“I’m new to Paganism…”

Okay… I am new to Paganism (I’ve known about Wicca since I was 12, but I have gotten into it hardcore in the last month or so) and I have been really confused on which path is right for me, and I want to do this right. People keep telling me to pray and to meditate, and to research/read. The problem is… I’m not sure what to pray or meditate for or research/read. Right now, I am reading Scott Cunningham’s book for the solitary practice, because that is what I want to do, be a solitary witch. I would like to study witchcraft, healing, herbs, stones, divination (mostly tarot and pendulums), nature and the moon. Perhaps you could give me an idea of where to go with this?

First off, we want to reiterate to anyone who might be reading that witchcraft isn’t always religious and isn’t always Pagan. We get the impression from you, dear reader, that you’re interested in theistic Neo-Pagan witchcraft, and so what we recommend is skewed towards that. If that’s not what you’re interested in – if you’re more interested in atheistic witchcraft, or Christian witchcraft, or something else, let us know and we’ll answer again from that perspective.

You don’t have to pick a direction right now. We know what it feels like to not have an obvious study plan, or even a particular term with which to identify. You feel a bit aimless, unrooted. But stability will come in time. There’s no quick and easy way to get there, you just have to familiarise yourself with the field until you’ve worked out the direction in which you’d like to go. Keep in mind that it takes some people years or decades to find the path that really resonates with them. Some of us here at TIP are very fond of the quote “Life’s about the journey, not the destination“. (Ralph Waldo Emerson.) Spirituality is the same way. Don’t rush.

Enjoy this time as a time of growth and of learning. Keep a journal, record all your impressions, take notes from the books you’re reading with both quotes and your personal thoughts. Date everything. Spend time walking outside. Pay attention to the world around you. Record your thoughts, your impressions, your experiences.

When you pray, it doesn’t need to be for something. You don’t need to ask… you can just thank. You can exalt. You can just say hi. You can also pray without saying anything at all.

Meditation isn’t something that will make a quick impact on your life. You need to practise it regularly to feel the effects, meaning when you’re just starting out, it may take a while to feel like you’re getting the hang of it. As you begin with meditation you may find yourself easily frustrated, and as if you’re frequently failing. Try to put these from your mind. It will come in time. If the type of meditation in which you clear your mind of all thoughts is something you have difficulty with, try starting with a guided meditation (there are some on Youtube, and there are some podcasts also) or focusing on something. Light a candle, or set a flower before you. A stone in a bowl of water, perhaps. There is a classic meditation coupled with energy work that is a staple within witchcraft, and this is known as “grounding”. There are various ways to do it, but the most popular involves visualising roots reaching down from your spine and into the earth.

You’ve told us what you would like to study…. Well, study it. Pick one thing, and focus on that for a while. There’s a plethora of sources on all those things. You’re lucky in that solitary Neo-Pagan witchcraft has the most number of sources available. The downside of that is that the subject is most open to exploitation by bad authors, so beware.

Here are some book and website recommendations:

* ABC of Witchcraft and Natural Magic by Doreen Valiente
* The first half of Embracing the Moon by Yasmine Galenorn (it gets a little poor and appropriate-y the further through the book you go, so just be aware of that)
* Way of the Hedge Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock (not about Hedgecraft but a decent little book on mostly practical home-based witchcraft)
* Living Wicca by Cunningham (not Wicca, but good in its own right; the follow-up to Guide is rather better than the first)
* Pagan Spirituality by Joyce and River Higginbotham
* Elements of Ritual by Deborah Lipp
* Circle of Fire by Sorita D’Este and David Rankine
* Grimoire of Shadows by Ed Fitch
* Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton (history on Neo-Pagan witchcraft, a great read and a staple)

* Love is in the Earth by Melody
* Bud, Blossom and Leaf: Magical Herb Gardner’s Handbook by Dorothy Morrison
* The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook by James Green
Botanical: a Modern Herbal
Culpeper’s Herbal
Aeclectic Tarot
This ritual worksheet is Wicca-flavoured and may be helpful or to your taste. It’s not the only type of ritual out there, of course.

Don’t be afraid to look outside of the Pagan/Occult section of your bookshop when it comes to some of these subjects. Often you’ll find things just as good, or better, if you’re looking in the gardening section, history, anthropology, mythology, pop-science and so on.

There are some basic exercises here but we must disagree with the author: we do think Wicca is only initiatory, and what is taught in these exercises is a form of Neo-Pagan witchcraft, but not Wicca.

Keep in mind that none of these books or websites are perfect! Always read critically, and be aware that there are elements of appropriation in some of these books. Be conscious and aware when you read and you should do fine.

If Wicca sparks your interest, we suggest “A Witches’ Bible” by Janet and Stewart Farrar and anything by Gardner himself. It’s interesting to read about it, even though as Wicca is a coven-based religion, it may not be for you, at least not at this point.

The following books are popular, but we do not recommend them. Some of them have good bits in them, but they are overall low on content and contain more misinformation than information. You may see them recommended widely, and maybe you’ll be interested to read them at a library, but if you’re the type who prefers to buy her books, we suggest you don’t waste your money:

* Anything by Silver Ravenwolf
* The Spiral Dance by Starhawk (some of the exercises here are pretty good, but it’s not worth buying the whole book for them. Get it from a library instead.)
* Anything by D.J. Conway
* Anything by Edain McCoy
* Runes by Ralph Blum
* A Witch Alone by Marian Green

Examine also your reasons for wanting to research those things. For example, nature. What is nature? What does it mean to say you wish to study it? Are we a part of nature? Why, or why not? Where is the line between nature and not-nature? When you say you want to study the moon, how do you mean? Physically, spiritually, or both? Are you interested in astronomy? physics? Ask these things of yourself. Part of witchcraft – a very important part – is self-knowledge. Explore your own self, your reasons for wanting to research these things. Why you like them. Whether or not, as you research, they turn out to be what you thought they were when you started.

If we’ve been unclear or you have further questions, make sure to ask and we’ll do what we can to help. 🙂

Pagan Blog Project

Hey there!

Some of us at T.I.P. have been writing along with the Pagan Blog Project (see blog roll to the right). We’ve found it an interesting and fun way not only to explore different areas of our religions and spiritualities, but to see what other Pagan blogs are out there, and what people are writing about.

Are you participating in the Pagan Blog Project? What have you enjoyed (or not!) about it thus far? What will you be writing about this week?

TIP: Discussing Religion

In terms of everyday conversations, the topic of religion really shouldn’t come up all too often. There are exceptions of course – the occasional nosy family member, friend or co-worker, or that random stranger you just met, that wants your whole life story in 10 seconds or less. However when it does, there really is not any need for anyone to know all the juicy details of your practices, especially if you feel that the person you are talking to will be less than welcoming about your choices.

While we can understand completely not wanting to stay in the “broom closet”, it is best to come up with a short, concise description of what you do, and leave it at that. Truthfully among those who are intolerant (or even apathetic at best) – it might be better to dodge the question if you can (it’s none of their business anyways), however if you feel that you must answer, then just sticking with the generic “pagan” answer is really your best bet. This wouldn’t normally be something that we’d advocate (since it doesn’t mean anything really), however in this case they likely won’t know the difference, nor are they likely to care, if they are not actually open to learning more about other faiths/practices.

Among those who are like-minded, or those who are truly interested in learning more, you can expand your description a bit, and go into as much detail as you are comfortable with. However you will still likely find those who will question you about your beliefs and practices, but this isn’t always a bad thing, as that is usually how we learn and grow in our practices.

In either case, try not to be defensive if someone asks you something. If you are going to be open about your religious/spiritual practices, especially if they are something other than what most people consider “normal”, then you have to be willing to deal with the consequences of that – both positive and negative. If you can’t discuss your practices calmly, and with confidence, others who are less tolerant of such paths are more likely to seize on that, and work extra hard at their attempts to steer you back on to (what they see as) the “right” path.

Religious and spiritual practices are very personal, and can be difficult to explain to others who have not been through the same experiences. Too often we diminish the sacredness, and ineffable qualities that are so much a part of many paths, when we try to explain too much. So sticking to the basics, rather than extensive details, is usually the best course of action, when the topic comes up.