Help and Thoughts for Pagans New to the Journey
Author: Hallowed Order of Witches Liberated
The New Year aroused some thoughts in me that I wanted to share; hopefully some will be of use to new Witches or those considering some aspect of Witchcraft or a Pagan path. I would like to minimize the explanation of my own experience to that which is necessary for background of what I am about to share. I am an eclectic practitioner with a strong interest in Feri Witchcraft. I am a member of a coven and I am a college graduate now 37 years old.
Our coven has a presence on Witchvox and we tend to get a moderate number of inquiries concerning membership, general Witchcraft information from folks looking to explore a “new religion”, questions of a “how-to” nature and other interesting things. For the past ten years, our coven has had people come and go: some for better, some of whom we were happy to see leave. What I wanted to offer up for someone who is starting on their journey or considering such an endeavor are some ideas to think about, and some things to think about if looking at working with others.
One thing we have noticed repeatedly is that there are people seeking out our community and membership within our coven who are folks with problems (or who are getting over problems) that are better off not dealt with in a coven setting or are things that need to be dealt with in terms of help by professionals. While religions can be helpful in some areas, I strongly urge those who fall into this category to let religion wait until the problem has been resolved. Understand that this advice is not a one-size-fits-all. I am speaking of problems like exposure to some sort of abuse or violence, drug abuse and/or early recovery stages, domestic issues that have not been resolved, etc… In our short ten years, we have had multitudes of people petition for membership or participate in public events and some who made membership, who seem to be using religion as an outlet for dealing with bigger problems. Perhaps they are using religion to fill a hole.
If one is dealing with issues similar to the ones mentioned, it is generally a better idea to protect others from your issue and have it dealt with professionally with a counselor, medical professional, advocate or so on, rather than take it into a group who may not have the proper background to deal with the root problem. Our group suffered numerous times from people with addiction problems, victims of physical violence and some other issues who came into the group and nearly shut down effective spiritual work because their personal problems were not yet resolved. While our hearts are with these people, religion is often not the answer to a heroin problem, for example. One should deal with the addiction, and then explore the religion after the problem is solved. A victim of domestic violence may be attracted to a small group of empathetic people, but sometimes professional help is needed and the issues that come up following such a terrible experience can eventually become a poison of sorts in a group that works together very closely.
This leads me to my second suggestion: Be ultra-cautious in regards to any person or group you are considering for advice (or with whom you wish to work) who claim to have a million years of experience and a Pagan heritage that is 20 generations deep. Statements of this nature, in my experience, are usually lies. For some reason, Pagans in general — and particularly inexperienced ones — appear to feel a need to cite heaps of years of experience in the Craft in their resumes. The time that passes from the point a person considers her or himself a Witch to the present time does not directly equate to effectiveness in practice. A fisherman with 30 years of experience can lose in a fishing derby to an 8 year-old who is holding a fishing rod for the first time. Ability and level of determination are not directly proportional to “time in service.”
The overwhelming majority of modern Pagans (speaking for U.S. Pagans) are former Christians. That is the truth. If someone is telling you otherwise, it is worth asking (politely) for proof or otherwise substantiating his or her claim of multi-generational and unbroken lineage. It is often the same person who, five years later, is wishing you a happy “Mid-Winter Equinox.” You will figure out who is who as time goes on. There is also nothing wrong with someone who is willing to help you who has been practicing for a year, but feels she has a good footing on a particular subject. Think logically and use good sense.
Suggestion number three: your own thoughts are worth something. Often, especially when coming from other religious (particularly in the U.S.) backgrounds, it is easy for one to fall into a trap of seeking Truth from a book or seemingly credible online source. Print seems like it holds weight. Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not. What is important to remember is that when you get a feel for what you are doing and are able to perform to some degree on your own, it is quite possibly time to set down the books. Books and online sources are great for general information, starting points, correspondence lists and so on. Remember, though, your experience and your thoughts are important and are ultimately what will be your guide.
I have seen too many Witches fall apart in practice trying to adhere to what someone else has published to not mention this. If standing on your head in bright moonlight on the third Saturday of the month while burning purple candles and copal incense isn’t bringing you in touch with that one Goddess or God you were seeking to work with, then knock it off! Your path will be your path. And remember that when you are working with the next new person.
My last suggestion is that opposition or rejection by a local group does not disqualify you from practicing Witchcraft and there is more to the Craft than sitting in front of a computer. There are certain Pagan practices that require a long and somewhat formalized study period, or certain covens that exist that will want you to follow a degree plan or jump through certain hoops. All of that is fine. However, if it doesn’t suit you, understand that it doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want. Even those members of the most defined and restrictive groups are doing his or her individual thing within those respective groups. If you share your solitary experience with an online group, for example, and several people bock at what you’re doing, keep in mind that those are opinions. Also, it is often worth regarding what the person is saying, even if he or she is not saying tactfully. Sometimes great ideas come from what is hard to hear. And while not all of us have vast landscapes and groves within which to practice our own Crafts, there is more to being a Witch or Pagan than sitting in front of a computer and reading about it or typing about it. In terms of actual spiritual and religious practice, one can make something happen even within the confines of a tiny powder room. Keep your practice real, front and center, and worth your time and effort. It pays off.
In summary, I wanted to throw these few suggestions and ideas out there because, at least in our region, we noticed some trends and felt we had enough time and experience (and numbers of people dealt with) to make some non-professional and generalized observations. These thoughts are certainly not meant to offend and we hope the root of what is being presented is helpful. Enjoy your time in the Craft, make it substantial and, for the sake of the Pagan community in its entirety, please be a thinking and active participant. Look out for the best interest of others with whom you are working and take care to protect them from your own “funk”, if need be. Help will be there from the group, but try to address problems that require professional help prior to engaging a religion (meaning any religion) . Remember, there are tons of people who find religion in a jail cell or hospital bed. That works for some, but keep in mind what of yourself you are introducing into a group. Think, know yourself and practice love.