I found Autumn Barlow’s guest post deeply resonant, yesterday. Partly because I’m crap at being told what to do, and the more strident the instruction, the more likely I am to prickle and resist. I hate being ordered about, and books are no exception.
Like Autumn, I read my share of magic books when I was younger, and I didn’t really get on with them. I had the advantage that there was Paganism rife in my family already, and I knew a few things. Most critically, I knew that magic is will, and that the methods of magic are therefore only a focus of will, so it really doesn’t matter what colour the candle is, and if needs be you can do it without one. I was not impressed by books of spells that were clearly more about prancing about looking witchy, than getting anything done. I also had philosophical issues with the whole thing – using magic as a short cut to get new shoes, exam results and boyfriends felt like cheating, and more importantly, like cheating myself.
I didn’t want a wand to make school assignments go away. I wanted to experience the numinous. I wanted to know and see and feel more, and I wanted there to be wonder, and none of the books I read held that for me.
In my twenties, I started reading Emma Restall Orr’s work. Here at last was a sense of someone really experiencing magic. She doesn’t write ‘how to’ books, but writes from her own life. A door opened, a sense of possibility crept in. However, there was nothing in those books to tell me how to live the mystical, magical life she apparently has. That was frustrating. Eventually, I went to OBOD and they were a good deal more helpful. Not least they made me realise I’d been doing a pretty good job already and had some sound foundations to build on.
The spiritual writing I like best is non-dogmatic. No instructions. No ‘thou shalt’. Authors who write from personal experience, in the first person seem far more credible to me than more distant, third person, perpetually authoritarian voices. People who own their struggles, challenges, mistakes and setbacks also seem a lot more real to me, and I can empathise with them. I am certainly not perfect and all knowing. It is comforting to find that wiser and more experienced Druids still struggle, too, still mess up, fall over, get up again. Tales of setbacks are really helpful, while writers who just bang on about how great everything is can be alienating to us more flawed humans.
Experiential writing reads like the results of an experiment: Here’s what I did. Here’s what happened. These may have been important variables. This is what it means to me. When this is done well, there’s enough information to strike out and do something similar on your own terms, but no sense of being ordered about by the author. There’s the freedom to do something different and the knowledge this will be just as valid. Perhaps more valid – we all need different things. I like it when authors write about why they do things, too. Authors who ask questions and leave us to find our own answers can be really helpful as well.
Mark Townsend. Cat Treadwell. Robin Herne. Rachel Tansy Patternson. Lorna Smithers. These are authors I am reading who keep bringing the personal and the theoretical together, who share from experience and experiment, as people on a journey not as figures of authority. I’m always on the lookout for other spiritual writers who take the same approach, so if there’s someone I’ve missed, do please give them a shout-out in the comments. I think it’s really important that we take the authority out of authoring as far as is possible, and make Pagan spiritual writing about sharing experiences and ideas, not about telling people what to do.