Skills In and Out of the Craft

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

We talk about Witchcraft as an art and a science, as the craft of the wise, and relate our mysteries to the skills of an earlier time—the farmer, the blacksmith, the miller, the horseman, the cunning folk, the forest priestess, and the bard. All of these things still exist, but are often overshadowed by the modern world. All of these things, like Witchcraft itself, require a level of skill. You must apply knowledge in practical and often artistic ways to express your skill. All of these crafts are an art unto themselves, just as is magick, and just as are our lives.

For we are each the artist of our own life. Our emotions, thoughts, actions, inactions, words, and relationships form the patterns of our greatest work, the masterpiece of our life. For some, it is an expression of Will, their True Will in the world as the Great Work. The world was one way when they came into it, and through their Will, actions, and intent, the world will be shaped differently in some definite, if often subtle, way. We all leave the world different from how we found it, but for many a magician, this is the lens of their art.

For others, it is an expression of Love, their Perfect Love, that conveys their art. The Great Work is not about doing, but about being. How do you be in the midst of change? How do you respond to the world, to those around you? How do you stay heart-centered? They still act, but their actions come from the place of the heart, and that is the lens of their art.

There is a third path for those who know that neither path is complete by itself. The Great Work requires both Will and Love, and in these they find Wisdom, which is also true. Wisdom allows them to know when to express the proper balance of Love and Will.

So when we look at these options, are we being skillful in our magickal expression in the world?

A very good Buddhist friend always drives home the point that it’s not about being right or wrong, but how skillful our expression of something is. As we work our magick to shape our world, and as we work our magick to respond rather than react, how can we be more skillful in our work? That is where the art is found.

Intensity and passion can serve us—and serve us well—at certain times. They can be the most skillful choices in our palette of the human life, but only in the proper context. Other times a more reserved hue from the palette can get us the result we want. Knowing the difference, particularly if we are looking to create magickal change in the world through our actions or our heart, is important.

I remember a friend in college, an avid environmentalist, very passionate and very angry. In the days before things like recycling were common, we were talking in his kitchen, and I mistakenly said recycle when the proper term was reuse. I got a ten-minute speech on the value of reuse versus recycling and how recycling wasn’t the answer. And he was absolutely correct. But his means of delivery made my twenty-year-old self not want to either recycle or reuse and instead tell him to fuck off. He could have used that moment to educate, but in the end, it was more about expressing his anger over the situation than educating someone to a new, more helpful behavior. While I understand his point in light of the environmental crisis, I think he walked away thinking he’d made me a passionate reuse/recycler, but all he did was alienate me.

I understand the argument that it is not his job to sugarcoat anything for me, and that any offense taken by me is mine and not his, but the result he wanted was not the result he got, and I’m not sure if he was even aware. Granted, he was a dabbler in metaphysics and not seeking to master consciousness, but I know as someone on the path, there have been times I’ve done the same exact thing, and I want to be more skillful in my approach as I go forward. It might not be my responsibility to modify myself, but if I want change in such a situation, then in many ways, I must take that option.

Much later, after observing his purchasing habits and his fervent anger towards corporations, I grew to better understand him and the passion served in that moment. Because I could experience it without feeling assaulted by it, I had the space to formulate change in my consciousness.

Today is a time of great conflict. There is passionate disagreement on many issues, and I clearly have my own opinions. But I often think about how I, as a Witch, can facilitate the change I wish to see by setting space, moving energy, and choosing my words and actions carefully, like an artist, to achieve the result I want. We are making cooperative art, so I don’t have total control, but that’s the blessing and curse of it. How can I hold firm and express my passion, my outrage, yet do so in a way that conveys appropriate change? I don’t always know. I am not that skillful. But knowing that I lack skill helps me strive to be more aware of myself and my choices in every situation, beyond personal reactions, into the expression of culture and community for us all. All our actions contribute to the collective. Can I both make—and encourage others to make—more skillful, more beautiful, and more appropriate actions for the moment? I’m not saying pacifism is necessarily the way of my art, or anyone else’s. But there is time and place for yelling with a protest sign, and that is not the kitchen table. There is a time and place for the vehemence of the black candle calling for justice, and that is not over coffee.

This skill of the craft helps me navigate that. The boring occult lessons many people skip (all the visualizations and affirmations, the basic prayers and the meticulous setting up of the altar, sitting for hours before that damn white candle!) are life skills to find patience, harmony, and in the ritual itself, a sense of knowing when the drama is appropriate and when it is not. To know when you are in the lead, and when you are in a support role, and how that shifts in one session and over time.

I’ve had many conflicts in my life with family, friends, students, and others, and I try to be more skillful in each situation, learning from the last. Many have been resolved in love, or if not love, at least kindness. Some were not resolved, and I’m often pleasantly surprised when someone comes back to me years later to apologize. I feel as if I held the space as best I could, but couldn’t control the outcome. Sometimes I awaken to realize I was at a fault, and I go to apologize. Sometimes the apology is accepted and sometimes it’s not, or the apology remains unspoken as it would do more harm than good. And sometimes the situation is never resolved in this lifetime.

Each has given me an understanding of expressing my Will, for I am personally willful as well as seeking divine Will. Each has given me opportunities to love, and hold love, realizing unconditional love is not an unconditional relationship. Knowing the balance has granted some small measure of wisdom, and knowing how to express the balance has helped me become more skillful in the Craft of my life.

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