These days I get a lot of questions from various types of folks seeking my opinion on this or that momentary issue within Paganism. Most of it is easily answered in short bites, not needing a ton of depth. However, I occasionally get some tougher ones, like this one I got from Jennifer M from Cortez, Colorado:
What advice would you give to a new Pagan?
This is a really tough topic to mess with. On the one hand, I would love to be helpful and informative. On the other hand, I do not want to come off laying down some set of empirical laws either. I definitely am not into placing anything into “you can” and you cannot” categories. For me, it is just not my place to become some kind of Pagan Pope defining what does and does not work for someone else’s Spirituality, so this is – in my mind – quite a high-wire act to walk. But I’ll give it my best try. Just remember, I am definitely not the “be-all, end-all” in anything approaching your own Spiritual walk. I can show you what rocks I stepped on to get across the river though.
Find What Interests You
Probably one of the first steps coming into the wide valley that is Paganism, is trying to find what interests you. In some ways, it is like stepping into the Bazaar on Deva (From the M.Y.T.H. Adventures by Robert Asprin). There are a lot of choices, a lot of directions…and yes, there are folks out there looking to waylay newbies. Not everyone is that way, but it is better to be on your guard than off of it. I will turn to that in a bit.
Some folks will turn to certain aspects of Paganism because of their ancestral DNA findings from 23 and Me or Ancestry.com. I can grok that. But don’t let that limit you. If you are interested in the Greeks or the Egyptians and only have enough connections to each cultural concept in your spice rack, no worries. Look into those areas anyways. The Gods are not going to shove people out because of racial issues. The Gods call whom the Gods call. But whatever choice you decide on, take your time. And remember that there are some cultural boundaries you should never attempt to cross.
For instance, I work with two First Nations Gods (Crow and Coyote). My DNA background is western European. From a DNA perspective, Germanic, Scandanavian, Celtic, Irish, or even Welsh Gods would potentially be a better fit. But Crow and Coyote took an interest, and here I am. Now, were I to try and force my way into the First Nations cultures, take on their ceremonial aspects, call myself a tribal Shaman…that would be inappropriate and wrong. Besides that, none of that really calls to my Spirit. I am not trying to recreate anything, just work with the two Gods that I work with, and live my daily life as close to the Wheel of the year that I can.
If You Believe It, Be Ready to Work
Honestly, there is nothing about one’s personal spiritual approach that will make life easy for you. Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Catholic, whatever you want to bring up – you walk the walk, you are going to be constantly working, learning, reading on your Path. You will get tested on how set your feet are on your Path. You will be poked, prodded, insulted, ridiculed, examined and weighed by whatever Deity or Power you believe in. And once you step through the shroud of those troubles and tests, you will find a new piece of enlightenment that is meant specifically for you. That piece of the overall puzzle that will let you learn more, see more, and realize that the puzzle just grew by another thousand pieces that you did not notice before. Whatever Path you decide to walk will be a lifetime journey. There is no trophy to be hoisted. There’s self-development followed by a need for more self-development. That constant cycle of learning knowledge, assimilating knowledge, being knowledge and discovering sources for more knowledge and growth. It is not a cycle of becoming smarter than everyone else, rather it is a cycle of improving yourself.
Wait! There is Fun (And Danger) As Well!
Along the way, you will find family and friends through the folks you met. Pagans, for the most part, are warm, welcoming folks. Many are family oriented folks who enjoy talking and doing activities with folks who think and believe as they do. Fellowship has always seemed to be a strong part of the Pagan community. Some of my earliest memories within the Pagan community involve monthly get-togethers at a local pizza place in the Arlington, Texas community. I met a lot of different folks at these events, some of whom I am still good friends with to this day, some thirty-plus years later.
I know it’s super inviting to just leap into the first group that you encounter within a Pagan community. many groups are so inviting, full of fun people, and offering up their hidden mysteries of knowledge contained within whatever tradition that they are. Just like those big lakes on a hot summer day. You just want to grab the rope swing on the tree, fling yourself out over that smooth, cool watery surface and splash into fun adventures. But what if the water is only a few inches deep rather than the several feet you think it is? You could seriously injure yourself. You can do the same leaping into a Pagan group blindly as well.
Believe it or not, there are predators within the Pagan community as well. Check out your potential group. Meet with them several times over the course of a year as a non-member. Pay attention to the dynamics within the group. If there are issues, you will see those in time as the group gets “used” to you and drops their guard a little more. Talk with other Pagans and see how they react when you mention the group. Certainly, you will run into the “haters” out there but keep an open mind to what is said as well. If anything feels amiss, leave. There will always be other groups. It is always better to be safe than sorry. And I won’t even get into the sexual predator issues of trading sex for knowledge. Everyone should be smart enough to know better where that is concerned. All I can really say is be a smart, consenting adult…
…and if a group is not your thing, go it alone. This is the Path that I have chosen. It can, and does get lonely. And I will definitely say this – find a mentor. Or five. People that you can bounce ideas and thoughts off of and get opinions from. It is always helpful to have more than one set of eyes on things.
Learn, Grow, Struggle – Find Time For Fun Too
One last thing. Finding a home for your own personal Spiritual Path is always a rough and tumble adventure at one point or another. Even with all that hard work ahead and/or behind you, make time for fun in your Spiritual Path as well. Even if fun is really something as simple as walking through the woods, my favorite pastime. Take the time to relax, laugh, and revel in your accomplishments. When I finished my Bardic Grade in OBOD, I took a whole month to myself after my initiation into the Ovate Grade to celebrate. I did things such as write poetry and short stories, listen to music, write journal entries – all of which had NOTHING to do with my Spirituality. I literally let myself play for a period of time to cleanse my brain of all the hard work that I had done. Above all, don’t forget to take the time to play.
Now, none of this is a series of hard-and-fast rules for anyone – not even myself. This is just off-the-top-of-my-head advice. The only set-in-stone rule I can really give to you is this: once you make the choice to embark on this journey of finding your Spiritual starting position, it is all yours. The only person that gets to make the hard decisions is you. Seek all the advice you want, but in the end, the decision is still yours. To bring out a quote from the movie Starship Troopers (I know its a bad movie, but there are a few good quotes from it)….
Figuring things out for yourself is the only freedom anyone really has. Use that freedom. Make up your own mind.