Wednesday, July 17, 2019
This is something that has come up a couple of times, in different groups I am in. The predominance of 101 and beginner information, not only in published books, but also in online groups. Many websites focus on basic stuff, books rehash the same old information, and many groups seem to share the same standard info-graphics.
So where is the advanced stuff? Sure, there are more advanced books, but many of what gets recommended as advanced books are actually just basic books for specific subjects (so instead of being a Paganism 101 book it's a Norse mythology 101 book). I've actually heard authors complaining because publishers don't want things that are more advanced, they only seem to want the general stuff, and actually told the author to take the more specific stuff out of the book so it would be more marketable.
And I do think there is some amount of truth to the idea that people who are just starting out tend to dive in with both feet. They want all the information, and will buy a half-dozen books (before realizing that they all mostly say the same stuff...).
Where it gets tricky is that a lot of the advanced stuff is just the basic stuff, but deeper. It's taking what you have learned, working with it enough that you are comfortable with it, and then seeing how you can take it further. It's actually breaking away from what you learn from other sources and figuring out how to pave your own path.
This makes advanced practice sometimes really hard for people, depending on their circumstances and how they learn. Many people are book learners, they like to see words in print, to be able to read them over and over, to take notes and organize their thoughts on the page. The struggle for these people is often weeding through the vast amounts of basic stuff for those few kernels of fresh thoughts. Or trying to read adjacent material (like history textbooks) to piece together things that aren't typically talked about (like how an ancient culture might have approached a coming of age ceremony).
Other people need to be able to sit with someone and ask questions. It's often the interplay between teacher and student that helps them. This can be hard if there isn't anyone in your area who practices. Some people need to just work it out for themselves, they actually do best if they aren't trying to read from a book or learn from someone else, and the biggest struggle they may face is breaking free from all the books and people telling them 'this is the way you need to do this".
Speaking of which, I think there is always that part of us, no matter how experienced we are, that isn't fully sure of ourselves. We all have doubts, and having those doubts doesn't make you any less of an experienced practitioner! I think it's what you do with those doubts that is more important. A beginner might feel worried about doing things right, and so they hold off. They try to find some outside source that tells them that what they are doing is right and proper and that yes they should do it. A more advanced person will examine their doubts, see if there are honest concerns that need to be addressed (like safety issues), and once those have been handled, they will trust their own knowledge and experience and move forward.
Not everything you do, even as an advanced practitioner, will end in success. But when you fail, you learn from it! You stop and examine what happened, you seek out the places where your endeavor went astray, and you figure out ways to stop it from doing the same thing in the future (even if you aren't sure of those ways...it's still something new to try out!).
I also feel that practice often follows a bell curve. You start out knowing nothing, you dive in and submerge yourself in something, and slowly you start to swim. But then, you might take a break, because we all need rest. You might go and do something else for a while. Eventually you end up where you are comfortable, and you can swim without much effort. And many people stop here, and if that is what you want, that is fine! But to take things to the next level, you need to push yourself. You need to take that deep breath and dive. You need to try to see if you can swim further, or faster or with less effort.
And I think that is where many advanced practitioners circle back (pun intended!) to the basic practices. Many will revisit meditation or circle casting, after having done it for ages, and study it AS IF IT WERE NEW! They will take all the information they have learned along the way, both about themselves and their path, what works for them and what doesn't, and they will apply it to those basic lessons. And each time you do this, your understanding of a practice becomes more complex, more multi-faceted, and more personal.
This is where I think the community is lacking. I think we have a million sharable resources for the beginner stuff. And every day, in my social media groups, I see posters and lists of correspondences, spells and motivational quotes. These are shared over and over....and people like them or comment that they agree. Sometimes people will ask if something is true, and often the response is a simple, "If you believe it, and it works for you, then yes it is true."
And all that is great and fine, but I think we, as a Witchy and Pagan community, as a global collective of people who are wanting to be spiritual and to improve ourselves, I think we need to stop just hitting the like button and start actually sharing!
Not sharing the post (though, definitely feel free to share stuff that you resonate with), but actually stopping, taking a moment to share YOUR experiences. "Yes, you can charge your stones under and eclipse moon. I did this last eclipse, and here is what happened...." "Sure, you can cleanse your house with something other than sage, I use...." "You know, everyone posts that tree meditation for grounding, but that never really worked for me. Instead, I do...."
These are the ways we can all help each other advance! By talking about what works and doesn't, by sharing our thoughts and experiences...by actually sharing what we do (no you don't have to write out the full details of every spell/ritual you do and post it online...but surely there are some things you are comfortable sharing!)
Sometimes this means being really honest about things we may not be fully comfortable with, things we may feel others might judge us for. I don't do workings every moon cycle (not actual formal, full moon stuffs). I was doing really good with my personal Sabbat rituals...but missed Midsummer (life got busy, and then whoosh it was gone). We aren't all perfect, and our practices might not be perfect...but if you do anything, talk about it! If you are struggling right now, and you aren't managing to do stuff (but you wish you could)...talk about that too. Because there are probably a dozen different people feeling bad because they feel like they should be doing more..and when one person talks about it, everyone feels more comfortable talking about it.
Books often paint this picture of 'advanced practice' as something that is frankly unrealistic for most people. Being advanced doesn't mean you have a three hour long ritual for every Sabbat that includes a full meal, crafts and seasonal spellwork. It doesn't mean you own all the crystals and herbs and are brewing up all your own cleaning and bath products. It doesn't mean that you mediate for half your day. You may do some of those things, or you may do none of those things. Advanced practice means that you have advanced beyond looking for other people to tell you what you should be doing and how to do it, and you have started making those decisions for yourself. You determine what your advanced practice is, and the more people we can get talking about it, the more everyone benefits!