I sometimes get letters from people who read my articles at Vox. I got one such today. It came from a thoughtful young person who related to comments about the Lost Children among us. (1)
I guess I'm not sure what I ultimately want to say. I know that I was touched by the things you said in your article I just read and there are parts that seem to ring true....there is so much in Pagan beliefs that I want to strive to become part of, but can't. I know that right now, my life is way out of balance and I fight to create some order out of the chaos and better myself......I still find myself at a loss. I'm sure you get tons of things from people talking about losing their way, and I know that there is no easy solution to these problems. I guess what I ultimately want to ask, is how you became an adult Pagan, that better person that you wanted to be? I'm 19 and I find that I seem to drift, alone, unsure of how to find my place in the world. Where does one start? Where do you find that platform, that allows you to begin to understand yourself and at the same time give yourself the power to make the changes you desire?
I'm always humbled by such a letter. I do my best to answer these, keeping in mind that my answers are my answers and may not suit their path at all. I'm not some all-knowing oracle, I'm only one other person on the path. At most, I may be a bit further along the road, and can offer some ideas of what the trail is like.
My response to this person is below. If you have any wisdom to add, please do so in the comments section.
You are very right, we get a lot of questions like this. I'm no guru, as you know, however, I have felt these feelings, as well. I, too, felt lost and alone at 19. It is a time of great discovery and great challenges. I can only tell you what I have learned on my own journey. Take what you need and leave the rest.
First, I'd like you to know that you are not alone. In my experience, Pagan practice is very much like a garden, or, if you are technically inclined, much like a computer program. The code needs to be clear, and the ground fertile; otherwise nothing of worth will come out of it. So, you have begun your path in the right way; you've decided to clear the ground and check the code before you go further. At 19, few of us know who we are and we still have life tools to put into our tool box. That is your task right now. No one expects you to be perfect - all we ask is that you stay as conscious as you can and keep learning.
Let me put it another way: This path is not about command and control but about connection and communion. The sacred cannot speak to us, if our heads and hearts are polluted by noise and pain and trash. So the trick is to release what is unhealthy in our lives and embrace what works for us. That is as true for me at 50 as is it for anyone.
There are various ways to do that.
Here is one way - You are welcome here if you wish :-)
Few of us get out of childhood and our teenage years without some pain and hurt. Healing this pain and hurt and finding out who we really are is our job in our 20's. At this age, you are an Explorer. Some days you will explore the world, and some days you will marvel at other people and new ideas and some days you will need to explore your own past and decide who and what you want to be. To start, I would recommend two books:
Bradshaw On: The Family
Life and How to Survive It
Right now, you are a product of your family, their rules and their teachings. In order to become the person we want to be, we need to
* Take stock of what they taught us (both verbally and by example)
* Heal what hurts we got from school, growing up, family and cultural dysfunction
* See if we need to heal from depression, ADD, addiction, abuse or other issues and
* Decide which friends and communities are good for us and which are not, and
* Keep what we like and can use, bless and release the rest, and move forward.
As you can imagine this takes a while. In fact, it will take up most of your 20's. It can be tough, but it is also a grand adventure, full of surprises, gifts and grace. If you are asking the right questions now, and I believe that you are, you are ahead of many of your peers, and will do very well indeed :-) The trick is not to be afraid of the answers.
My I suggest some further reading, as well? If you go the blog, you will find a list of articles I wrote for The Witches Voice. I have written two that will serve you right now titled The Shadow Knows and The Bard and the Poser. There are others listed there, as well, including Pagans and Self Actulizations by Rev. Wren Walker.
This path isn't about belief - it's about experiencing the joy and wonder that is there for you. The more you heal yourself, the more you will be open to that joy and wonder and the clearer your path will be. As the Techno-wizards say, "Garbage in, garbage out". So the question is, what is in your life that is getting between you and your highest good? Is it depression? Guilt and shame? Drugs or alcohol? Dysfunctional people? Past Abuse? Whatever it is, you will find that you move forward on your spiritual path as you heal yourself.
Paganism and healing are lifelong journeys. Both are worth it.
Hang in there.
From The Wisdom Keepers To The Next Generation:
What The Grandmother & Attorney Said
What the Songwriter & Mother Said
List of Generations at Wikipedia
Why 50somethings Live Like 20somethings
Dysfunctional and Healthy Behavior and the Pagan Scene
Photo: Portrait of Lydia Pinkham by Rune T (Oslo, Norway)
The section on The Lost Children comes from the essay Healthy Pagan Groups and Individuals and reads as follows:
THE LOST CHILDREN:
Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to.
He says that only a few people are awake, and
they live in a state of constant, total amazement
- from Joe and the Volcano
One question that often comes up among Pagans is this: We know that everyone has baggage and that every group has their share of dysfunctional people, but why do Pagan groups have so darn many of them?
I have two answers to that. First, there are a lot more happy, functional Pagans out there than we realize. (I'll discuss this point more fully later on in this essay.) Secondly, we Pagans pride ourselves, quite rightly, on being inclusive, and any path which teaches tolerance and acceptance is going to attract a wide range of people at various stages of health, including those my colleague Ashli refers to as The Lost Children.
The problem is not that we are accepting, the problem is that many Pagans haven't yet learned that accepting an individual and accepting bad behavior from that individual are two different things. It's important to know that we can love the one, and not put up with the other. This also requires that our teachers, organizers, and circle leaders work to establish healthy boundaries and standards, something that many of us don't know how to do, or fear doing.
Here is another mystery: The Lost Children are not a "Them", they are Us, and we are a very mixed bag. (3) The Lost Children are a part of that tribe of Outsiders I mentioned earlier. Outsiders are a group that includes most of the great writers, artists, leaders, scientists, and thinkers in human history. They are those who don't "fit" into their culture's rigid little mold.
An Outsider may be hiding in plain sight. They may look like a part of the dominant culture, but they do not think the same thoughts, nor are they caught up in the cultural trance. Conversely, they may be someone living a very alternative lifestyle in a very public way. However they appear, Outsiders are those who question both authority and learned helplessness.
Among the Outsiders, the Lost Children in particular are looking for a place to call home. Many have been rejected by other groups, religions, or scenes, and then they come here, looking for acceptance. As Ashli points out, the situation in modern Paganism is not so much that of a round peg trying to fit into a square hole, it is more like a variety of shapes coming into a place where shape doesn't matter at all. That's fine as far as it goes, but it becomes a problem for us when no standards of conduct are ever applied, no matter how healthy or necessary these might be.
I say this with deep sadness: Our culture has failed our Lost Children. Their parents have failed them. The schools have failed them, their peers have failed them, and, Goddess help us, we have failed them. They come to us, looking for meaning and True Tribe and what do we give them? Poses and platitudes. They come to us with a hole in their soul because they are lacking the unconditional love, guidance, and stability they deserved but never got as children, and we give them Witch Wars and yet more dysfunction. Very often they will try to fill this hole with alcohol, drugs, unhappy sexual encounters, food, and whatever else comes to hand, and we offer them no understanding of what the hole really is or how to heal it. They come to us seeking acceptance and a safe place to practice their path, and we allow predators and abusers into their circles. Some day, we will answer for this.
The Lost Children are often so because they were raised with either too little healthy parenting or far too much harsh discipline by adults who were deeply unhappy themselves. Sometimes they fear to grow up because they believe it means becoming like "them". Sometimes they grew up far too fast and have no experience of joy, play or wonder.
The Lost Children are not lost because they are somehow bad or wrong. They are lost because they were never valued as they deserved, or because they never got the guidance they needed or because they were abused or because they had to try and cope with mental, physical, emotional or spiritual challenges all on their own. They come to us, instinctively knowing that Paganism holds healing at it's core, and when we don't help them they can morph from being Lost Children to Problem Children in a heartbeat.
A Pagan gal named Tree wrote this to me just recently:
I've been torn about recommitting to the Goddess and the Earth, because I thought I'd be lonely. . . A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around despondently thinking, "Where on Earth am I going to find Pagans who want do the tough work of growing up?"
What do the Lost Children really need? They need support as they walk a very challenging path. They need trustworthy companions, and connection. The Lost Children need to be around joyous, free, spiritually mature human beings, who are comfortable with their power and compassionate in their wisdom. They need to be around creative people who are in touch with play, wonder, healthy sexuality, and the divine; people who also know how to work hard, honor their word, and pay the rent. We Pagans claim to honor the divine, wherever we find it, however we understand it. We claim to respect what is sacred, both within and without. In teaching this, we must also teach our people to honor others as they wish to be honored themselves. We must consciously model for our students and circle members what it looks like to be in touch with our Best Selves and the God/ess within. This requires an emotional, mental, and spiritual evolution on the part of all here. It's not easy, but nothing less will do.