Pagan Organizing: The Mystery of Finding a Meeting Place

This series covers best practices in Pagan organizing. Much of the material draws from sources outside of Pagan or other religious spheres. The author has applied the techniques in real life, with real life Pagan organizations and found them effective. To make the most of this knowledge, it is necessary to let go of the dogma about Pagans being in any way like herding cats. Pagans are a body of mostly functional and capable adults. Despite our collective love of the silly, we can cooperate just fine under the right circumstances. The keys to making this happen always comes back to a) clear communication across multiple channels b) giving and receiving feedback in the most empathetic manner possible c) regular assessment of organization size, need and purpose and d) strong personal boundaries for those running organizations and events. The intention of this series is to share methods that have worked in real life, in hopes that it reduces burnout and strengthens community among other Pagan organizations.

This post goes down to the super basics: finding that place to meet.

When forming any organization, the nitty gritty details often encounter a certain resistance of circumstance. This is especially the case when trying to find a place to meet. Those of us that started our organizing careers in college likely got a bit spoiled by the automatic provision of a collective environment. Most of the time for student groups all you have to say is “let’s meet here!” the first few times, and then if you get serious about it you file a form with an office somewhere and voila, you have a meeting room.

If you never enter or eventually leave an academic environment, finding space becomes gets more difficult. Your taxes may pay for public spaces, but those public spaces may have assigned uses that don’t allow for any religious group to use them. You could offer up your own living room, but there are mutual safety and social dynamic reasons to try to avoid that move that we will discuss further down.

Determine Your Purpose

Before you can even take all those issues into account, however, you need to decide on your group’s purpose. I tend to run social groups where people may eventually break off for ritual. They usually must do the ritual somewhere else, as I prefer all paths meets.

I have personal objections to public rituals being the way people first meet a group. To me that’s like demanding someone take off their clothes before they supply their first name. Privacy concerns can also be an issue – if the fundamentalist boss walks by that coffee shop window at the wrong time it can cause problems for some people. For me a semi-public atmosphere is fine and I often decide to make a compromise in this area when planning group meets. Then again, I also lived in Paganistan (Twin Cities) when I first began practicing and now live in the Bay Area also known as Witchtopia. I have never lived in circumstances where I needed to hide any aspect of my identity, and so I don’t. If I still lived in Indiana or any further into the Bible Belt or into the Islamic equivalent if I lived elsewhere in the world, I might operate differently.

Know Your Obstacles

A clear understanding of common obstacles to choosing a meeting place can help you come up with ways to get around them.

  • Money
    When you first start out, a level of investment usually must happen. If you meet at a business, your attendees need to support that business. People that show up to a shop with their own food is not just a universal health code violation, it’s an insult to the business that has given you space. If you pay room rental, it’s in the best interests of the group that you ask for donations to support that. If you use a public space like a library back room you need to find out what you need to do to reserve the place
  • Religion
    Most people these days know about Pagans. Some care, some don’t, and some care that their customers care. It’s a thing. You pretty much have to brave the waters to find out where a business owner stands regarding your practices. You might also skate by on “don’t ask don’t tell” but when you do this it can leave you scrambling for a new space just as your group gains momentum.
  • Transportation
    Getting to and from your meeting place will always present at least a small challenge. Whether you live in an area where ample parking matters, or in a place where everyone takes mass transit, people should be able to get in and out comfortably. If someone always risks getting a ticket just trying to attend a meeting, it fails the cost-benefit ratio of even attending. Know where the nearest mass transit lines begin and end and know when they stop service. Know when parking meters stop charging. Look for the businesses that hire private towing services. It all adds up in the long run.
  • Location, location, location
    It’s a good idea, whenever possible, to find a location and stick with it. Moving should be handled strategically and only after your group hits a certain level of growth. The best rule for this is space: if anyone must stand for more than ten minutes because of a lack of seating, you need to find a new place to meet. You also must stay firm once you find your space. I have no idea where this behavior comes from, but every so often people try to persuade me to move a meeting location to a place more convenient for them. It always comes from someone that has never contributed to the group. These people are usually confused by subsequent refusals to do so, even on grounds of inconvenience to the rest of the group. This kind of people pleasing can really derail a growing meetup; pick a place and stick with it until it no longer fits those that show up.
  • Time
    The number one complaint always received about a Pagan meetup is, anecdotally, the time at which it meets. No time ever works for everyone that wants to attend. Just as people often attempt to get a location change, some also try to get the day and time moved. Do not indulge this behavior. The time and date should work for the organizers first and foremost.

Making a Final Selection

When looking for a place to meet, the following checklist may help.

Necessary Introspection
● How many people do you expect to attend? (If you don’t know, how many would you like to see attend?)
● How regularly do you want to meet?
● What personal financial investment are you able and willing to make? You may need to pay room rental or meet a restaurant order minimum to keep going to a certain location.
● How much time investment are you willing/able to make?
● What would you like to see come out of the group you start?
● Why do you believe YOU are the one that should be doing this?
● How do you plan to handle it when life emergencies or unplanned obstacles happen?

Practical Concerns
● How large of a space do you need?
● How is the parking?
● How can people get to the chosen meeting location?
● Does management need to know what you’re up to?
● Are you trying to avoid certain places or groups?
● Is the place you want to meet open during times that people can attend? (this is far more flexible than many people realize)

Especially if starting a group for general fellowship the optimal place is public and easy to get to via mass transit. If you need little to no privacy at all, coffee shops are the most common go-to for Pagan meets, followed closely by pubs and bars. Coffee shops make ideal locations – most people can scrape together enough for a $3.50 pot of tea – and encourage people to linger for long hours.

Should you opt for a bar or pub, there are multiple considerations to keep in mind. I personally prefer supporting places that serve alcohol to a minimum for several reasons, and drunken shenanigans is in truth the bottom of that list. First, the tab will be higher than a coffee shop – and it’s much easier for someone to ditch without paying, leaving you stuck with an expensive bill. Second, people get drunk at bars. Eventually someone always gets “ask me to leave” drunk. Third, and this one falls under woo reasons related to alcohol consumption: bars tend to attract low quality energies. I have frequented exactly two such establishments in my life that do not suffer from haunting issues.

A lesser-considered option (and this surprises me) is local public libraries. Libraries usually have meeting rooms that people can rent or that sometimes patrons can simply reserve. If it is for a spiritual organization, you may need to pay rent. Even so, it’s a safe public space and in cities that aren’t San Francisco and New York the location usually comes with reasonable parking. Also, you’ll be surrounded by books! Given the relationship of the Pagan to the book it always stuns me how little people take use of this resource.

Some places that often do have meeting space that the public can use include grocery stores (this shocked me), banks and museums. In addition, most parks and recreation departments in larger cities also have rooms for rent available. Space rental can limit location choices. You may be able to work out a trade of services, like the group performing some type of volunteer or cleanup work, or get a meeting place reserved at a restaurant in exchange for hitting a food and drink minimum.

The most common and seemingly unlikely meeting place Pagans obtain, especially for ritual and low-key conventions: churches and temples. Know about the details of the denomination of a church or temple before you approach. Some Christian organizations are quite friendly to Pagans. Unitarian Universalists, spiritualist churches, United Church of Christ congregations outside the Bible belt, and ELCA Lutheran churches some welcome Pagan renters. On the other hand, approaching a Baptist or Catholic church is virtually guaranteed to end poorly.

Meeting spaces can show up in all sorts of strange places. It helps to keep an eye out, even if you already run a small group with a stable meeting place. If a business closes or some other shift takes place, it can help to have a personal list of other options to visit.

When looking for spaces to meet, consider the goals of your group and what a space should provide for them to achieve them. From there, you may want to explore the following options:
1. Library meeting rooms
2. Meeting spaces in parks and recreation department buildings
3. Freemason halls (usually a member must vouch for your group)
4. Local churches with basements or banquet spaces
5. Booking rooms at local universities or even local public schools
6. Searching meeting spaces near me, banquet halls near me, or restaurant back rooms near me on Google.
7. Surprising places may have meeting rooms explicitly for the community – some grocery stores and banks supply a space for the public to visit.
8. Museums often offer public meet spaces. Sometimes this can exceed local budget, but smaller museums may be happy to negotiate just for the sake of a little income above their donation base.

While you do have many options for meeting places, there are a few places that are…suboptimal. For meetups. The first: your home. There’s an all-around creep factor to holding a meeting for virtual strangers in your home, and that’s without exploring the spiritual ramifications of letting totally unknown people in. These people initially do not know you. The power dynamic also becomes stilted – possibly fine for those in hierarchical traditions, but not acceptable for groups founded in egalitarian approaches or ones that merely want to provide social opportunities.

Second – and this may prove controversial – is in outdoor spaces. Pagans often love a good outdoor meeting, and while there’s a certain beauty to that, it’s also a highly ableist move. Rolling around in grass has its appeal but it cuts out anyone that uses a wheel chair or that has a mobility issue in that arena. Severe allergic sensitivities can also force people to drop out of participation. While many Pagan festivals now can and do accommodate those with limitations, just the nature of Nature can really limit who can participate in that and for how long.

Third, anywhere with excess noise. Certain bars persist in blaring music even at slow times of the day. Some restaurants also have a high background chatter. If you want to create an organization of aware and connected people, you can’t set them down in all that noise. It needs to be kept manageable enough that people can hear each other.

When You’re Asked to Leave

Occasionally a place that worked great just doesn’t anymore. Management may want you to move on, or you decided you can’t deal with that one rude staff member any longer. Other times it’s more severe: the business shuts down, or something happens to it that makes meeting there untenable. Those move-on moments can happen without warning and it’s a good idea to have moving a meeting location in your personal index, just in case it happens.
It helps to maintain transparency with your group members around the basic workings of meeting, payment, and reason for being. Depending on the size and enthusiasm of your members, this may take relatively little work. Let your members know you need a new home. One of your members likely has a lead on a new place.

It can hurt when someone asks you to move on and sometimes, much as it wounds us to admit it, the request is necessary and deserved. For some reason, at these times, group leaders often go opaque, often for the sake of saving themselves embarrassment. A basic rule of existence: avoiding embarrassment when you have failed to adhere to the laws of hospitality and civility only leads to more embarrassment later.Better to admit it and soothe the superiority-status-seeking beast within in private. Doing so can really cut down on the criminal charges.

As in all things, your mileage may vary. If you live in that village in Alaska that completely inhabits an old school, your resources differ from from someone living in a highly populated city. Ultimately, when finding a meeting place for your Pagan group it should be reasonable to get to and a place you can return to with ease.

About the Author

Diana Rajchel lives at the western edge of San Francisco, where sea creatures and hippies meet, breed, and glower at gentrification. From this liminal place she runs the Emperor Norton Pagan Social, writes about magic, herbs, and human quirks, and looks to both sidewalk and sky for wisdom. She is the author of Divorcing a Real Witch, the Mabon and Samhain installments of the Llewellyn Sabbat essentials series, and a title on Urban Magic to be released by Llewellyn in 2018.

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