One of the most popular articles on this site discusses proper etiquette when you're a non-Pagan -- or at the very least, a non-coven member -- invited to a ritual. The piece discusses how to behave and interact with the folks holding the ritual, and how to make sure you're invited back again. However, for each non-Pagan attending an event, there must clearly be someone putting on the ritual. It's important, therefore, for us to discuss how to treat non-Pagans -- or non-members of our group -- when they take time out of their schedules to join us in ritual.
Certainly, some people are reading this and thinking, "Why the heck would I ever let a non-Pagan come to my ritual?" But if you think about it, there are any number of scenarios in which this could occur. Here are just a few examples:
- A public Sabbat celebration can attract curious onlookers and new Seekers
- A handfasting guest list can easily include non-Pagans
- A baby blessing ceremony might be open to family members of all religions
- A Pagan ritual might be held as part of a greater, non-Pagan celebration, such as a Renaissance Faire, an Earth Day celebration, or even a memorial service
So at some point, if you're in charge of organizing or planning a ritual or event, you may well indeed encounter non-Pagans who wish to attend. If you do, it's important that you treat them with the same respect that you wish to receive. Here are just a few ways you can make them feel welcome.
- Send out information ahead of time. If, for example, you're holding a Pagan handfasting for your wedding, you might wish to include with the wedding invitation a small sheet that describes what a handfasting is, what it will include, and why you've chosen to do this. If you don't know in advance who will be there -- such as a public Sabbat ritual in a park -- it's not a bad idea to include information on posters and flyers. Rather than just saying, "Join us for Mabon!" you might say, "Join us for a Mabon ritual in which we celebrate the harvest and the abundance of the fields." This way, people have a better idea of what's going on before they get there.
- Have a greeter. Make sure that there's someone at your event designated to meet and greet new arrivals. This person should be perfectly comfortable with walking up to total strangers and saying, "Hi, is this your first time at one of these? I'm Willow. Would you like me to help you find a place to put that casserole?" If your event isn't a large public one, but a small family gathering like a wedding or a baby blessing, you might ask one of your fellow Pagans to sit with some of the non-Pagans during the ceremony. This way, they can lean over and quietly say, "The High Priestess is casting a circle right now, as a way of creating sacred space for the handfasting." This helps people understand what they're seeing, without forcing them to interrupt things.
- Let the Pagans know there are non-Pagans present. It's fairly simple, but whoever's facilitating the event should take a moment to say something like, "I'd like to thank Jim and Susan for coming out today to see what it is that we Pagans do in our rituals." As a community, Pagans tend to be pretty friendly, and most of us love the idea of new people coming to see what it is we believe. By publicly welcoming the non-Pagans or new Seekers, you let the rest of the group know that there are people present who might have questions.
- Avoid bashing other religions. This shouldn't have to be said, but it's important. You don't want your guests to go away with a sour feeling about Paganism, and thinking everyone they met secretly hates them because they're Christian.
- Hand out ritual information. If you're going to call everyone into a great big circle, it's important that everyone knows what's expected of them if you want them to do or say anything. If you like, you can verbally give instructions at the beginning of the rite, saying, "Now, I'm going to call the quarters, and as I do so, everyone will turn to face north, east, then south, and finally west."
- Respect boundaries. If non-Pagan guests come to a Pagan event, they may not feel comfortable participating in every aspect of ritual with you. Look at it this way -- you might attend a Catholic mass with your grandmother, but you as a non-Catholic, you wouldn't take Communion. Same with non-Pagans -- they may have certain boundaries they've set for themselves, and not want to join in every single thing you do. Respect that, and if they choose to simply watch from the fringe, that's fine too.
- Finally, be sure to ask later if they have questions. Many people feel awkward just saying, "Okay, I totally didn't get what this was about." Go up to your non-Pagan guests, and ask, "So, was there anything you didn't understand? What can I explain further for you?" This opens the door for potential questions.
Ultimately, making the experience a positive one is the best thing you can do for a non-Pagan or a new Seeker attending your event. Make them feel welcome, answer their questions honestly and openly, and perhaps you'll be part of bridging the vast gap between people of different faiths.