Beyond Paganism 101

The Anatomy of the
Pagan 101 Book Phenomena

Editorial Opinion by AthenaPrime

It's pretty easy to smack out a Pagan 101 book because the formats of your basic 101 books are pretty formulaic. A good 101 book reads like a training manual, almost. You are given some concept material, and then a series of "job aids" to help you perform the tasks required. (Funny, but this is exactly what I do for a living, except not for witchcraft--how weird is that?). Beyond that, you can load up on appendices with charts, tables, color correspondences, etc. and you have a pretty thick book.

Example: HappyBunnyWicca for Beginners by Pansy Moonfart and published by Lleweleweleweleweevil Press has the following chapters:

· Chapter 1-What is Wicca?
· Chapter 2-What are the Tools?
· Chapter 3-Who Do We Worship?
· Chapter 4-How to Cast a Circle
· Chapter 5-How to Perform a Full-Moon Ritual
· Chapter 6-How to Perform a Sabbat Rite
· Chapter 7-How to Cast Spells
· Appendix A-Colors
· Appendix B-Astrology
· Appendix C-Pre-Made Spells for Love, Money, and Protection

There's a tried-and-true model out there that is guaranteed to sell books. Much of the information in there is standard--it is livened up by the writer's style, voice, and personal slant on things. But it's still the same basic type of information. Not to say all 101 books are the same, but they do cover the same topics.

But as anyone who's pursued an education knows, the higher-level the course, the more expensive the book. For something as spiritual as this, a higher level book requires more subjective research, because you're dealing with a lot more conceptual material, which is also subjective.

At the top of my wish list, I would like to see the following: A 202 book, written by a Regular Joe, that focuses on Pagan Living for Real People. Unfortunately, since we're such a small culture, the minute someone comes out with a 101 book, they become an "expert" on the subject. For a spiritual subject, that indicates clergy, at least in some form.

So by the time her second book comes out, Pansy Moonfart is no longer a person who wrote a book about her faith and its practices, she is now a Pagan Celebrity. Her life revolves around going to New Age shows, astrally-projected book tours, and Pagan festivals, and managing her psychic services help line. She wears her ritual robe 24/7, doesn't pour her organically grown cornflakes without consulting the tarot, and bakes crystals in her meat loaf. In between, she visits with a steady but relaxing stream of seekers who come into her living room and have tea and tarot.

I can no longer identify with this person. This person can no longer identify with most Pagans, who are still getting up at ungodly hours (or coming home at them), wash their faces with soap and water instead of hand-gathered pixie dust and lily dew, and spend too long of a grueling work day at computers, counters, on phones, etc. and guzzle coffee to stay alert. And who definitely do not have time to arrange a spell involving 90 candles, seven days' worth of chanting, and several hours of quiet, healing bath time.

So Pansy's second book, Navel Contemplation by Full Moon's Light, comes out, and I hate it because it is of no use to me. Another useless celebrity graces the shelves....

Maybe one day, I will write that 202 book...As soon as I've finished collecting my lily-dew.


Moving Beyond Pagan 101

by Faerie K.

In my experience beginner books do go through a number of subjects, but (necessarily, one could say, given the format) only deal with each subject briefly. There's one bit of information on one subject, another bit of info on another subject, little bits on this and that. Nothing is dealt with deeply or explained thoroughly.

So, one of the steps for moving beyond 101 books is, and in my humble opinion should be, to take on reading books specializing in given subjects. That is, instead of reading about herbs from a 101 book, take to reading herbology books. Instead of reading about meditation techniques from a chapter in a 101 book, pick up books on meditation. Instead of reading just the few rows of info usually given about different deities, read books concentrating on a given mythology or deity, including non-Pagan (not written by Pagans, for Pagans) literature. You get the picture!

Don't be afraid to pick up books that may challenge your own views. Give your mind some brain-fodder and let it work. You may very well end up with exactly the same thoughts as you began with, but at least you've put them through a thinking process. Oh yes, and read critically, even views agreeing with you fully.

Widen your horizons. The books you read don't have to be about your religion, nor on religion at all. For example, critical source evaluation is a good skill to learn, especially because on religious matters you don't have stone-set truths or facts... Get to learn about other religions as well. They may not do anything for you, but at least you won't be ignorant about their teachings. :)

Then, besides reading, actually doing something is important. Develop your own ways of working magick, of doing rituals, of connecting to the deities and practicing your religion as part of your life.

I mention this, as lately I've been running into more and more new Pagans, usually Wiccans, who take time to specifically state that they don't do magick or formal rituals at all. A few have stated it right out, but with many others I have read it in between the lines - they are a little afraid of starting to do things on their own, afraid of not being able to do things right and getting bad results in their ritual.

It's called religious "practice", not "perfect", isn't it? :o) If ritual is what you are intending and eventually wanting to do, put down the books and start practicing. The know-how doesn't drop down one day from the skies, ready to be used and used perfectly. You will need practice.
Learning basic forms and basic spells is a good way to start, but one shouldn't be stuck with just copying. Even in formal ritual structures, there's room for one's own style. Experimenting with different styles and methods, developing your own style, gets your own practice further and gives it more personal (how should I say it...) power.

Don't be too afraid to, for example, switch directions and elements, if those given in books don't speak to you. You won't be the first one daring to do that. Others have done it before and done it well. The authors can't see where you are, or give usable examples for every location, situation and what have you possible. Again, use your mind.

Don't be too greedy or try to get "there" too quickly. (Is there a "there" in Pagan paths?) Let yourself and your mind rest. Don't do anything for a while, if you don't feel like it. That's not something to feel guilty about. There's no use in burning yourself out -- what good would that do to your deities?

Allow the knowledge you have gathered to mature in your head. It will mature, with your accumulating experience and knowledge. Things click into their places. Something you were absolutely, positively certain about at one point, may later be seen in whole new light and differently. Maybe a part of a larger whole you previously weren't even aware of. I know I have been made to take a step back from my previous ways of thinking many times over, giving them a good shake and rethinking. Learn to appreciate the experience, not be crushed by it.

Things tend to seem much easier in the beginning. More simple, more clear-cut. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it depends on your way of thinking, life doesn't tend to be that simple. Simple rules aren't bad as such, but in real life situations, they often need adapting. So, adapt. Use your mind; it's there for a reason. Don't let basic or simple rules become your crutch, or something that disables you from functioning in a complex world. Watch, learn and listen, to others and yourself.

Make your religion an important part of your life, but don't forget to have a life. You have probably met people of other faiths; people who have filled their life with their religion so much that you couldn't be around them. Don't become one of those people. It can happen and you will be as annoying to other people as those you had met were annoying to you :) The same goes with fundie type thinking. It can creep up on you, if you don't keep it in check. One-True-Wayism is often so much easier than all the other options!

Basically – live and learn! The Pagan path isn't an easy one, and anyone who says it is, is incorrect.