Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Evolution of practice

It is really interesting to me, to look back, and see how my own personal path as well as the greater Pagan community at large, has changed over the years since I first started practicing (which has been just over two decades ago now).  Of course my own path has evolved as I learned more and figured out what I wanted out of my spirituality.  What was important when I was starting out isn't as vital to me any more, and I am interested in things that I barely even knew existed at the start.  And the general perception of things has changed as well.  101 books tend to tell the same things, but if you look at a 101 book from a decade (or two!) ago, and compare it to one from today, you would find a lot of differences.

I think one of the biggest differences between now and then is that when I was first learning, there was a much bigger focus put on group work and tradition.  The standard thought was that you look for a coven or group to join.  Being solitary was very much outside the box.  More books were focused on explaining the culture and practice from a scholarly standpoint than were aimed at being how-to guides for new practitioners.  It was a pretty common concept that in order to learn, you had to find a teacher.

Now, there are tons of resources out there for people wishing to learn on their own.  There are books and websites that will walk you through a progression from just learning about what Paganism or Witchcraft is through building your own personal practice.  Many involve almost no inter-personal interaction, although there are quite a few on-line schools that offer ranges of involvement with teachers or tutors.

I think the perception on traditions has changed significantly as well.  I remember Wicca being the catch-all word for anyone walking a religious Pagan path.  Wicca and witchcraft and Pagan were used almost interchangeably.  In many cases, specific regional paths (like Celtic, Norse or Egyptian) were not their own practice, but merely the flavor you choose to add to the basic method.  No matter what deities you worked with, the assumption was that you did pretty much the same things in circle, in your daily practice and with your group.

Now, the differences between traditions of Paganism are quite distinct.  Asatru is very different from Voodoo, and most Pagan's today realize that they would have very different ritual actions and practices.  And this applies not only to group work, but also to one's personal practice.  If you talk to two solitary practitioner's today, there is a good chance they will approach their paths in distinctly different ways.

I think that the walls between Paganism and other occult practices are also thinning.  There is a lot more crossover that I have seen between Paganism and Ceremonial Magic or Chaos Magic.  When I started, I did a fair amount of reading on Psionics boards and from other Occult sources because they explained things very differently.  Today, I am finding many of those same explanations, practices and theories are known to a much broader audience of Pagan's, many of whom haven't explored these other Occult areas.

I think the biggest change though is that group work is no longer considered the default way of practicing.  In forums and on-line, I meet way more people who are solitary, and have always been solitary.  While there are definitely groups out there, many group situations are more open now.  Instead of having rituals hosted in closed groups, there are a lot of open rituals for solitary practitioners to attend.  And, there are amazing options on-line for people who are unable to attend group rituals in person.  I have been to some really great on-line rituals, both life and recorded replays (to allow people from very different time zone's to experience the rituals).

Practice is changing and evolving.  I think that there is less of a stigma on people using technology in their practice today than there was a decade ago.  When I was starting out, the idea of having a virtual Book of Shadows was not very accepted, but today, many Pagan's keep a digital BOS (or have a copy of their BOS digitally for convenience even if they also keep a paper one).  Printed or commercially available sheets to put in your BOS are also a much bigger thing today, which is appealing for many people who like how pretty they are.

My personal practice has definitely become a lot less complicated.  When I was starting, I did a full circle casting for just about everything.  My rituals would often include tools for all the elements, several different candles, stones, herbs, incense, bells, cords...more or less my whole toolkit.  I had a lot of memorized ritual words, not only for casting the circle and calling the quarters, but also for the main part of the ritual.  It wasn't uncommon for me to find a ritual I liked in a book or online, then work on memorizing it, even if it was quite long.

Today, I am much more likely to work almost entirely off the cuff.  Part of that is being more familiar and comfortable with my path.  I don't need to have the full ritual to enter sacred head space.  I understand more deeply how the circle and elements interact with my self, and I can invoke them with words of my own creation in the moment.  I still love my tools, and enjoy working with them, but I don't need them to work.  I am comfortable working when I am away from home, without my tools or books, creating what I need instead of hoping I had a memorized spell that would fit.

And that is something that I see in the greater community as well.  When I was starting, there was a much bigger focus on learning established spells.  Not only were there whole books of spells, but the sort of accepted idea was that a circle casting that had been used by groups for years would work better than one you made up.  There was a bigger focus on tradition, on learning spells that were passed down from other practitioners.  Today, the focus is on learning how to craft your own spells.  It is often said today that a spell you make yourself will be more powerful than any you can read in a book because it will be tailored to your own specifics.

I am very encouraged by how I have seen the evolution of practice over the course of my own path.  I think that the published works have a ways to go still, but more and more books are coming out that are really exciting to me.  I love reading books that not only express an author's personal perspective, but where the author explains their thoughts behind why they do things the way they do instead of just publishing a 'here is how I do things' manual.  I think the reasons behind the methods are a major boost in people discovering their own ways of doing things, of being able to see things from someone else's perspective, and sometimes to realize that though things may look very different on the surface, the core of the action comes from the same space.

Looking towards the future, I am very interested in seeing how the community develops.  I think we have great potential to really create a wonderful, multi-faceted community of individuals.  And I am very excited to see new ways in which people are drawing together different practices and coming up with whole new ways of doing things.  I have talked to a lot of people who have wonderful fusion practices, blending together multiple ways into a really nifty new way of doing things.  And I think that when we start seeing these types of practices being shared with the world that it will open whole new doorways to how we view and approach our practices.

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