The Subtle Process, Part 1

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

Witchcraft training is a subtle process. Witchcraft training online is an even more subtle process, and no easy feat for both teacher and student. By “subtle,” I mean that beyond the obvious binary of complete acceptable assignments or incomplete unacceptable assignments, there is no universal benchmark for everyone. Each student is unique and will respond to the material in their own way.

As a student in the Temple of Witchcraft, your own experience with the material is the first level of the process. Some do assignments adequately, while others might open a door into a deeper teacher, a myth, folklore, an entity, etcetera. How you present that to your mentor and the school staff might trigger questions to consider or suggestions to repeat something. You are not obligated to do so if the assignment was accepted. You can ignore the comments, or take them and keep what you discover private, but such comments are often an invitation to go deeper in follow-up homework, to continue a dialogue. If you respond with not only questions based on your first thought, but also with your own work, intellectual research, and/or mystical meditation and journey, another level of the subtle process is reached. Sometimes it will trigger a connection to another minister or mentor who has expertise in the topic, or, as in our large school of 200+ students, provide a reason for the staff to reach out and involve me more directly in the dialogue.

Some look at any comments, questions, or feedback as an indication they weren’t 100% right the first time, and people who are perfectionists get upset by this. They feel the staff is being unfair to them personally or protest that since the assignment wasn’t 100% clear to start, how could they know what we wanted? The lack of clarity is often purposeful, as we want to see what you do, how you interpret, and how you respond when confronted with an idea that is not your own, or confronted with your own imperfections, however gently. Through the process, we care less about whether or not a student gets it “right” the first time and much more about deeper personal inquiry, insight into self, insight into the material and philosophies, or evidence of a depth of practice along with the material execution of the exercises as instructed. We don’t tell a student they have to engage more deeply if it appears by their work they are doing their level best, but we look for improvements, shifts, and transformations that will be demonstrated in their reporting. Everyone goes through that process uniquely, and there is no way to teach that directly without having the student parrot back what they think you want to hear. That is why we don’t do letter or number grades, for people would attempt to tailor their reporting to what they think is an “A.” If someone does their level best, they usually pass a course, but might be asked to go deeper between levels, rather than jump back in. It’s not a race. It’s not a contest. It’s a lifelong pursuit of growth and learning.

Often outside of the classroom, through contact before or after events or in the world of social media, we can take observation of behaviors and statements as opportunities for teaching. What you learn in a class for an initiatory training should be integrated into your life, but it’s hard to do. We have a lot of separation there, so a subtle teacher will open the door and offer something when the moment presents itself, whether in person or online. How the student engages that—as it often comes as a surprise—can indicate how well the lessons are being integrated and provide an opportunity for the teacher to point out how things can deepen and evolve.

What we are looking for is deep engagement on all levels. Each student has an original way to express such things if they are experiencing them. Each lives them and embodies them differently. What is the best of one person’s ability looks different from the best of another’s. There is no universal objective standard. It’s a subtle process. It’s Witchcraft. Parts will always be hidden. Parts will never be codified, quantified, or overt. Parts of it should always be challenging. Otherwise, it is something else.

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