At Walter’s urging, and with his direct assistance (he literally drove me to the local community college and helped me navigate enrollment), I began attending college.
Early in my magical path, I had adopted the mindset that anything that was in a book was not to be trusted, and that true magic came from the spirits. My work with Walter had thoroughly debunked that, but had not quite gotten to the corollary mindset that college imparted no useful information, and was mostly there for social networking and bragging rights.
See, I’m a smart guy. And I had been coasting by on those smarts without really having any knowledge base to back it up. I was like a vast database with a blindingly fast search and recall algorithm and no content.
The very first thing I learned was how little I knew.
I wanted to be a psychologist. My interest was in relationship dynamics and abnormal psychology. I always had a reputation for helping people with their issues, so I went with it.
It was interesting, but it didn’t grip me. That, and the politics of the time weren’t (and still aren’t) very friendly to some of the studies I was reading and the observations and conclusions I was processing. (Want to have a short career in psychology? Base it on observations showing the biological basis for differences between men and women, particularly in brain structure.)
The psychology behind religious impulses was interesting, but I didn’t see that as a career-worthy route. So I changed direction.
Anthropology is fascinating. Examining cultures and societies from all over the world. Comparing and contrasting, looking for similarities and trying to figure out what makes us human.
I kept focusing on religious ritual and tradition. Hmm.
I have always had a thing for history, and I explored that some, too. Ancient Rome in particular (go figure) held a lot of interest for me. But golly gee, if I didn’t have a particular interest in religious behavior.
Things changed when I took a class on Western Civilization. I was struck with three profound observations: 1) We managed to figure a lot out about ancient times with relatively evidence; 2) From what we can tell, the primary concerns, desires, and motivations of people have changed little in the past 10,000 or so years; and 3) The main driving forces behind civilization through the course of that study, from Sumer to the Reformation, were what we would consider religious.
I ultimately decided to major in Religious Studies. I had hoped to become a professor someday (but things change).
There were some other profound changes in my life at that time. Most notably, I found a new social group. Before even entertaining the idea of college, I did a spell to find a new group of friends. Upon attending college, I sought a place to study, and settled upon a lounge where a group of misfits gathered. They rapidly absorbed me, and I ended up meeting one of my closest friends and her then-fiance-now husband there.
But something else happened at college. I was confident.
I took a class in public speaking, and I did well. I spoke out in class and freely discussed my ideas with other people. My experiences in life were valued. I gained social status. I thrived.
But what I learned at college that was most valuable to my magical practice was how interconnected everything was. How one subject or study invoked many others from diverse fields. And that knowledge and understanding came not from specific pieces of information, but how they fit in the greater pattern.
And when I finally ventured off to university, I managed to encounter something else. A group of pagans in similar places in life to where I was or had recently been. Who had a group that was vastly different from Walter’s class in that it was a collection of people meeting as equals instead of students looking up to a teacher. And it was far different than the early groups of my past, because it wasn’t bullshit and everyone wasn’t crazy or on drugs.
And they let me take charge.