by Irene Glasse
One of the things that drew me to Paganism early on was its emphasis on sovereignty: our path through this spiritual form is a self-governed one. We are our own priests, liturgists, omen-readers, and teachers. The edges of our Path gradually form themselves out of the different approaches and techniques we try. Over time most of us find a pattern: a set of practices that link up to a natural rhythm that works for us. The only problem? Where once there were three paths through the woods, there are now thousands that intersect and double back on themselves in an ever-growing array of potential routes to follow. We have reached the point where beginning the Pagan path, or simply choosing where to go next, can be an overwhelming prospect.
The good news is that everyone has their own individual True North: a spiritual and energetic alignment that is unique and leads to the best paths for each of us. We can think of this True North as supporting our autonomy – our ability to choose what is right for us. However, in an over-culture that prioritizes conformity and obedience, the voice of our True North can become muted. This deep voice is the voice of spirit rather than logic, and too often we lose that voice when we’re weighing options through the lens of logical, linear thinking.
One helpful tool for getting a clearer message from our True North, and the practices that will support it the most, is understanding our core self. We can see that self in the choices we’ve already made, the relationships we’ve cultivated, and the activities we’ve loved. I’ll use my own life as an example: I’m a creative: a writer, a musician, a poet, and an artist. I’m a helper human: I am drawn to situations where I can lend a hand. I’m an adventurer: I like to try new things and visit new places. The path of Paganism offers me many ways to address this core: devotional litanies and poetry, spell and ritual creation, shrine building, healing techniques for body and spirit, community work, festivals and conferences, and pilgrimages to sacred sites. Notice what’s not on the list as well: the more math- and science-based paths within Paganism. My core is fluid: word based, art based, intentional-connection-with-others based. Areas of focus within Paganism that fall into those categories are the most nourishing for my own spiritual growth. My True North nudges me toward those paths, even if the logical part of my brain wants me to get better at Astrology or Sacred Geometry. Although Astrology and Sacred Geometry are both awesome, I also know they’re not a good fit for my core self.
Knowing our core self and its alignment helps navigate another gap many of us encounter at some point along the path: the space between academic learning about the deities/pantheon/cultures we are drawn to, then pulling together a personal practice that works for us individually. The first part is vital, especially as all of us strive to step away from the cultural appropriation that was common in the early years of our movement. Learning about the history, mythology, and culture of deities and pantheons we feel attracted to should always be step one. It’s the second step where we need to include our core alignment in order to create a nourishing, sustainable spiritual practice.
Again using my own alignment as an example, the way I approach a new spirit or deity I wish to connect with is to learn where in that being’s comfort zone my own alignment fits. During a Deity Internship (a way of practicing devotion and connecting with a deity outside my regular spiritual “circles”) with the Kemetic goddess Serqet, I first learned everything I could about how Serqet was honored, what her stories were, and what her culture was like. I performed a divination to make sure she welcomed a connection with me (remember, the Gods and spirits have opinions — always get consent). I acquired incense that was reminiscent of the kind used by Serqet’s people and created a shrine for her using colors and items that would be familiar. Then, I brought in my own core nature: I created a litany of praise to Serqet that could be sung or spoken, and offered it to her when I burned her incense. I spent time journeying to visit with and speak to her. I brought my connection to her into my wanderings in nature so she had the option of seeing a very different landscape than her own. I combined what works for Serqet and what works for me into one practice. Serqet responded through signs and symbols in the mundane world and dreams and visions in my spiritual practices. Although my internship with Serqet is over, we still communicate regularly, and I value my time in service to her.
Spiritual practices are meant to grow. It’s important to remember that without the break in veneration due to the rise of other religions, our understanding of —and our relationship with— the gods and spirits of the ancient world would have continued to evolve just as we do. Using history as a starting point is good – it gives us context and prevents cultural appropriation – but history should be the base of a practice that extends upward and outward. People in 870 C.E. and 1290 B.C.E. experienced an entirely different world than we do now. We can only make guesses as to how they felt and what their cultural norms were through fragments of evidence. The gap between academic research and building a personal practice is a careful, conscious effort to place the history and mythology into our own world, our own lives.
The Pagan autonomy and sovereignty of path is both blessing and challenge: it calls us to know ourselves deeply so that we can choose wisely as we navigate our way in the world. It teaches us to learn first, but to adapt those learnings to our own individual nature. It is the ultimate DIY spirituality, but it is built on a solid triad of self, history, and practice.
So, what is your core? Fluid, smoky, fiery, earthy, edgy? When you connect to it, where does your True North tell you to go? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your own ideas are exactly what illuminates the path for another.
Irene can be found at https://glassewitchcottage.com/