Hosting a Social Event

(c) Pax / Geoffrey Stewart 2008

So you’ve decided you’d like to start taking a more active part in your local Pagan Community.  You’ve been to a couple of community socials and maybe a ritual or two, perhaps you’ve helped clean up after an event or two, and maybe you’ve been online for a while lurking in the Pagan community lists… and now your ready to do something of your own for your community.

Hosting a social event is a great way to begin!

There are four main things to think about for your event including, Location, Timing, Cost, and Publicity.

Location-

The type of event will really help determine the location.  I mean if you’re doing a bookstore meet-up you will just agree to meet up in the Café or by the Fireplace… or wherever.  Perhaps you’re doing a Movie Night, and then agree to meet up in the Theater Lobby by a certain time… and have a place in mind for “afters”, as a friend of mine calls it, —coffee and socialization after the event.

Other event types include Art Faire Meet-ups, Dinner Nights Out, Movie Nights, Book clubs, Theatre Nights, and Nature Walks.  What sort of event would you attend, have attended in your first year of looking into Paganism?

In most cases whatever type of event you’re hosting, I usually recommend a public venue for your location for the first few events you host.  People can be a little weird about going to someone’s home, especially when it’s someone they’ve never met face to face before.  This also reduces your stress level as you don’t spend the two or three days before the event housecleaning like a crazy person!   (Believe me, if you’re as nervous about meeting new people as I used  to be anything that helps reduce your nerves is a good thing!)

If you’re meeting at a location that has a private room available look into how much it costs to use the private room, a lot of folks in the Pagan Community aren’t necessarily out of the “Broom Closet” and so might be more comfortable in a semi-private room at a coffee house meet-up for example.  Many restaurants and coffee houses will only require that most of the party order something and let you use the room for free.

While you’re scouting out locations be sure to find out how much yours costs!  Low to no cost is ideal!  (See Cost below)

Timing-

For most folks an event scheduled on an evening or a week-end is easier to attend than one scheduled for 2pm on a week day.  That isn’t to say you can’t try to schedule something at peak hours, maybe a group trip to the Crafts Stores, or the Brewers Supply store, or a week-night movie night, after work?

Whenever you’re scheduling your event it is a good idea to try and plan for a social, and start publicizing it, at least ~at least~ a month in advance.  This gives you, and the other folks, plenty of time to iron out any details that need ironing.  (More on this later)

Another issue to keep in mind is what else is going on in your community when you want to hold an event.  You don’t want to have your social at the same time another group is having their social or ritual, and you also don’t want to be the only one to show up and then see online that everyone was watching the Season Finale of (insert ridiculously popular t.v. show here).

Cost-

Free is always good, but not always possible, and now it is now time for a simple truth….

It does not matter how little money folks have to spend to take part in an event, there will almost always be someone who complains about the cost!

You could be meeting at a coffee house private room and each person may only need to buy a $2 (or less) drink, but someone may still complain.   My general attitude kind of depends on how they are complaining.

If it’s a “money’s really tight.” and they are counting out their penny’s, and I can afford it, I will buy them a drink.

If they are making the $2 coffee or bottle of water sound like a hardship equal to the Great Depression, after having shown off their latest metaphysical bling or their latest loot from the comic books store, I have been known to respond with an excessively cheerful…

“Well if it’s as bad as all that maybe you should be at home looking for work or working on your budget?”

As I said though, free is good, it is also sometime hard to attain in terms of finding a truly free venue for your social event.  I usually am happy to aim for low cost.

One of the great things about a hosting a social event is that social event venues have a spectrum of cost from inexpensive to dangerous.  A coffee shop meet-up is relatively inexpensive, a movie night out can be a bit pricey, and the previously mentioned craft store outing can be outright dangerous to many a pagan’s budget!!

~Please note: August through November are your most dangerous craft store months as you are perilously close to the peak merchandising times for Samhain and Winter Solstice!  You have been warned.~

Publicity- (here’s that more on this later that I promised)

Publicity is worth a Lesson all its own, and eventually there will be one just for this oft neglected ingredient in a successful event!

For right now though the most important thing about publicity for your event is Lead Time.  Lead Time is the amount of time BEFORE the event that you start your Planning & Publicity.  The bigger the event the more Lead Time you need, but one month is generally a good base time for any event.

For Publicity, much like a good news story, you want to let folks know about the who, what, where, and when of your event.  Be sure that you provide at least two ways to contact you as the host.  An e-mail is never enough, a phone number is better.

If you have access to a computer, and most do these days, you can create and print the flyers yourself.  Yes, the flyers.  The internet is not enough, let me repeat…

THE INTERNET IS NOT ENOUGH

TO PUBLICIZE YOUR EVENT

…and we all know of one or two book stores or metaphysical shops that we could put up event flyers at.  I posted flyers for my first social and every metaphysical shop and friendly coffee house I could think of AND put it up on some of the utility poles in town like I was publicizing a band or something.  Over the top?  Maybe, but it worked!

It’s also worth it to work out driving and bus directions to the event so that when, not if, someone asks you have the info at hand.

-What to do if something goes wrong-

The two most important things are Don’t Panic and Be Flexible!

Let us take an example from my experience.  I was hosting a social event at a Coffee House.  I had talked to the shops manager in advance and posted the event on the Internet and in Flyer’s.  I got to the shop and was apologetically informed by the shop manager that the owner did not want the event to go on at her shop.  I asked what the problem was and the manager said the owner had said something about not wanting Devil Worshipers in her establishment.  At this point I freaked out a little, luckily a friend of mine was with me who lived near by and offered up her home as an alternate location so we put up a hand written sign with directions and my friends phone # and went to her house.  The event ended up happening and being a pretty darn good event!

I later learned that there had been a misunderstanding on the owner’s part, in part because she was already under siege by a couple of local fundamentalist churches for having had a nude art photo exhibition in her coffee house a few months before.  She had heard pagan and kind of freaked out because of what else was going on in her life.

This story is a good example of rolling with the punches and carrying on.  If my friend had not been with me I could have rescheduled the event, or moved to another coffee house or restaurant.  Tempting though it may, kicking up a big fuss then and there and/or threatening a lawsuit really isn’t going to change things for the better in the moment; and in this case would not have been the right thing at all because there were some seriously extenuating circumstances.

My only real regret about that particular event is that I didn’t make it a point to encourage each and every member of the Pagan community I could convince, con, or cajole into spending money at that coffeehouse and leaving comment cards saying “I spend my Pagan dollar hear and love this shop and hope you weather your current troubles”.

In my experience trouble like this is rare, and as long as you stay calm and remain flexible in your plans you’ll be fine.  After all you’ve already scouted out locations for this social, if all else fails you can go to a fall back location or reschedule for another time.

One last thing, if for some reason at the last moment you realize you aren’t going to make it, do whatever you can to let folks know this and be prepared to apologize (repeatedly) to folks for not showing up.

Yes, life happens and our personal lives can bring on a sudden change of plans, but hosting a social is like inviting people to your home for a party.  You would apologize if you were called away from your house and your friends showed up ready for that dinner party and you weren’t there, right?  So it’s only right to do the same in the above situation.

I know that may seem obvious, but I have seen folks publicize a social event and then get upset and defensive when asked where they were when their event was supposed to be happening.  That is a very good way to make a very negative impression in your community.

OK, we’ve talked briefly about Location, Timing, Cost, and Publicity.  We have also talked about staying calm and being flexible When Things Go Wrong.  If you have any other questions take a few minutes to talk to someone in your community you trust who is already hosting events and see if they have any further advice.

Best of luck to you!

Pax / Geoffrey

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Please, please participate in your local Pagan Pride Events

(C) Pax / Geoffrey Stewart 2005, 2008

I have often said to friends in the local Pagan community that language is the single most powerful tool of magic.  (Or magick, if you prefer)

That has been emphasized for me recently by some reactions I have seen recently to the word “Pagan” while arranging for the site for the Anchorage Pagan Pride 2005, I have been shown the power of invoking that word… and how far we have to go in the local community in terms of educating people about what it really means.

(Said nervously)

“There aren’t going to be any …uh sacrifices going on are there?!?”

That question was asked by one of the Municipal employees who had the power to approve or deny our use of the site.  He is not a fundamentalist Christian, in fact I am not sure of his religious persuasion… if any, he is in fact and educated and intelligent guy.  He’s never shown any odd reaction to my being gay.  He’s a pretty worldly and generally a nice guy; he is also an acquaintance of mine.  We’ve talked about a number of things and he knows me, a little at least.  Yet he also asked me that question.

Needless to say I was a little taken aback!

After a moment, wherein I blinked and tried to invoke my sense of humor, I chuckled and gave said Municipal employee who asked that question some reassurances that it wasn’t like that.

Later I sent him a politely worded e-mail and attached some informational pieces that I found on www.paganpride.org ; I am told by a source on the inside that said employee read the information I provided.  He has even apologized at the delay in getting approval for the site.  He wasn’t bigoted or sarcastic, he was ignorant about Paganism.  A lot of folks out there are.

One of the sad things about this episode is that I am not that surprised, it’s just the latest in a long number of encounters I have had with “The Fear”.

From my earliest involvement in Anchorages Pagan Community, and through the Net with the rest of the Alaskan Pagan Community, I have been disheartened by encounters with what I call “The Fear”.  It is an insidious enemy, with a strange paralytic power, that I have often heard cited in one form or another.

“I can’t wear my pentacle at work because it might cause trouble for me.”

“I don’t want any trouble with the neighbors.”

“Well if we advertise our open solstice in the community events section of that alternative paper we might have a Fundamentalist attack?!”

When questioned as to details about what sort of trouble, or when offered ideas about how we could respond to a Fundie attack, I get responses short on facts or detail or logic.  This is one of the many observable symptoms of “The Fear”.

“The Fear” has often caused my friends in the local Pagan Community to hold back from doing even very simple things in their own lives… including, in one case, asking their Fundamentalist co-worker from changing the office radio to something other than the Christian radio station!

“They might start asking questions and I don’t want trouble…..”

Sadly Pagans aren’t the only one who can be affected by “The Fear”.   Take my friend, and his supervisor.  They are two of the many people out there who have no problem whatsoever with Paganism once they know a responsible adult who practices it and can explain something of it to them directly; rather than relying on mass media misinformation and stereotypes and Fundamentalist propaganda to tell them who Pagans are and what they do.

The thing is, as someone who was born in the early 1970’s I grew up with a lot of that pro Democracy, patriotically painted U.S. History & propaganda as a kid.  Including a hearty dose of the following…

(The following quotes taken from…        www.usconstitution.net )

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

“Amendment I – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As a man who was raised to hold dear the ideals embodied in, and over a tumultuous history enacted and even expanded upon those set forth in, the U.S. Constitution – I find “The Fear”, confusing.  I have often tried to remind my friends that history shows that time and time again in that if you do not exercise your rights under the law, you WILL lose them.

As a Gay man who recently has had his status as a full member of “We the People” menaced and questioned by agents & allies of the current administration …I have am horrified and appalled by “The Fear” and it’s paralyzing powers.

It is true that there is a lot of Fundamentalist dirt-throwing propaganda about Pagans and Paganism.  However it is also true that we often do ourselves no favors by hiding within the so-called Broom Closet.  If we do not show others who and what we are then we are allowing those same Fundamentalist to define for the rest of society who we are.

Shouldn’t we, as a community, be the ones to define who we are?

I truly believe that you can only change the world one person at a time, person to person.  I’d like to think I have started my own changing the world with my friend the Municipal employee, and his supervisor.

I faced a week-plus delay in getting confirmation that we had a site.  Then I got the opportunity to politely educate his next-higher-up in the Parks & Rec department because both of them were freaked out by the word “Pagan” and obviously were more informed by Fundamentalist propaganda and Hollywood imagery than by fact on the matter.

So, again, I sent a politely worded letter and some information about our Community…

The good news is that once she read what we were about and what sort of an event we were really having, the higher up offered to move us to a Recreation Center that didn’t have a basketball tournament scheduled for the same night and give us a complimentary permit for the Park next door to the Recreation Center for our BBQ!!

In closing I would like to leave you all with a quote from another document that has touched and informed my life, my values, and my ethics and ideals.

Sing!  Feast!  Dance!  Make music and Love all in my praise and presence.  For mine is the Spirit of Ecstasy, and mine as well is joy on Earth, and Love Unto All Beings is My Law.  Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let nothing stop you or turn you aside.”

– From the Charge of the Goddess.

Thank you all for your time.

Pax / Geoffrey Stewart

5 basic things you can do to help build Pagan Community

(c) Pax/Geoffrey Stewart 2005, 2009

Over the last 10 years or so I have been involved in community building work in my local Pagan community.  First in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska; and I’m just starting to get involved in my new home of Orlando, FL.  It seems like whenever you talk with other Pagans in person or online one of the things you frequently hear is the complaint that there’s not that active a community in their area.

How many times have you signed on to a Pagan Community message board with 100+ members only to find that on those rare occasions when someone does post, it’s one of the same five people?  Or, you go to a Pagan community event and everyone else knows each other and is clumping and you feel odd one out?  Or there doesn’t seem to be much of anything Pagan that happens locally and when it does you don’t hear about it till the last minute, and it’s too far away, and it costs too much?

These are things that bothered me about the Pagan Community in my hometown for years.  There are a lot of Pagans there; it’s just that there wasn’t a lot of communication or socialization going on between us.  For a long time this bothered me, until one day I felt called to move beyond complaining about the lack of an active community up there, and start doing something about it!

That led to a number of misadventures, and one heck of an education about building community!  I’d like to share a few of the lessons I have learned with all of you.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to fight The FearTM, which is that fear of both discrimination and disappointment that often causes us to choose to hide our Paganism from those around us and more insidiously causes us to immediately find reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t bother participating in the community when we darn well could.

Now, how often have you bemoaned the lack of pagan communication in things like online communities, but you rarely if ever post to them and take part in the discussions?  I know how it is, I’ve done that.  Heck, sometimes I still do.

How many times have you gone to that Pagan community event and everyone was hanging out with their friends and acquaintances, and you were hanging back intimidated as all-heck because you were the new kid at school?!  People who know me from my work within the Pagan Community in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska and here in my new home in Orlando, Florida, are surprised to learn that I am shy, or at least can be, around new people.

Ok, so most statements about my own shyness are usually met with a snort of disbelief and chuckling.  The truth is though, that I’ve gotten a lot better (and infinitely less socially awkward!) over the years and for me my work in the community was a part of that.  Part of that for me was HAVING to talk to people cause I was hosting the event that people were out at.

Now when I am in a new community at my first events I try to talk to a few people and make an effort to reach out, I didn’t always do that and I would find reasons not to go back.

How much does that far away event cost?  Have you tried calling the contact number and seeing if you can get a ride or can work for a few hours in exchange for a reduced admission?

I never used to do that.  I’d just sigh and hide away from folks while I thirsted for some sort of fellowship and conversation with my fellow Pagans.

Is any of this sounding familiar?  You might be dealing with The FearTM.  The first thing you can do in fighting The FearTM is to acknowledge it.

Admitting, at least to yourself, that one of the reasons that the first thing you say when you learn there is an event across town is either “It’s too far away” or “It costs too much” is that you are afraid of the rejection, or of not being able to get a ride there or back home, or of the embarrassment of having to work your event fee out in trade, or that you don’t know what it is your afraid of, is not always a small step.  It is, however, an important one.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”  He was right.  The FearTM is insidious, and undermining, and overwhelming all at once!  Yet, fight it we must if we are to have the kind of Pagan community that we deserve.  It took me about four or five years in the community to take that particular step… so don’t feel like you have to do it until your ready, but please think about it.

So, once you’ve faced and acknowledged The FearTM, what’s next?  There are five basic things you can do to build a stronger and more active Pagan Community in your area.

1.      Communicate with and within your community!

So go ahead and post to that e-mail group once in a while as the topics interest you, and ask questions if you have them.  If you see an event advertised somewhere go ahead and call the contact number and if it’s a voice-mail box leave them a way to call you back.  Take the step of talking to that person in the bookstore who is looking at your 19th favorite Pagan book of all time!

If someone in your community puts out a community events calendar get your hands on it each month, if they put out a newsletter pick it up and if you can go ahead and subscribe to it!

2.      Take part in your community and its events, repeatedly if necessary.  One time does not a fair sampling make!

Go to that community social or that movie night out or that drumming circle or check out the open ritual.  Attend the Pagan Pride event in the next County.  Try attending a road or park clean-up.

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone at the next pagan social…

“Hi, I’m Geoffrey or Pax; uh this is my first time here, do we sign in or anything?”

(There are an endless number of variations but fight back that fear and take the first step!!)

3.      Look around your local community for Pagan owned and operated business that you feel you can ethically spend your money at and do so!

There are plenty of examples in ethnic and religious communities and in the gay community of people from the particular community spending their money in community owned stores and on community made goods.  And not just the occult bookstores and stone and crystal shops either!  If someone in your local community just opened up a coffee shop then buy a package of your roast of choice, or a buy 7 get one free coffee card and commit to yourself to filling that coffee card!

The more we contribute to our communal economic prosperity the better our community will be able to stand up for our rights!

4.      Look for ways to positively increase the public profile of your Pagan Community!

So, again, take part in that park clean up, or the 10k walk for charity.  Or just donate money or goods to a local charity with a note attached saying “This item donated by the Pagan Community.”

5.      If you see a lack within your community ask yourself, is it a need I can help fill?

The next time you’re bemoaning the lack of social events in your community, look to see if your neighborhood coffee shop has a meeting room or if they are amenable to having a social event held onsite… most places will just want folks to order drinks for the use of their meeting room.

If there isn’t an e-mail list in your area go to one of the websites for such things and try starting one!

If you thought about starting a newsletter or a regular social get together and you find out there is already one in town, contact them and see if they’d like some help!  (Most folks already involved in community work will welcome volunteers gladly!)

So those are the five basic things you can do to build a stronger and more interconnected Pagan community for yourself and your community!