One thing I’ve heard from a number of people is that they go to a public event, don’t get much out of it, and are frustrated. This essay is about some different ways to approach public rituals and other general Pagan community events to make the most of the time and energy it takes to go to them.
Before you go
Pick events thoughtfully.
Choose events that suit what you want to learn more about and that work with your preferences for interacting with other people, if you can.
If you want to meet other people who do similar things, pick events at which you might get talking to other people. If you’re not comfortable striking up a conversation with strangers, a smaller workshop or interactive activity (like volunteering) may work a lot better for you than something like a lecture or larger presentation.
If you want to learn about a particular kind of practice, do some research to figure out who can talk about it well, and focus on finding those opportunities, rather than going to session with someone who knows only a little more than you do, or who is not a great presenter.
Have a plan
Go into the event with a clear idea of why you want to go, and what you hope to get out of it. I usually identify one or two things I’m hoping to learn or do at the event, and if I make progress on those, it’s a good day.
For example, when I’ve moved to a new place, my goal at the next Pagan Pride (or equivalent) has usually been “Get a sense of what’s going on in the broader area, and whether any of those are things I’m interested in”.
When I’ve gone to conventions, it’s been “Let me find one or two workshops or events each day I’m particularly interested in, and make sure I have time to catch up with friends and talk to people.” When I’ve done workshops, it’s “This person teaching about X thing, here is what I’m interested in learning.” I consider anything else a bonus.
Know your limits
Going to new events can be exhausting! (And doubly or triply so if you have chronic health issues, have small children with you, or other things that take extra care and attention).
Don’t try and do everything. By knowing your main goals, you can pick and choose, or figure out which couple of hours are the best fit for what you want to do.
Ask for other places to check out
People at an event who have similar interests may have recommendations (or anti-recommendations) for other events or books or information sources.
Don’t take their advice as an absolute, but a “Hey, you mentioned X in your question – where could I learn more about that?” can sometimes pay off really well. Or a “You said you were involved in Y – I’d been curious, but wasn’t sure how to find other people.”
Make it short and polite, and many people will be glad to give you a pointer, or maybe even be glad to follow up afterwards. Bringing cards with your preferred contact information or some index cards or notepaper to write info down on can help a lot.
Tips for better experiences
Take care of yourself
Being in a new kind of situation can be exhausting, and on top of that, many events can just be physically challenging. You may be standing up or walking more than you’re used to, you may be out in the sun or in heat (or cold rain) for a bit. You’ll be having lots of new experiences.
Make sure you drink (water or something else hydrating), sit down when you need to, pause and eat at regular intervals. (Also, some of the best conversations can happen over meals).
If you have specific health needs, check with the event hosts about specifics you need to be safe and comfortable in advance. Make sure you bring what you need with you (meds, seating, etc.), and do less than you think you can do. (Save some energy for getting home safely!)
Be in the moment
While you may need to check emails or texts to meet up with people, consider limiting that kind of thing to the bare minimum.
Bring a journal or sketchbook, people watch, or otherwise just experience what’s going on rather than falling into the same habits many of us have of checking our phones, talking to people who aren’t there.
(Also, be aware that many events have photo policies to protect the privacy of people there, so photos, etc. may not be an option or only at specific times and places.)
Give yourself processing time afterwards
It can take a while to process the event after you get home. For a short networking event, you might just want to write down a few notes so you remember names or specific interests for next time. But for longer events – workshops, full day ritual events, etc. – you will need more time, even once you’re past being tired and needing to catch up with other things, you will probably need some time to sort through what happened.
Journalling, making notes for yourself, spending some time in quiet reflection can all help. A good bath or shower help some people, or doing some chores around the house you like. Some people deliberately plan re-entry things to do (a particular movie, music playlist, project, etc.) that lets them process the event while easing back into regular routine.
Find people you want to become more like
Religious paths don’t necessarily shape people in a specific way, but looking for people who are like what you want to become isn’t a bad place to start. Often this is an unconscious process – see whose stuff intrigues you, how you feel when you talk to them.
Be aware that the people you come across are people – a lot of people will be a bit more silly or relaxed or whatever at a big public event like Beltane or Pagan Pride, for a variety of reasons.
(And sometimes people have a thing going on in their personal life that makes their interactions a bit different the first time or two you see them, so if someone is just not your cup of tea – not horrible, not creepy, just not your thing – being open minded and trying another conversation in a month or three can sometimes be worthwhile.)
When you find people who are maybe interesting, ask them about what they do, what they’re willing to share, but also ask them about who else you might want to talk to. Sometimes that can be a great way to get in touch with like-minded people.
You don’t need to find everyone who might be interesting, bear in mind – you just need to find a sufficient number for you. And once you find one person, they often know other people.
Last edited December 26, 2016. Reformatted November 2020.