As you get started

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If you’re new to learning about Paganism, it can get confusing. Here’s a guide to some ways to get started to ease things along. In talking about this with people, I’ve come up with four starting points that might help you out.

  1. Ask yourself if you want to potentially follow your path with other people in person?
  2. Learn some basics.
  3. Don’t get caught up in assumptions that don’t help you.
  4. Find ways to get exposed to a range of options while you learn more.

1) Other people?

I start with this question because it affects so much else of what you do next. If you want to work with other people in person, obviously, you’re going to want to start looking at what’s available near you (or in places you can get to regularly.) Some good places to start include:

Looking for Pagan Pride events or other public information events:
Pagan Pride events are held around the United States (and internationally) between early August and mid-October. They’re a great way to meet other people in your area or region, but even if you missed the event or can’t get there in person, their websites often have links to area groups, or the coordinators may know groups or resources near you.

Looking at Witchvox:
Witchvox.com is a venerable old networking site for Pagans. It’s very web 1.0 – you won’t see the social networking gadgets and shiny things you might have come to expect from Facebook or other more recent social media resources – but a lot of groups and organisations and stores and events still get listed there.

Try searches:
Try searching for different combinations of terms – I might try “Pagan” and “Maine”, or a particular path name and state, or whatever else makes sense. Try lots of combinations, and it’s often worth skimming the actual pages: a group’s page (even if it’s not right for you) may well have links to other things in the area. Likewise, try searches on the social media sites you use for similar terms, and see what comes up. (Facebook is the most likely these days, though be aware of privacy issues.)

Stores and physical locations:
Many stores still have the traditional bulletin board with information about local resources and groups, as well as public events. Esoteric store staff are usually also pretty tuned into what else is around them – after all, that’s part of their business model! While you may find some stores that can be cliquish, many others go out of their way to make it easy for people to connect with local groups by hosting events, discussion groups, or other great things.

If you don’t find anything local to you immediately, don’t panic: there may be some more options later. Right now, you’re mostly looking to see what’s around you.

2) Learn some basics:

It’s a lot easier to learn things once you have some words to describe them. My Basics page has an overview of common terms, as well as links to other people’s initial guides. You’re going to come across a lot of new words as you start reading and discussing more about Paganism, and you may want a way to keep track of them.

My usual method when I come across totally new words is to Google it – sometimes it’ll be the name of a path, or a very specific concept. If you can’t figure out a word (and you’re still curious), you can find a broadly diverse forum or resource to ask on – but it’s really helpful to include where you found it. (For example, if an author of a book uses a particular word, it may be not widely used or specific to their path – it’s a lot easier to help sort that out if you mention the author and title.)

3) Avoid unhelpful assumptions

We all have assumptions – and often especially about religion and spiritual practice. Some of those assumptions are fairly obvious (a previous religion may have taught you things about Paganism you know aren’t true.) But some of them are less obvious. For example, that ‘shared belief’ is the thing that ties a religion together.

Often, people come into Paganism looking for something that shares their beliefs, because beliefs are the things that hold many Christian denominations together. However, Pagan paths and Pagan groups tend to have practices in common, more than beliefs, so it can be a lot more practical to look at those first. (Two people can be part of the same small Pagan tradition, and have quite different ideas about the nature of deity or the beginning of the world, or what happens after they die.)

Set aside your assumptions (or at least be aware you have them.) You’ll get more choices.

Ask yourself some questions:

As you are learning and reading and exploring, ask yourself lots of questions. You may find it useful to journal or otherwise make note of the answers. Here are some to get you started.

  • Am I strongly drawn to particular deities or cultures? Or something else specific?
  • Do I want a path that has strong roots in a particular historical culture? Or am I fine with a recently developed path?
  • Are there particular things in my life (children, health, background, interests) that it’s important my path accomodate or support?
  • What kinds of practices am I interested in? Do I like the idea of formal ritual? What about daily practices? Do I want a path that includes spellwork or ritual magic?
  • Are there particular entities (deities, elemental spirits, nature spirits, etc.) I want to have be part of my practice?
  • Do I want to work in a path other people have developed?
  • How do I learn best? (Some paths require a lot of book-focused knowledge. Others have a wider range of ways to learn, or require at least some face to face training.)
  • What paths are available near me? What things am I willing to compromise about for group work? What things am I not willing to compromise about?
  • How are things in my life in general? (if there’s already a lot of change in your life, it may be hard for you to figure out the Pagan thing on top of that.)

You might also want to check out my list of assumptions to set aside, and my page of things that may matter less than you think. The Where to Start list also talks more about different groups of paths.

4) Get exposure

There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of small Pagan paths and practices, most of which aren’t described in books, and a lot of which aren’t even described in much detail online. That means that a lot of what experienced Pagans do is learn how to sort out general details from specific ones, and to get a feeling for how a path fits into a broader category (and if the details matter, they get sorted out as they start mattering.)

This can make it really confusing when you’re getting started (you’ll see traditions and paths mentioned that don’t match with anything you’ve read), and that can make it hard to figure out what might be a good fit for you (Is someone talking about their specific path or their category of path? Which bit interests you?)

Find at least 2-3 general discussion fora that include people from a bunch of different paths. Read what people post. (It’s okay to ask questions as appropriate about things, but it’s not necessary for this step). Go find some blogs from people posting about their path or experiences. Browse when they link to other places.

One good place to read for a lot of overview of what’s going on the Pagan world is The Wild Hunt   which rounds up news and other details from across the Pagan communities. Following links out from there will get you a pretty wide exposure to a bunch of people in a bunch of paths.

Over time, if you start doing this regularly (at least a few times a week) you will probably see that some stuff attracts your attention more than others. Someone will describe something, and you’ll say “Oh, that.” You’ll read someone’s posts and say “I’d like to grow up to be more like that.” You’ll read someone’s description of their path or their practice or how they got there, and something will click for you.

Make notes when this happens. (This doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a running log saying things like “The agricultural focus of the wheel doesn’t work for me but [blog post link] talks about an application that feels better” or “I think I want to explore [whatever] a bit more”)

As that happens (and you should keep trying to make it happen, by exposing yourself to lots of data) you’ll eventually find yourself coming back to some things more than others. After a couple of months (again, if you’re doing it regularly: you need a bunch of data points), you can sit down and look at whether there’s a specific path or practice or area that those things are pointing to.

My biggest advice:

You are probably never going to find a path that suits you perfectly and has no compromises at all, if it involves other people. That’s just the reality of working with other people. (And that’s true if you’re working face to face, but it’s also true if you’re working through a distance training program, or working through material with other people outside of a more structured approach.)

I love my tradition, and I find a great deal of value in it. But there are ritual things where I grit my teeth and do them a certain way because that’s how the tradition does it. Where I learned things and will teach them because it’s important to the tradition that we pass that on. That are so not how I would have designed [whatever] if I’d been the one to do it.  None of them are things I hate, none of them are things I find unethical. But they’re not what I’d choose if I could choose anything. But part of the compromise of being in a tradition and not having to come up with everything myself is doing those things.

On the other hand, I think anyone who has a healthy spirituality has to have parts of their spirituality that they do on their own. In many paths and traditions, what you do on your own time (so long as it’s not counter to the commitments you make to the paths you commit to) is fine. So I can cast circle or create ritual space in one way in group work, and go home and do something different. (or not cast circle. Or not plan rituals the same way.)

In practice, there is often a bunch of overlap (because it’s convenient, because generally as you learn a specific set of practices, you find there are ways they go together well, and changing one bit and not the others gets a bit more complicated). But you can also have things in common with group practice, and do other things on your own.

(The deities I do the most personal work with are not my tradition’s deities. That’s extremely normal for us, and for a number of other religious witches I know. The way I do magical work on my own is exceedingly music based, and I have met no one else who goes about it quite the same way. Works for me, I don’t make other people deal with it when we’re working together. And so on.)

[last edited December 24, 2016]

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