There’s a real problem in modern Pagandom, and that’s the lack of self-education that goes on. No, I’m not talking about reading up on the latest in ancient history and archaeology, nor even doing in-depth studies of Pagan-esque literature, nor anything else you might think.
Let’s look at this in a different way.
Say you want to learn about gardening. You stumble across a book you really like by an author and find out that they have five other books on gardening, too. So you read those, too.
Do you know a lot about gardening or do you know a lot about one person’s views and experiences of gardening?
Hint: it’s the second one.
In gardening, if you really want to get into it, there are many things you can do to learn about gardening: you can read many books (by several authors, not just one like the above example); you can take academic classes on biology and botany to learn the scientific aspects; you can start a garden and learn through hands-on experience; you can study under an accomplished gardener or friend, learning their tricks and trades; you can read gardening blogs about gardeners’ different experiences while working with plants; you can volunteer at a local greenhouse, park, or botanic garden and learn that way; you can join a club or group to learn more, too.
There are loads of ways to learn, but from what I’ve seen in Pagandom and similar communities is that there’s a real problem with expanding past the basics and approaching questions from different angles.
One of the big issues that I’ve seen is the prevalence of Llewellyn in the Pagan community, and that disappoints me. Llewellyn has a real problem with publishing and republishing the same material by different authors, rebranding it to appeal to the same people, and passing it off as a unique resource. But Llewellyn isn’t the only reason for this: the community itself is also at fault. We’ve become, in many regards, complacent with not expanding our horizons and learning more about the things we’re interested in when it comes to our Pagan-y interests.
Let’s say you’ve felt an attraction to a certain deity; you’ve been shoulder tapped or just like the god’s aesthetic and the bits you’ve heard of them. Let’s go with Anubis since that’s the one I’m most familiar with. So where do you go from here?
Well, there’s a lot of things you could do. Let’s look at my examples for gardening above and find equivalents for our new topic.
- Read books by different authors. There are loads of books on Kemetic deities, especially from an academic standpoint. Check out your local library’s online catalog and type in “Anubis.” Try to sort out the fiction books for now; you can always come back to those later. (I advise sorting them out for now because the authors aren’t always intending for it to be a how-to on working with and/or worshiping a deity. There’s also a lot of misinformation or misrepresentation about Pagan deities in modern fiction and we don’t want you to get confused just yet. You can definitely come back later and see how the books line up with the information you’ve gathered.)
- Academic classes. If you want, you are able, and you’re already enrolled, check out your anthropology and history departments at your college or university and see what they offer in regards to the area your deity is from. In the case of Anubis, he’s from Egypt or Kemet, so you can look at classes on the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. Don’t forget to check out art history classes, either. I got lucky one year and was able to take a class on ancient Egyptian art history. Not only did we talk about the Kemetic deities in class and their artistic representations, I got to write a 10-page paper on Anubis and Osiris in Kemetic art. So poke around and explore.If you aren’t enrolled in a university, don’t be discouraged! There are now many ways to take academic courses online. Coursera, Open Culture, and Academic Earth are three of them. And don’t forget about iTunes University! There are plenty of prerecorded classes there on a variety of topics, including ancient history.
- Hands-On Experience. You don’t need any fancy tools or altars here unless you want them. Sit down, get comfortable, and start talking aloud. Make sure to name the deity you want to talk to (Anubis in this case) and just start chatting. You might get lucky and start up a conversation. If not, don’t be discouraged. The important thing here is to make yourself known to him.Additionally, you can do a ritual, leave offerings, or even start a shrine. Take a look at the iconography that’s linked to your deity (Anubis is a jackal-headed god of Egypt, so pictures or statues of jackals, pyramids, ankhs, and the colors black and gold are good to start with, if you feel so inclined.) and build from it. If you have a godcanon that your deity has associations with something “out of the ordinary,” go with it. I see Anubis having links to crows and ravens as they’re corvids and linked to death. Since Anubis is a funerary god, the connection is definitely there.
- Study under someone more experienced. You don’t have to go apprenticing yourself out to other people, though. Unless you want to, anyway. Tumblr is a good resource for finding people who work with specific gods; there’s even a blog to help devotees find each other. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of a few devotees. They’ll be able to lead you to finding additional resources and give you anecdotes of their experiences with that god.
- Read blogs. I talk about my relationship with Anubis here a lot, but there are other folks who work with him, too. Angelica is the first one to come to mind, but there are others, too. Additionally, if you’re interested in Anubis and other jackal deities from a more academic or recon-leaning perspective, check out Per-Sabu. This is arguably the best resource for jackal deities online, and a personal favorite site.
- Volunteering. This one’s a little more difficult to do in regards to Anubis specifically, but poke around online to find local festivals and resource centers. Since I’m close to DC, I can check out the Open Hearth Foundation and local Pagan Pride Days to meet other people who share my interest(s). Offer your services at your local events, check out festivals, and just generally get out there. Meetup.com is another good place to find fellow Pagans, polytheists, witches, and all sorts. (Though as with everything that involves meeting people on the internet, tread carefully and if something seems fishy, walk away.)
- Join a club or group. Meetup is good for this, but check out local circles or groups, too. You can find a few through your Pagan Pride Day. There are also online groups and teaching organizations you can utilize, too. For Kemetics, there’s the Kemetic Orthodox Faith that offers classes a couple times a year to learn more about the faith and the gods. (I haven’t experienced it myself, but Ange is going through it now, I believe.) So check out your online organizations, too. I know the Druids have the ADF and OBOD online that offers reading lists and an easy teaching/learning system, too.
These are just seven ways to expand your knowledge and take the reins of your religious education. While we don’t all have access to religious teachings a la the Abrahamic paths (such as Sunday School and similar teachings), we can definitely expand ourselves past what you can find at your local Barnes and Noble, especially with the modern technology that many of us have access to. If you’re reading this now, you likely have access to a computer, so don’t be afraid to poke around a bit and start teaching yourself more about what you’re interested in.
But a word of caution: don’t believe everything you read! Everyone from online bloggers to people you meet at the coffee shop to professional academics can and will lie through their teeth. Double-check your information against multiple sources. Keep a record of what you learn and where, whether it’s in a notebook you can carry around with you, a document file on your laptop, or floating somewhere in the cloud. You can even keep a voice record with your phone, if you learn better that way.
Just remember to take everything with a grain of salt. You’ll be okay.
Take charge of your own religious and spiritual education.