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Okay, I have to say it--I do not understand these folks who decide to become heathen or pagan and the first thing they do is look for "a teacher." Seriously, maybe I'm weird, but my impulse would be to do my own research first! Wouldn't it make more sense to try to gain a broader base of information before handing oneself over to some random person? Why would someone think that this random person would be at all knowledgable, or even trustworthy, if they had no exposure to the faith in question ahead of time? How would they be able to tell?

I don't mean folks who ask for information or to be pointed to resources--or who do some work, realize that they've gotten as far as they can on their own, and ask for assistance in going further. That's reasonable. But that's not what you see--what you see is people who are looking for someone to hand them a pre-formed spirituality, whether because they don't want to do the work themselves or because they can't let go of the notion that there must be a single Truth out there--or, I suppose, because they are looking for the secrets of the universe or some such thing, and obviously anyone who happens to be hanging out on an email list would not only possess them but would jump at the chance to hand them out to anyone who asked. I'm not particularly offended by this--caveat emptor and all that--but I just hate to see so many people shutting off their brains before they've even tried to engage them.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 6th, 2004 06:11 pm (UTC)
I think folks like that are maybe looking for an experience of relationship. I know I got tired of being alone in my search, and sad too. But relationship with hierarchy doesn't work for me.
Jul. 6th, 2004 06:16 pm (UTC)
You're right, it is the hierarchy that I object to. If these folks were looking to start study groups, thus taking part in discussions, doing some of the work, and thinking for themselves, that would be great (and a really good way to learn stuff!). You just don't see it, you see people looking for "experts."

But yeah, I do see your point about seeking a companion on the journey. Hopefully one who will walk beside you, not in front of you :).
Jul. 6th, 2004 06:11 pm (UTC)
And the congregation shouts "Amen"! ;-)
Agreed; it's as if they want to be "told" rather than to "learn". Sure it's nice to have guidance- and necessary for some things- but to sit and be given it all on a platter, laid out neatly? Even if things *could* be transmitted that way, they would have little to no value in that format- not like knowledge that is fought for and truly learned "from the heart"- “won” or “earned”. I guess that's why "the mysteries" are deemed experiential. I also wonder sometimes if this "need to be told" phenomenon is due to the overall "dumbing down" in the education system that is occurring in most English-speaking countries. (Allen Bloom has a great book about this: "The Closing of the American Mind". It applies here in Oz as well, and from what I hear from my Brit pals, there too.) Or perhaps it is because most "pagan" seekers come from faiths like Christianity, Judaism & Islam that have such a legacy of authoritarian behaviour, and firm orthodoxy. Perhaps most folks aren't accustomed to practices that are orthopraxic.
Jul. 6th, 2004 06:23 pm (UTC)
Re: And the congregation shouts "Amen"! ;-)
Perhaps most folks aren't accustomed to practices that are orthopraxic.

I think you're right on that point, and you're also right about it being habit, learned behavior. Many of the seekers are young people, and the model of learning most are familiar with is the public school system, in which most learning is done via the "remember what the teacher says and tell it back to them on the test" method. It's not a very good model for dealing with the rest of the world, however.

It is a bit amusing-but-sad that people who are seeking an alternative spirituality are so eager to overlay it with a traditional structure.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 7th, 2004 05:16 am (UTC)
a guy who said he would teach me stuff including sex magick, but Matt had to be okay with him having sex with me

Ick, ick, ick! :P

I'm actually not sure exactly why it is that "I need a teacher!" sets my eyes to rolling, moreso than many other annoying pagan tendencies (although not as badly as "anyone got any spells I can have?" :)). I think it may have something to do with the idea it implies that there is a one right way, and if one just finds that one right way, all the wonders of the universe will be revealed with very little further effort. Or maybe it has to do with my apparently-inherent need to question authority, I don't know. I've never had any desire for a guru, and I find it difficult to understand why anyone else would want one. :)

Jul. 7th, 2004 11:40 am (UTC)
a guy who said he would teach me stuff including sex magick,

What is it with people like this???

My first experience with seeking out a circle ended up very similar.

Not a guy ... but a couple. By the end of the meeting, it was very clear they were looking for new bodies to add to their stable for polyamory ... or perhaps swinging is better because polyamory seems to be more commmitted than that.

Either way, I don't care -- just that lifestyle doesn't suit me personally ... AND I was there about a circle for pagan worship on esbats & sabbats ... not there to see if I wanted to have sex with all the circle members.

5 years later I finally got up the nerve to contact ADF because after that first experience I was afraid to see what else I'd find if I tried again.
Jul. 8th, 2004 04:02 pm (UTC)
My first experience with seeking out a circle ended up very similar.

Geez, where do these people come from? Gah! Well, at least they were upfront about it and let you know right away.

The scary thing is that this has to work some of the time because otherwise they wouldn't try it.

I suppose I'm sounding like more of a prude than I actually am, here :). I have no problem with sexuality being an essential part of someone's spirituality, or of a particular spiritual path. Heck, I don't really care what anyone else does as part of their religion, as long as it's mutual and neither forced nor coerced. But some of the things you hear about are pretty creepy. Beginners need to know that they have options, and the call for "a teacher" kind of shuts that down for them before they even get started.
Jul. 7th, 2004 12:10 am (UTC)
You've had some responses talking about how people come out of traditions of passive learning both in school and in their childhood religion. But I also think languages tend to be a real weak spot and source of fear for most English speakers--and Germanic stuff is studded with linguistic challenges. Also there are a lot of heathens who emphasize the importance of doing heathenry right--it's very much built into the gestalt of the religion. So I kind of understand newbies seeking instruction--the clearer and more structured, the better. I can see it as an understandable fear response, and in fact many, many heathens look down on people winging it. What I tend to look down on more is those who have been heathen for a while but stopped at a very basic level of knowledge--for example, never attempting to puzzle out the original Norse or Anglo-Saxon for a crucial passage whose exact meaning they worry about, never learning the names of the gods in the Old Tongues or how to pronounce key words, including those names. That's where my personal bias kicks in--I don't understand why a heathen would not wish to know more than many settle for.

Jul. 7th, 2004 05:45 am (UTC)
Also there are a lot of heathens who emphasize the importance of doing heathenry right--it's very much built into the gestalt of the religion

This is an excellent point--and one brought up by one of my kindred members at Pagan Coffee Night tonight. And of course there are plenty of heathens ready and willing to tell you if they think you are doing it wrong! None of them speak for heathenry as a whole, though, and so the heathen community has developed into a fairly diverse group of people. For me, for example, the hierarchy built in to some varieties of Anglo-Saxon heathenry would be a hard sell; I guess it's the Icelandic model that seems to be so common (although I'm not sure how "Icelandic" the Icelandic model is! :)). For others it's something that enriches their religion in a very important sense and brings them closer to their spiritual roots. Both types have their standards, but they are not the same standards.

As far as languages go, I hope to gain enough knowledge to translate with help from references. It will help, I think, that I have some familiarity with Germanic languages (native English speaker, and had three years of mostly-forgotten German in college). I'd like to learn enough old Norse to figure out for myself which translations are most accurate, and Dan has an interest in old English, so I suppose in theory we have it covered!

I don't understand why a heathen would not wish to know more than many settle for

I think we all hit a point where we are comfortable enough with our knowledge base that we feel less need to push ourselves. Of course that point will fall in different places for different heathens. I know I'm no loremaster and probably never will be, but I do study it.

Actually I think the most interesting example of what you're talking about happened when I was among heathens and Eir was honored--several folks there hailed "him"!
Jul. 7th, 2004 03:18 am (UTC)
While I'm very wary about handing over my instruction about anything to just anyone, there is something to be said about personal instruction.

For example, I learned far more about meditation by having a teacher teach me how than reading it in a book and trying to apply it.

Otoh, I've been consciously pagan for about 5 years now, and still haven't found a "teacher". Nor have I looked for one in earnest. So, I do agree with you that saying "I think I'm pagan, who wants to be my priest/ess??" is not the smartest way to do it.

Other people have made the points about being trained most of our formative lives to need a teacher to learn anything. If these people came from christian religions, there's alot of spoon feeding there too.

And then there's that worry about doing things "wrong". OMG, I used TABLE salt not KOSHER salt ... awful things will happen with this spell. I said "thee" instead of "thou" in that incantation ... the gods will hate me forever! I'm exagerating to silliness here but I've seen some people get all worked up over perfection. And it's not about perfection, it's about so much more than that.
Jul. 7th, 2004 06:05 am (UTC)
Actually, you bring something up that hadn't occurred to me--that different people learn best in different ways. Some folks do better being shown things, others do better on their own, and it varies with the subject as well.

And then there's that worry about doing things "wrong".

Yeah, I know pagans--including some recons--who, well, don't do ritual because they haven't discovered or worked out the ideal way to do it yet. They'd rather do nothing than take a chance on getting it wrong.
Jul. 7th, 2004 11:33 am (UTC)
Yeah I don't get people who are so afraid to do anything they do nothing.

It seems to me this is one case where sincerity is more important than competence. If you're sincere in your desire to honor/connect/etc with the gods, then flub ups don't matter.

Then again, my belief system holds that all the rituals & toystools are for our benefit. They help us get altered and focus on the goal at hand.

Besides, did the recons ever consider that maybe the ancients didn't do it perfectly either?
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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