by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
“That was pretty passive-aggressive of you, don’t you think? You probably owe her an apology,” a High Priestess said to me. She was an initiate and former student from years past, and it was with those words, as hard as they were to hear, that I knew she should be in leadership. Not only did she possess the ability to speak truth to power, a vital concept, but she knew how to speak so that it could be heard. More importantly, she provided a true reflection to consciousness, the mirror of an adept. Her words were spoken by the tongue of sorcerers.
While popular Witchcraft and Paganism can be mired with gossip, drama, sniping, rumors, and lack of accountability, particularly these days due to the ease of online communication, I’ve always been enchanted by the sorcerers and mystics deeply immersed in the exploration of consciousness. The first aspect of consciousness to explore—and the last—is the self. We must witness our own patterns in the organic machinery of the mind and the ebb and flow of the soul. Perhaps it’s the fantasy image I have of the true adept, whatever that is, married to the yogic experience of the witness, but we really need to watch our deeds, words, and thoughts when we walk the path of magick.
I love the romantic notion of the Toltec sorcerers made famous in the work of Carlos Castaneda and his fellow author cohorts. Perhaps they are all a myth, as they venture too far into the bizarre and surreal to be literal and have been “disproven” by critics, but the idea of a kitchen of laughing sorcerers gathered together in fellowship and purpose—pointing out to each other self-importance, ego, and repeated patterns in a loving but fierce way—speaks to my soul as to how Witches seeking adepthood should talk and act around one another. I am fortunate enough to say I’ve been to a few of those dinner parties, and I have been to a few that have been the exact opposite.
Entering into this path truly, we make a trade. We gain something but we lose something else. If we don’t, we might still be struggling to get on the path itself, let alone attain some level of experience. We gain mystical knowledge, the ability to do things others do not know how to do to shape our lives. Power is a side effect. We truly start to gain an understanding of our responsibilities to our power and the vigilance we must have in training and transforming the consciousness. We lose the ability to forget we have this knowledge and the effect it has. Of course some do fall back into slumber, but they still dream of what they know, never quite satisfied again with their old life. We lose the ability to be “ordinary” and pretend the responsibility doesn’t exist on the path. We can’t be like everyone else for more than a moment. When we try for longer than that, we usually regret it.
Someone on the path recently described the complaints and commiseration, as well as the speculation, that most of us do as “just girlfriend talk.” In everyday society, it’s common. Sometimes it’s problematic, but commonplace nonetheless. Among Witches and sorcerers, it can become magnified. The tongue of sorcerers is not for such talk. We all vent steam and have problems, but the key is in understanding ourselves and our listener. Being on a similar level of awareness on the path can reflect back our own awareness to ourselves as a form of teaching. Aware adepts will call it out—you are being passive aggressive and owe that person and apology. “Yes, the situation sucks,” they will say, “and I see why you felt and acted that way, but that is the bottom line.” Sympathy can be held with awareness. The unaware will mirror and teach by acting out, often unconsciously, creating drama. In the drama comes the harder and less obvious lesson, but the lesson comes. Those not on the path might not be able to hold the hopes, fears, and dreams of the magician because they operate in different worlds. The sublime meaning of many experiences is just not relatable if one hasn’t walked it. Harder still is trying to relate to those those who talk the talk to you, but do not walk the walk.
The aware can speak in a way that truth can be heard, but you must be far enough along in your own evolution that you are willing to hear and take on hard words, and the giver of the hard words must be pretty unattached and impeccable in that specific situation. It’s both extremely personal and not personal at all. That paradox is at the heart of the mysteries. The unaware can agree wholeheartedly with you in empathy and turn around and break trust, often with good intent and often without. We must strive to be aware on both sides, direct and loving as we speak the words that are true for the sorcerer’s tongue. In deeper reflection, I’ve found the following points helpful to me:
- Surround yourself with people who will check you when you step too far off the path. True peers and mentors are ideal. You must also be a peer and mentor, when asked, for others on the path. Involve yourself with others on different paths as well. And realize one does not need to declare themselves magickal to offer friendship and insight. Some of my best peers on the path are Buddhist and Christian, but they possess a deep sense of knowing and wisdom.
- When receiving criticism, ask if it is true. And if your answer is yes, ask how you can do better. Understand what is—and what isn’t—your responsibility, always remembering that ministers, healers, and leaders often carry responsibility beyond their personal and immediate families into the community.
- Examine their motivations and yours. If you’ve chosen your peers and mentors well, ultimately they will remain motivated by love even if you are triggering their stuff too. If your motivation is to be “right” via argument or otherwise shut down examination of the self, what are you doing? Stop and observe your consciousness and check your self-importance.
- Don’t assume someone is a peer or that you are a mentor if you are not asked, or if natural rapport has not been built. We can spend a lot of time offering critique to others to distract ourselves from our own self-work. When offering feedback to another, frame it in a way that invites response rather than automatically triggering a defense. Determine what “hat” you are wearing when talking to someone—teacher, minister, friend, community member, or even antagonist. Make sure that role is clear to both of you.
- If disagreeing with someone in the context of greater community, in what might be considered rumor or gossip, ask to go to those involved together for clarity. If that person refuses to address the issue together, be direct about asking yourself.
- Ask for honest feedback. When giving feedback, speak from the heart and find ways to be truly heard. Remember “I” statements versus “you” statements. You can only know yourself, but even then, we often fool ourselves. We can’t hope to truly know another’s motivation.
- Don’t confuse loyalty with tribalism. Some equate loyalty with always agreeing and sticking with you against others no matter what. Some then seek to be rewarded by receiving the same behavior back. Loyalty is being able to stand up when the one to whom you are loyal is wrong and speaking out in an open-hearted and compassionate way. This conversation can be private, but it must be real. Blind loyalty is as bad for the occultist as blind faith and soon devolves the discourse and pulls you from the path.
- We seek the center and stillness, but acknowledge the extremes. On one level, our emotions will cycle like day and night, summer and winter, and that is normal. The aware will experience and witness and not necessarily make decisions from those places of extremes, but will instead explore them for the wisdom they show. Don’t try to create a completely implacable idea of enlightenment to emulate. The Witch is both wild and still, and you must embrace both.
- Be detached from the idea of reward. Seek reciprocal relationship among friends and peers for sure, but do not speak and act from a place of seeking the fruits of your actions. If speaking or doing is the right thing, all will unfold as it will. If you try to control the result and responses of others, particularly for your own gain to make it go where you believe it should, you can easily enter the realm of malignant manipulation.
- Is every thought, word, and deed motivated by Will? Guided by Love? Balanced by Wisdom? Probably not as we are all human, but how can you strive for your world to be more and more illuminated by these forces? Simple. You must choose them as much as you can in every moment of every day and strive each day to do a little better than before.
Remember, as Maxine Sanders wrote in her book Fire Child, “We sacrifice the ordinary in exchange for the extraordinary.” We have traded that world of school yard gossip for the world of the Witches. While some Witches do not realize this, if you seek to live in a subculture of healthy magickal practitioners versus the toxic, of the holy powers of the priesthood and healer versus the destructive ego, you must choose to be extraordinary. Act like it, and like any good magician, you will become it. You will live from the sorcerer’s world, speak with the sorcerer’s tongue, and create magick with every breath, every touch, and every word.