This post is a little bit off the beaten track. But I feel compelled to write it, and share something of my experiences, and send a little thanks to my teachers, my sister, my sister & brother witches, my students, my friends. Who are fewer in number than the titles would suggest. On the occasion of their beginning, and their initiation, and their continuing.
Questions and Answers, Seekers and Teachers
I still remember very clearly the day I asked my friend to teach me ‘The Craft’. We were sitting in the dining room, I had moved to Hobart from Sydney, I don’t even pretend it wasn’t completely clear to me it was to follow them, they had moved a few years before me. We’d been friends for a long time, a long time, and I knew what he was. I’d moved in with him and his family when I came to Hobart. And there we sat, in the dining room…
Beforehand I didn’t know know. Sometimes in life something we think or find catastrophic at the time, serves as an excuse to go and try something completely different, change our lives and circumstances. The proverbial “blessing in disguise”. I had had that experience that left me with far too many options, I took the interstate move and a chance to live consciously some place away from the big city. Really, I didn’t know until that evening that I would ask that particular question, and though at the time I suspected something about the nature of the question, it would be four years before I understood it’s profundity.
And there I was, asking it, casually at the dining table, after ice-cream, on a clear summer evening, south of Hobart, in the Bush Hideaway I called home for 18 months.
I have never been dismissive of the great amount of luck I’ve had in life. My Dad always said I lived a charmed life, I think he might’ve been right. When I moved I had nothing but my beat up little car and two raucous dogs, highly strung and wee bit fragile. And my friends were not just happy to have me, but actively encouraging me to come move in with them and their two little kids. I was already very aware and privy to a household of two witches. There’s so much more in that than there is from an online course. Or any sort of formalised training. It was not so much that I didn’t get that formal, sit down, lesson and practice with a seasoned witch and Occultist, but dinner, lunch, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, a cuppa tea meant any question, random thought was expressed, answered. I didn’t need to take my learning away and then try to work out how to integrate it into my life, it was already integral to my everyday life, in my home. And that’s how it was for the first 6 months following that question.
After that, by virtue of having to be far more organised, I did, like most people do, had lessons, rituals, festivals, visits, in and around the usual Friday Night Fun, all facilitated by my friends, who by then were also teaching two others. Crafting and tool making sessions, countless, countless emails and chats.
There are lots of courses, workshops, online and in person, weekend teaching circles and all are valid, wonderful ways for people who are asking a very specific and difficult question to learn lore, techniques, and start answering that question. My teacher offers these things as well. And I recommend them to everyone. There are circles, covens and organisations which are larger, and offer longer sponsorship of a person over longer periods of time.
The question is an all encompassing one. For most seekers it is not a wholly intellectual pursuit, but a desire for a way of being, a technique, Lore, the ability to go through the tomes of wisdom and Lore available now, independently and a context from which to approach it, through which to test it, a language with which they can communicate with the world, a system to sanctify their own lives. It can be very scary to decide to acknowledge the voices in your head in a society like ours. To admit one speaks to their beloved dead, and that they answer back, to behave in a way that demonstrates and acceptance of other beings, animals, plants, as being as relevant and capable of input as humans. Not to mention the real risk of insanity. The Craft is an addiction, and personalities can change dramatically. I’m not nearly as high strung, or as fragile, for the most part. It can be difficult for those who do not have the pull in them to understand why a person might suddenly want to be alone in nature, to drum until they ‘hallucinate’. We live in a world where the institution reigns supreme, it can be a real challenge to explain to people how a small, hand crafted item in your house that for all intents and purposes is just weird, is sacred.
For all the knowledge in the world, I think I knew, and always did no, that nothing, not one thing would be equal to the unabashed acceptance, the solemn promise from a trusted friend who had been down this path, that they would sponsor me, watch me, be there at any time, leave me be when I needed, keep my sanity like a jewel to be guarded and pour over my detailed descriptions of fever dreams of otherworldly initiation and not laugh them off as flights of fancy, but who could acknowledge the sacred as I came to understand it, with me. Stretch me, test me, challenge me, critique me, cheer me on, celebrate with me, not at the end of the sermon on Sunday, not during the designated business hours, but when it was necessary for me. Certainly, it was a hell of a lot less scary.
It’s a huge ask to be that person. To be a teacher in this way. Completely devoid of any institutionalised support, in the way we like to measure and weigh the risk and effectiveness of things in our contemporary society. But it is an insight into how it was before those things, in families, communities of our ancestors. It highlights to me how we are not only disconnected from things like land and environment, but each other. How “in and out” we are, how inauthentic we are at work so often, how dubious we are of otherness. It strikes at the very heart of what it is to be human, in critical, creative, symbolic, authentic communication with the world, all of it. No price tag, no strings attached. Everyday. To be a man of worth and word and wisdom, for the sake of being such a person, alone. To inspire someone to be alike.
When it all finally came full circle, and I was no longer the student, but confident and capable with a system and myth and developing my own idiosyncratic practice, and I found myself communicating with others who were seeking, the real size and enormity of being that person, that my teacher and friend was for me, hit home.
One Of Many
The inspiration for these musings comes from being part of something larger than just me, just me and my friend. I didn’t learn on my own, others besides my teacher taught me, his partner, other students of his whose experience has been a great comfort and another source of learning for me as I have gone along. At fullmoon I had a coven, at festival time we had an event. We still do. When I needed I had, and still have, friends who are also witches, who are also part of that coven, who are also up for a cuppa and debrief, offer advice, have that herb in stock. It’s not usual. The vast majority of people I come in contact with practice alone with neither teacher nor sponsor nor coven. Some prefer it, and that is absolutely true and I am not disparaging that path. Some participate with a broader community, at public festivals and events. Also, wonderful activities. But it’s a gift horse I received, I’m not inclined to look in the mouth.
For everything my teacher is and was, I also know that there is a great many things to be learned all the time. Learning never stops, in any field or facet of life. The Craft is no different. Sometimes we teach even when we are not conscious of it, sharing, musing, over coffee one afternoon, chit chatting on the internet. And I am aware of the things I learned from being part of a community, makeshift, oft separated by a lot of space, as it is. As witches we court the space beyond the hedge daily, willfully, but we are still human, and there is a sense of sanity and a lot of humour when others are alike, going through the same things. For most of us, it is never going to be a broad community, we have more reason to be guarded than most, and those on the inside are privy to so much more, a deeper place, and an artlessness of expression that in many families let alone workplaces might end, well, badly.
When it goes well, it’s obvious. Just like a family. It grows. It is a fun, challenging, supportive, people go from learning to independent, confident Crafters engaging the world on their own terms. Celebrated. It’s diverse and interesting. It’s dynamic.
“There lies a forest in every seed.”
When it did finally come full circle, I realised the enormity of it.
Particularly for me, because it has been compared and contrasted to the relationship I have with my flesh and blood sister. It’s fair to say I’ve known her for a really long time, all of her life, actually. Few people know me as well. And there is a surprising similarity between how I know her, and she knows me, and how I know those who are my friends and fellow crafters. Because in both the mundane is insignificant, at crunch time, there is a primitive, blood bond response that I’ve only come close to outside of my relationship with her with those I have the spirit bond to. There’s a seemingly irrationality lying underneath our relationships with family, our parents, siblings, children, and partners, we respond without thought to them and their needs a lot of the time. We can explain this in terms scientific, as needful for the preservation as species, but a lot of the time there is a great deal of insanity there, and we do things we would otherwise not for them and because of them. Things generally have to be very wrong and toxic for any other person to be at at all concerned about that insanity. That is, we all, as human beings, are prepared to accept things in relation to family at levels we would not otherwise. It is often the only place we have any tolerance for insanity at all. Which in itself probably goes to explain how the relationship we have with those we practice the Craft with comes so close to being alike to it. Outside of those people, sometimes, even our families can consider it a cut above acceptable on the ‘sound of mind’ scale. To my mind, it is all about how free we are to express our truest self, in all it’s seemingly insane glory. I have had the privilege to have both a wonderful family, and a wonderful coven. And so I suppose in some ways, I feel twice as sane as most people. And that’s pretty lucky.
What I didn’t wholly expect, and probably shame on me for not, was how an ancestral based practice of the Craft would affect those with the exact same ancestry as me. Turns out it is somewhat like a proverbial Pandora’s Box, and there’s no closing it now.
So now I have come full circle. I am no longer the student, I have three of my own, wonderful, clever women, one of whom is my little sister. And I doubt very much my learning days are over! Our Thread grows, my own Craft takes deeper root, and we celebrate milestones and new initiates. New projects begin, others come to fruition. As I enter into new things and new roles I can’t help but think how lucky I am that there are some people that will always come along, bring you with, cheer you on and stop to play on the swings with you, and who never doubt the fact your bike is actually a great white stallion, and the stick is really a magical sword.
“My God, I have found the thrice blessèd ground,
Where life and where joy and true comfort abound.”
~Thrice Blessèd Ground, John Gambold (1711-1771)