Unfold the Map, Unfold the Soul

Not all who wander are total flakes.

I don’t like the prefix “ex-” to describe my no-longer-Wiccan status.  Ex- carries with it a sense of severance, like a messy breakup or someone who’s been brainwashed into believing they can “pray the gay away.” When I hear the term “Ex-Wiccan” chances are it’s describing someone who either found Jesus and rejected Wicca, or had it done to them by some kind of overzealous deprogrammer. That’s not to say that connotation is definitive; it’s just how it feels to me.  “Ex-” sounds so terminal, as if I were an ex-parrot no longer pining for the fjords.

I prefer to describe myself as Post-Wiccan. I don’t feel like I chucked the entire religion or suddenly fell in hate with it.  I feel like I evolved beyond it.  I am what can happen after Wicca, not at the end of Wicca.  I am Post-Wiccan.

Of course, saying I “evolved beyond” it probably makes it sound like there’s a line from lesser to greater and that I believe Wicca is somehow inferior to whatever comes next in line, much the way a lot of people think of evolution as a progression upward with humans at the top rather than an ever-branching tree.

Not true at all.  Every person’s path is unique.  All the religions are like villages on a map; you can stop in as many as you want and learn the culture, eat the food, shop in the markets, pray in the temples. You can stay as long as you feel moved to.  You can stay there for life if you feel you’ve found home.  But not everyone will; some people start in the East and end up West, or stay in the same village for life, or become spiritual nomads and wander for decades, content to learn a little here, a little there, and annotate the map with their experiences.

A map is just a map.  Your destination and mine won’t be the same, and your journey and mine certainly won’t.  Even if we both spent a year in the Archipelago of the Buddha, if I picked up malaria and you picked up enlightenment, we’d have two very different years.  The Archipelago of the Buddha is not better than Fort Islam, nor is the cheerful chaos of Wiccaville (surrounded, unfortunately, by many tourist traps) necessarily better than the vast Christian Metropolitan Area, whose towers reach toward heaven despite its seedy underbelly.

And so, my backpack is full of guidebooks and souvenirs from a variety of places, and I have scrapbooks and tattoos and jewelry from brief getaways and long pilgrimages.  (I went to Taoism and all I got was this t-shirt…but that’s okay.)  I’ve got the map open in front of me as I sit in a cafe on the outskirts of Wiccaville, and as I sip my chai I’m considering where to visit next.

A lot of people believe you should settle down in one place and stay there, fully adopting the local traditions and not upsetting the status quo by dancing naked on the village common while everyone else is praying indoors.  If you bring foreign ideas into a village sometimes others will consider them and maybe even try them out, and the village might even change the way it does things…or they might throw rocks at you.  Either way, sometimes it’s best just to pack up and move on.

I think the life of a spiritual nomad is a perfectly lovely thing.  Perhaps it’s too uncertain for some.  Perhaps they worry about the validity of blending so many different ideas and rituals together–they worry that their village culture will be diluted and everyone will be forced to change even if they’ve lived in the same house since birth.  But I have no intention of forcing people to look at my slides of Hinduism; I’ll talk about it if they ask, but really, it’s better if they go themselves.  I was a tour guide for a while in Wiccaville, and I might try it again someday on a different route.

A long time ago I was against eclecticism, because I had seen it used so clumsily by people who didn’t care about exploiting threatened or oppressed traditions.  I wouldn’t advocate just throwing a bunch of practices together without learning more about their origins and treating them with utmost respect.  But I find that if something truly calls to you on that soul-deep level that’s more important than outer trappings, you find that the teachers are there for you, the wisdom is waiting for you.

There’s an old fable known as “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” originally told in India.  In the story six blind men were led to

Cutest. Metaphor. Ever.

an elephant and each described what the animal must be based on what they could sense.  One said the elephant was a wall because it was so broad.  Another felt the trunk and said it was like a snake.  Another felt its massive wrinkled legs and declared the elephant was a tree…and so forth. Not one of the men realized that the elephant was all these things and more.

God is like that.  No one person can see all of the the universe, or every aspect of Deity at once, except by seeking out mystical experience that affords our small human minds the opportunity to open a little wider and perceive a little more.  The goal of spirituality is to perceive the whole elephant, and you can do that starting in any village, using whatever tools that work for you.

So strap on your hiking boots and choose your adventure. Where you’re going, you can even drink the water.

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13 thoughts on “Unfold the Map, Unfold the Soul

  1. I just discovered your website and found this post. I belong to a unitarian universalist church, and this makes total sense to me. Thanks!

  2. Self-appointed judges of “Pagan-ality” need to read stuff like this, and realize: Those of us who feel this way are among you. We are not “fluffy bunnies” just because we think differently than you, and no, we are not going to “just go away.”

  3. I’m only 22, but I’ve been travelling all over the map my whole life. I was looking at it with a different perspective though – I thought that if I walked into town, I had to stay there and immediately become a local. I put a lot of pressure on myself because of that, and subsequently left each town behind.

    Now I find myself in Wiccaville (again), still searching for a place that feels like home. But now I know that I can stay here as long as I like, without having to buy a house and settle down.

    No-one’s ever expressed what I was feeling; I thought I was alone. Thank you.

  4. I loved this thoughtful, intelligent post. Many of the pagan writers on the web could take quite a leaf from your book, and we would all be the better for it.

  5. I’m only 22, but I’ve been travelling all over the map my whole life. I was looking at it with a different perspective though – I thought that if I walked into town, I had to stay there and immediately become a local. I put a lot of pressure on myself because of that, and subsequently left each town behind.

    Now I find myself in Wiccaville (again), still searching for a place that feels like home. But now I know that I can stay here as long as I like, without having to buy a house and settle down.

    No-one’s ever expressed what I was feeling; I thought I was alone. Thank you.

  6. I would just like to say that I have had this and agree totaly. I to have worn many coats over the years and enjoyed everyone of them I like to tell people to enjoy the seeker inside themselves.
    Blessings, Phillip

  7. She’s baaack! (happy dance!)

    I “discovered” your book, The Circle Within, while I was exploring Wicca. I never reached a point of considering myself a Wiccan, but your book helped me celebrate what I loved most about it.

    Now, I’m drifting again – or so I thought. Now I see that I’m just visiting other places, and that’s okay, too.

    Thank you, as always, for letting me feel less alone on this journey.

    Blessings!

  8. I love the term “post-foo” instead of “ex-foo”. I feel post-Wiccan and post-Reclaiming. It describes beautifully what I’ve been feeling; thank you.

    I have embraced being a spiritual Edgewalker. There are no books where I’m going, no maps, no tour guides. It’s exciting and sometimes a little lonely, but it’s my path and I wouldn’t have it any other way. (:

  9. I just want to applaud after that – what a beautiful, hopeful, exciting post!

    Also: WORD. Right with you, Red Leader.

  10. What a marvelously insightful, creative post! You have given me a sense of relief. After moving from agnostic-Christian to Christian, back to agnosticism, to Baha’i, then to Wicca, and now to back my own sense of deity that I first felt in high school, over 40 years ago. I’m glad to know I was literally on a journey and not someone who just couldn’t stick with it.

  11. Yesyesyesyes. It really amazes me sometimes how easily you’re able to take things I’ve been thinking about and write them before I get the chance. My own practice and beliefs have changed nearly wholesale in the last five years, prompting me to also move out of Wiccavillle. My map is open and, while I’m certain of where I’ve been, I don’t yet know my next destination. I’ll just have to have another cup of coffee and think about it.

  12. I loved this thoughtful, intelligent post. Many of the pagan writers on the web could take quite a leaf from your book, and we would all be the better for it.

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