Constructing a path

Icon - Building - blue and teal watercolor spiral

All paths started somewhere. Quite a few started by someone, somewhere, going “I like these things from this, and that thing from over there, but I don’t like this.”

However, building a cohesive path that helps you celebrate the good times, helps get you through the hard times, and that does so without taking unnecessary risks is a skill, and it’s not a skill most of us are taught (which means it can be really easy to do it badly.)

My friend Kiya has an excellent essay about some of the issues with pulling together things from different paths.  Go read that first, if you’re interested in this topic.

Beyond that, though, here are some other things to think about if you’re building a personal practice from different pieces:

Build something sustainable

Think about your life. And think about your life not just like it is right now, but how it’s been in the past, and how it might be in the future. Are there times of year that are extra busy for you? (Because of work, or hobbies or family commitments?) Build a practice where you can keep up with it even at those times.

Do you have chronic health issues?
Build your practice so that it takes those into account. If you deal with exhaustion or brain fog or dozens of other kinds of symptoms, don’t build a practice that relies on your best days. Build for the stuff you can do 75% of the time or more.

Are you considering life changes?
Going back to school or taking on more job responsibilities or a long-term relationship or having a child? All of those can change how much time and energy you have for your practice. A practice that has lots of options or variations is going to give you more ways to keep up with it than one that’s very rigid.

Thing about variation.
Some people’s practices have very rigid dates or requirements (because that’s specific to the culture they’re working in, or a deity they honour). But if you don’t have those, it’s better to build something more flexible, or to have a variety of ways you can do something on that date that range from something that takes 5 minutes to a full-fledged ritual that takes an hour or more and advance preparation.

Lives change:
You ideally want to build a practice that serves you now, but that will also work for you as you get older, as your life changes. You want practices that you can do in a busy airport or a hotel room, not just in a totally quiet home in the dark of night.

Starting questions: 

Do you have regular or seasonal practices?
What might those look like?  When do they happen? What things have to be in them? What are nice added options? How flexible are they about timing?

Are there specific times to honour? For example,
a birthday, anniversary, a date of particular local or personal relevance you want to include in some way? This might be because of your location, honouring specific deities, or other things that are important to you.

Do you have a strong tie to your local land or entities that are tied to it?
How might you honour that? What would you need to change if you moved? If all your seasonal celebrations are tied to specific things in your area, you’d want to know you’d need to readjust them if you moved somewhere very different in climate.

Do you maybe want to share some of your practice with other people?
Some kinds of practices are easier to do that with than others. Practices that only suit your very specific needs might need adaptation to share with others.

How will you know if your practice is sufficient for you?
This might involve some combination of self-awareness, talking to other Pagans, checking in regularly, or something else, but it’s good to know how you might do that in advance.

Do your practices fill various different needs?
As I said above, do they help you celebrate the good times and get through the hard ones? Do you have things you can do while travelling or visiting non-Pagan family? Things you can use at work which don’t affect other people’s space or faith? Things that take a short amount of time or a small amount of energy, as well as those that are more involved?

Have you given thought to things that might affect you suddenly – what your practice might need if you had a sudden death in your family, or a crisis?

What are your actual goals?
You may have specific things (or beings) you wish to honour, but there are multiple ways to do that. A practice that includes different options is going to be easier (and more enjoyable) to sustain over time than a practice that only has one or two options.

Don’t build in problems

Keep the safety precautions!
One of the biggest risks in an eclectic practice is that a specific path often has a lot of ways to make riskier practices safer. Sometimes that’s about the training of the people who facilitated them. Sometimes it’s about building in practices that may be less interesting or shiny, but that help you recover from a challenging experience.

Before you borrow a practice, make sure you understand all of the pieces that go with it. If you make any changes, do so slowly, and only after evaluating exactly what changes each time. Think of it like changing a recipe: if you change half a dozen things at once, and then the recipe fails, you can’t figure out which one it was as easily as if you change one thing at a time.

I have a post on my blog that talks about a couple of specific examples, and what could have been done better to avoid many problems.

Be cautious about appropriation.
One of the problems with borrowing practices is that doing so can be appropriative – taking other people’s cultural or religious practices. This is especially a problem if the culture or religion is in a position of less cultural privilege. (So: people borrowing from various Native American cultures, people borrowing from cultures that grew up in slavery societies, etc.)

The best advice I’ve seen for this comes in two parts. The first is to absolutely research thoroughly and deeply. Too many people say “This is a Native American practice” ignoring the fact that there are hundreds of different Native American (or other indigenous) cultures and languages. Don’t be lazy. Ask “Where exactly does this come from?”

The other part is a guideline I like that says “It’s probably okay to do things that are available to any layperson (without additional religious training, rites of passage, etc.) in that culture or religious faith.”

So, for example, it’s okay to attend a Roman Catholic mass, listen to the readings, sing the hymns, and stand or sit respectfully during other parts of the service. But it’s not (generally) okay to go up and take communion, because that requires specific education and a commitment to that particular faith. It’s definitely not okay to set yourself up and say “I am now a Roman Catholic priest!” without going through their (very thorough) process of discernment and training.

Looking at what children in the culture are allowed to do may be informative here.

The same thing is true for other faiths. It’s not okay to read a single book and say “Now I’m a Wiccan High Priestess” or to go to a pow-wow and say “Now I can lead a sweat lodge” or whatever. You want to be sure that what you’re doing that claims status or training in an existing culture or practice or religion is anchored in that actual religion.

This isn’t perfect, but it goes a long way to avoiding and identifying specific problems. (You do generally need to look at multiple sources, and particularly sources from within a culture that aren’t interested in making you feel good or selling you something. A single source can lead you far astray for all sorts of reasons.)

[last edited December 23, 2016]

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