Chapter 3: Step Two -- making contactTeachers cannot teach, and seekers cannot study, unless they meet one another. Sometimes teachers simply do a beacon working and then quietly open themselves to whomever the Gods may choose to send. At other times, we may choose to actively seek students. There are several ways to do this. As usual, each way has advantages and disadvantages.
Word of mouthWord of mouth is probably the most common method for letting it be known that a group is accepting new students
AdvantagesBy its very nature, word of mouth communication moves among people who already know each other, so it gets the word out among people whose life circumstances and social connections are similar to yours. When the communication is accurate, it will tend to bring together compatible people who will work easily together.
DisadvantagesThe grapevine is also the rumor mill. Information can be inadvertently exaggerated or distorted through transmission errors, as anyone who played "telephone" at childhood parties knows. Worse, completely false rumors can be inserted by malicious gossips.
Also there are pros and cons to spreading the word only within your own social milieu. People who all come from the same background can reinforce each others' comfortable prejudices. Too much similarity puts you at risk of "groupthink," a kind of shared stagnation, at worst a shared and mutually-reinforcing delusional system.
Pagan networking groups and open eventsNetworking groups and events such as festivals and open circles allow you to make contact with a wide variety of people, including people from outside your own social network.
AdvantagesWhen you attend a networking event, you get to see how people actually behave in a Pagan setting. They probably won't know they are being considered for your group. They may not even know that you are a group leader. So they won't be putting their best foot forward in an effort to impress you. In a workshop, you can evaluate the quality of their questions and contributions. In a ritual, you can feel into their energy and perhaps observe their performance talents. In general, you can see whether they help with scutwork like set-up and clean-up, whether they are pleasant to be around, whether you think they would fit well with your group.
DisadvantagesSleep-away festivals draw people from a wide area. The wonderful seeker you find may live in a distant city. Local networking groups may become ingrown, dominated by one clique or Tradition. Also, as many hopeful coven leaders skim off the likely candidates, local networking groups may wind up with a high proportion of the "leftovers," creating an atmosphere more welcoming to similar fringe types than to good candidates.
Handouts for Seekers:First, Isaac Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame is a service to the entire community. It helps seekers and all others identify groups that are dysfunctional or even actually pathological. It behooves us all to keep this excellent resource in circulation, especially among newcomers to our community.
Second, there are wide differences of belief, emphasis and style
among groups that are ethical and functional. Compatibility, in several
aspects, is an important consideration. Intelligent and careful seekers
screen groups just as thoroughly as thoughtful group leaders screen seekers.
To save everybody time and trouble, we prepared some handouts describing
our groups. They serve as the first, very rough, screen for compatibility.
We offer a few examples of handouts we created, in hopes that they will
give you some ideas for making your own:
AdvertisingA variety of venues, such as Pagan magazines, bulletin-boards in shops, and even leaflets inserted into library books, are available to the teacher who wishes to advertise. Many Pagan journals will run free or low-cost contact ads; New Age newspapers (which are published for free distribution in most large cities) can reach many readers, but tend to charge more for advertisements.
AdvantagesAdvertising may be the only way to reach out to a seeker who has all the right reasons and yearnings, but has none of the personal contacts.
DrawbacksUndesirable strangers may be attracted by broad-reach advertising. Be very wary about screening the stranger who comes without prior contact or references. Many Witches are also uncomfortable with public advertising because it feels uncomfortably close to proselytising.
Some New Age shops and publications are uneasy with explicitly Witchy references, and may require that you couch your advertisement in more subtle terms.
3.4: Internet and the WebThese days more and more people have access to the Internet and the Web, and use these to search for both information and contacts. You can list your group with The Witches' Voice, and with many other Pagan web sites, or even set up a web site of your own.
AdvantagesAny Internet or Web listing will reach a wide number of people who are fairly sophisticated and demonstrably willing to learn and adapt to new ways. Beyond that, your own web page will give you space for far more detailed self-description than any magazine or physical bulletin board. You can post your self-description or "mission statement" here, along with any other materials you feel comfortable sharing with the general public. Seekers with good self- awareness will get a clear idea of what your group is about. If you don't seem to meet their needs, they can surf along elsewhere. This preliminary self-selection is easiest on all concerned.
Also, both of us have found that email makes it very much easier for a group to stay in touch in between meetings and handle minor logistical decisions.
DrawbacksOur cautions about open advertising attracting potentially undesirable strangers obviously apply to electronic advertising just the same as to advertising on paper.
In addition, consider this: a seeker can be ethical, compassionate, spiritual, magical - whatever you want in a student - and unable to afford a computer or Internet access. A seeker can be all of those things and yet be a technophobe, uncomfortable around machines. Think carefully about whether you want to screen out such people. If you don't, do not limit your recruitment to Internet contacts.
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