Looking for Advanced Pagan Practices – Roll for Initiative

How do I get my own devotional practice out of beginner status and into advanced stuff? I want to learn more advanced Pagan stuff, where do I go to learn that? What titles do I need to achieve to get there? I need to learn the powerful stuff, where or how does one get out of newbie status?

Good Gods above and below, if I had a quid for each time I have had to field questions like this. And to be completely honest, my answers tend to leave an individual angry about time they feel was wasted in talking about this with me, or disappointed and confused. And none of that has ever been my intention. I try to be as clear and concise as I possibly can, without leaning in one direction for the individual asking the question or being prejudicial to one Path over another. But where does one find all this “advanced” stuff? What are the rules, written and unwritten, to getting there?

To start off, let me cross over into prejudicial Pathways – otherwise known as my personal opinion. I am not sure I can distinguish between a basic Spiritual Path and an “advanced” one. To me, this equates to a level system in some Nintendo gaming system. The more experience points you have, the better your chances are at getting to use the “advanced” stuff in the “restricted” section at the library in Hogwarts. Its almost as if I should be marching around life with my level denoted over my head in a numerical form like some magical avatar. Yes, to be able to utilize some magickal forms, spells, etc – there is a need to build up experience and theoretical understanding of various foundational aspects to get there – but in my mind, none of that makes you “advanced” – just a little more knowledgeable and experienced.

See, I find labels and titles misleading and unhelpful. Looking at the way any individual approaches their own Spirituality as “advanced” or “basic” is just not helpful at all. It sets everything on a course of competitive comparison. We work on our approaches to Spirituality, trying to climb some mythical mountain of progress, marking our distance and speed towards completing each task in relation to how someone else. For me, it is not a race to get to some point, but rather the depth at which we immerse ourselves. For some folks, the necessary depth may be only ankle-deep, for others, it may be thousands of meters. There is no judgment concerning the depth an individual is willing to explore, merely that they explore.

For me, being an “advanced” Pagan is about expanding your own perspective, reaching out to feel new connections, find new ways of doing practices that have stagnated. In other words, exploring who you are and how you are connected to the wider world around you. Want to advance your devotional practice? Explore the Gods and Goddesses you work with, find new ways to connect with Them, find smaller correspondences to dig deeper into, spend a bit more time meditating on who They are. If doing things within a mystery school, a correspondence course, or even sitting down with other Pagans and discussing their approaches seems helpful – explore it. Or conversely, if doing it on your own with no assistance is more rewarding – go for it. Becoming more “advanced” isn’t solely about the learning of the minute details, it is also about the doing, the exploring, the work through trial and error…the perseverance.

Speaking of which, in order to push, pull, scratch, and claw your way through things – what is your goal? Do you desire to draw closer to your Gods, to your Ancestors, find a deeper communion with the Land…or maybe you just want to accumulate more power? Well, if it is more power that you seek, realize that there is always a trade-off in things like this. The same holds true with drawing closer to the Gods, your Ancestors, communing deeply with the Land…all of that has a trade-off in some aspect or another. Ask yourself this question before you start – are you ready to provide that trade-off, even if you have no idea what it might be?

I’ll be open and honest here…when I started down my Path towards devotional practice with Crow and Coyote, I had no clue what I was getting into. Had I thought out some of the aspects of all of this, I might have been a lot more cautious than I was. I doubt I would have said “no” – just that I would not have gone through all the jokes, humiliation, and smack-downs that I endured in the beginning. I certainly would have put my foot down a lot sooner than I did…essentially displaying my “spine” as Coyote had chided me when I expressed my frustration.

So, if you are still thinking about taking your devotional practice to the next level, I will provide some advice that I have created from my own experience. By no means do I consider this to be exhaustive or even “laws” of any sort, except in relation to my self. First, do your research. Read into the God or Goddess that you plan on working with. Find out everything you can. Pay attention to those details. Make sure some of Their actions as shown by the myths are things you can stand by. Second, weigh your options before committing. Make sure you know what you are getting into – now and in the future. If you can find those dedicated to the specific God or Goddess, talk with them. See what is being placed on their lives. If you’re still not sure – don’t be afraid to say no. After all, you have sovereignty over your life. Third, set your limits in the very beginnings of the relationship. Be prepared to accept restrictions placed on you as well. Its a relationship, there’s a two-way street going here. Fourth, pay attention to the way requests, statements and the such are worded to you. Sometimes dealing with Gods and Goddesses is like talking to lawyers. Words matter. Context is everything.

As I said, I have no idea what an “advanced” practitioner looks like or should even act like. And to be truthfully honest, I don’t really care. The depth at which you are prepared to go into your daily practice is at the comfort level that you feel you are at. If you wish to wade into deeper waters, later on, you can do that. If you need more shallow waters, you can do that as well. To me, there should never be any judgment placed on those choices. Going deeper or more shallow isn’t about advancing another level for your Dungeons and Dragons character. Your personal Spirituality isn’t some game. This, in my honest estimation, should not be about gaining degrees, titles and ranks…because none of that stuff means anything in the connection between you and your Gods.



Devotional Practice With Trickster Gods

What is it like to work with a Trickster God?

I hear this a lot when people find out that I work with Coyote AND Crow, a pair of well-known Tricksters. Having worked with both for quite some time – let me say, it has been an ‘adventure’ at times. However, like anything that you spend time and work on, there has been a measure of reward to it as well. Some of the work can (and has been) trying, somewhat difficult, and not easily understood at the time. Other times, working with these two has seemed akin to trying to get seriousness out of a slapstick comedy routine.

Starting Off

I never really thought that someone with my genetic background – primarily Germanic with some traces of other European ethnic areas – would ever find a kinship with a pair of Gods native to this continent. I had a strong affinity towards hunter Gods and Goddesses, and even thought that the Nordic realm would be more appropriate for me. Try as I might, I soon found that there was no answer to my calls.

cropped-img_28671.jpgNow, my problem here was that I was equating the Gods to a racial or genetic disposition. It made sense in my mind. Genetics were Germanic; so the Gods would naturally be attached to that match up, right? Well, not really. The Gods call, whom They call. Genetics, DNA, heritage, has very little to do with it. At Pantheacon this year, Silence Maestas noted in her concurrent session “Beginning Devotional Practice” that devotional practice with a deity is the formation of a relationship between you (the devotee) and Them. In a manner of speaking, in the beginning, it is a lot like dating. You learn about one another, your likes, your dislikes, everything is new and shiny. The engagement is simple and easy.

The same held true with Coyote, who was first. Coyote would ask for this, that, these other things – and I was eager to please. I wanted to work with Him. Every task and request had me looking like a complete fool in the end. Moreover, with each result making me feel more and more foolish, my frustration level grew and grew, until I could not take it anymore and refused to move another step forward. I asked why Coyote would want me as a devotee if I were made to look like an idiot at every turn. The response was simple and to the point: “I wanted you to have a spine and to be able to establish your own level of self-respect.”

Silence pointed out in that same concurrent session that once that beginning connection is established, there is no place for complacency. Much like relationships with a sexual partner, relationships with the Gods requires constant work. This is a relationship of choice. You choose the level of commitment you are going to provide in your work, just as the God or Goddess will provide the level of commitment that They want to have with you. Try not to be disappointed when Their level of commitment is not the same as yours. You have Free Will to choose how deep your connection with Them will be. They have that same choice in the reverse direction as well.

Going Deeper

Nearly everyone seems to be under the impression that working with Trickster Gods is like being a part of PT Barnum and Bailey’s circus 24x7x365. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, Trickster Gods have their moments of subterfuge, as well as comedic moments, but there are times of seriousness as well. As I pointed out, part of working with Coyote – as well as Crow – has required me to learn to draw lines and create boundaries. I have also been taught to pay attention to fine detail as well. A single phrase or word can mean the difference between one level of understanding and another. Take for instance, the following story. I have seen this as a meme on Facebook as well, but it illustrates the point quite a bit.

A man is sent to the store by his partner. “Pick up a dozen eggs,” she says, “And if they have half-gallons of milk, get six.” When the man returns from the store, he has six dozen eggs. “Where is the milk?” exclaims his wife, “Why did you bring back six dozen eggs?” “Because they had half-gallons of milk!” he retorted.

Most folks have heard the statement that words matter. The exact usage of a particular phrasing within magick and spell work can be critical to the success of what you are trying to do. Just as the correctness of a phrase can mean the difference between six dozen cartons of eggs or a single dozen carton of eggs and six half-gallon containers of milk. Working with a pair of Trickster Gods has really brought this point home for me. However, there is also the aspect of learning when to question a request from the Gods and when to just shut up and do what is being asked. This is where the creation of personal, ethical boundaries becomes important. For me, this is where going deeper in my relationship with my two Tricksters has started.

Within most aspects of the Christian faith, I have listened to pastors, preachers, and priests state that unquestioning faith and obedience to God’s Will is mandatory. Who mandates that Will? God or these go-betweens? Individuals pray directly to God, and seem likely to get answers directly from God. What makes these intercessors a better conduit to God than yourself? If you are building a relationship with God, what is the use of these intercessors, except to water-down the direct relationship that you have? By the way, is a relationship a one-way avenue or a two-way street? All of these are questions I had to ask myself when working with Coyote and Crow. I had to evaluate every aspect of the relationships I hold with both of Them, to determine the “true” aspect of what was taking place. For me, going deeper has been about looking at the inter-connected aspect between myself and each of Them – and determining the value of what that was in relation for me.

But There Is No One There

Sure, working with Gods can be ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ – and I can see how someone can be keening for just such a thing in their life. After all, when you are single, and not dating – you can look at a couple and have so much desire to have a similar relationship in your life. All that holding hands, those simple little kisses that are so damn cute to watch, the implication of the hot, sweaty connection behind closed doors – yeah, there’s always the desire for that. However, there are other aspects that need to be taken into account. The constant time together, the bickering, the arguing, the constant balance of compromise versus personal need…there is a lot of hard work in all of that. All of which starts with that moment where things “click” – that attraction to one another. Sometimes, there is just not the interest that you want. What do you do next?

If I could relay the image of me shrugging in response, I would. Like any aspect of attraction in a relationship, sometimes the other party just is not that into you. Perhaps, the God or Goddess you are trying to attract just has not noticed. Keep trying. Remember, time can mean something different to the Gods than it does to us. What seems like an eternity of trying for us may just be scant moments to Them. I would propose that we cannot truly comprehend what time may mean for Them – our comprehension of the Gods can only go so far, in my opinion. Nevertheless, try more. Do devotional prayers to Them. Pour libations. Offer prayers. Offer your services, but only to a point that you are comfortable. Remember, draw your boundaries – even in the beginning – and hold fast to those. Moreover, do not be surprised if some other God or Goddess takes an interest in you instead.

For me, I have wanted to have a Goddess directly in my Life. Thus far, it has not happened. Fliodhais was a temporary flirtation. A few visits from Valkyrie had me thinking that the Morrighan had taken an interest in me. Moreover, there is a definite draw towards Brigid for me. Thus far, it has just been the Boys and me. To this point, that is enough. Though there is always the opportunity for more room. I am just not the kind of Pagan to rule that out. Because I always try to keep an open mind, which I find is a critical element to working with Trickster Gods.