Every budding paranormal enthusiast goes through a phase of wanting to be involved in the bigger picture. Whether that emerges as a middle school coven making spell jars or a gaggle of college students around a Ouija board, or even later as a full adult hanging out with other paranormal weirdos (say that with affection for the weirdos), every single one of these instances should be considered as valid exploration in the field. Sometimes, you just want to hermit out and absorb all the research and studies and really get a grip on what has already been experimented, and sometimes, you want to hop into the experimentation yourself. That's all well and good! Now, in my own personal experience, I was a high school mall goth, corsets, bustle skirts, dead rabbit bag from Hot Topic's glory days, and all, hanging with a harmless group of want-to-be vampires and werewolves dabbling in occultism. It was all role play and hanging at malls and going to RPG meet ups to play Werewolves, and fandom cons with a real heavy side of occult book club vibes. In college, it evolved into a parapsychology class with a thrill of the ghost hunter chase and journey of scientific exploration. After college, another paranormal group, followed by a New Age non-denominational church full of spiritualist healer woo woos, and to present day where we have evolved into realist practitioners and more towards the meditative, healing, and researchable phenomenon. No matter how you go about it, groups have group dynamics. All it takes is one person with questionable motives to make things sketchy at best, but dangerous and dramatic at worst. Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking for a group of weirdos to explore paranormal interests. Be honest with yourself. Trust your gut feelings when dealing with a group of strangers. And in the words of the Crime Junkie TruCrime podcast, "Be Weird, Be Rude, Stay Alive." The Questions: 1. Is there a hierarchy? Why? How is it established?
This is a super important thing to discover early on. I have heard nightmare situation stories about ghost hunter groups with a big ole intoxicated bubba that everyone is afraid to confront about being a little too touchy feely with young women joining the group. This is a more common scenario than anyone is comfortable discussing, but we have to talk about it. People join wanting to go tour Waverly Hills, and when bad things happen between members or the leader, they don't address them because they're being convinced this is the only once-in-a-lifetime group they'll be able to explore the paranormal with. That is simply not true, and you shouldn't compromise your own boundaries for the sake of making a creeper comfortable. You typically can figure out who the leadership of the group is early on in any group. It's typically either the gatekeeper of the goods or the person welcoming you into the group. If it's not that easy, ask someone who has been there a little longer who runs or organizes the group and the meet ups. This can be useful if in academic research groups or active groups that go on outings. However, the quality of the leader, and their intentions with the group matter. It's great to be coordinated and able to get group rates for investigations. You also will need someone to be a leader when it comes to equipment deployment, task delegation, and to generally be an effective team leader if there are any logistics involved or groceries or errands needing to be done. The motives matter. If you find yourself in a team where the leader is not highlighting strengths and placing people in positions on the team or in the group or "church" delegation that really bring out everyone's best, it can get really sticky, really fast.
2. How does this group address each other?
Are we a coven of witches? Is this a book club? Are you a real priest? Is this your real house? Who knows, but it's important to find out what everyone is calling each other and why. It is also extremely dangerous to get into a meet up group where no one is using their real names or real credentials. Why? Because if someone ends up being abusive, or you get a little too uncomfortable on the bench at an investigation with a member of the group, you have to know their name to report it. If someone just wants you to call them "Mr. X" and Mr. X wants to have a team meeting and you're the only one who shows up (this HAPPENS), you need to be able to tell a trusted person where you are going and with whom. This does not mean deadnaming a person. It does mean doing a little research on people you're hanging out with. You typically should look up your Tinder date before going out alone with them, and think of this group just like that for safety reasons. There are a lot of creepers who end up in this field, because, let's be honest, some people are motivated by passion for it or scientific discovery, and some people think goths are hot and want to be powerful, almighty, summon a demon for street cred. While the motives may be questionable, safety should come first in all your woo woo exploration.
3. What is the groups purpose?
This one can and should be asked more than once during your time with said group. It can be hard to find out, and new and budding groups may not even know the answer to this question. Ask yourself first, "Why am I seeking out people interested in the paranormal?" There is no wrong answer here. You could be looking for evidence of something else. Do you want to learn some practitioner tips and tricks? Are you looking to get into energy healing? Are you trying to role play? Are you willing to read old religious texts and talk to a guy who channels aliens from a far off planet? Find out what you want first. Be open an honest with your boundaries. If you are uncomfortable using a Ouija board, feel welcome to voice that boundary, sit it out, or leave. Remember: You can always leave. Anyone who says otherwise is not being a good person. Whether you're mid incantation and get a little too weirded out, or the group starts talking about doing something you're not comfortable with, or the intentions get to weird, Damon says you need to do XYZ for this part of the ritual to work, or maybe you're just not comfortable following Brad and Beth into the woods at sundown. You can leave. If someone says, "You're going to throw off the grove and will release XYZ entity if you leave," they're being manipulative. Don't buy it. Or the more common, "If you leave/don't participate, you can't come back." Good. Leave. Don't go back. Those are dangerous manipulative words used for compliance, not for well meaning people who respect your boundaries and passion for this field. If you're voicing your concern and being bullied or somehow coerced to keep the concerns to yourself, pay attention to that. If small things are going under the radar, bigger safety related things may too. Now, some people feel REALLY bad about ghosting a team or member of a team, but if your boundaries are violated, your concerns aren't heard, or you just want to leave, better to ghost the group now than to end up on the other side of that Ouija board. Your health and safety should come first.