Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
-William Butler Yeats
As I was preparing to move to Oregon, I decided that upon my arrival I would seek out and potentially join a coven of an established witchcraft tradition. I wanted to do this for three reasons:
1. I’m interested in doing non-public ritual and magickal work with a small and connected group of people I see on a somewhat regular basis. Having moved around so much, this has not been previously possible. Now it is.
2. I’m interested in learning – or at least learning if I want to learn – a witchcraft tradition. I’ve had numerous teachers of various traditions and practices, witchcraft and otherwise, but I’ve never studied face to face with an elder of one particular tradition, start to finish. My own practices are based on what feels right in the moment combined with whatever I might pull from my grab bag full of collected techniques, rituals, meditations, invocations, etc. You never know what you might get, and that’s never been an issue considering it’s generally just me and the gods. I’m interested to see how what I know might work and be of service within a tradition, and how a tradition might dovetail with what I already do.
3. I would like to put closure on and heal a wound received when I was fifteen and joined a coven that was really more of a cult. Looking back on things as an adult, I know it’s illogical to carry a bias based on one isolated experience, but I do sometimes feel its subtle influence.
Now, back to the rejection.
I found a group I was interested in, did some research and exchanged a few emails with the High Priestess. I was hoping to just meet for coffee and vibe each other out, but first she wanted me to fill out a questionnaire. Alright, I could respect that. I thoughtfully and honestly gave my answers and actually found the questions to be thought-provoking and a good exercise all on their own.
Here are the highlights of the response (rejection) I received:
Between your letters to us and your application, it appears you are quite advanced in your studies, and have accomplished much on your own.
We are a training tradition.
When people have advanced to our satisfaction and have met certain requirements, we shoo them out of the nest.
Seeing how you have studied with so many others, as well as on your own, we feel you already have the skills we could share with you.
So basically, I’m overqualified. This is very strange to me in this context.
I assume that when you wish to learn a tradition, you start from wherever their starting point is. If you can’t put your ego aside and do that, well… I would think that would be your first test.
I once had a dance teacher who told her students: “The hardest thing I ever did was take a beginner’s class”. She was speaking of coming in as someone new to a particular method, as was the position of many of her students. Despite many years of dance training, she had to start from the very basics, alongside people with little to no dance experience at all. It’s an excellent lesson in patience, humility, and how badly you really want something.
Their statement that I already had the skills they could share led me to another question: what is the role of a teacher?
Is a teacher a purveyor of information, a person whose role is to fill up the student with the knowledge required to advance to the next grade? Or is a teacher the person who helps the student to make new connections, ask questions, explore theories, consider known information from fresh perspectives, to perceive the limitless potential of all things?
Is a teacher a filler of pails, or a lighter of fires?
Frankly, I can fill my own pail.
We live in a time when things once hidden are easily revealed with a few clicks of the mouse – perhaps to our overall detriment. What is needed is not more information, but teachers who can breathe life into what can often be a heady uphill pursuit, teachers who help their students to see old information with fresh eyes.
I’ve found moments of this in my practice as a yogi. There have been times as a student where I am in a posture for what must be the thousandth time. I am relaxed in the posture and I start thinking, “I have this”.
And in that moment the teacher will give a cue I’ve never heard before, or intuitively give a reminder to breathe right at a certain moment – and suddenly the posture is new again, my body is shifting into a heightened awareness and my mind engages in a level of focus I thought I had already attained. It’s enlightening, and exciting.
I try to remember those moments when I am teaching my own classes, remembering that my job is not to read off a script of postures for my students to perform, but to find ways to bring them to a deeper mind-body connection, to fully engage them in the familiar as if it were new – because it is.
That said, we can’t put all the burden for lighting fires on external teachers.
We are all our own teachers, and I sometimes think accepting that responsibility is far more daunting a task than finding a teacher outside ourselves could ever be.
Om Guru Om Guru Deva Deva
Aja Ki Jai Ananda Ki Jai
(Roughly: I honor the teacher (guru) within me, the divine bliss shines through me)
(listen to it here)