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Author Topic: General/Non-Specific: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training  (Read 1627 times)

Waldhexe

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Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« on: November 19, 2017, 10:33:50 am »
Hi,

we've been chatting a bit about looking for pagan groups and training the last weeks here, it reminded me a lot of the time when I was new to paganism and desperatly looking for a group or an opportunity to get training. In retrospect there are quite some things I wished I had known back then or had handled more sensibly...

If you're currently looking for pagan groups or trainings, which things do you wish to know from those who've already gone through the process?

What difficulties or obstacles do you encounter?

Which kind of guidance or information would be helpful to you?

If you've already found your group/training and think back, what were mistakes or obstacles you had to get over?

Which guidance/information was helpful then? (Or if you feel you didn't always have appropriate guidance where would you have wished to have help?)

What kind of guidance/information did help you get over those obstacles? (Or if you didn't have appropriate guidance what kind of guidance would you have been helpful?)

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2017, 11:51:50 am »
Great topic, thank you!

If you've already found your group/training and think back, what were mistakes or obstacles you had to get over?

I got stuck for a while on trying to find a certain kind of group I thought would suit me, and that's something that often doesn't work out really well for all sorts of reasons. A big one is that there's only a limited number of groups taking potential new members at any given time in any given location - even places with very large Pagan communities, you're usually talking in the low dozens at best, across an entire metro, and some of those will be things you know you don't want, or that are harder to get to, or meet at times that aren't something you can do regularly.

I didn't get *too* stuck, because part of my approach to finding a group was to go to some public events, see what kinds of things I generally seemed to like and not like (Yes, I like longer meditations as part of my practice. No, I don't like doing them when there are small children running around in the middle. Yes, I probably prefer a reasonably consistent set of deities involved, but I don't have a fixed idea yet about pantheon. Yes, I probably want a more structured ritual process rather than less. Etc.), and then reached out to a couple of groups to investigate that had low-commitment options.

I started with three: one was the group I ended up training with, and one pointed me at that group (they were based on the other side of the metro: it would have been about double the drive.)

The third one involved a request to meet the person leading it at her home (due to a recent injury) which was an understandable request, but made me feel a little weird at the time. Besides safety issues, I find that a public meeting makes it easier for both sides to go "So, this has been a pleasant chat, but not the right fit, let's wander our separate ways." than if it's in someone's home.

Later interactions with that person made it clear to me that we would have not been a good fit for each other for other reasons. (At the time, I left it as "Let me explore some other options first, and I may be back in touch in a couple of months.") Among other issues, her idea of good research and mine are rather different, and I could see early on that it would drive me up a wall.

Quote
Which guidance/information was helpful then? (Or if you feel you didn't always have appropriate guidance where would you have wished to have help?)

The advice that I wish someone had given me explicitly earlier than I got it was "Look for people you want to become more like - at least in the ways group members are like each other." Groups and traditions - especially initiatory ones - tend to shape people in some similar directions.

If you look at the established people in the group or tradition and don't like a thing that they share, there may be a reason they share it. On the other hand, if they share a thing you like, that might be a good reason to explore the option more thoroughly.

(This, incidentally, is a reason I declined a chance to train with another group, later on: I did not like the things most of those people shared, and had heard enough stuff I wasn't comfortable with about how they approached some specific kinds of practices to not want to go near there. The practices weren't the problem, btw, but their approach to them.)

I'm not unhappy with the things I share with my tradition, but there are things where I wish I'd gone in a bit more eyes-open about them, so that I didn't have to do a lot of more significant changes/adaptations afterwards, or where I wish I'd pressed for a little more detail at specific points.

Quote
What kind of guidance/information did help you get over those obstacles? (Or if you didn't have appropriate guidance what kind of guidance would you have been helpful?)

In general, the general advice to take my time, don't make a large commitment quickly, etc. was really good advice. I definitely found myself more interested in the groups that were up front about how the process of becoming a member or student worked, what was involved (not all of it at once, necessarily, but at relevant points as you went along.)

The one other piece of advice I wish were more commonly seen is that it's good to want to be close to your group - but closeness is something that usually takes time to grow. It's normal and fine if you don't feel immediately deeply connected to a group, or teacher. Sensible groups will usually have a way to see them in a couple of different contexts (a class or discussion, an open ritual setting, a social event) before you have to make any longer-term commitments.

As someone who's done group leadership stuff, "I've found my new home/family" is one of the things that makes me very cautious with someone, especially when I hear it in the first couple of times we've met.

It often means someone is very excited to find people who share some interests, but isn't always paying a lot of attention to the details - they've fallen in love with the ideal, not the fact that these are real people who have quirks and issues and won't always be perfectly available. That's blown up painfully and nastily enough for me (and for groups I've been in) that I start moving carefully in the direction of the exit now.

As a teacher and priestess, I really prefer the people who are all "You are interesting, let's talk more." about it.
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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2017, 01:22:14 pm »
If you've already found your group/training and think back, what were mistakes or obstacles you had to get over?

I'm not sure I would say I made mistakes, but I do think that there are ... useful ideas for not doing so that I could offer?  Such as:

1) the training that's available may not be the right training; that does not mean it's the wrong training.  It might set you up with some information you need to get to where you can get the right training, or let you eliminate some possibilities, or even set you up to do some work on your own.

I trained with two reconstructionist groups that offered introductory courses and dabbled with a third.  This gave me a basic familiarity with the concepts, assumptions, and vocabulary of the Kemetic community, enabling me to continue doing research and such with at least some ties remaining to the community and its state of conversation.  (It also gave me opinions about where the default assumptions in the community were erroneous or misguided, which led me towards developing completely alternate models.)

I also deliberately pursued Craft training with a teacher I knew was not a long-term teacher for me, partially because she was available, partially because I was not sure what level of commitment I wanted to make to the tradition, and partially because working with her was deliberately challenging myself to work with things that I knew were not strong compatibilities.  I could explore the tradition and challenge myself to work her way for a while without feeling that I was going to be stuck with something that was not working out for me out of personal ties.

2)  Some training is the wrong training.  In all of the cases above, I am aware that had I gone deeper and pursued more training down those specific lines, it would not have been right for me.  (This is also the case for many group situations I observed and rejected without investing.)  In some cases, that "not right" would have been simply wasted time, effort spent on tools that I cannot use effectively, or investment in groups where I did not fit in; in other cases, the teaching would have been unhealthy for me, or the interpersonal dynamics damaging, or other things.

Interpersonal dynamics skills are of course helpful for picking out the uncomfortable, potentially abusive, and dangerous situations, but there are things to keep in mind for that as well: first of all, bad groups will often engage in love bombing of potential recruits, treating them as specially gifted and/or presenting their community as a source of love and support that people might be lacking in their lives.  This encourages an unwarranted personal investment which can be exploited later.  Other warning signs include focus on and dependence on an individual person rather than the work/purpose of the group, expectations that the group is one's entire life rather than a part thereof (including expectations that the majority of one's social life will be conducted through the group), and expectations that the group will support the leadership materially.

In some ways, "this training is just wrong for me" is harder to pick out, I think.  There's a lot of "you need to do this exercise so you can take on more advanced work, even though this exercise is not terribly interesting" in a lot of training, and so it can be easy to become invested in pursuing the work through sunk cost before realizing that actually, the more advanced work is kind of useless to one.  One can use the evaluator of seeing whether one wants to be more like the people who have completed more of the work, but that's about results rather than means, and may not help all that much (though it can help with filtering groups!).

For example: I am not good at ceremonial / western magical tradition stuff.  I can poke at it as a toy, but I can't deal with it as core practice, my mind doesn't work this way.  (This has shocked people, including people I have done training with for multiple years - I am good at symbol manipulation and analysis and apparently that passes for facility with ceremonialism?  Dunno.)  I haven't even tried to study with ceremonial magic groups because I don't think I'd be able to do the work at all, or not without effort and assistance that I am not confident they'd provide.  (I mean maybe there are ceremonial groups who provide bootstrapping assistance for aspies who don't find that their system systematises properly but that's kind of a limited appeal thing.)  I have trained with Craft teachers who have more and less root in the Western Magical Tradition, and the more WMT-based stuff is not a good long-term fit for me, even though I have benefited from improving my grounding there.

Um, anyway, that long-winded digression was to set up to say: if I was really invested in training with a teacher who did a lot of WMT stuff that might get messy.  Not because there's anything wrong with the WMT or the teacher, but because that shit doesn't run on my OS without an emulator and at the moment my emulator is crap. ;)  And a teacher might not be someone who can help port the code, either; that's a different skill than presenting the material to people who can learn it easily.  So one has to balance, a lot of the time, the value in building an emulator, the value in possibly working with something long enough to figure out how to get something converted over that will run on one's brainsystem properly, or just going fuckit and getting something that already works on one's system.

3)  If looking for a teacher, the teacher's qualifications matter.  This is not just "where did they learn what they know" and "if this is a lineaged trad, what is their lineage", but other things.  Someone who seems to need constant outside affirmation from others, for example, is not going to be capable of guiding in a way to produce competent independent adulthood - their students will either grow more narcissistic based on the model of their teacher, or become more inclined to feeding the teacher's ego because that is what the teacher is guiding them to do.  People who have reasonable self boundaries will bounce out of that group like a turbocharged ping-pong ball.

Look at other people in the group as well as the teacher: do they have their lives together?  How have they benefited from this instruction?  What do they say has changed for them?

4) If looking for a teacher, lots of things are relevant that don't have to do with their technical qualifications as a teacher.  Especially when working with the Craft and other initiatory work, I think; helping someone prepare for an initiatory experience goes better when one understands critical things about them.

So, for example, someone who is wanting to work with a thread involving local spirits and energies might do better with a teacher who has ties to the same area.  It might not be required - someone else may have techniques that can be generalised! - but that sense of localised magic/spirituality might be important.  Someone might need to have a teacher who understands the demands of parenting, or the queer experience, or the difficulties of grad school, or the importance of working in a caring profession, or volunteer work for the needy.  These are all parts of fit with a teacher.

Because not all teachers, however competent, are suited to all potential students, it is worth, again, looking at the other people they're close to.  Not only for things like "are their students competent independent adults that I would like to resemble" or "are these group dynamics healthy", but for variation, including variation that includes people like the seeker.  It is common, for example, for people to start doing Craft training around Saturn returns, so groups with a lot of students will have population peaks in their late twenties and mid to late fifties.  Other age patterns happen, of course, and even someone who starts training at a stereotypical time will still be around if they stick with the group after training period or are working with a tradition with a long training period.  Someone who only has students or group members in one age group may well be communicating that they have nothing to offer to someone who isn't in that age group (this is particularly common with groups dominated by teenagers).

Consider other diversities than age: is the group composed entirely of white people?  (Very common in paganism for a variety of reasons.)  How many women, men, enbies of various types?  What are they like about trans people?  Are any members of the group autistic/ADHD/other neurodivergence?  Are any members of the group disabled?  How does the group handle differences in financial status?  What do members of the group seem to have in common?  What are the diversities in interests?

And further: does the teacher/leader encourage mutual support among members, or is everyone supposed to depend on the teacher for everything?  What sort of relationships do people among the group have?  If someone needed support that depended on someone sharing some aspect of their experience, would they be able to find another parent, or autistic, or person of color, or grad student, or person with experience with poverty, or whatever else to talk to about their issues and how they intersect with the tradition involved?  How does that work out in practice?

Not having these resources in a group is not possible for every possible human variation - however, the more variations that are intrinsically supported by variety of group experience, the more likely someone is to find something that's good enough.  If only because the people there are used to figuring out how to empathise and balance an experience.

5) Not all groups are teaching groups or serious working groups, and that's okay.

Some groups are fellowship groups.  Some groups are hang out and celebrate some set of holidays groups.  Some groups are book clubs.  Some groups are other things.

That doesn't mean that looking at group leadership, group composition, group background isn't worthwhile for those kind of groups.  But the questions are a lot heavier on "do I get on with these people" and "is this an activity I actually care about doing" for these groups.

My own actual group is a group of friends, no two of whom share a tradition/religion or background, but we like having company and occasionally setting things on fire and having a drink in a festive fashion.  We are very slowly building up a corpus of 'this is how we do things in this group' (and would do better if we actually had managed to have a group gathering any time this year, but whatcanyoudo2017) from the contributions of the people who have things to offer, and in the long run if people join in there's that groundwork from which they would need to work.  But we're also not doing major transformative work, or teaching or working in a specific tradition, or even agreeing on what the next book we're all reading is.  And that group is distinct from temples I've studied with, the tradition I'm training in, the church I attend, and bunches of other things.

6)  No group should be everything you do, including spiritually.

You may have a coven or whatever and a tradition that fits you perfectly (in theory!), but if your spiritual life is entirely dependent on doing stuff with those people that's not good, healthy, or sustainable.  Build your seating with multiple legs.  Those legs don't have to be groups - and it's best if you have a personal practice as one of them! - but don't be all-or-nothing about it.  Healthy systems are diverse.

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2017, 06:41:00 pm »
first of all, bad groups will often engage in love bombing of potential recruits, treating them as specially gifted and/or presenting their community as a source of love and support that people might be lacking in their lives. 

To which I would add, be wary of any group that makes a lot of noise about being the One True Whatever. A sense of superiority can be tempting.

Quote
Someone who seems to need constant outside affirmation from others, for example, is not going to be capable of guiding in a way to produce competent independent adulthood - their students will either grow more narcissistic based on the model of their teacher, or become more inclined to feeding the teacher's ego because that is what the teacher is guiding them to do

Or both at once. I have lived this and it was not good.

Waldhexe

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2017, 12:44:32 pm »
The advice that I wish someone had given me explicitly earlier than I got it was "Look for people you want to become more like - at least in the ways group members are like each other." Groups and traditions - especially initiatory ones - tend to shape people in some similar directions.

If you look at the established people in the group or tradition and don't like a thing that they share, there may be a reason they share it. On the other hand, if they share a thing you like, that might be a good reason to explore the option more thoroughly.
That's really good. At the beginning I thought I should first choose a specific path and then find a group which would train me. After I've seen some dysfunctional groups...I'd say how they behave is at least equally important as their pagan path is.

What I learned of not so good signs is
- bragging about magical aptitude
- bitching about Christians or other faiths/paths
- bitching about absent group members
- opposing groups
- stepping over boundaries of others (like there's this one newbie and everybody wants to help her/him, analyzes this person and gives unasked advice or even stuff like "I see in your aura...").

Naunau

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2017, 12:58:24 pm »
- bitching about Christians
I think I am internally guilty of this for quite specific reasons, but I wouldn't even know what to say about that to others because I'm unable to turn that anger into positive motivation for anything. Like something that's often on my mind is "I don't know what to do with this anger because I can't change things".

It might be a bit unusual, because I wasn't raised as a Christian.

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2017, 01:33:39 pm »
What I learned of not so good signs is
- bragging about magical aptitude
- bitching about Christians or other faiths/paths
- bitching about absent group members
- opposing groups
- stepping over boundaries of others (like there's this one newbie and everybody wants to help her/him, analyzes this person and gives unasked advice or even stuff like "I see in your aura...").

Related to these, which are excellent, I also offer a "Look at how they treat people."

My favourite method for this is to go out to dinner somewhere, and see how they deal with waitstaff. Sometimes people do have specific needs or requests: that's fine, but there are decent and lousy ways to handle those. Do they tip reasonably (in countries like the US where tipping is a needful thing?) Do they apologise if something is going to take noticably more work for the staff?

Is there fussing about dealing with the bill? (There are all sorts of ways people who know each other split things, but there's a big difference between 'I'll get this for you, you got mine last time' and someone expecting someone to cover them at random.)

And so on. It's amazing how much that tells you about how someone deals with things in a magical group setting.
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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2017, 03:16:48 pm »
Related to these, which are excellent, I also offer a "Look at how they treat people."

My favourite method for this is to go out to dinner somewhere, and see how they deal with waitstaff. Sometimes people do have specific needs or requests: that's fine, but there are decent and lousy ways to handle those. Do they tip reasonably (in countries like the US where tipping is a needful thing?) Do they apologise if something is going to take noticably more work for the staff?

Yes. This. +1. I remember working as a busboy at Farrell's near my home in the 1980-81 time frame, and there was one night when a large church group had a big meal with separate checks...and not one of them bothered to leave a tip. Left the poor waitress reduced to tears...at the time, wait staff pay was $1.40/hr (plus tips).

I'm not saying that you need to be or even should be buddy-buddy with your waiter...but he should be striving to provide professional service, and whether he succeeds or not (if "not", ask to speak to his manager so he can be properly trained) he should be treated as a professional. If you see someone, especially in a church or religious context, who treats wait staff, maids, cleaning people, and receptionists as animated furniture you should promptly run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.
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ehbowen

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2017, 03:23:09 pm »
Yes. This. +1. I remember working as a busboy at Farrell's near my home in the 1980-81 time frame, and there was one night when a large church group had a big meal with separate checks...and not one of them bothered to leave a tip. Left the poor waitress reduced to tears...

Additional info which just returned to mind: That was the night our ice machine gave out, and I ended up making a banzai run to the nearest convenience store to buy five bags of ice to keep us going for the night. This group seemed to have no appreciation that it was a difficult night for us. I hope that's not the way I represent my own God in public.
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Waldhexe

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2017, 11:11:58 am »
I think I am internally guilty of this for quite specific reasons, but I wouldn't even know what to say about that to others because I'm unable to turn that anger into positive motivation for anything. Like something that's often on my mind is "I don't know what to do with this anger because I can't change things".

It might be a bit unusual, because I wasn't raised as a Christian.
I've also been guilty of this. There's a difference between one person having issues and a whole group of people having no positive/interesting matter to talk about so they only have bitching about others/other religions/path as their common talking matter. (I'm not saying it's OK for one person to bitch, but it's human).

Talking about positiv matters...when I watch what my group talks about, if it's not planning a ritual or other "event"...stuff that comes up regularly is: personal life, movies, books, philosophy, herbalism, science, creative stuff, complaining about work - OK, not all of this is positive, but I think we have a good balance ;)

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2017, 07:48:18 pm »
If you've already found your group/training and think back, what were mistakes or obstacles you had to get over?

Which guidance/information was helpful then? (Or if you feel you didn't always have appropriate guidance where would you have wished to have help?)

What kind of guidance/information did help you get over those obstacles? (Or if you didn't have appropriate guidance what kind of guidance would you have been helpful?)

I started out as a solitary Wiccan learning out of the books you could get in the mid-90s: Starhawk, Cunningham, Ravenwolf, etc. I fell into my coven backwards after meeting someone involved in the local scifi fandom. I'm still with that coven (and will be elevated to second degree in a few months), and now I also work with the local ADF Druid Grove and I'm involved with the area Pagan Meeting (on meetup.com).

Advice: Don't be too worried about finding a group/teacher right away. Being a solitary for a couple years helped me sort myself out on how I felt about Paganism and Wicca. While my magical/ritual skills didn't progress as quickly as they did under my teacher, I had the freedom to explore different ideas/techniques for things (like casting circle).

But let's be fair. The Pagan community was so different in the mid-90s than it is today. Back then, there were like 30 websites about witchcraft on Yahoo, and I'd probably hit them all. There was the Pagan Tearoom chat on AOL. There were a few forums, and Witchvox. It was a lot easier to get to know the BNPs and there was a lot less drama online that you could scope out before joining groups.

More advice: Group dynamics are group dynamics are group dynamics. The same sort of crap that goes on at work or in social organizations will happen in religious organizations. The same crap that might have gone on at your church will go on in some Pagan groups. Personality conflicts will happen. Schisms will happen. Witch wars will happen. I'm not saying you should participate in that, I certainly limit my war-making until it's absolutely necessary to protect me and mine. But you should be aware of that. Even good groups may eventually get torn apart.

Final piece of advice: Be willing to be wrong, and own up to it if you are. I'm the first one to admit that my first website had one of those "Never again the burning times!" buttons on it. Prevailing opinions change, new research recasts what we thought was settled history. Stay apprised of current research and work in whatever your path is. Keep an eye on new books. Check them out of your library system or on Kindle Unlimited where you can. There's nothing I've learned, religiously, that I can't keep learning about, whether it's new research, a new technique for reading Tarot, a new devotional book for a God, etc.

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Re: Stuff you need to know when looking for pagan groups or training
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2018, 03:21:31 pm »
This was all super helpful!

I read through all of the thread responses and there is amazing advice to be had!

Especially the bit about practicing solo for a while. I've felt a lot of pressure to find/join a group its nice to know that other people spent a while on their own as well.

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