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Secrets of the Inner Circle:
This essay began as a thread (beginning 6/29/01) on the OurFreedom mailing list, a forum dedicated to Pagan leadership and activism. We got to talking about community service, and people complained about a lack of much-needed volunteer labor. Others pointed out the difficulties in novices finding groups/teachers and in groups/teachers dealing with the large numbers of novices. So I decided to write out a few helpful tips...
1) YOU are the Pagan community, whether you are a novice or an expert. Teach what you know. Study what you don't know. Get involved. There is no one ultimate authority in this community; there is no clique to shut you out; there is nothing stopping you but yourself.
Decide what you want and then figure out a responsible plan for achieving it. Most skills can be learned if you're willing to put in the necessary time and effort. Community is all about forming bonds, exchanging energy, and celebrating both our unity and our diversity.
You get out of it what you put into it. Lack of grassroots involvement causes leaders to burn out, and then all the lovely services disappear.
So pitch in and do your part.
2) When networking, offer someone a favor before you ask for a favor. We all have knowledge, skills, contacts, experience, etc. to draw upon and exchange. If you're a reviewer and you want to connect with authors, offer tearsheets when you have reviewed their books.
If you want people to subscribe to your periodical, offer free sample issues at a festival. If you want people to attend your lecture on "13 Ethical Rules for Coven Leaders," announce on the flyers that you'll be serving tea and cakes there. If you want help with your current project, offer to help the other person with theirs. You get the idea.
3) Jump right in. You can get terrific results by showing up at a local meeting or a national event and saying, "Hi! I'm Daniel Oakleaf and I this is my first trip here. Can you tell me what's going on?" or the like.
Pagans tend to be gregarious folks, who usually try to make sure that novices have a good time.
More advanced attendees can help you make the most out of the experience.
4) Here is a foolproof way of getting involved: Volunteer. Back in my fangirl days, I decided I wanted to do panels and get to know cool folks in the science fiction community. So I'd show up at a convention and volunteer for whatever needed doing that didn't require vast experience. I never got turned down. NEVER.
Volunteer at events and within a year or two, you will have lots of friends and contacts, plus some highly valuable experience. Almost the entire Pagan community runs on volunteer power.
Some events require attendees to help with chores, programming, etc. so be prepared for this - but they too will appreciate it if you do more than required. Want to learn more advanced skills like directing traffic (for parking lots), facilitation (guiding meetings), cooking for the masses, large-scale ritual design? Just ask! The organizers can probably pair you with a more experienced volunteer, and by the end of the event, why, you'll have that kind of experience too. Of course there are other methods ... but this is one of the best.
Just to share input from another source, so that you can see this is not a unique experience, Charlie Denney who works in the Council of Magical Arts has this to say on the topic: "Elizabeth and I evidently did our 'time' in the same circles - I started volunteering in F&SF conventions back in 1979. I've YET to do a convention where I paid my money to get in; I've always worked them because that was how you got the great access to the good stuff (people, events, etc.).
I'm new at this but I could spend a couple hours doing fetch and carry, or washing dishes, and by the way I have Red Cross certification if you need someone in the first-aid tent."
5) Do not let limitations stop you. If you ride a wheelchair, maybe you can sit behind a table and help people sign in when they arrive at the event, instead of gathering firewood. If you have small children requiring lots of attention, maybe you can help with childcare instead of the main ritual. If you're susceptible to cold weather, hey, somebody has to look after the fire! Use your imagination.
And festival organizers - you do the same, please. Just because an attendee can't do EVERYTHING does not mean he or she can't do ANYTHING.
6) Feedback is crucial. Praise what works.
There's nothing like spending three months setting up for an event, and then on Sunday night after it's rained all weekend having somebody tell you that the indoor ritual was the best they ever experienced. If you see something that doesn't work, don't just criticize; explain WHY it didn't work and offer any ideas you may have for improvements. Join those fireside meetings where people discuss how a ritual went or what their favorite part of the event was.
7) Be a thoughtful consumer and donor. Think of your money as a folding vote. Every time you spend a dollar, you vote for the ideals and practices of the company or organization to whom that dollar goes. Once or twice a month, you can skip a McDonald's meal and send that money to a Pagan group instead. Even a little at a time adds up. Of course, if you're blessed with abundance, take advantage of the "Rule of Three" and spread it around generously! Remember that it's extremely tacky, and ultimately counterproductive, to mooch off of a group's largesse without returning anything. You go to their Full Moon meetings, you eat their muffins, you drink their grape juice ... you drop some funds into their donation jar.
8) When you see something that needs doing, and you know how to do it, don't wait to see if someone else will notice - just DO it. This is the mark of the true leader. If you see that the privy is out of toilet paper and you don't know where it's stocked, ask. If you notice that there's an electrical short making the lights in the main hall blink on and off, and you know nothing about electronics, go find one of the organizers or a janitor or somebody who can handle it and tell them about the problem. If you see garbage lying around, don't step around it, pick it up. Taking care of the world and each other is what Paganism is all about.
Likewise, when you have a great idea, run with it. Don't let it lie around and die of old age; get it moving, get it growing. If you need help to develop it, then ask people for what you need. Also don't look for someone to take over for you. It's your idea - it's your responsibility to make it manifest.
9) Having a hard time finding Pagans in your area? Join a national or regional group instead. They're easy to locate. Many of them are listed in area phonebooks, or advertise in local newspapers. They can often put you in touch with other members who live nearby - and by meeting Pagans from all around, you increase your chances of stumbling across someone near you, too.
If you can't find a group, consider just starting one of your own, like a mythology study group. You can get the word out by hanging flyers in your local library, bookstore, supermarket, etc. Sometimes a public facility like a library will offer you function space to hold meetings. At each meeting, invite people to sign up for a mailing list so you can notify them when the next meeting will be. Don't wait around for somebody else to set up a group - there are probably a bunch of people already waiting for YOU to do it!
It all comes down to a matter of responsibility and connections. Pagan religions teach that you are responsible for your own actions and their consequences, and that we are all connected. So don't expect someone else to do all work for you. Roll up your sleeves and help. My mother, who is a very wise and witchy woman, puts it this way: "If you're not responsible, then you're irresponsible, and that's worse."
Once you get started, you'll be amazed at how fast you learn and how much fun it is. Even the ratty chores can bring moments of grace. One of my fondest memories involves crouching on the floor, elbow-to-elbow with several justifiably famous Pagans, as we used credit cards to scrape up spilled candle wax. Everybody at that ritual was an expert in their own right, many accustomed to leading rituals in their own tradition; and instead of leaving the awkward job to just one or two people, almost everyone in the room stopped to take a few swipes at the wax. It cleaned right up - and we were reminded that a little cooperation goes a long way.
That's the real secret of the inner circle.