Self-Teaching: The Inner Requirements
Article ID: 10677
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: April 30th. 2006
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One principal difference between Paganism and other belief systems is the amount of individual effort involved. These are not "one size fits all" religions where all that is required is weekly attendance in a place of worship and the repetition of memorized lines. Pagans are perpetual students constantly exploring, experimenting, and experiencing; their spirituality a continual process of discovery and renewal.
Pagans often own more books than most people. Not just books on Paganism and occult matters (although there will probably be plenty of these), but a good general selection dealing with such diverse topics as history, science, the arts, and self-improvement. We realize the value of these tools and how seemingly offbeat topics can benefit us.
A cookbook might not seem of much spiritual benefit. But even without taking into account the practical alchemy that is cooking, it does offer insights into our nature. Why does one recipe strike us as bland while another immediately captures our interest? Why does a recipe we whipped together get praise while one we slaved over is only complemented out of politeness?
We also see the value in reading the sacred texts of mainstream religions. It should not surprise anyone that many Pagans are better-versed in the Bible than many Christians. Most of us began as a part of a Christian faith, and an early step toward Paganism is that we've seen both the beauty and the ugliness present in the Bible.
I can remember being 12 or 13 and getting a Bible for Christmas. I read it...well...religiously. The Gospels still made a lot of sense. The Epistles less so. Then I came to a part in the Old Testament where God smote an entire city, simply because the citizens were of the wrong religion. I was deeply troubled by this show of inhumanity. This led to my taking a more scientific look at the Bible; realizing it was the work of men, and subject to the conditions present at the time it was written.
Pagans, like artists, allow their minds to explore life's many possibilities to a greater extent than most people. We can imagine ourselves in situations that would make many people uncomfortable. This allows us a better understanding of ourselves; both the good and the bad; and if we are honest with ourselves, shows us how to improve on our shortcomings.
The upshot to all this is that Paganism is not for everyone. Those afraid of introspection or seeing themselves as less than perfect are probably better off avoiding any religion outside the mainstream. People who dislike study or don't believe they still have much to learn really are not cut out to be Pagans.
The "what-if" game can be a valuable tool for those seeking to better understand themselves. Take a situation from a movie, television, or written fiction, and imagine yourself in that situation. For example, imagine yourself with an occupation you find distasteful. Would you look for the earliest opportunity to quit? Would you be torn between your ideals and your salary? Or would you adjust, perhaps even learning to enjoy the job?
Another useful situation is to imagine yourself attracted to someone very different in one or more ways than what you'd consider your "ideal mate"- perhaps a different ethnicity, age, occupation, or even gender. Consider how you'd react to this situation.
Then try writing out how you'd see yourself reacting to these situations. You might imagine yourself answering a friend's questions regarding the matter. This will help focus your concentration and strengthen your writing.
Life can be a wonderful laboratory for those willing to experiment. A couple of years ago, I was walking through the hair color section of a local pharmacy. I saw a box labeled "plum" and wondered how I'd look with my hair that color. Now I'm a short male, 47 at the time, with long graying hair - definitely not in the product's target market. Yet my curiosity got the better of me, and for the next few months, I was a short, 47-year-old male with long plum-colored hair. All in all it was a very nice and educational experience (and while I haven't colored my hair since, it is something I would consider doing in the future).
There are other such temporary changes one can make as a way of experimenting, including wearing clothing different from what you normally wear (at least in the privacy of your own home), altering your daily routine (perhaps making it either more or less structured to make it more balanced), and taking up a new area of interest or study. Being Pagan does not mean looking or acting in a specific way. The natural world is a colorful, vibrant place, and it seems fitting that as a belief-system more in-tune with nature, we should reflect that.
Finally we need to experience the magic that exists in the world. This requires being more open to nature. It is too easy to close off ones senses when traveling from place to place - particularly in this age where traveling on ones two feet requires expensive running shoes and an iPod to be socially acceptable.
Yet the lessons are there in nature; in the sting of a cold January breeze, the scent of April rain, and the sound of birds singing just before sunrise. This may seem more difficult for one living in an urban or suburban area. Yet all it really takes is greater use of ones imagination. As I walk down the street, I can imagine it 100 years ago, where milk and coal were delivered by horse-drawn cart. I can imagine it 200 years ago where settlers were building their log cabins and the howl of wolves could be heard in the distance. I can feel my existence at this place as part of a continuum that reaches back through the centuries.
Being your own teacher means learning from nature; that is the natural world, human nature, and your own nature. And it means being open and flexible. There are many books on the topic of Paganism (some of them quite good), that will teach the rituals and traditions. A teacher can help guide one along, the student benefiting from the teacher's experience. Ultimately though, these will only point the student in the right direction; the qualities that truly make one Pagan come from within.
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