Into the Green
A compilation of articles that first appeared in SageWoman.
By Elizabeth Barrette
(Used with permission)
Where does it begin? The fall of a golden leaf in a green
forest. The sound of a waterfall calling your name. A meteor shower.
A classmate's comment. Stonehenge. An invitation to attend a friend's
ritual. The search for a truly distinctive term paper topic.
A book that catches your hand as you trail your fingers along a library
Something led you to the rambling path we call Paganism.
Something prompted you to surf this Website, to read this article, to
think about the choices you make. You wonder where to begin, but you
have already begun. By allowing your curiosity to bring you here, you
have taken the first step. To study the gods and goddesses of your ancestors
is to set out on a journey that will unfold in front of you, endlessly
Many Pagans today practice more than one tradition, or
blend ideas from several origins into their own unique tradition. This
flexibility strengthens modern Paganism, which tends to be more eclectic
than its historic origins. On the down side, we lack "hard and
fast" meanings for words, which can make it challenging to discuss
matters of interest such as magic and spirituality. Therefore, you might
want to investigate our =glossary= so you’ll understand how we use common
terms. Whenever you read about these topics, check the author's definitions.
They may make a difference in how you react to the ideas presented.
Don't feel overwhelmed by the diversity of Paganism. You
don't need to dedicate yourself to a specific path right away. If you
feel called to a particular system, fine; follow your instincts. If
not, study a variety of cultures and their religions. Some people believe
that you can choose your religion and patrons, while others believe
the interested entities will choose you. You might begin with
a culture that piques your curiosity, or one belonging to your ancestors.
Find out what the people and their deities were like. Also, think about
what you want and need in a religion. Keep this in mind as you read
Certain techniques – many of which are common not only
to Pagan systems but other systems as well – can help you to maintain
a sense of self, explore your options, and keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
They are simply the basic abilities needed to deal with the people,
concepts, and challenges you encounter while searching for your spiritual
Grounding is a form of energy balance; you connect yourself
to a stable outside energy source so that you have neither too much
nor too little energy held in yourself. Most people ground down, into
the Earth. Centering is an internal process in which you collect your
energy. Grounding puts the amount in balance; centering puts it in the
right place. This makes it difficult to "push you around"
by any means. Shielding is just what it sounds like: creating a barrier
so that unwanted influences cannot affect you. This helps keep outside
irritants, such as other people’s emotions or the unpleasant past of
a historical site, from making you feel uncomfortable.
In meditation, you seek to calm your mind and achieve
a state of restful tranquility. Some people prefer to use meditation
only to relax, while others find it an ideal state for solving problems,
exploring choices, or contemplating new concepts. Visualization takes
place inside your mind and forms the basis of many spells. It involves
imagining something intensely through all your senses, not just sight.
Together, all these skills keep you safe and balanced, while allowing
you to work changes through magic.
Not everyone learns these skills with equal speed or aptitude.
For some, they come easily, automatically, without effort; for others,
they require much practice and remain a long-term challenge. Nor do
they all necessarily go together – one skill may develop into full strength
overnight while others elude you for years. However, all of these skills
are things you can learn; no matter how well or poorly you do, practice
can improve your abilities. Believe in yourself. Thus, you acquire extra
"handles" on reality, inner and outer. Even if the magic side
of Paganism doesn’t interest you, these skills are worth your while
to learn: exploring spiritualities can feel like being turned upside
down and shaken till the change falls out of your pockets. It helps
to have a stable base from which to work.
So you want to be a Witch -- or you want to explore Witchcraft,
at least a little -- and you find yourself slightly bewildered by the
pictures or descriptions of altars. What is all that stuff, anyway?
Don't worry; it isn't as complicated as it looks.
The first thing you should realize is that all of this
paraphernalia merely serves to set the mood and focus the energy. We
use signs, symbols, and tools to fine-tune our attention but they aren't
essential -- a skilled Witch or sufficiently motivated beginner
can work magic with her mind alone. The next thing to consider is how
you feel about your "working" tools. A "Kitchen Witch"
feels that since everything is sacred, using her athame to slice carrots
does not diminish the power of her blade but instead adds extra sanctity
to the carrots. On the other hand, an "Altar Witch" feels
that in order to concentrate the power of her tools, they should be
reserved for strictly magical or sacred purposes and never used for
anything else. Finally, you can acquire your tools four main ways: make
them yourself, buy them, receive them as gifts, or find them.
The four main tools of Wicca are the athame, the wand,
the chalice, and the pentacle. The athame is a knife, usually but not
necessarily with a black hilt. In most traditions, this tool represents
the element Air, in others, Fire; you use it to divide and defend. To
create sacred space, we usually draw a Circle with an athame. The wand
can be made of almost any material; it is long and thin, often with
a crystal at the point and other decorations along its length. Typically,
this tool represents Fire or Air; you use it to focus and direct. When
we cast a spell, we often use a wand to point at the object of our desire
or a symbol for that object. The chalice is a cup or goblet, occasionally
a cauldron (which can range from a few inches to several feet across).
This tool represents Water; you use it to contain and cleanse. The pentacle
or stone is also flexible in form; you can pick up a rock that feels
right, or buy an engraved chunk of semi-precious stone in a metaphysical
shop. This tool represents the element of Earth; you use it to protect
Other Pagan religions have their own set of basic tools,
but Wicca is such a common choice that this set has spread widely, especially
among Eclectics. It is also a very adaptable and practical set with
which you can do many things. Additional equipment includes such things
as candles and candle-holders, pictures, shells and other natural objects,
deity figures, incense and incense burners, crystals, and altar cloths.
Finally, you should consecrate all your "working" tools; that
is, purify and dedicate them for sacred use, charge them with energy,
and form a personal connection with them.
Choosing A Tradition
First, consider the culture from which each religion or
belief system springs. What challenges did the people face? To whom
did these people turn in times of need: deities, animal or plant spirits,
their own ancestors, others? How did these entities aid and comfort
their faithful followers? Does any of this match your circumstances?
Next, think about what you want and need from your spiritual life. How
many patrons do you want? Do you prefer to work in a group or by yourself?
Clothed or unclothed? Indoors or outside? What kind of help do you want?
Keep these questions in mind as you consider the following traditions:
Afro-Caribbean spirituality frequently centers on ancestor
worship and may include honoring plant and animal spirits as well. If
you want an intimate, energetic, intense experience you might try this
route, particularly if the idea of maintaining contact with deceased
relatives and friends appeals to you.
Celtic Systems include several Druid and Faerie systems
along with many others. They feature large pantheons of specialized
Gods, Goddesses, and mythic figures plus a deep respect for plants and
trees in particular. If you love the woods and moors or have strong
social-service inclinations, try these on for size.
Greek and Roman mythology introduce us to a number of
highly specialized Goddesses, Gods, Demi-gods, and other figures. If
you want a patron for a specific skill or practice, this is a good place
Native American systems vary widely from tribe to tribe.
Common elements include a reverence for all of nature and all life,
emphasis on personal honor and devotion to the tribe, and spiritual
growth. If you are searching for an animal guide, you may find one here.
Nordic systems tend to be rather rough and uncompromising,
but reward loyalty and courage well. For the more physically-active
seeker, or one who works in law enforcement or military venues, this
path can bring great support and satisfaction.
Stregheria; an ancient Italian system, offers rich legends
and ritual. The Gods and Goddesses come in matched pairs according to
their spheres of influence. If you want tradition and structure without
dogma, this may be the one for you.
Wicca or Witchcraft consists of many branches including
Alexandrian, Dianic, Gardnerian, and modern adaptations. If you need
to break away from patriarchal influences, try Dianic; for tradition
and structure, consider Gardnerian or Alexandrian. For more flexibility,
Eclectic Paganism or Witchcraft is simply an amalgamation
of other systems. An eclectic draws useful practices, philosophies,
and other elements from a variety of sources. For a custom-tailored
fit, try this route, especially recommended for folks who like to cook
Now that you know what to look for, you need to go out
and do some serious research. Pick up magazines from diverse traditions.
Attend Pagan events where you can explore unfamiliar systems. In order
to function well in the Pagan community, you need a basic understanding
of what other folks are doing.
As you continue to explore your spirituality, you may
decide that you want to formalize your relationship to a given tradition
or patron. Before you do so, you should spend a significant amount of
time – a year and a day is traditional – in study. Typically, entry
into a tradition (and often a specific coven or group) takes the form
of an initiation; entry into the service of a goddess, god, or other
entity takes the form of a dedication. The exact details vary widely
according to the cultures and traditions involved, as well as the tastes
and means of the people present.
Certain elements and ideas appear frequently in these
rituals. Most incorporate imagery of death/rebirth such as crossing
a threshold or passing through a portal. The celebrant accepts obligations
and responsibilities in exchange for privileges, power, and knowledge.
Therefore, most rituals include some elements which honor the celebrant's
new station and others which remind the celebrant of her new duties.
Decorations and preparations may be simple or elaborate, solemn or festive,
again according to tradition and taste. Symbols represent the tradition
and/or sacred entities invoked, such as candles for the Goddess and
the God (Wicca), the Cauldron of Transformation (Celtic), chalk diagrams
(Voudoun), drums (Native American), and so forth.
Most texts cover individual and group commitments. An
individual ritual consists solely of the celebrant and her chosen goddesses,
gods, or other patrons. A group ritual involves the celebrant plus some
other people, often an existing coven which the celebrant wishes to
enter. You can modify these to allow for friends of different traditions
to witness your individual dedication, if you cannot find a group you’d
like to join. Since most group initiations and dedications involve a
high degree of trust on the celebrant's part, you must approach with
caution; the other members probably won't tell you exactly what to expect,
so select people worthy of your trust.
Some Pagan traditions have several layers through which
members progress. Each initiation allows members to learn more of their
tradition's mysteries, to take more responsibility in rituals, to exercise
new privileges, and so forth. Other traditions have only one initiation.
You need to find a place, inside or outside a hierarchy, where you can
feel comfortable. In the end, your relationship with your path and patron
remains a personal one, but takes on new depth and meaning after a formal
Most Pagans start off "in the broom closet"
as the saying goes: they begin by reading or exploring on their own.
Probably you have not yet told anyone about your interest in alternative
religions; or perhaps a few close friends or family members know. This
is a comparatively safe but lonely position, which you may choose to
maintain or change.
In the beginning, a fair amount of discretion usually
works best. First, it takes time to determine which path and patron(s)
to follow. Trying to explain beliefs or customs to someone else before
you fully grasp them yourself can prove frustrating. Second, you can
always choose to tell someone later, but once you have revealed your
interests you can't undo that revelation. Third, as you grow into your
new path, you enhance your abilities to assess not only reading material
but also people and their attitudes.
Why is discretion important? Unfortunately, the American
society does not live up very well to its ideals. Modern Pagans have
lost their jobs, homes, children, and even their lives simply because
of their beliefs. Discretion is important not just for your own protection
but for other people's comfort. Not everyone wants to hear about last
night's fabulous ritual! It might create negative feelings which can
raise resentment or aggression. A little mutual consideration spares
On the other hand, lying about your beliefs can cause
endless problems. First, it undercuts your power -- if you shape the
world through your words, the repercussions are obvious! Second, sooner
or later you could let something slip. Third, someone could find out
on their own. So the best course involves a selection of tactful withdrawals
and non-inflammatory truths such as "I study mythology and ancient
religions," "Right now I am pursuing my own spirituality,"
or even "I would rather not discuss my beliefs with you."
If you decide that you can't afford or don't want to broadcast
your beliefs, you can take some simple steps to protect your privacy.
First, use a "craft name" like Bluebell or Gwynhwyfar for
any Pagan activities. Second, rent a post office box. Third, use an
alias or an anonymous server for online networking. People can't pester
you if they don't know who or where you are! Finally, if you wear a
pentacle or other religious symbol, keep it next to your skin; this
both enhances the contact and shields it from casual view.
Privacy-advocation organizations often advertise in newspapers,
libraries, and online venues. They can teach you all sorts of creative
ways to shield your beliefs and habits from prying eyes. In America,
privacy protection lags woefully behind European standards, but you
can help change that if you wish. As you continue to explore alternative
religions, pause from time to time to assess your needs and desires
in this area. Often people become progressively more and more "out"
about their beliefs as time goes on. Just make sure that you
control the flow of information.
Being "out" has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages include greater opportunities to mingle with other Pagans,
more contact with the Pagan community, the chance to show that Pagans
are decent people, and no longer having to hide your beliefs. Some of
the disadvantages include harassment, discrimination, rejection by family
and friends, conversion attempts, and fear of the preceding difficulties.
You should weigh the options and possible results carefully before deciding.
Think about the effects on your life and property, as
well as other people. Do you live in a tolerant or intolerant area?
If you own your house, you don't have to worry about a landlord evicting
you – but if the situation gets really tense, you would have a harder
time leaving the area. If you have a family, you must consider their
needs as well as your own: your partner could face job harassment, or
your children could face teasing at school. What about your own work
situation? Finally, can you count on the support of other Pagans in
your area? Doing it alone is much harder, particularly if you are the
first open Pagan in your area.
Pagans decide to "come out" for various reasons.
They may feel uncomfortable or even dishonest about concealing their
beliefs; they may want to share their "true selves" openly.
Some feel a calling to serve their community. Some want to prove that
Paganism does not equal "devil worship" but rather constitutes
a positive value system. Others want a degree of contact with the Pagan
community which would make secrecy hard to maintain. A few come out
to avoid surprise discovery.
If you do decide to make your beliefs known, draw on the
experience of others to choose an appropriate time and manner of revelation.
The alternative sexuality community has dealt with issues of "coming
out" for many years. You might ask Gay or Lesbian friends about
their coming-out experiences or read books on that subject.
You can reduce the chance of a major blow-up by taking
some basic precautions. First, test the waters before you tell someone;
ask a few hypothetical or general questions to sketch out their attitudes
towards alternative religions. Avoid making announcements in an already-stressful
situation. Try to find a quiet time when you can catch your audience
in a calm mood. Also emphasize your wish for open and honest communication
rather than confrontation.
Spend some time thinking about possible reactions and
how you would respond to each. You can expect one of four basic reactions:
1) Nothing. The listener ignores your announcement. 2) Positive response.
The listener supports your ability to make your own decisions and may
ask questions. 3) Neutral response. The listener does not really support
your decisions, but avoids interfering with your life. 4) Negative response.
The listener completely rejects your choice and may spout mainstream
religious rhetoric or ultimatums. Prepare yourself to deal with any
of these results. A calm demeanor and factual information always work
better than losing your cool.
If you decide to come out Pagan, expect some relationships
to chill, others to end, and some to deepen and improve. Respect yourself
and your choices; do what feels right for you, not what other people
want or expect. Ultimately, following your own path will bring you greater
happiness and success.
Festivals honor deities, mark anniversaries, and celebrate
special people. In modern Pagan culture, we recognize the eight "sabbats"
or seasonal holy days observed widely by European cultures: Samhain
(October 31), Yule (December 22), Imbolc (February 2), Ostara (March
20), Beltane (May 1), Litha (June 21), Lammas (August 1), and Mabon
(September 23). In addition to the sabbats, many Pagans also celebrate
"esbats" or lunar rites.
However, modern Paganism draws from African, Native American,
Australian, Oriental, and other cultures too. You can find unique holidays
from these traditions mentioned in books on individual cultures; or
look in the SageWoman calendar. Still, the eight sabbats give
a good overview of Pagan festivals, so let’s take a look at those:
This holiday begins the Pagan year. Popular motifs include costumes,
skeletons, pumpkins, bonfires, and scary games. The colors black and
orange dominate as do deities associated with old age/death. Festival
foods include candy, apples, pomegranate, and hot mulled cider. In Samhain
rituals, Pagans often seek to explore death or honor those who have
This holiday marks the longest night of the year. Popular motifs include
evergreen trees, mistletoe, gifts, reindeer, and bells. The colors green
and red dominate as do deities associated with the sun/rebirth. Festival
foods include Yule log cakes, wassail, goose, and cookies. In Pagan
rituals, people may honor the Goddess and Her Son, or the Oak King and
This festival celebrates conception/inspiration. Popular motifs include
candles, wheat sheaves or crosses, and flowers. The colors yellow, white,
and light green dominate as do Maiden Goddesses, Brigid. Festival foods
include bread and candied flowers. Pagan rituals often focus on the
lengthening days, quickening, and creative pursuits.
This holiday highlights the balance between day and night. Popular motifs
include rabbits, baskets, spring flowers, and games with children. Pastel
colors dominate as do Gods and Goddesses in youthful aspects. Festival
foods include eggs, fluffy cakes, roasted rabbit or hare, and fresh
greens. Pagans often work with fertility magic at this time.
This festival celebrates warming weather and romance. Popular motifs
include the May Pole, dancing, ribbons, and general revelry. Bright
colors like sunshine yellow and apple green dominate, along with young
Goddesses and Gods in courtship. Festival foods include May Wine, dark
oatmeal cookies, and all types of fruit. In this festival Pagans celebrate
the courtship of Goddess and God, and consider the delights of polarity.
This holiday glorifies in ascendant light. Popular motifs include sun
discs, summer flowers, and marriage rings. Summer colors like turquoise
and hot pink dominate as do solar/sexual deities. Festival foods include
melons, fruit drinks, and destiny cakes. Here Pagan rituals may focus
on solar or sexual elements, or both, with an emphasis on consummation.
This solemn occasion falls at a time when the fields are reaped but
the entire harvest is not secured. Popular motifs include grain, cords,
ears of corn, and scythes. Dark autumn colors like rust and pine green
dominate; the principal divinity is the dying Corn God. Festival foods
include bread, beer, and current harvests. Most Pagan rituals mourn
the God's death and prepare for his later rebirth.
This compliment to Ostara marks the balance of light and dark with lengthening
nights. Popular motifs include fallen leaves, balance scales, and gourds.
More festive autumn colors like saffron, orange, and chocolate dominate
along with various herd/harvest deities. Festival foods include sausages,
breads, and squash pies. Now Pagans typically give thanks for what they
received or accomplished during the year.
All of you have probably heard the silly stereotype about
a witch turning someone into a toad. In the real world, magic doesn't
work like that; it is a subtle but emphatic force rather like gravity
and it comes with natural laws of its own. So what is magic? I sometimes
describe it as "the art and science of perceiving current circumstances
and possible alterations, then influencing internal or external reality
according to the practitioner's wishes." Basically, you manipulate
symbolic gestures, objects, or images in order to make desired changes.
Types of magic include spells, charms, talismans, invocations, and much
Each magical tradition has its own rules by which magic
functions, and some systems easily achieve results which prove difficult
or impossible in other systems. Certain rules apply to magic across
the lines of tradition. These include the Law of Similarity, which allows
a symbol (like a candle) to stand for something else (like the Sun God),
and the Law of Returns, which states that everything you send out returns
to you multiplied.
When practicing magic, you should keep a record. Write
down what you did, what you expected, and what actually happened. This
helps you figure out what works for you and why; you can spot subtle
variables which affect your spells and then compensate for them. Without
records, you have no way of identifying flaws or duplicating successes.
What can you do with magic? You can use it to further
your personal growth, enhance your connection with your patron deities,
find a better job, etc. Most traditions frown on casting spells for
or upon other people without their permission. Practitioners often include
a catchphrase in every spell, such as: "I ask for this, its equivalent,
or better in accordance with free will and for the good of all."
This prevents you from restricting your own possibilities, and also
prevents magical backlash from a miscast spell.
Methods of spellcasting also vary according to tradition.
Some people simply state their intentions aloud. Asatru and other Nordic
systems use rune magic for divination, protection, binding, and empowering
objects. Wicca and other European systems use altar tools to manipulate
events. Many different traditions use candles. You may need to experiment
with several magical disciplines before finding one that feels comfortable.
In general, think carefully about what you want before
you begin any spell. When you set up your altar, arrange items so you
won't knock anything over. Phrase everything in positive terms. Focus
your energy intensely on what you do want. Allow for alternatives. Express
your thanks with the understanding that your request is already being
fulfilled. Avoid telling people about your spell, as this may diffuse
the energy. Follow through on a material level in support of your magical
Finally, remember that it takes time to learn any new
skill! Practice may not always make perfect, but it certainly makes
improvement. Give yourself the chance to adapt and grow; your magical
abilities will increase over time.
All religions include a set of expectations -- things
to do and avoid doing. Most also include a set of benefits which followers
receive for adhering to these guidelines. Religions explain, often through
myth and legend, which qualities are valued and which are condemned.
In selecting a tradition, take great care to find one whose ethics and
expectations closely match your own personality or ideals. You may set
yourself a goal of significant improvement, but don't get involved with
a system whose values and ethics conflict with your own. Any deities
you worship should exhibit what you consider exemplary behavior, so
that you may look up to them as role models. There is nothing worse
than entering a crisis with your personal instincts and your religious
obligations at odds!
Some systems allow actions which other systems prohibit.
In general, the more stringent and positive the code of ethics, the
less likely you are to create a disaster while following it. Systems
which allow more aggressive acts typically demand much more in the way
of knowledge and responsibility from practitioners. Thus, many Pagans
prefer to follow the "harm none" rule.
Explore different traditions to see what you think of
their ethics. Many Pagans find certain actions attributed to Jehovah
quite objectionable. Others feel the same way towards the Greek and
Roman deities. Some consider the Norse pantheon too bloodthirsty. To
some extent, one must take these deities on their own grounds, but objective
standards also apply.
A simple and safe set of Pagan ethics, assembled from
a variety of systems, might go something like this: Study widely. Think
before you act. Respect the free will of others. Work magic only for
the good of all; this often calls for rephrasing a negative working
(such as a banishment) into a positive one (such as creating an enticement
far away to draw someone out of your sphere). Work only with a clear
head and open heart, never when tired or intoxicated. Practice love
and other positive emotions.
Discussions about ethics tend to center around magic and
spellcasting. However, many other important ethical considerations arise
in the Pagan community. Most traditions describe ideal family relationships,
for example, and acceptable ways of doing business. They cover the giving
and keeping of one's word, matters of loyalty and honor, responsibilities
to the community, respect for animals, requirements for taking care
of the Earth, and so forth. These parameters match the environment,
needs, and temperament of the culture from which they arise.
Learning to make good decisions is an important part of
Paganism. Ethical behavior necessarily includes honoring the different
choices of other people. Stand up for your beliefs, but don't try to
force them on anyone else. Worship skyclad (naked) if you wish, but
respect other people's nudity taboos in mixed company. Always remember
that you may be the only Pagan someone knows; your conduct may represent
the entire community in someone's eyes.
The Elements typify certain states of matter, but also
certain emotional and magical qualities. There are two basic Elemental
systems, one from Western culture and one from Eastern culture. The
Western set features four primary Elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water
– plus an optional fifth, Spirit. The Eastern set features five Elements
– Fire, Earth, Water, Wood, and Metal. These systems match the myths
and magic of their founding cultures, so if you have a strong attachment
to either Eastern or Western traditions then you should work with the
appropriate set of Elements. If you are still exploring, you may wish
to experiment with both to determine which works best for you. Let's
take a quick look at these Elements now:
Earth corresponds to North and Winter. Its colors
include black, green, brown, and of course all the "earth tones"
as well. Associated animals include bulls, toads, bears, and burrowing
creatures. This Element offers stability, security, abundance. Earth
magic covers financial and fertility spells, herbalism, stone magic,
grounding and shielding, hunting magic, and protection spells.
Air corresponds to East and Spring according to
the Western system, although in the Eastern system "Wind"
relates to the Southwest. Its colors include white, crystal clear, blue,
and sometimes yellow. Associated animals include birds, butterflies,
squirrels – any flying or arboreal creature. This Element offers clarity,
mental acuity, and psychic talents. Air magic covers aromatherapy, feather
magic, augury, the summoning of wind, and spells for learning or knowledge.
Fire corresponds to South and Summer according
to the Western system, but appears in East according to the Eastern
system. Its colors include shades of red and orange. Associated animals
include salamanders, lions, and creatures whose lifecycles depend on
fire. This Element offers passion, inspiration, and transformation.
Applications of Fire magic include love spells, the control of fire,
all types of candle magic, most men's magic, and any spell that involves
Water corresponds to West and Autumn. Its colors
include blue, green, crystal clear, and black. Associated animals include
fish, water snakes, cetaceans, waterfowl, frogs, and all aquatic creatures.
This Element offers intuition, wisdom, and patience. Water magic covers
some kinds of healing, fishing spells, most women's magic, the summoning
of rain, and some forms of divination.
Spirit goes by many names, with alternates like
Void, Akasha, and the Unseen. It corresponds to the direction within
and to intercalary or "between" days. Its colors include black,
white, and purple. Associated animals include eagles, snakes and other
skin-shedding creatures, hummingbirds, butterflies and other metamorphosing
creatures, owls, and mythical creatures like the sphinx and the unicorn.
This Element offers mystery, power, enlightenment, and other subtleties.
Spirit magic covers divination, communication with the dead, interaction
with discorporeal beings, personal transformation, and energy manipulation.
Metal corresponds to Southeast and late Spring/early
Summer. Its colors include red, white, and of course metallics. Its
properties include discrimination, organization, and precision.
Wood corresponds to the Northeast and to late Winter
or early Spring. Its colors include green, black, and brown. Its properties
include expansion, purpose, and activity.
In order to study the Elements, you should spend time
getting to know them. One of the best ways to do this is to make a small
shrine, such as a garden outdoors or a shelf full of symbolic items
indoors. Spend a few minutes daily sitting in front of your Elemental
shrine; meditate on the Element and its properties. If you discover
a special affinity for Elemental magic, you can then pursue it in greater
As you explore your interest in Pagan traditions, you
will probably develop a desire to meet other Pagans and work together.
This provides an opportunity to make new friends, discover fascinating
facts about ancient cultures and religions, network, learn new skills,
listen to more experienced practitioners, and celebrate the Old Ways
with people of a like mind. So how do you make the connection?
First, think about where you might run into other Pagans:
libraries, flea markets, food co-ops and organic markets, garden centers,
New Age and occult supply shops, community centers, etc. Look for fellow
Pagans at events with an Earth-friendly theme, too: Arbor Day and Earth
Day festivals, craft fairs in the park, presentations on mythology,
rallies of all kinds. You’ll also find Pagans among historical re-enactors,
science fiction/fantasy fans, Queer activists, feminists, eco-warriors,
and so forth. Don't overlook us in our day jobs, either; you never know
when you might spot a pentacle around a cashier's neck!
Recognition symbols range from dramatic to discreet. Just
about everyone knows the encircled five-pointed star of the pentacle,
used most often by followers of Wicca/Witchcraft but widespread in the
modern Pagan movement in general. Somewhat obscure symbols include like
Thor's Hammer and the Horns of Isis. Subtler still are semi-abstract
God or Goddess images, ethnic patterns like Celtic knotwork, and geometric
figures such as triangles or crescents. Buttons with Pagan slogans like
"Witches Heal!" are a dead giveaway. Please be discreet; you
can easily open conversation with something like, "What a lovely
necklace. I have one just like it at home." If you feel safe doing
so, wear a symbol of your own tradition, because somebody else could
be looking for company too.
On the whole, Pagans tend to be friendly and open among
ourselves. Many, though by no means all, are willing to answer honest
questions. Some experienced Pagans also take students. You can make
a dozen friends at once by contacting any nearby Pagan organization
and volunteering your skills; even something as simple as stuffing envelopes
can work wonders. At a festival, tell the folks in charge that you're
new to the community, and ask if they need an extra hand. Spiritual
supply shops, libraries, and community centers often hold classes where
you can learn everything from astrology to finger-weaving to Greek mythology
to practical candle magic. Pagan magazines also advertise various events.
Perhaps the best way to find other Pagans is to search
for them online. We have a thriving community in cyberspace including
numerous mailing lists, newsgroups, e-zines and webzines, chat rooms,
and much more. Check out our =link list= or use a search engine. You
can easily find your favorite cause or tradition in cyberspace.
Today you can choose from thousands of books about Witchcraft,
Asatru, Druidry, Santeria, Native American traditions, and much more.
The question is, which of these many titles should a beginner buy, and
why? Not everyone has an unlimited budget to spend on new books -- or
a place to put them once purchased. Here, then, are some guidelines
for developing a solid Pagan reference library.
First consider the issue of balance. You want your library
to cover as many topics as practical, yet emphasize the ones which interest
you the most. You also need your library to grow with you, so over time
expect that it will accrue a selection of beginning, intermediate, and
advanced texts in your favorite subject area(s). Your library should
contain a healthy mix of opinions, because authors don't always agree
with each other.
At minimum you need a general guide to Pagan history and
religions, and a guide specializing in your own religion. A good collection
should also include manuals for a few of your favorite disciplines,
like herbalism or candle magic; an encyclopedia of deities or symbols;
and a sampling of related subjects such as Science, History, Mythology,
Women's Studies, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Art. Unless you decide
to take up writing in the Pagan field, or found a coven, you won't need
a whole bookcase of Pagan titles. One shelf of Pagan books (about three
dozen assorted volumes) is a reasonable average for the beginning or
intermediate student. See our =recommended reading list= for ideas.
When selecting books, scan through them and see if they
make sense to you. If the material seems disorganized, ludicrous, or
downright wrong – buy something else. You will probably wind up with
a combination of serious works and lighter reading, which is also good.
Trust your instincts. Shop around. Once you become familiar with the
kind of material offered and the topics you like, it will be easier
to fill in the gaps in your collection. Watch for authors (like Starhawk
or Scott Cunningham) and publishers (like Harper or Inner Traditions)
who consistently produce accurate, engrossing books so that you can
look for their titles first. You might want to try researching Pagan
books through interlibrary loan programs; then you can go buy your own
copies of favorite titles. Used bookstores offer wonderful opportunities.
Bibliographies at the end of good books or articles can give you ideas
for books to track down, too.
By practicing a chosen technique or developing a new skill,
you not only learn more about yourself and your tradition, you grow
in other ways as well, which can help you become a vital part of the
Pagan community. How can you learn about specialties? The most traditional
method involves a close working relationship between teacher and student(s),
either in a coven context or between solitaries. Pagan gatherings offer
workshops, seminars, open rituals, drum jams, and other presentations.
Many also host a "merchants' row" where you can shop for ritual
supplies and chat with crafters. All of these methods give the student
a chance to ask questions and receive feedback, which makes learning
faster and easier. Finally, you may turn to other resources if you can't
find someone to teach you in person; experiment with books, magazines,
mailing lists or newsgroups, Websites, and other distance-learning methods.
Here are some popular specialties to get you started:
Aromatherapy is the art and science of using fragrance
to affect mood, physical well-being, and spiritual awareness. This delightful
skill comes in handy when you need a special dressing-oil for candles
or annointing oil dedicated to a certain Goddess in ritual. For this
discipline you need a sensitive nose.
Divination makes it possible to discern information not
readily available through the physical senses; it does not predict an
unchangeable future, but it can clarify the most likely outcomes of
several different choices. Tarot cards, runes, scrying, and pendulum
dowsing are all respected methods. Try divination if you are good at
seeing many possibilities.
Energy manipulation involves raising, monitoring, directing,
and dispersing all kinds of energy. If you have a good sense of rhythm
and a ready understanding of how other people feel, this could be a
good specialty for you.
Herbalism includes three main branches and concerns the
use of plants for culinary, medicinal, or magical purposes. You may
study any or all of these. This is a good discipline for anyone with
a green thumb.
Music creates a fun and effective background for ritual,
meditation, and other activities. Whether you sing or play an instrument,
you can raise a lot of energy. If you are blessed with perfect pitch
or a lovely voice, show thanks by developing your gift; even without
such gifts, however, you can pursue music in other ways by working with
something simple like a rattle.
Ritual and liturgy design encompasses several related
abilities, all of which pertain to creating sacred ceremonies. Someone
must write the invocations, chants, and songs used; develop the spells;
and plan the sequence of actions which make up the ritual. Consider
this course of study if you possess strong organizational skills or
a gift with words.
Stone magic refers to the use of gemstones and minerals
for ritual purposes. This typically appeals to people who have a strong
connection with Earth and an eye for color so they can identify the
individual rock types.
Levels of Experience
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a novice, just
beginning your exploration of alternative religions. What does it mean
to be a beginner? The beginner has little or no experience and much
curiosity. As a beginner, you see many exciting and unfamiliar things.
Expect to spend a lot of time thinking about what you believe and what
you want to believe, what you have experienced and how you have interpreted
it. During this stage, you explore widely, sample the scenery, dabble
at this and that. You may start a journal or a Book of Shadows. You
ask questions. You listen to more experienced practitioners and read
books. You learn. All of this is part of the process of spiritual seeking.
Here I have presented the basics of contemporary Pagan
culture, spirituality, and magic in terms accessible to the beginning
practitioner. Only you can know what you need and want from a religion,
so I have tried to open doors and support you in making an informed
decision. However, you won’t remain a novice forever – and it can prove
challenging to tell when you have crossed that threshold.
What, then distinguishes an intermediate practitioner
from a beginner? An intermediate practitioner has somewhat different
concerns than a beginner, but a change of focus from seeking to developing
is the key. If you have attained the intermediate level, you have made
some basic decisions about your spirituality. You have chosen to pursue
some things and pass by others, at least for now. You understand the
basic vocabulary and concepts commonly used in Pagan spirituality and
magic, especially those from your favorite tradition(s). You know a
little bit about how to find and relate to other Pagans both individually
and as a community; you also know how to deal with non-Pagans. Looking
back over recent months or years, you can see definite progress you
have made in these areas, although you understand that you still have
much to learn.
How long does a spiritual seeker usually spend as a beginner
before moving to the intermediate level? This varies, but traditionally
the minimum time is a year and a day. Nobody becomes accomplished at
anything overnight. However, some people learn faster than others, and
some enjoy better opportunities. That said, most people pass into the
intermediate stage by their fifth year of practice. An average span
as a beginner would probably run two or three years, for a seeker with
intermittent access to Pagan resources and limited free time for practice,
both common considerations in today's busy world. Don't feel inadequate
if you take a long time to make up your mind; this is a very important
decision and you don't want to rush yourself.
Advanced practitioners have years or even decades of experience.
They are skilled in many techniques and knowledgeable in many fields.
They may serve as Pagan clergy, host events, lead groups, write books,
or perform other community services. Some experts prefer to live private
lives instead. Detailed coverage of expert-level material is beyond
the scope of this discussion, but this is a taste.
As you continue your studies, don’t worry too much about
what other people think. Always trust your instincts – I can’t
repeat that often enough. Explore widely, figure out what you like and
what works for you, then focus on that. I wish you well on your spiritual
journey wherever it may take you.