When I was much younger and finding my way on the path, I felt that surely that there were secrets to be uncovered, protected by the initiated and handed out to the worthy. That if I found the right mystery, tradition, or gatekeeper, all the knowledge would be revealed. Also, somewhat related to those secrets, I would experience real anxiety thinking about the burning of the library in Alexandria, or the knowledge lost with the countless possible cunning folk killed during centuries of witchhunts.
Now? I believe that there are no secrets, only revelations. That isn’t to say there aren’t any mysteries and that all of the answers are out there in plain sight…but rather we learn things as we’re ready to receive them…and that no one person or path has all of the answers. And that knowledge is never really lost – it always finds its way out again.
Growing up, we tend to think of our parents as infallible, and that they must know all of the things. But as we become adults ourselves, we realize that they are human, just like us. That means they can be equally wrong as they are right, depending upon their experiences and choices.
The same is true regarding an “elder” of any path or tradition – they are not all-knowing or always-right. But it is important – with both ones’ parents as with elders – to give respect where it is deserved. And a true elder (as with a good parent) fosters relationships that allow respect to flow in both directions.
What does that mean and look like?
In both dance and Witchcraft classes, I often talk about the stages of growth I’ve identified below:
-the neophyte/beginner: eager to learn everything, freely admits they know nothing
-the acolyte/beginner-mediate: staunchly dedicated to what they’re learning, full of fervor for their new-found passion, and quite vocal about everyone/thing else being wrong
-the practitioner/intermediate: a swinging pendulum of confidence and insecurity – trying to prove they know things while secretly worried they will be found out for not knowing.
-the elder/advanced: has forgotten more things than they count, are still avid learners open to new ideas, and aren’t afraid to say they don’t know.
I have been blessed to have worked with several wonderful mentors along my path up until this point, and what sets those individuals aside from other would-be instructors/teachers/elders is that they were (and are) just as willing to seek advice from me as I am from them. Even though they are recognized masters of their respective fields, and have been practicing for decades – they are not closed to hearing about other experiences and perspectives. They also find that their own paths are more fulfilled in seeking answers outside of themselves and what they know. The biggest secret that is not a secret is – the more we learn, the more we are open to grow and share, the more we can understand what makes, connects, and expands us. And that power doesn’t come from hiding, gate-keeping, or taking from others, but from mastering of oneself – spiritually, mentally, physically.
Most importantly, anyone who tells you that they are the keepers of the secrets and that you must submit to them to discover them – well, they’re essentially telling you they don’t know any. A person who lauds “don’t you know who I am?” over anyone else hasn’t reached the elder stage. They’re more concerned with what they know and what power they can hold over others.
And so this is the point where the concepts of secrets and age find a twisted mutual root. Every relationship must start from a place of equal footing and understanding, in order for respect to take root. Respect comes from active, healthy growth that is constantly renewed – not a ribbon or crown that sits upon a dusty pile of books or long-ago deeds. Laurels can become stagnant, and youthfulness is not to be discounted for a mere lack of apparent years. Wisdom comes not strictly from the numbers of years, but by how well you have experienced those years and choose to share them with others. A true mentor or guide understands this dynamic – and knows you both will grow from what you experience together.
Lastly, the wise Witch knows that in order to uncover the secrets within, one must be able to listen, to be kind, and to be bold.
(This is another relevant post from the original blog archive, posted initially on 4/28/15)