Beginning your path
Over the last few weeks I have given you a lot of information about researching and answering questions related to your path. I gave you advice on how to choose your directions and even some concepts on divinity to start with. These are all great things to know and have as an idea before you actually begin your path. However once you know where you are going, what your views on deity are and the cultures you are basing your practices off of how do you actually start to begin your practice and path? This is the question we are going to focus on and answer for you today.
There are many different ways that you can actually begin your path. The important thing is to try and spend as much time doing research and reading about new beliefs and practices you want to explore as it is to actually spend the time doing the work. If all you do is read and research and reflect on what you read and research you will have a lot of book knowledge and some great opinions. You just wont have any experience and you wont actually “know” the processes, the spirits, the Gods, or even the effects of the practices you have been dedicating your time to.
Ways to begin your practice
I remember when I took my first steps on my path as a witch I was very nervous. I was afraid of doing things wrong. I was afraid that the Gods and the spirits wouldn’t listen to me. I had no formal teachers or training. I was simply stumbling in the dark. So I remember the anxiety. It was both a positive anxiety as well as a negative or hesitant type of anxiety. I had the same feelings when I started to practice Germanic Paganism. The important thing is that you work through the anxiety and the sensations and start on the path.
So what can you do to start on your path? You can build an altar. You can start a magical journal or spiritual record of your practices. You can start a meditative practice. If you are very confident in your connection to your path you can perform a rite of dedication and direction. Finally the most important thing you can do is try the exercises you encounter in the books and websites you use as tools and references in your studies.
There are as I said many different things that you can do to start walking your path. You may not be able to do as much as you would like right away and that is ok. You may miss sabbats and opportunities for rituals and worship as you learn the important dates and times in your chosen spiritual path. The Gods know you are human and you are learning. So long as your heart is in your path and you work hard you will be amazed at the path you will create for yourself.
One of the things you can do to begin your path is start an altar. Altars are a wonderful way to express your spirituality. By creating an altar you are creating a sacred space in which you can focus on performing your spiritual work and practices. Altars can be very simple or they can be very elaborate. There are many different things that you can put on an altar and there are many different ways that an altar can be set up.
My basic altars when I am working with a new spirit or starting to work with new Gods are very simple. They typically include a candle that I light when I am praying to that spirit. I also light the candle as an offering to them. I also if I have them have an incense burner for burning incense as offerings to the Gods and spirits and to help as a focus when I work on meditation. I also typically have a cup or bowl for any liquid offerings I may give the spirits.
No two altars are going to be the same. If you do decide to set up an altar let it be a reflection of your relationship with the spirits you are working with. Your altar is for you and your practice alone. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or what you have on it at this point in time. Its just there as a focal point and expression of your relationships with the spirits you work with.
A lot more can be said about altar creation. I have written two entries elsewhere on this blog that deal with altar creation. If you decide to start with the creation of an altar I would recommend you look at the articles. They contain several examples and some exercises for you to use as you build your altar.
Magical and spiritual record keeping
The second thing I mentioned you could do as a formal start of your path is to create a spiritual journal. This journal may have already been started if you have been following the exercises and advice I have been giving you on this blog. Some traditions have specific names for the journals that are kept and others are incredibly personal. In all traditions though the personal spiritual journal is a very powerful sacred personal object.
One thing I mentioned previously is that as you do your research into the various paths out there was take note of things that you agree with and things you disagree with. I also advised you to write down quotes that gave you something to think about. I have also given you several different types of questions to answer and reasons for asking those questions.
All of the notes you have taken, the questions you have asked, and the answers you have given yourself are the start of a very important document. This document or well book is very important. This book is going to serve as your record of spiritual growth. This book will have a lot of information in it as time goes on. It is also one of the most personal spiritual items and tools you will ever make.
You may be asking why a journal of your spiritual experiences, thoughts, and beliefs is important. The answer is simple. This book and journal will show how you have grown and developed spiritually. This book will contain things you agree with and things you disagree with. You will basically put anything in here that you feel is important information about your path. There really isn’t anything you can’t put in this journal.
The act of working on this spiritual journal is also a way to connect your mind and emotions with your actual soul and spirit feelings. By writing out your thoughts and reflections to ideas and concepts you are processing how your spirit feels about these things. This allows your mind to understand what drives you and allows your mind to spend time finding ways to include those thoughts, beliefs, and practices in everything that you do.
Writing in a journal is a very therapeutic thing. It helps you process the day and it helps you really sort out how you really feel and think about many concepts and ideas. In many different spiritual paths one of the key concepts or ideas to strive for is to know yourself. Writing in a journal is one of the best ways to know yourself as you are truly honest to yourself about how you feel and what is on your mind. By knowing yourself you also know what your real needs, wants, and desires are. In spirituality this can also mean knowing exactly the type of connection you are actually seeking with the Spirits and the universe.
These books will also serve as your references for your personal experiences. In them you should include exercises you have done (the steps of the exercise and your experiences), prayers you have said and or rituals you have done. It can also include prayers and spells you have found inspiring from other sources. If there is poetry or myths you find inspiring and directly related to your path you can put that in there. Its your guide to your experiences and your development as a spiritual person.
In witchcraft most often there are two terms for these spiritual journals. One of them is occasionally called a mirror book. That book is full of your reflections and ideas. Its where your theories and beliefs are recorded. Its a reflection of your innerself and your soul. This is a very personal book and is often not shared.
The other book is often called the Book of Shadows. The book of shadows is a book containing spells and rituals. It also has the lore of the practice. In solitary practice this book is your sacred text basically. It forms a workbook for formulating spells and rituals. Its your tool in your acts of priesthood. This book can be shared with people if a solitary chooses to share their work. Typically if it is handed down it will be to children or very specific family members interested in the practice all at the individuals discretion.
In covens and in specific traditions there is a Book of Shadows that is specific to that coven or tradition. Members are expected to hand copy or make themselves an exact copy of the book for their own use. Like the individual book this also contains all the materials needed to form the rituals and practices of the coven. It may also contain coven history and tradition history. These books are also used as teaching materials to preserve the practice and and ensure that all members have the same information to go from. Ceremonial Magic has a similar practice called Grimoires, and some witches elect to call their ritual and theory books Grimoires as well.
One element that is common among spiritual paths is some sort of meditation practice. This practice is a way for you to go within yourself and reflect on things. It can also be a way for you to communicate with spirits and Gods. Meditation is a very powerful tool for spiritual development and daily spiritual practice. This is one tool that comes in many different forms and has different uses.
One use for meditation techniques is to understand different philosophic principles. By working with different powers of the mind in meditative states you can learn and experience different philosophies which will create spiritual experiences. Often times these meditative techniques also are building blocks to deeper spiritual techniques and can also be magical techniques as well.
Meditation techniques can also help you learn how to better focus and use the powers of your mind. Through meditation you can travel to the spirit worlds. You can meet many different spirits and interact with them. You can experience the mysteries in the universe. These mystery experiences will provide you understanding and spiritual growth. These are things that will also make your spirit and you feel at home and have deeper understandings and connections to the world around you.
Basically meditation can work for psychic development, spiritual development, mental development, and the development of focus skills. Meditation has many different effects and uses spiritually and practically. Its worth an entry all of its own. When you engage in meditation as the starting point or beginning of your practice you will want to explore many different philosophies and types of techniques. Remember to record and write down what you experience in meditation and what the techniques were.
This is often the first real serious step a person takes on their spiritual path and practices. Dedication rituals are very serious acts and indicate a specific level of commitment. When you are dedicating yourself to your path you are promising any and all spiritual powers on this path that you are there to serve them and to learn from them. You will listen to them and you will do all that you can to live your life the way they ask you to. It also shows that you are ready to make your path an intricate part of all aspects of your day to day life in some manner. You are ready to not just be a student and exploring of the path. You are ready to say this is my path. I will follow you for as long as I can.
If this is what you want to do for your first step on your path than you should go for it. If this is your choice then you have done enough research and had enough of an emotional connection and response that you know that this is where you want to go for now spiritually. Taking the step of dedication is a big step and its one that should not be taken lightly. In some paths a self dedication is the equivalent of an initiation of sorts. In other paths its a phase of learning before swearing a deeper oath and practice. For myself dedication is both a learning period and a way of swearing an oath.
I am not going to write any more on dedication here. It is a first step in a path and it is a way to begin your path. I have written an essay on this blog earlier in more depth about dedication and the types of dedication there are. That post even has two different types of dedication rituals.
Do the Exercises
Many books on spirituality and spiritual paths will have exercises scattered throughout the chapters to illustrate and give you personal experience with the concepts being discussed. Most of the exercises do have a practical aspect to them. When it comes to spirituality and magical practices the only way to really understand the concepts of energy and spirit is to have experiences. The experiences do more to teach you the philosophies and world views than just the books ever could.
Sometimes it may not be easy to see the meaning or reason behind the exercise being placed where it is. If this is something you experience that is fine. In this case finish the chapter. Read the exercises and the rest of the chapter. Reread it a few times if you have to. However once you have an idea of what the exercises and the chapter together are teaching you need to do the exercises. The exercises will actually show you more than any words can.
In spiritual paths the concept of mysteries and how they must be experienced is often brought up. The exercises including guided meditations and occasionally mini spells or rituals are there to have you gain access to the particular mysteries of that path. The author of those exercises has used them several times themselves and seen how they worked for their spiritual paths and development. By publishing those exercises in a book, website, blog, or podcast the author is providing access to the mysteries for others. They want you to share the experiences they have had.
When you do an exercise be sure to write down the exercise in step by step processes so you can repeat the exercise. Also write down everything you experience while doing the exercise. You will find that some of the techniques out there will be more effective for you than others. That is ok. By having the experiences and by doing the exercises and the work you are knowing yourself and your spiritual path bringing both into closer harmony.
In this post I have illustrated several different ways that you can start practicing and walking your path. Each of these first steps has a benefit to them and they also have their down sides to. Each step also plays its own role in your development spiritually and personally. These steps are all good ways to start including your path in your life in a more direct and outward way.
My personal suggestion would be to do a mixture of the journal, meditation, and exercises for a while. Then after you know a bit more about the spirits you are working with and you have gained some experiences I would set up an altar. Now the altar can be a tool for meditative focus and spiritual development. I would work with these combinations for a few months before I performed an act of dedication.
I hope that these steps help you find and develop your spiritual path. As always if you have any questions or comments please let me know. If you feel that there are other steps out there I could have mentioned also please let me know.