(Always being one to defy the trend the Degu Witch used to dream of being locked in a squalid Parisian attic with a debauched and sexually demanding French husband but perhaps that one is a story for another day…). Teaching I can say with perfect honesty has never appealed to me. Not only do I have no particular aptitude for it, I have a total lack of patience, I get annoyed if people fail to understand what I want them to do and I have an all too entrenched belief that my way is the right way. I wouldn’t have lasted six months in the teaching profession and as a bad tempered witch, life wouldn’t have been much fun for the kids I taught either…
So, recently finding myself in a position where I am called upon to teach elements of the Craft has come as a bit of a shock to me. My site was described as a “teaching site” by a fellow witch the other day and it really started me thinking about my intentions as my original plan was to advise and support rather than teach. To me there is a very clear difference between teaching and advising. Advising offers a perspective, one that the recipient of the advice is free to accept or reject. Teaching implies the teacher has a knowledge or a wisdom that the seeker either desires or lacks. To talk about teaching in relation to the Craft actually makes me a little uncomfortable as I feel it implies that there is a single right way of doing things that can be passed from one person to another. I question whether learning through teaching is actually the best way to learn Witchcraft. For me, becoming a witch was about learning to use my own imagination and my own ideas - I learned through trial, error, intuition and a good deal of silly mistakes. I am sceptical I would have ended up as effective in my craft if I had been taught by another person or, Goddess forbid, a textbook.
But then, on the other hand, there is an appreciable value in not allowing people to make the same mistakes. As humans we progress because each generation builds on the knowledge and experience of those who have gone before. If each generation had to learn everything for themselves, from scratch, they wouldn’t get very far. And maybe it’s the same for witches - what value is there is allowing every new practitioner of the craft to flounder in the wilderness when they could be using their energies to develop the foundations of the witches who have walked the path before them?
All this thinking about teaching is particularly relevant for me at the moment as I have recently become personally involved with a young person who is interested in taking further steps into Witchcraft. For the first time, I have allowed another person into the sphere of my craft and let somebody else see elements of my workings - not all of it of course, I have no intention of ever sharing everything, knowledge as they say is power and I have no inclination to ever hand anybody power over me, but certainly I have been happy to permit a glimpse into the world of what it is that I do.
It is all too obvious what she is getting out of it but what I perhaps didn’t expect was how much becoming a teacher would challenge and teach me.
Showing another person what it is I do has concentrated my mind to consider some of the reasons why I actually do things. I tend to operate almost entirely on instinct and as a solitary I rarely question why something feels right. If it works for me, I do it. But in explaining what I do to somebody else I feel I have to offer something more than: “because I do.” Questioning my own practices has helped me to understand more of my own motivations in my workings and even to reject a practice or two that had become habit for no real reason. There are still a few questions I’m expecting – one day my avid pupil will almost certainly ask me why I cast a circle thrice but only draw it in twice (I’ve no idea!) – and I may not always be able to give an answer. But it is interesting to be given an opportunity to question and evaluate my own motivations. My own personal workings can only strengthen from a more disciplined analysis of my magical behaviours.
I think my personality has also benefitted slightly from my recent venture into teaching. As I have said before, I am entirely too egotistical for my own good (with some of the results I get, such arrogance is hardly surprising, lol) and this side of my personality has very much put me off either taking on a student or involving myself in coven work. The humility needed is something I find very difficult, particularly as teaching Witchcraft is not about demonstrating my own abilities or encouraging somebody else to adopt the ways I think. Teaching witchcraft is about helping somebody to find their own voice and their own path. Simply teaching somebody to do as I do would be worse than useless, their results are likely to be rubbish and out of tune with their own inclinations and eventually they would come to resent me for imposing what works for me onto them. To teach the Craft effectively you have to be able to step back, to allow the individual the chance to make some mistakes and to deviate from what you know, as an experienced witch, as the tried and tested. There is no room for arrogance, a witch who believes she knows it all has no business teaching. A witch who believes she can learn nothing from her protégée has no business teaching and is also a fool.
I am lucky, my protégée has exceptional natural skill. If I were given to self honesty (I’m not generally) I’d probably admit she has a good deal more natural ability than I do. She lacks my experience and she lacks that core self belief which plays such an important part in my results but what she does have is a very powerful energy which, one she has learned how to harness it, could be employed to exceptional effect. I am very very conscious of trying not to stifle that innate ability. At the moment she is still at the stage where she looks to me as someone who knows the “right” way to do things but it is my intention (and my devout hope) that as we progress together she will gain the confidence to understand that her own ideas are equally as valid as mine and that working in a different way to me doesn’t make her wrong, it makes her a witch with her own definite structures. Generally in my experience, most witches achieve that confidence through the validation of their own results. I do not expect my protégée to be any different and once her results verify her ability, I suspect there will be no stopping her.
We did a working together the other night and I deliberately stepped back and allowed her to formulate the wording and the actions herself. She took the initiative without hesitation and conducted the spell quite admirably. It was a moment of pride for me, both in her for the burgeoning confidence in her own ability but also for myself as a teacher who can enable someone to discover for themselves without trying to impose my own dogmatic viewpoint upon them. In teaching the Craft I am being called not to share my own wisdom but to help somebody else to discover theirs. Success for me will be when my protégée has the confidence to call herself witch secure in the knowledge that everything about her path is hers and that everything she does and everything she is within the Craft is borne from her own wisdom and experience.
It is easy enough for my protégée to be honest, with or without me she’ll get there in the end if being a witch is truly what she wants. My help will make things easier but it won’t be a crucial factor in her success. However her progress as a seeker will certainly be a crucial element in my success as a teacher. If I end up teaching everything I know I will have learned and achieved nothing. If I end up teaching some of what I know and allowing her to discover, create, imagine and command the rest for herself, I will have succeeded as a viable teacher of the Craft and I will also have succeeded in overcoming one of my own most powerful and debilitating character flaws.
If I fail, not only have I let down my protégée, I have failed the Craft in a cheap and clumsy attempt to reduce it to nothing more than a sum of its parts. I will also have denied myself the chance of my own development, to become something more than the all knowing egoist, to defy the demons of my ego and to become a witch with a genuine humanity and humility who sincerely understands the value of others. I will of course be giving it my all - as you can see, I have a powerful incentive to get this one right.
Image www.sxc.hu/photo/1275249 (shho)