Pagan Etiquette for Oldies and Newbies
The pagan and witchcraft community used be pretty small but over the last thirty years or so has grown to be a large and vibrant community with hundreds of events, open rituals, festivals, conferences and moots popping up all over the country. With this increase in the numbers of people organising and attending events, there are usually at least a few who are very new to it all and taking their first steps on the pagan pathways. While those of us who are old hands at it may feel comfortable with the rituals or our place in it, these newcomers to the craft can be left with a feeling of not being in the loop, uncertainty on what is expected of them or even feel left out of proceedings because nobody thought to tell them what is happening. Here are my guidelines to basic pagan etiquette for those who are thinking about going to their first moot or ritual and for those of us old-hats who need a reminder from time to time.
Always ask – and then wait for permission – before picking up somebody’s working tools (tarot card, wand etc). Some people like to keep their tools sacred, others will be happy for you to have a close up look. If you have a sacred object of your own that you don’t want handing around, think about leaving it at home.
Pagans tend to be big on hugging, you’ll meet a lot of instant huggers but do feel free to step back if you don’t want to be hugged by people you have only just met. It’s okay to say no.
It may seem like it sometimes but it’s not actually a fashion show – never feel like you have to dress a particular way at pagan events. It could be jeans or a floaty shirt, just make sure you feel comfortable.
Dress appropriately for the weather – you can’t expect your hosts to bring a brolly or warm coat for you! Sunblock, flip-flops, rain coat or scarves – be sensible, you know what you need.
Be respectful of other’s beliefs and ideas and act with integrity and honesty to others. No taking the mickey or making fun of others, regardless of how silly what they say might be. Unless they are winding you up of course 😉
Be careful about where and when you meet new people and avoid offering to or accepting lifts from people you don’t know and never arrange to meet anyone on your own in a secluded place. Stay safe.
Take a friend along with you if you need someone there to support you at your first few events.
Questions are good! Never feel like a question is too trivial, silly or embarrassing. Anyone who makes you feel this way is out of order and you have my permission to tell them so. Everyone started off with the same basic questions, even if they have forgotten how little they once knew, including me. Ask away and don’t be afraid to question the answers you get either! I love a healthy discussion of my beliefs, it helps me to clarify them and we don’t have to agree with each other all the time to be friends.
Do not ‘out’ other pagans. You may be out of the broom closet but hundreds of pagans, heathens and witches etc., are not. Talk about what you have done but if you’re talking about someone else remember that the stranger sitting next to you in the pub a few days later might be the parent of the child they teach. Or it could be their spouse who you have just unwittingly revealed this news to… Not everyone feels safe to reveal their pagan beliefs with all too good reasons. Use another name if you really have to mention anyone else and try not to say anything that will identify anybody other than yourself without their permission.
Photographs – we all like to capture our ceremonies and festivals but not when the person in the background (the person behind you and your best mate who you didn’t even see) has now been seen by all your friends on facebook at an openly pagan or witchy event – congratulations, you just let the whole world know that this person is pagan. Ask permission to take pictures at any events and if anyone is in your view give them the chance to step out of shot if they want to before you click. Some events do not allow cameras at all so check if it’s okay before you take yours.
Merchandise – where there’s a conference there will be pagan oriented merchandise. We all love a bit of pagan retail therapy but watch out for over-inflated prices and don’t be tempted to buy things because you think you ‘should’ have it to practice your faith. However, also watch out for bargains and don’t insult anyone who has hand-made their goods by saying you could do better yourself for half the price – maybe you could, but they actually did do and it took longer than you realise!
Therapies – expect to pay for therapies and readings – the person whose service you are buying has nearly always committed years of their time and paid a significant sum of money for their training and equipment and this is their job. You wouldn’t expect to work free and neither do they. Some people are happy to swap services so it’s worth asking if you can trade services when prices are out of your budget.
Dress codes – there aren’t any (unless it’s fancy dress). Jeans and a t-shirt are just as acceptable as long flowing dresses or robes. Once again, this is not a gothic fashion statement and you definitely don’t have to wear black!
If you want to bring your children or you dog, it’s a good idea to check in advance with the organisers. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM AT ALL TIMES! Please don’t go off into the woods and leave your kids on their own – you probably won’t be invited back if other people who came for a ritual end up looking after them because you don’t. Clear up any dog mess, keep them on a lead and make sure children are well behaved (within reason, they are allowed to have fun too, after all!). If they are being too unruly or noisy because they are bored and tired, consider leaving early and coming again when you have a babysitter so that you (and others) can concentrate on the ritual instead of keeping trying to keep a bored or tired child quiet.
Children of all ages are normally welcome at all of my open rituals and the labyrinth walks (with some exceptions) but please do read the invitation carefully and consider if the event will clash with bedtimes or boredom levels. Children take delight in simple things and remind us to enjoy things just the way they are.
If attending a pagan picnic, bring some food or drink to share and blankets or chairs to sit on. Be aware that not everyone shares your dietary tastes but chocolate is usually a winner. Additionally, at picnics and rituals there will probably be a libation (small amount of food and drink to share at the end of the ceremony). If you have any intolerances or allergies make sure you bring enough for yourself so that others aren’t forking out on expensive gluten free cookies just to keep you happy when most folk these days are on a tight budget. If you can’t drink alcohol for a libation, don’t panic as most organisers bring a fruit juice as well as wine or mead.
If you are asked to carry out a role for a ritual feel free to decline if you don’t feel comfortable doing this. Nobody will mind if you explain that you are not ready to call in the quarters (or anything else) at this stage on your path just yet. Anyone insisting you take part is out of order and hopefully will be put right by the organisers. If that person is the organiser tell them exactly how they are making you feel and walk away if things get unpleasant or you are made to feel uncomfortable. No worthwhile pagan group would put you through this.
If you do call in an element or have some other part to speak or act out in the ritual, speak loudly and clearly so that you can be heard and read through your part in advance so you don’t stumble over unfamiliar words. Don’t read it ‘flat’ – put some vitality into if you can or pass the task someone else who can.
If an event is described as ‘open’ this means that pagans and their friends will be welcomed providing that everyone acts with respectful behaviour appropriate to the occasion. No need to keep asking if it’s okay for you to go along, just be there with an open mind and heart.
Check your route a good few days before the event to avoid getting lost and turning up too late or having to try and ring for directions on the day – rituals are often in woods or parks without a mobile signal and organisers tend to be busy so might not be able to take your call.
Rituals are often punctuated with certain phrases used by the Priestess and then repeated by everyone. If you hear these, respond with the same phrase e.g., if you hear ‘Blessed be’ the response is ‘blessed be’. Other repeated phrases are things like: merry meet, hale and welcome, hale and farewell, as we do will so mote it be (or just ‘so mote it be’).
If attending an event, offers of help to tidy up afterwards are always appreciated.
Donations towards the organiser’s costs are appreciated even if not specified. Remember that organisers are normally volunteering to do this on their own time and finances. Candles, incense, altar ware,contributions towards any shared food or even a small bunch of flowers to say thank you to your organiser will see that you’re invited back. Some events have a hire charge for a hall or equipment and will state a specific charge in advance to cover costs. Workshops and courses will have a higher charge for the time and teaching on offer as well as venue hire.
Moots and Talks (a moot is defined as a social gathering usually in a pub or café for pagans to get together for a chat and a drink as opposed to a speaker’s group which will host speakers on specific topics and usually take place in a hired hall).
If your chosen outdoor venue is already playing host to another event or group of picnickers, leave. Find a place nearby to wait until the people there have finished up. Don’t stand there waiting, it’s intimidating and rude.
Alternatively, if they are clearly holding a ritual, ask politely if your group can join in or if they would like to join your ceremony after they have finished. I’ve had several occasions where this has worked really well (and one bad example where my family was intimidated into leaving a stone circle early by a well-known local group with bad manners).
If hosting speakers – Be sure to instigate all arrangements with them well in advance so nothing is left to the last minute – most speakers work full time, have families, hobbies and other commitments to think of as well as your event and don’t have time to think of everything. Expect your speakers to charge a fee as they will spend at least a few hours or even several late evenings to prepare the talk and any demonstrations in advance and their time at the event itself plus the question and answer sessions afterwards and may even take a holiday from their paid job to organise everything. If you can’t afford to pay, say so in advance (lots of speakers are happy to give free talks locally) and instead arrange a small gift, bunch of flowers, a round of drinks or even simply a thank you card to them from the organiser/s – this will be greatly appreciated and makes sure that your speaker will recommend your moot or speakers group to others and keeps them sweet if you want them to do another talk or demonstration in future.
If you are hosting a moot, make sure your venue is happy to have you there and check if you can use incense and/or candles before you set off their smoke detectors.
Open rituals are open to anyone while closed rituals are ones that you do for yourself and your close, working group.
Advertise your (open) ritual or event well in advance and don’t be offended if your invitations are turned down, especially around the Sabbats, as there is bound to be another pagan event that clashes with yours. We can’t be in two places at once.
Be sure to welcome your guests in person with a warm smile and friendly word and later thank them for coming – and sound like you mean it.
Have a clear plan of how the ritual will run, written sheets for people to follow and if you need volunteers to help out, organise this with them well in advance (at least a couple of weeks).
Speak loudly, enunciate clearly and explain to your guests what to expect from the ritual when everyone has arrived so that you’re not repeating yourself and they can all hear you nice and clear.
Specify in advance any charges to cover your costs or if you are running it as a free event. Make sure you charge enough to cover all of your costs and hall hire if you need one but don’t get greedy and think of ‘paying’ yourself. Any excess can be donated to your favourite charity. We pagans love a good charity drive!
If you are hosting in your home (or anywhere actually), let attendees know in advance exactly where you are and where they can park. Use a link to the venue on google maps and be prepared for questions about parking or directions even when you are really precise.
Specify your start and approximate finish times but expect a few early and late arrivals and late leavers. If necessary, don’t feel like you can’t ask people to leave – after all, they knew the finish time before they arrived and you shouldn’t feel as if you have to wait on everyone to leave before you can rest.
It’s okay to ask for help putting things away and tidying up afterwards.
If planning something outdoors at night remind people to bring a torch and remember your own. And yes, you DO need to remind people to bring something warm to wear and to watch out for brambles.
For walks, check your route in advance and let everyone know the type of terrain and approximate distance involved, see if there are any pubs or toilets on the route that might come in handy or see if people want to stop half way for a break if it’s a fair distance.
Allergies – not everyone can put up with vast amounts of incense or smudging, especially indoors, so check if anyone has asthma before you light it. If hosting in your home, be aware of potential pet allergies too.
Use your common sense in whatever you are doing. Keep yourself and other safe. If there are children near you keep an eye on them, even if they aren’t yours. Take your smile with you. Lock your car, keep an eye on your handbag, your kids and the dog. Be willing to lend a hand and tidy up.
Remember that being pagan is a very individual faith and everyone is different, be compassionate and caring. Look forward to making new friends, be respectful and kind.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll make new friends for life in no time. And look out for people smiling and having a good time, you’re sure to see plenty.