A Toe In the Water

By Nimue Brown

Experienced Pagans have a variety of responses to those who dabble. When a person is new to Paganism, It’s only reasonable to expect that you will need some time to look around and get your bearings before making any kind of commitment to a path, course of study or working group. I would suggest to anyone new to Paganism, that if you come under pressure to commit before you are ready, it’s probably a sign to step back from the person in question. Dedicating to a path is a huge personal commitment, and not to be done lightly. We are not birds jumping out of the nest, we do not need to be pushed and you should have the space and freedom to jump in your own time.

Many people who come into Paganism take a little time to look around, work out where they fit and settle down to doing that thing. I have every respect for the Pagan Federation in its role as portal, allowing people to come in and look around, facilitating the sharing of good information, and making the transition from dabbler to dedicant much easier. Having open spaces where exploration is safe and easy, is very important. I’m a huge advocate of open rituals, for this reason. Open rituals do not allow the kind of deep work and tight bonding of closed gatherings, but they enable exploration. Some Druid groups – ADF in America most noticeably, have a public service requirement to provide open ritual to all comers. I think this is a great idea. Even if you only do it once or twice a year, it gives the curious a chance to come along and have a look. Open rituals dispel negative myths, strengthen bonds across the wider community, and allow groups and individuals to check each other out without any pressure on either side. If you aren’t sure where you fit, then these open rituals will give you opportunities to explore, and I can’t recommend them enough.

There are also people in the Pagan community who never settle down to a specific path. I would include ‘walking my own path’ as a clear and defined path – because it is! We don’t all fit neatly into other people’s designations, some of us are happier alone, and some of us need to dance to our own tune. A commitment to explore the countryside of Paganism by leaving all the known paths and delving into the undergrowth is a perfectly valid choice and is the means by which new paths are formed. Not having a specific path means spending a while learning about wicca, and then six months with a Heathen group, before going off to study Buddhism, then Reiki, Druidry, chakras, Shamanism and so forth. There are some who refer to this as spiritual tourism, seeing it as an unwillingness to go deeper, to accept the challenging parts of a path, or to make a commitment.

I’m not sure that’s a fair or helpful perspective. The only way to find where you fit is to keep looking. Who am I to stand on the outside and judge what it is another person needs or why they have not yet been able to settle? The person who travels from one system to another learns comparative religion. They learn about the overlaps and the spaces in between, which gives them a different perspective. It’s worth noting that in chaos magic, people deliberately move through different systems to avoid developing excessive attachment to one way of working, and with a view to freeing up their own thinking process to make themselves more powerful and capable.

It’s very easy to criticise others, or to view their way of doing things as lacking substance, commitment or other virtues. Looking in from the outside, you never know what motivates another person, what they are questing after, or where their own, unique journey is supposed to go. The primary message of all polytheistic religions is that there can be no one true way. And surely, if nothing else, then a toe in the water of spirituality is better than nothing at all.

We all have opportunities to help or to hinder each other, to judge, or to try and understand. None of us are responsible for anyone else’s choice or how they develop spiritually. It doesn’t matter if we think they are doing it wrong. It matters if we think we are doing it wrong. The only right answer in Paganism is to be following the call of your own heart, your own inspiration, inner deity, higher self or whatever it is you respond to. The path under your feet is the only one that matters, and if it doesn’t go where you expected to, or other people told you it should, that doesn’t invalidate it in any way.


Nimue Brown is a Druid, author of Druidry and Meditaiton and Druidry and the ancestors, and blogs most days at www.druidlife.wordpress.comshe is passionate about non-dogmatism and inclusivity.

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    5 Responses to A Toe In the Water

    1. Tanga ---------- says:

      “Experienced” here, in my view – means someone who has practiced long, and through trial and error (and study) has found and stuck to the formula that works for them. i.e – they are no longer wondering exactly who they are and what formula is best. Whether they are in a group or solitary is immaterial. Covens are difficult to get into – this is defined by the nature of what a coven is, I think – like a “small family group” – people who know each other and have worked together for long. Think of your own family – how challenging would it be for you to fully accept a new member into it – a complete stranger? Also remember, the pagan path is nowhere near fully accepted. There’s a danger factor to openly being who you are.

      The desire to be part of a group – is a natural human need (whatever sort of group it is). We all want to have others that we can share with, bounce ideas off, and have a reciprocal “helping hand” relationship with.

      If you’ve been been knocking about for years and have had no joy finding a group – get together with a couple of others who are “in the same boat”. Start your own group. You’ll have to take it slow and long – to figure out if you like each other enough to work together as a kind of family. It’s not the destination – it’s the journey.

    2. lui says:

      i am a new pagan i have been seeking around for years for my path studying traveling history languages trying to understand ME. I am from a catholic back ground but as a child i wouls always argue with the nuns, priest, teachers it never felt correct or made any logic to me. After many years i am now grabbing the bull by the horn and taking the pundge i am going to witchfest 2013. My first full on pagan mixer i have met some peope but they were not right. This article ay everything out fantastic and for those with little or no or huge amount of knowledge, it makes it simple thank you to you. To the lady (anne) in search of a coven if it has not come to you yet those people are not for you 30 yrs wealth of knowledge ! thought about starting your own ? Many witches look for a coven but many are hush hush as it is sacred but hey you never know what they godesses/goes nature the universe or which deity or path you may follow can bring Stay strong and look for the small signs 🙂

    3. YONKS says:

      The first words “Experienced Pagans” set the whole tone of this article for me. The decision that one is experienced only exists in an individuals mind or within a group where a hierarchy exists and there is an established leadership and follower mindset. For me this contradicts everything that Paganism is and runs parallel to every other established religion where someone at the “top” is always attempting to push their way of thinking onto others.

      There pervades a need to belong, finding a group, joining a club as without doing so one is not a real Pagan. There is no recognition of the solitary Pagan, they are just dabblers in the established groups mind. That is reason enough not to join in my view. For Anne, the previous commenter, trust me, you are better off as you are, alone, practicing your beliefs happily without acceptance from an elitist group of people who would have you believe they know “secrets”!

      The last paragraph says it all. A well balanced article.
      Thank you.

    4. Anne says:

      Lovely articule, however in my 30 odd years following this spiritual path. I am still yet to invited to join a established coven. It is not for want of trying on my part. With many covens are so shrounded in secrecy, I as a genuine seeker still cannot find one.

    5. Tanga ---------- says:

      An excellent article Nimue. Pointy hat off to you – for presenting this subject with such sensitivity. I will add here re: Spiritual tourism – even if the reality is that the “spiritual tourist” is jumping from ship to ship to avoid “depth, challenge and commitment” – who are we to judge that? In reality there’s nothing wrong with it (just thinking that makes it so). We all grow at different rates. For some of us, a plateau in one lifetime is all we can manage. Such is the variety and spice of life.

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