Over the weekend, I was having a linear conversation on Discord with a new-ish Pagan over my personal start down my Pagan Path. All of it started over a personal lament over how difficult it seems to be to navigate the deep waters of what kind of Pagan one can be. I completely grok the perspective, as well as sympathize with the real struggle of finding one’s footing. Of course, there is a bit of difference between our stories. I started down my Pagan Path in 1986. A very pronounced difference compared to here in the late 2010s and early 2020s. Information is more widely available here in the digital age. People are far more open about their beliefs. There are also more Pagans today than there were back in the mid-1980s.
As I write this post, my music program (the rather vile Apple iTunes) has Dokken currently playing – a particular favorite of mine from the mid-1980s. The music does put me in the frame of mind to remember back to that time.
I graduated all-boys Catholic high school in 1984, a year later than I should have. Thanks to my family moving all over Europe, and then returning to Alabama for my father’s last few years in the Air Force, I was missing a few credits from the lower levels of my four years of high school – specifically Louisiana Civics, and a requisite two classes of language. While I walked through high school graduation with my class, my diploma was a blank piece of paper until I could attain the two classes I was missing: Louisiana Civics, and a Government class, both of which I achieved in Summer school sessions with students from the public school system. Here, I was exposed to the idea of alternative beliefs.
Being a “loner”, as well as being classified as “weird” by most of my classmates, I fell into the same daily routine that I had in high school: essentially being alone. However, my appearance: long hair, Hair band t-shirts, torn jeans, and a battered black-and-white checkered Vans, pointed me towards the goth folk that hung out in one corner of the second-floor atrium. Their interest in me increased when they realized that I was one of the Catholic school kids. Here, I was introduced to the aspects of Satanism, tantric approaches, Wicca, and other non-mainstream concepts. Once Summer school ended, my life went back to “normal”, until I joined the military. Here, I continued to research these non-mainstream perspectives until I ran across two books: The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, and the much more influential (for me) Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. These two books, along with the myriad of local electronic Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) that I would call into, cracked open my worldview a little further. Not only did I find a myriad of other resources to learn from, I found people to meet and talk with in person.
Back in the mid-1980s, which also harkened the Satanic Panic, there were very few resources available – mostly books, and magazines and newsletters such as the Green Egg. Any other information tended to be passed around by word of mouth. In today’s environment, there is a lot more material available, thanks to the advent of the internet. Being a solo Pagan is much easier today because of the depth and breadth of available information. Back in the mid-1980s, the dearth of such information usually meant that a new Pagan had to reach out to a local group, learning things in that Tradition’s perspective only. In my opinion, it was much more difficult to find your own footing than it is today. I grok that many folks would disagree with me and point out that new Pagans are more likely to be more confused and scattered in their Pagan practice because of the lack of a solid anchor to work from. Certainly, there is an argument to be had in both ways. However, which is “right” and “correct” really depends on how the practitioner feels about their own personal footing within Paganism as they are experiencing. Some will say that the solo methodology of today makes Pagans with a much shallower practice. I can grok that perspective, except its not for my to judge what is and is not “deep” practice for someone else compared to my own practice. Besides, personal Spirituality is not a competition for me. I hope we all will win, regardless of our own individual Paths.
One thing that I didn’t enjoy about those early days on my Path was that your ability to advance in knowledge all depended on how your “teachers” felt that you were progressing. Much of that didn’t rely on the knowledge that you attained and worked with. A lot of that went into how well you stroked the egos of your “teachers” and how well your personality mixed and meshed with theirs. However, being a solo Pagan today means that you get to pick and choose from topics and perspectives. You can avoid the topics you don’t want to be in, meaning that some of your training and learning can be unbalanced. Take, for instance, my reluctance to deal with spell work. Much of that comes from perceiving spell work as something similar to a nuclear weapon: , it is nice to have in the fold, but its usage as more of a deterrent. I continue to choose to set it to the side. Certainly, if I had stronger training in its usage, my perspective would be very, very different. Thus, I believe that there are strengths and weaknesses to both the trained and solo approaches to things.
Back in the beginning of our conversation on Discord, I had been asked which perspective I preferred. Well, if you go back through the blog, you will see that much of my approach to my Paganism is very unorthodox. I even acknowledge that in my approach. Is it the proper approach? For me, yes. But many others require a much more organized and orthodox approach. There is nothing wrong with that either. Really, this is a matter orthopraxy versus orthodoxy, or so I have been told. For me, its just picking a style that works best for you. I love Dokken. Not everyone does. It’s a matter of personal taste and style. If that’s the same as orthopraxy versus orthodoxy, cool. If its not…that’s cool too. I’m not a theologian of any sort. I’m just me. Some need the feel of theology and all the terms associated with it. Cool. That’s not me; however.
I still hold to the perspective that today’s new Pagans have so much more information at their fingertips than the Pagans of my initial period of “newbie-ness” had. That depth of information provides them a open avenue towards being a solo Pagan. Most solo Pagans during my “new” period in the mid-1980s did so because they had far fewer Pagans near them. The wider base of knowledge, coupled with the way the internet has narrowed the communication gap with one other, provides greater capacity and capability for these solo Pagans (which I am one of, by choice). But really, none of that is wrong. How you come to your Pagan Path is your choice, and your choice alone. Your initial steps on your Path will be ringed with confusion. I remember how confusing my first three years on my Pagan Path was. So, I do grok that feeling – far better than many folks will realize. The difference for me were teachers and friends that I had to talk about things along with the way. Without them, my Path might not have been possible. I am eternally grateful that they were there – and are still there – when I have need. I only hope that my own counsel, perspective, and friendship has been as helpful to them.