I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice. It's January 27, 2022, and today's topic is the power of why and the three most important things to understand within our practices as they evolve. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Hey, witchy friends. I’ve realized lately that a lot of the time what inspires my content, what I get inspired by when it comes to podcast content feel like my main intention is to guide new practitioners, to be some kind of mentor or whatever to those who are just starting on their path. Which isn’t really… I do like to make content that I know would have been of interest to me in the early days of my practice, but that’s not the main purpose.
My belief is that, like, no matter how long any of us have been practicing, there are things we can understand better, there are things to be explored more deeply, and essentially its just never a bad idea to really question and investigate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, to ask the important questions, right? And honestly, all of this stuff, or at least most of it, comes out of my own work, my own realizations and things that I, like, get greater clarity on, pieces I put together in new ways in my brain, that kind of thing.
With all that said, though, today’s topic, while it’s absolutely something we all at all levels of our practices, whatever they are, can really dig into and benefit from, it popped to mind mostly from thinking about the whole issue of new practitioners struggling to get their footing, wanting guidance and help getting started, and not knowing what to do with what we usually say, right? Which is, you know, do your research and just get started.
Like, those of us who have been at this a while know what we mean by that. We know it’s true. But we also know how hard that probably was for all of us at that point, to have all this potential stuff to study and learn and not being confident about getting it right. And it doesn’t help that we all inevitably run into stuff that we find out later wasn’t good guidance, wasn’t the strict rule we thought it was, or was something that didn’t make sense or maybe was even downright dangerous.
We can tell people all we want that they need to do research and learn through experience but, like, that also requires a certain amount of… like, how to study is a learned skill. And discernment is a learned skill. And deeper even than that little challenge is that figuring out what to start with, what to even begin studying and what to explore which requires us to kind of get a grip on what purpose various things serve, what benefit we’re going to get from learning things because otherwise what we end up doing is trying to learn thing we’re not actually interested in and won’t ever use just because we think it’s, like, part of the deal.
So, I’ve got three questions that all of us, but especially the newer practitioners, need to get really good at asking and investigating as a way not just of picking what to study and where to start, but also to help figure out for ourselves what guidance is good to follow and what our rules or boundaries really are. Basically, the whole point is to evaluate the elements of our practice to figure out their purpose as well as our own purpose for wanting to explore them. So we end up guiding our own practice rather than relying on someone else to push us along.
And I want to start with this question: Why do I want to do this?
And I mean this as more than a question of intention. Intention is important when it comes to putting your magic into action, but this particular question gets to what’s underneath that, what precedes that. I say this because what I see a lot of is practitioners assuming that something is just, like, expected. Well, I’m into self-evolution, I must need to do, like, meditation. So I guess I need someone to teach me that. Or, like, I want to be a witch so I’ll buy some candles because, like, that’s what witches work with, right? And then I’ll learn that.
Which is… I love the process of picking up new things along the way when they look interesting and having that be the method of learning and building a practice. It’s my favorite. But it’s important to know why you’re drawn to certain things, why you’re choosing to pursue whatever it is. Whether it’s because it’s up your alley, it’s something you think you’ll enjoy, or whether it’s because you’ve been convinced that it’s an important thing to master, or whether it’s because you see others do it and are curious, or whether it’s because you know it’s a key step to achieving a goal of yours.
Also, just the purpose of it. Is it something you just need to know enough about to use for a specific working? Is it something you want to master and be really proficient at because you see it being a huge part of your practice? Is it something you’re trying just to see how it works?
Because when it comes to especially the beginnings of our paths, there’s… It’s totally normal to not know where to start, to be overwhelmed with possibilities, to feel a little bit lost when it comes to figuring out what’s important. So we do what’s normal for humans coming into a context where they don’t have a really clear understanding of how to find their place, and we follow. We look for patterns and people to mirror. But I think magical practice is one of those pursuits where it’s incredibly important, it’s absolutely crucial, to be deliberate and analytical as we go.
Magical practice is deeply personal. It’s not religion. So we can’t assume that the people around us have the same needs and desires and interests and resources as we do, which means that the things they do, the reasons they do them, the methods they choose, aren’t just arbitrary. They may not be what we want or need. And the only way to know if we’re doing the right things is to literally ask ourselves why we’re interested in whatever we’re interested in. What’s the purpose? What’s the motivation? What’s the draw?
And my advice is that if what you come up with is a feeling of doing things because you just assumed that was what people do, particularly in the case of magical practice, it’s time to dig deeper. To step back a bit and look at what options there are and get more deeply in tune with your inner guidance, your inner compass so you begin to trust your ability to lead yourself.
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Now back to the episode!
The second important question is less about direction and more about discernment. Because there’s a lot of… I really think this comes from the fact that we tend to treat things like magical practice the same way we treat religion. Like, there must just be rules to follow, so if others seem to do things a consistent way, that must be the way things have to be done. And if there’s a reason behind it, we’re… We all know that religion the way most of us have been taught to exist within it requires a trust that if we’re told that something is the way it is, we either don’t question it, or we take the authority of whoever’s explanation we get at face value.
Magical practice is… I think it’s exactly the opposite. Understanding the why’s is an essential part of the path.
So the second vital question is, Why do we do it this way?
Whatever it is that you’re learning, whatever pattern or methodology you learn, knowing why it is that way, why it’s that way and not any of the other options out there, why does whoever you’re learning from teach this particular way of doing things… asking those questions is how we build a truly authentic and deeply rooted practice for ourselves and its how we learn to be discerning.
There is another layer underneath those answers, underneath the way you evaluate the answers you get back when you ask why things are done as they are done, which has to do with what your own standards and reasons are for discerning which ones fit, which reasons are good reasons for you and which ones are not. But let’s just focus on the original why because especially when we’re just starting out on our path, we aren’t going to necessarily have a very clear basis for that kind of discernment.
One of the biggest benefits of experience and time spent practicing is that being in action, being active in practice is how those standards and that understanding of internal reasoning and all of that gets formed. But as you’re forming those things, as you’re building experience, it’s really important to invest time into not just finding information and learning how to do things, but learning why.
Now, I think the answers to that, the whys, fall into three basic categories.
There’s the things we do the way we do them because, like, just the limitations or parameters of physical reality. Like, there are aspects of our practices and rituals and such that are, like, safety related. There are aspects of our practices which are based on just mundane functions of things. I think about things like the… I’m sure most of us have seen the thing going around where someone buys a crystal ball and they’re told to cover it when they’re not home, and they’re like “why? spirits?” and they’re told no, it’s so they don’t burn their house down. There’s stuff like, you know, open your windows when you’re smoke cleansing not because energies can’t go through windows but because it’s not good to fill your house with smoke and breathe it all in. There’s herbs we use certain ways because, like, that’s the chemical makeup of that plant having its scientifically predictable impact on our physiology. It’s the mundane before magic thing. And it’s good to know what those practical things, practical considerations in our practices are because it’s… It keeps us grounded in reality. That’s important. And if you get good at seeing where the mundane influences come in, those considerations, it’s easier to sort out the rest.
The second category of whys is the stuff we do the way we do them because that way is part of a tradition, part of a larger context. It’s stuff that has reasons rooted in a particular group’s background, their culture and history. And these are… I think it’s really important to be aware, first of all, that different cultures, different groups of people do things very differently even given the same basic concepts. So, for instance, if you’re into astrology, you know that our understanding of western astrology isn’t shared by all people around the world, even given that we see the same sky, the same celestial bodies at the same times of year, right? And a huge amount of what we get taught about magic and magical practice falls into this category. That’s part of the reason there are so many ways to do so many different things within our practices. But it’s not just important to be aware that there are differences which come from different groups and cultures, but knowing why those cultures do things that way. Having some understanding of, like, a tradition’s ties to that culture’s historical geographic land of origin, their history of migration or oppression or colonization or whatever…. If you’re practicing within or taking bits of practice from a culture or if you’re being taught from a culture’s perspective, understanding what parts are unique to that culture and what those things mean is a foundational piece of really mastering and using whatever those parts of our practices are. Because a lot of the time, when it comes to that stuff, the meaning is in the history, the power is in the history and the reasons those things came to be, it’s not in the skills and practices and whatever in and of themselves.
And the last category is the stuff that is the way it is because it just seems to work. It’s part of the.. It’s what I consider to be the fun part of magical practice which is the guessing part. The experimental part. The spiritual equivalent of the scientific method where we do things that make symbolic sense or are in whatever way a thing that feels like it should work, feels like it makes sense, or it’s a pattern someone noticed and latched onto. It’s the part that there isn’t a really good answer for why. It’s anecdotal or circumstantial or intuitive or revealed in some way. And this stuff… This is where we get into the meat of magical practice, but it’s also where there really aren’t rules. And it’s important to have a firm grasp of that dynamic rather than take these things as absolute rules. It’s really vital to a healthy magical practice to recognize that our attachment to these things or rejection of these things is personal. it’s not universal unless something is discovered which pushes it into the first category, right? And that means understanding ourselves and why certain practices resonate, why certain ways of doing things feel right to us. It’s honestly part of our shadow work, and that’s why shadow work is such an important companion to magical practice.
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Okay, so I saved the most important why for last. Because when we start on our paths, when we’re in our paths and we undertake some new thing, anytime we put ourselves in a position of looking to others to learn from or even in a position of doing research for ourselves and sifting through information and teachings and resources which we know come through and from the thoughts of other people, we are responsible for the sources we choose to trust and work with.
So the most important why is this: Why do I trust this source?
And this, again, really does get into our shadow work at least in part, because our reasons for trusting and following some sources of information and guidance over others has to do with the deepest parts of our worldview and understanding of how things work.
Like, you’re listening to my podcast, and if you’re a regular listener or have followed me on social media or read my book or whatever, there’s some element of something in this, like, exchange of information relationship we have that makes you value what I have to say. And knowing what that is says more about you than it does about me.
This also has a lot to do with developing discernment. The thing is that if we actually get to know what makes us trust one person over another, one type of source of information over another whether its, like, media or method of delivery or whatever, if we are really truly honest with ourselves about that as we go, we’re going to find some stuff about the way we think and the way we interact with the world which might not make sense when we drag those reasons out and examine them.
So, there’s that. There’s that reason for really asking ourselves why we trust or don’t trust our sources. But it’s also just good to know what the strengths and differences between certain sources are. Knowing where to turn for guidance or information or explanations which teach you in ways that are compatible with how you learn, or which speak to you from a place of similar experience or similar context to how you live. That sort of thing. Figuring out when you need someone with a deep and credentialed expertise and when you don’t. Figuring out how to determine if someone’s credentials actually mean something and when they don’t.
And this is absolutely a process. It’s a trial and error process in a lot of ways, and there are going to be times as you’re learning and studying that you’ll find sources that you think are great only to find out later that they aren’t, or even the other way.
This isn’t really about magic, but I think it’s a good story to share to illustrate. So when I was in high school, I took a lot of art classes. I’ve always been an artist, always been a crafter and creator. That’s my passion. And there were two art teachers at my high school. One taught very traditional types of things. Drawing, painting, sculpture. Traditional art classes with text books and stuff like that. The other teacher was more… applied art. Stuff like ceramics and weaving and… I remember doing papermaking and batik and screen printing and beading, stuff like that. And I always took the applied art classes rather than the traditional ones. I never once took a class with the other teacher because at the time my argument, my personal reasoning for trusting one teacher over the other, was that the other teacher used a book. He taught from a textbook. And that wasn’t art. That wasn’t creativity to me.
Now, with many years of experience between now and then, I can look back now and see that both were good, that I maybe would have really benefitted from taking classes with both, because my reasoning was really flawed. The reason the applied art classes didn’t use books was because there was no book for those classes, and those more traditional art classes didn’t rely on a book to the detriment of creative expression. The skills we learned in the applied art classes weren’t… Like, there wasn’t a preconstructed curriculum for that, we just followed the teacher’s muse. Which was awesome and fun and I did and learned cool things.
I didn’t learn to paint, though. I didn’t hone my drawing skills. I did that later in college. I didn’t learn any art history in the high school classes I took. I did that later in college, with books.
And it’s important to know that, like, that is exactly how things go as we learn things from various sources over the years. It doesn’t mean that any of our learning is a mistake. I can’t look back at those high school art classes and be, like, I did the wrong thing taking the classes I did. Learning the things I did. But being aware of why I trusted one teacher more than the other, I can look back and say that I thought I had an understanding of myself and the world around me that I now know wasn’t accurate.
The think to keep in mind, though, is that when we ask ourselves why we trust one source over others, it helps us establish for ourselves what path we’re choosing. And that’s what we’re really looking for most of the time, right? Confidence and clarity in our direction. Which we only get from asking these questions. Asking why we’re taking the steps we’re taking.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.