I do not believe anyone can tell you if any of the paths of Paganism are right for you, except for yourself. My struggles along my path have been many. These roadblocks began almost as soon as I started to study a formalized version of Paganism. First, the issues of societal norms came into play from Christian parents. Then I began to study and participate in psychology, which used a handful of Buddhist teachings. Perhaps the largest roadblock along the way has been my mind. A mind that is heavily influenced by the sciences and could not comfortably move forward without help.
Other Pagans may read this next blog and feel (or think) a variety of things and all of those sensations are perfectly valid. However, when I reached out for help along the way it felt as if people were afraid to assist. I began to see an altogether ambivalent (but natural) side to human nature. Many Pagans around me did not want to have deeper conversations about philosophy, science, or matters on faith. Again, this is a very natural thing due to the deeply personal beliefs we each have.
In this compilation of semi-organized thoughts, I want to discuss some of the methods for distinguishing if Paganism may not be a good fit. I also want to do my best to offer some of the advice that I wish I was given while facing my roadblocks. Finally, I want to end with a way to respectfully let go of the faith if it turns out to not align with your beliefs. Let’s go ahead and dive into this topic. Please also know that I am in no way discouraging people from being Pagan. I want people to walk the beautiful paths of Paganism equipped with confidence in their choice.
The Educational Itch
The itch to know more and the defeating perception of not making the right choice is very real in the Pagan world. Social media is meant to be an outlet for people to connect with like-minded persons. I’d argue that nine out of ten times it serves that purpose. It also comes with a bag full of issues surrounding opinions that are less than helpful.
One example is with the issue surrounding appropriation (like or hate the term, it is what we have in the English language). This topic often triggers a myriad of responses that range from, “do whatever you want” to something a great deal more educational. A practitioner will have to weed through comment after comment to find one or two helpful responses. Unfortunately, that is the reality when seeking assistance through social media.
Oftentimes, it is better to seek out knowledge from individuals who have put in the effort to establish a level of scholarship. When you are curious about items like appropriation you can ask an anthropologist or even a leader of a different culture. Traveling the path of Paganism can be a lot of work. The work is greatly rewarding in that you will gain a vast amount of knowledge when you dedicate time to the practice.
Even so, this can be exhausting even for those of us who are thrilled by research. If you are not able to find equilibrium after extensively researching a topic of interest, you can suffer from exhaustion. If this is happening frequently enough without any benefit, it might be time to assess this chosen path. I know that sounds drastic considering you were only trying to learn more about new topics. Hear me out on this one though.
If you are exhausting resource after resource to try and find a deeper connection to your faith and it isn’t working, is it worth it? If you say yes, then please proceed. However, if you are drawing from a well that is not satiating your curiosity, consider why before reaching in the well again. For me, this has happened more times than I care to divulge. I will get excited about something floating in the Pagan universe, study it until I’m blue, and then come out of the study feeling less happy than before.
When the above sensation happens multiple times, it is worthwhile to examine why you’re repeating the action. Ask yourself some important questions and journal the hell out of your thoughts. It will come into play as you monitor your growth. Try asking some of these questions: Should I take a moment to stop studying so that I can find equilibrium? What originally drew me to this path? Has this path served its purpose? Am I outgrowing this current path?
Ultimately, it will have to be you who decides if the path you are on is worthy of your time and dedication. Our community will have leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and so on. Yet, none of these people will have the answer to every question you run into. Modern Paganism is simply that, modern. This plays a major part in the decentralized practices, teachings, and so on. Accepting that some of your questions will have to be answered outside of a religious leader is a strong reality within these paths. I am here to tell you that it is alright to feel discouraged (or anything else) by this. I have felt it, I have read it, and I have witnessed the discouragement.
Once you have determined your course of action, create a goal, and see it through. If, for example, you decided to continue practicing Paganism but discontinue studying cosmology; commit to this for at least a month or two. You can always reexamine your position and jump back on the wagon. This is true for any stance you make. You have the right to say that at this moment you need to put the educational itch aside until you feel ready to look at it again. Perhaps you will not return but at the very least you have made an earnest effort that only benefits your personal growth and knowledge.
I Don’t Like Driving Blind
Blind faith is not easy for everyone to surrender to. Maybe surrender isn’t the right word but to a degree having faith without proof is a form of surrendering. It was not an easy task for me, nay, it still isn’t easy for me. I believe you can walk any of the paths of Modern Paganism without surrendering to blind faith. It is going to be something that you will witness quite a bit of and have to allow others to believe as they want. Respect is key when it comes to this topic.
So, what examples of blind faith have created roadblocks for me? I’m sure this could have me burning like Myrtle Snow and so I am preparing my best voice before I shout ‘BALENCIAGA!’ If you don’t get the reference, that’s okay. Just watch American Horror Story season 3 – episode 13. Back to my roadblocks. Here are some of the areas I have struggled to have, what I consider blind faith, in astrology, divination, spells, deities, and magick in general. Doesn’t that pretty much sum up all of Modern Paganism? No, not at all and I was able to see my way past my barriers, in most of these areas.
It took more work than I would have preferred and yet my entire way I kept returning to Paganism. I truly envy those who dive into Paganism without any reservations and find ways to navigate past problems as if they’re just in the kiddy pool. I was not in the kiddy-pool though, I was in the deep end of the wave pool without a floaty. First, realizing that some of my barriers were my anxieties was paramount. I have been able to ask myself, “Is this my anxiety preventing me or is this fact”. Second, I had to find different angles in each area I struggled to believe in. Spells, for example, are an area where I have found a great deal of comfort. I don’t believe my spells are going to create a drastic shift in the universe. I do believe they can align my mind with a goal and impact an outcome that is within the realm of plausibility.
At this point, there is still quite a bit of work that I have to do, personally. It is something that I have deemed worth my effort and time. Again, if you’re not in this boat, that is more than okay. Blind faith doesn’t have to be blind. If you’re not able to comfortably progress past the barriers, I get it. Sometimes progress comes to us in the form of solidifying our disagreement about a topic. Will one or two areas be enough to discourage you from walking the Pagan path further? Maybe. Although, it shouldn’t be without putting in the effort to view things from another angle.
I mentioned that Paganism isn’t centralized in thought, practice, or creed, right? This means you have an opportunity to view topics from every imaginable angle. Even within a particular Pagan path, you are not going to find many who view things the same way you do. Learn from people that you trust, put in the effort, and if at the end of the day you still can’t find a fit; allow it to simply be. If there are mountains of, or even hills of, areas you can’t find a fit; allow it to pass by.
Respect is the advice I have for this area. Faith is deeply personal and it isn’t for any of us to knock down another person’s faith. Having open conversations is wonderful but never purposefully harms another person for their faith in or around a topic. If you feel the veil is too heavy and you’re driving blind, pull the emergency brake, and exit the vehicle. On that note, you also should not feel forced to believe in something if you empirically find it impossible to understand.
What Do You Think?
The areas I listed are just some of the many reasons Paganism may not be right for you. It should go without saying that being Pagan for power, boastfulness, ego, or anything inflated is just a bad idea. It should also be pretty obvious that using pieces of Paganism to harm others is a massive red flag. The areas I covered come from personal experience and questions I’ve received. I just wanted to add that red flag areas are also another reason to step aside and perhaps seek some personal growth before deciding on a religious/spiritual path.
You might have several reasons that cause barriers along the path you are walking and that is great. Questions are a good thing to have and so is being inquisitive. You’re going to learn more than you could have imagined by choosing to walk the Pagan path, even if you’re on the path momentarily. Accept your thoughts, feelings, and gnosis while you investigate barriers. I mentioned journaling the hell out of everything because it can be helpful to remind yourself of a stance. Be kind to yourself and realize that there is not a right path that leads to the top of the mountain (the mountain being the culmination of human existence/knowledge).
Are the Gods real? Is Astrology making an impact on my life? Did my magick scones help me get a raise at work? I have no idea at the end of the day. I can’t definitively prove that there is a God or Gods. I don’t think being a Cancer sun – Scorpio moon has any dealings in my personality. Though I do think my scones helped me get the raise, even if it was perceived as being thoughtful. When I reflect upon my journey I cannot share a story that has no explanation, nothing spooky, and nothing that shouts MAGICK! What I do have is a belief in nature, animism, and equality of life. I believe that cycles are all around us and within us. I believe that energy can be measured, influenced, and profoundly beyond comprehension. For me, that can be enough of a reminder as to why I walk this path.
Letting go is never easy. I don’t care if you’ve been on this journey for a few months or over 20 years. It can be difficult to let go of something you believed would benefit your life. However, if you’ve decided that letting go is ultimately what will benefit you, I have to commend your courageous decision. Choosing either direction is commendable and denotes emotional intelligence. How you handle the next step is going to show that intelligence to those around you.
Assuming you were open about your path, these are ways I would recommend handling the choice to leave. First, have a frank and open conversation with people you trust. Let them know about the choice and allow them to give feedback or support. A person will rarely try to slap sense into you. Most decent people just want to see you be happy (a sign of their emotional intelligence). Next, I would recommend keeping those friendships with people from Paganism. Faith is not the only foundation in kinship. As for the items you have acquired along the way? Hang onto them for a moment. Even if you store them in a box for a few months, allow yourself time to stew over your decision. It would be unfortunate to have to purchase items again or play a game of take-back.
After some time has passed I would recommend revisiting your journals and tools. See if you still feel affirmed in your choices and give respect to the items that served you. Once you have made the choice you can then begin to donate items, return some items to the Earth (crystals, stones, non-toxic herbs…), and ritually burn items that are safe to burn. How you handle the tools is entirely up to you and if burning seems a little much, just recycle the paper. My main point is that we still have to respect the Earth in the best capacity we can.
If you are letting go of Paganism, we are sorry to see you leave. My sincere hope is that you gained something from your time along the path and were able to experience some of the joys that keep people on the path. Always keep a warm thought for Pagans and respect for those who see the world differently. You will never be turned away if you decide to return and you will never make the wrong choice. Albert Einstein said, ‘A man who believes that his life is meaningless is not only unhappy, he does hardly fit for life’. This is meant to say we all live, we all suffer, and we all die but it isn’t meaningless. I am firm that we as a species are agnostic about ultimate truths. So go ahead and explore the other paths, see if anything feels more fulfilling, return if it feels right, and always walk (or dance through the world) with kindness.