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Article ID: 4580
Age Group: Adult
Posted: July 14th. 2002
What to Do... If You're New!
If you are new to the wonderful world of Witches, Pagans, Heathens and Wiccans, then this column is for you. Every day, more and more people begin to explore these religions. The most recent census taken in Australia reported that Witchcraft is the fastest growing religion in that country and that the numbers of those who self-identify as 'Pagan' has doubled in the years between 1996 and 2000. While the U.S. and many other countries do not ask a 'religious affiliation' question on their census forms, the steady increase in the numbers of covens, groups, festivals and on-line Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan and Witchcraft related venues would seem to reflect a similar upward trend elsewhere in the world.
Less than ten years ago, before the burgeoning plethora of books and web sites now available on the subjects, most Witch, Pagan, Heathen or Wiccan groups were very private and selected carefully any new additions (initiates, neophytes) into their folds. One had to come either with recommendations from a current/past member in good standing or, at the least, a willingness to be patient as one's mettle and character were evaluated and considered by the group. While there are some groups which still (more or less) adhere to these practices today, the materials now in the public realm make learning about Witchcraft, Paganism, Heathenry or Wicca readily available to anyone who might be interested. As a result of this current 'open sourcing' of what used to be materials and knowledge available to only a few, the Witch, Wiccan, Heathen and Pagan religions have not only expanded in great numbers, they have also been inundated with people who do not possess the traditional background of personalized one-on-one training and mentoring of the past.
In addition, and perhaps as a result, there now exists a wider dichotomy between those who self-identify as Witch or Wiccan or Pagan or Heathen than ever before. This phenomenon makes any overview or FAQ both increasingly difficult and necessarily quite generalized. (We here at The Witches' Voice are also currently reworking our own pages to better reflect these changing times.) You may want to begin by reading the brief introduction to Neo-Pagan, Heathen and Reconstructionist Religions and then move on to the specific Traditions and/or Religions section for a more in depth study of some of the very diverse spiritual and religious beliefs which make up our communities. As you will learn, there is no one easy or universal answer to your question, "How can I become a Witch, a Wiccan, a Heathen or a Pagan?" So, what do you do if you're new?
Read: You'll get this little nugget of advice quite a bit as you begin to interact with other Witches, Heathens, Wiccans or Pagans. Do heed it. Each religion or tradition will have its own recommended reading list. It is important to keep in mind while you study that a book on Wicca will not tell you much (if anything) about the other Pagan, Witch or Heathen religions. They are all unique and different and so, it is easy to become confused if you try to read about all of them at the same time. Find the one Witch, Heathen, Wiccan or Pagan religion that seems to interest you the most or is the most in line with your own spiritual leanings and stick to that in the beginning.
Some new seekers may feel that the admonition to 'read first and ask questions later' is a brush-off. It really isn't. There is a language, a terminology -- and often a culture as well -- that must be understood before one can discuss the finer details of each religion. What is 'eclectic' in one religion might be considered 'cultural theft' in another. Ethical guidelines and mores also differ from one religious persuasion to another. Many a new seeker has had his or her assumption that all Pagans do, should, or must adhere to the Wiccan Rede come back in the form of a verbose kick to his/her presumptive backside.
As there are some light-hearted 'How to bewitch your man/woman' books out there, please note that while most Wiccans, Witches, Heathens and Pagans do have a well-developed sense of humor, they do not take their religious beliefs lightly. A spell book should not be amongst the first ten books that you pick up and maybe not even in the first twenty. Those religions and traditions that actually do use magick and spell work as a part of their religious practice do so only after the basic tenets or system of that particular religion have been fully explained and understood. Anything less than a similar dedication to that sort of training won't win you any points, believe me.
Take Notes: Call your notebook whatever you like, but do have one. You'll be glad that you do the first time that someone asks you, "Now just where did you hear/read/learn that?" (And they will.) Print out pages from the Internet. Get messy and mark them all up. Write questions in the margins. You'll be sifting through a lot of information at first. Don't spend hours writing in fancy calligraphy a 'book of shadows' because during your first year or so, you'll be doing a lot of revising of your materials. Save the gothic script for those things that you have found to be true or worthy (and hopefully both) after the test of time. Keep more than one notebook if you must. It is sometimes helpful to have one just for questions. Pull it out when you are surfing the net and take it with you when you go to the library or bookstore.
Be Patient: Pagan or Heathen religions are lifetime journeys of both discovery and learning. Experience counts for a lot as does academic scholarship and practical application. It is normal perhaps to want to know everything about everything right away. But the reality is that there are no shortcuts. Enjoy each step in the journey for its own sake. This isn't a crash course; it is a lifetime commitment.
Interact: There is nothing like interacting with other Pagans, Witches, Wiccans or Heathens to get a feel for what each tradition or religion is like for those who practice or follow it. For local contacts in your area visit our extensive 'Witches of the World' Pages (44,000 current listings). Check out message boards and chat rooms. Try to find others both at your own level of experience and some who can help guide and instruct you on the next step. Lurk for a while before you post your first comments or questions. And just be you, please. A lack of knowledge, but a desire to learn will almost always be met with helpful suggestions and encouragement. Pretense and/or willful ignorance will get you nowhere rather quickly.
Some Other Points:
On Psychic Ability: Psychic ability doesn't make you a Witch; it just makes you a person with a psychic ability. Most Pagans feel that everyone has some form of psychic ability. Many people with psychic ability however will find that the Pagan or Heathen religions tend to be much more accepting or welcoming for those with such abilities than other religions are. It is a talent and -- whether naturally strong or consciously developed -- valued neither more nor less than any other that one might use to enrich one's life or that of the community. Beginning a new life path --beginning any new endeavor -- can be both daunting and exciting. There is a lot that you don't know yet and there is a lot that you may want to learn. There is a lot to learn. But -- if you are sincere -- a wonderful journey of discovery and mystery and wonder awaits you...
On Spells and Magick: Some Witches or Wiccans or Pagans do perform spells or use magick and some don't. Some will share their spells with you and some won't. Almost no one will share a spell or teach a magickal form/technique to just anyone who asks. There is an entire philosophy behind spell craft and magick and if you have to ask for a spell chances are good that you are not ready to do one. Spells and magick do work. But this ain't the movies. These things don't just spontaneously happen; they take training and will.
On the Spooky Stuff: Uh, what spooky stuff?
And you will be most welcome here.
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, July 15th., 2002
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