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Author Topic: Neo-Paganism: Choosing Between Two Paths, Cornish Witchcraft & Druidry  (Read 3290 times)

Nymree

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Choosing Between Two Paths, Cornish Witchcraft & Druidry
« on: January 02, 2020, 07:02:11 am »
Hi all. I've dropped this in the Beginners forum because I'm new to both of the religions/traditions mentioned in detail here, and it didn't feel appropriate placing it anywhere else. Apologies for all the personal threads recently, I'm hoping to give more to the forum soon than just asking for advice all of the time, I just lack a lot of practice knowledge at the moment to offer most people.


I’ve got myself into a bit of a conundrum. I’ve been searching for the right path for me for about three years now. Those three years have not been for nothing; every day has brought me inch by inch closer to the thing calling out in my soul. Institutional teaching and hard rules haven’t given voice to that song very well for me. Books and exercises have been more successful. The right moot group has been the best, where my feelings fit in harmony with the energy of the whole group.

Now, I’ve come closest so far to something that feels like coming home. Two possible paths seem to be opened up before me, but I have my reservations and a few blockages that I can’t seem to overcome right now. These paths are Cornish Witchcraft, and Druidry.

I should contextualise that my only guiding principles have been to seek something that makes me feel more connected with the earth, that worships Mother Earth; and that whatever I practice has compassion and peace in it above all, which also means I value preservation of my mental health and happiness primarily. I don’t practice unless it feels right and brings joy to my soul, even if that joy is silent contentment. Pretty vague, but it always gets me back on track.

My reservations with Druidry are more straight forward. I felt drawn to this path through Emma Restall Orr’s Principles of Druidry, which I loved to bits and I felt I really learned something from it. However, everything I’ve read from Philip Carr-Gomm so far has left me feeling cynical. I have reservations about the claim that this is a practice that dates back to the ancient Druids, or even that the ancient Druids are the kind of people depicted by Romantic poetry. I think my greatest doubt is the romanticisations in his writing, only because I’ve studied literature for a bit now and I have a knee-jerk reaction against that poetic style. (That is definitely not said with a tone of holier-than-thou though, at all – it’s a personal preference). Because of this, I’ve felt more turned away by the Gwers and OBOD introductory package than anything, and as previously mentioned in another thread I’m being plagued by worries about cultural misappropriation. Generally, it feels pretty hopeless right now.

I’ve felt the most excitement recently reading Gemma Gary’s Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways. Specific sections made my heart soar, because for the first time in a while I found any mention of a native and local deity, spirit force and practice to my home (Cornwall), and I’ve been seeking that recently. However, a lot of the imagery seems almost demonic at times – this is probably my ignorance shining out so I’m deeply sorry to anyone this offends. For example, it talks of ‘Devil’, a goat god and the Bucca Dhu, who closely resembles the Devil. There's of course nothing wrong with that, it just seems to delve into something much darker than I’m used to, and to call on a practice more practical than I was originally looking for. In my search for deeper connection with Mother Earth, I’m not sure if I’d benefit from traditional witchcraft. Even so, the mythology talked of, the seasonal structure and the metaphysics all seem so attractive to (or just right for) me. I think that was the first time in a while I couldn’t put a book down. Ultimately, I’m intimidated, maybe even a little afraid. Another fear is that I’d be calling on some force in nature that is deeper, and stronger, than I can handle. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.

Which brings me to why I want to follow a tradition at all. I feel very much disconnected right now. I have a great relationship to a local goddess, the spirits in the green spaces and the ancestors I’ve met with. I have an active practice and guidance from spiritual mentors. Yet even so, I feel something is empty in me. I feel as if I need to belong to a tradition, almost invalidated to a certain extent in my practice otherwise. Which is probably not the healthiest mindset. In an ideal world, I’d meld both practices but the intensity of Cornish Witchcraft still intimidates me from that option.

I also really enjoy the self-help witchcraft I’ve read a lot of, the kind with positive affirmations, mindfulness meditations and lots of pastel colours in it. This draws closer to feminist witchcraft like in Lisa Lister's Witch, I think. It just really calms me and makes me feel more whole. I guess that embodies my focus on my mental health and happiness, which can be volatile and unstable sometimes.

A part of me knows I’ll have to trust myself in making these decisions. But some of it – like my reservations – are perhaps improvable with context, which I seriously lack as a newbie to all of these practices.

Again, sorry for the posts like these. Thank you to anyone with advice or a perspective.

Blessed be.

Micheál

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Re: Choosing Between Two Paths, Cornish Witchcraft & Druidry
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2020, 03:33:53 pm »
Which brings me to why I want to follow a tradition at all. I feel very much disconnected right now. I have a great relationship to a local goddess, the spirits in the green spaces and the ancestors I’ve met with. I have an active practice and guidance from spiritual mentors. Yet even so, I feel something is empty in me. I feel as if I need to belong to a tradition, almost invalidated to a certain extent in my practice otherwise. Which is probably not the healthiest mindset. In an ideal world, I’d meld both practices but the intensity of Cornish Witchcraft still intimidates me from that option.

I also really enjoy the self-help witchcraft I’ve read a lot of, the kind with positive affirmations, mindfulness meditations and lots of pastel colours in it. This draws closer to feminist witchcraft like in Lisa Lister's Witch, I think. It just really calms me and makes me feel more whole. I guess that embodies my focus on my mental health and happiness, which can be volatile and unstable sometimes.

A part of me knows I’ll have to trust myself in making these decisions. But some of it – like my reservations – are perhaps improvable with context, which I seriously lack as a newbie to all of these practices.

Again, sorry for the posts like these. Thank you to anyone with advice or a perspective.

Blessed be.
Normally I would say that there's nothing stopping you in pursuing both, but for anyone making a new start in any path, sometimes it's best focusing your attention more in one first, until you feel grounded enough to pursue others comfortably. Some take to dual, or multiple paths just fine, and others may always feel in conflict. Regardless, there's no sense committing to a certain path, tradition, or group, unless it feels naturally comfortable to you, and you don't have to attach yourself to labels if you do not wish, or feel one defines you.

There are other forms of druidry and Celtic paganism besides OBOD, and other forms of witchcraft beyond trad craft. I do happen to be a fan of Gary's, and the "Devil" she speaks of isn't Satanic, but the folk Devil, the Old One at the crossroads that plays a big part in Witch-lore, traditional witchcraft, and the "God" of Traditional Wicca that I feel is very unknown and neglected in Neopaganism. It's totally understandable if that would be something more darker, and a force of nature that you're not used to or comfortable with. You can definitely honour your Gods, with magical practises that feel more comfortable, and natural to you.
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Jenett

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Re: Choosing Between Two Paths, Cornish Witchcraft & Druidry
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2020, 03:40:15 pm »
A part of me knows I’ll have to trust myself in making these decisions. But some of it – like my reservations – are perhaps improvable with context, which I seriously lack as a newbie to all of these practices.

Reading your post, it feels like there are multiple things going on, and untangling them might help.

First, a little background
So, for context, I'm someone whose formal training is (very unusually for other people in my tiny little trad doing its thing) solely in the tradition. I've been around other people doing other stuff from the very beginning (I found the Cauldron email list right around the time I started going to public Pagan rituals in Minnesota to figure out my next step), and I've gone to public rituals and workshops and so on throughout.

Since I got my 3rd degree, I've tried to also do one or two substantial ongoing-development projects in my witchy learning every year (online courses, sustained focused study on a topic, etc.)  That hasn't always happened, but it's been a good goal.

But my actual structured practice? All in one trad.

(Which is tiny. Also, I'm pretty sure these days that learning it is why I moved to Minnesota and lived there for 12 years, because the specific combo of things there isn't something I could get quite that way anywhere else.)

Long story short, I am fairly clearly, personally in favour of initiatory trad, a specific mode of ritual practice, and focusing on doing some things, and not doing a lot of other things.

But there are trade-offs in doing that.

Figuring out what you're looking for (most)
So the first thing I'd say is 'are you looking for a group, a path, an initiatory connection, something else, or some combination of them'.

And the way you've written here, and previously, I'm wondering if some of that is getting tangled for you.

As other discussion pointed out, initiation is not the only way to have a meaningful practice. It's not the right choice for lots of people, for all sorts of reasons. (Some of which may be temporary, like being at a stage in their life where they don't have the capacity to add a lot of internal change fast. Some may be 'this is just not the right thing'.)

The same thing goes for working primarily or significantly in a particular path or tradition. The big benefits are that you (ideally) get access to a bunch of resources so you don't have to invent the wheel yourself, can avoid other people's mistakes, and have support in troubleshooting stuff, as well as access to (hopefully) a cohesive system of practice that includes not only the stuff you're interested in right now, but the stuff you'll need in three years (or twenty years) and aren't thinking about yet.

But learning a single specific tradition or path isn't the only way to get to those things - and it depends a lot on what the options that are available to you are, the people doing those things, and your tolerance for things that aren't a high priority for you, but are a part of the tradition.

(A lot of my early formal training was 'learn this thing, it'll become more obvious why later'. Some of that was 'making sure you have the ability to pick up future stuff more easily and put it in context' which I think is a very important thing to be teaching, but some of it was 'this ties into something that you'll need in five years maybe, if your life goes like that'. It can be really hard to tell either of those from 'this is something this particular person who's teaching me has a Thing about' from the outside before you learn it.)

Likewise, being part of a particular path or tradition has some benefits, but it doesn't always have the benefits you think it might from outside.

It doesn't give validity (or at least not outside of that very specific tradition): you can see this online if you look around - plenty of people question the standards/skills/practices of even senior folks in long-established well-known trads. If you're part of a smaller tradition, there's always going to be the 'feeling this person out' exchange when you interact with new people. There's always going to be an element of demonstrating you, personally, have clue.

The training and personal practice that are (hopefully) part of learning the tradition can help you build a foundation to deal with that, but most of the time, it's the personal practice and application of your path that makes the foundation visible to others, not whether you're acknowledged by others as being part of a particular tradition.

(I've been doing that a lot in the past six months or so, because I'm working on a project with other people in the area from a range of backgrounds, but all mystery trad witchy folk. I like them, but we're all doing a non-trivial amount of 'how do you do this thing, right, okay' calibration.)

I'm a little short on time right now, so I'm going to gesture here at 'figuring out more of specifically what you're hoping for, specifically what you have access to, and how those two things intersect' would probably be a continuing good plan. I'd probably look at doing divination here, or seeing about having someone you think is reliable do a reading for you, if those are options. I have a list of very pragmatic (religious witchcraft focused but adaptable) questions on my website that might also help you think about pieces you haven't factored in yet.

Exploring without committing
One thing I'm a huge fan of is exploring things without making a big commitment to them.

This is why I like groups and communities that do some kind of short-term intro-level course, before asking people to commit to a  year or more. (Even if that commitment is fairly easy to leave.) I run my coven stuff this way, and it's the way the group I trained in did - five intro classes with minimal commitment, then Dedicant year (with the likelihood that at least half the people who start in good faith will decide it's not for them at some point) and then progressing from there after initiation.

These days, there are a bunch of options for connection on a short-term scale that can then develop. Traditionally, this has been the public ritual/afternoon workshop/weekend or weeklong event ecosystem, but these days a lot of people are also running short-term courses at a range of price points.

The goal of these, I think (and advise when people ask my opinion) isn't to learn All The Things or make a final decision - but it's to give yourself a chance to gather more data, connect with other people interested in similar things in a focused setting, and then see what you want more of.

Often doing a couple of these (3-5 different activities with different groups/teachers) will help refine what's really working for you and what isn't in a way nothing else quite does. Note that this often works even if the content is something you know is not a priority (or right now.)

It's possible to apply the same thing to something like your Cornish learning. So, you've done some initial reading, you found some stuff you're not sure about, you can decide to explore that without incorporating it yet.

For example, for your Bucca Dhu example, here's some places I'd be starting with that:

- What's the range of descriptions and stories here, from multiple reasonably decent sources?

- Do people talk about relevant ritual and magical experiences? If so, what and how?

- What's the context of the original folklore, where does that come from? (A bunch of stuff gets complicated due to witch hunts, Christianisation of folklore, and the unending drumbeat of the Victorians getting their hands into everything. Reading multiple folklorists who have context and background to untangle some of that can be timeconsuming but
ultimately really helpful.)

- How does it make me feel when I read different versions? What speaks to me? What repels me? Why? (Again, divination/meditation/reflection can be handy tools here.)

And then:
- Has the author written other things that make sense to me? What do they say about actual practice of this kind of magic, ritual, religion, spirituality? How does that manifest in their life? (this is a place where looking for blog/vlog/social media/informal writing of other kinds can be really helpful.)

Do you want to be more like this person? In which ways? What do you see in their practice that leads that direction? What do you think about that? Can you explore other ways to have a bit more of that in your life?

- Is there a suggested introductory practice that does not commit you to anything, or ask you to do things that are more than modestly uncomfortable. (We learn a lot more when we're a little uncomfortable, so staying entirely in your comfort zone may not be very helpful in figuring things out.) 

If so, try that for a set period of time (a month, three months, six months, decide in advance) and see how you feel at the end. And of course, stop promptly if you decide it's really not for you.

For example, there are often fairly straightforward seasonal things you can do that you can apply a new lens or approach to, without getting in really deep, and see what you do with that. Or you can try an introductory ritual/practice/skill, and do that for a bit, before adding or trying something else. (The details here obviously break down differently depending on the path, but I could do a breakdown of how stuff works on my stuff, if that would help.)

Ok. There's some words - feel free to ask questions or for examples or whatever.

(And please, don't feel you need to apologise for asking these sorts of questions: they're a fine and time-honoured way to participate in the forum, and I know I'm not the only person who finds they make me think about what I'm doing, how, and how I can make that work better for other people I talk to when that's relevant.)
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Nymree

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Re: Choosing Between Two Paths, Cornish Witchcraft & Druidry
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2020, 07:34:37 am »
I do happen to be a fan of Gary's, and the "Devil" she speaks of isn't Satanic, but the folk Devil, the Old One at the crossroads that plays a big part in Witch-lore, traditional witchcraft, and the "God" of Traditional Wicca that I feel is very unknown and neglected in Neopaganism. It's totally understandable if that would be something more darker, and a force of nature that you're not used to or comfortable with. You can definitely honour your Gods, with magical practises that feel more comfortable, and natural to you.

Hi Micheál, sorry this reply is literally months late - I got very distracted mapping out my plans and ideas in response to Jenett's reply (really grateful for that), and some resources I came across. Thanks for your response, it's been really informative and helpful.

I tried looking more into the folk Devil myself, but couldn't find much more on him. Do you perhaps have any recommended resources or information I could find and use, to better understand what his role is in trad craft? I'm focusing right now on the 'exploring without commiting' part of the process.

 

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