by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
As magickal training (both in-person and online) is a subtle process, when it doesn’t go as we envision or plan it, it can catalyze powerful, usually difficult emotions. We can use these periods to deepen our practice and truly reflect. Resistance and adversity, opposition, is part of the crooked path. It is not the easy and broad path, but a narrow one, with thorns as well as flowers and the medicines are made from both.
Some start at the source of their own resistance. By our very nature, Witches chaff against most structure or authority. I often feel that way too, and that’s fine until you are asking for, and agreeing to, a specific training. You then have to enter with both open heart and open mind, committed to the process.
Many Witches, again myself included, don’t like to share. We are private, dark creatures on an often solitary path. But when joining a class or coven, we have to figure out what and how to share. It can feel very vulnerable and difficult. Often we think we are clever by revealing just enough, but if we hold back our moments of gnosis, it can appear to our teachers and mentors we are having very little insight with the material and need a lot more time living it.
If you ignore feedback and critique as “nitpicky” or have a habit of half following or even disregarding directions, you give the impression you are not fully participating in the process. Unless there is a compelling reason, your resistance can produce an unwillingness from your teachers and mentors to go onward. I know early in my music education, with dreams of rock and roll stardom, my composition teacher gave me some strong critique about songwriting. My band loved my songs! Why didn’t he? His job, however, wasn’t to love them and affirm, but to instead guide me towards better craft, and when I stopped automatically fighting him and started seriously considering what he said, I found my songwriting improved and deepened. In our system, the mentor and Teaching Assistant are closer to peers, encouraging with their feedback. Our Dean of Students holds the standards, and together with myself, assumes a more professor-like role, with more direct critique and the possibility of discussing the more philosophical and creative aspects if your experience opens that door. But we first need to know you did the work. You don’t have to redo or even respond to much of our feedback, unless we say something isn’t acceptable and has to be redone, but your response or lack thereof helps us better understand your approach to the work. Acceptable work isn’t stellar work, and we all benefit from revisiting past work.
We can face adversity and stop, or blame, or we can use it to gain strength and wisdom. Some leave and find another way, and that is perfectly valid. Others just stop and live in any wound that is triggered by the opposition, feeling justified in doing so. The ones who go on within the community after facing obstacles are the ones who pause to ask themselves if they should go on at each step, if they are truly ready and want to go on, and if so, question the reasons why rather than assuming the process is a formality and becoming shocked when their teachers don’t share in those assumptions.
In the Temple, some take the time between sessions to ask if I, or the Dean of our school, think they are ready to go on. They often ask other detailed questions about the workload and purpose of the new class or wonder how different it is from previous classes. Their intention aligns with the reality of the situation. They say “if” I’m accepted to the next class, not “when.” Those who navigate it best respond with honest inquiry, of self and staff. They may disagree, but inquiry and reflection become key. I’ve initially disagreed when I’ve been rejected from something, but it has been a catalyst for inquiry and evolution. Those who blame, lash out, or don’t even pause to ask “what could I have done differently?” demonstrate the reason why we were uncomfortable going forward.
I have also found great benefit at looking at the astrology of a moment of rejection and comparing it to my chart. Often I’ll be experiencing a hard transit or planetary return. One might also do a tarot reading, including the question “what am I not seeing about this situation?” In essence, following the advice of Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Adam Sartwell—“Am I thinking like a Witch?”—even around any rejection.
Rejection is a hard thing, and there is no one way to decline someone’s advancement in a program that will work for everyone. Believe me, we have tried, ranging from formal to personal and informal, as well as specific and information-heavy to minimalist and open to more inquiry. None satisfies everyone. And it’s hard to predict the best approach for anyone. But the response is also a barometer of the decision and the potential for the future.
When we frame magickal tradition as a family or tribe, then we reactivate wounds around rejection in other areas of our life. Yet we stress the Temple of Witchcraft as a magickal order, not family or tribe. Magickal bonds, those in the past described as Frater and Soror in the arts, is not what most today associate with the words “brother” and “sister.” Like the bonds of a trade guild or academia, one is not guaranteed advancement based upon personal bonds, even when there is professional kinship.
Sometimes we seek education in community for reasons other than education. Sometimes we are looking to belong, and once we belong, we begin consciously or unconsciously looking for deeper levels of insider status. We had one initiate who kept volunteering in hopes of getting into the “secret party” inner circle. If there are secret parties, then I haven’t made it to that level of the mysteries yet myself. Some make the mistake in thinking the work is an unspoken transaction, a quid pro quo for service. While we offer work studies and certainly try to help anyone devoted to community work, if you are not ready to go onward, doing volunteer hours in the hopes of gaining favor isn’t the best approach.
Sometimes students are looking for validation or recognition. Many come into esoteric education to tell you all about what they already know and equate it with what you are teaching, rather than experience the lessons with a fresh beginner’s mind or no expectations. They seek recognition without true change.
Some are looking for reward as a part of that validation, to get something tangible or intangible, such as the necklace gift at the end of Level Five. Some are in it for the beads. Often the real reward of good work in community is more work. That’s been my experience. Sometimes we are looking to gain authority to lead and have expectations on our future status. Rejection can clash with our self-image and future plans. Many of these intentions, though not all, can be rooted in truly good intentions, but nonetheless take us out of the moment and the work at hand. The ones who declare early in their intention to go through all the levels and teach often struggle more than the ones who take it one step at a time.
In the end, the purpose of spiritual education is education, the development and evolution of the self and testing of the skills we learn, inner and outer. Understanding our motivations and expectations, along with being able to clearly self-evaluate and process critique, is vital to our evolution. Any one path of education is not the only path. One teacher is not the only teacher. You are always welcome to study on your own, and make your own way, and that is just as valid. But when you work in community and within a system or school, it’s a cooperative process that doesn’t always conform to your expectations or wishes. It can throw unexpected kinks in the road, these being teaching moments in themselves, and that is the essence of the unknown on the Crooked Path.