by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
Every two years or so, I graduate an advanced class to the level of High Priestess/High Priest in the Temple. We call this class Witchcraft 5, having four levels of magickal, psychic, and personal development and a fifth degree that is certainly rooted in the mysteries, but also draws upon the lessons of service and community. Some leave the program and go onto further study within and/or outside of the Temple. They may never work with others in community or service directly. Some forget and get involved in other things, and the magick doesn’t becomes a focus, but an undercurrent. Others leave to go on and do their own thing, taking the teachings to inform their work and way of life. They might offer their service in a variety of ways, not all public and noticeable. And at graduation time, I have many conversations with students about service, and the final “gate” in our temple, ordination, as we distinguish ministerial members who are High Priest/esses and ordained ministers, with legal support from—and responsibility to—the Temple.
Many want to go into teaching or ministry in the Temple community or take leadership roles in our various projects, and passing through the gate of ordination is a final vetting. We do this because (as you may have noticed if you’ve participated in a lot of other Pagan organizations) when people on a variety of paths come together to co-facilitate community and various projects, there is often disagreement and conflict that results in drama and schisms. While we can’t avoid that, we can take steps to minimize it. Our ordination process is a way of vetting those who have gone through our training and established shared ideals, goals, techniques, language, and culture. While we are still individuals, encouraged in our individual practice, this base gives us a greater understanding of how that practice informs the larger whole, and it has become one of the ways the Temple of Witchcraft has decided to address the roots of community conflict.
In one of these post-graduation conversations, I was told by a student with a lot of technical expertise that they felt their path forward was more “squishy” in the sense of emotional care of others and mystical exploration, but not necessarily putting the technical skills or administrative structures to use. That was a job for other people. They would advise, but not do. I must admit, my hackles went up a bit. That sounded lovely. I certainly wish I could do that, and while I could, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation together if I did. It echoes a greater misunderstanding I hear often.
When community is formed—particularly young community, be it Paganism, Modern Witchcraft in general, or specifically our Temple of Witchcraft—you are building and rebuilding systems of support and community resources. Those resources held the door open for you. If you have taken advantage of that, and want to continue to take advantage of the resources available to you by community, when you reach a certain level of training and maturity, you have a certain responsibility to participate in their upkeep, at least for a time.
Many of the hard-working and dedicated community members of any magickal organization that is open to the public would most likely desire to just do the magickal, the mystical, and the emotive. It’s not to say those things are not difficult. They certainly are, but they also require levels of practical support. Many who are enamored with the idea of helping people cross over wish to do so in vision and speak to the dead as a medium. Often as a minister, we need people who are not only willing to sit with the dying, but take the hospice training required to do so with the appropriate sensitive and awareness of that situation, in that particular institution. And beyond the hospital and hospice visits that many see as important service, we need people who will write letters and make phone calls to the hospital and hospice administrations, deftly introducing us for their Pagan/Wiccan/Witch patients who might need support and pastoral care. We need people who are willing to not only go through the trainings illustrating the finer points from a magickal perspective, but who will then help teach and create the materials and policies to guide people. And since no one person decides these things, we need people willing to be in the committees and meetings to have these serious discussions, even though to most of us these events can be boring and administrative.
Potential volunteers often get disenchanted when they ask to help and find out the community needs the kitchen cleaned or the garbage taken out. Graduated priest/esses often expect ritual roles in large public ceremonies to be handed to them in recognition of their magickal skills and are often shocked when someone they consider less magickally talented gets that position. The key to understanding is the realization that most of the people with the largest magickal jobs and special mystical educational opportunities have been the ones most willing to volunteer in the mundane, the administrative, and the organizational. Those who take on their fair share of that leadership also have their pick of opportunities for the mystical, because we would have no mystical, at least publicly in community, without the mundane.
“That is not fair!” I hear people say. Yes, I agree, but it is also not fair when a small group of dedicated people hold open the doors and no one comes to help them. You can always walk away. You can always find other community. You can create the thing you wish to see in the world. You can stay home and be a solitary or dabble in a lot of communities with no deep connections in any. You are free to do anything you wish as long as you are not harming an innocent. I didn’t like aspects of the community in which I was trained. The community I sought to establish was a response to that, a process that began with many years of traveling, talking to other leaders and organizers, and asking, “What would you do again? What would you do differently? Why?” Ours is not the only way. It is not even the best way. I hope others learn from us and create something different as well. But if you expect things from community, you have to participate to the same level of your expectations.
We always teach that magickal action must be followed up with real world action, or your magick will be ineffective. Service on the mundane level is the real world foundation that supports the magickal experiences. Perhaps you will hold the magickal door open for someone new who goes on to be a greater leader, teacher, activist, or organizer in the magickal community. If you are not there to continue that line, we will all be poorer for it. Determine your will and seek out the mystical, the emotive, the “squishy,” but also realize a lot of work had to go into creating the space for you to learn and do that. How can you support that work as well?