It’s Pagan Pride Season! Over the last few years, September has heralded a great reunion for me and mine. Every year, my Coven lugs our pamphlets and paraphernalia to downtown Manhattan to gather with other Witches and Pagans to meet curious would-be members and chat with old friend. This year, we won’t be lugging as much stuff downtown as I am a disorganized Priestess this year (between finishing another book and planning a wedding!) and couldn’t get done what we needed to in order to have a table. Still…you can look for me at tomorrow’s NYC Pagan Pride in Washington Square Park from 11:00a.m.-5:00 p.m.as I will be lugging books and will be teaching twice.
Last weekend, I had the fortunate experience of being at my hometown’s Pagan Pride Day: Columbia-Willamette Valley PPD in Portland, OR. It was a beautiful day with wonderful people and a whole other kind of reunion–meeting up with my High Priestess, my former Grove members and tabling alongside my BFF of 20+ years, Kanani. If you’re on the Left Coast (or even if you’re not!), it’s something to put on the radar for next year!
One of the consistent questions I get at every Pagan Pride event is what to do and where to start on the Pagan path. In case anyone is scrolling out there looking for a similar answer, here are a few things I can offer:
How do I get started? What’s my first step?
If you find yourself asking these questions, you’ve truly already started your Magickal path. Whether you’ve been reading books for years or are just feeling your way into this world, no one comes in if they’ve not already had a taste of Magick. As Orion Foxwood likes to say, “How can someone crave sushi if they’ve never tasted it?” If you’re feeling the calling, something has already happened to you that struck you as out of the ordinary, Magickal, or synchronistic. Many books will try to impart a formula, (Read this book, join a group, ascend through the levels, and start your own group…or something) but most authors would probably agree that these formulas are suggested courses of action and not rigid rules.
Read everything. If something a particular author says resonates with you, read more by that author. Browse the bibliographies of the resonating books and read those books, too. Read things that call to you, read things that don’t call to you. If something leaves you unfulfilled, don’t push it–keep looking for things that do open your eyes and enchant your world.
Try the practices and rituals in the books. Make lots of mistakes. Don’t only read. Try out the suggested practices. Make notes and build your own Book of Shadows. Build your own knowledge bank so you have something to share with the community when you find it.
Attend open rituals and find a group you like. There is merit in being a solitary practitioner. However, groups provide instruction, community, and the like-mindedness that many who come to this path crave. Recently, a Covener called me one morning thoroughly fed up with Mercury in Retrograde. She asked for advice on how to navigate it. Because I know her through our Coven work together, I was able to advise some practices she could do that I knew would be helpful to her, using the resources I am aware that she has. It was a much more fulfilling experience than had she simply looked up a blog online.
How do I find a group?
We’re lucky in this internet age in that it’s very easy to find a group. Google is your friend. Type “Wiccan (or Pagan or whatever else you’re looking for) Group” into the search engine along with your town or state. You will find them. Meetup.com is another great resource. Browse Facebook groups. Also check Witchvox.com under the tab for your region. Also look up Pagan Pride events and attend one in your area. Many groups will have a table. Attend classes that seem interesting and if you like the instructor, ask if they have a group you might visit sometime.
Be sure to look for open rituals, particularly around the eight Sabbats. Again, Google, FB, Witchvox, and Meetup can help you find a ritual. If you like the group, find out about getting on their email list or other ways of staying engaged with the work.
Most groups won’t let you sign on for official membership or attend private meetings right away. This is a good sign. If a group tries too hard to loop you into their work, find another group. The healthiest groups take time to get to know people before letting them join. Magick is a deeply personal journey built on love and trust. Members want to make sure that love and trust is evident among all present. If you do end up joining a group, you’ll be thankful for the vetting process!
Don’t glom onto the first group you find only because it’s the first group you find. It’s better to search for years and settle on the right group than to get enmeshed with the wrong one. Be very aware of red flags. Be honest with your assessments of the members. How do members view their leadership? Do they have a healthy respect for leadership, but respect without fear? Do they lack respect or seem afraid to anger their leaders? How does the group resolve conflict? No group is without an occasional quarrel, but do they resolve the conflict in a mature and productive manner? Or is there a lot of back-biting or glossing-over and ignoring of issues? Are the members focused when present? No one is perfect, but do most of the members (especially the leaders) lead mainly grounded, stable lives? How are former members treated? While departures frequently leave some hurt feelings, unless extreme circumstances say otherwise, friendships or communication with former members should not be discouraged. Keep in mind: any religious or spiritual group has the tendency to be cult-like. Take a look at this list and keep it in mind when exploring new groups.
Most importantly, does this group fulfill your Magickal itch? Do you have powerful experiences and find yourself improving as a Magick worker both within the group and on your own? No one group will fill all of anyone’s needs and a healthy group will encourage you to continue on your personal Magickal studies while continuing to work with the group. But no matter how healthy the group can be, if you’re not finding the Magickal spark you’re looking for, you need to keep looking.
Don’t expect all the work to be for free, but don’t sign onto a group that exhorts huge amounts of money. Some groups ask for modest recurring fees, some ask for donations. Remember, these groups are all volunteer-run and have no endowments or funders like the major religions do. The costs of the work should not come out of the leaders’ pockets, but you shouldn’t have to find yourself hurting financially to be involved in Magick. If money is prohibitive for you, many groups may work out labor-exchange or something else. They should want you more than your money, but keep in mind that money will help them do the good work.
What if I simply can’t find a group? Start your own! If you and a friend have interest in Magick and you can’t find one near you, start working together. You might end up finding others who want to join you. You might end up starting your own tradition. How to run a group when you have no training is a real question and one for a lengthier blog post, I believe…but just because you’ve never been in a group doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t start your own. I had some training before I began mine, but most of my training came from running a group. I didn’t intend to do it, but I also couldn’t find a group–yet I found like-minded people and we’ve somehow stuck together through various incarnations for almost a decade.
There is no “perfect path.” Some people find a Coven before they find books they like. Some read and practice solitarily for years and never find a group. Others may find fulfillment in a combination–hitting up festivals and open rituals, but never joining any specific group.
The bottom line: Keep reading, keep raising energy. Keep attending Circles. Continue to put out your intention for a solid path. It may take time, but it will find you. It found me and believe me…I was a very tough, stubborn little Witchlet for my path to find.
If you have the time to get to a Pagan Pride Event this weekend, here’s a spiritual-sushi taste of what you might find: This was my Coven’s closing ritual at NYC PPD 2012. I led a similar ritual in Portland last weekend!
Finally, a little more humor because I just couldn’t help myself: