Thinking About: Obstacles for New Pagans

So, you have started working your way through Paganism. Your first steps were exciting. You met some wonderful people. You have had the most experiences at a few Pagan gatherings. Now you are trying to figure out what group to commit to. Or should you? You start reaching and pulling for rules. Anything that might be helpful in navigating the road you are on. However, your anxiety is building up and you are having this feeling that you do not have control of the wheel.

Sound familiar? This did to me. The above narrative is not typed word-for-word the way it was presented to me in Email. However, this is what was presented to me well over three months ago. The individual and I have traded quite a few Emails back and forth, but I will respectfully withhold the identity of the individual – despite being given permission that came across as being hesitant to me.

When I first got the Email, I felt the difficult feelings I had over the first year of my journey into Paganism. I offered the same starting point I was given – the late Margot Adler’s amazing tome – “Drawing Down the Moon”. I explained the difference between the original and expanded editions (urging that the expanded version should be chosen, but in the end it was still the individual’s choice, not mine). A week later, I was asked for more, and offered up Philip Carr-Gomm’s “What Do Druids Believe?” and noted all the books listed in the reference section of both Adler’s and Carr-Gomm’s works. “These are the springboards into finding out what works for you,” was my additional comment.

Our traditional – and very linear – conversation has led to many other roads and tracks. Music, art, ritual, clothing, how to deal with the mundane world… Re-reading through our discussions, it had never occurred to me all the various things that new Pagans must wander through. None of that even addresses the over-consumerism effect that starting down a new Path can have on an individual. Believe me, books, clothing, travel to rituals, training materials from your chosen tradition/group – even those must-have, gorgeous crystal balls that you could haul down to the local bowling alley…all of that costs a lot of money, even if you make the clothing yourself. All of that can really drive you straight to the workhouse. I mean, we all must be good little Pagans purchasing everything in sight, right? Right?

In a simple word – Yes. But only to a point. If you are trying to decide between that new book from an author you adore (I have several on my list but three that are always tops) and your rent – pay your fucking rent! I know quite a few Pagans that continue down the consumerism tract – and that works for them. But to be honest, you don’t have to buy that cool chalice for your rituals – a Red Solo cup works just as well. Save your money up and buy a chalice when your are financially capable of doing so. The same goes for any ritual tool you can think of. Remember, you must survive, even in this corporate-mad environment that we currently live in. Splurge when you have the capability to do so. In the meantime, just make it work with what you have. Trust me, the Gods don’t care about all the trappings…well, most of the time. Just handle things the best that you can without driving yourself into the arms of the workhouse.

Eventually, our conversations have turned towards choosing a particular Pagan Path, as well as what type of Tradition to look at. Admittedly, the choice being made was Wicca. Not a Path that I claim to know a ton about, but I provided some advice on choosing a Tradition – try things out with Tradition members when you feel comfortable. Look into more than one. Be open to the idea of striking out on your own. Trust your instincts. The last point I made is a self-deprecating one, which I know many people hate when I do that. Even the advice I give to you might be wrong. Because I am not empirical fact for anyone, except myself. And even that is debatable.

I have always viewed myself to be more of a modern-day Ferryman in the Pagan world. You climb in my boat, and I do the best I can to get you to a point where you can do for yourself. I did the same for this individual. I provided Email introductions to a few Wiccan High Priestess that I know (asking if they would be willing to help with the individual’s informal education beforehand) and have settled into a more background role in this person’s Path.

Very few us on our Pagan paths came here first. Very few of us chose this as our first Path. Naturally, we bring a lot of baggage from other Paths – mostly Christian and Southern Baptist in nature. I came from a very conservative Catholic perspective. Naturally, I have my own baggage that I carry as well. Take, as a singular example, my dislike for the term “Priest”. I have struggled with that the entire time I have been on this Path and will likely struggle with it until I pass on beyond the veil. For many of us, it will take some time to grapple with the changes between one Spiritual Path and another. In some cases, we may never completely shed our understanding of our new Spirituality because of things we were taught in our childhood Spirituality that was imprinted upon us by our parents. For many, including myself as I noted, it will likely be a life-long struggle. No need to beat myself up over that point. I will have my struggles. There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be days in between. One step at a time.

Having been a classroom instructor, I have always marveled at the moment when the “aha!” lightbulb goes on for a student. That moment is easy to see. The student suddenly seems to have an intense moment of clarity and understanding. Well, working through things in Email, I had my own “aha!” moment. I believe I have a better understanding of the difficult, rocky path that new Pagans have. Their footing is never sturdy as they scramble up the somewhat steep side of the mountain before them. It will take them time to navigate their way to a more well-traveled Path. They will stumble and fall at various points on their Path. But with a little encouragement and patience from someone who has been there before, they will manage that difficult terrain. I can’t walk the terrain for them. That’s for them to manage. I can provide some tips on how to achieve better footing or what area of the terrain might be more useful for them. I can also applaud their efforts and encourage them to continue when they have fallen. I can’t take away the bloody knee or scraped skin, but I can let them know that someone gives a shit at how they are doing. And if they happen to decide to go a complete different Spiritual Path – even falling back to their old Path, I can be there to congratulate them on their effort and experience.

To be certain, Paganism isn’t for everyone. Just like Christianity, Judaism, the Muslim faith, Buddhism, and any other faith are not for everyone. The obstacles that new Pagans can be faced with may not seem to be amazing or difficult, but for some these choices can be paralyzing, especially when they are coming from a Path that encourages everyone to be alike, purchase the same things, eat at the same fast food chains….having choices can be a paralyzing moment too. Not every Pagan will have the patience to deal with newbies who are going through these issues. Me? I try my best. But I have never been perfect.

–Tommy

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

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