To Book or Not To Book…

One thing I’ve noticed about spiritual paths today is the huge focus on studying. There are dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of books about almost every topic imaginable now. If you want information about something, chances are, someone else has written about it.

If you want to follow a path, you HAVE to read about it….  Right???

Wait, what? What happened to experiencing a faith? To actually doing the work? Did I miss something?

In a world that is increasingly about knowledge, we’ve found ourselves at a crossroads. Do we read, read, read, absorbing as much information as we can, hoping that one day we might know enough that we can actually do something in our practice?

Don’t get me wrong, I have zero issues with book learning. I’ve just noticed a trend in modern practices where a person is expected to know their respective myths and lore inside and out. It makes it super intimidating to newbies coming in, who are expected to have at least read them well enough to have memorized the basics before announcing themselves as (insert practice name here).

Have we really come so far that the emphasis is on the written word, rather than experiencing the joy of a faith? The devotion? The very experiences that give us our faith in the first place?

I’m saying this as a writer. As someone who consumes every word put in front of me, and never forgets anything I read. Oh, I may mess up a few details here and there, just like anyone, but that’s not the point. I’m supposed to come into a practice with this ingrained knowledge before I announce to the world that I follow X gods…  Why?

Why can we not get to know our gods in a personal way first? Why can we not experience them and hear their call first, leading us to want to learn more? I find it insulting that there are some faiths now that expect you to study like your life depends on it, simply because you “can’t be a true believer in X if you don’t know all their stories…” Yeah, I’ve heard it before.

Not only is it intimidating, but it drives people away from pagan paths. Yes, I agree that the newbies need to learn, but isn’t that what elders are for? Not to direct you to this book, and then that one, and then that one, ad nauseum, but rather to pass on the teachings? To embrace new followers of our Gods and lead them? Why does it all have to be so based on independent learning?

I’m not condemning independent learning, but I think we need to focus more on building a true community as well. One where those who have been around for a while might take a newbie under their wing, so to speak. Mentor each other. Everyone brings value to us as a group.

Instead of answering a question with “go read so-and-so,” we need to be taking the time to answer personally. To really get in there. Who cares if it starts a debate? Why do we fear that? Debate can be healthy and lead to growth. It prevents us from becoming stagnant.

I’m not thinking of, or directing this to any one path or practice. As a multi-tradition practitioner, I’ve seen it way too many times. It seems to be endemic at this point. By sending the newbies to books to learn, we miss the opportunity to teach, to share, to learn ourselves, and to build strong communities. We miss the chance to pass on our faith in the Old Ways. Many of the paths we follow as pagans are based upon ancient practices…  Oral practices…  Why do we not value that as a way of teaching now?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me…  I don’t think so though. I don’t believe I am the only person who thinks we’re missing the point here. Our faiths are living, almost breathing. By constantly sending people to study, we suffocate it. The debates become about the validity of a source, instead of taking what we can from it and discarding the rest…

So I beg you, the next time someone asks a question of you, try to answer it. give them your opinion, or your experience. Then, if you still feel it’s necessary, then you can send them to the library stacks…


©Lauren Michelle 2019

One comment

  1. Kyaza · June 19, 2019

    Because I have to be difficult, I both agree and disagree. I think that we definitely need more people willing to step up and teach practical, hands-on courses for those who are new to the path. I also think we are seriously lacking those people, and I think part of that is a lack of book learning on the part of those who are more experienced.

    Over the years, I have met pagans (of many different traditions), who know very little of the tradition they practice – even when they tell me they have been practicing it for five years or a decade. A lot of people do not put in the work necessary to grow their practice, and it is only those who do put in that work that can be seen as qualified to turn around and teach others.

    I also sometimes see people who are intimidated by new experiences – new rituals, new practices, new ideas. When you are coming to something new, the best thing a person can do for themselves is throw themselves in over their heads. Be intimidated but do it anyways. That is how experience works, and that is how growth happens. We learn best by experience, but we can also learn through books.

    Book learning is far easier than experiential learning because it requires us to risk nothing. A person can be well-educated on all the books a tradition has to offer, but if they aren’t practicing and have no practical lessons for a newcomer and instead just make fun of the newbies for not knowing all of the information yet? All that person has is bluster.

    I actually do both – I teach hands-on experiential classes, and I also suggest people read books. I can only teach someone the way I do things; there are more ways out there than mine, and I want people to find the way that works best for them. Book learning and hands-on learning need to be balanced.

    The real problem, in my opinion, is that we seriously lack good teachers and good mentors within the broader Pagan community because there are so few Pagans who take their religion seriously and instead treat it as a hobby or an amusement on the side. While there are still more people who do that than seriously pursue understanding and practicing their religions, we will continue to lack teachers.

    It is a real problem, and I am not really sure what we can do to try and solve it.


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