11 September, 2012

So You're New to the Craft...

Hey, Readers,

This is my script to this week's video on The Pagan Perspective. It covers three questions: one for general advice for new pagans, and two from a new pagan about how to be a pagan and about the number of gods.

The questions:
from CulainRuledByVenus
--I just uploaded a video directed at people new to Paganism, and now am wondering how you too would address them. Considering the broad spectrum of all that it is, implies, entails, and even all that it is made out to be by those who misunderstand and misrepresent it, I'm asking for your thoughts on this in the spirit of general advice and suggestions. I had suggested that newcomers should gather many perspectives about it, and thought "What better accommodation than the Pagan Perspective?"
Thank for reading,
from mikilee2290
--i need help being a pure pagan. i been raised in a christian family, and im only 12, and i wanna be pagan, but was never taught how. can you help me?
--how many gods are there


Greetings, new practitioner, hopeful practitioner, person vaguely interested in pagan related paths. We've been asked this week to give you some advice or suggestions, fit to your beginning on this path, or your budding interest in maybe beginning this path. CulainRuledByVenus posted a video to this effect and asked what advice we would give along these same lines. I really enjoyed his video and I refer to things he said in my response, so check out his video, as well. (Link is above, in his question.)

I want to start with the bad and end with the good, so first I want to talk about what to watch out for and possibly what not to do, and then follow it with positive things to look into and try, and forward actions. A lot of people ask me "Where do I start?" and I'll get to that in this response, too, so don't worry!

Though paganism and neopaganism have grown a lot over the past several decades, it's still safe to say that we're a minority, especially depending on where you live. Also depending on where you live, you'll find different amounts of people who know anything about paganism. You may be in an area where it's fairly known, or in an area where no one has any clue. Both of these situations can be a challenge.

Since I'm starting with the perceived negatives, first I want to address the fact that this path, being a minority one and not being well known by all, will attract some negative attention at times from certain people. You will face arguments that hopefully you can turn into creative, constructive discussions. You will sometimes want to yell at people, but I plead with you not to do so. From what I can tell, there are three main kinds of opposition we face, as follows:

1) Opposition from those outside the community.
2) Opposition from people inside the community.
3) Opposition from yourself.
While all three can be annoying, guess which one you actually have to worry about? Not all three, that's for sure. Let's take a look.

1) Opposition from those outside the community. People of other religions and world views. Some people outside the community are great about this, being willing to learn and being respectful of your views. Unfortunately there are still a lot of people who will tell you that you're evil, you're being tricked, you're delusional, you need to be saved, you're messing with the wrong thing, and so on. This kind of opposition, while possibly the most common, is also the easiest to deal with, in my opinion. You deal with it by stating your case simply and politely, saying something like "I respectfully disagree," or "I understand where you're coming from, that is just not my path," if you do, in fact, understand. I think this kind of opposition is best thought of as just being what they were taught. Some people are taught that we're evil, horrible, or brainwashed people. They think they're doing us a favor. I like to think that if they knew more about us, they wouldn't think so anymore.
2) Opposition from people inside the community. People who follow other pagan paths, or sometimes people who use the same label as you do, but do things differently. Unfortunately this kind of opposition is pretty hard to deal with, because you're always so tempted to say "We're on the same side! Why are we fighting?" And I do believe we're on the same side. So while this opposition is almost more hurtful than when it comes from a non-pagan, it can be dealt with similarly. Recognize that even other pagans and neopagans will not believe the exact same way that you do, especially since, as you should know, paganism and its related paths are highly individual. Even people who work closely together on the same path will have differences. Learn from them and grow.
3) Opposition from yourself. This one is the most difficult to deal with, by far. This is the only one you honestly have to worry about, because it's about you. Your path is yours alone, so if other people don't like it, oh well. But if you're struggling with something, you need to work it out. You will face periods where you worry that what you're doing is "wrong." In most aspects of the craft you can't really be wrong if you're doing something personal to you. Just because someone else does it a different way doesn't mean you're wrong. There are very few things I would call "wrong." There may be a couple, but very few and far between. And even so, I may just mean they're wrong for ME, but someone else might be fine with it. You will also face periods where you wonder if the path is right for you at all. Face this with courage and questioning. Take some time to figure it out. You may just be going through a rough patch, or you may really want to change your path's direction entirely. If you're feeling off about something, listen to yourself and take the opportunity to investigate. In this case, you'd only be wrong if you forced yourself to keep doing something that held no meaning for you.

I think that about covers the scope of negative things, because I think anything you deal with can likely be put into one of those three categories. So let's move on to positive, constructive, progressive things!

As I mentioned earlier, people are always asking me "Where do I start? I want to follow a pagan path, but there's just so much, I don't know where to begin." After answering this a bunch of times, I finally wrote out a response on tumblr that I've started linking to, which includes some basic questions that I always pose. These are questions that I think help get a person started, right from the beginning, and they also give an idea of the kind of continual questioning I find within the path, how one answer leads to more questions. Things like, "Do I believe in a higher power?" "Do I believe in magic(k)? What role does it play in my path?" "What role does nature play in my path?" "Do I believe in reincarnation? Karma?" and so on. I will probably extend this list officially at some point, but I believe even the form it's in now is a big help for many people.

Post containing questions for beginners:

One of the other basic things I'm always telling beginners who ask me is that our paths are very much about learning. Learn all you can, read all you can, from as many different sources as you can. If you like a certain author, by all means read as much of their work as you can. Also make sure you read other authors. Compare how they think alike and how they differ. Watch videos from people online. Look for people on different paths to compare them, and also look for people who follow similar paths in order to see differences between individuals. Read people's blogs, as well. Look at photos of people's altars. Take ideas from people and try them out. Use what you like, and don't be afraid to acknowledge when something does not suit you by just not using it. You don't have to do every single thing in one book or another, or every thing one person online says.

If someone swears up and down you have to do a certain thing or a certain way, not only are they not a very good person to be getting advice from, but they're also not you. If their way has no meaning for you, what good is it? It's empty. Even my ways which I've discovered work well for me are not likely to exactly fit anyone else. You will find people who match well with a lot of your beliefs and practices and that's awesome. Treasure that where you can, and also treasure the diversity of belief and practice which helps us all survive.

Know that whatever you learn, none of us ever know it all absolutely. We may become a lot better at some things than others, and develop main areas or have specific gifts and talents, but that doesn't mean there is never any further to go or that we've learned it all. We are always learning and growing. That is why it's called a practice, not a performance, or a mastery.

The person who asked us to do this topic mentioned that about learning, and he also mentioned a few more things I agree with.

He talked about how getting out in nature is very important to do, and I personally agree with that. I know that some people who identify as pagans are not nature-based, but I do think nature is still a very large part of many pagan paths. So I would agree that taking the time to be in nature, experiencing that kind of connection to the planet on which we live, is very important. At the very least, it will help you determine how much of a part nature will continue to play in your path.

He also mentioned that some people you'll come across are not as sincere as we would all hope. But, you'll be able to tell who is, as he put it, "full of sincerity" or "full of something else." And I do believe that. Once you have a good working knowledge, you'll know who's on the right track and who's leading you astray. I've always felt pretty confident pretty quickly about who I thought would be helpful to me and who wouldn't. There are a few people that a lot of others seem to really like, and I just get a weird vibe from them, so instead of going with what appears to be a crowd, I don't look to those people for help. I'm okay with that. Not everyone finds me helpful, as helpful as I try to be! I'm also okay with that, because I know my way is not the only one.

Going along with that, CulainRuledByVenus also mentioned the idea of PROOF, and that proof is not our goal. You will come across people (Opposition from those outside the community) who want you to prove your beliefs. You don't have to, and what's more, you really can't. It's about personal experience, and while personal experience cannot always be trusted (especially in cases where someone's only experience is very negative, but perhaps if it had been approached a different way it could have been positive, so I think trusting one person's experience is not a fair look at the whole), it is very important to this path. I believe the things I do because I have experienced them at work in my life. If something did not work for me, I would cease believing it in favor of something that did. Neither should you continue believing something that you honestly don't feel works or is right for you. But when people ask for proof, we can't give it to them. They have to find it on their own. It's up to their experiences. That's what I've decided.

He also said you don't need a name for your path, which I think is true. In my opinion, labels help us by letting other people get a basic idea of what we believe. If I say I'm pagan, which I often do, you have SOME idea of what I believe, but not all of it, because paganism is a broad range of faiths. If I say neopagan, you get a little more. Wiccan, more still. But then I specify, solitary eclectic Wiccan, and that changes the game once more. Add witch, and you get my preferred label, "solitary eclectic Wiccan witch." I am also a Unitarian Universalist, which tells you more yet! But I do often just say "pagan." I use a lot of different words, and when you get right down to it, I don't really care which is "right" or "true." They are all true. They are not what makes me, me. So I don't care so much if someone calls me a neopagan instead of a pagan, or a practitioner of magick instead of a Wiccan. Labels just help, so use them if they help you, but leave them alone if they begin hindering you instead.

Finally, I love one thing that Culain said in his video.
--"Stay true to you. Be more concerned with understanding than with being understood."

Paganism, witchcraft, whatever you wish to call it... Our path, I will say, for in looking at the big picture we are all in it together, is about the journey. It is about learning, understanding, practicing, doing, meeting, questioning, celebrating, revitalizing, honoring, knowing, and not knowing. It is communal. It is personal. It is mine, yours, and ours. It is different, it is all the same.

Before I end this, I must address the other two questions from another user that go along with this week's topic. First, how does a 12-year-old raised in a Christian family be a "pure pagan" if they were never taught how? I was raised Catholic, and it's true that not every pagan would consider me a "pure pagan," whatever that means. But it hasn't stopped me in the least. I've called myself a Wiccan, pagan, etc. for about eight years now. It is a huge part of my life. I began my study around your age, around 10-12, and by the time I was 12 I had decided on my path as far as what it was I would study. I didn't embrace the labels until later, when I had learned more. So how do you do it? Take a look at those questions that I posted for beginners. Start asking yourself serious questions about what you believe so far. And then the advice is much the same. Read as much as you can, watch videos and read blogs, and then practice. When you read or hear about something that sounds like it might be good for you, try it out. You don't have to have fancy ritual tools, especially when you're so young and living with a family who may not approve of such things. Find symbolism in simple objects around the house, or in nature. Remember that your most important tools are your body and your mind. You can use other things later, or substitute things like a stick for a wand, as so many of us do as little kids anyway. You have enormous potential. Go ahead and use it. And as I said earlier, you'll know who will be helpful and who you shouldn't listen to. And if you're not sure, ask someone you do trust, and go from there.

Your other question was "How many gods are there?" and that answer really depends on who you ask! My personal answer is that an infinite number of gods exist. Some people only recognize one, some recognize two or a whole pantheon, and I personally believe that any number of gods that humans have recognized so far "exist" in their own way, and any gods we continually create also exist or have the potential to exist. Therefore, I say infinite. I have no way of knowing how many. It all depends on how many you recognize, believe in, or choose to work with. Me, I work with "God" and "Goddess," recognizing all others as aspects of them. Other pagans will have different perspectives on this topic. I may address this on my personal channel sometime, as well, because the question of deity is coming up a lot lately.

Thank you all very much for watching, listening, or reading (if you read this on my blog). I'll see you next week on Pagan Perspective, and until then, Blessed Be, and goodbye.


If you missed the link at the start of this post, again, the video of this response can be found HERE.

Edit: 17 Sept. I've gotten so many lovely comments on this video, I'm incredibly happy to have been able to express my thoughts in a way that came across! Thank you!


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