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.