Pagan values – informed choice

Last month, Pax declared June to be Pagan Values Blogging month. I’ve been thinking since that announcement about what I wanted to talk about. One of the obvious choices, given my professional interests, is the power of information.

And it’s not just information alone – I’m not talking about trivia here, information disconnected from action or change. But in any path that places a heavy consideration on personal responsibility (as many Pagan paths do in one form or another), information allows us to make choices that are based on more than personal preference at a given moment.

To make informed choices, we need information.

And, of course, the kind of information we need varies based on our goals, the topic, and our past level of experience. The information that’s going to be most helpful to one person may not make much difference to someone else.

We may need basics. Useful starting places, relevant safety considerations, ways to find support and community if that’s helpful or wanted – and directions to go as we want to learn more or deepen our understanding. We also need to make sure the basics are in context – that they don’t leave out entire areas of a topic.

Helpful information includes:

  • Resources that have helped other people – and how. Not just a list of books or websites, but some commentary on why someone liked them, recommends them, or found them helpful with specific questions.
  • Ways to connect with broad resources, both locally and online. One risk when someone’s getting started is that they find only a tiny subsection of what’s out there. Participating in broad community settings (a large and active online forum, a local community event that attracts people from many paths) helps avoid that.
  • Context – exactly how a specific practice or idea fits with other ideas (or doesn’t, as the case may be.) If there’s a ritual shared, what’s the background for this ritual? What do you need to know to get more out of it, or adapt it to your particular needs?

We need information to help us understand the risks and benefits. While outright persecution or discrimination is relatively rare for Pagans these days (and there are good support systems in place in many cases), it’s probably no surprise to anyone reading this that there are some risks and considerations. Learning more – gaining information – about what that looks like for other people helps us make better choices for ourselves.

Helpful information in this area might include:

  • How other people navigate talking about their religion with family, friends, and with work or casual acquaintances. Our circumstances are unique, but many types of situation have come up before, and knowing how these went can help us make more informed decisions in our own life.
  • Accurate and appropriate information about effects of various things – whether that’s herbs, specific practices, or anything else. Many things in Pagan practice have a lot of benefits, but some of them are not things to try for the first time the day before an important presentation at work – as they can have lingering effects. (and some can have serious health considerations.)
  • Experiences other people have had with specific practices, tools, or other things that impact not only what we do, but how we do it. Again, these help us decide for ourselves what we should explore in more depth – and how to plan for that experience.

We need information that helps us avoid reinventing the wheel. There are lots of different groups and individuals out there, many trying to do similar things. While we should continue to explore that amazing diversity and range of goals, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel every time. A little research or a conversation about something can help us avoid common prior problems – and save us time and energy so we can go further with our goals.

There are lots of examples here, but a few that spring to mind:

  • Group dynamics – how to avoid the most common problems in group settings. Group drama can eat a tremendous amount of time, momentum, and energy, leading to nothing useful getting done. Knowing how to avoid the drama and deal with different preferences or opinions effectively can make a huge difference.
  • Ritual planning for a particular group size. For example, there are some things that have been found to work reliably and well in large groups, and some things that regularly fail. Knowing those in advance of ritual planning helps create better rituals!
  • Scale – what works for an individual is often different than what works in a group of 5-10 people, or what works in a group of 20, 50, or a few hundred.

We need information that directly impacts our choices. What we do. Who we do it with. How to figure out the where, how, when, and why that sing to our souls (barring things like legality issues, of course.) We need to learn to ask questions that help us figure these things out. Our answers may not be like anyone else’s specific answers – but we need to figure out the places we do overlap, and when cooperation, learning, or sharing resources are truly helpful

Related to that, we need to value choice.

There are many, many people out there. Many paths. Many practices. Many beliefs and philosophies and worldviews. There’s no way that any single person has the ability to do everything, know everything, or be part of everything that’s out there. On a purely practical level, we only get 24 hours in a day, and we have a number of things to do during those hours – sleep, work, taking care of our household chores – before we get into any optional activities.

One thing I’ve found critical in my own path is valuing discernment. Between a demanding job and coven commitments, and other things I want to do, I simply can’t be at every public Pagan event in the Twin Cities (there are lots and lots!), or welcome every person who expresses interest into my coven, or answer every question in an online forum that comes my way. I need to set some limits and make choices in order to honor and value my other commitments (to my profession, to my friends, to my own well-being).

Instead, I use information – about my own needs, about what’s out there, about what might be most helpful to others, about what it will take to improve skills I want to get better at – to make¬† informed choices about where and how I spend my time. When one of those things changes, I adjust. (For example, I’m about to go on summer break, which changes all my schedules from my school-year life. I can stay up later, do things during the day, work on a single project for hours at a time, and so on – but I also need to make sure I’ll be able to go back to work in August fully recharged for a demanding year!)

Some of that information is clear-cut: I’m already committed to be at something that Saturday, and can’t be in two places at once.¬† But some is less concrete. Whether I think a person is a potential fit for my coven, or for a role in a particular project can be somewhat nebulous. I personally use a combination of past experience, my knowledge of myself and the things I can work best with, a dollop of ‘what’s going to stretch me, my skills, or my interactions without being either overwhelming or miserable’, and my intuition – but it’s definitely an art, not a science.Knowing myself, though, is pretty critical.

Informed choice is also about balance.

And that means balance between work and home (or hobbies and home, if someone doesn’t work), religious life and practical needs (cooking, cleaning, kids, etc.), and recognising the choices we make and their consequences.

We can’t truly begin to balance these things (and many more) unless we know what they mean – how much time and energy they require to do well, how often we want to do them, what they mean for our interactions with family, friends, or the broader community. There are places in my life I’ve made different choices because my personal preference would affect friends in way I didn’t like – or change my relationships with tradition mates. I value those relationships, so I found new ways to handle that issue. However, the only way I *could* figure out that I needed to do that is by being informed about what was at stake – and what my options were.

I suspect I’m going to be coming back to balance a lot in the coming year: one of my obvious big challenges this next work year is to balance a demanding job (which requires a lot of specific skills and attention to detail) with a religious life that requires some of the same – but also the ability to turn that off, fall into the experience, and be open to very different possibilities. Yet, I also know that it’s that balance (and dynamic balance, in particular) that’s going to save me, and make doing more of what I want possible.

Harps and conversation

Today, I took a day trip. I’m feeling very pleased with the results. Briefly, I drove from home (in Minneapolis) to Red Wing, for a conversation in a coffee shop, and then went to my favorite harp and music store. So, you’re going to get me talking about the conversation (a little) and then harps.

For those who aren’t familiar with Minnesota, Red Wing is a small city on the Mississippi, about 60 minutes south east of the Twin Cities. (East across the river, it’s Wisconsin.) My harp (on which more later) came from Stoney End, a folk harp maker based just northwest of Red Wing, and I’ve gone down there when I have the money to spend on harp music.

Before we get to the harp, though, there’s conversation.

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