Yeshe Rabbit asked the following on Facebook the other day, and rather than clog up her wall with a long post, I figured I’d write about it here.
How many people who write about doing spiritual work do you think are actually DOING that work on a regular basis? Like, how many ppl who write about reading tarot are actually doing readings for people every day, or even weekly?
How many people do you think write about their spiritual lives & their relationships with animal spirits, nature, & the gods (I might say, “pontificate”), but in reality they just wake up, go to work at office jobs, daydream & write about their spirituality as an escape valve, then go home and watch TV all night? Or some variation thereof?
How important is it, to you, that a person actually practice what they preach?
What percentage of time and attention to actual spiritual activities do you think separates a mere daydreamer from an authentic practitioner?
I think these are all good questions to ask, but how people answer them are important, more so than the actual answers they give. What follows are my own thoughts about these questions:
First, the typical way folks answer these types of questions, particularly the last question, is: “I think an authentic practitioner is [insert here some opinion of a standard that the person thinks is proper for a practicing pagan].” I think of this as “the easy answer”: it is easy for someone to give their opinion, based on their tradition and practice, on who or what a “real” or “proper” practitioner is. I mean, heck, I have my own opinions on it and have pontificated on this myself. For example, I’m not so fond of Silver Ravenwolf’s books. I think they’re kind of fluffy and light, but I do give her credit for making books that are accessible to folks just starting out. I personally wouldn’t recommend them for my students, but here’s the kicker: if a student came to me saying that they got a lot out of her books and that it led them to where they are in their current practice, then who am I to argue with how they got here?
My first point is: A student’s or practitioner’s claim to being a witch/pagan/etc is not invalidated because I happen to dislike the path or reading material that they used to get there. Nor does it mean that a pagan author isn’t writing something that is authentic to their own practice.
Second, not everyone has, or benefits from, a regular or daily practice. People also grow out of practices that they no longer need. I used to go to my altar every morning and night to put my pagan jewelry on before I went to my day job and take it off before bed. It was necessary for me to do this in the beginning of my journey because it helped me to connect to deity. I don’t find it as necessary now since I don’t have jewelry that I take on and off regularly and my connection to deity is pretty well established. I also don’t do tarot on a regular basis, but when I do, people compliment me on my readings. I don’t do as much out in nature anymore, even though I love it, because I am not able to walk long distances anymore or stand for long periods of time. I do have a practice, it’s just different.
My second point is, then, that a person’s spiritual practices are their own and will shift and change as needed over time.
Third, and I think most important, is: Who are we to judge what is and is not “proper” practice? Like I said, we all have our opinions on it. There are many pagans and Christians who really like to tell me that I’m not a good practitioner of either tradition because I practice both. My former, and emotionally abusive, coven leader liked to tell us that a person could only become a proper witch by another witch (pretty old school BritTrad, actually) and was dismissive of self-initiates and other traditions.
There are also authors who have written about who and who is not a “proper pagan.” I stopped reading a particular well known author because one of their books implied that a person cannot be a proper pagan environmentalist and live in the city. I was really disappointed because I live in the city and try to do the best I can in regards to the environment. If I had the privilege of money and time, then I would love to have a homestead with a garden and the ability to put in a grey water system. But my wife and I can’t do that. We have to live in the city for the time being. We don’t really have the money or the choice. But this fact doesn’t mean we aren’t witches who care about the environment. (There’s also issues with class and race in regards to this author, but that’s a post for another time.)
Who made these people the gatekeepers of all knowledge? Just because you are an Elder, 3rd Degree, priest, minister, or Initiate in a particular religious tradition does not mean you know everything. Nor does it automatically make you worthy of respect, or that you become the Fount of All Knowledge. The same is true of authors and us as consumers of their knowledge. It’s ok to think an author is full of crap, but it doesn’t mean that what they impart won’t be helpful to someone somewhere on their spiritual journey.
This is my third, and I think probably the most important, point: We have the privilege of looking at other’s spiritual paths and practices through the lens of our own traditions and practices. While we may not agree with how someone is practicing or the way they got to, or write about, their current practice, it does not mean that our tradition or practice is in any way superior to theirs.
Or to put it another way: A daydreamer IS a practitioner. They are just different from me, or you, or anyone else. I, for one, will wish them well on the journey!