Advice for the Beginning Witch or Pagan

So you’re drawn to Paganism and/or Witchcraft and you’re wondering where the path leads from here, and which choices you ought to make. Should you join a group or practice independently? Which tradition is the right fit for you? What tools do you need? How should you arrange your altar and/or shrines? How do you find your Patron God or Goddess? How can you get to be more like [insert Witch’s name here]?

Pause and take a deep breath.

Religion and spirituality develop organically. Yours will, too — and it already has. You are already on your spiritual journey and have been your entire life. Perhaps it had a rough start in an oppressive group or a dark and difficult youth, but consider the lessons it taught you and the bounty of spiritual and emotional depth it has given you. Realize you’re always walking on your path; you may never feel as if you’ve “arrived,” because you will always be undergoing spiritual advancement, you will always be deepening your work and your relationships with the Gods, Spirits, and Ancestors.

When we’re searching for answers, the first place we turn is likely to be the Internet or the library, but tread carefully. In an article on his Patheos blog Under the Ancient Oaks, “Cults of Personality Must Die,” John Beckett discusses the “Pagan cult of the author.” Paganism originated in local groups and covens, but spread thanks to published authors who became the celebrities of our umbrella religion and our various traditions. This category now also includes bloggers, teachers, mentors, and workshop leaders. If someone’s beliefs and practices resonate deeply with you, it is easy to idolize them and attempt to steer your practices to align with theirs. Remember that these people have walked their own journey, just as you are walking one now; their particular experiences and education have made them who they are today. Sure, there may be some value in attempting to imitate some of the experiences they have had — maybe they had their deepest spiritual awakening after a weekend at a Pagan retreat out in the woods — but your path will always be your own. Attempting to walk another’s path is only going to lead you astray.

Our best teachers are those we find in the natural world. Consider the trees and the wind, the soil and the stones, the rivers and the oceans. You may already have a natural place you love to visit; if so, go there and listen. If not, do some research into good hiking spots nearby and find somewhere wild to explore. If you’re house-bound, order some plants that are happy indoors and clear a shelf, table, or windowsill for them to live, and spend some time with them. Grow some plants outdoors, too, if you have a yard, raised beds, or a porch and are physically able to garden. Touch their leaves and branches; feel the soil between your fingers; speak to or attempt to connect with them, if you’re feeling adventurous. There is so much magic in the Earth; the wise know this, utilize it, and revere the natural world.

Another important way to connect with the Earth is by learning the cycles of your locale. Those of us who live in places that have dramatic seasonal changes notice the fiery autumn leaves and the thick snows of winter, but do you know the plants that are native to your area? Do you know when and from where you can pluck ripe berries and pop them right in your mouth? Have you carefully observed a local tree through all its seasons, watched the new green buds in spring, seen them unfurl in summer and wilt and waste away during the colder months? Maybe you live somewhere warmer or colder; have you learned, then, the cycles of the local wild animals? When they hide from the harshest seasons, when they mate, and when their little ones emerge? In Wicca, a year and a day of study is common before dedicating oneself to a certain path or coven; but I think devoting a year to studying nature could teach you even more than burying your nose in books and spending your evening indoors at an altar laden with human-made tools. But maybe that’s just the Druid in me.

I have come across many who recommend that a good place to start when you’re searching for a path forward is to look back to the ancient religions of your ancestors. While this may be helpful for some, it does not narrow the path at all for those of us from diverse backgrounds. Remember, too, that while the ancient religions are no longer being practiced as they were before the spread of Christianity, so much was preserved through folk magic and folklore; “the Old Ways” are still very much alive thanks to cunning-folk, rootworkers, and other magic-weavers. I recommend looking there; you will find plenty of common themes there to explore and from which to draw inspiration for your practices and rituals. This is also a wonderful way to make your Paganism and magic local: exploring the folklore and traditional practices from your locale. You may meet some local Landspirits and Gods while you do so, too.

As a Druid, I love my pieces of wisdom in triads, so I’ll leave you with three.

Three guides for the new Pagan or Witch: intuition, the local wisdom, the Earth Mother.

Three things to avoid: materialism, emulating others, making oaths you can’t keep.

Three things to seek: humility, knowledge, reciprocity.

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