Basic But Not Simple

Basic But Not Simple June 7, 2010

Some people, when they go to learn a different tradition, go from one teacher to another (more about that later), or when they start training in a formal tradition after having been doing things their own way for years, are daunted by the prospect of starting all over again. I’ve also seen people who are used to picking up intellectual knowledge very quickly get frustrated at the pace of magical training, or dismayed at their own lack of facility at it, or sometimes bored with the apparent simplicity of it.

I think this is the wrong way to look at it. I do the same basic meditations and other practices I have been doing for years, and I often discover new things in them. Part of their power is in their utter simplicity but infinite depth. I think it’s good, therefore, for people to go “back to basics.” I don’t necessarily make my Feri student who is already a 3rd in a Wiccan tradition spend a lot of time on anything I’m perfectly clear she already knows how to do, but we did go over some basics. The way her tradition does some things is different than they way they are done in Feri, and how would you figure that out if you never covered it at all? There’s also that thing the Zen Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.” Being too quick to assume, presume, and categorize is a stumbling block on the way to where you’re trying to go. Part of what you are meant to develop is the “witch’s eye,” a shift in perspective, which requires you to slow down and look…and I’ve never met anyone, including myself, who couldn’t benefit from a little more of that.

Witchcraft isn’t about what you know or even what you believe. It’s about what you do, and who you are. Those are every day things. Consequently, the real core of it is in practice and experience.

All of that is to say, in the spirit of the “Pagan 101” series, I’m going to tell you some of what I start my students out doing at the very beginning.

  1. Keep a dream diary. If you are learning any magic, you are going to be learning a lot of symbolism and how to talk to your dreaming mind. Learn how to listen when it talks back. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember your dreams very well; witch work often makes them more vivid and memorable, as does the simple act of paying attention. Keep a notebook by your bed and write down whatever you remember.
  2. Ground and center, every single day. If you don’t know how to do this, there are a number of descriptions in various books; I favor the “Tree of Life” meditation in The Spiral Dance. Alternately, let a tree teach you how. Sit under one, and feel your energy stretch into the earth from the base of your spine, following the root system deep into the ground. Raise your hands up like branches to the sky, and let the energy of the earth flow up from the roots to your fingertips.
  3. Cleansing as a mindful act. Put a little salt in your bath, recalling the association of salt with the ocean and life. Clean your house, then sprinkle all the doors and windows with salt water going counterclockwise. Light a white candle.
  4. Keep an ancestor altar. A simple one might include pictures or mementos of your Beloved Dead, a white candle, and a glass of water.
  5. Take note of the rising and setting of the sun, and of the cycles of the moon. You don’t have to get fancy, just notice them. Go to a certain spot regularly, if possible every day, and pay attention to what you see, hear, feel, and smell. The more wild the better, but your back yard will do.

If you will do these five simple things and keep doing them, you’ll learn more than reading a hundred books without them. The reason is that the core of witchcraft…I would go so far as to say of Pagan religion as a whole, maybe religion period…is relationship. That is because relationship is part of what makes us human. These practices are about your relationship to different aspects of yourself and your environment. Everything unfolds from that.

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