Choosing the right pagan path for you (Paganism 101 Ch. 10)

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Photo by Brett Sayles, accessed via Pexels.

Finding a religion is kind of like dating — you need to really know yourself before you can know what you need from a religion (or a romantic partner). And, like with dating, there’s a lot of weird stigmas and social expectations around religion. A lot of people want to settle down with the first one they kind of vibe with instead of taking the time to see what’s really out there. But if you really want to be happy in the long term, you’ll need to have a little patience and be willing to do some exploration. 

Getting to know yourself is crucial to a healthy spiritual life, no matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs are. Get comfortable with who you are and what your spiritual needs are, then start looking for a system that meets those needs.

Need a place to start? Try interviewing yourself! Here are some questions you may want to include in your self-interview (make sure to write them down!): 

What, if anything, do you absolutely know, beyond a shadow of doubt, is true? What, if anything, do you absolutely know, beyond a shadow of doubt, is not true? Do you believe in absolute good and evil? Do you believe in, or are you open to believing in, reincarnation? What about the existence of the soul? What about an afterlife? Do you believe in fate? What about karma or a similar concept? Do you believe that everyone and everything is connected, or are you more of an individualist? 

It’s also helpful to go ahead and figure out where you stand on certain religious concepts that are common in paganism. For example, are you a monist, a soft polytheist, a hard polytheist, or a pantheist? Do you feel you’d do better with a neopagan system, a reconstructionist system, or a revivalist system

Answering these questions will help you start to identify what your core beliefs are and what you need from a religious system. Keep your answers handy. As we explore different pagan religions in future posts, compare their theology and philosophy to your answers. This will help you determine whether any given system is a good fit for you and your existing beliefs. 

Remember, most pagan faiths are not exclusionist — they acknowledge the value and truth of other religions. Choosing a pagan path isn’t about finding the One True Religion. It’s about finding the best religion for you. 
You’re unlikely to find a system that you agree with 100% right off the bat, but you should agree with enough core theology that you aren’t uncomfortable. I firmly believe that religion should challenge us and help us to grow, but it definitely shouldn’t be triggering or upsetting. You want to find that sweet spot where you’re comfortable but still have room for growth.

They say that when choosing a romantic partner, you should look for someone you agree with 90-95% of the time. This similarity in belief and opinion gives you a solid foundation to build on, but the 5-10% disagreement keeps your relationship from becoming an echo chamber. I think this is also an excellent rule to follow when choosing a religion. 

Once you’ve taken stock of your own beliefs, it’s time to consider your interests. Is there a certain system you feel drawn to? If so, that would be an excellent place to start your research!

For example, maybe you were obsessed with Greek mythology as a kid — if so, you may want to start by investigating Hellenismos, the worship of the ancient Greek gods. Maybe you grew up Catholic and always felt a close connection to Mother Mary — you may want to investigate Goddess worship. Or maybe you’ve always resonated deeply with the figure of the witch in fiction and folklore — you may want to investigate Wicca. Starting with a system you already have an interest in will keep your research fun and exciting. 
You may or may not choose to consider your cultural heritage when choosing a starting point for your study of paganism. If you feel closely tied to the culture of your ancestors, you might start by learning about the gods they originally worshiped. 

Let me make one thing clear: the gods do not care about genetics. If you feel drawn to the Norse gods, for example, it does not matter if you have Scandinavian heritage or even European heritage. What matters is whether you’re willing to uphold the values and practices of Norse paganism. Don’t let a lack of an ancestral link keep you from pursuing a religion that interests you! 

(Of course, ethnic religions do exist, and some of these systems are closed to outsiders. Judaism and Voodoo are good examples of this. However, all of the systems I’ve mentioned in this post, and all of the ones I’ll be covering in this series, are open to anyone regardless of their ethnicity.) 

You may not feel connected to your cultural heritage at all, and you may not even consider it as you explore paganism. That’s fine! Just know that it does offer another possible entry point into the big, wide, diverse world of pagan religion. 

You should also consider whether any pagan religions are more readily accessible to you than others. Do you have a friend who is already a practicing pagan and would be willing to take you under their wing? Do you live in a country where certain deities used to be worshiped and have access to historic sacred sites? Are there local pagan groups in your community? Consider these resources when deciding where to start your research. The good news is that, with the Internet, you’ll have access to any system you feel attracted to, at least online. 

One of the most common accessibility issues pagans run into is a language barrier. This is especially true for reconstructionists and revivalists. Unless you speak fluent Irish, you’ll probably have to rely on English translations for your research of Irish mythology, for example.

Finding quality translations is essential. A translation error can sometimes change the entire meaning of a poem or myth! The best way to find good translations is to ask other pagans. Don’t be afraid to ask someone more experienced for book recommendations!

Once you’ve chosen a starting point for your research, the next step is to start reading! (Still not sure where to start? Don’t worry! In the next several posts in this series, I’ll introduce you to some of the most popular pagan paths and provide resources for more in-depth study.) 

Choose your sources carefully. I try to read an even mix of academic sources (which tend to be less biased) and sources from pagan authors — this helps me get a more nuanced understanding of the system I’m studying. Be wary of any resource that denies science, revises history, or contradicts other authorities on the subject. Also be wary of any pagan author who fills their work with opinion and personal experience, without any research to back it up. Basing your practice on good sources will help you start off on the right foot with your worship of the gods. 

It’s important not to rush this research process. While it’s true that you can’t truly learn a spiritual system from books, it’s also true that things tend to go more smoothly if you know what you’re doing. 
Once you’ve got a solid grasp of the basics of your chosen religion, you’re ready to begin practicing! 
Start using what you’ve learned from your research to create a religious practice. This may include creating an altar or other sacred space, making offerings to deities, or performing some other daily ritual. My advice is to start small — don’t feel like you have to become a high priest(ess) overnight. 

Your practice may change as you become more experienced, and that’s a good thing. People change, and it only makes sense for our spirituality to change with us. Never be afraid to experiment in your pagan practice. This should be a fun and exciting journey! 

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