I was recently reminded of how misunderstood the ideas of “perfect love and trust” are within our Witching communities. Perhaps if we all came to understand the power of this social contract, we wouldn’t have so much strife among us. <sigh>
Hint: Perfect, or “unconditional,” Divine love doesn’t mean unconditional relationships. It means I acknowledge your sovereign right to pursue happiness as you see fit, and I treat you with equal dignity all incarnate spirits deserve, even when you are acting like a loathsome jerk. Perfect, or “Unconditional,” Trust means that I will be a trustworthy person toward you, even when I see you breaking that trust. Neither, of these things means I am obligated to be your “friend.” What it does mean, is that I will not become your enemy.
In my own classroom and coven, “perfect love and trust” are words invoked so often, and with such depth of meaning and and breadth of application, that I’m sure they are THE reason that we’ve made it a whole six years, and counting. Like with dogs, in “coven years,” that is something like 49 years old. Today we have this thriving, healthy, balanced group of exceptional people doing the Great Work with such grace; I am bursting with love and pride for them all.
I was recently tickled pink when Teri Brown, the priestess of a neighboring coven, asked for permission to include my old “Heron’s Four rules of witchcraft” blog in their own teaching materials, saying, “I think this [blog] says so much to clarify in plain English the nitty-gritty issues that are so important in being successful and happy not only as members of a Coven or Tribe–as students or teachers–but as participants in this wonderful life of Witchcraft.” Of course I was thrilled to have our hard-earned lessons be put to good use in a new teaching circle. In a few weeks I travel to Philadelphia to teach these very subjects to a group of witches who’ve gone to great effort to bring me there. These honors almost went to my head.
Hot on the heels of their flattering requests, I was reminded that not everyone who’s come through my program left as satisfied or as successful as others. The Universe is like that, keeping me motivated, then making sure I remain humble. In that same in-box I also received nasty-grams full of personal insults about my failure as a teacher, leader, and friend.
I’d like to tell you that this is the first angry or hateful message I’ve ever received from a former student. I’d like to say my heart no longer breaks when they arrive; that I don’t take these punches directly in the solar plexus and am sent into a tail-spin of self-scrutiny and mourning over lost love. What can I say? I’m a Piscean, and I take these critiques very seriously.
These are the moments I am invited to “check in” with myself and my Divine guides. I open up to the counsel of the other folks in our circle. How often have we asked of each other, “In this situation, am I the one being the asshole? How can we best respond with perfect love and trust?” They help me keep things in perspective, being honest with me. THIS is why I love being in a coven; they hold up the mirror, and make sure I do not go off the rails. I think I offer the same service to them when its their difficult turn. That is part of “perfect love and trust.”
Yes, when I am confronted in this way my temper flares and my ego aches from the bruising… I’m a human being and those emotions are pretty normal. However, how I respond to these challenges is what defines me as a witch.
Your Priestess is Not Your Friend
In these past almost seven years teaching many dozens of seekers, I feel that I failed this one particular student the most, because I tried being a friend first and back when she came through the program I was still apologetic about being a priestess. I failed to rise into the role that was needed of me, and meet the need at hand. Yet, that failure proved to be my greatest instructor.
I’ve learned some very hard lessons since I took up this work: to even dare to fill this sacred position, you cannot pussy-foot around trying to be their “friend” first. What a seeker needs more than friends is a divine mediator, and that is a rare find. A Priest or Priestess is of greatest value while standing firm on their principles, maintaining the long-vision, being the harsh taskmaster and pointing the discriminating finger at that elephant in the room.
There be Dragons…
To help another witch take full possession of their own sovereignty, to conquer their own dragons of fear, to achieve both grace and empowerment through a wellness on all levels, means that at some point the seeker must come to terms with their state of being at the beginning. Sometimes this requires they accept how unwell they are; mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually. They won’t like that much, but you must identify point “A” if you are ever going to chart a course to arrive at point “B.
On the first day you open up your classroom, you will most likely open your arms and your heart to folks who are socially ostracized, mentally traumatized, emotionally wounded, poisoned and broken bodied; they may be spiritually starved and desperate. They will no doubt come in and take a seat, because that is what our modern society renders of our people; our deeply-feeling, intuitive, differently-aware people of this suffering earth that mundane society just LOVES to try and squash into it’s unnatural little boxes. That is how I came to the Craft, and I’m still in process of healing.Following the path of least resistance is easy. Our people don’t take that path. Igniting the Witchflame, as they say, begins with saying NO to all that mundane bullshit, and finding the courage to show up in that classroom. So, these seekers already have tackled a huge hurtle; they want to know a new way because clearly the old way has failed them. Then there you are…sitting in that teacher chair with your burning incense, and athame glinting in the candle light, with that glamour of wisdom and attainment they so desire.
I’m told by strangers ALL THE TIME that I am intimidating. Good. If you know one priestess of the Craft in your life and it terrified you, I’m proud to play that role. But if they come into my circle, and stand beside me at the crossroads, know me any time at all, they’ll soon discover I’m a big goofball who licked her wounds, did the work, and learned all these hard lessons the stupid way, and so will they. Well…hopefully with less stupidity than I did, because we are there to help each other, but in the beginning, seekers may put you on a pedestal you never asked for, and inevitably you must fall in their esteem. Just accept this as part of the job description. When it happens, it isn’t about you, its never been about you; this adjustment of perspective just shows how far they’ve progressed. It may look like disrespect, but its actually a very good sign when they realize you are just a human being same as they are.
You can’t worry about whether they’ll like you or not while you ask them to own their shadows, release their addictions and excuses, internalize the locus of control they so desperately want to project onto…well, anything else. Eventually, they will realize that you aren’t going to “save them” and they have to heal themselves and that will feel like a nightmare.
Not everyone is ready for this work; not everyone has what it will takes to be successful; not everyone is sane enough to not blow themselves up (or is it crazy enough to attempt it?) and it is your job to show the necessary discretion so that the ill-prepared are not handed the keys to the very arsenal they would use to destroy themselves, or others.
Sometimes the Answer is No
In other words, sometimes the way we show “perfect love” is by saying, “No, witchcraft training with this group is not appropriate or beneficial for you, or us, at this time.” Or, “You have proven yourself untrustworthy, and until you can understand why your behavior is harmful, forgive and heal yourself, I release you in peace.”
I wouldn’t expect to remain very popular among those whom are asked to leave your class, coven or life. No one likes a break-up, and the strong one who stands up to a toxic person and says “I will not let you harm me any further” will be the one recounted as the bad guy in that on-going saga they are living called “everything bad that happens to me is someone else’s fault.”
Moreover, if you are worried about what that might do to your reputation as a teacher in the wider witching world, know this: be highly suspicious of any instructor who hasn’t pissed off a few folks in their day. If they don’t have the integrity to turn someone away, and deny advancement to the ill-prepared, then their motives can’t be trusted.
You Can Lead a Witch to Circle, but you Can’t Make Them Coven
The students who do make it through the long dark night of the soul to arrive at the gates of their initiation will likely resent you at least a little bit before they reach the light. The Sojourner Tradition is self-initiatory, but I’ve now learned that if I don’t have FULL confidence in their preparation and responsibility, I cannot even bear witness to those rites. “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”
When I do stand before the gods and vouchsafe their entry, and once they jump that besom, I embrace them on the other side of this hedge as my sister or brother witch, equals in sovereignty. I release all expectation or hint of authority over them, just as they must release me. What they do with what I’ve taught them is now entirely their responsibility. If they strike out on their own, or petition to stay and join our coven, neither choice is about me or my ego. By their own free will they stay or go, it is all with my love. That is the hard deal with sovereignty. Like a mama heron, I pour everything I have into all those within my rookery, but then they must leave the nest and fly.
Remember, that you can lead a witch to circle, but you can’t make them coven. The attrition rate of my program is un-apologetically steep. Each year about twenty seekers begin, and we might have eight remaining after their “year” of forty-eight classes is complete. Ask any of our coven’s initiates how they felt about their dedicant year and a majority will say, “it was the hardest, most excruciating year of my life, and I’m so very glad I did this for myself; I’m a much better person today.” This is how you become known in your community for having such “high quality” pagans; we do the work of self-improvement, strive to live up to very high ideals, and hold each other to a high standard.
“Keep pure your highest ideals; strive ever towards it. Let naught stop you nor turn you aside.” Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente
To those teachers of the Craft out there, PLEASE keep doing this work. Don’t let these difficult aspects of the job “turn you aside.” I almost quit many times back in my early days when I was faced with my failures. I am so grateful that my own guides insisted that I soldier on. Stand firm on your principles and you will be known for your integrity by all those that “get it,” and the rest will hopefully grow to understand it eventually by observing your good example.
As our group struggled through our early evolution together, we slowly formulated our ground rules for how we would coven together and they emerged as The Thealogy of Perfection, and The Four Rules of Witchcraft. Next time, I’ll share some from our teaching materials on those subjects; I hope that by doing so they will enrich your group, too.
Click here to see the next installment: Aphrodite’s Thealogy of Perfection