The Pagan Blog Project: C is for Correctness
The word “correctness” can cause a vast array of reactions. While one person cheers on correctness the same way they might cheer on formality and tradition, another person is rolling their eyes or trying to run.
Correctness is also why many people who come to paganism from outside instead of having grown up in it often get stuck on the doorstep. They may really want to try out a path or reach out to a deity, but get so caught up in the correct way of doing it that they never actually go through the motions.
I’ll use myself as an example. Heathenry was the first major pagan path I tried, and that was largely due to the fact that I wanted to learn the runes. Not only did I want to learn the runes, but I wanted to learn them correctly. If I’m going to do it, by gods, I’m going to do it right! I had a similar attitude any time I wanted to make an offering to a deity, or celebrate some form of a holiday.
What was the result? I would often read so much about it, get so many different ideas and beliefs on the “right” way to do something, that I would eventually panic and throw out the whole thing. Even with my rune study, which I did in fact see through to the end, I found myself being extremely stressed somewhere in the third Aett because I once again got caught up in whether or not I was doing things the way I should be doing them. And when I would follow something through, I would be more caught up in script than the actual spiritual connection.
This is not to say that correctness is bad. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary depending on the path you are following. If you are strict recon, then yes, you should be paying close attention to the traditional way of doing something. If you are more recon-derived, well, there’s a little more room for change but you still need to be knowledgeable, and if you base your practice completely off your own gnosis, then the options are limitless (or not, depending on your own beliefs of course).
Having moved from recon-derived to whatever-I-am-now, I’ve found a couple of things that help me keep correctness on the radar without completely letting it rule my life.
- Be respectful. If you are reaching out towards a specific deity, whether you are following traditional means or your own derivation, be respectful. If you are trying out a different path, same story. And please always be considerate of closed cultures. By being respectful you will likely keep yourself in better standing as you fumble your way through, but you will also find yourself more capable of hearing and feeling what’s going on around you. Respecting someone or something requires attention.
- Be realistic. Know what your limits are, and be ready to balance tradition with practicality. Sure, maybe you’re supposed to offer the god of 3rd street a human heart every Thursday at 2 pm, but unless you have something worked out with a coroner and a pretty open work schedule, that’s just not going to be a happening thing. Heimdall might really like a cut of lamb, but if you can barely feed yourself Ramen, there’s probably other ways you can show your devotion to Heimdall.
- Be aware. Listen for cues. My biggest one was an abyss of depression telling me that by the book correctness wasn’t the way for me to go. As I branch out, I have to be even more aware of myself and what’s going on around me. Cues can come from within and without. Listen.
- Keep learning. If you are following a more formal traditional path, you have a lifetime of study ahead of you. But so too do those who are making up their own, albeit a different kind. No matter the case, keep reading, keep communicating, keep working. You will never have all the answers, but you will have a lifetime of growth.
- Leave room for surprises. You don’t want to be that person whose entire religious practice hinges on one interpretation of some symbol, only to find out through some new discovery that that symbol wasn’t at all what you thought it was. That’s just one example, of course. This happens with various traditions and pantheons as well. Think you’re 100% loyal to the Norse pantheon, then suddenly BOOM, hi Bast. Or Hades. Or Lugh. You get the idea. Always be willing to be surprised. That doesn’t mean that you have to make drastic changes with every surprise presented to you, but at least be ready to face them.
Most of all, don’t get so swamped in correctness that you cease to live your life, either spiritually or otherwise. Correctness is great because it goes right in with powerful words like tradition and stability, but just as any earthy individual will tell you, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Ground too much and it’s suddenly extremely hard to move again.