Just in case you were really determined to go to your first open ritual and alienate as many people as possible, I present these powerful tips. Also useful for sabotaging your attempts at starting your own coven, making friends online, or garnering any kind of long-term respectability amongst your local community.
1) Tell everyone you’re a hereditary witch/your ancestors died in a witch hunt/your grandmother was a witch or any variation on that theme.
This makes you sound really powerful and confident. We are all super impressed, especially given how few of you we’ve met over the years.
Hey, we’re all six degrees from Kevin Bacon or whatever, so there’s a fair chance that many of the other people in the room also have some kind of hereditary tie to the goings on of some historical witch whatnot or other. Depending on how we want to define “witch,” most of us could concoct some kind of magical ancestry that makes our being here tonight fucking predestined too. A half-century (give or take) after Wicca, witchcraft, and Neo-Paganism became popular in the United States, some of us actually were raised in a magical tradition. You might genuinely have some kind of family lineage. Your grandmother might actually be an honest to god witch. It doesn’t matter. If that’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you introduce yourself to other witches, then get ready to be laughed at the second you leave the room.
Everyone who’s been around for more than a couple of years has heard a few of these stories, and they usually come attached to the inexperienced, the unstable, or the insecure. You might be a different case altogether, but many won’t give you a sincere chance in hell after that. I get so many witchvox seeker e-mails that start with, “I come from a long line of historical witches” that it barely even mentally registers anymore. Not once have any of these people been someone I wanted to invite to circle a second time. You might be the exception, but I would suggest waiting to throw that card down until you’ve come around more than once.
2) Make sure everyone knows you’re a high priest/ess.
You worked really hard to earn that title. I mean, look at all the books you’ve read. That is a shit ton of books.
You might actually be one (according to whatever the standard du jour is), but nobody outside of your own group or tradition cares. Rather, they might care if they believed you, but they’re so used to teenaged solitaries, self-stylized Internet gurus, and I-read-everything-by-Scott-Cunningham-yesterday types that they are physically incapable of taking you seriously. And if “everyone is their own high priest/ess” then why do we have to keep hearing about you?
3) Offer to teach. Make sure everyone knows how much you love to teach and that you’re always available to answer any questions.
The Craft (especially your brand of Barnes & Noble Wicca) is an oppressed, dwindling art form. If you don’t plagiarize every passage out of Scott Cunningham and distribute it online, how will the tradition survive? We need you.
I’m sure you’re plenty qualified, but the other six-dozen teachers who were here right before you weren’t, and they’ve already given you a bad name (and the only people who are going to take you up on your premature offer are people who you probably don’t want to hang out with in the long run anyway). It doesn’t matter how good you are. Unless you’ve already established yourself publically somehow (Book? Hugely popular website? Festival tour?), most are just going to assume you’re six-dozen and one.
I have no idea exactly why so many think they’re qualified to teach. It’s like witch puberty: you hit the year mark and suddenly it’s time to “share your knowledge” (Send me asks, guys!). I’m all for a group of peers sharing ideas, don’t get me wrong, but teaching implies a greater level of responsibility and accountability. And most people are bad at it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at your path for a year, five years, or twenty years. Some people are only suited to be teachers in the vaguest “the world and everyone in it is my teacher” sense. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to impact your Craft at all. I’m fucking terrible at all kinds of things that have equally little to do with my effectiveness at witchcraft.
Good teachers recognize that they can’t effectively teach everyone at any given moment and wait for those moments that are appropriate. Good teachers don’t teach purely to drive their own egos or lord their superiority over students (and, often, other teachers). They especially don’t use their positions to sexually coerce others. This shit happens. It happens regularly. So if you show up at an event and immediately offer your services, don’t be surprised when folks start acting wary.
4) Talk shit about other local groups, individuals, or traditions, especially to people you don’t know very well.
It’s not like we all know each other and it’ll circulate. Especially if it’s on Facebook later. Nobody even looks at Facebook.
There are times when it’s appropriate to say something negative about someone else. But to strangers at an open ritual is almost never one of those times. Pagans and witches tend to know each other, even in big cities. And you never know who else is in the room. I sat next to a guy at a potluck last year and listened to him say disparaging things about Gardnerians for ten minutes, totally clueless that he was literally surrounded by members of the only Gardnerian coven in town. Nobody said a word, but he never received a warm welcome from anyone present again, Gardnerian or otherwise. You want to bitch about other people, do it amongst your friends.
Mind your own business and don’t be a dick to people when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Pettiness, envy, and gossip come with being human—we all do it—but be smart about where you drop your shit (hint: don’t do it on your Facebook wall).
This advice is at least partially solicited, if harsh. In running a group, attending open circles, hanging out at festivals, and living on the Internet, I hear plaintive questions about strategies for making Pagan and witch friends almost every day. Even when people don’t want to belong to covens or groves, they often still want some kind of community. We’re so obsessed with giving ourselves labels, and this is in part because we want to be intelligible to other people. We want to fit in with others occupying a category (however narrow), even if we have very little interaction with these others. We want to be accepted as authentic.
Many of us found our way to witchcraft, Paganism, Wicca, or whatever because somewhere along the line—however indirectly—we just weren’t very good at fitting in with other people. I have seen some truly incredible examples of social ineptitude at open rituals and Pagan events. I’ve seen people just fucking determined to start their own coven/make witch friends/build real community absolutely blow their chances (at least locally) by doing one (often more than one) of the above. So here’s hoping that this spares someone at least a little bit of public trauma, at the cost of a little private blog-reading embarrassment.