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Studies

"Aristotle thought there were eight legs on a fly and wrote it down. For centuries scholars were content to quote his authority. Apparently not one of them was curious enough to impale a fly and count its six legs."
Stuart Chase

First, a point I need to get out of the way: "Paganism" is not a religion. Let's get that straight first off. It is a description of a type of religion – and there are many of that type. Why do I make a point of that? Because more and more often I'm seeing people referring to 'the religion of paganism' and comparing it to the religion of Wicca. Wicca is a religion – paganism isn't. I think the confusion comes in because people are trying to relate 'paganism' to 'Christianity'. The word 'Christianity' covers a group of sub-religions that all have the same basic beliefs, albeit with small differences. The word 'paganism' covers a wide range of religions that usually have very little in common. To use an analogy, we could liken Christianity to the group of 'dog'. Under that heading we have a wide variety of dogs, but they are still alike enough to interbreed. On the other hand, paganism is more like the group 'mammal'. For the most part they have very little in common with each other, and couldn't interbreed on a bet.

That said, on with the show!

I've been a mostly Celtic-oriented pagan who tries to keep most of his practices close to the historic while, at the same time, adhering to the laws of the times. So one would think that the idea of the aura would be one that I wouldn't use. However, there is too much evidence of the existence of auras, as well as a few other things, to ignore. The idea is more widespread than one would think, even if not described in the same words. If I believed in the concept of 'sin', then being wilfully ignorant and blind to the evidence of things around you would be, in my opinion, the worst sin.

At the same time, however, one must beware of being too credulous. Just because something is written in a book doesn't make it true. While many authors of Celtic and pagan oriented books do a good job of researching the material they write about, even more authors tell it like they think it ought to have been, or otherwise invent their 'facts'. Some get their information from older authors whose research might best be called questionable, or other 'iffy' sources. Unfortunately, a couple of the most popular authors fall into those latter categories. I won't mention any names, but I suggest you ask the advice of long-term practitioners for good books on the subjects you're most interested in. And by long-term I mean an adult with seven or more years of experience. Most teen pagans, while they might be widely read, don't have the practical experience to give a truely critical review.

Some of the better books for beginners include, but are not limited to:

"The Triumph of the Moon : A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" by Ronald Hutton (All the myths stripped away.)
"Pagan, Celtic Britain" by Anne Ross
"A History of Pagan Europe" by Prudence Jones, Nigel Pennick; ISBN: 0415158044
"Spiral Dance" & "Dreaming the Dark" by Starhawk (Dianic Wicca [has been described as feminist])
"Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner" by Scott Cunningham (generic Wicca)
"What Witches Do" by Stuart Farrar (One form of British Traditional Wicca)
"Power of the Witch" by Laurie Cabot and Tom Cowan (One form of non-Wiccan witchcraft)
"Complete Art of Witchcraft" by Sybil Leek (Of interest mostly for its historical value – witchcraft in the early 1900's)
"Santeria the Religion" by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler
"Fire in the Head : Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit" by Tom Cowan

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any good books in print on areas other than those mentioned above. That doesn't mean they don't exist, just that I don't know about them. However, there some very good online informational sites, some of which are listed on my links page.

Other than Scott Cunningham, whose books are rather simplistic and generic, each of the above tells of a different tradition. So, as you can imagine, you cannot read just one book and know all there is to know about any form of paganism. Indeed, NO book tells the whole of any tradition, since at least some of the material is kept private by each one*, and some of their material is only passed on orally – an old tradition of many religions. What books do accomplish, however, is give you enough of an overview to be able to decide whether you wish to learn more.

For a critical look at the sources of pagan traditions, I suggest Ronald Hutton (listed above). A long-time pagan himself, he cuts to the bone looking for the truth.

Over time, it is possible to learn quite a lot on your own, but know that if you are only seeking spells and power, you are looking in the wrong place. The pagan traditions are, above and beyond all else, religious and spiritual paths designed to aid the individual's personal growth. Topics you will wish to study are history, archeology, biology, mythology, herbology, ecology and divination (at least one system). It will take several years to cover these subjects well. I suggest you start with history, archeology and mythology.

Many, unfortunately, have turned to Silver Ravenwolf's books. I could go into a long rant to tell you why trying to learn from her is a mistake, but others have already done that work, so I'm only going to give you links to them:

The Problem With Silver Ravenwolf
Why We Despise Silver Ravenwolf

One last thing. Over time, the use of the term "self-initiation" has become quite widespread. This is a mistake in language. One cannot self-initiate. It is an inherent impossibility, given the meaning of the word. YourDictionary.com defines 'initiation' as:

Main Entry: ini.ti.a.tion
Pronunciation: i-"ni-shE-'A-sh&n;
Function: noun
Date: 1583
1 a : the act or an instance of initiating b : the process of being initiated c : the rites, ceremonies, ordeals, or instructions with which one is made a member of a sect or society or is invested with a particular function or status
2 : the condition of being initiated into some experience or sphere of activity : KNOWLEDGEABLENESS

As you can see, to 'initiate' means to 'be started' or 'let in'. It requires that someone else open the door. I'm certain that the word they meant was 'dedication', defined as:

Main Entry: ded.i.ca.tion
Pronunciation: "de-di-'kA-sh&n;
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
1 : an act or rite of dedicating to a divine being or to a sacred use
2 : a devoting or setting aside for a particular purpose
3 : a name and often a message prefixed to a literary, musical, or artistic production in tribute to a person or cause
4 : self-sacrificing devotion
- ded.i.ca.to.ry /'de-di-k&-"tOr-E, -"tor-/ adjective

So if you decide to take a pagan path and wish to learn on your own, the next step would be a self-dedication to that path and to the god/s of your choice.


* The laws and rituals, usually. This is done so that none can pass themselves off as a priest/ess or teacher of that tradition without having had the training approved by that tradition.
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