First before, I get going too far, I want to thank Oh My Gods! for the use of the above strip in this blog. I have been a long-time fan of the strip, and am really thrilled to be given permission to utilize this particular strip for this blog post. I happened across this today (September 18th) in my Facebook feed, and realized that this would work perfectly with this particular post. Visit all the folks over at Oh My Gods! and relax with some of the best Pagan-oriented comedy I have ever read. Again, many thanks to the folks there for the use of this, much appreciated.
So, many folks within Paganism have had a similar moment that Victor is having here. They spend their forty-five bucks for some form of instruction in a magickal tradition and have all the secrets available to them. Or, in my own current case, they have spent their money and received their monthly Gwers lessons from OBOD. They rip the package open (carefully, so you don’t rip any part of the booklets, leaflets or whatever may be contained within the packing), leaf through the pages of the information, or listen to the recorded lessons contained within, and it happens….the magickal osmosis begins and the information is leaked into a corner of their brain meats. And their magickal hit points are increased. Their experience points move upwards, and according to the Players’ Handbook – they have moved up to level-three Druid or fifth-level Bard. Now they are ready to take on new modules and adventures with their newfound knowledge.
Yes, you have spent money on getting the materials. Regardless of the total cost, part of that is to cover the production and shipping of what you have in your hands or on your headphones, as the case may be. Reading it is a good first step. Or listening to it, if you will. But that is not the total end of it. There is still a lot of work to be done. The lessons have exercises to try. Not just a single time, but many times over. Repetition is a key part of what you now have. Repetition brings things to rote memory, particularly where ritual patterns and concepts are concerned.
Yes, Virginia, there are patterns and a conceptual perception that is a part of learning rituals. Yes, you are reading that correctly for someone that leans HEAVILY on an extemporaneous ritual format in his own daily practice. But that is one’s daily practice. When working with others, formalized ritual practice is necessary so that everyone is on the same page, so to speak. When you are working through the exercises presented to you, it is important to follow the basic outline, learn it, and live it BEFORE you change it. Much like eating sushi, you will never know if you like it or not until you have tried it. More than once.
Besides, is that not why you sent away for these lessons in the first place? To learn what is being offered? Or is it just to sit on your shelf, becoming a set of “impressive” titles that you can have gazing down on the visitors to your office? Sort of like getting a diploma with an impressive array of collegiate initials, so as to impress people? And for the record, I do have an MBA (Masters of Business Administration), but it is just a set of initials I can place behind my name on a professional signature block. It doesn’t make me any smarter than anyone else.
But is Victor doing bad by purchasing his lessons from a location? Maybe. I think it would all depend on where he is running off to spend his money. There are tons of Get-Witch-Quick places out there. There are a lot of long-distance education and correspondence learning formats that are so much more than that. How do you pick? Well, that’s really up to you. I chose OBOD’s system after a lot of personal research. It works for what I need it to be (and far better than I had originally realized). But I certainly wouldn’t pick based on whether someone I knew looked down their nose at it or not.
For me, the framework that OBOD has allowed me to hang my own personal aspect of Polytheism wherever I needed it to be – as close to the center of my personal practice or as far away from it as I needed it to be. I also realize that this same framework does not necessarily work for anyone else. But just because I purchase my lessons from somewhere in the United Kingdom and do not have someone immediately available for face-to-face conversation ascribes no demeaning value to it. Nor does the reception of each package in my mailbox mean that I just set the CDs and Lesson booklets on top of my head while I sleep – letting the knowledge seep in. Each lesson holds exercises for me to accomplish. And each lesson takes me a step further along a Path I have chosen to walk. Many others have walked this same Path, and their own individual experiences have provided to them lessons and experience that is unique to them.
Nor does the reception of each package in my mailbox mean that I just set the CDs and Lesson booklets on top of my head while I sleep – letting the knowledge seep in. Each lesson holds exercises for me to accomplish. And each lesson takes me a step further along a Path I have chosen to walk. Many others have walked this same Path, and their own individual experiences have provided to them lessons and experience that is unique to them. For, in the end, we can walk the same deer trod through the forest, but what we encounter is unique to our own steps on our own journey.
Sure, Victor can believe that he has purchased his own tradition in a box. But its really meaningless until he starts to do the work, walk the steps, learn the lessons, and bring all of that into his everyday life. Yes, adding all of this into your everyday life is important, at least in my own opinion. I tried to compartmentalize my mundane life from my own Spiritual practice. And failed miserably at both. I only had the footing for a single step. After that, I found myself scrambling to achieve a balance rather than living the life that I wanted to have. I do not proclaim myself to be a Pagan openly by wearing an “I am a Pagan” button everywhere that I go. I really do not need to. I am who I am. And when I started taking the lessons to heart, applying each one to my daily life – I had no need to struggle for a balance. I achieve it every morning that I step outside to greet the sun.
Victor will have that balance as well, even with his $44.95 Tradition-in-a-Box – provided he is willing to put in the hard work to learn the lessons and apply them to his life. The same goes for you; whoever might be reading this. Whether your lessons come via the post or done in a face-to-face learning situation – its the work that you, as an individual, put into learning, doing, and living your magickal life that matters most. And there is absolutely no substitute for that.
“If you want to be something, you have to really want it. You have to be immersed in it every single day. You have to do the hard, sometimes boring, work. You have to do the research, the reading, writing things down, the rituals, the magick workings. You have to understand the theories behind the concepts, try your best to put theory into practice, manage the framework until you know it backwards and forwards. Once you have the basics down, you can work in the world of improvising. But before you try to change, you have to try to live it.”
I am extremely embarrassed to admit that it took me a very, very long time before I realized how important that statement really is. No matter what you are trying to do in your life. I wrote that statement three years ago. That’s right, I was forty-eight years old when I wrote that. I have been on a Pagan Path for close to twenty-seven years at that time. At that time, I had always thought I was living a “deep and fulfilling” life within Paganism. A few smacks to the back of my head later, along with some humiliating moments where I was shown just how shallow my understanding of Pagan practice really was – and Coyote had set me firmly onto looking for a deeper understanding of what I was really trying to do.
Once again, I tried the easy route. I figured that I only needed to dive deeper into the study of what I was working with. At this point, I was looking for ways to incorporate parts of First Nations’ Shamanism into my daily life. Once again, I felt the paw to the back of my head, and the feathery embrace of another Trickster – Crow. Before I started down a path of trying to improvise to my belief structure, I needed to create a framework from which to build on it. And here, I was lost. What could I use as a basis for who I am, that would be a pliable enough framework to build from?
Turns out, I had already started down this road a few years earlier. The work of the Bardic Grade within the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids was what I needed. While the ritual aspect was not quite what I wanted to work with, I found that these could be replaced with my own improvised works. Success! I found something that I could utilize to build my own Spiritual understanding upon! Except that I was wrong again. On the right track, just not looking at things the way that I needed to.
See, instead of interchanging things as I learned, I needed to learn the entire framework first. I needed to live my lessons. To be able to utilize the framework and build from it, I needed to learn the framework first. In the same way that musicians learn and live their scales and basic structures first, I needed to do the same thing within my work with the Bardic Grade. This was why I kept starting, stopping and going backwards in the lessons. I wasn’t grasping the lessons, because I was trying to improvise from something where I didn’t even know the basics. I needed to stop once more. And start AGAIN, but this time I needed to immerse myself in what I was learning. I needed to live the lessons I was learning, I needed to dive deeply into what I was learning. Skimming the top wasn’t going to work. So, I did just that seven months ago and I am happy to note that I have spent a lot of time in the lessons re-learning things. But I am also seeing changes in how I approach my own beliefs.
I pull data from databases for a living. I learn SQL code every single day. Every database system has a different language structure. Its similar to other databases, but some of the coding structure is different. That requires me to learn new concepts, and it requires me to use that new coding style every single day. I have to immerse myself in this new language, so that I become proficient. That makes me capable of completing the jobs I need to in order to finish my work.
Spiritual work is no different. I am unlearning aspects of Roman Catholicism every single day – even though I haven’t seen a Catholic mass since I was seventeen (1983 for those needing a year). Prior to all of that, I will have to admit – I was much closer to being an Instant-Pudding Pagan than anything else.
What is an Instant-Pudding Pagan? Well, think about how instant pudding gets made. You open a package of pudding mix, and dump that into a bowl. Then you pour some cold milk into the bowl, pull out the whisk, and mix it together. Once you’re done, you place the bowl and contents into the fridge to let everything set. An Instant-Pudding Pagan takes a little bit o stuff from here and there, places all of that into a container (their brain or whatever), gets out the magickal whisk/wand, stirs it all together, and then lets it set for a period of time. Once it sets, the result is pronounced to be a full-fledged Pudding, and is smacked on the head with the whisk/wand to announce this to the world at hand.
I did a lot of that during my earlier years as a Pagan. I spent a lot of time sampling from place to place – tradition to tradition – looking for something that would work. A spiritual system that I could work and grow within comfortably. As I went from place to place, I gathered ingredients here and there, and started to create my own spiritual beliefs. But I had no base to work from, and that didn’t help me at all. I had nothing in which to cultivate some of these ideas and concepts I had skimmed off from other systems. So, my spirituality didn’t grow well for me. Like I said, it only dawned on me three years ago that I needed to do things differently.
Now, those of you gathering clubs and torches to destroy me over describing your method of Spiritual Belief as “Instant-Pudding” – let’s set all that on the ground and remember something. If that method works for you, and you have grown something in that manner which works for you – I could not be more thrilled for you. In fact, you have no idea how wide my smile is, because I am proud of people who find things that work for them – no matter where or how they find those methods. I use the “Instant Pudding” term as a descriptive that allows a more visual interpretation by some. Its not meant to be demeaning, just a descriptive methodology. So, please don’t freak out over the descriptive. Demeaning someone is not the purpose of this.
I keep hearing the line from the old Rocky Horror Picture Show in my head when I write about this. “Don’t dream it, be it.” For me, I have found most things require hard work. There are things that need to be done and understood before making changes to get things to suit me. And if I am trying to learn it, living it is one of the best learning techniques for me. It might not be the best technique for someone else, but it certainly seems to be providing the results that I had been hoping for – and providing me with a perspective I would never have comprehended before.