View Full Version : Lore vs. Experience

03-07-2015, 02:29 AM
As someone who is fairly new to actually studying Paganism (long story short, despite converting at 15 based on nothing more than gut feeling, due to circumstances it was just last May (at 27) that I finally started actively studying and learning), this "argument" is something I've been pondering lately. I say "argument" because I don't think it really can be entirely one side or the other - we've lost so many primary sources that for many things I've learned about so far there simply isn't much, if any, left except our best guesses. And only using experience can leave you with a very long list of unsubstantiated and sometimes wildly unreliable claims to attempt to turn into a reasonable practice.

Right now at least I think I'm leaning slightly more towards experience. I'm not interested in perfectly reconstructing the rituals my ancestors may have conducted (which is a ridiculously complicated question when you start thinking about, well, which branch of the family and which generation exactly and what precise location where they might have been living and what the exact customs where at that time...) but I do pay more attention to, say, a university research website than a random angelfire blog. One of the things I've been studying, how rituals are built on correspondences and symbolism, has finally solved the question of "but who do I listen to?" when two respected sources give, say, different magical uses of colors. But if symbolism is personal and still correct, then why should it particularly matter to me if my ancestors supposedly used one color for a certain deity or purpose?

Then again, there are some things that I think aren't really up to personal experience. For example, last year I got sucked into a debate about when to celebrate Samhain - some people said October 31st as a modern tradition, and some people said it was supposed to be halfway between Mabon and Yule (which generally puts it somewhere around November 6th or 7th). Events like Samhain are such time-specific dates (after all, if it's only a particular night on which the veil thins and all of that, isn't it rather important to know exactly which night it's supposed to be??) that I can't believe it's really entirely up to "oh, whenever you feel like celebrating".

So I'm curious as to how other people handle these kinds of gaps and jumps. Comments? Questions? Concerns? I'd love to have some more input on this!

03-07-2015, 11:07 AM
If you aren't tied to a specific tradition and you are just doing private spiritual work rather than magic, then a lot of the gritty details are only relevant if it comes up in your practice. If you are practicing a specific trad - say a version of Wicca - then dates of Sabbats would be adjusted accordingly. It all depends on whether you're learning a form or seeking a path. Both approaches are valid.

Gavin Aendless
03-08-2015, 08:50 AM
It's even worse when you live in the Southern Hemisphere, and you have to consider local landscape and seasonal rhythms that are out by six months or so (or worse, don't conform to the Northern Hemisphere model at all), and how that all blends with something - hopefully! - rooted in pre-Christian folklore and practices.

For example, lighting a bonfire at midsummer is about authentically European pagan as it gets, but here in Australia the danger posed by bushfire makes such an observance fraught with moral and legal complications.

The arguments surrounding tradition vs personal gnosis have been going for a long time. It's something that every contemporary pagan has to contend with beyond a certain level of reading. I don't think there is a right answer, but I do try to ask myself a few questions when considering new practices:

1. Does it resonate, down deep?
2. Would the local spirits of place be happy with it? How do I know that?
3. Would my pre-Christian ancestors recognise it at all if they saw it?
4. Does it cause energy to move?
5. (Optional extra) Is it sensible?

What I like is that I can usefully apply these questions when writing scenes containing pagan ritual practices, and hopefully get a sense of authenticity to come through on the page. :-D

03-08-2015, 07:10 PM
Gavin, that was very well said!
Excellent points!