I'm new to Paganism. Where do I begin?
One aspect of Paganism that many find inviting is it openness and capacity for personalization; conversely this can also be one of the most challenging aspects when beginning to learn about the diversity of Pagan religions. Where does the beginner start to weed through the many traditions, ideas, holidays, Gods, Goddesses, tools, et cetera? In this age of information, the process can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. There is no one right way to walk the Pagan Path, but we present the following sign posts as a helpful guide to developing along your spiritual journey.
The best place to start when beginning to study Paganism is the same place you start when learning to develop any skill, idea or beliefs… start with yourself. If you haven’t begun a process of introspection and self-knowledge, this is the time to begin. The Pagan religions put a great emphasis on personal wisdom and that begins by “Knowing Thyself”. Honestly assess your personal beliefs; what beliefs were you raised with, of those beliefs which of your personal beliefs are different and which beliefs are the same as those you were raised with? What makes sense to you and what does not? Take an honest look at what motivates you to learn about Paganism. Are you a spiritual seeker looking for a home? Are you someone who has always felt the pull of the Earth? Are you fascinated by magic, power, spells? Is the call of the Feminine Divine pulling you toward the Pagan Path? Take time with these questions, if you have never written in a journal, begin now. Putting your thoughts on paper will help you truly understand yourself and how you make meaning in the world.
Develop a Beginners Mind. Begin a beginner at something is not a bad thing; be compassionate with yourself, allow yourself to not know and to find comfort in being a beginner. Think about a child in your life and the sense of awe you see on their face when they are exploring something new…be like that child. Magic is about that sense of awe, allowing yourself to marvel at the beauty of the world, to see it with eyes of wonder. The Beginners Mind can easily access this sense of AWE, cherish it.
Be a Curious, Critical thinker! Read as many Pagan books as you can get a hold of, but don’t stop there. Leave the New Age section and explore the philosophy section, the anthropology section, psychology, sociology, gender & sexuality, history, and yes, other religions. Don’t stop learning and exploring, but remember reading is only the start. To truly synthesize the material, you must allow yourself to question it. Don’t take it at face value; really question whether or not it works for you. Try to connect the pieces of the various puzzles you’re learning about and look for the places where the knowledge overlaps. Try to understand the source of the material you are reading and any hidden agenda there might be in what you are reading.
Trust your intuition, learn to develop it more, let it lead you. The ability to truly trust yourself and your intuition cannot be underscored enough. Reflect on times in your life where your intuition about a situation was spot on, think about what made those intuitive messages so clear. What did that intuitive sense feel like in your body? Was it a physical sensation? A vivid dream? A voice in the back of your mind? Learn to recognize when your intuition is trying to get your attention and most importantly…trust it.
Be of good character. You don’t need to be religious to do the right thing. Spend time volunteering for a cause you care about. Devote yourself to caring about what happens in this world. Do good work, speak good words, be kind, be responsible; this goes beyond “doing no harm”, it honors your place here on Earth and the respect owed to all life here on this planet.
Think long term. Honor your ancestors; honor the longevity of the Earth. Expand your perceptions of time and space, of cause and effect. Reflect on your place in the world, both in this lifetime and beyond. Think about the lessons you have learned in your life, seek to understand how this has been a part of your growth as a person. Try to reflect on what your karmic footprint on Earth might be, in this lifetime and beyond.
Believe in a benevolent (good, positive, helpful) universe, working for your betterment. Our Western culture is obsessed with convincing us that the universe is a ripe with evil forces come to persuade us into doing bad things. Flip the script; change the paradigm and your way of thinking. Paganism has a very different concept, for us the universe is a benevolent place; the energy of the Earth is neutral and can be accessed to heal. Dark is not evil, darkness is like the womb, it is necessary in order for the fetus to grow. Death, loss and sorrow are not punishments for bad behavior, they are seen as a part of the lifecycle just as important as new life, growth and abundance. Balance is the key to the Universe.
Create an altar, no matter how humble. Even if it’s a simple candle on a bedside table, allow yourself to have quiet moments of reflection in front of that lit candle. Close your eyes and just be present with yourself, or your concept of the divine or the light of the candle. No matter how brief, allow for these moments on a regular basis.
Spend time in nature. Really FEEL the wind, call it to you. Really FEEL the water, let its ripples sooth you. Really FEEL the Earth, let its roots ground you. Really FEEL the Sun, let its fire warm you.
Start simple. Not sure which path is the right one? Start with the Universal Energy, the ALL THAT IS, and let it unfold. Reflect on connection, your connection to source, your connection to Earth, your connection to your fellow inhabitants of this planet.
Try not to be dazzled by “stuff”. Loving art, beauty and magic are wonderful; however, a word of caution about failing to recognize that trappings such as fancy hand embroidered robes and crystal encrusted ritual swords, are just that…traps. The pursuit of “stuff”, while beautiful, can also hinder spiritual and magical attunement by placing the emphasis on material goods. At the end of the day “Consumer Spirituality” is a byproduct of a capitalist system that tells us that we are only as good as the last thing we purchased and the divine can’t be purchase with a credit card.
Teachers, mentors, covens or groves…they are still just people. Communities are wonderful, dedicated groups of Wiccans, Witches, Pagans, Druids, Priests/Priestesses, Elders, et cetera, are great things. Be social, attend open rituals, revel in community, learn from everyone around you, but understand that spiritual ‘leaders’ were once where you are now…at the beginning. There is no holy grail that only a High Priestess or Priest can give you. Ranks and degrees only tell you what a priest or priest “should know” not what wisdom they truly hold. Place yourself on the pedestals first and honor your own wisdom. If you find wise elders, honor what they have to offer you, but know that a truly great elder will teach you where to look, but not what to see.
“The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal. It can't be organized or regulated. It isn't true that everyone should follow one path. Listen to your own truth.” ― Ram Dass
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