Giving advice to the young seems to be all the rage here lately. Nick Farrell started it with this piece called Ten Tips For Young Occultists. There’s some wisdom in Nick’s advice, but it’s wrapped up in a heavy dose of “know your place and stay there till I tell you.” I find that off-putting now – I can only imagine how I would have reacted when I was younger. There have been several responses – my favorite is this one by Jason Miller.
I don’t intend for this post to be a rebuttal of any of those pieces. For one thing, I’m not an occultist. They’re clearly in the Big Tent of Paganism, but they’re over in the high magic corner of the tent, while I’m on the other side in the polytheistic Druidry section.
I probably should title this post “Advice To A New Pagan” since age doesn’t have much to do with starting out on a new spiritual path. Older new Pagans have the advantage of more life experience. I didn’t have a good handle on who and what I am till my mid-30s – I don’t think I’m particularly unique in that regard. Younger new Pagans have less crap to unlearn and generally benefit from having grown up in a more religiously and socially liberal age.
We are all individuals and what worked well for me may not work quite so well for you. But you won’t go wrong with this as a guide.
1. Read. Read as much as you can get your hands on… and these days, that’s a lot. Start with a good introductory book in the tradition that calls to you (here are my Druid Reading Recommendations). If the book proves helpful, find something similar. If it doesn’t, find something different. Books are the easiest and most reliable way to find the basic information you’ll need to get started.
Don’t know what tradition to start with? Here are my Druid Reading Recommendations. Seriously, even if you end up in Gardnerian Wicca or Hellenic Reconstructionism, you could do far worse than to start with one of the three recommended introductions to Druidry.
2. Go outside. Follow the moon through its phases for a month, and then another, and another. Salute the sun when it rises and sets, and notice how it moves along the horizon during the year. Listen to the birds, hug a tree, dig in the dirt. Look up at the stars and realize how long the light has been traveling to reach your eyes. You don’t have to always do something outside – just sit and take it all in. It’s a big, beautiful, scary, amazing universe, and you’re a part of it all.
3. Pray. Speak to the Gods, to your ancestors, and to the spirits of the place where you live. Give thanks for all you have – especially for all the things that have been given to you by Nature, the Gods, and those who came before you. Avoid the temptation to turn your prayers into a four-year-old’s Christmas list, but never be afraid to speak the deepest yearnings of your heart.
4. Meditate. Buddhist-style sitting and emptying your mind is helpful, but so is simply sitting quietly and listening. Listen for the Gods. Listen for the voice of your true will. Listen for the animals and plants; listen for the land, the sky, and the sea. What do they tell you? Where to you need to continue on your current path? Where do you need to make changes? Where do you need to look beyond yourself? Listen.
5. Make offerings. Perhaps you pour libations to your ancestors. Perhaps you share your food with the land spirits. Perhaps you write checks to an organization working for the greater good, or perhaps you offer your time as well. Gratitude is good and saying “thank you” is helpful, but reciprocity makes the world go round. Give that you may receive, that you may give again.
6. Don’t be in a hurry to find a teacher. Teachers can be very helpful and I’ve had some good ones. But teacher or no teacher, you still have to do the work… and part of the work we all have to do is figuring out how to move forward when we don’t have a map. Keep doing the things on this list until you have a good idea which specific path calls to you.
A good teacher can be a great help, but a bad teacher can be just as great a hindrance. If you sign on with a teacher too soon, you may not be able to tell the difference.
7. Find others like you. After I had been working seriously on my own for a year, I knew I needed a group to go farther. Going to Denton CUUPS for Imbolc 2003 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I strongly recommend that when you’re ready for group work, you find a coven, grove, or other collection of folks who follow your path or something close to it.
But if you can’t find a group – either because there’s nothing close to you or because you just don’t like working in a group setting – then find others like you. Find someone who will go hiking with you or who will pick up trash on the side of the road with you. Find someone who’s read the books you’re reading and can serve as a sounding board for your thoughts. Find someone who shares your interest in the ancient Norse or stone circles or Greek temples.
Mainly, find someone who won’t look at you funny when you need to discuss religious ideas and spiritual experiences.
8. Ask questions. If something sparks your curiosity, ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask questions. If something seems ethically dubious, ask questions. There is a place for secrecy in Pagan traditions, but it’s a very small, very clearly defined place. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a group or a teacher if the answers you get aren’t in alignment with your values.
This is 2015 – the first place to ask questions is Google, especially on matters of generally established facts. Don’t pester your teachers, elders, and other co-religionists with questions you can look up on your own. But for things that Google doesn’t cover, ask!
Just remember that sometimes the only person who can answer a question is you.
9. Be Pagan. Paganism isn’t something you believe and it isn’t something you think. It isn’t something you have to qualify for. It’s something you do and something you are.
There will be days when your Paganism is beautiful, powerful, and magical. Keep practicing. There will be days when your Paganism seems empty and lifeless. Keep practicing. There will be days when it all fits together perfectly. Keep practicing. There will be days when none of it makes any sense. Keep practicing.