“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. 🙂

Finding a Group or Coven

I am currently trying to find a group with whom to interact and study in Charlotte, NC area and am having difficulty doing so. Could you help me?

The first (and probably most important) question you need to ask yourself, is “What exactly are you looking to study?” Because there are different resources that might be better than others, depending on what you are looking for. Without knowing any specifics, I’m going to gear my response towards Wicca and Eclectic Neo-Pagan Paths. If you are looking for something else, please reply and let me know, so I can provide those resources as well.

My first suggestion would be to check out the WitchVox site. They provide a place for various groups and organizations advertise, and it is divided up by city/state (there are drop down lists on the left side of the page). You can go to the North Carolina page, to see what is over in the Charlotte area. Which just looking at the page, seems that there are at least some good choices in your area.

The other thing to remember as well, is that sometimes you might have to travel a bit to find the right group, so if there isn’t something that fits in your local area, and it is something that you really feel strongly about, it might not hurt to widen your search a bit. I know people who travel several hours one way to meet with their covens, and others who fly across country. Clearly that’s not something that we all can afford to do (time or money-wise), but it’s something to consider.

From there it can take a bit of detective work, because even though something might say “traditional” or “Wicca”, etc… in many cases what that particular group defines that as can really vary, so you really have to ask a lot of questions, especially if being in a lineaged coven is important to you. If you are just looking for an eclectic group then, it’s just a matter of checking out profiles and finding one that seems to suit what you are looking for, and then contacting them for more information.

Groups that are open to new members should be willing to at least discuss basic information (even if the majority of their practices are oath-bound). If someone seems annoyed that you are asking questions, or they get defensive or evasive, then it’s probably a good idea to run quickly in the opposite direction. Listen to your own instincts – if something doesn’t seem right, the it probably isn’t.

If you are looking for a Traditional Wiccan coven, your next resource would be the Amber and Jet Yahoo list. While they have discontinued their “official” seekers list, it is still the best place to get more information on if a particular coven is properly lineaged. Not only that but their archives contain a wealth of information on Wicca, and if you have any questions on anything you can always ask, as there are a lot of wonderful members (consisting of both Elders, Seekers and other Initiates) who are more than willing to help.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask! 🙂