How do I get my own devotional practice out of beginner status and into advanced stuff? I want to learn more advanced Pagan stuff, where do I go to learn that? What titles do I need to achieve to get there? I need to learn the powerful stuff, where or how does one get out of newbie status?
Good Gods above and below, if I had a quid for each time I have had to field questions like this. And to be completely honest, my answers tend to leave an individual angry about time they feel was wasted in talking about this with me, or disappointed and confused. And none of that has ever been my intention. I try to be as clear and concise as I possibly can, without leaning in one direction for the individual asking the question or being prejudicial to one Path over another. But where does one find all this “advanced” stuff? What are the rules, written and unwritten, to getting there?
To start off, let me cross over into prejudicial Pathways – otherwise known as my personal opinion. I am not sure I can distinguish between a basic Spiritual Path and an “advanced” one. To me, this equates to a level system in some Nintendo gaming system. The more experience points you have, the better your chances are at getting to use the “advanced” stuff in the “restricted” section at the library in Hogwarts. Its almost as if I should be marching around life with my level denoted over my head in a numerical form like some magical avatar. Yes, to be able to utilize some magickal forms, spells, etc – there is a need to build up experience and theoretical understanding of various foundational aspects to get there – but in my mind, none of that makes you “advanced” – just a little more knowledgeable and experienced.
See, I find labels and titles misleading and unhelpful. Looking at the way any individual approaches their own Spirituality as “advanced” or “basic” is just not helpful at all. It sets everything on a course of competitive comparison. We work on our approaches to Spirituality, trying to climb some mythical mountain of progress, marking our distance and speed towards completing each task in relation to how someone else. For me, it is not a race to get to some point, but rather the depth at which we immerse ourselves. For some folks, the necessary depth may be only ankle-deep, for others, it may be thousands of meters. There is no judgment concerning the depth an individual is willing to explore, merely that they explore.
For me, being an “advanced” Pagan is about expanding your own perspective, reaching out to feel new connections, find new ways of doing practices that have stagnated. In other words, exploring who you are and how you are connected to the wider world around you. Want to advance your devotional practice? Explore the Gods and Goddesses you work with, find new ways to connect with Them, find smaller correspondences to dig deeper into, spend a bit more time meditating on who They are. If doing things within a mystery school, a correspondence course, or even sitting down with other Pagans and discussing their approaches seems helpful – explore it. Or conversely, if doing it on your own with no assistance is more rewarding – go for it. Becoming more “advanced” isn’t solely about the learning of the minute details, it is also about the doing, the exploring, the work through trial and error…the perseverance.
Speaking of which, in order to push, pull, scratch, and claw your way through things – what is your goal? Do you desire to draw closer to your Gods, to your Ancestors, find a deeper communion with the Land…or maybe you just want to accumulate more power? Well, if it is more power that you seek, realize that there is always a trade-off in things like this. The same holds true with drawing closer to the Gods, your Ancestors, communing deeply with the Land…all of that has a trade-off in some aspect or another. Ask yourself this question before you start – are you ready to provide that trade-off, even if you have no idea what it might be?
I’ll be open and honest here…when I started down my Path towards devotional practice with Crow and Coyote, I had no clue what I was getting into. Had I thought out some of the aspects of all of this, I might have been a lot more cautious than I was. I doubt I would have said “no” – just that I would not have gone through all the jokes, humiliation, and smack-downs that I endured in the beginning. I certainly would have put my foot down a lot sooner than I did…essentially displaying my “spine” as Coyote had chided me when I expressed my frustration.
So, if you are still thinking about taking your devotional practice to the next level, I will provide some advice that I have created from my own experience. By no means do I consider this to be exhaustive or even “laws” of any sort, except in relation to my self. First, do your research. Read into the God or Goddess that you plan on working with. Find out everything you can. Pay attention to those details. Make sure some of Their actions as shown by the myths are things you can stand by. Second, weigh your options before committing. Make sure you know what you are getting into – now and in the future. If you can find those dedicated to the specific God or Goddess, talk with them. See what is being placed on their lives. If you’re still not sure – don’t be afraid to say no. After all, you have sovereignty over your life. Third, set your limits in the very beginnings of the relationship. Be prepared to accept restrictions placed on you as well. Its a relationship, there’s a two-way street going here. Fourth, pay attention to the way requests, statements and the such are worded to you. Sometimes dealing with Gods and Goddesses is like talking to lawyers. Words matter. Context is everything.
As I said, I have no idea what an “advanced” practitioner looks like or should even act like. And to be truthfully honest, I don’t really care. The depth at which you are prepared to go into your daily practice is at the comfort level that you feel you are at. If you wish to wade into deeper waters, later on, you can do that. If you need more shallow waters, you can do that as well. To me, there should never be any judgment placed on those choices. Going deeper or more shallow isn’t about advancing another level for your Dungeons and Dragons character. Your personal Spirituality isn’t some game. This, in my honest estimation, should not be about gaining degrees, titles and ranks…because none of that stuff means anything in the connection between you and your Gods.