To say I grew up in a stable home would be a massive understatement. My parents were married for almost 50 years. I lived in the same house until I left for college. I never changed schools except for promotions.
I wanted to get away from home, but that was ordinary teenage desire for independence. I’ve never had wanderlust – I wanted to get away from home and build a new home the way I wanted it to be… and then stay there.
As an adult I’ve made four cross-country moves. Two of them were to get away from a bad job, but the other two were because a good job went away and I had to move to find a new one.
I like stability. If a situation is good, my preference is to stay there and use it as a foundation for further growth, not to walk away because something else might be better – because it might be worse.
But if I hadn’t made those four cross-country moves – including the two I didn’t want to make – my life would be so much less than it is, in every sense of the word.
Few people are fortunate enough to grow up as Pagans. Most of us have an origin story – we find Paganism after a long search or we stumble into it out of sheer luck or the grace of the Gods. Maybe we dive right in or maybe we take things in stages (or degrees, depending on your tradition). Eventually, though, we find what works for us and we get comfortable with it. Our Paganism becomes stable.
For some, that means recognizing the Divine in many forms, especially the Divine in Nature. For some it means celebrating the Wheel of the Year. It may mean setting up a shrine to our ancestors, or an altar to our patron deity. Or it may mean taking the vows of a priest and serving Gods and community in a leadership capacity. There are many varieties of stability and none are intrinsically better than the others – find the one that fits your skills and interests.
Some people find a stability and they’re there for life. Others find a stability, but then in a year or two or ten they start they start hearing a call. A call from a new deity. A call to form a new group. A call explore the boundaries between this world and the Otherworld.
A call to leave stability behind and do something you’ve never done before. Perhaps something no one else is doing… or at least, something no one you know or know of is doing. Maybe there’s a guidebook for your journey, but more likely you’ll end up off the edge of the map.
There are good reasons to live out the 8 of Cups.
Modern Paganism is still only partially developed
Many of us have experienced things that lead us to believe this world and the Otherworld are closer together than at any time in recent history… or maybe in any history. Why is that? How does it work? More importantly, what does it mean for our day to day lives? We don’t know.
How are we going to find out? By collecting experiences from many sources and doing some good data analysis. Through journeying and divination. Through communion with Gods and spirits.
Some of us are going to have to do some things our mainstream society says are impossible. We know they’re very possible, but we also know we’re no experts and risk is involved. Some of us are going to have to go off the map.
I’m watching the grimoire revival from the sidelines. It’s magic, and it works, but it’s not my path. But it has lots and lots of maps. Where are the maps for magic done in a devotional polytheist context? There are a few, but mostly they don’t exist. Some of us are going to have to explore the territory, then draw the maps.
Pagans are notoriously skeptical about institutions. But there are institutions we need now, and there are more we will need as the movement grows. Someone is going to have to build them, and build them as Pagan institutions, not as Christian or secular institutions with a coat of Pagan paint. How do we do this? I don’t know – someone is going to have to step off the edge of the map and figure it out.
Your period of stability prepared you for this
I hear some of you screaming “what stability?!” Just because your life in total has been anything but stable doesn’t mean your Paganism isn’t. What is your Paganism about – what do you do? Have you been doing it for a while?
Are there sacred stories you’ve heard so many times you know them by heart? Does nobody have to tell you Lughnasadh is coming and there’s something you need to do to observe it? Do you make regular devotions to your Gods and ancestors, even if “regular” isn’t as often as you feel like you should? Do you have a familiarity with whatever it is you do? Then your Paganism is pretty stable.
Stability gives you a time when you can stop thinking about Paganism and just be a Pagan. It allows things you know in your brain to sink into your heart, your soul, your whole being.
When you know what you need to know, you’re ready to take a step forward. Maybe you’re on a well-defined path and you know where you’re going. Maybe it’s time to ask for your second degree initiation. Maybe it’s time to wrap up the Ovate gwersi and move on to the Druid grade.
Or maybe it’s time to go off the map.
You’re not finished growing
When my first good job went away, I could have said “I don’t want to leave my home town. I’ll be happier if I stay here, even if I have to take a lesser job to do it.” I could have done that, but I would have missed the experience of living in a different part of the country. And while I would not have regretted missing out on the job from hell that turned out to be, even that bad experience helped clarify that my true calling wasn’t in business.
Maybe your Paganism feels right just like it is. Maybe you don’t want to move on. Your life, your Paganism, your choice. And for many people, staying in your stability is the right choice.
But maybe what used to be stability now feels like a plateau. Maybe what used to be calm seas are now the doldrums. Or maybe you just know there’s something more out there and you’ve got to see it for yourself.
Maybe it’s time to go off the map.
Just slip away
I’ve been working off the map – in part, not in total, as should be apparent from my postings here – for the past two years. I’ve made no declarations of intent, in part because I didn’t know where I was going (I still don’t, not exactly) and in part because I didn’t want to get questions I might not want to answer. Such is the nature of leaving stability for the mystical and the Otherworldly. There are still questions I’m not going to answer.
I’m writing this because I think it’s time for more people to leave their comfortable and stable Paganism and set off for parts unknown. It’s time for more people to create the things the Pagan movement needs that don’t yet exist. It’s time for more people to become who they’re called to be… and who they want to be.
There’s no need for a big announcement. There’s no need for a grand exit… or a grand entrance. Just decide to leave those eight cups behind and head for the edge of the map, as you know it.
And when you get to the edge, keep going.