Chapter 4: Step Three -- Preliminary
Two preliminary steps - asking for and checking references, and asking
for a letter of self-introduction - will help you screen out the
contacts which you will receive.
If the seeker has had any prior contact with the Pagan community, they
may be able to supply you with references. While it's unfair to reject
a new person for simply being new, and without prior contacts, when
are available, they can be very helpful. How much weight you should
to a reference will depend on your opinion of the person who provided
Some teachers (such as Gwyneth with her Canadian study group) take the
references one step further by asking the seeker to provide the name of
a sponsor into the group; the sponsor can provide both an initial
check as well as ongoing support for the student, in the event that the
student is accepted into the group.
Is the reference honest? It pays to have some independent notion of
or not the person providing a reference is trustworthy. Sometimes
will provide good references for a problem student, simply to shift the
burden of dealing with that person on to some other teacher.
Is the reference insightful? Sometimes a person will be quite honest
not particularly insightful -- some people have an ingrained aversion
expressing any sort of criticism of a third party, thinking that it is
somehow unfair or not socially acceptable. All of us have our blind
which can reduce the accuracy of our references as well as our own
Judy, for example, is a notorious sucker for musicians.
Does the reference have similar criteria for a good student as you do?
They may have a different notion of good character or relevant talents
than your own. No matter how well they know the seeker, they may not
you or your group well enough to judge how well you would fit together.
You can safeguard against this pitfall by asking specific questions.
answer to "would they be a good student" depends on what you mean by "a
good student." Instead ask about what you think a good student should
"Can they keep a confidence?" "What is their sense of humor like?" "Are
they self-motivated learners or would they expect spoon-feeding?" If
choosing new members for an existing group, it's good to get
members' suggestions for some of these questions.
Remember, simply asking for references is not enough. You must
references and verify that the person is actually aware that his or her
name has been used.
4.2: Letters of self-introduction
You may want to ask seekers for a letter of self-introduction. This is
a good idea because it allows a seeker time to be thoughtful about
responses. Also, it gives you a record of the seeker's early
and your own first impression. If you begin to notice inconsistencies
you will be able to check whether or not this is just a trick of
Here are some things you may want to ask the seeker to include
You can put some of this into the form of a questionnaire. If you do
be sure to ask open-ended questions, and to end each section with
like "is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?"
You might also suggest that they use the questionnaire as a basis for a
more free-flowing letter of self-introduction. Blank questionnaires can
conveniently be posted on the Web or distributed at gatherings.
Contact information: name of seeker, mailing address and telephone
e-mail address (if available), along with any cautions about using this
information. (e.g. do they share an answering machine or mailbox with
who should not know of their Pagan interests?)
References if they have previous contact with any reputable elders (and
if you have not previously asked for, received, and checked the
Practicalities: the seeker's age, any health concerns (e.g. allergies
mobility restrictions), distance from your meeting place, car or public
transit access, work or school schedule, child care concerns. Very
if the seeker is mated, how does the mate feel about this involvement?
If you are interested in astrology, you may also ask for natal data, so
that you can construct a birth chart.
Religious background: What is the seeker's religion of origin? How does
she or he currently feel about it? What other religious paths (if any)
have they explored? What attracts them to a Pagan path? What has been
Pagan exposure up to now? What do they consider to have been the
influences on their spiritual development up to this point? Encourage
to go into as much depth as they feel comfortable with in this
Likes and dislikes, and the reasons for them, are particularly
Also encourage them to discuss any part of their secular background
they feel is relevant to their spiritual quest.
Current desires and hopes: The most important question of all - what
they looking for now in a group or teacher. What would they like to
or how would they like to develop during the next stretch of their
What attracts them to you or your group?
Letters of self-introduction are particularly important when
be making a referral. Sometimes referral is the only possibility, as
somebody far away gets in touch via the Internet. You can only learn
so much about a person through correspondence, without a face-to-face
of course. Still, your correspondence may have given you a good enough
impression that, if the person were local, you would have been willing
to meet with them.
If you also know of a reasonable teacher or group in their
can forward the seeker's letter and any references to that local
The local group is free to follow up or not. They may not if, for
your apparently pleasant correspondent has a dubious local reputation.
If they decline, their privacy has not been compromised. Similarly,
with a local referral, sending along a letter of self-introduction from
the seeker leaves the other teacher or group free to choose whether or
not to respond.
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Last revision: February 4, 2002