As most of us know, the vast majority of books on paganism out there are ‘101’ books. Beginner-level texts, full of charts and associations for anything you can imagine, from candles to clothing. Things must be done in this way, using these tools (themselves prepared appropriately) on this day – or it won’t work. Don’t even bother. Spells = chemistry exercises. Yes, they can be done by anyone with the proper training and knowledge, but you wouldn’t let a beginner work the Large Hadron Collider (I hope). Which is why those beginner textbooks exist.
Interestingly, however, in the last few years, there has been growing investigation and active questioning of ‘what next?’ In an experiential faith, books can only take you so far before you have to get out there and do. So what sources do you go to with your questions about the results? And how do you advance in areas that take your fancy?
Ideally, you would then visit a pagan/New Age store and talk to people, look on the internet, follow up the advertisements in ‘Pagan Dawn‘ and suchlike, so you can actually meet some other like-minded folk. But again, that only takes you so far. It can be very hit and miss, as the diversity of this (and any) faith means that you might not necessarily encounter others who practise in the same manner. Or even follow the same ethical code.
I’m being nice here, as the majority of pagan folk I’ve met have themselves been welcoming and friendly. Yes, we don’t all think alike, but it’s actually pretty refreshing to get new perspectives – spiritual practise can all too easily become ‘stuck in your own head’ work. It’s just that as in every group, there are those whose worldviews are so dramatically removed from your own, that there’s just no talking to them. Or there’s the bad folk, the exploiters, the power-hungry; as mentioned famously in Isaac Bonewits’ wonderful document, ABCDEF. Humour is needed, but seriousness and sensibility too.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a teacher. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a teacher that you connect with, who speaks in terms that you can understand, who makes the magic (and the point of doing all this) real and applicable.
But then what? You’ve passed Paganism 101-110. What are you doing with it?
I’ve been practising for over ten years. I started out reading Scott Cunningham and the Farrer texts, Starhawk and Margot Adler, practising quietly in my own bedroom when I had a quiet moment, seeing what worked for me and what didn’t. Realizing how much I hated reading ritual from a script. Learning how to really specify my meaning and focus after having the universe actually provide what I’d asked for… just not in the way I expected. Getting lost while pathworking. Meeting deity for the first time. Learning how to make a candle flame change colour.
Now, here I am. I’ve a popular blog, and am finalising my first book. I’ve spoken and worked publicly as a priest. This month, I held my first day’s training workshop. I’m living my path and learning so much from those who themselves are seeking me out.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that teaching isn’t for everyone. I’d love to be an actual schoolteacher, but I’m afraid I’d be a bit too ‘Dead Poets Society’ for OFSTED. And I prefer to address those who actually want to be in the room with me.
At the ‘Pagan Pride‘ event this summer in Nottingham, I remarked to my beautiful associate on the Druid Network stall that if another person asked for information in the local area about Druidry, I’d have to do something myself. Of course, I should have known better – the universe was listening, and another person did. Quite a few people, actually. And those who’ve left comments here. And contacted me privately.
People are interested. They’re asking. Am I stepping up to answer?
I’ve spoken elsewhere about how difficult this has been for me. But I finally plucked up the courage. Pieces have fallen into place, and it’s almost a month since just under a dozen people gathered in a historic building in Derbyshire to listen to what I had to say about Druidry.
I haven’t stopped being inspired since.
The questions, the challenges, the discussion… all flowed freely on the day, and have continued online after. The group came together far more easily than I ever could have hoped, and amazing things have already started to come from it.
And I found something that I’d read about, and knew intellectually, but now have properly felt for myself. The teacher is herself being taught.
Everyone in that room basically said that they were beginners, they had very little experience of paganism, and certainly not Druidry. But every one brought their own stories, their experiences, the way of seeing the world. Their goals and wish to truly listen and participate. They might even have been as nervous as I was.
Each perspective is challenging me, to explain more effectively how I follow my path, live my spirituality and connect to the world around. At the same time, I’m seeing through others how they want to live, to find their own way of working, to be informed and reinforced by a group that truly is like-minded, but at the same time, made up of truly unique individuals. Our truths, our honest sharing and relationship, is teaching and inspiring each other.
More workshops are being requested and planned, but not just the ‘beginner’ introductory sessions – now it’s more in-depth, focused work. Everyone is becoming involved, finding out for themselves that a spirituality which calls to them so persistently can translate from page to reality, from basic questioning to real, lived experience.
From beginner’s grounding to a small but very personal rite, we’re all discovering and learning, finding new questions and new ways to communicate, exploring new sensations that we somehow knew at soul-level, but are now actively working with. New tools for life.
I marvel at the paths we take, from that simple curiosity of picking up a ‘Paganism 101’ book all those years ago. To pinch the words of Douglas Adams, via one of those workshop attendees today: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’
We move on down the path together.
And I wonder why it took me so long to step up.
So I ask again: Why are you here? And what do you hope to do with what you’re learning? Find your freedom and explore… who knows where you’ll end up.