There’s a great deal we do fairly naturally – walking, talking, singing, swimming, making love, and a whole array of other things. So long as your body is equal to the task, there are many things humans do that come reasonably naturally. Most of us get at least some of them. However, having been through the learning process with these, and helped others learn, there’s a lot of distance between ‘natural to us’ and ‘automatic’. There is a lot of learning to do, even when the scope for that learning is pretty much hard wired.
I struggled with walking – born with my feet crushed against my shins, it was hard for me, and my ankles remain a tad wonky and unreliable. Afraid of water, I had a tough time learning to swim and the less said about bicycles the better. Skipping did not come naturally to me, nor did throwing and catching balls. Everyone’s list will be different, but all of us struggle with something.
I’ve taught people to sing, and I’ve written erotica, which is a genre in part for exchanging knowledge and insight about sex. I learned a great deal from reading erotica, too. Things I might never have figured out by exploration. Perhaps most usefully, I learned about the sheer diversity of human feeling and experience, the breadth of desire, the commonality. I learned it is best not to assume too much about what anyone else wants, and a damn sight more productive to ask well ahead of time. From erotica, I learned to talk about sex as a way of finding out whether I wanted to get someone into bed in the first place. I suspect this spared me a lot of heartache and disappointment.
Much the same can be said of Paganism. A big part of what makes Paganism itself is that it is about our natural responses to our natural experiences. You shouldn’t need books, or a priesthood or a set of instructions, you should be able to just get out there and do it. Except, very little works that way for humans. Most of us have to learn how to even breathe well.
I’m not keen on situations where people tell me what to do, how to think and what to feel – sex and Paganism are much alike in that regard, for me. However, with both, I gain a great deal from hearing other people’s insights. I get ideas, find things I want to try, recognise things I need to stay the hell away from, and generally save myself a lot of time. I get to make new and different mistakes rather than the ones other people have already tried and tested. I also get the reassurance of something to help me place my wider experience in a useful context.
I’ve mentored Pagans and Druids for many years, and the most commonly occurring theme is the need to know whether what your doing would make any sense to anyone else. Is this Paganism? Am I a Druid? The desire to do it right, do it well, and in a way other people would recognise and respect, also seems to come naturally to us, and without the sharing of experiences, it’s hard to tell. Am I any good in bed? Are my desires normal? Am I any good in ritual? Is my poetry a bit shit? (Rhetorical questions, I’m not looking for answers!)
So, when I hear that Paganism should come naturally and that we should not need books, courses, teachers, experts… I remember that walking did not come naturally to me. I remember all the people I’ve worked with who were sure they could not sing. Just because we can work it all out from scratch doesn’t mean we should be obliged to, and for me, the essence of community comes in