05 March 2013

Getting Started - Part II - Working With Others

Once you've done a little research and know enough to ask the right questions, it's time to jump into the Magickal/Pagan community.  Depending on where you live that might be as simple as heading to the closest open Sabbat or asking questions at your local metaphysical store.  Or, it might be quite a bit more difficult.

Online Community

In this day and age the magickal community is just a click away - simple right?  If only.  First off, there are a lot of different online communities and each one has a different character.  There's Facebook, Tumblr, Witchvox, PaganPages, PFI, COG, and many other places to choose from.  Some communities are easy to access and are full of people just starting out, others are much more difficult to get into and are often full of elders. You'll have to try them out and see which one best fits who you are and how you like to communicate.

There are two MAJOR drawbacks to online community: lack of vetting and rampant miscommunication.  Anyone can get online and call themselves the grand high poobah of anything.  It can be really hard to know if someone is actually what they claim to be and if the information they're giving you is accurate.  Of course, there are also plenty of trolls out there that will give you bad answers because they think it's funny.  They are douche bags.  This is why I always recommend getting multiple answers to your questions.  The more answers you get, the easier it will be to see which ones are way out of left field - making them less likely to be accurate.  Of course, sometimes the wacky answers are the most inspired, but it's often best to leave that kind of exploration until you've got a better foundation to work with.

The other, and possibly biggest, problem is miscommunication.  Just because you can make yourself understood in person doesn't mean you can make yourself understood online.  Things like humor, sarcasm, emotions, etc., don't really translate well into text alone. It is really easy to be rude unintentionally online and a lot of people are quick to anger at any imagined slight.  Don't get yourself into a Witch War just because someone forgot to add a winky face to show they were joking in a post. 

Also, a lot of magickal concepts are pretty darned complicated and can only be fully explained in person.  Have you ever tried to describe the feeling you get when you know you've cast your circle successfully?  It's so much easier to show someone in person then to try and explain it in text. Images, animated gifs, and streaming video have made things a lot easier in recent years, but there's still no substitute for being there.

In-Person Community

Depending on where you live, finding in-person community can be fairly difficult.  There are still a lot of places where being "out of the broom closet" is still a very risky choice, and even in otherwise open places (college campuses, major cities, etc.) folks still might need to keep their magickal tendencies a secret from co-workers of family.  Joining any in-person community raises the risk of someone who doesn't know your magickal side happening onto it be accident.  If you're deeply in the broom closet you will need to think carefully about how much risk you're willing to bear.

The first step in finding in-person community is often a trip to your local metaphysical shop.  Occult bookstores are a sort of unofficial community center for magickal folk.  They'll often have flyers or notices for local magickal events and the owners usually know what groups exist in the area.  Many metaphysical shops will actually host workshops and rituals with local groups, so they're a great place to start.  Next, check Witchvox.com for listing of local groups and events in your area.  Lots of magickal and, most especially, Pagan groups will post their events up on Witchvox and a lot of elders will have personal listings there.  Any group or person who has posted their contact info on Witchvox should, at least, be willing to talk to folks who are just starting out.

Once you've found a local event or group you'll need to approach them.  Public events are a great first step toward joining a local community.  Groups expect new folks to come to open events, that's why they're open.  They should make and rules and instructions clear in advance, so you'll know what you're getting into and what, if anything, will be expected of you.  Some groups that put on public events are amazing, others are total crap.  Go to as many different things as you can, so you can find out which groups are worth learning more about.

If you find a group that you really like, it's time to look into joining them.  This is where it can get really tricky.  If you've been to an open event chances are you've had a chance to talk to some members of the group and hopefully get to know them.  If you have, that's great.  It will make figuring out your next steps very simple.  Unfortunately, some groups, particularly longstanding ones, will have an insane and complicated dance of manners and etiquette they require from seekers, and sometimes they won't tell you what the rules are.  These aren't the most welcoming groups in the world and I tend to get frustrated with them and go find a more approachable group.  Unfortunately, these finicky groups often have some of the most knowledgeable elders so it's a toss up as to whether they're worth the bother (of course some of these groups are just a hive of ego and meglomania). 

If you do find a group and are able to join them remember - just because you've joined a group doesn't mean you're stuck with them forever.  People grow and change over time.  The group might not be what you thought it was, your needs might chance, the group itself might change.  There will probably come a time when you'll need to move on and that's completely normal.  I don't know anyone that found their perfect group on their first try.  Honestly, I don't know anyone that's found a "perfect" group at all.  Every group has its challenges and it's up to you to decide when to stick it out and when to head for the hills.

Finding A Teacher

Finding a one an one mentor seems to be the Holy Grail for a seeker.  I can remember how badly I wanted some experienced person to take me under his or her wing and reveal the secrets of the universe (like they do in so many books and movies) back when I was starting out. Depending on where you are, who you are, and what you want to learn finding that kind of apprenticeship may or may not be possible.  I can't really give advice for finding that kind of mentor because I never found one. It is much, much easier to find group classes and workshops.

You can find in-person classes the same way you find in-person events and local groups.  Once you find a potential class be sure to check out who's teaching it.  Has it been offered before?  Can you contact people who have taken the class or worked with the teacher?  What's the teacher's reputation?  There are a lot of amazing teachers out, but there are a lot of mediocre (or crappy) ones too.  It should always be possible to contact a teacher and ask questions before you commit (and pay) to any class.

There are also a lot of online classes available these days.  Many well known community elders, like Kerr Cuhulain and T. Thorn Coyle offer online classes - which is a great way to learn from a master.  There are also online schools that can offer a huge variety of magickal learning.  Of course, as a graduate and faculty member, I'm quite biased towards the Grey School: an online non-denominational school (we teach magick, not religion).  At the Grey School you can learn just about every major magickal practice out there while working at your own pace.  It's also got an amazingly supportive community built into it, which I love - like I said, I'm rather biased.

In the end, you'll just have to jump in and see what works for you. 

Back to Part I

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