I recently wrote an email to a new Pagan who is confused about where to begin. Understandably, she’s finding herself disoriented as to what she should be learning about. She is perceiving some of the many barriers to entry for beginner Pagans. She had begun with feeling that the Earth was sacred, and found herself connecting to the Earth as she gardened.
Then, after meeting Pagans she was pressured to pick a deity to dedicate to, among other things. I believe that many new Pagans probably find themselves overwhelmed by all the new lingo, assumptions, and more.
Here is what I wrote to her, and I hope that this provides some info to others.
You are definitely starting in the right place with celebrating being part of the earth. In fact, I know many Pagans who don’t focus their spiritual work on deities and pantheons, and instead do a lot more work with the earth. This includes the incredibly nature-centered work of composting, gardening, etc. By really connecting with the earth, you will learn the earth’s cycles.
There are many philosophical pieces about each of the yearly holidays–whether they’re the 8 sabbats derived from Wiccan practice, to the Heathen (Norse Reconstruction) holidays. These holidays were created out of tribes of our ancestors experiencing the earth and the elements. Thus, the holidays were crafted out of both the climate and landscape of the people, though many modern Pagans celebrate them on the same date. As my friend told me once, it’s funny celebrating Imbolc on February 2nd in Texas as most Pagan books would indicate Imbolc is about being in the depths of winter but knowing that the ewes are milking and spring is just around the corner. In Texas where she lives, there’s not heaps of snow and many are alread planting.
Even astrology is based on the natural cycle. Diana’s Grove did a yearlong Mystery School based upon the Astrological wheel. That year explored how the 12 signs came out of the seasons, and what the tribe was doing in that season. Aries–this was spring, the time for the clan to be bold and hunt, or plant, the time to get out of the cave, to take initiative. Aquarius–the time when the clan has been living in the cave for months, huddled around the fire for warmth, the time when group dynamics erupt if rules aren’t established for who will feed the fire, the time when we both long for that community connection, and at the same time, yearn to express our individuality and get out of the cave.
I believe that most of our mythology, most of the pantheons of deities, mystery traditions, and magical practices, come out of the tribal/shamanic practices of our ancestors, and those practices came out of their work with and connection to the land.
What I’d offer you in your search is, read and take classes and see which myths and mystery traditions, which ritual styles, call to you, but also experience the elements raw. There are plenty of elemental correspondence charts out there, but it really changed things for me when I experienced Air, Fire, Water, Earth, directly. And, those four elements might not even call to you, and that doesn’t mean you aren’t Pagan. It’s just one framework that many Pagans use, but not all do.
Here’s an example of working with the elements more directly:
Air–taking a breath, feeling the wind.
Fire–the sun, the fire that keeps our whole planet alive, feeling its warmth on my skin, or sitting at a campfire and imagining my ancestors huddled around this for warmth.
Water–we take it for granted, but it is a precious resource that many do not have access to.
Earth–feeling the ground. Seeing the trees. Smelling the soil, creating soil through worm composting.
Many people recommend Starhawk’s the Spiral Dance as a good beginner book. I still recommend it, as it’s a fantastic resource, but just keep in mind that it was written in the late 70’s. Another nice introduction book is Paganism, by Joyce and River Higginbotham. It does a pretty good job of describing the “spectrum” of Pagan belief sets so that you can see where you are on the spectrum.
Beyond that, I’d say you’re in a great position now to experience what different groups are doing at the local open events, talk to people, read mythology, read Pagan books, and in general see what calls to you. You’ll pick up the words and patterns.
What I’d ask is, what called you to Paganism in the first place? Was it the connection to the earth?
Knowing the answers to these questions might help you find your way to the path, tradition, or pantheon that calls your soul.