Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pagan Pathways

I have been a practicing witch for over 20 years but have only really been out of the broom closet for the past 7 or 8 years.  When most people first find out that I am Wiccan, they have many questions.  Some are the stereotypical questions about spells, brooms, covens and the like.  Others are more spiritual wherein people want to know the real story about Wicca or how I came to make the decision to follow this path.  Some people are very accepting of my spirituality and others are “freaked out” by it.  Then there are those who ask me the big question:  Will you teach me?  For me, this is a very loaded question because it means determining whether the person genuinely wants to follow the path or is just disillusioned by their own spiritual path and is not really sure what they want from it.  It means determining that a person’s intentions are clear and true to themselves.  That’s a huge responsibility and, quite frankly, scares me a bit.

I was first introduced to Wicca when a friend of mine introduced me to a young woman with whom he felt I had much in common.  He was so right.  My friendship with this woman grew very quickly and soon she was my mentor in the Craft.  I never asked her to teach me and she never offered to teach me.  The only question I seem to remember being asked was if I “would like to know more” about Wicca.  She suggested a few books to read, explaining that the first and foremost book on the subject was Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance.  My mother picked up a copy of this for me and I spent a weekend reading it and then another week re-reading it more intensely.  She also told me that another must was When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone, which I quickly purchased and read.  My friend also bought me a couple of other books, one on visualization and the other on Celtic magick, that she felt I might find useful.  The other books I picked up along the way.  All of these books are still the core of my Wiccan and Pagan studies library.  I spent that first year reading everything I could on the subject, practicing meditation and visualization, and learning the basic how-to’s on my own.  These led me to know that this was the path I was meant to walk.  It encompassed all I believed about the world, about my spirit, and about nature.  It spoke many truths to me and I was listening intently to all of it.

During that year, my friend was always willing to answer any question and to clarify any information for me.  She educated me in the ways of witchcraft by being foremost my friend.  We would spend countless hours on the phone having very deep spiritual discussions.  I would go to her downtown apartment and she would show me her current altar set-up or give me impromptu tarot card lessons.  She passed down some of her magickal items she was no longer using for me to rededicate for my own practices.  If she bought too much of a certain herb, she’d share the excess with me.  If she found out new information about a subject, she’d immediately share it with me. 

Yet, she never taught me how to cast a circle, call the quarters, draw down the moon, or cast a spell.  Yes, we discussed these things, especially the core elements of ritual and how they can be entirely personalized, but she left them up to me to experience at my own pace, in my own space and time.  I didn’t question why because, as I felt my way through my first rituals, I felt the energy I could raise and saw my magickal work come to fruition in many instances.  It all felt so natural to me.  She knew that it would be that way for me.

This may not be the traditional way one is introduced to Wicca but it served a great purpose to me.  It ensured that I understood the history, the core principles, and the ethics of witchcraft.  It also led me to my path through my own realization that my intent was clear and true to myself, that I knew why I was taking this path and that it was truly what I wanted.  In the years since, I have reinvented my practices to incorporate them on a more daily basis in my life.  I have discovered the pagan beliefs and principles that truly speak to me and those that do not.  I have come to terms that I excel at certain things more than others, like divination with runes versus tarot cards.  I have found that I have an affinity for everything herbal – spells, remedies, and cooking.  I guess you could say I have matured within the Craft and gained much wisdom from many people I know and many people I only know from reading their works on many varied pagan subjects.  I always felt comfortable with Wicca but now it feels like home.

A few years ago I was asked to teach someone.  I agreed because I was secure in the knowledge that I could do this.  I had been practicing for so long and was confident that I could impart my knowledge to help someone onto the Wiccan path.  I gave this person the list of core suggested reading and told her that, when she had finished reading The Spiral Dance, first a thorough once through reading and then a lengthy re-reading with the exercises, we could discuss what she had read and what she would come to understand from reading it.  She seemed very impatient as she began reading the book, asking me when we would get to me actually teaching her.  I wanted her to read that book first because I wanted her to be sure that this was the path she wanted for her life, for her spirit.  She continued reading the book but, to this day, I am not sure if she ever finished it.

The whole thing sort of fell to the wayside and really wasn’t discussed again.  A year later, that same person told me that I was a bad teacher.  I sort of laughed it off and told her that I was sorry, that I was bogged down in too much of the physical world at the time to really teach her.  That was partially true.  I was in the middle of some personal changes and did not have a whole lot of time to dedicate to teaching someone.  But the other truth was that it just wasn’t happening naturally as it had with me and my mentor.  Something was not right about it.  I felt like she really wasn’t in it for reasons that were true to herself.  She wasn’t “eating up” the information like I had, like I have seen others do.  She didn’t seem to be feeling that initial connection to the path that most of us feel when we take those first fledgling steps upon the Pagan path, that feeling that everything you always subconsciously knew was true but was not told by anyone suddenly is right in front of you and you are near tears because now you see the truth.

Instead of voicing this to her, I took on the badge of “Bad Teacher”.  And even if I had spoken up, the badge may still have been placed on me to wear like a scarlet letter.  I internalized this for a long time, even agonized over it a bit.  It was not until this past Autumn, when another witchy friend of mine was having a similar issue with a friend of hers, that I even really spoke about this.  We chatted back and forth about it at length via the internet and we came to the same conclusion:  that neither friend really knew what they were looking for from this journey yet.  Perhaps they would eventually come to it but, until then, we would just stay, in their eyes, “bad teachers”.  We needed to move on, secure in who we were, what we were and what we knew about ourselves.  What they thought of us just did not matter.  If they stayed our friends, great.  If they did not, fine.  (In both cases, the friends remained friends!)

So recently, when I was approached by a person and asked if I would teach her, I was truly confident in my answer.  “If you would like to know more, I would be glad to help you with it”, I said.  I referred her to the core reading on the subject as I had been told all those years ago.  She had many questions including when I could initiate her or when she could initiate herself, when she could perform a ritual, and when she could cast a spell.  My answer to her?  “When you are secure in the knowledge and confident that this is the path you are to take, you will know you are ready for those things.”  But I also told her that I would be there for her, to answer her questions as she walked the path, to share the path with her.

My mentor is still my very dearest friend to this day and is truly a kindred spirit.  We lose touch from time to time as she lives on the West Coast and I on the East now but we always end up back on the phone for hours having deep spiritual discussions, or conversations of the current state of affairs in the world, or just laughing about growing older.  We educate each other.  We learn from each other.  And what have I ultimately learned about teaching someone about the Pagan path?  The student is only as good as the teacher and the teacher is only as good as the student.

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