Shades of Gray

Morpheus Ravenna recently wrote a post about the agency of deities and how (in her opinion) our believing that the Gods have agency ought to affect our rituals. While she made many points I wholeheartedly agree with, I disagree just as strongly in other areas.

Now, I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge believer in the agency of spirits, and I’ve written on the subject before, so why would I take issue with an article that supports that very notion? Well, Ravenna’s post carries with it a number of assumptions about ritual and devotion, and while those assumptions may hold true for some people, they do not hold true for all people, or in all circumstances. Allow me to elaborate:

To begin with, Ravenna seems to treat all ritual as either private devotion or public group ritual. There is a middle ground there that is entirely overlooked. Some groups – traditional Wiccan covens, for example – have a set and established membership that works together regularly. Sometimes these groups have open rituals, to which guests may be present, but often their rituals are closed, so that only established members of the group may attend. This allows for a type of ritual that is neither public nor solitary.

Ravenna argues against calling unfamiliar Gods, or Gods with which members have not already established a rapport, to group rituals, saying that devotional work ought to be done first, and in private. In closed group rituals, however, that devotional work is often precisely the point. There are many different reasons why a group may decide to do this in concert rather than alone. One or more members may be struggling to connect with the deity in question, and the group may be trying to help them develop a relationship. The group might want to develop a more social dynamic with that deity, where the point is not how the deity interacts with individuals, but how the deity interacts with the group as a whole. Group devotional work can be not only helpful, but is, at times, necessary in and of itself.

While I generally agree with what Ravenna wrote about hospitality – that the Gods should be made welcome before They are asked to assist with work – she again carries in her writing an assumption (and it is one that we sensitive folk all too often forget we have). She assumes that everyone at every ritual can sense when the Gods have arrived. This is not always the case. Some people cannot sense, and it’s both impractical and counterproductive to stall the ritual until everyone catches up. That would put way too much pressure on people who can’t sense to just fake it so everyone else doesn’t have to wait around for them. This is especially true in public ritual, but also, albeit to a lesser extent, in private group ritual. The officiators have a responsibility to assess when the presences requested are attending, and proceed appropriately. As wonderful as it would be for everyone to be equally aware of it all the time, that’s simply not always going to happen.

Ravenna also argued that all invited deities must be given an opportunity to communicate with the ritual participants, and, generally speaking, I agree. It would seem, however, that I have a broader definition of ‘communicate’. Possession and divination are not the only ways to communicate or commune with a deity. Sometimes the work being done is its own form of communion. For example, Artemis is most certainly invited to the Catalean Arkteia, in which participants embrace their inner child by playing childhood games and engaging in children’s activities. While She would certainly be welcome to show up in a horse if She chose to do so, it’s not written into the ritual, nor is any sort of divination through which we speak to Her. Rather, the act of embracing the wild energy of youth is its own method of communing and communicating with Her. There is a sort of experiential knowledge conveyed there that is beyond articulation.

My point is that while we absolutely should give the deities we invite to ritual a chance to communicate with us, we ought not limit the ways in which that communication can occur.

Ravenna also wrote about reciprocity, and, once again, I both agree and disagree. Yes, if our intent is to develop a long term relationship with a deity, we ought to honor them more often than just when we want something. That said, sometimes people have to work with deities with Whom they are not going to pursue long term relationships. The is especially true for spirit workers and teachers. I may have a student with a deity I barely know, or I may need to help a client with a deity that I have no connection with, and will not continue to work with once the job is done. In such cases, it is actually better not to go beyond the simple exchange. There is not nearly enough time, nor do I have enough energy, to maintain a full and deep relationship with every single deity I’ve crossed paths with. Yes, it would be wonderful if I had the time to develop such a relationship with every deity I meet, but that’s simply not practical.

Finally, I must address what Ravenna wrote about possession. Once again, there is a big assumption here, and it colors everything she wrote. Intentionally or not (I have no idea), Ravenna wrote as if possession is a purely binary state: a person is possessed or not. She allows for no levels of possession, no passenger seat versus trunk (calling to mind the often-used car analogy), just complete annexation of the body by the deity.

I understand that this issue is hotly debated. There are people who believe that possession is all or nothing every time. I am not one of those people. I’m just going to get that out there right now. If you believe that absolutely every time the horse is either completely possessed or not possessed at all, then let’s just leave things here and agree to disagree.

In my experience, nothing at all is ever that clear and simple, and certainly not possession. Sure, there are instances in which a person is clearly possessed, or clearly not possessed, but there are also times at which a person is obviously infused with deity, but still partly in control of their body. Sometimes people are out of control but still present, and as such can have some affect on what the deity does in their body. On one occasion I was quite present while being ‘possessed’, but I was forcibly prohibited from speaking or alerting anyone else to my level of presence, specifically because the deity riding me wanted to teach me a lesson (which turned out to be something along the lines of “shut the hell up, Thista”).

Years ago I used to argue that possession was much more black and white than I now see it. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to watch and participate in many more possession rituals, and I’ve been possessed many more times myself. I’ve come to appreciate the Wiccan term “drawing down”, as it allows for a much larger spectrum than “possession”. A drawing down can be anything from inspired poetry writing to full possession.

Even possession itself, however, is a bit of a spectrum, in my opinion. The car analogy is now used so prevalently that I typically don’t even need to explain it. That in and of itself says a lot about what people are actually experiencing. Where exactly is that moment when the deity or spirit takes over, and the person’s volition is gone? Even if you can pinpoint such a moment, does it always happen with every possession? And always in the same way? There certainly is a set of physiological cues which usually alert me to an impending possession, but they don’t always happen, and sometimes they happen but I still don’t get possessed. I have yet to meet a horse who does not experience at least some amount of variation.

The point here is that, aside from limits previously negotiated with the deity in question, we need not to assume how a possession will happen, nor have expectations of what the deity will or will not do. While it is always wonderful to give Them a chance to speak should They choose to use it, that doesn’t mean that giving Them something to say is always a bad thing. In fact, I know of one occasion in which a Goddess tasked her devotee with composing a piece of poetry specifically so that She could recite it during a possession ritual. Sometimes reciting familiar verse, or even acting the part of the deity, can be a method by which the horse achieves the trance state or connection necessary for possession. This need not be confused with the possession itself. In fact, I wholeheartedly support using the liturgical method as much as possible, and not just because it is often effective.

In a Pagan community where possession is practiced more and more frequently, and more and more often becomes the focal point of ritual, pressure to perform is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. If we set this expectation that every ritual will include a possession in which the deity walks around and talks to people, think about how the horse will feel if a deity doesn’t show up. Of course we want to create an environment in which people can be open and honest about what is or isn’t happening, but sometimes that’s just not enough. All too often the horse really wants that possession to be real, sometimes enough to believe it’s real even when it’s not. I see that sort of unintentional self delusion happening more often than I would like, and it concerns me. We must find ways to relieve performance pressure.

Memorized liturgy is one way to ease that tension. If the intended purpose of a ritual is to recite something as if the person were the deity – in effect creating a sort of mini sacred drama – then when the deity actually shows up and starts chatting off-script, that becomes a lovely bonus. The ritual is no longer a matter of whether the horse achieved or failed the desired possession, but is instead a shared experience that may or may not be punctuated with possession.

Treating possession as an all-or-nothing dichotomy is another way people create excessive performance pressure. I have heard people claim to have been “completely gone” during a possession, even when their own mannerisms were still clearly evident (never mind the story their energy told). I don’t believe these people are always intentionally lying. I think sometimes people want to be “completely gone” so badly that they convince themselves they are, because this is treated as the measure of a possession’s quality.

We desperately need to move away from assessing the quality of a possession by how deep it is.

A better measure would be how well the possession helped ritual participants develop their relationship with that deity, or how generally helpful that experience was for both the deity and the other ritual participants.

Yes, faked possessions happen, and sometimes people use “I was possessed” as a way to escape responsibility for things they did. Del already wrote a fantastic article about possession and accountability, and I added my two cents as well. Those points still hold true even if you consider possession as occurring on a drawing down spectrum, and containing a spectrum in and of itself. We can support the validity of various points on the spectrum, while still assessing for authenticity and reinforcing personal responsibility. Much more could be said on this and related subjects, but I don’t want to stray too far from the original topic.

I suppose the bottom line here is that we must not look at deity presence in ritual as strictly dichotomous. There are many different ways in which the Gods can interact with us, and, accordingly, many different ways in which we can commune and communicate with Them. Our expectations of what They should do are just as limiting as our expectations of what They should not do, and neither help us develop healthy or robust relationships with Them.

Approach the Gods with genuine reverence and respect. Honor Them as is appropriate given the circumstances. Interact with Them as beings of agency, and be open to a wide spectrum of experience.

The most profound revelations I’ve had about the Gods were all utterly unexpected. Allow Them the opportunity to surprise you.

Posted in Being Clergy, How We See Each Other, Possession, Service, Teaching, The Gods Are Real | 3 Comments

Death

This is long. You have been warned.

I haven’t wanted to post, because posting again means moving on, and moving on means making peace with Dad’s death. It means accepting that he’s gone, and he’s not coming back, and this nightmare is now my reality, so I better just make the best of it.

In some ways, I have done exactly that – made peace and begun to move on – but in other ways I continue to fight back against my new reality with whatever my subconscious can throw at me. This is, as my therapist tells me, normal. “It hasn’t been that long,” she says to me, and I think to myself, “When will it be long enough? When will I be better?”

Of course, it will never be long enough, and I will never be better. You don’t get ‘better’ from loosing a loved one. It becomes a scar that you carry with you for the rest of your life, and as it heals, it limits your movement less and less, but it’s always there… and after a while you become glad that it’s there, because it’s proof of how much you loved the person you lost, that they still affect you so deeply even after they’ve gone.

I think my early and desperate attempts to ‘learn’ from his death, or help other people learn from my experience… they were just insane attempts to make some sense of what was happening. Everything felt so far out of my control, I needed to make it into something familiar. When traumatic things have happened to me in the past, I’ve persevered by figuring out what the lesson of the thing was. Getting divorced, for example, was certainly traumatic, but it taught me a lot about myself. It was a gauntlet I needed to go through to become who I am. Figuring out what I needed to do and why granted me a certain inner peace and confidence that gave me the strength to endure doing it.

I tried to do the same thing after loosing my father, but it doesn’t work like that. Loosing a loved one is not a test that you pass or fail. It’s not a life lesson that you can figure out or not, and if you figure it out it’s all better.

Loosing a loved one is something to be endured. It hurts, and it is supposed to hurt. It hurts because you loved them. The hurt is a testament to who that person was to you; in essence, your tears are the best eulogy you can give someone who passed.

Of course, while knowing that can grant you some sort of peace with how much you hurt, and perhaps help you feel a little less insane due to the waves of grief that seem to strike you out of nowhere… the knowing doesn’t make you hurt any less. And it shouldn’t.

So in some ways I’ve moved on. Life continues. I’m in the midst of some rather significant undertakings at the moment, which will likely make their way into this blog at some point or another. I am slowly reclaiming the level of competence as a priestess I felt like I had before all this started. That process has been…

Well, imagine that all the lessons you’ve learned, all the emotional scars you have, everything you carry with you through life is packed into a big backpack – your ‘baggage’, as people call it, except I don’t think all baggage is a bad thing. Our baggage informs who we are. It is our accumulated experience, and can be a useful resource if we develop a healthy relationship with it.

Anyway, imagine you’re carrying on through your life, and all of a sudden someone drops something huge and heavy into your backpack. You stumble and fall because you’re not used to that weight. At first, you’re not even sure if you can stand up again because it is so impossibly heavy. That first struggle is just figuring out how to get back up.

Then, once you can stand with that extra weight, you have to learn how to walk with it. You can’t just keep going how you were before, because now your whole center of gravity is different. Your first steps are fumbling and insecure. You can get back into the familiar motions of walking very easily, but they are not strong, steady steps. You haven’t learned how to carry that weight yet, or developed the new muscles you will need to support it.

Eventually those muscles begin to grow, and you feel more stable. You can walk almost normally… but it’s not like one day you wake up and finally the burden feels normal and you can carry it just fine. That extra weight is always there, and carrying it never gets ‘easy’, exactly. It just becomes… familiar.

Every day it’s a little better. I’m glad for that. I want to get back to the things I want to do, to becoming the person I want to be. I know Dad would want that too.

But… I’m also glad that those waves of insane grief haven’t left me. I need moments to mourn him, even if they usually happen when I’m alone. I need to remember him, and sometimes that’s fondly recalling good memories, and sometimes it’s sobbing over who I’ve lost.

There are two more things I want to touch on here.

First… I wish I could say something about who my father was to me, and why loosing him affects me so deeply, but nothing I could write in a few sentences will capture that. Even if I sat down and tried to compose a novel about who he was to me… it wouldn’t be enough. It couldn’t convey the depth of everything, and it would really be just one facet of him anyway. He was so many things to so many people, many of which I didn’t really understand until after he passed, and people started talking. I have so much regret that I didn’t know him better, regrets that I didn’t… well, I have regrets. Had I known I would loose him so soon, I would have done many things differently. Those regrets are the hardest things to live with. I am still searching for forgiveness

Finally, it bears mentioning that yes, I can occasionally hear the dead, and yes, I have on a few occasions heard or seen my father. It does not make anything any easier. My family lives in California, so for the last 14, almost 15 years I’ve seen them about twice a year (although we talked by phone weekly). Consequently, Dad’s passing at times still felt… unreal… like his death was just a nightmare, and he would still be there in Cali the next time I went to visit…

Except that seeing and hearing him among the dead makes it all too clear that he is gone. Being confronted with that reality has been difficult every time.

I also don’t hear from him very often. I did during the first few days, but then there was a moment at the funeral service where I heard and saw and felt him leave. He came to me briefly in a dream shortly after that to say goodbye, and then for a long while he was just gone. It was as if he were busy… and I suppose he probably was.

I reached a particularly dark place in late September/early October, and then one day he was there in my head, but only to let me know that he did still exist somewhere in the afterlife. I had begun to doubt everything… I needed something to reassure me, and it sort of felt like the Gods threw me a bone… which I guess implies that I wasn’t supposed to be talking to him yet.

All of this makes me wonder… is there a period when we are supposed to be separated from deceased loved ones? When, even if we can hear them, we shouldn’t hear them? I mean, it does make sense. It would be very difficult for me to come to terms with his passing if I could just talk to him all the time anyway, particularly when part of me doesn’t want to come to terms with his passing… and I suppose it would be hard for him to move on if he had to keep coming back to talk to me all the time. So maybe there is a necessary period of separation.

The last time I saw him was at Samhain. I tried to prepare myself for seeing him walk through the Veil and… well I guess there’s really just no way to prepare for something like that.

And now… well, I suppose I’m comforted by knowing that he is out there somewhere, even if I can’t always sense him, or can only just barely sense that he exists. And I am comforted by knowing that I will see him again at Samhain next year. Maybe it’s ok if we don’t talk much between now and then. I suppose it’s probably better that way… for both of us.

Anyway, it’s about time I wrap this up. Forgive me for making such a long and rambling post, but I needed to put this here. It shall serve as a sort of maker for a current that continues to run beneath the surface, even as I resume writing about other things.

 

Posted in How I Manage | 2 Comments

The Past

(I am working on a ‘real’ post. In the meanwhile I want to put this here, so that the next time someone tells me the history and myths behind ancient Gods don’t matter, I can point them here. Could you be friends with someone who said this to you?)

You were an only child. You hated school until 4th grade, when you had a really wonderful art teacher. After that you loved school, and went to college for a double major in art and design. You had six pets as a kid – two dogs and four cats. When your mom and dad divorced, he kept the dogs, and she kept the cats. You stayed with your dad, which always made you a little sad, because you loved those cats.

It doesn’t matter if none of this is true. This is the story of you that makes the most sense to me, that resonates with me, and helps me understand you. I know who you are now, and the the relationship I have with you now is more important than who you were before I met you. Developing my own personal interpretation of your history is more important than learning who you were to the people who actually knew you, or how you chose to express yourself back then. Your past doesn’t really affect me, so I don’t need to spend my time and energy learning about it. What I have with you in this moment, and what we create from here – that’s all I care about.

Posted in The Gods Are Real | 2 Comments

This Too Shall Pass

I want to avoid making this post, because I know there’s no eloquent way for me to write it, but I also know that’s why I need to write it now. Grief is not eloquent. It’s wonderful for us to write about grief from a place of safe distance, to wax philosophical about what we learn from loss, and how life’s challenges drive us to be our better selves. I’m sure I’ll be back here in a few months making such a post… but not today.

Today’s grief is ugly and disjointed. It’s raw…. elusive, yet unrelenting. I need to write from this perspective of being in it. I want to give my future self a window on what today is like. I want other people who live through these same experiences to know they are not alone. I want people who have no idea what this is like to have at least some inkling of what people might be feeling in this space. I don’t want to write about it, and yet, at the same time, I do.

On July 1st, my father died. He went quietly in his sleep in the middle of the night. He’d been battling cancer for almost ten years. It had already metastasized to his bones by the time he was diagnosed, but chemotherapy held it at bay for almost a decade. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, it spread to his brain. I got the call that he was dying on my birthday. I rushed to his home the next morning to be at his side, and six days later, he was dead. We had been planning a family vacation for later this month.

I had expected that when my father was on his deathbed, I would have plenty of beautiful things to say to him. I would comfort him, help him be ready, ease his passing. When the time actually came, I could barely keep myself together enough to say “I love you.” I didn’t want him to see me cry, because I knew he felt guilty for leaving us so soon, and I didn’t want to make him feel worse. I was able to say a few things to him on the last day, but they are too personal for me to write about here. It was, I think, the minimum of what I needed to communicate to him. I wish I could have offered more, but, in retrospect, perhaps I could offer him no peace because I had none for myself. I was not ready for him to die, so how could I help him be ready?

I had always imagined that I would be a sobbing, frantic wreck when my father died. He always meant the world to me, while my relationship with my mother has always been… more challenging. My whole family loved him – immediate and extended – and we all agree that he was the best of us. I expected that I would break down at his death, that we would all loose it at least for a little while. Instead, my mother, sister, and I sat on the couch in the living room in shock. We just sat there. None of us knew what to say. I think we cried, but we made no sound. At about 4am we tried to go back upstairs and go to sleep, but I don’t think any of us did.

I expect grief is different for everyone. My mother, sister, and I are each very different people, and we are handling our grief in very different ways. That said, I’ve noticed some patterns that even the three of us share.

Those five stages of grief people talk about? They don’t happen in order, and it’s not like you move through one of them, and then you’re done with it and move on to another. They hit you at odd moments, come at you out of nowhere, like a bad case of PMS.

Grief comes in waves. You don’t just engage grieving mode, and then you’re sad for a set amount of time. Sometimes you’re fine for a while, and everything seems… not exactly normal, but ok. Some routines have changed, but others are the same, and you go about your life, and it’s ok… but then something reminds you of him, or you suddenly realize that something you’d planned is never going to hit you and BAM. It just hits you like a ton of bricks. Sometimes there isn’t any trigger at all, but your brain is just idle long enough to remember that he’s gone. Nighttime is always hardest, and sleep does not come easily.

I want to hide and I want to be around people at almost the exact same moment. I want to be around my friends and cry on their shoulders, and yet I want to be normal and happy around them, because I don’t want them to see me that broken. This I don’t understand yet. I don’t fear their judgment. I would not judge a friend for being sad at a time such as this. Perhaps this is just another shade of denial – if I mourn him openly in front of others, it means I’ve accepted that he’s really gone.

I should be nervous that I’m bearing my heart like this in front of total strangers, but I’m not. I think part of why is that no amount of internet asshattery could wound me more than his passing already has… but I think that in a way this very post is partly about me trying to continue his legacy. My father was a devoted humanitarian. I did not even know myself how many people he helped until they literally packed the church at his funeral. If my writing this can help someone else cope with grief and loss, then it is an act well done.

I think sometimes life’s challenges and indignities are easier to face when we can see how others face them – not that they have faced them, but how they face them. Seeing someone calm and collected and well adjusted after grieving can, I think, just be more intimidating. What if I don’t cope with this as well as that person did? What if I end up a horrible wreck? What if I never come to terms with this? What if this changes everything? I think sometimes it’s important just to know that other people have asked themselves those same questions, that others have flopped around in the stinking bog of doubt and uncertainty, and if they’re all squeaky clean now, that’s just because they’ve had time to shower.

I am embarrassed to admit that I’m experiencing a sort of crisis of faith. My relationship with Artemis is stronger than ever. Even though my senses dulled as stress and emotional anguish clouded my ability to perceive, I could still feel Artemis around me. She did not say or do anything in particular. She was merely a constant, comforting presence. There were brief images, and they too were simply comforting in exactly the way I needed them to be. She was there for me, and that has renewed my passion for Her and given me a striking new insight into how my relationship with Her has grown and deepened over the last 15 years. My devotion to Her is as solid as it has ever been.

It’s my relationship with Haides that is in crisis. I don’t blame Him. I’m not angry at Him. I just don’t know how to serve Him anymore. How can I comfort others as they die when I could not comfort my own father? I had a long conversation about this with a dear friend, and she pointed out that this is a difficult thing to do for our own family. When it is our own loved one that lays dying, we need comforting as much as they do. Perhaps this experience will, as my friend suggested, leave me better prepared to comfort others, since I will truly understand what they are going through.

However, if I’m really going to be honest about all of this, that’s only one part of what I feel right now with regard to Haides. Yes, there’s that sense of inadequacy, but I suppose on some level I know that feeling will fade over time. No one immediately knows how to do every job set before them, so if there’s something I need to learn to do, I’ll learn it. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a big deal…

…except that acknowledging that doesn’t make me feel any better. It doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable with approaching Haides. It doesn’t help me feel less awkward around Him. I think on a purely visceral level, He is the King of the Dead, and I’m just not feeling very cuddly with death right now.

Perhaps the situation is further compounded by the fact that, from the beginning, Haides took on a somewhat fatherly role for me. He never approached me as a lover, although I know many other women who experience Him that way. He was always paternal with me. Now however… approaching him… I find myself thinking, “I already have a father, and he’s dead,” and then interacting with the King of the Dead as a father figure hits just a little too close to home.

I don’t know how things will go from here. It seems clear that my relationship with Haides must change if it will survive at all. I have gotten a few rare hints of what He might have in mind, but… I don’t know that I’m ready to renegotiate, and if His proposed solution is what those hints suggest, I don’t know that I could give Him that anyway. I was tempted not to mention this at all, to wait until I know how things will take shape, and then write an enlightened post about how traumatic events affect our spirituality… but I think it’s important also to be open about this period of doubt, when we don’t know how things will change or why. This, too, is part of the process. And this, too, shall pass. I never really understood what that meant until now.

Posted in How I Manage, How We See Each Other, Teaching | 3 Comments

That Kind Of Friend

Teaching and learning have continued to be at the center of conversation lately. I finally found a way to clearly articulate something I’ve learned about teaching, and someone found it useful enough that they want me to write it down somewhere, so here it is.

It is natural for students to want to be friends with their spiritual teachers and mentors. The work involved in spiritual training is so intensely personal, of course we would want our guide to be a friend.

The thing is, a person can have many different types of friends, and they’re not all well suited to being a teacher.

Some people are the sort of friend who will always have your back, no matter what. They will always take your side, they will comfort you, they will validate you, they will help you get up when you feel beaten and broken. Every now and then, everyone needs a friend like this. Everyone has moments when they just need a shoulder to cry on, someone who can be there for them and offer nothing but positive, validating, comforting support. A good teacher can’t be this type of friend.

A teacher can’t be the sort of friend who will always agree with you, always stroke your ego, always tell you how wonderful you are. I think many seekers don’t realize this, and go looking for teachers who will be a source of constant positivity. Of course, that won’t actually help them in the long run.

A good teacher needs to be an honest friend. A teacher needs to be the kind of friend that will support you and validate you when you need it, but will also tell you when you’ve screwed up, and help you figure out how to make things better.

Why is this so important? Because you don’t learn anything from someone who always tells you you’re doing it right. A student needs someone who can help them acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, or see when a project or assignment wasn’t done as well as it could be, and learn how to do it better. A ‘yes friend’ won’t give that sort of help. An honest friend will.

I think it’s actually harder to be an honest friend, and that challenge is why both teachers and students often default to being ‘yes friends’. It’s easy to just tell a person what they want to hear. You don’t have to worry about how they will react, how they will handle what you say. But a good teacher must be able to honestly give you the bad with the good. A good teacher can point out your mistakes and help you learn from them, tell you when you’re being an asshole and help you better deal with the situation, tell you when your work was poorly done and help you learn to do it better.

Why is it so hard to be that kind of friend? Because it takes a lot of trust both to be able to be so honest with someone, and to be able to hear someone being honest with you. The student must trust that the teacher is trying to help, and is being honest in ways that are necessary for the sort of work or training or growth the student wants to achieve. The teacher must trust that the student will be able to constructively receive what the teacher offers, rather than taking it as a personal insult or attack.

Of course, that sort of trust doesn’t just magically appear when two people enter a student-teacher relationship. I think this is another place where reality often falls short of idealistic expectations. Being someone’s student or teacher doesn’t instantly guarantee that they are going to be your best friend. The sort of connection and trust required to be an honest friend take time to develop. There is no instant gratification in spirituality. All things well done will take time.

If you’re a student, remember that your teacher’s job is to help you learn. Give yourself and your teacher enough time to develop the level of trust necessary for the work you’re going to do. The next time your teacher tells you something you don’t want to hear, be grateful that your teacher wants you to succeed well enough to tell you the honest truth.

If you’re a teacher, remember that honesty will teach your students more and better than constant positivity. It’s not easy to balance comforting support and blunt honesty, but both are quite necessary. Give yourself and you student time to get to know each other, so that your honesty can be appropriately tempered. Give yourselves enough time to develop trust, so that your honesty can be well received.

Posted in How We See Each Other, Teaching | 4 Comments

Changing Your Mind

It’s been unexpectedly rough getting back into the swing of things. Thank you for your patience.

Teaching, training, and mentorship have been on my mind lately, so that’s what I’m writing about today. Finding the right teacher or student can be an incredibly difficult and multifaceted task. One part of that process is establishing appropriate limits. Both student and teacher must have a personal understanding of what they need and what they can give, and then communicate that to the other. I’ve already written some about this, and it’s not where I’m going to focus now.

Another part of finding a teacher or student is understanding what sort of teaching is desired. A teacher needs to know what he or she wants to teach, and then clearly express that this is what she or he has to offer. A student needs to know what she or he wants to learn, and then clearly express this desire to potential teachers.

It sounds simple enough, but I think in some ways this is even more difficult to negotiate than limits about time commitment, homework assignments, or payment. The latter are concrete factors that are relatively easy to predict. I can look at my schedule and roughly assess how many hours I can devote to phone calls, emails, classes, and rituals. I can give a student a syllabus of what they will be expected to do and in what sort of time frame.

Figuring out what sort of training a seeker wants or needs is much, much harder. Sometimes we begin a spiritual journey thinking that one approach or one tradition will nourish us, only to find that it’s not a good fit at all. This is, I think, due to the nature of Paganism itself – ours is a religion that must be experienced, that must be lived. Simply reading about it is not enough, and will not give someone the same understanding of what it really means to walk that path.

It is OK to change your mind about what you want. It’s OK if you discover that you need something you didn’t think you would need, or that you don’t need something you thought you needed. Spirituality is deeply interconnected with self discovery. You will inevitably learn new things about yourself as you engage in any sort of religious or spiritual training.

However, if you discover that your needs are different than you thought, or that your interests have changed, you must immediately discuss this with your teacher. A student who plugs along at curriculum that no longer suits her does neither her nor her teacher any service. It’s a waste of both the student’s and the teacher’s time and energy, and it’s just generally disrespectful. Any good teacher will understand that different students have different needs, and will either adapt to help the student meet her needs, or help the student find a teacher better suited to her needs.

That said, there’s another element to all of this that’s worth mentioning. Sometimes spiritual training is uncomfortable. Sometimes it challenges us, puts us in difficult situations, or makes us deal with things we don’t want to face. Sometimes that is simply the nature of that particular type of training, and no amount of changing teachers will avoid that process. No good teacher will force a student to stay in an uncomfortable situation against her or his will, but sometimes the choice is to deal with the discomfort or discontinue the training. This is the tremendous trust that the student must place in the teacher. The teacher must try to understand which challenges are necessary, and which must be avoided, and inspire enough trust in the student that she or he will endure what must be endured. Unfortunately, oathbound traditions often offer the teacher very little in terms of what she or he can say to the student in explanation. Then again, some would say this is a necessary winnowing process, meant to separate those who desire training sincerely enough to extend that trust from those too afraid to take a risk.

Of course, all of the above mentioned elements intertwine together in an immensely complicated web of education and social connections. Spiritual teaching relationships come in many different forms, and are often structured by tradition or custom. There’s no way this one blog post could even begin to summarize all of that.

I suppose I’m mostly writing this to offer a shred of advice that I hope is universal enough to apply to most, if not all, seekers out there:

It’s OK to change your mind, but just because it’s not fun doesn’t mean it’s not good for you.

Posted in Teaching | Leave a comment

Relief and Sorrow

Soon I will resume my usual posts. Right now, I have only this to say:

On Monday, I had an appointment to take my cat to the vet. He needed his teeth cleaned, so I would drop him off that morning, and pick him up that afternoon. The route I use takes me straight through the heart of downtown Boston.

On Friday, I had a strange feeling that I should reschedule the appointment for Tuesday instead. I couldn’t quite articulate why I didn’t want to go on Monday, so I chalked it up to not wanting to drive through the traffic from the Marathon. I forgot to call the vet, however, to reschedule my appointment, so I decided I’d just call on Saturday and hope they’d still have a slot open for Tuesday, and otherwise suck it up and drive through the city on Monday.

On Saturday, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to call to reschedule, but I was in the middle of something, and decided to do it later. At that instant, the phone rang, and it was the vet calling to confirm my appointment. I thought that was an extraordinary coincidence, and took the opportunity to reschedule.

Had I kept my appointment on Monday, I would have been driving through downtown Boston, on my way to pick up my cat, at just around 3pm.

There are more reasons than this that the bombing has left me shaken, but because this is a public blog, I must not share them here.

In the face of such extreme tragedy, it is difficult to feel positive about anything, and yet necessary to cling to what shards of optimism and hope we can find. I thank the Gods that I was not on Boylston street, nor even in the city of Boston, when the bombs went off. I have never struggled so much to articulate something as I do now… to express the profound gratitude, and love for the Gods, and even relief, that I feel.

And yet, in the same breath, I grieve for those not so fortunate.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment