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"Care about other people's approval, and you will be their prisoner." ~ Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching

On Finding Approval

In the introduction to her book, A Charmed Life, Patricia J. Telesco gives a summary of the troubles many of us encounter when we give ourselves over to following our own spiritual paths. She writes about the problems many of us face, not just in winning approval from others, but in finding approval within ourselves.

She writes:

"Witches haven't always had a terrific reputation, to say the least. Even in today's New Age, remnants of their reputation linger in our awareness. It's impossible for Halloween to go by, for example, without the traditional, superstitious portrait of witches with warts, black hats, and wicked cackles. These decorations and sound effects are provided by unassuming celebrants who often don't realize that Wicca is a viable religion and spiritual path for thousands of people -- people such as you and me who are striving to understand their place in the greater scheme of things -- people who rediscover the spark of magick in their hearts and want to release that energy into every corner of life.

That's a tall order! And what makes it even more challenging is remaining aware of how 2,000 years of bad press has affected magickal traditions. Consider how others think about Wicca, and how this affects your capacity to lead a truly spiritual life, surrounded by those doubts and misrepresentations. For example, how many times do we shy away from a conversation about holiday celebrations at the office or put away our magickal books and tools when relatives come to the house? While I'm not an advocate of bellowing one's beliefs from the rooftops, I suspect I'm not alone in my frustrations about hiding my faith to protect myself from unjust treatment or for propriety's sake..."

I can really relate to these thoughts: recently I responded to a telephone surveyor who wanted to know how I felt about the state of healthcare where I live. At the end of the survey, she wanted some demographic information and asked my family's religion. I can't believe my own cowardice -- after stumbling and stammering, I answered that we're non-practicing Christians! I justified that this statement wasn't strictly false: my husband and I were raised as Christians; raised our older children as Christians; and continued to share Christian traditions and values as appropriate with our younger children since our dedication to Neo-Paganism. We aren't anti-Christian. However, we aren't Christian anymore, either!

I was afraid to tell a stranger I would likely never speak to again and whose opinion wouldn't affect my future in the slightest the simple truth that I'm a Pagan. I lied!

The book's introduction goes on to describe the flipside:

"Even outside society's structures there's the very real possibility that modern Witches, experienced or not, sometimes unwittingly fall into a different stereotype trap. Specifically: Do we don our jewelry and robes and enact our rites in ways that are really meaningful, or because we think that's what someone else expects? If you answered the latter, don't feel bad -- you are certainly not alone. It's quite common for human beings to want approval from those whom we admire. However, if our Witchcraft is to be really transformational we must also find approval in our own minds and spirits."

She goes on to write:

"Any magickal procedure that has no meaning has no power."

Herein lies another of the problems Neo-Pagans face. In order to win the approval of other Neo-Pagans, we sometimes feel the need to go too far the other way. No one can win an I'm-More-Witchy-Than-You contest and everyone loses when they get caught up in one. The truth is that the trappings of witchcraft are never as important as one's intent and honest dedication to spiritual growth. Don't be fooled by the claims of others who appear to know what they're talking about -- finding approval in others is not as important as finding approval within you.

And if you find yourself disapproving of yourself, as I have in the occasion I've mentioned above, all is not lost. That is what spirituality is all about -- not just finding the way, but deliberately choosing to walk it, step-by-arduous-step. It is a difficult journey, one on which we will likely lose our way many times. But the magick comes when, seeking the right way again, we find ourselves upon it once again -- a fresh start. -- Cat, the Editor

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