First of all, it’s awesome that you’re putting yourself out there and trying to get to know people in your area. That’s a scary thing to do for many people, so give yourself props for taking the initiative.
There’s a weird paradox with open Wiccan events. Many of these events exist to help newcomers learn more about Wicca and get a foothold in the community while providing local Wiccans a chance to do ritual or socialize together. But when a community comes together regularly—even if there’s acrimony and witch-bitching between some of the members—it forms a culture with relationships and expected behaviors. These dynamics are often just background noise to longtime members who figured them out long ago, but they’re unintentionally off-putting to newcomers. The shared history and behaviors make it appear as if the established members are closing ranks rather than welcoming newcomers.
You’re reaching out to groups so you can learn more, but an important thing to remember is that you joining a group will change the group as much as it changes you. Bringing in new people means group dynamics will shift, new relationships will be formed, and old relationships may change—not to mention having to build trust with new people. It can be a lot of work, and some established social groups are happy the way they are and don’t want to put the effort into accommodating new people. The truth is, when it comes to group dynamics, Wiccans are just like anybody else. Some are more sensitive to newcomers’ needs, some are oblivious, and some are afraid of change.
Oftentimes larger events, such as annual festivals with camping, have some sort of Wiccan Welcome Wagon, which can consist of anything from designating people to greet and help get newcomers oriented, to workshops geared toward new people. But at smaller events, the onus is probably going to be on you, not the organizers.
Here are some things to try when reaching out to people in an established group or community. Some of these will sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do them.
Before the Event
Make sure you read the event website before attending. It may include important information about parking or public transportation; policies about bringing food, pets, or alcohol; policies about children; what to wear and/or expect at the event; and whether there’s a fee.
If you’ve read through the site and still have questions, ask the contact person your questions before the event. Be aware that he or she may not be able to get back to you quickly. Don’t waste his or her time by asking a question that’s already been answered on the website.
Be on time, if there’s a set arrival time. Yes, Pagan Standard Time may be in play—which means things start when they start, rather than when it says they start—but getting there on time shows respect and helps the group get going sooner.
If the event information says to bring something—potluck food item, beverage, ritual robe—bring the item unless doing so would cause a financial hardship.
When you reach the site, introduce yourself to a few people. Don’t just hang back and get lost in the crowd, waiting for someone to notice you. But don’t corner someone into talking to you, either.
During the Event
Be polite. It will help people trust you more quickly, or at least not write you off right away.
Find out who the group leader(s) are. If they’re not so busy managing the event that interrupting them would cause problems, introduce yourself ask them if you can help set up.
Show interest in things people are doing, and ask polite questions. People enjoy talking about the things they love, so this can open a conversation. It also shows people that you’re willing to put in a little time to get to know them.
Don’t interrupt a conversation to ask questions or introduce yourself. Nothing will make you look and feel more like an interloper. Wait for a pause in conversation and make eye contact before you speak.
Don’t interrupt a ritual unless something is on fire or someone’s safety is at stake. You’re in space that’s sacred to the people you’re trying to get to know, so show respect for what the group is trying to do.
If there is a speaker at the event you particularly enjoyed, tell him or her you enjoyed the talk and why. Be sensitive to the fact that the person might be tired and need a break. Sometimes presenters give out contact information, so you can also ask questions after the event.
If you’re at a camping event where you have to sign up for a work shift, use this opportunity to get to know the other people on your shift. It’s much less intimidating than trying to join a larger group, and if you strike up a conversation, the work shift will seem to go faster.
If it’s appropriate, bring something to do that tells people a little bit about you. For example, my husband always brings carving tools to camping events. People ask him about his work or if he can help them with one of their projects, and he gets to know them while talking about something he loves.
After the Event
Thank the organizers, tell them specifically what you liked about the event, and offer to help clean up.
If there’s a mailing list, get your name on it. Show that you’re interested in learning more.
If you’re interested in studying a particular tradition or skill—such as divination or herbalism—ask the event organizers if they know anyone in the community who teaches it. It shows interest in the community, and event organizers often know a lot of people and can make recommendations.
Realize that you may need to go to several events before some people will be convinced you’re going to stick around. They’re less likely to invest in a friendship with someone who is only going to come once or twice, so they may not reach out to you until you’ve been around for a while.