After doing a bunch of internet searches and web surfing, you probably have a pretty good idea of which type of tradition is calling to you. Whether it be Wicca, Thelema, Golden Dawn, OTO, Rosicrucianism, Paganism, Shamanism, Hellenic Reconstruction or what have you, there are going to be plenty of options to reach out and connect with people of a like mind. Yet, the goal of this endeavor is not to just meet up and chat online (although, of course, you want to do that, too). What you’re really looking for is to uncover the information about the esoteric Orders you researched that doesn’t show up on their websites.
Due to the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of the Internet, the locations and level of activity of these online discussion groups changes over time. Back in the 80’s, it was USENET and groups like alt.magick. At the turn of the century, Yahoo groups were all the rage. In the early teens of the 21st century, most discussions seem to be through Facebook groups. There are still websites out there set up as discussion groups, but they are becoming the exception rather than the rule. Regardless, finding an online group that addresses your target tradition should not be that hard to do.
If you want to introduce yourself as a newcomer to the group, go right ahead. If you want your initial message to be a little more substantive, ask for a list of good books on the tradition to read. Jumping right in head first and asking every question you have on the top of your head, however, is not going to yield you the most effective results. If the first thing you do once you get into a discussion group is ask what people think about Order XYZ, you will get flooded with opinions strewn across the full spectrum, heavily seasoned by all kinds of group politics. You’re not going to know which opinions are coming from wizened members of the community and which are coming from propagandists, predators and delusional “true believers”.
The best thing you can do at this point is observe. Dip your toe in the environment of the forum and get an idea of how feels intuitively. If there’s too much time spent on petty bickering or the forum owners are using it as a soapbox for their political screeds or publicity stunts, find a different venue with a better signal-to-noise ratio. Also, don’t assume that one discussion group, or a small subset of people in such a group, speak for an entire community. For every loudmouth on the Internet, there are a hundred good seekers of the Light doing the Work in silence.
This phase of observation should not be rushed over a period of mere days. This is about observing over a period of weeks, maybe even months. Intertwine this observation phase with reading a couple good books focused on your chosen tradition. I know you have a lot of questions. I know you want answers to those questions. However, when it comes to those answers, you don’t want quantity, you want quality. You, being a newcomer to the community and the tradition, likely will not recognize quality answers when you see them! That is why it is so important to first observe.
Spend a fairly significant amount of time to read through the message archives or scroll through the timeline of the forum. It shouldn’t take you very long to figure out the people to avoid. You can easily discard those who seem to post about everything except the forum topic or tradition at hand. They are not there to benefit the community; they are there to benefit themselves. Steer clear of anyone who asks questions or makes comments that smack of radical pseudoscience, or worse, conspiracy theory. They are a special amalgam of instant gratification and willful ignorance. Bypass the ones who ask the most questions, or ask questions whose answers are easily found with a Google search. They’re either looking for raw entertainment or quick, spoon-fed fixes, not the actual Work. Also shy away from those people who generate the greatest amount of chatter. For them, the discussion is more about their social circle than it is their magickal circle. Remember, you want quality, not quantity.
By now, you’ve filtered out a vast majority of the participants, have gotten through a large chunk of your books, answered most of your own questions and generated a few new ones. This is the time to start asking questions, but ask those questions which show that you've started doing your own research and homework. As a rule of thumb, higher quality questions get higher quality answers from higher quality people. Besides, by now, you will have observed enough to figure out, to some degree, which responses (and responders) can be dismissed out of hand.
As you continue to participate in the discussion group, start looking for a select few forum participants who share certain admirable qualities. They would be the ones who listen much more than they speak. They present themselves as knowledgeable without being pretentious or disparaging. They are mature enough to not have to have the last word all the time. Those qualities of character are of paramount importance, but just as important is their level of experience and longevity in the tradition. You want to be able to talk to those people who are community builders but have been around for decades and witnessed the worst flaws of their society with their own eyes.
These are the people to which you want to ask the more sensitive, incisive questions. Again, don’t jump right in and inundate them with your questions about the Orders out there and which one to pick. These folks are usually extremely busy with rituals or writing or some other such community project. They place a great value on their time and do not suffer fools gladly. However, if you approach them with dignity and respect, and establish a rapport with them first, most of them will be more than happy to hold their Lamp of Knowledge out for you, so that you might find the Path that’s right for you.
Next Chapter: Fly-By-Night Mentors