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Joining the House

Joining a Group/House/Coven/Order/Church/Circle/etc

By: NyteMuse/Morgan Felidae

The early days of the witch/vampire/Otherkin where it was nigh impossible to find others of like mind are vanished into the mist. Now, new Houses/Covens/Orders/Courts/etc are almost a dime a dozen, in some cases having multiples in a very small geographic area so that people are given a *gasp* CHOICE! Since you have been given the privilege, it behooves you to make a responsible and informed decision, which this article will help you to do.

First to consider: Why do you want to join a group? What is it that you are looking for, or what do you want to do? The most common reasons people seem to choose for joining a group are support & education. If you have learned things solitarily that you wish to share and teach, that could be another reason, but be careful not to go into a new group with too much attitude. If you are looking for a group so you can date, have sex, find people to worship you...you might want to rethink those, as most serious groups don't have goals that align with that. I think you get the drift :) People don't like being used. While you may be looking to get something out of a group, a good group member also gives something back of value.

After you have determined your purpose, you can locate the group that is the best match for you. The best way to do this is to ask around. Talk to like-minded folks you know, on or offline, or look at some of the online sites and forums. Most groups are fairly well advertised in online communities or in a group member's profile on other sites.

When initially looking at a group, there are several questions you need to ask yourself or consider:

  • What is the path or philosophy the group appears to follow? Does it jive with yours?
  • What are the prerequisites or guidelines for joining? Is there an age limit? Do you have to have a certain background or experience? Do you have to be in the same geographical area?
  • If you are not in that group's area, do they accept non-local members?
  • What is the median age of the members? Is it mostly young adults or all middle-aged folks?
  • What are the requirements for joining? Are there some kind of membership dues or an application fee? Do you have to complete some ritual or task first?
  • What, if anything, will you be required to do after joining? Are there tasks you need to complete, or rituals or meetings you have to regularly attend? How flexible are they in scheduling or occasional absences?
  • What is the general make-up of the group or its focus? Is it for Otherkin only? Vampires only? Psy or sangs only? Does it even matter to them?

Approaching the group

If the group is online, they will almost assuredly have a website. Check out the site and see if they have any information on membership and requirements. Most sites will have something of that nature, even if just to say "Sorry, we're not taking any new members at this time." Also be sure to check how much in-person attendance may be required; if they expect you at weekly or monthly meetings and you live in another state, this might not be a good match, unless the group is willing to make exceptions.

If you have read the site and are still interested, some groups will have an application posted (or at least a "If you're interested, go here/do this" link). How much personal information is the group asking for? While it's reasonable for groups to require a proof of age, if they're asking for your social security number and bank records, it's probably not a good idea. Only give as much personally identifying information as you are comfortable with. Some groups understand the need to protect identities and will accept a nickname or alias. If there is something required that you're not comfortable giving, try contacting one of the head honchos and see if you can reach a compromise.

If your group IS online, the website is the front that they give to seekers. You can tell a lot about a group based on their site. Not every group is going to be able to afford to hire a professional web designer or pay for their own domain name, but at the same time, neither of those are necessary to make a decent web site. What does the website offer? Does it look like someone has put a lot of time and effort into developing it, or does it just have a short "This is who we are and this is who to talk to" one or two pages on it? A GOOD group site will show carefully thought out planning, and a great site will give help and resources to non-group members as well as possibly just interested seekers. Does it seem like the page is being kept up to date, or is most of the information stale? Yes, it is sometimes hard to tell, especially if the webmaster does not post updates, but if they post news or articles, sometimes you can ascertain from that the last time it was worked on.

The Group's Interview

No, not the group interviewing you, I mean YOU interviewing the GROUP. Wha? You (as the Seeker) get to interview the group? Heck yeah. You need to interview the group just as much as the group needs to interview you, if not moreso, in order to determine whether or not you fit in. Many occult groups are considered a type of family, so they really want only the right people in there.

  • How is the group's hierarchy or structure arranged? Does anyone "lord" it over the others or new members? Is there room for new members to advance?
  • How often are meetings or rituals? Is attendance expected? How often? What happens in the event you can't make it?
  • How active are the admins/elders outside of the group? What do they do? Are they accessible?
  • Is there any kind of probation period or training required for new members? If so, how does it happen?
  • Is a good portion of experienced members (if not all) approachable for questions? If not, why?
  • How formal is the group? Are there any specific rules of etiquette to be observed in different situations? How strict is their adherence to that?
  • What other groups is this group affiliated with, and why?
  • What are the group's stated goals?
  • What individuals/groups don't like this group? Reasons?
  • What individuals/groups does this group not like? Reasons?
  • How open are the members about discussing the House itself? While most Houses will keep a few inside secrets, you can usually gauge why things are being secret. While they may not want to share personal information or specific liturgy with you, a group that will not tell you a single thing about a required initiation rite or ritual starts to set off warning bells. You are perfectly within your rights to ask about anything you might be asked to participate in ahead of time, and you should! It could be problematic if you are in the middle of a ritual and you are asked to swear an oath in the name of a deity you don't believe in or worship and it would be blasphemous to your own religion to do so.
  • What oaths, if any, will you required to take upon joining the group?
  • Are there any limitatons or proscriptions regarding membership in other groups, even unrelated ones? (Some groups may say you can never join another magical or occult order while a member of theirs)
  • What happens if you decide to leave the group? Are there any rituals or procedures that have to be followed, or any promises?
  • What are some of the reasons a member might be asked to leave the group?
*If a group gets irritable with you asking good and reasonable questions, it might not be a good match for you. If a group is open for active membership, the experienced members should understand they are there to guide new folks. If they're not ready to do that, they should not be putting themselves out there.

Evaluation

After you have all this information in hand, how can you use that to decide if it's going to be good? One thing you should always do is talk to present AND past members of the group. Find out their opinions. If someone gives positive OR negative opinions, find out the reasons. If it was a personal conflict with an old leader or elder, that might not be a problem for you, but if it was a fundamental problem of respect or hypocrisy, that might cause troubles. Ex-members can give a lot of information, provided there were no "sour grapes", as it were. Just because a group seems to be in good standing in other places doesn't mean it's all sunshine and flowers. Many group problems are kept under the surface and only seen by members. If you are local, ask if it would be possible to meet some of the group members in person to talk to them. You can learn a lot more from talking to someone in the flesh than online. You might also try seeing if someone would be willing to talk on the phone, if you cannot meet in person. Also, ask if they have any public rituals or events that you might be able to witness or even help out at. Observe how they interact with each other, as that can tell volumes.

After you have seen some of the current or ex-members, some additional questions to consider might be:

  • How much drama is there?
  • How close knit are the members?
  • How long as the group been around?
  • How many members are there currently in the group? Has the member number been growing or decreasing? If it's been decreasing, why?
  • How are lower-ranking or newer members (if any) treated within the group and at group events?
  • How are folks treated who are not part of the group's majority? (i.e. a fey in the midst of therians, or a vampire in the midst of witches)
  • How much respect is demanded by the admins or elders? Is that respect considered OWED?
  • How relaxed or formal is the interaction between members?
  • How rigid are the policies and structure? Some basic underlying structure is good, but there has to be room for flexibility and adaptability in a good House/Order/Church/Coven/etc.

And, above all, follow your gut. If your intuition tells you THIS IS BAD, get away. Another excellent resource to use in guiding your questions and observations is the Advanced Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame.

-NyteMuse/Morgan Felidae (2008)

© 2008 If you want to share this, please ask author's permission first. This article is also subject to be changed and edited by author at any time.

Last Updated: January 19 2008 03:24:05