For most of my spiritual life, I've been solitary. I've had a working partner, briefly was in the process of interviewing a coven, and now I have some amazing friends that I get together with regularly and we share spiritual practices, but the bulk of what I do is on my own.
I think this is a pretty common thing, now a days. Many people are cultivating a private practice that my sometimes include other people, but their day-to-day workings are done alone. And yet many of us still love to get together with others of like mind for gatherings, festivals or other events.
Going to an event can be intimidating, especially if you are going alone. My very first event was a Pagan Pride Day gathering a couple of years after I started my personal practice. I didn't know anyone that was going to be there, and was definitely timid about going. Being my first public gathering, I also had absolutely no clue what to expect.
The Pagan Pride Day I went to wasn't very well organized. There were a handful of booths, and I think that there was a ceremony or circle planned for later in the day, but I wasn't there for it so I am not sure. I wandered about the booths, talked to the vendors and then went on my way.
Since then, I have attended other gatherings, from small meetups to larger, weekend-long camping festivals. Sometimes I have been on my own, sometimes hubby came along for moral-support (and safety), and sometimes I have gone with friends.
While we each have our own comfort levels, I would encourage people who are interested in attending a larger gathering to drum up their courage and give it a try. There is a wonderful energy at gatherings, and it is one thing I miss in my solitary practice.
Definitely be safe! If you are going to a gathering alone, keep your phone and make sure people know where you are going to be and when you are expected to be home. I don't think it is necessary to be super paranoid, but those are pretty solid cautions for anyone going to a big gathering of any kind.
Also, trust your instincts! If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself from the situation. Find someone you feel safe around, or find a larger group you can join up with. If you have to, leave. But I do think that there are more friendly and welcoming people out there than ones who set off our danger senses.
I am lucky that I am fairly outgoing and enjoy talking to people, but I know that not everyone is. If larger groups make you nervous, look for people in smaller groups you can talk to. You can ask around and find out what type of classes, workshops or events are going to take place and see which ones sound good to you.
Public rituals can be intimidating too, even if they are smaller. Ritual space, to me, is very intimate, and stepping into ritual space with strangers takes me slightly out of my comfort zone (even if their are familiar faces in the circle as well). If you are nervous about a ritual, ask the people in charge what you can expect from the ritual and what will be expected of you. Some rituals may require participation, while others may let you take part without taking an active role.
The rituals I have been a part of have always encouraged people to take part, but if someone wasn't comfortable, no one was forced to talk, or share or take any action. For me, if I know what I may be expected to do ahead of time, it is easier for me to be comfortable than if I am asked to do something on the spot. So finding out what to expect can help to ease you in and let you prepare (even for something as simple as stating something you may wish to release into the fire).
Gatherings may be highly organized or very laid back, or anywhere in between. Many times a festival will at least have a rough outline and schedule, though this may be subject to change. It is really easy to get caught up in conversation or for classes to run over, so it is a good idea to expect any time frames given to be approximations. Keep an ear out if you have activities you really want to attend, to make sure you don't miss any changes.
I definitely find that having friends along, even if I'm not always right there with them, makes a gathering more comfortable for me. It's the safety blanket...I know that if I am nervous or shy I can go and hang out with the people I know and don't have to be standing there alone. But I have made wonderful new friends at gatherings, and it is definitely something that I feel enhances my personal path.
I find that medium sized gatherings are great if you aren't a very outgoing person. Too small of a gathering and you may feel like all eyes are on you, and too big of a gathering can be overwhelming. But in the middle, between fifteen to thirty people, there are enough people that you won't feel like the only new one or like you have to talk to everyone, but there won't be so many people as to feel smothering.
Another thing that I find wonderful about festivals is the sharing of other's paths. I love taking part in rituals or classes that are outside of my own practices. Many times I will find bits and ideas that will become part of my own practice. Even if it is something I might never work into my own path, to have experienced it is a wonderful thing.
Each gathering has it's own energy, and no two will be the same, even if it is all the same people attending! This is one of the things that makes gatherings so magical. I think it is important to remember to just take each moment as it comes. Enjoy what is going on and don't let your expectations sour your experience. Find people who are interesting and talk to them (or just listen to them if you aren't comfortable talking to new people). Take a peek into other people's paths.
And don't forget to connect with people you have met and want to remain in contact with. So many of us have a digital presence now, it is much easier (and safer) to keep in touch with people you have met at gatherings, even if they aren't near your home. Distance need not be a limiting factor, and you can develop rich friendships with people you may have only met face-to-face once many years ago.
So I definitely recommend attending festivals, for pretty much anyone! If you don't feel comfortable going alone, see if you have friends who might like to go with you. Seek out gatherings that fit your personal interests and comfort levels. Give yourself permission to try something new! And go with the flow.