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Back to the Basics, or Do Pagans Really Need So Much Stuff?

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 11th. 2010
Times Viewed: 5,733

I was driving to work the other morning and the classic Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson song, “Luckenbach, Texas” came on the radio. As Waylon growled the line, “Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love” and then declared that his basics were “guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women, ” I began to wonder, what are the basics of Pagan practice? What do we really need in order to connect with our God (s) in a mutually satisfactory manner?

I’ll get to what I think we need in a minute. In the meantime, I have a whole list of what we don’t need – but we think we need – in order to be happy, active Pagans.

1. Jewelry – I used to be so very guilty of this one. At one point (about thirteen years ago) I wore at least one ring on every finger – including thumbs – and four separate pendants twenty-four hours a day/seven days a week, including while sleeping and in the shower. It’s a wonder I didn’t drown in the bathtub from the extra weight! And whenever I was in ritual, it was even worse: I’d add at least three (sometimes four!) more necklaces, two wrist bracelets, and two ankle bracelets. Did all this bling make me a better priestess? Of course not. There’s an old joke in the Pagan community, and like most jokes it has a seed of truth in it: Have you heard of the High Priestess Hundred Yard Dash? Any priestess who even makes it to the finish line wins!

Even Magrat Garlick, the young witch in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, eventually figures out that jewelry does not improve her spiritual practice.

2. Ritual objects – There was another line in Waylon’s song about “keepin’ up with the Jones’.” Pagan tchotchkes and other items wax and wane in and out of fashion. A few years ago, everyone in my local community who thought they were someone (and had seventy bucks they didn’t need) bought wands that were made from tree branches that had grown in a spiral pattern because of wild grape or other vine that had twined around them. They were pretty, and I admit I seriously wanted one, but I wonder how many of those wands are still in use today.

My money pit was, and is, tarot decks. Back in the mid to late 1980s, when the publication of a new themed deck was a much bigger, more rare event than it is today, I bought the Mythic Tarot – not because I was (nor am I now) even remotely drawn to working with the Greek pantheon, but because everyone I respected and admired and who, for the most part did have Greek patron deities, bought the Mythic Tarot. I never used it, and eventually gave it away along with ropes of myrrh bead necklaces, a Daughters of the Moon tarot deck (basically unused) , a baby dragon oil lamp, a couple of old video cabinets (i.e. altars) , and a veritable forest of candlesticks – all purchased because they were “in” or “trendy” at the time – and, for the most part, never used.

3. Speaking of altars – They’re nice, they’re convenient, but they’re not always necessary. My husband, for instance, feels mostly spiritually connected when he’s working in his vegetable garden and then cooking the results of that garden for his family. His altars, then, are the dirt in the garden and the stove and countertops in the kitchen, as I suspect they are for many kitchen witches. I’m not saying altars aren’t good and useful for ritual; if nothing else they keep burning candles and sharp implements off the floor, but how fancy does your altar – the actual piece of furniture – need to be? And if you have more than one, ask yourself: how many of the deities honored by those altars could be better served by you acting as their hands and doing there work in the world?

4. Books – I realize that as a Pagan author I’m shooting myself in the foot here, but honestly folks, do we all really need a wall full of the latest tomes on spell work, Wicca 101 or bad Celtic history in order to build a better relationship with our God (s) ? Yes, my spouse and I have a few, select, cherished spiritual reference books, including some that aren’t particularly Pagan-specific like cookbooks, organic gardening how-tos, books on massage, and one huge volume on how to identify every wild bird in North America. Yes these books enhance my Pagan practice, but they are not Pagan per se. If you’re convinced that the more books you read, the better Pagan you are, let me be the one to tell you that this is not true. Quite the opposite, in fact.

5. Ritual garb – My husband once helped a friend move to a new home. You know those tall wardrobe boxes you can buy from U-Haul? He moved eight; count them, eight of those boxes filled with the friend’s ritual garb. The last time my family moved, we filled three of those boxes with all of our hanging clothes – including our thick winter coats. To be honest, I’ve worn shorts, sneakers, and in one memorable instance a faded Mickey Mouse sweatshirt to some of the most meaningful rituals of my life. I didn’t deliberately plan to “under dress, ” it just happened. Unless your group traditionally practices skyclad, you’ll probably want, need and acquire a few robes of different colors and fabric thicknesses for various holidays and seasons, but eight closet-sized boxes? Just say no!

Now I’m not saying we need to get rid of everything – jewelry, books, altars, candlesticks, statues, robes etc. and rely solely on energy, visualization and our own deeds to express our spirituality. Pagan practice is undoubtedly enriched beyond measure by these supplemental symbols. But it is easy for too much “stuff” to overwhelm and clutter up the fundamental simplicity of our call to serve our Gods as best we can. Serving the Gods, doing their work here on Earth, and giving each other a helping hand as best we can – that’s back to the basics of Pagan practice.


Bronwen Forbes

Location: Bloomington, Indiana


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