One staple of books on modern pagan practice is the guided journey – the book offers a script for the reader to use to go on an otherworldly trip to obtain some piece of wisdom. I usually like these little journeys and have often found them useful for getting whatever point the author was trying to make. I like doing them because I wind up somewhere I wouldn’t have gotten on my own. A while back, I did one of these that was intended to find an ancestral guide. I found her – a helpful if somewhat severe older woman with a long white braid. We had a good chat. It went something like this:
“You’re nervous,” she asked. “Why are you nervous?”
I replied, “Because I’m concerned that you’re not real. I want you to be real.”
“What else would I be?” she asked.
“Imaginary,” I said. “An aspect of myself, a bit of my psychology, not a real, independent, ancestral being who will guide me”
“So,” she said, “what is it you want from me?”
I said, “I want a guide and a teacher. Someone who will help me [and here I rattled off a long list of all the stuff I wanted to learn and be and do].”
She snorted. “Oh, right, you want me to help develop all these little bits and pieces of yourself. All these different interests and talents you have, you want someone who can address all of those at once? and hold your hand through them in just the right way?”
“Well, um, yeah,” I said.
“What makes you think I can do all that?”
“Um, I read in a book to come here and ask you.” [Here I am beginning to get the problem with my approach]
“So you’re looking for someone who is exactly like you… only better?”
“I wasn’t thinking of it that way, but now that you mention it…”
“And you’re afraid that I’m just yourself talking to yourself? Gods, girl, with all that in mind, what the hell else could I be?”
I have worked with the same being since then, but I’ve learned how to approach her with a whole lot more respect and have learned quite a bit from her. I still don’t know if I’m just talking to myself, but it seems to work.
I like working in a group. I like my druid grove. We get together eight times a year to do ritual, and it’s always good and I always enjoy seeing everyone, but we don’t do anything in between times. Part of the problem is that we’re geographically scattered – it would be a major inconvenience to get together any more often. Another part of the problem is that we’re all on our own individual paths. There is no “Order of Darach Dubh” – no unifying set of principles or practice beyond the desire to get together eight times a year to do druidy seasonal ritual together. I think it would be a smashing failure to try to impose anything like that upon us, and I accept that our little grove is what it is and can’t be prodded into being something else.
I like the idea of being part of an order with a heirarchy. There’s a set of unifying priniciples to start out with that guides the discourse and focuses activity. I’m currently a member of two such orders which are quite different in scope and aim but which are both rewarding to me in their own ways. The problem with both of them is that neither of them are local and there are no members of either group local to me (or, if there are, they’ve chosen not to make themselves known, which amounts to the same thing.) I feel, as I have always felt, the desire to be part of an in-person, committed, involved, local polytheistic spiritual group with members at a variety of different places along the path and with varied but compatible interests.
Here are my practical requirements for a teacher/group/temple/grove/coven/church:
1. At least some participants must know more than I do about what I want to learn and be willing to engage in teaching activities, formally or informally. I’m willing to begin at the beginning to learn the specific practices of a particular tradition, but only with a greater goal in mind. I have no interest in “101” classes if the only point of the class is to learn for personal development. If it’s to learn a particular technique to work well within the parameters of a tradition, I’ll be delighted. If it’s to lay the groundwork for more intense practices later on, I’m even happier. I don’t need a “101” if there is no “601” down the road. I’m also not looking for a group that just meets eight times a year and only does seasonal ritual together. I’ve already got that and am content with it, as far as that goes. I’m looking for something with a more mystical bent. I really want to study with RJ Stewart, for example, but can’t just fly off to locations where he teaches. Which brings me to the next requirement:
2. You must meet within reasonable traveling distance and near enough to public transportation that I can get there. For anything that meets once a month or more, it would need to be in Philadelphia or the immediate vicinity. For anything that meets a few times a year or less, I’d be willing to go as far norths as NYC, as far south as DC, east to the Atlantic Ocean, and west as far as Harrisburg. Has to be near the train or bus line, though. I don’t drive, and that’s not going to change while I live in the city.
3. I will gladly pay any reasonable class fee, but I’m far from wealthy and can’t afford a whole lot. I will not pay for ritual participation beyond sharing expenses for venue, supplies, etc. I don’t mind paying for professional services such as teaching but I don’t want to take part in ritual if anyone there is doing it for a paycheck.
4. Respect me. I can’t stand being related to as a “type” and I don’t deal well with condescension. Know that (a) I don’t have much money and (b) I am married and not all that exciting to look at – I don’t have much of anything to exploit, so if money or sex are a big part of your motivation, let’s just not bother. You won’t get what you want and I will make fun of you in public. Easier just to skip it.
5. Respect others. Maybe people in some other tradition were mean to you, maybe you think everyone is wrong but you. It’s okay – you’re entitled to your opinions. However, I don’t want to hear about it in either class or ritual context. I’m not there to hear about why Christianity is oh-so-wrong, or to pick apart the dominant culture, or to shake my tiny fist at centuries of persecution. If putting down other religions or groups is part of your teachings or practices, I’m not going to stick around. It’s boring.
6. I have a low BS tolerance, I love to do research, and I will not just nod and smile if you tell me something I know to be untrue. I will be glad to discuss it and I’m willing to accept the difference between mythology and historiography, but don’t present me with something that is blatantly ahistorical. For example: “Modern witchcraft is a direct descendent of pre-Christian European religious practices.” I’m perfectly willing to hear about the spiritual and mystical applications of this myth, but if you try to make it into a historical account, I’ll start to fidget. If you insist it’s true in the historical sense, I’ll ask politely for references.
1-3 are simply practical requirements that must be met for it to be possible and worthwhile for me. 4-6 all have their origins in others with whom I’ve tried and failed to work – I have no interest in repeating those experiences. My requirements are a whole lot simpler than what I initially asked for from my ancestral guide, but I still fear that it’s too much.
I’m mostly writing this as a sort of magical act to focus on what I really want to find, but if anyone knows someone that fits the bill for me, please let me know, because that works, too.