I’ve been noticing a pattern lately in forums, emails, and from the lips of friends of people suffering from what I call “101 Syndrome”. 101 Syndrome is feeling like you haven’t advanced at all on your path even if you’ve been on it for a decade or more. This usually comes with a side of “what the hell have I been doing all these years?” and “I feel like books/ my teacher/ my high priest/ess didn’t teach me anything when they should’ve”. But how did it happen? You spent a decade reading every book with Wicca and witchcraft in the title that you could find, you collected all the tools, you attended sabbat rituals, festivals, workshops, a handfasting or two, maybe you even have degrees in a coven, but then why do you still feel like your knowledge is inadequate? Is it your fault? Is it your teacher’s fault? What the hell happened?
The answer is quite simple, you never went beyond 101. But how did this happen? How did you get stuck? The popular Pagan publishing world is a vicious cycle of Wicca and Neo-Pagan 101 books and Neo-Wiccan covens are their product made up of members who have all read the same 101 books and unfortunately know little beyond them. Advanced and academic texts do not sell in the Pagan market, or at least that is what the publishers believe, so they only publish simpler and beginner books. Even books and websites which are supposed to be advanced barely scratch the surface of the mysteries just rehashing the same old information. Publishers like Llewellyn have a place, they are there for the beginners and complete newbies, but when you wish to advance and learn more you must leave behind the colourful easy-to-read books clearly labelled with witchcraft and venture into the worlds of research, scholarship, and folklore. You must learn to think for yourself and make discoveries and connections on your own without an author or teacher to lead you.
You could blame popular publishers for your dilemma, but you still need to look in the mirror and realize that your curiosity never got the better of you. Did you ever stop to ask why for any of the beliefs and practices of your teacher, coven, or the books you read and then research why if you didn’t receive a satisfactory answer? Did you ever venture outside the 101 books specifically aimed at Neo-Pagans on your own for books on mythology, anthropology, ethnology, folklore, or history? Did you ever read the classics that influenced the leaders of modern witchcraft like Aradia, The Golden Bough, The Silver Bough, The White Goddess, Etruscan Roman Remains, Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune Telling, The History of the Devil:Horned God of the West or the famous grimoires like The Key of Solomon, The Black Pullet, or Le Petit Albert? Did you ever look into the history of your own tradition in enlightening works such as Triumph of the Moon, Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, A History of Witchcraft, or Witchcraft in the Middle Ages?
“But no one ever told me!” Is usually the response I receive and I say it’s no one else’s responsibility but your own to inform yourself. Don’t feel guilty about it, if you never really looked how could you know? But now that you feel lost and left behind and know you’re suffering from 101 syndrome, you can do something about it! Most importantly, after reading and learning why we believe and do what we do, ensure you implement it into regular practice shifting your ordinary mundane life into the spiritual. Written words are dead words just promises waiting to be fulfilled until the reader takes what they’ve learned and applied it. One of my first mentors ever taught me this: that knowledge is just the knowing and wisdom is its practical application. To advance on your path you must learn how to change roles from the seeker to the doer and while it’s no easy task, it’s one well worth the doing.