I think I am going to start a series on my blog (if I can remember to do it on a regular basis — that’s always iffy) about how to do things and how not to do things.
I will start with this one: How to approach a coven/grove/circle when you are interested in joining.
First impressions count for a lot. I cannot overstate this simple fact enough. So, I will state it again: FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT FOR A LOT.
In the Pagan/Wiccan/Witch community, there is a pretty strict guideline that should always be followed. It is that groups do not seek to recruit members, rather people seek to become members of groups. This doesn’t mean that groups aren’t supposed to put themselves out there if they wish to let others know of their existence. This is not the same as ‘actively recruiting’. It’s perfectly acceptable for a teacher or leader to announce that they are teaching or are open to accepting students or members for their group, because it is still up to the potential seeker to seek out the teacher or leader and speak to them about joining. However, there are some things to keep in mind when you are approaching someone to ask them to teach you or if you can join with their group.
This is aimed mostly at seeking to join a closed group or Coven, but the following suggestions are good things to go by when seeking out a teacher as well. This doesn’t necessarily apply to informal groups like those that get together to discuss things or only meet for public rituals as these gatherings tend to be much more free-formed and open. Use what help and hints here seem to apply to your situation, and always consider your own safety.
Many first connections are made via the internet, so it has become very commonplace to introduce yourself to a prospective teacher/group through sending an email. In general, you should consider writing your introduction email letter with the same standard (or better) that you would give if you were seeking to get a job and submitting a cover letter with your resume. Now, I understand that many people have not learned anything about how to write a cover letter and even fewer have heard of how to write a letter of introduction to a High Priest or High Priestess, so that’s what these tips are for.
1. Give basic facts about yourself:
- Your name — Introduce yourself! Give either your magical or mundane name, whichever you would prefer to be called by.
- Your age — At the very least, state if you are over 18 or over 21.
- Your location — Are you in the same city as the group? If not, how far out are you? If you are more than a few miles out, do you have reliable transportation?
- Your experience — Have you been involved with other groups? How long have you been on a Pagan/Wiccan/Magical path? What books have you read and what did you think of them? Did you like them?
- How do you describe yourself and your path? What are your particular magical interests or leanings?
- How did you learn about the teacher or group? Internet website? Word of mouth? A listing at a local store?
- What it is about this teacher or group that caught your interest? Why are you interested in joining?
- What skills or talents do you possess that would make you a worthwhile addition to the group? This is less necessary if seeking a teacher, but still nice to include.
- Take on the responsibility of learning what you can on your own about the group you want to join like reading the coven website, looking around at other related resources at least a bit, etc. When I’m reading through emails and introduction letters, I hope that the seeker has done enough background reading that he or she has a good idea why they’re looking at a Religious Witchcraft tradition, even if they’re not yet sure exactly what they’re looking for, or are still confused by a lot of details.
2. Ask questions:
- What sort of system or tradition is the group based on?
- Do you have any restrictions or requirements for membership?
- Do you practice skyclad?
- What is the teacher/leader’s experience and qualifications?
- What would be expected of me if I join?
- Anything else that is important to you or that you are curious about.
- Check for spelling and grammar errors.
- Use complete words, not ‘txt spk’
- Use proper salutation/greetings and closing. A simple “Hello ____” and “Thank You/Sincerely” is fine. There is no need to go overboard with “Wicca-speak”; Personally, I cringe when someone uses “Blessed Be” inappropriately.
- If you include your phone number, please also give times when it is best to reach you. Speaking for myself, I do not give out my phone number until after I have met someone in person — usually more than once. If you aren’t contacted by phone or aren’t given a phone number right away, don’t take it as an insult. Just wait and see what happens.
In general, if you do not have the time to write out a nice introductory email, wait until you do. Rushing through it is not going to help convince the teacher/leader you are seeking to work with that you are going to be a worthwhile student/coven member. I’m certain that you have heard of job applications being thrown out without even being considered because of how they were written — it’s the same sort of deal here, though at least from my own experience, I will give a response before immediately dismissing someone. If their second communication attempt is no better though, I am likely to suggest that they seek elsewhere. I realize that might sound really snobby, but I believe that if you are going to present yourself and don’t at least care to make a good first impression and show polite manners, you are likely to have sloppy magical technique as well. So be thorough and make an effort to write a good letter.
I would also like to give you a few examples of things you should avoid doing:
- The “I need a teacher. Teach me, please!” or “I really want to join a coven! When can we meet up?” introduction is a bad start. Do not begin with anything like this. It’s not good. It doesn’t explain anything about yourself, or why you would be interested in having this person as your teacher or this group as your coven and makes you sound really desperate and immature.
- A bit of detail is good, but don’t write out an entire biography. If an email is too long, the coven leader could glance it over, think it’s pretty good, but want to wait until later to read it in more detail — and then might forget about it. I’ve done it, so I’m pretty sure others have as well.
- It takes a lot of time and effort to take on a student or accept a new member of a group, and that should be respected. Don’t make their job harder by making them dig for more information in a follow-up email (if you get a response at all).
- Avoid having the mindset that covens or teachers are “one-size-fits-all” and assuming that just because you are interested in joining a group and they are open to new members, that this is automatically the group for you. Teachers and covens are very individualized and what looks good to you on an internet posting or website might not actually be what you’re ready for or comfortable with. It’s one thing to see that there’s a coven in your area that might be open for new students. It’s quite another if you’re dead-set on studying and learning a particular system or style, and that’s not what they offer. Convenience is never the reason to join a group and it shouldn’t be seen as the reason someone is accepted either.
This is an example of what I think makes an excellent letter of introduction:
Hello Lady Serpent,
My name is Molly. My magical name is Skystone, but I usually just go by Molly. I am 24 years old and live in Anytown, State. I realize that this is a few miles away from where your group is centered, but I’m certain that travel won’t be a problem if I’m able to join, as long as I know in advance of when any scheduled meetings would be and can plan accordingly.
I have been studying Paganism and Witchcraft for the last three years and I’m very committed to it. Mostly, I’ve been interested in Greek and Roman history and mythology, but I don’t limit myself to just those. I enjoy reading books on all kinds of magical traditions and I seem to have a really good knack for doing candle magic. I’ve even started making my own candles for this.
I’ve never been part of a group. I heard about your coven through one of the listings at the library and it sounds like a really good fit for what I’m looking for. I realize that you don’t work with the Greek/Roman pantheon, but I’m interested in deeper study on the Celtic gods and learning to work more in that system. I also like that your group has “a strong influence from ADF Druidism”. I’ve read several books by Isaac Bonewits and I really like his style of teaching and doing ritual.
Aside from candle making, I also enjoy gardening and martial arts. I’ve been studying aikido for several years and enjoy the mind-body connection that it gives me. It’s also made my meditation practices very effective.
I’d like to know what sort of training and practice schedule your group works with. Do you have a set schedule in place or does your group mostly meet up when everyone is available? Do you have to be vegetarian to join? What are your group’s views on the Great Rite? Do you practice it as part of your tradition?
I can be reached by email at MSky@anymail.com or by phone at (234)567-8910. I’m usually available in the afternoons between 2-6pm if you want to give me a call.
Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon.
*This is not a real letter
You should give at least seven to ten days for a response to be given before attempting a second letter. The teacher/leader may be out of town or unable to access their email for whatever reason. We’ve all lived through the internet suddenly going down and it doesn’t always jump right back up for us. If you haven’t heard from them after a couple of weeks, it’s acceptable to send a second letter stating that you had written to them previously but haven’t received a reply. Do not be rude in the second letter — as I said, you don’t know what the reason might have been that caused a delay for them. You may get a short reply that says they will get to you as soon as they can. Be patient. If you get no response after the second attempt, move on. The email address may be defunct or any other number of reasons. It’s best to put your focus into finding someone else or another group. In time, you may hear back from the teacher/leader, but at this point, it’s best not to wait around on them.
When you get a response, it’s your turn to weigh and measure!
- Does this person answer your questions clearly?
- Does this person seem eager to impress you or are they simply letting you know their credentials and qualifications so that you can check them out?
- Do you get a good vibe off of this person? Do they seem like someone you could work with or get along with and learn from?
- Would you be comfortable meeting with them in a safe, public place if it is asked?
The First Meeting
Generally, there are a few emails exchanged and maybe a phone call and then it is time to meet the potential teacher/leader face-to-face. When doing so, you should always consider safety first. No matter who or what someone claims to be, they are still unknown to you. I write this from my own perspective and experience. Others may handle things differently. It will be up to you to determine your level of comfort and appropriate behavior if your meeting is going to be an exception to anything I list here. Be smart and safe.
- Agree to meet only in a well-lit public place and ask if you may take someone along with you. This friend of yours doesn’t necessarily have to sit in on the chat, they can hang out nearby, but it shouldn’t be a requirement at all that you must come alone. If you don’t have someone else to come with you, at least let others know where you will be and with whom you will be meeting.
- Don’t leave with this person in their vehicle, even if you had to catch a bus or cab to the meeting and they offer you a ride home. It’s better to err on the side of caution and a good teacher/leader will respect you for this.
- In general, don’t agree to meet at this person’s home unless you know that there will be others and that it is expected to be something of a ‘group getting-to-know-you’ thing. If you’re only planning to meet one-on-one, make sure that it’s public.
- Have questions ready — written down if you need to — that you want to ask and be prepared to answer questions as well. If a potential student/covener never has any questions for me, I take that as a bad sign and am less likely to take them on as a student or group member. Questions show that you are curious and interested. Not having any makes me think you’re dull.
Some groups have an application that must be filled out before you will be considered for membership. For my own group, the application is typically given after the first emails back and forth and before a face-to-face meeting is set up, but sometimes I give the application at the meeting so the potential student can ask questions about it. It all depends. In any case, the application is required to be completed before the process can move forward. If the application is accepted, I will then have the potential student meet with the other members of the coven to see how everyone gets along. This is always casual. We talk, hang out, and usually play a board game or some other fun activity. The idea is to see how everyone gets along in general with the understanding that it’s still only a general impression and not a guarantee of either joining or declining membership. If you are invited to meet with the other members of a group, be yourself. There really is no point in pretending to be someone or something you are not. If you do, you will either be denied because the mask you put on was unappealing. Or you will be accepted, and the mask will eventually crack under the weight of having to wear it all the time. Just avoid that problem altogether. Either you will mesh with the group, or you won’t, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world and if you don’t, then you’re much more likely to find a group in the future that you do mesh with and will enjoy.
I wish you the best of luck in seeking and finding a group to practice with. It is definitely a special experience and one I think every Witch should have at least once.
For further information: Finding a Group/Teacher to Study With