Newbies Need Help.

I’ve noticed a lot of people getting snipe-like with new people asking questions lately. This has been commented on in various blogs that I’ve read, as well, but I’m able to see it happen first-hand, as well. And you know, I’ve come to the conclusion that people are tired of the cyclical new person questions that invariably come up. “What do I do with offerings? How do I know what to do with them when they’re done with them? How do I even know that they’re finished?” Or, maybe… “How do I get a patron?” And the ever popular… “I’ve discovered paganism; now what?” These questions always pop up in various arenas and invariably, people start with thinly veiled snark to out-and-out sarcasm. It’s not always that way: sometimes, we all reign ourselves in and remember that we’re here to teach others because, maybe, they don’t have access to the resources we do. Or maybe, they’re so new that they don’t know where to look. But, without fail, the snark comes out and I get upset. When we get to the point where bitchy comments are the best way to answer others’ questions, then we really have to sit back and think clearly about what the fuck is going on because, you know what?

When we do that then that means that we’re doing a severe disservice to our religious practices, to the new people entering this, and to ourselves.

Before we go any further, let’s try to make the trip down memory lane as we skipped merrily and scared down the pagan path we’re currently on for the first damn time. There was fear of learning something completely different and the fear of asking stupid questions and the fear of being found out by family and friends as well as the fear of never knowing what the next step was and where it would lead us. Uncertainty plagues me most days while I dither over what to wear in the morning, never mind the uncertainty that plagues me on this path, three solid years after I’ve begun. Let’s just try to remember how scared we all were when we took the plunge. I can claim that I was both exhilarated and scared out of my fucking mind because I didn’t know what to expect. And even though I was bitched at by a bunch of BTWs when I joined a forum and asked “fluffy” questions, I still stuck with it.

The thing is that maybe not every newbie has the fortitude of saying, “Oh, my questions are stupid? You can go fuck yourself because I’ll be practicing ten times better than you in twenty days.” Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I had the strength within me to say, “Fuck you, asshats,” and moved on with my life. But, as I said, not everyone is able to do that. Not everyone can shrug off the snark and the sarcasm. Not everyone can stand up and point a finger (even if it’s not a real one) and say, “I can do this without your help, thankyouverymuch but no thanks!”

But let’s get back to the disservice we’re reeking with our asshole behaviors towards newbies. By being snarky and bitchy and full of malice, we’re not teaching them anything except that maybe they made a mistake by turning to paganism in the first place. And how is that even remotely a good message to send? It adds to the already negative connotation that can associate itself with pagan lifestyles and religious choices. We already have to battle the fact that, at the best, we’re considered weird and strange but at the worst that we are worshipers of Satan who will confuse, dilute, and destroy people of other faiths just because we can. So, the next time someone says, “How do I find a patron,” and you want to bitch them out for being stupid, then maybe you should reign yourself in. Maybe you should think about all of the negativity that could be spewing out of you and polluting the purity that you feel in the path that you feel. Maybe, you should think before you speak or type because you’re making it that much harder for a positive spun religion* to recruit new members and show others that we aren’t all Satan worshiping assholes who want to demolish religions that have been around for millennia.

A lot of pagan paths tend to have a sort of positive based commandments, so to speak, that we all rely upon to live. This is especially true of people who follow a more reconstruction based path. Not only are they trying to find a way to live what they feel is true within themselves, but they are also trying to rebuild a religion that has been in decay for years and years. From a Kemetic standpoint, I can say that when I answer incorrectly or bitchily towards someone asking me question, I am definitely NOT living the ways of ma’at. The basic precepts of my faith are all about not being a selfish twat with asshole tendencies and I think the same could be said of most other pagan based paths. There are the Nine Noble Virtues of a Heathen path and there are the 42 Negative Confessions to live by in the Kemetic path. (I really need to know what the hell Celtic based religions have like these… Any helpers?) These are things that we live by to make ourselves better people.

So, by letting our fingers speak with a sarcastic retort, we are no longer following the precepts we’ve set above all others. We are doing our very best to sabotage our best efforts to live to a higher standard of living. And in thus doing, we are not only doing a disservice to our religious practices, but also to ourselves. The moment you let snark and snipe come to the fore, then you are more reacting to something that you find silly or trivial, but in fact, you should be taking the time out to merely act. And it is that time out that we should all seek. It is that moment prior to a response that we should seek out because it is in that moment that we are upholding the virtues or the ma’at or the precepts that we hold near and dear.

So, the next time a newbie irritates you with newbies questions, don’t answer or take that moment to remember what the basic concepts if your religious practice are. For your sake, for your religion’s sake, and for the sake of the new person in question.

* I know that there are negative aspects to every religious practice, but I like to think of pagan lifestyles as more positive.

30 thoughts on “Newbies Need Help.

  1. Very well said!

    I know it’s hard to answer the same newbie questions over and over and over, but If someone doesn’t want to answer them any more, they would do better to keep silent.

    Each beginner knows nothing of the previous ten, twenty, or two thousand before them. It’s all new and scary and they are often very much alone as they leap into the abyss.

    • Thank you!

      After a while, I do stop answering the questions. Partially because I fear my own snark, but also because maybe someone can say it better. All that being said, I do love helping others!

  2. Not sure why people are getting snippy instead of just staying quiet. If you don’t want to answer the same question for the 100th time, don’t volunteer a response, it’s that simple.

    That being said, I think part of where this might be coming from is that many of the lists/forums (at least, this was true of Hellenic stuff a couple years ago) are so broad and open, that they rarely manage to get the conversation above a 101 level. There is a constant stream of newbie questions, but not enough discussion of more experienced topics. But when people try to start a more restrictive group to foster deeper levels of conversation, the reaction is invariably negative – pagans seem to always feel they must be all-inclusive. That does everyone a disservice, IMO. I’d love to see a system whereby experienced community members spent limited amounts of time with the newbies, guiding them, and the rest of their time amongst peers, delving into more advanced topics. (For me, I spent many years helping out on the lists and then wrote a 101 book, so I feel I did my part and can now recede into my little corner of the internet and talk only about the things I want to.)

    While I stand by my first statement, and don’t think snarkiness is very productive, I do sympathize when the newbie in question could find the answer to their question very quickly if they only bothered to do a little research – not even in books, just online. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked things that are covered quite well on numerous websites. And it’s depressing when some don’t seem willing to pick up even the most basic of books, wanting others to do all the work for them. They have no idea how comparatively easy they have it – just 15 years ago, it was much more difficult to learn how to practice these religions, and yet we forged ahead anyway!

    • “Not sure why people are getting snippy instead of just staying quiet. If you don’t want to answer the same question for the 100th time, don’t volunteer a response, it’s that simple.” That’s my feeling on it, as well. When I grow tired of saying the same thing twenty different times, I lose interest and leave it to everyone else to teach.

      I’m beginning to wonder if I should begin plans for a 101 book. I have ideas for a “so you decided to go pagan” 101 book as well as a Kemetic-only one since, woefully, there are so few of those out there that aren’t something to giggle at later on in life. It would keep me from feeling the need to vent like this because, you know, I could just say, “Here’s a book I wrote once. It’s got lots of information on there.” Still, I don’t feel like I should take that stance, either. I mean, I love helping other people to learn new things but I don’t think I’m “experienced” enough to start contemplating a book yet. Maybe, one day…

      We have a lot of people who ask things that they should have learned or at least, heard about already. I can definitely understand the frustration behind that. It frustrates me when I have to explain the “how to find a patron” question on a repeated basis because I think it’s the wrong way to go about things, but to each their own. Still, I’d rather keep my mouth shut than snark at someone who is so clueless or so lost that they need to ask where to look for the answers.

      (P.S. So… what’s the name of your book? Maybe I want to read it. Maybe.)

      • Ya know, I thought that creating a basic 101 into article would help people. “Oh, you want to know how to start with being Kemetic, here’s my guide”. Well that doesn’t always work. It’s like some people want you to hold their hand instead. Which just leaves me sad because I worked hard on both of my 101 articles, only have people not care about them XD So beware, you might not want to climb that tree :P

  3. Hey Satsekhem, it’s Aine. Ya know, I never thought about asking “how do I know they’re done with the offerings” XD I find that most of the time they’re done pretty quickly and nudge me. Although they love their toast lol

    • There are a lot of people who haven’t a clue when the offerings are finished. It’s hard to explain to them that gut instinct is more than just two words that we bandy about. :) And bread, toasted or otherwise, make all netjer pretty content.

  4. This is a really good posting. While it’s easy to be impatient, it’s also easy to be silent. Not everyone is a teacher and if one does not want to teach, one should just be quiet. And frankly, though people love to bitch about the Christians, when people show up to ask THEM questions, they bring the newbies in, give them a cup of coffee and answer anything they want to know, along with inviting them to the pot luck later that day.

    • “And frankly, though people love to bitch about the Christians, when people show up to ask THEM questions, they bring the newbies in, give them a cup of coffee and answer anything they want to know, along with inviting them to the pot luck later that day.” YES! THIS! I read this comment and I had that ah-ha moment that I’m famous for. (In case you’re curious, I get a dumb look on my face, kind of like I’m constipated before the epiphany happens. Kidding!)

      I’ve met a thousand snarky and bitchy Christians out there, so I know that not all Christians are nice and kind. However, I was married into a family where the sister was incredibly devout. Her husband was the epitome of a perfect Christian. He accepted you, your faults, your perfections no matter who you were, why you were there, or what you were doing. And it’s people like him who would sit you down and talk about how great his God is before inviting you over for dinner or to watch his Christian band play at church.

      We need more people like that.

  5. First of all, *gives Sat a giant hug*. Thank you, you said it much better than I did.
    Secondly, ADF Druidry has the 9 Virtues.

  6. Good post. When I was on a pretty good forum dedicated to discussing magic we had it in our guidelines that we weren’t of a beginner level, if folks came in with ‘newbie’ questions we’d politely give them a heads up and them know (and possibly refer them to some decent sources). We also had a private section for the more advanced members that wasn’t viewable by anyone but those invited in. Some folks might think it’s ‘rude’ or ‘elitist’ but, hey, it worked and kept the snark and other bullshit down to a minimum. In any case, as Thumper’s mom once said “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say shit”….er something like that. Blessings.

    • The forum I belong to is specifically put out there to be newbie-friendly. We have newbie-only sections that answer the same questions repeatedly, but newbies are more likely to explore and get into things that they don’t understand/aren’t ready for. It’s a hazard of the board set up. I’m not against it and as I’ve said, I answer as many of the age-old questions as I can when I can.

      Thumper’s mom was a wonderful mom. :)

  7. And I add a hearty “YES!” to the massive crowd. I’ve thought the same thing, and said as much, on occasion. I just don’t get it. Honestly.

    I understand teaching’s not for everyone. It takes a helluva lot of patience and a feeling of at least relative security…the belief you’re able to teach.

    But whatever happened to that old phrase, “if you can’t say something nice…” blahblahblah…

    Sometimes the noobs are just insecure. They want to make sure what they’re reading is correct, or they want suggestions on where to start. A hand to hold goes a looooong way.

    If you’re burnt out or fried, that’s fine. If teaching’s not your bag, no problem. *shrug* There are others who will pick up the gauntlet. Let’s leave the snark at home, k? Or maybe work it out where it belongs…like on Regretsy or something. ;-)

    Again, the nail has been squarely bashed over the head by your logic and prose, Aubs!

  8. Newbies do need help and I try to answer questions to the best of my ability. That being said, I also have to keep the following in mind:

    1. There are some things about which I simply cannot speak and therefore have to keep silent.

    2. Leading people by the hand to everything isn’t really help. This is especially apparent in my day job as a trainer: if I walk people through the same steps 37 times, they’re not learning anything except that I will do it for them. If, however, I walk them through it once or twice, then provide a tip sheet and then offer to watch them do X while pointing out what’s going right/wrong, the student will learn.

    In upholding ma’at, I have to keep the above in mind and find that balance. The balance is, IMO, everything.

    • And I totally understand that some people are oathbound (in some form, either formally or otherwise) and cannot say things. I am under no compunctions and it was because of my inability to keep my mouth shut that I began this blog. I think you’ve read the posts where I’ve worried and dithered about keeping things quiet and then said, “That’s just not me. So, here I go…” and off I go about whatever it is I was worried about sharing. So, whilst you are unable to answer on occasion, those of us who are not so tied can at least say something… preferably without snark.

      Again. You are absolutely right. I learn better by example, but mostly, I prefer to just have the example once or twice before I start doing it myself. If I don’t do it, then I’ll just burn up whatever good information I may have soaked up. And I think that’s something that should be taken into account, as well, when we answer questions. It’s one thing to point out how to deal with offerings on a website designed for 101-ing but another to deal with some of the harder questions like, “How do I know I hear my gods?” That’s both a common one and hard to answer.

      There really needs to be a tell-all book for this stuff!

      I think you uphold ma’at very well.

  9. Great topic. I must say I can understand why some people get fed up with the same questions over and over again – and it’s usually those who haven’t had the blessings of easy internet access like most people do today so they had to go to the library or spend their finances on books or going to gatherings, etc. The ones who learned and researched and practised on their own for years don’t find it easy to remain calm or silent in the face of various newbie questions – especially since we must take into consideration today’s ‘spoon fed culture’. A lot of people have self entitlement issues and think they’re entitled to others just serving them information on a silver platter instead of simply searching on various topics on good ol’ Google. Not to mention with all the pagan blogs, forums and websites out there, it’s easy to find valuable information. To be fair, I’ve learned more from blogs of other spiritual practitioners and pagans than I’ve learned from books. Especially when it comes to practical things. The straw that broke my camel’s back was when, part of a pagan facebook group, I was faced with the problem of answering the SAME questions almost on a daily basis. People wouldn’t even scroll down or look at the document list. It culminated with me wishing everyone the best on their paths and just leaving. When I get asked newbie questions now, I direct people to resources. I think it’s better that way, especially because I’m a firm believe in everyone finding their own truth and balances. I don’t think this is something anyone else can offer them. Guidance and advice? Any time! But you can only lead a horse to water ;) Thanks for the post, great food for thought!

    • Thank you for reading the post. And I appreciate your feedback.

      I’m beginning to wonder if pagans should get together and start listing resources. I mean, yes. There are FAQs and resource lists on the forum I belong to. But, I think most people get daunted by the amount of information. I think we have four or five pinned resource lists for the special interest group related to Kemeticism, never mind how many would be seen or looked at in the ADF, the Asatru, and various other special interest groups. Just kind of a catch all resource list with helpful comments like, “This is all about what to do with offerings in a Kemetic background,” or “These Virtues are what you should look into before exploring the rest of Asatru…”

      Hm. Hm. My brain is on fire with thought. :)

      • I agree, the amount of information is daunting. And there’s also the issue of bogus misinformation out there as well. The first advice I always give to newbies is this: be aware of who you are, where you’re at in your life and what you truly believe in. Have that sorted first, with the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. When you find things you’re unsure of, try to learn more. One topic at a time. And there’s no need to fit in a label, especially for a person who has just realized that the system of beliefs/religion they’ve had doesn’t hold true to them any more. Acknowledge what you truly believe in first. And learn about what appeals to you the most, or what sounds true to you. I’ve been pagan for many years now, and maybe this will sound funny but I was pagan before I even realized it (and I was still going to church! – needless to say when I came to the realization I wasn’t exactly Christian any more I stopped going). And when it comes to practising some form of magic, I always stress out the importance of *personal experience* You can learn a lot from books and other magicians, but personal experience is what matters the most. You’ll make mistakes, everyone does. And those are good lessons to learn. You can know all ancient grimoires by heart but you have to ‘get your hands dirty’ so to speak =) At least this is how I see it and that’s what I always try to explain to folks who e-mail me or message me. Know YOURSELF first. The rest will come easier :)
        And hey, my brain’s on fire too. I blame it on your great post :P

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  13. Somehow I missed this the first time around. Excellent, Aubs!
    I think it really helps to have a pile of links to use. It can save you a lot of time and spoons to say; “Want to know about jackal-deities? per-freakin-sabu is the most amazingly complete place!” And henadology is a stunning resource too, and I’m seeing more and more people send folks there.

    For questions that are more opinion-oriented, your post gave me an idea. We could pick some topics like ‘how do I find a patron,” and do our own little blog project on it. Then collect those and have a page of handy links to them. “Here’s a page with a bunch of different approaches:

    I was lucky enough to get an enormous pile of help from someone getting started, and I try to pay that forward. Even though I haven’t been around that long, I’ve had several people who’ve asked me tentative noob questions turn out to be pretty darn amazing in their own right. Thinking of people like that when you’re formulating an answer can kill the snark in its tracks.

    • Having a handy-dandy page of ready-made-links for things like, “How to find a patron,” “what to do with offerings,” etc would be fan-fucking-tastic. That way, people can see how established practitioners do things and then, either work from a similar frame work or go completely opposite in what they end up doing. But, at least the information would be out there and you know, it would help to have them in a single place. That way, I don’t have to scroll through all of my folders all the time. (Actually, I just go to the blogs in question and search for the info that way. It’s hella easier than going through my horrific “organization” folders.)

      I always end up thinking, “This might be someone who helps me one day.” And that’s one of the main reasons I try not to be an ass. Just look at Aine/Rei. I’ve been helping her out for months and there are days where she says something or posts something and I go, “CLICK.” Hell, just a few days ago, she prayed for me when I was worrying about my job situation. She didn’t have to, but she wanted to.

      And that’s a compliment, to me.

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