GETTING STARTED ON THE PAGAN PATH
You're probably going to have a certain amount of trouble getting started as a Pagan, whatever path you choose. Wicca and Witchcraft and other Earth-centered traditions are not majority religions, so that rules out having a whole lot of people to compare notes with; the Pagan path is looked down upon by most of the people in very popular and widespread religions, so it is to one's advantage not to advertise it; and finally there's so much mystery surrounding it. Many people already in the Craft think that the mystery is good; that way it keeps out wannabes and people who get curious for the wrong reasons (i.e., they want to put a hex on their mean neighbor). However, things are changing so that if you really want to become a Wiccan or a Witch and
I can break it down into three things you should do to start yourself on the path:
Intellectually consider the religion Spiritually consider the religion Document your findings honestly in a private journal
Intellectually considering the religion means simply this: READ EVERYTHING. If someone tells you a book sucks, read it anyway (unless you're really crunched for time or something); sometimes you can learn more from "bad" books than good. Read books, Web sites, opinions, articles in magazines. In short, get information about the religion and learn all you can about it so that you can know exactly what you're getting into. Do you agree with the concept of deity? Do you think you could live by the "rules"? Are you wondering when they're going to get to the spells, thinking casting spells is the whole reason to be a Witch? You should consider these things and decide whether what you read and find out agrees with your beliefs. Indulge your curiosity and delve into realms you never explored. Here's my recommended reading list.
Spiritually considering the religion is a bit different than intellectually considering it. That's obvious because they're two different words, but what I mean is . . . does it move you? Do you read something and go, "Oh, YES, YES, I was just feeling that way"? Do you recall bits of legend and see their similarities in nature and find it wonderful? Have you always been really interested in nature and are trying to get closer to it through your religion? What's drawing you to this path and is it "right" that that's what's drawing you? Will this path satisfy your desires? Will you contribute to the art yourself? Do you identify with the specific Wiccan concepts, or would you consider yourself a Witch or just a general Pagan, or do you identify with a particular old Celtic tradition? Would you want to stick to a single prescribed magickal path or would you rather be eclectic?
Of course, documentation is important, especially initial impressions. Suppose you try a visualization exercise described in a Wiccan book and you really enjoy it . . . write about it! Document it not only to help your growth, but to be able to look back on how you felt when you started, when other people ask you for help later. Documenting things helps you clarify how you feel; I know I have learned a lot about what I believe in making this homepage!
One thing I'd suggest for a "newbie": Don't be in a rush to get to the "meat." The meat IS the journey there. So don't be anxious to try out every single book and jump right into spellcrafting one afternoon and dedicate yourself to the Craft the next night and then start cruising around looking for a coven to join before you've even celebrated your first Sabbat. (That was a ramble on purpose: To show you how it can snowball out of control.) DON'T PUSH IT. You can't learn everything at once and it's best not to try 'cause it slows you down. Read, experience, and reflect.
Try making friends with the elements. I did this mostly by accident when I did it. The first element I "befriended" was the Air. I was sitting watching my windchimes and through that instrument it seemed like I was able to hear stories the wind was telling. The next was Fire; I lit a candle a friend had given me to see how it worked, and it lit up the whole candle (it was a strange kind of wax). I turned off all the lights and just meditated on the candle's flame, sort of being friendly with it and letting it warm my fingertips. The next day I "made friends" with Earth outside my school (when I was in college), building a little goddess type figure in the sand. I gave her leaves for hair and then left some nice offerings in front of it. :) At that point I had noticed that I was "befriending elements," and wondered how/when I'd do it for Water, since I don't go swimming or to places with water very often. It turned out I got my chance that night . . . it started pouring down rain and yes, I took a walk in it. It was a glorious experience. I suggest aligning yourself temporarily with an element and seeing what you like about the aspects of nature. Then you might begin to feel whether you're really not cut out for this or if it's calling you deeper. For more information on this, try the elemental exercises page.
In addition to the reading and gathering of information (and reflecting!), you might want to "introduce yourself" to the God and Goddess, probably by setting up a simple altar. Light the candles at the same time every day and think about what you think deity is.
Do NOT feel like you have to have anyone's permission or initiation to begin experimenting with your own rituals and (if you want to) spells. Just be advised that if you do spells early on, even if you are totally well-meaning, you might do something you didn't expect. Over time you learn how to be specific at the right places in your spells.
Now that you've read the practical advice here, you might try some specifics. Do a self-dedication ritual made up on your own. Go to the other celebrations and rituals page and see if there are any rituals you are interested in trying, and celebrate the next Sabbat or Esbat. Learn to cast a circle, and cast a few just to learn how, and meditate in the circle for a while. Go to the Magickal Techniques page and begin learning some basics, and try some of the visualization techniques, meditation techniques, and psychic exercises you'll want to do to deepen your relationship with all aspects of the Craft. Check out the altars page to learn to create a permanent altar in your home. Read the coven vs. solitary document to see some ideas on which way you'd like to begin your practice, and some suggestions as to how to approach each, including ideas on self-dedication. Perhaps cast your first spell and learn some background symbolism and mythology. READ a lot and PRACTICE a lot, and don't just gloss over some of the preparatory exercises suggested in books and on this page just because they don't seem like "the meat." You need the groundwork in order to approach higher arts, just as you would need some background in basic music theory in order to write a symphony. After you begin to be comfortable with the basics, you'll have enough know-how to lead yourself onward. Good luck!
As a last bit, I'd like to mention that getting to know other Pagans, even if you don't want to worship with them, is a great step in defining what you know yourself, and it's also pleasant to have people who understand you anyway and can help you along the way or even lend you materials or books. You can meet other Pagans by talking to people who run Pagan or Pagan-friendly stores; hanging out in the New Age or Occult section in a bookstore to browse through books and striking up conversations with anyone who also stops to look; at gatherings for seasonal celebrations; in online chat rooms or on e-mail lists; or even just wearing an obvious Pagan symbol on a necklace or earring and/or reading a Pagan book in public. You'd be surprised how many people also want to reach out and know you, because we are a minority and we believe in connections. Be aware, though, of the fact that if you make it public that you are Pagan, there is also a possibility of attracting the wrong attention; you may be randomly (and sometimes roughly) witnessed to by someone of another religion, or looked at strangely by people who think your pentacle necklace means you worship the devil. (You could end up the victim of any number of misconceptions about Witchcraft and Wicca.) Just be aware of and prepared for these eventualities, and above all, be honest in all your interactions with others regarding your religion.