Here’s a guide to how some of your initial learning and exploration might go, along with a few other tips. Basically, it’s all about taking your time, being gentle with yourself (and those around you), learning how you learn, and seeking out multiple sources.
Take your time:
You don’t need to sort everything out today, this week, or even this month. It’s okay to break things down into smaller pieces, to focus on one thing at a time for a bit, or even to take a break if you need to. Just be aware you’re doing it, and that you don’t know the other parts yet.
Some things, you’ll need more time to learn. Wicca – and other forms of religious witchcraft – honor cycles. Give yourself time to learn about each Sabbat as it comes, and to truly experience the seasonal changes and flows around you.
Why a year and a day? Many people wonder how the idea of a year and a day plays into their learning. First, you should remember that that’s a minimum: you can take as much time as you need. For more about what this time can do for you, read my essay on a year and a day.
Be gentle with yourself.
Listen to what your body, mind, and soul are telling you. Take time to just breathe, and time to journal and reflect. When you try something new, take time to think about what worked and didn’t work for you, and why. Develop your intuition, and pay attention to it.
Be open to changes. As we start looking at what we believe and value, we often can find our choices beginning to change in response to those questions. It’s quite common for people to – over time – make changes in the foods they eat, how they spend their time, or even what kinds of things they’re comfortable with in relationships, or having clearer limits around certain things.
Be gentle with the people around you. As you start reflecting, and learning, and thinking about anything, chances are, you’ll also start changing. That goes double when you’re learning and thinking about a topic that touches all parts of your life, like religion.
The people around you – who are in their own places in their lives – may be changing in a different way or direction than you. They may have questions, concerns, or emotional reactions to some of your new choices. Take new decisions slowly, and give people time to adapt to what’s important to you. Don’t expect them to read your mind, or know exactly what you need or want from them.
A good rule of thumb is to give them as much time as you’ve been thinking about a topic – so if you’ve been considering Paganism in a general way for a year, you might give them a year to get used to the idea before you write off the idea of them accepting it. (This doesn’t mean you need to let them be rude or abusive to you – just that they may settle down about the topic given some time.) Showing that you’re still basically the same person also tends to help.
Be informed about consequences, safety, and risks. As you learn, you’ll probably want to try some things out. That’s normal! But trying things out has consequences. Learning – even really wonderful learning – changes us. Some practices, techniques, or tools have some safety concerns, or even risks. Investigate each new thing fully. Read any cautions or advice or troubleshooting information you can find about that process.
And if you’re eating it, drinking it, inhaling it, putting it on your skin, or otherwise applying it to your body, check for safety advice in multiple sources, and/or ask on a Pagan discussion forum with experienced members and compare the different answers and sources they give.
Don’t expect perfection: You will learn and change and discover new things about yourself all the time. Don’t expect to know it all this week, this month, or even in the next year. Keep notes about what you’re doing and learning (more on that below), but don’t worry too much right now about making a perfect book of shadows or collection. Focus on learning and understanding what you’re doing.
How do you learn?
People learn best in different ways.
- Some people learn easily from reading books.
- Some people learn best from illustrations or visual images.
- Some learn easily from talking to others (whether online or in person).
- Some people need to hear what they’re learning or put it into words.
- Some people need to try it out, or to touch what they’re learning about.
Within Paganism, you’ll need to use each of these types of learning sometimes, and you’ll want to work to develop the skills you’re weaker at. At the same time, you might find it easier to learn something at first if you focus on the skills you find easiest.
Learning modes in books and resources: Visual learners are considered the most common in our culture (about 60% of the population), with kinesthetic learners (people who learn by touch and feel) being about 25%, and people who learn best by hearing or verbal communication are about 15%.
Many Pagan books and resources focus on things common to visual learners. That means that people who learn best by hearing, or by doing/feeling often feel left out, or frustrated, because they can’t ‘see’ energy. I’ve included some tips for different kind of learning in the basic practices essays to help you out, but you can also use what you know about your preferences to help you in general.
For example, I learn well from words, so when I was learning to cast a circle, I did best when I first learned about what I was going to do (from reading, and from classes with my teachers.) Once I felt I knew that, I then moved on to trying it out. Images – including visualisation of enery – are not as natural for me, so that part took more work for me than it did for many people in my group.
Someone who is a strong visual learner might be the opposite – they might have an easy time visualsing the energy flows and structures needed to create sacred space, but they might have a harder time learning different ways to adapt it, or in learning the words used for the circle cast.
And yet, to cast a solid circle and use it well, we need to have all those pieces. So, eventually, we’ll need to stretch ourselves into the kinds of learning that are harder or less obvious to us.
Learn from multiple sources:
You’ll get the most out of your learning if you use a variety of sources. Ideally, this would be some combination of:
- shorter pieces and articles like this one to cover the basics of a topic or a small piece.
- books that take you far more deeply into a particular topic.
- conversation with other people following similar paths (and maybe some different ones.)
- some in-person workshops or other training, particularly to get guidance with some foundational skills (centering, grounding, shielding, creating meaningful ritual are all topics that are much easier to help with face to face rather than through text.)
You may not have all of these available to you – or at least not right away – but keeping an eye out for opportunities can be great long-term.
One really good way to begin is to find an online community that has a wide range of participants and that encourages discussion and debate about Pagan topics. (There are also forums out there that focus on support, community, and cheerful feelings: they have their good moments, but they’re not as good a place to learn from.) Healthy communities for learning:
Have a wide range of participants: Within the focus of the topic (i.e. Paganism), there should be a good range of people doing different things. There should also be a range of experience – some folks who are new to the topic, but also some folks who have extensive community experience that you can confirm (looking at their websites, getting details of things they’ve done, etc.) You can learn great things from what other folks new to the topic ask – but you also want there to be experienced people who can help answer.
Encourage people to share information. This might be a link to other resources, a link to other material someone has written, etc. Some sites forbid links of any kind (even non-commercial ones). These sites often have much lower quality information as a result.
Encourage debate. Avoid communities that say everyone has to be ‘nice’ to each other, if you’re looking for learning. (What does ‘nice’ mean, anyway? Different people, different cultures, have different definitions.) You do want to look for a site that doesn’t allow abusive language, but the best places for learning often have a debate-style focus that expects posters to back up what they say with some evidence (or in the case of personal experience, some specifics) if they want to be taken seriously.
Build in small steps, over time
The best way to learn is to pick a small piece of a skill or topic, learn it thoroughly, and then add the next step. Your basic steps are:
Throughout this process, take notes of what you’re doing. That includes trying out a new technique or tool, the rituals you do, the magical work you, dreams you have, and any divination readings you do.
You don’t need a fancy book of shadows to do this. You just need a way to keep notes. Some people like to do this on the computer (and it definitely makes it easier to search for a particular term or date). Some people really enjoy writing out by hand. Some people do a little of both. (I keep most notes on my computer, but do my divination readings and immediate notes in ritual by hand: often I also transcribe them to the computer.)
Just make sure you get in the habit.
Learn about the new thing. Find out:
- Where the practice comes from.
- What it’s supposed to do.
- What knowledge you need to do it.
- What tools you need to do it.
- How you might know it’s working
- Things to be careful of or cautions.
- Alternatives (and when you might want to use them.)
Figure out the most basic version that does what you want. Break down your goals into smaller sections or steps, and get it down to the simplest version that still works. Ask yourself, with each part “What does this do? What makes it work or worthwhile?” Don’t let yourself discard a part of the practice until you’re sure you know why people find it useful and meaningful.
Try a simple version: (Or the simplest version there is.)
Practice this skill until it feels comfortable to you. Some skills, that will take just a few uses (like the basics of selecting a candle and using it in ritual). Some skills, it may take you months to get comfortable with the skill – and then you may have months or years more where you go deeper (circle casting is a great one here.)
Expand your understanding: In many topics, once you have the basics down, you’ll find that there are other things to look at, or variations on how to do it that you can explore. Try these out, as appropriate.
Make sure you know what you’re doing (and understand any risks, safety precautions, or other important things to know), but once you’ve got the basics down, try stretching yourself a little, into things that feel a little less comfortable, or a little less like your first preference.
Develop an ongoing practice: Once you’ve explored a range of options, you’ll find that some work better for your specific needs or approach or preferences (we’re all different, after all!) For regular, ongoing, practice, you obviously will probably pick the ones that are the best fit for you.
Want some examples? I’ve written up some examples of how you might learn about a few common topics for this site. Note that these are guides to learning how to use these things, not all the information you’ll need to actually do them.
Other good reading:
Wren, at the Witchvox.com site, has a great and classic series of essays on learning and developing a practice:
- Part 1 : So you wanna be a witch
- Part 2: The Beginning Practice phase
- Part 3: The Rhythmic Practice phase
- Part 4: Integrity: making a commitment
You might also like the following:
- Ways you learn
- A sample plan for getting started – low cost options.
- Finding time and space
- A year and a day – why?
[last edited January 8, 2011]