I was recently asked by a friend if I knew of any useful resources for someone who was looking into learning how to draw. It seems really simple- there are lots of tutorials out there on the internet for how to draw things: from hands to faces, cylinders to cars. There are lots of resources out there. So I linked them up with a fairly in-depth tutorial on how to draw a person and felt that it was mission accomplished. I patted myself on the back and said “job well done!” and thought it was finished.
But it wasn’t finished.
I received a response that stated that the tutorial seemed too complicated. That drawing that much anatomy out of the gate was way too much and that they needed something simpler than that. And then I realized that from the perspective of someone who was new to art- this probably seemed a little overwhelming or daunting.
I still wanted to help, so I reevaluated what it took to get to where I am artistically. What did we do in school? How did they teach us to draw? How on earth could someone else replicate what we did in school on their own?
And then I began to see a few parallels to polytheism and paganism, and I felt like I had been hit upside the head with an iron beam.
First off, this whole situation reminded me of many of the questions we’d receive at Pagan101. When people become more experienced at the whole polytheism thing, I think they lose track of just how far they have come. Because you might not exactly realize the progress you’ve made, you can lose scope of where newcomers are coming from, and we inadvertently end up inundating them with too much information, or information that is too complex. We think its simple because we’ve been at it for a while, but they are not us. To draw the parallel to the art scenario above, I thought that it was simple and easy to point to a broken down human figure and say “draw like that”. But in reality, we didn’t even start drawing people until the second or third quarter at school. I have completely bypassed what it took to even get to that point.
That’s how it goes for a lot of newcomers in the pagan-sphere, too. We give them a lot of academic books, or we tell them to “google it” and they get overwhelmed. For those of us who are acting as resources within the community, we’ve got to make sure we keep an eye on that.
But more importantly, I realized that “I can’t teach you how to art. No one can.”
And if you swap out “art” with “pagan”, you’ve got the same situation.
For those of you who are not artists, the truth of the matter is- most art is about practice. You can learn new techniques, sure, and those are plenty helpful. But when you’re starting out, what you end up doing the most of is… well, drawing. When I started in school, they sat us down in front of a pile of stuff. They would have us draw the stuff in different ways (contour drawing, negative space drawing, no lifting the pencil.. things like that), but at the end of the day- it was a whole lot of practice. And while we learned the basics for perspective and human anatomy, it was still a lot of trial and error, a lot of tearing up of papers and throwing pencils while you tried to get it “just so” or the teacher made you redraw it… again. Because art is not procedural, there is no way to linearly teach someone how to art. You can only learn how to art by doing.
Religion is much the same way, especially the less institutionalized religions of the Pagan umbrella. When someone comes to me and asks me how they become a Kemetic, all I can do is show them a bunch of information on what Kemeticism entails and hope that they can figure it out themselves. There is no “You do XYZ, and now you’re a Kemetic”. Sure, we proceduralize some of the methods- for instance, if you are a member of Kemetic Orthodoxy, you take the informational classes, you undergo the RPD, you receive a name, and now you’re Kemetic Orthodoxy. But even then, you might only be Kemetic Orthodoxy in name.
Same goes for Shinto- you can become a member of the Sukeikai and receive an ofuda and have it in your house- but it doesn’t mean you’re living as a Shintoist.
When it comes to learning how to be a member of a religion, there is no one way to do it. There are as many ways as there are practitioners- and then some. Just like with art, becoming a member of any new religion will likely entail some screaming and throwing of things and crying as well. We all start somewhere, and many of our paths have been jagged and loopy and screwy as can be because there is no way to teach someone how to Pagan.
The best we can do is show you how we do it/did it, and hope that you can figure out what works best for you through trial and error.