Newcomers to Paganism

Stephanie on the Ethical Witches group posted this question today:

How do we support newcomers to Paganism? Or should we?

I’ve heard some say there is no need to bother; that if it’s the will of the Gods for them to be here, a teacher will find them. Others say there is a desperate need for more teachers to become active.

Some say it’s a natural part of the “winnowing” process that some seekers will give up and choose another path. These folks say that Paganism was always meant to be small and selective, and the appearance of more readily available popular books on the topic has, in some ways, debased the path with seekers who aren’t as committed as the tradition requires.

Others say that everyone should have the opportunity to explore if they choose.

What do y’all think?

How do we support newcomers to Paganism? As UUs with a long tradition of inclusiveness and as Pagans drawing on a history of hospitality there can be only one answer: we welcome them.

A new member joined Denton CUUPS at our Egyptian Summer Solstice circle. As we were discussing the benefits and obligations of membership I pointed out that we are a UU covenant group, not a teaching coven. We do not have a dedicant program and given the variety of spiritual traditions in our group I don’t know how we could construct one even if we wanted to. The traditional Wiccan year-and-a-day apprenticeship under one-on-one supervision simply doesn’t work in our setting.

That doesn’t mean we say “glad to have you, now you’re on your own.” We’re offering an Introduction to Modern Pagan Religion class next month. If more than one or two people are interested we’ll offer a follow-up class or series in the Fall.

We’ll offer our new member an active part in the next ritual. When she’s comfortable with that we’ll offer her a larger part. If she expresses an interest in leading ritual we’ll have her assist a circle coordinator a time or two, then let her take the lead, with help from an experienced coordinator.

I’ve made suggestions for reading and let it be known I love discussing books and the ideas they present. Other members are experts in Tarot and herbalism and a couple are first-class magicians. There are many resources in our group – they are all available to anyone who asks.

We love our religion – more specifically, we love our goddesses and gods, our ancestors, and the natural world we all share. We’re happy to share what we know with those who are eager to learn. But we’re all busy people – we have jobs, families and other interests, plus several of our CUUPS leaders are also leaders in the church. We have neither the time nor the patience to deal with people who want to be spoon-fed.

Plus we know you cannot learn to be a good Pagan or Witch or Druid – or a good Christian or Muslim or Buddhist – without putting a lot of effort into reading, study, meditation, prayer, and other practice. There is no substitute for doing the work yourself. If you aren’t willing to do the work, we’re not going to waste our time trying to do it for you.

I have a problem with people who feel no need to welcome newcomers. None of us were born with a wand in one hand and a sprig of mistletoe in the other – all of us have learned from others, even if those others only communicated through books. We have a sacred obligation to guide and teach and assist the next generation.

I also have a problem with the idea that Paganism is meant to be small and selective. Paganism has grown tremendously in the last twenty years or so because it is speaking to the needs of people here and now – the need for a connection to Nature, the need for a view of the Divine that includes the feminine as well as the masculine, and the need for participatory religion. Not everyone has the skills or the desire to become a great spellcaster or ritual leader – so be it. Paganism needs good solid participants in our circles and in our mundane projects just as much as it needs priests and priestesses.

How do we support newcomers to Paganism? We welcome them, and we help them find their way on this path that has been so meaningful and helpful to us.

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