How a New Age Book and a Cookie-Scented Candle Made Me a Better Pagan
It was after the days had started growing longer and everything was pitch black both when I got out of bed and before I got home at night. Anxiety and depression have a way of flowing like a wave for me: life is pretty okay; nope, not anymore. Up, down, up, down. I was distinctly down, listening to “Tennis Court” by Lorde on repeat because I realized it just sounds so sad. And sad people like things like that. I thought about being pagan and I wondered what it had to offer me now, when I seemed to be falling and the floor was nowhere in sight. And then my husband lost his job, and there was some worry and fear thrown into the the spaces between the sad.
I’ve been struggling with paganism. I admit it. But I’m not embarrassed and it doesn’t make me a bad pagan, whatever-in-the-world that would be. I think many of us who are newer, but in a place past the wide-eyed enthusiasm and infatuation, are afraid to say it. Maybe it’s because we feel like being “new” equals being “less than.” Like we won’t be taken seriously because we haven’t been at this for ten years. But it’s a thing that needs to be said, for the pagan community as a whole, and for people who are where I am. And it’s a thing that needs to be okay to say.
As nonchalantly as we may have come to it, browsing through books in the bookstore or surfing the web, stepping into paganism is kind of a big deal. Because it’s change, and change is tough. There are new ways of looking at things and new things to do and all the newness can leave us feeling cold after a while, after the initial enthusiasm has faded and we realize that any lasting commitment to paganism is going to be tougher and less certain than those first books and websites. It will time to arrive at a place where we can find meaning and familiarity in pagan practices instead of just feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of new things to choose from. When things are tough, I want to be at that place. Where my paganism is a niche I can snuggle comfortably into that is cozy on the best of days and familiar on the worst.
I’d been wondering where to look for answers. As a Christian, there was always a book or an altar to turn to. But the pagan world is a far more DIY sort-of-affair, which can be tough at times when you don’t feel like doing much for yourself. A lot of us are isolated from other pagans, so we might not have a mentor or friend to turn to and, let’s just say it, a lot of pagan books seem to be compendiums of spells or magickal advice. I think what I mostly needed was something steady that happened the same way over and over, day after day, like a friend you’re completely comfortable with. All the time I’d spent considering how I viewed the gods intellectually and deciding if I would be more accurately categorized as a pantheist or a panentheist wasn’t doing me any good now. The books that could tell me what color candle I needed on what day were inevitably leaving me empty. I needed something with heart.
I started at the bookstore because that’s what I do. I browsed the self-help section because once in a while you find something good inbetween all the similar-looking books about making your life be amazing. I picked up Gabrielle Bernstein’s book Spirit Junkie to give it a third or fourth chance. I’d looked at it before but it always just sounded so…New Agey. But I finally decided to overlook that for the moment, and found a place to sit and read. I read and I thought and I read some more.
I went home and lit a candle that smelled like cookies because when I was a teenager I wanted nothing more than to be allowed to burn candles that smell like cookies and now I can. So I lit my candle and I decided to do a meditation I’d read about in the book. Breathe in, breathe out. Think “I let go of my past, I release my future.” All this was pretty doable, I thought, and doable is good when you feel like shit. So I did it. I just breathed, over and over, letting my gaze settle on the candle and letting the cookie scent waft up as the heat from the tiny flickering flame washed over my face. I did it, and it was alright. So I did it again the next day. And then again. And it felt good, like when I said “I am love,” sitting there on my bed with my candle, that I was able to melt into something greater. That I was love, even though that sounds unacceptably New Agey and I’m really not even sure what it means.
But the New Agey-ness didn’t matter, and it didn’t matter that I found it in a place that didn’t have much to do with being pagan, exactly. All that really matters is that that book and that cookie-smelling candle and my heart were able to work together to help me take a step on my darkened path, a step that helps me on my journey and that helps me in my struggle to make my pagan spirituality meaningful in my life. That struggle is important because that sort of wrestling is a part of any process that really matters. Especially when we’re new, but even if we’ve been around awhile, these sometimes-painful struggles will happen. The beautiful thing about them is that they make you grow and leave you more whole than they found you. So don’t be afraid of them. Keep your chin up because I’m rooting for you, and I hope you’re rooting for me. If someone asks what being pagan means to you and you talk about Awen or your relationship with Hestia, that’s awesome. But I think it’s also acceptable if I throw in some New Agey love and cookies.