What Do You Expect?

by Christopher Penczak, Edited by Tina Whittle

Someone recently asked me, “When a student is done taking all the levels of the Temple of Witchcraft training, what do you expect? What does their daily practice or commitment have to be?”

I answered, “Whatever they want it to be.”

This may seem surprising, but we have no expectations other than if you commit to something specific, you follow up on those commitments. If you take on a specific project or job, follow through. If you take on a ministerial role, even when not actively performing a service, you abide by honorable action and ethical codes with the greater community.

Other than that, we have no expectations. A Witch is free to come and go as they please. And they do. Some people I never see again. They are members of the order. They are initiates. They owe no sense of personal or communal loyalty beyond doing their own True Will as they see fit, and I know I won’t always understand their path. This is normal.

If you take a class, I have the expectation that you will do the assignments of the class. Many classes are open ended with no homework due. They have no expectation. For those that are clearly described as having homework and requirements, I expect one to go through a process. I don’t expect the process to be easy for anyone, myself included. I don’t expect perfection in the process. Struggle, critique, and repetition are a part of learning any art. If your expectation is only continuous praise or validation, expect to be disappointed. As Raven Grimassi taught, “It is a poor teaching that leaves you unchanged.” The point of magickal training is to challenge you, be it philosophically or personally. The friction, the grit, is what often polishes the diamond. It’s not personal, but process, and as Raven also said, “The Ways have ways.” Trust in the Ways. Trust the process and observe what happens. Once you reach a plateau in the process, I have no expectations regarding what you do with the material, or if you go forward or not.

I realize an academic model and its expectations are not the ideal situation of learning for many Witches. Witchcraft isn’t only in book and classroom learning, as it’s a lifestyle, a way of orientation. I’ve been blessed by many formal and informal mentors and tutors woven between my more formal magickal education, but I couldn’t expect someone I don’t know to take me on personally for mentorship without some introduction or connection. You might be surprised at how many people will demand personal mentorship with no prior relationship, feeling they are beyond any class experience. Mentorships often lack the boundaries of the teaching circle and provide their own challenges to both student and mentor. My own experiences as student and tutor have often become messy. My own work has shown me far more people seek an education than I could personally mentor, so the academic model allows me to provide education and more opportunity for the possibility of personal mentorship without being overwhelmed. Even still, a school cannot accommodate all people, all learning styles, and all needs. We each do the best that we can in opening the way to the Mysteries.

Your practice is whatever you want it to be. There are guidelines, tips, and suggestions from the teachings, but the greater challenge after formal education is the freedom to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. Admittedly, this short-circuits some graduates accustomed to having structure provided for them. Now you must craft your own structure, or not, and your own practice.

Magick should become a fundamental part of your way of life, but what that looks like will be different for each of us. Some try to do all the rituals and meditations in a really structured way. That can become unfeasible, and then we have to reinvent the practice. Others just “need a rest,” and while they fully intend to return to a practice, they never do, as the responsibilities of life carry them away from a magickal perspective.

Many feel their magick is so integrated into their life that they now need no formal practice or rituals. It’s just automatic. Maybe, but I’ve found many people try to convince themselves of this without it being a reality. Sometimes this self-assessment is based in ego. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like, “I don’t need to do spells/rituals/meditations anymore. I am living it.” But it’s said with almost a disdain to those who are doing spells, rituals, and meditations, as if the practice makes you less advanced, not more. Most high-level practitioners I know, though approaching some level of attainment of whatever the hell enlightenment might be, seem to keep some form of practice, even if it’s radically different from their early training.

We shouldn’t be doing these things because we “have” to do them to become “spiritual” but because we enjoy them, because they are an expression of our Craft, a way to give voice and action to the magick deep within us. Witchcraft is not a religion of guilt. Don’t do something if you don’t want to do it. But if you find yourself not doing Witchcraft ever because you don’t want to, yet doing other things regularly, ask yourself why you are a Witch. I knew a “coven” that rarely did magick or ritual together, but frequently drank together and watched football together. Only later did they question the purpose of their gatherings.

For myself, I think of the invisible cloister. As a magickal priest, I don’t live in a formal cloister, yet I have much of the same sense of purpose as those who are in a monastic establishment. A cloister is both a monastic institution and a covered passageway. The covered passageway is open, but also gives shelter, and the blessing of any type of monastic organization is the support, space, and structure designed to aid practitioners in their serious pursuit of spiritual progress.

I have my vows and have made a serious commitment to my spiritual pursuits in the context of community. It is my way of life, but the very theological nature of Witchcraft means I haven’t renounced the world. The difference between having a cloister mindset versus having a cloister is that there is very little institutional support for the magickal priesthood. Even when we gather together, we are still primarily solitary. We might have the support of a coven, order, or school, but not like a monastic institution. Perhaps we will in the future, and perhaps we won’t. Who knows? But for today, I am a Witch, a magickal priest, serving myself, my gods and spirits, and my community. My practice is living “as if” I am paradoxically both in the world and in the monastic order, keeping regular practice and partaking in the traditions that “hold up the day” not just for myself, but for a greater good. My practice can seem pretty robust to those not of this mindset, but it is simply my life.

As I travel and teach, I find there are many Witches who do the same, but perhaps would describe it differently, and there are many who do not. There is room for all of these practices. That is why I have no expectation that a graduate of my training will take this upon themselves as I have. No one asked me to do this. It’s simply the worldview and actions that spoke strongly to my soul.

While I don’t expect it, I encourage people who are called to keep strict traditions, at least until you don’t. Do so until that no longer works for you, and then try something different. I do, however, keep the mindset of conscious awareness that should come with a monastic life. Living in a spiritual order, even when you are not cloistered from the world, means that consciousness should permeate everything you do. Eat, drink, and sleep consciously. Do your household work and your day job consciously. Look at the divine in the interactions with people. That doesn’t mean you can’t do whatever you want, but you do whatever you want with awareness of the experience, and you take responsibility for the consequences. While I advocate eating consciously, I often have junk food as comfort. I enjoy a good drink. I’ll stay up late at night reading, watching movies, or otherwise goofing off because I don’t want to go to bed. I choose to do those things rather than do them unconsciously. Like some of the unorthodox practices of many rebellious religious sects, such the Hindu Aghori, there is value in confronting seemingly “bad” practices by indulging in them, and thereby freeing yourself from the hold of the harmful emotions rooted in the practices. There is nothing wrong with eating what you want, but when your unconscious motivation is directing you, that becomes the greater problem. Exposure, examination, and direct experience can bring it into consciousness and rob it of its harmful power.

While I don’t expect it, I encourage people who are explorers to explore, research, and synthesize new traditions. Push the frontiers of consciousness, and when you find something that works, bring it back and share your ideas with the rest of us. Don’t get too attached to the idea of people doing exactly what you do, but be open to simply inspiring them to do what they do. That has often been my experience when I craft a seemingly new teaching or technique. When pushing further doesn’t work, go back to the tried-and-true methods as foundation for a time and see what happens.

While I don’t expect, I encourage people to make their Craft a part of their life. I guess I was lucky, first learning many years ago from my mentor Lynne, and then studying with Laurie Cabot, and then with my mother and spiritual sister, all of it together cementing the Witch’s worldview as a way of life, a lens through which to see and do. My partner and fellow Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Adam Sartwell often encourages us, “Are you thinking like a Witch?” I’m often surprised at how many people can take classes for a long time in magick, but not integrate a magickal perspective, a Pagan or Animist sensibility, or a Witch’s worldview into their day-to-day life. For a while I did expect, and when I didn’t see it, got disappointed, so I’ve learned not to expect it, or anything, as we each learn, integrate, accept, and reject wisdom teaching in our own way, for our own good.

In the end, be it practice, spiritual responsibility, community roles, or anything else, I don’t expect anything beyond what you tell me I should expect from you. I encourage what I think could be helpful and enjoy watching the path unfold in all its many ways.


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