Ways you learn

One concept in educational theory that’s gotten a lot of attention in the last decade or so is the idea of multiple intelligences – the idea that different people learn best in different ways.

The research is a little more complicated, but my own experience, and those of students (both in Pagan settings and in school settings) I’ve worked with suggests that even if it doesn’t make the learning quantitatively ‘better’, it definitely makes it more pleasant. And there are some places – like learning to work with energy, or meditation – where knowing your learning style preferences really helps.

The basics:

One definition of intelligence is that it’s about our ability to respond to change. If that isn’t an act of magic, I’m not sure what is. To be specific, Howard Gardner, who developed the idea of multiple intelligences says:

Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences.

(as quoted at literacyworks.org : they’re an adult education and literacy site whose materials I found particularly clear and useful. You’ll find a lot of discussion of learning styles in literacy sites, and also for students with learning differences, because using other learning modes is often one of the ways education professionals use to help people learn better when the ‘classic’ educational methods haven’t worked.)

Now, from the name – multiple intelligences – you’d probably get the idea that there’s more than one. In fact, the number fluctuates somewhat: Gardner originally identified 7 intelligences, and additional research has added two more. Wikipedia has a summary, along with some additional links.

There are other ways of looking at this, including the idea of visual, audio, and kinesthetic learning (which is fine as far as it goes, but there are some people – like me – who are strong in parts of one of those areas, and not others. I’m a very strong learner with words (whether they’re words I read or hear or write) but not as good with visuals.

Literacyworks.org uses some different terms, which they think are easier for learners to work with, which we’ll talk about here:

  • Language (linguistic): words and the relationship between words.
  • Spatial : working in 3 dimensions, relationships between objects.
  • Logic/math : abstract thinking, counting, organizing
  • Body movement (kinesthetic) : physically trying things out.
  • Musical : music, but also pitch, rhythm, and sound in other ways (like poetry)
  • Social : learns well in discussions, enjoys talking to people.
  • Self : introspection, reflection, journalling, meditation.
  • Nature : the natural world, its cycles and seasons.

Using these:

As with the elements I discuss elsewhere, the goal with these learning styles is to find some kind of balance among them. You will probably be very strong in a couple, comfortable using a few more regularly, and have a couple you have a harder time with (most people do.) But as you learn to use those weaker skills better, you’ll have more options and tools available to you. That’s a good thing.

Looking at these, you might also see something. When people talk about creating meaningful ritual – and especially meaningful group ritual – a lot of the advice actually boils down to including things that engage all of these learning modes.

  • Words to focus our intention and goals and share information.
  • Shapes and colors to engage our sense of space. (Shapes and colors on the altar, the circle we stand in, shapes of tools.)
  • Organizing the structure of the ritual so that we lead ourselves through the work smoothly, and come back better off.
  • Using body movement and position to help make things real for us, using clothing and jewelry to remind ourselves of the experience we’re in, etc.
  • Chant, songs, and poetry to bring us together and focus our intention.
  • Doing ritual together, so we draw from each other’s strengths and ideas.
  • But reflecting on our own needs and experiences, having time to explore our own journey in meditation, divination, or other reflection.
  • And of course, including nature, either by honoring the seasons, by being outside, by the foods and drinks we share, or things like flowers, gourds, or even incense in our ritual.

Naturally, not every ritual is going to balance all of these equally. Some groups will focus more heavily in one area or another – and some traditions do, too. But you do want to look for options that work well with the intelligences you use (and the ones you want to develop.)

Finding out your preferences:

Literacyworks.org has an excellent online quiz you can take. I’d suggest you go take that before you come back to the rest of this article. (Go ahead and read a little bit about your results, too. The rest of this article focuses on how to adapt those results in your Pagan practice and life.

Pagan applications:

There are, of course, a number of ways you can apply these concepts in your Pagan life. Below, I suggest some specific ideas that you might use to build more meaningful or effective ritual experiences, magical workings, or ways to learn. There are many others – feel free to share your suggestions with me through the comment form, too. (To save space here, I discuss skills related specifically to visualisation and meditation on that page.)

The general info links back to the literacyworks pages which include additional reading.

Language: (general info)

People who are strong in language intelligence like words. Saying them, hearing them, seeing them, playing with them, understanding where they come from, telling stories. If you’re strong in language intelligence, you will probably find that both Pagan non-fiction and relevant fiction works are a great way for you to learn and explore different topics.

  • Try reading invocations, poetry, and other ritual texts out loud, and see which ones move you.
  • Keep a journal – daily, weekly, whatever.
  • Try writing about – or to – the deities you honor. Retell their stories and myths, write a letter.
  • Check out podcasts, YouTube videos, and other ways to hear lectures or discussions.
  • After you’ve read something, write down a summary.
  • Explore ritual methods that allow you to tell stories and connect ideas with words.
  • Learn about where terms within Paganism come from: you’ll learn a lot in the process.
  • Research the name you use daily – and consider taking on a new name for Pagan use. Enjoy researching first!
  • Look for meditation techniques that describe things clearly with language.
  • You may be able to understand energy flows by trying to describe them: you may find words coming to you even though you’re not quite sure why those words make sense.

Spatial: (general info here)

If you’re strong in spatial intelligence, you have a strong visual memory – the shape, size, or color of objects. You might like creating signs, posters, or doodling what you want to learn. You may be attracted to creating a beautiful altar with lots of symbolic meaning, or creating images of the Gods or magical workings you do.

  • Illustrate what you’re learning. (It doesn’t have to be great art.) What about an illustrated story of a myth, of a seasonal song, or a common ritual text?
  • Use color everywhere you can.
    • Incorporate it into your magical workings (knot and candle magic, for example)
    • Color code your notes.
    • Find or create richly colored items for your altar.
  • Put a regular altar or shrine up (it doesn’t need to be obviously Pagan). Include color, shapes, images of the deities you honor, seasonal items.
  • Pay attention to the spaces you do ritual in. Try out different sizes for your circle, or consider different arrangements (altar in the north versus the center, for example.)
  • Consider picking up a craft that uses shape or color – knitting, working with polymer clay.
  • If taking a ritual bath, consider using something that changes the color of the bath water. (You can buy baths that change the water color, there are colorants aimed at children, or you can make your own with materials from soap and body care sellers. Do your research, though if you do the last.)
  • Tarot may be an especially meaningful divination tool for you, as might stone divination or other tools that rely on color.
  • In guided meditation, look for meditations that include where you are in space: how far things are from you, what they look like, what the colors are.
  • You may see energy as colors or even symbols, or perhaps get a visual sense of flow from person to person or within a circle.

Consider looking at images of other people’s altars and shrines, craft books (such as jewelry, clay, sewing, etc.), and historical temples and buildings for inspiration and ideas.

Logic/Math (general info here)

It may seem like magical and ritual practice don’t necessarily have a lot of logic and math in them – but if you think of this intelligence more like ‘process’ and ‘structure’, it gets easier to see. If you’re strong in this intelligence you might be particularly attracted to a path or tradition that uses a repeated structure for ritual, or that uses a number of specific details and practices. You might want to explore ceremonial magic, sigils, astrology, or related topics, too. This intelligence is also about critical thinking – something really important when you’re learning.

  • Break down the steps of what you’re learning, and figure out why they’re in that order. What happens if you change the order?
  • Explore the history of ideas and words. Where did they come from? How did their use develop?
  • Write out a clear set of steps or directions for what you want to (like casting circle or doing a spell.)
  • When reading, make an outline of what you’ve read. Consider writing out a list of what you’d like to learn, so you can add and cross off items over time.
  • Think about what you read: is the author trying to convince you of something? What? Why?
  • In guided meditation, look for meditations with a clear sense of purpose or structure.

If you’re a logical intelligence person, you might particularly find the books of Amber K., Deborah Lipp, or Isaac Bonewits of particular interest: all three use a very logical approach to many topics, and focus on practical steps and sequences. Many ceremonial magic texts also fall in this category.

Body movement/Kinesthetic : (general info here)

If you have body movement intelligence, you’re going to learn a lot when you try things out. If sitting still for meditation frustrates you, try moving meditation – there are both walking and dance meditation methods out there. You’ll probably also enjoy and learn a lot by making things – whether that’s an altar tool, a figurine for your altar, or even cooking.

  • Create an altar or shrine, taking time to pick up and hold and feel each object.
  • Experiment with specific gestures in ritual, as well.
    • These can be everything from using pentagrams to invite or dismiss specific energies, gestures associated with each element.
    • Hindu practice includes both whole body positions and mudras (hand positions), which many people find very evocative.
  • Consider using dance in your ritual and magical work. Gabrielle Roth (Sweat Your Prayers) and Thorn Coyle (Evolutionary Witchcraft) both discuss this, as does Ted Andrews.
  • Take a walk with focused attention to how you move.
  • Consider working with someone who can help you learn more about your body and how it works – whether that’s a regular massage, a body modality like Feldenkrais or Alexander Technique, Middle Eastern dancing, or anything else that attracts your interest.
  • Take breaks while you’re learning to act things out, move your body, or use your body to recreate what you’re learning.
  • Be deliberate about what clothing you wear for ritual, and what jewelry. How does it feel on you? Do you feel different when you wear cloth around your shoulders as a shawl or cloak? When it’s over your head? If you have longer hair, try wearing it in different ways.
  • In guided meditations, look for ones that describe sensation clearly – what your clothing feels like, the temperature, the ground beneath your feet. Try an induction that has you tense and release the muscles in your body.
  • You may well feel energy as a sense of pressure or temperature, or a particular texture.

Music (general info here)

If you’re a musical intelligence person, you probably already guessed: you probably have music on all the time (or, alternately, are very specific about what you listen to when.) You can find yourself lost in a beautiful chant, or creating little songs to help you remember things. Your best magical and ritual work probably involves music somehow.

  • Find and learn chants to help you focus and direct your attention, as well as raise and focus energy in ritual. (You can find more resources from my books blog)
  • Write poems of invocation to your deities, write spells that use language.
  • Learn some of the common ritual texts like the Charge of the Goddess, the Witch’s Rune, or others, and use them in your ritual. You could say them (poetry) or sing them, or add a drum.
  • Create playlists of music for specific things in your practice – the elements, the seasons, the phases of the moon, deities you honor. (Note that the music doesn’t have to be ‘about’ these things, as much as bring them to mind.)
  • When you’re trying to learn something specific, try setting it to music.
  • Think about the words you use – you may find that some words or names or phrases feel wonderful in your mouth and others feel clunky. Explore why that is.
  • Explore drumming, singing, and other forms of music as part of your ritual work in general.
  • In guided meditations, look for meditations that talk about sound. Are there birds? Music? What do the people or beings in the meditation sound like?
  • You may hear energy, either as a low hum, or associated with a particular instrument or type of music.

Social: (general info)

If you have a strong social intelligence, you may be particularly attracted to group work – or at least, group conversation about religious topics.

  • Look for people to talk about your path with – whether this is online, a casual group that gets together to chat (like a Meet-Up or coffee cauldron or pub moot) or a formal ritual group.
  • Listen to podcasts that create conversations.
  • Read and learn about how other people do things – read personal experiences (‘here’s what I do, and how I feel about it’), for example, rather than ‘here’s how to do this’ instructions.
  • If you don’t seek out Pagan groups, consider seeking out some sort of group experience in another area – a craft or hobby group, a volunteer organization, etc.
  • Try out meditations where you meet a being or spirit to learn more about them.
  • You may find it easiest to feel energy when working with others.

Self: (general info)

People with a strong self intelligence have something in common with language and musical intelligence folks, because they all look at story telling, journalling, and related tools. However, the person with strong self intelligence will be using those stories and journals to learn about their inner self.

  • Develop a sense of guided meditation. (Diana Paxson’s Trance-Portation is a great resource here.)
  • Set aside regular time for reflection and introspection.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Use divination to help guide your reflections and introspection. Try drawing a card or rune each day, or meditating on a particular concept or symbol and how it plays out in your life.
  • Use breathing techniques for relaxation and meditation induction.
  • Do things to make a concept yours – what would it take to integrate it into your life?
  • In guided meditations, look for ones that give you time for reflection and listening, or meditations that, for example, have you look into a mirror, pool of water, or something similar.
  • You may have a strong sense of energetic self, and find it easy to return to your center, or feel when you are off-balance.

Nature (general info)

And finally, people with a strong nature intelligence are often particularly attracted to the outside world, and to religious paths that honor the earth and her cycles.

  • Spend time outside in nature.
  • Consider visiting the same outdoor spot every day (or as often as you can) so you can see specific changes. Consider drawing or photographing what you see.
  • Think about how your path’s rituals fit into nature’s cycles if they do (and what local changes you might see for each ritual day.)
  • Hike, take a walk, swim in a lake, walk on a beach.
  • Consider studying herbalism, at least in general terms.
  • Start a garden if you don’t already have one. Or visit farmer’s markets or other places where you can get close to your food.
  • You may easily feel the energy in living things, and in rocks and crystals.

Conclusion:

There’s lots more here to explore – but these ideas should both help you get started, and give you some ideas to get over some of the more common frustrations.

Oh, and if you’re curious, my own tendencies:

  • Music, language, and self intelligence are all very strong for me. (Music’s the strongest)
  • Spatial, social, and nature intelligence are all good for me. Not my favorites, but I use them pretty easily.
  • I do much less with body/movement and logic/math.

My spatial scores on similar tests used to be a great deal lower: over the years, I’ve learned how to use visual skills much more reliably. (My sense of space has always been fairly strong.)

My body/movement scores and logic/math scores both used to be more in use: the health issues I’ve had this year have changed some of those for me. (I’m less inclined to go be active just to move around, and I’m having to approach logic and reasoning by some different channels to make it work well for me right now – usually by hooking into one of my top intelligences.)

[last edited January 8, 2011]

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