Finding The Craft
The question is innocent enough: “How did you find your Pagan Path?” Sort of like the Christian equivalent, “How did you find Christ?” Both are simple questions, but for me, at least- the explainable answer is not easy. Heck, it would be easier for me to try to convince the Smithsonian that the chewed-up Barbie doll head I found in my back yard is a prime example of “Australopithecus Spiff-Arino”. (Some eccentric fellow actually tried that- and other equally eccentric stunts, and succeeded in amusing the staff, and unwary Web-nauts like me.)
The simple answer was that I was born a mage. That is right—being a magus is something that is so much a part of me that in looking back, my journey was more one of rediscovery than actual discovery. My life, from about age 7 onward, has been like a fascinating jigsaw puzzle with the pieces hidden in time instead of space, and my life has been a series of “Ah, Ha!” moments when a piece clicked into place. As the tapestry of who I was/am has unfolded, it has left a wonderful trail of discovery, experience (both good and bad) and insightful enlightenment in its wake. And it has also left a growing trail of writings—essays such as this one—as breadcrumbs for those Kindred Mages who are also rediscovering themselves and the Way.
Don’t get me wrong—Harry/ette Potter I ain’t. (I haven’t read the books yet—I am waiting for the whole series to be complete so I can (a) get them all at once and (b) read them all at once. I’m odd that way.) When I realized at age 12 or so that I was not destined to take the path of Catholicism and motherhood that my mother trod, I had no name for who I was or what path I was on. In my marrow there was a call that no church could answer. All I knew was that I was responsible for my development and that there was not going to be any popular culture help coming my way. Mine was the unblazed trail, and all I had was the primitive compass of my untried BS detector to guide me.
I spent the first seven years of my realization as a minor at home, and in a state whose libraries had no occult or metaphysical texts whatsoever. Any information relevant to my path was scarce, and when gleaned, was pored over with an intensity that I envy today. Perhaps the lack of information, and the deep attention to detail I paid to what little wisdom I gleaned helped to set my feet more firmly on the path. I wonder if I would have fared as well and as long had I had access to the materials available today. A curious youngster can read in one evening, and by one or two writers, stuff that took me years to acquire. But time runs differently now, and I acknowledge that, and hold no ill will towards today’s young seekers. Envy, perhaps, but not too much- I know what lies ahead for most youngsters on this path. (A hint—it gets much better after about age 29 or so… Honest! Go look up Saturn’s Return in an astrological text to get a hint of what you’re in for. Trust me- you’ll live, and be that much the wiser.)
The simplest name for who I am and what I do is “Way”. This is a life pattern of intense hunger for knowledge, a burning, almost. It is a method of testing and questioning everything—whether orthodox or liberal, and in doing so, developing a ‘gut’ instinct about people and life that is trusted above all else. It is a long process of creating and aligning a moral compass, yet permitting the world outside to be inhabited. There are no isolated ivory towers or monasteries on this Path except for short rests for digesting information—it requires full engagement in all life has to be offered. It is being in the world, but not of it, as Ralph Blum wrote in “The Book of Runes”. Fine-tuning this ‘gut’—or more precisely, Axis—requires that errors be made—even costly ones. Only through trial, error, and success can this central axis be finely balanced, and only time and real life experience can prove it. The goal and end result is courage and wisdom and the thorough internal alignment that only a series of hard knocks can achieve. The burning for knowledge also burns away the blinders and dross that hinders ones progress along the Way. The weight of knowledge is balanced by the Lightness of Wisdom, and once tempered, no spiritual assault can destroy it.
My Way is not an easy one, and not for the timid or easily discouraged. There have been long periods in my life where it seems that nothing has happened—no interesting insights, people or events surfacing for me to focus on and hone my Axis. But in retrospect, those seemingly lean times permitted me to internally process things to prepare me to find that next piece. Doing so would start the process again.
George Leonard wrote in “Path of Mastery” that most people get into something, and experience diminishing returns. This can be due to boredom, difficulty, loss of interest, or lack of challenge by the activity. They start out gangbusters, but gradually taper off into indifference. Many people, including myself, have left a trail of such endeavors in our lives. I can think of a health club membership… but I would rather not.
Leonard continues that in order to master something and keep it interesting and challenging, one must ramp up the difficulty and complexity in a series of steps. Each step involves an effort to obtain it, and the mastery of the step proceeds in a steady manner- and with diligent practice—towards the next challenge and burst of physical and/or mental energy required to surmount it. Thus, the rate of progress is a steady climb and growth of interest and mastery, instead of the initial burst and tapering off of failed efforts.
I call these steps The Spiral Path, because eventually I find myself back at a familiar place or activity, but at a higher level of ability. I tend to have phases where I am more social than other times, and each time I enter a social phase, where I am working with other Pagans and fellow Wayfarers, or participating in the community at large, I find myself at a more and more mature place and level. This is to be expected, and is the mark of life’s progress. If you find yourself being treated like a newbie after years of practice, consider that a hint that perhaps you need to refine your practice and insight. Sadly, there are people who are ‘stuck’ at a certain level, and unaware of it. To walk the steps of the Spiral Path means to challenge your deepest rooted images of yourself. Are you still dressing and acting like you did in the late eighties? That’s a hint right there. Are you willing and ready to examine and discard those presumptions? Doing so often energizes the next step upward.
As I have traveled up my own Spiral Path, I have taken and discarded both magickal and practical names for both myself and my Way. My earliest Pagan name has been long retired, but meant “Strength of the Goddess” in Norse/Latin. I was a ‘baby Pagan’ then, having just read and discovered Wicca through Starhawk’s book The Spiral Dance. That was in 1980, after I had left my parents’ home and was on my own. My name when I was training in Wicca in Germany was Sunfell, (Clothed In Sunlight) and has become my pen name and Internet handle. It reflects the hardest and most rewarding time of my ‘journeyman’ years as a priestess-in-training in Wicca. My current magickal name was bestowed upon me nearly five years ago in a Native American Naming Ceremony, after a ritual purification and Inipi sweat. In the course of this intense training, which lasted several months, I learned about the American roots of Wicca, and that much of what is Wicca today is more American in origin than British. That puzzle piece did not dim my appreciation of Wicca, but made me understand that the more discoveries I make, the more things I find are in common.
My teachers through this 28-year journey were many and varied. Some teachers were strangers with whom I had a casual conversation. Others were old friends who are still part of my life. And still others were actual teachers and initiators, people that I trusted enough to permit them to see me at my most vulnerable. I still am very much a student, but have reached the place in my travels and understanding that I can also teach. This I do informally, through my writing and my living. If my writing lights up an “ah-HA!” in someone somewhere on this Internet, I may never know it unless they email me, but that does not matter. I cannot email Mark Twain and tell him how much he has made me both laugh and think, but I know that those behind me will appreciate his works too. In person, I do not teach formally. Instead, I simply live my life fully and with complete confidence that the Axis I worked so hard in honing will serve me fully and continue to refine itself. And in living with this confidence, perhaps my attitude can be a tiny meme that ignites that same confidence and curiosity and Inner Light in those around me. It is a subtle evangelism that encourages confidence and competence instead of undermining it.
In finding my Way through my life, I have donned and shed many labels. I have been Roaming Catholic, nameless, Pagan, Wiccan, Spiritualist, Gnostic, and currently Eclectic TechMage studying Franz Bardon’s system of Hermetic Pathworking. This has been my longest held and most accurate label for myself, but if something more precise comes along, I shall upgrade to that. I am also a computer tech- and ongoing learning and upgrading are par for the course. Why should my spiritual and metaphysical Way be any different?
The bottom line is that my Path to and with Paganism and metaphysics in its many forms has been a series of refinements, discoveries and upgrades. An idea or concept will reveal itself and snap into place, and I thoroughly explore it until the next challenge/piece reveals itself and I climb to another level. It is always rewarding and engaging, and I am daily grateful that the magickal seed within me lived to grow and flourish. As part of my gratitude for this life, I am doing what I can to share the Light I was privileged to bear.