The Pagan Blog Project: H is for “Helping”
Let’s talk about helping. Most new people around the pagan community ask for a lot of help. This is of course a great way to get to know people while starting to find your way. Better yet, there is a seemingly endless number of people who are always willing to help by either giving you advice, imparting their own knowledge and opinions, or doing some kind of reading or spell for you. Some will even talk to the gods for you to help you out.
It’s all great, right?
There are a few ways I would like to approach this subject. First, let’s talk about that new person.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you start to get into paganism and witchcraft, whether you are approaching it in a real group setting or an online one. There is so much to learn, after all, and it’s all very interesting. Therefore, it’s completely natural to look for mentors or at least experts on the subjects that most interest you in hopes of gaining some of that wisdom.
But how do you know who to trust? How do you know that the other person isn’t purposefully or unintentionally feeding you misinformation? At what point do you take what they are telling you and apply it to your own practices?
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start your journey and begin to find people to look up to:
- Use your brain. I would like to make this numbers 1-7 of this list, but we’ll just start with it so you can keep it in mind as you read. Seriously though, if you use your brain at all times, you will avoid a large portion of the pitfalls newbies often fall into. Question everything, and take nothing at face value. Don’t assume everything you hear or read is correct.
- Consider why someone deserves your trust. Not everyone is trustworthy, and even people who are genuinely trying to be helpful can mislead you. Three and four below expand on this, but it’s also necessary to say that popularity does not equal trustworthiness. Just because someone has fifty kabillion followers does not make them the Witch Queen.
- Look for credentials. Or if not credentials, at least signs of real knowledge and research. If you’re interested in a reconstructionist/revivalist path, find people who actively show their knowledge and cite their sources. If you’re more into magic, the lines get a little blurrier depending on your personal views, but (going back to number 1) use your brain. If something in a spell sounds dangerous, please don’t do it just because so-and-so said you should.
- Understand their motivation. Are they working towards their own goals and enjoy helping others along the way? Are they more in it for the attention, or even power? Are they aware that they are also learners and are just looking for other people around their same level to work with? These questions are usually not easy to answer right away, so be mindful the more you associate with someone.
- Students playing Teacher can often do the worst harm. GLE on Tumblr wrote up a piece called “On Teaching” last year. It is definitely worth a read, especially if you think you are getting to the point where you really do know your stuff and you feel advanced enough to start helping others. Even if you are very knowledgeable, consider whether or not you are ready to deal with the consequences of being a teacher/leader/mentor. Are you prepared to be responsible for someone else’s actions? That’s a large part of teaching.
- Don’t be afraid to disagree or back out if you feel uncomfortable. This goes right back to number 1 again. USE YOUR BRAIN. If you’ve gotten to a point where you respect someone and then suddenly start learning more about them or seeing their work and finding it against your personal beliefs, it’s okay to drop the whole thing. I’ve learned this a lot in heathen circles when dealing with the unfortunately prominent racism issues.
- Don’t compare yourself to your mentor. They (theoretically) have much more experience than you do. Take your time, and don’t feel inferior because you aren’t as experienced or well-read as they are. These kinds of feelings tend to just get in the way of actual growth, sparking superficial growth instead that could get you into trouble.
So what happens when you start to feel like you are no longer a new person? After all, you’ve heard the answers so many times that you can rattle them off just as well as someone with ten more years of experience. Why not do so?
First off, if you haven’t already read the link in number 5, do so now.
It may be tempting to try to glide from newbie to master in a matter of months. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen (at least it shouldn’t). Does that mean you have nothing to offer the greater community? Absolutely not! Likely after a few months you will have gleaned quite a bit of good information about your main interests. Given another year you may be a bit of an expert and able to answer simple questions about them. As you learn and grow, participate in discussions. Ask questions. Give your opinions. Just don’t be quick to get your feelings hurt when someone who has been at this a lot longer has something to say and may disagree with you. Take every occasion as an opportunity to learn.
This topic is important to me because I am definitely one of those people who wants to help even though I am not qualified. I’m sure I said some silly things starting out, thinking I knew exactly what I was talking about. Being around thirty years old and entering this sphere for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was severely lacking because most of the others around my age range were much further along their path. It took me a very long time to stop comparing myself to their work and to stop trying to compensate for my perceived deficiencies by acting like I knew more than I did.
As a pagan blogger, it’s even more tempting to throw information around because you feel like that’s the only way anyone will take you seriously. But, again, that usually just results in making a fool of yourself or, at worse, hurting someone. I’ve found that treating blog posts like homework assignments helps me a lot. It gives me a place to compile information I’ve found and toss ideas around with others closer to my experience range as well as with some more experienced than I am. That’s a large part of what my rune study was, and even still I would find myself thinking I knew more than I did.
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the desire to help and teach. That just shows that you are serious and enthusiastic about your studies. The trick is knowing how far to go and keeping a level head as you make decisions.