Paths and Journeys
Author: Janice Van Cleve
Paths and journeys are not the same thing. Paths are like nouns and journeys are like verbs. Paths are routes that lead to this or that destination. Journeys, on the other hand, are how we drive on this or that path, where we have been, and where we think we are going. Sometimes we take one path and sometimes another. In fact, since we are pursuing multiple short term and long term goals all the time, we probably are journeying on multiple paths every day. We have career paths, relationship paths, financial paths, aging paths, health paths, and many more. We are driving at different speeds, in different vehicles, and talking on different cell phones. No wonder we sometimes get lost or crash into things.
Some paths are determined for us – by bosses, by laws, or by how much money we have or don’t have. Some paths we fall into by chance – job layoffs, traffic accidents, or forces of nature. Some paths we choose because we like the path or because we think it will get us to a desired destination. Spiritual paths are no different.
An illustration might clarify. When I was a Roman Catholic, my spiritual path was the church, my roadmap was the Baltimore catechism, and my destination was Rome. I suppose a good Mormon kid takes the interstate to Salt Lake City, a Muslim travels to Mecca, a Jew to Jerusalem, and a Buddhist evaporates into Nirvana, metaphorically speaking. It all seemed so clear to me back then that if I drove this path with this road map I would get to Rome just like they told me I should. A funny thing happened along the way, however. I got pulled over by the Holy Police and when they checked my drivers license and found out I was a lesbian, they said I couldn’t drive on that road.
So there I was out in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas, my journey aborted, and no clear destination. I got out of the car and wandered around in the cornfields for a while until I met a country girl who guided me to a side road. It was then I discovered that there was a whole network of side roads going to all sorts of interesting places. She told me that this was the Pagan path, or to be more accurate, one of many Pagan paths.
Pagan paths are fun. Some are long, some are short, and some are under construction. There are many intersections, many maps, and many road signs, but no Holy Police. Most of the paths don’t pretend to go to any one special destination; rather, they just seem to go for the joy of going. And that’s when I began to notice a striking thing about these Pagan paths. They have lots of interesting attractions on both sides of the road and no commandment or necessity to reach an ending. What a contrast to the Holy Roman path I had been driving on!
Or was it? Now that I had seen the reality of multiple paths, I looked back at that Catholic highway. For the first time I noticed that it had exit and entry ramps, too. There were Catholic road crews repairing and replacing sections of it as well. Even the Catholic road maps got updated eventually (although it took the Vatican 400 years to exonerate Galileo) . I had not been aware of the varieties of Catholic experience before. Then I noticed that not all the Muslims or all the Jews were driving down their respective straight and narrows either. I wondered then if all paths were actually more or less equal and a journey on any one of them would be just as meaningful and of value as any other. Then I heard the sirens of the Holy Police and I remembered the difference between the highways and the side roads.
That’s not to say I have not encountered sheriffs on the side roads but most of them are pretty laid back and the only laws they enforce are those of common civility and mutual respect as expressed in the Law of Love, the Wiccan Rede, Kharma, and such like. What really holds Pagan paths together is not enforcement but traditions, particularly their seasonal traditions. There’s no denying the seasons. They come and they go as the Wheel of the Year turns. Even in parts of the world where the differences of weather are minimal, the energy forces of each season are still at work. Our various traditions help us align with the seasons, the forces of the universe, and our inner spirits so we don’t get lost or crash.
Where do these traditions come from? Tevya asks that very question: “You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. . . . I don’t know. But it’s a tradition, and because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects of him. Traditions, traditions! Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!”
Our traditions come from many places – intentional design, borrowing from someplace else, a good idea that sticks, or who knows where? What makes a practice or a set of words a tradition is that it is used repeatedly over time and those who use it invest it with value through their applied energies. In ancient days it was the elders, the loremasters, the bards, and the shamans who remembered the traditions and passed them down orally through the generations. Modern Pagans – and other religious folk – write them down in Books of Shadows, prayer books, and liturgies.
Thus we have many paths, each supported and balanced by their traditions. However, paths all by themselves do not get us to our destinations. We have to choose which paths to follow, and when, and for how long. We have to put our own energies and efforts into motion. Scribes and shamans, priests and priestesses, bards and loremasters are responsible for maintaining the paths and traditions but only we are responsible for our individual journeys.
One of the most delightful features of paths – either side roads or highways – is that if they are alive, they are continually under construction. Our Women Of The Goddess Circle is a good example. It has been under construction for almost 19 years as of this writing. Over time it has developed some pretty good traditions and practices, based on much study, experience, and good judgment. That’s not to say that we haven’t built a bridge or two to nowhere in those years, but we learned and altered course as necessary. We continue to encourage our women to seek out many paths and bring back good ideas.
New ideas are sifted and even if they are tried, it is understood that they are on probation until they prove themselves. Too many changes too often can erode a group’s traditions. On the other hand, closing the door on changes that would improve the performance and appeal of a path could doom it to limited usefulness. The challenge is always to maintain a careful balance between tradition and change.
Part of that balance is to keep reminding ourselves of the mission and purpose of the group and of the path it is on. It is more important for each path to offer its own distinct features and attractions than for it to become either all things to all people or nothing to nobody. Another part of the balance is for each individual to take personal responsibility for their own journey, to contribute enthusiastically to the path she is on while she is on it, and to seek other paths to round out her spiritual needs.
As for myself, I follow the Dianic Wiccan path and I do have a care toward maintaining its traditions and those of the Women Of The Goddess Circle. However, I do journey sometimes on the Gnostic path or the Aquarian path, or I take to the stars with astrology or take to the outdoors alone into the wilds of Nature. My journey is enriched by all of them – and out here there are no Holy Police.