates in negative gossip.
  • Plays different subgroups off against each other.
  • Blames all of their problems on one person or group (scapegoating)
  • Generalizes in a negative way about groups of people (based on race, sexual preference, gender, religious path, or anything else.)
  • Seems to use other people for their own benefit, without sharing their skills, time, or effort in return (i.e. takes far more than they give.)

Do they listen?

Listening is an important skill in friendship – and when doing things together. Do you feel like this person is listening to you in specific, rather than assuming they know what you’re interested in? Does this person listen to all the sides or gather as much information as possible before making a decision? Do they make a habit of reflection and attention?

Red flags include someone who:

  • Dismisses your questions or concerns out of hand.
  • Handles conflict abruptly without full information.
  • Responds very rapidly to complex situations (i.e. makes a decision far too quickly for reasonable reflection, especially if it is not urgent.)
  • Uses information gained by listening against you later – dredging up an old issue in a way that isn’t appropriate or relevant.
  • Regularly dismisses or denigrates those they disagree with, or refuses to listen to good points they might make.

How do they handle relationships?

By ‘relationships’ I mean both inside and outside the group, and all kinds of relationships – friendships, family, romantic or sexual relationships.

Does someone have a range of caring relationships in different parts of their lives, through work, hobbies, friends, family, other interests? Do they make time for balance in their life, different kinds of activities and communities? A range of interactions gives us both perspective and varied support when life’s challenges come up.

Do they have a few long-term relationships/friendships/connections in their lives, or do they seem to have appeared out of nowhere a few years ago?

Red flags include someone who:

  • Has no close relationships outside the group.
  • Limits or expects you to limit your interaction with other parts of your life (discourages other friendships, interactions, reasonable hobbies, etc.)
  • Attempts to control your relationships or interactions either inside or outside the group. (Isolation is a sign of an abusive or controlling relationship).
  • Attempts to keep you isolated from the broader Craft community by forbidding you to attend public events or participating in online discussions.
  • Has no long-term friendships or relationships (more than 5-10 years depending on age) in their life. (These don’t need to be local.)
  • Requires or strongly encourages sexual interaction as part of training, or places sexual pressure in any way.

What does their life look like?

Do they take care of themselves, taking time to nurture their own well-being? Are they honorable in various relationships and interactions, and with their money and power? Do they take responsibility for the consequences of their choices? When the not-good stuff hits, how do they respond?

(Everyone will have some times when there’s more chaos than others – this is normal, and people engaged in deep internal work quite often make significant changes in one or more areas of their lives.)

Red flags include someone who:

  • Is constantly moving from crisis to crisis.
  • Is having trouble providing basic necessities (shelter, food, clothing, etc.) for themselves or their immediate family.
  • Treats other people’s belongings or money irresponsibly or unethically. (Avoiding repaying debts, misusing group funds, etc.)
  • Repeatedly breaks commitments to others (friends, partners, group mates)
  • Abuses power (in circle, at work, etc.) to get their own way or avoid consequences.

How do they act?

Perhaps most important is how people act. Allowing for normal ups and downs, are they caring, thoughtful, people? Good friends? Do they think about their choices, and how those choices affect the world around them? Do they find joy in life, and share that with others?

Red flags include someone who:

  • Has cyclical behavior – sudden mood swings, or shifts from praise to blame to praise without any obvious reason.
  • Responds too rapidly to a serious concern, when the issue requires thought and consideration.
  • Blames others for all their problems
  • Gets upset if they are called on something that’s out of line with group standards.
  • Doesn’t feel they need to follow group standards or expectations.
  • Has no memory of past problems or issues if reminded of them later.
  • Shifts their values over time, based on convenience or whim.

The group as a whole

Now we come to evaluating the group as a whole, and group practices. Again, many of the things here may have a specific (reasonable) explanation, but you will only find that out by looking more closely.

Fitting into the larger community

All groups start somewhere – and it’s good to know a little bit about that history.

How does this group connect to their tradition or to the larger Pagan community? Who started the group? Who leads it now? What was their experience and training like? Can they help you confirm this in some way?

(Some groups were started people with a clear focus but not much formal training: as long as they’re honest about this, it’s not necessarily a problem.)

Does this group talk to prospective members about how they fit into the broader Pagan picture? Do they have a history of participation in the community? If so, how often and in what ways? What’s their reputation in the community?

Do they encourage their members to be aware of the broader community? Are they open to members reading, discussing, taking classes, or participating in open rituals? Are there restrictions on how that should happen? (Not all groups choose to participate in the broader Pagan community – this is not in itself a huge worry.)

Red flags include a group who:

  • Refuses to answer questions about the group leader’s background, training, or experience that’s relevant to the group.
  • Does things very differently than their claimed tradition/path normally does (charging for training, method of training, ritual practices, etc.) based on your other knowledge.
  • Appears to have no contact at all with any previously associated groups (former teachers, others in the community, etc.)
  • Says things that are inconsistent – not normal development over time, but that change rapidly and significantly based on ease or apparent whim.
  • Forbids any interaction with the broader Pagan community. (Again, isolation is a major sign of an abusive relationship).
  • Requires silence about all aspects of someone’s personal path (far beyond that covered by oathbound commitments or group confidentiality).
  • Denigrates significant portions of the broader community, especially for reasons that can’t be demonstrated (mysterious references to unnamed problems).
  • Significantly restricts reading (books, online) to limited sources.

Restrictions during training (asking students to avoid doing some things until they learn them in training) is common in some initiatory traditions: this is not by itself a problem so long as it is thoroughly explained.

What is their focus?

Are they clear about what the group includes or does not include? Do their actions match what they say? Do they set appropriate (pleasant, but firm) boundaries when needed to keep group work moving forward? And if this is a ritual focused group, does their ritual work reflect and support their focus and priorities?

Red flags include a group that:

  • Says one thing and does another, especially in the areas of ethics, stated goals, or the regular work of the group.
  • Is unclear about their focus as a group or has trouble communicating that to prospective members.
  • Is focused on a specific person/leader, rather than a shared goal or type of work together.
  • Allows the time together to become purely social rather than working towards the shared goals.

Obviously, the focus of a group may change over time. In this case, members of the group should be well-informed – and public information about the group should be updated regularly.

How do they make decisions?

Some groups have a formal hierarchy, others work by consensus. Is the structure clear? Does the group have a standard method to resolve conflict or concerns? Are any expectations, rules, or other requirements made clear in advance, with time for appropriate questions?

Groups often form close connections between members that can be handled well – or badly. Is the group clear about how these interactions do and don’t affect group work? How are particularly close or dual-role relationships (romantic partner, housemate, etc.) handled in the group?

Red flags include:

  • Structure that changes to suit the leader’s preference at the time.
  • Groups which place their leadership on a pedestal, such that the leader’s decisions or choices cannot be questioned at all.
  • No clear method of dealing with conflict.
  • Favoritism, scapegoating, or other unequal interactions when it comes to the group work – especially if it involves the leadership’s romantic partners or children.
  • Power struggles within the group, whether overt or more hidden. Look at patterns: who is deferred to, and who often argues? (see the commentary!)
  • False urgency : groups who require an immediate answer to significant questions.
  • Lack of clarity about group limits, expectations, or rules.

Some areas will vary depending on the style of group – the way a hierarchical group deals with questions or decisions is obviously going to be different than the way a consensus based group works. Each group will tend towards different kinds of possible issues.

Do they respect your time and energy?

Healthy, balanced people have varied things in their life – and a healthy balanced group should support this. Does the group respect your time? Do they plan in advance to help members plan? Do they clearly discuss their expectations and time commitment in advance? (And are those reasonable?)

Red flags include a group who:

  • Regularly change scheduled events, especially at the last minute.
  • Has teachers or group leaders who show up unprepared.
  • Keeps group members waiting while they deal with their own personal preferences (especially when advance planning would have solved things.)
  • Has unreasonable expectations of how much time the group should involve (a complex issue, but )
  • Expects group members to drop other commitments/obligations/interests in favor of the group, especially on short notice. (True crises are an exception.)

How do they handle money and services?

Money is always a tricky subject, and it’s particularly complicated in some Craft settings. Many traditions forbid charging for initiatory work and training. Some traditions consider it to be acceptable. Some groups ask for a small donation to cover group costs, others avoid even that. Some paths make a point of paying teachers for their time – others consider teaching to be a service to the community. Healthy groups and teachers that do ask for financial contributions generally have alternatives for people for whom cash is tight.

Are they open about how and why money is requested? Do they provide clear records or statements of how it is used? Are costs reasonable, or do they seem unduly high for their stated use? Are any costs in line with tradition or path practices?

Red flags include groups that:

  • Provide no information about the finances of the group or their practices around group money and resources.
  • Charge for training or initiation while claiming a tradition where this is forbidden.
  • Have extremely high requests, especially if they are not laid out clearly.
  • Require group members to donate their professional skills to the group or group members for free or significant discounts. (Volunteering is one thing: a requirement is far more of a problem, especially if the skills are not directly group related.)
  • Require or expect group members to work for a group or leader owned business for no recompense.
  • Has last minute financial demands or expectations with little warning or preparation.
  • Have no provision for those whose finances change, or who have little disposable income (such as volunteer time for the group in lieu of financial contribution.)

Do they respect the spaces & tools they use?

If the group meets in a rented space, is it left better than when they arrived? If they use private homes, are those spaces ready for group work when people arrive? Do group members help with group-related cleaning like post-feast dishes? Do they respect house rules (about smoking, shoes, pets, or similar things?) Do various people help with the space, or is it always the same person? How do group members treat their tools? Group tools?

Red flags include a group that:

  • Leaves spaces in poor condition – worse than when they arrived.
  • Disrespects personal property (damages things, uses personal possessions inappropriately or without asking, etc.)
  • Expects group members to do standard household cleaning for the people who live at the covenstead.

Do their practices support growth?

If you are looking at a group in a particular tradition, it’s important to understand how their practices fit with the larger tradition. But there are also other considerations.

Ask yourself if their practices support both learning and growth, not only as a group but for individual methods.

Training: Many group training methods are time consuming, and have high expectations – but healthy groups will be clear and up front about their expectations, the time involved, and other similar details.

Red flags include training that:

  • Does not allow for discussion, questions, or debate.
  • Has draconian or outdated teaching techniques (reading aloud to students for hours at a time with no breaks or questions)
  • Requires students to ask permission for basic needs (a restroom break, a glass of water).
  • Makes excessive time demands, or unpredictable scheduling that prevents a normal, healthy, balanced life.

Ritual practices: Some ritual techniques can be very important or helpful – or can be used abusively. Is magical work supportive and consistent with the group’s ethics? Who designs ritual, and who takes on specific roles in ritual? Are people given a chance to learn other roles or skills over time? Are questions about ritual practices answered reasonably? How are practices like divination or Drawing Down handled?

Red flags include:

  • Only ‘favored’ people are allowed to develop ritual skills or roles: these should be shared between all those with the appropriate level of training/degree.
  • Assuming that all information from divination or Drawing Down is right without question – appropriate cross-checks and personal responses should always be considered.
  • Using divination or Drawing Down to push a particular personal agenda.
  • Magical work that is designed to manipulate, punish, or harm others. (There are, very occasionally, good reasons for the last two, but it should not be a regular occurance.)

Oathbound and initiatory traditions have some additional complications.

Many traditions have a combination of qualitative (skills and learning) and quantitative evaluation (is someone ready and able to take on additional challenges) for initiation – this is normal. However, standards should be consistent across members of the group.

Red flags include:

  • Providing no way for prospective members to learn about the group before taking oaths (through general discussions that avoid oathbound topics, outer court/open rituals, social events), etc.
  • Inconsistent practices about evaluation for initiation.
  • Initiating favorites/family of the leadership more quickly than others in the group, or holding them to lower standards or expectations.
  • Holding initiation over someone’s head (once it’s been agreed to happen) or repeated postponement without specific clear reasoning.
  • Requiring silence beyond oathbound material and appropriate group confidentiality.
  • Teachers keeping material from other teachers or group leaders that is relevant to the group work or well-being of a student in ritual settings.

There are, of course, many challenges in dealing with all of these.

Are threats or undue pressure used?

Finally, though by no means least, are there any of the most serious warning signs – threats, undue pressure, etc. Threats of any kind are another sign of an abusive or controlling relationship and should be taken as a very serious sign that something is wrong.

Red flags include:

  • Using information gained in confidence against you (to humilate, manipulate, or otherwise pressure you.)
  • Making threats – physical, magical, emotional, or sexual -to get you to do something or applying manipulative pressure using these means.
  • Withholding training, initiation, or other similar options from you unless you agree to sexual interaction.
  • Psychological pressure or manipulation through ritual, meditation, magic, or other related techniques.
Title card: Conscious Awareness of Religious Environments (CARE): Deeper questions

Last edited December 26, 2016. Reformatted November 2020.

Leave a Reply