I started reading Advanced Witchcraft by Edain McCoy, and, as with a lot of such books on witchcraft, she asked me to "...grab a pencil and write out your definition of an advanced Witch, or what you see as advanced Craft practice." I'm supposed to take some time to mediate on who I am and how I got here, where I want to be and how I want to get there, and why I want to be an advanced Witch.
Because being a retarded Witch seems like a bad idea?
See, this is why I never functioned very well in the few pagan communities I tried to join. I'm too sarcastic and... what is it my astrological chart says about me? "Your mind is deep, but rarely charitable."
I'm a self-initiated Witch, which means that everything I know about Witchcraft I taught myself. No one waved a wand, magic or otherwise, over my head and proclaimed me a Witch. Most days I'm perfectly okay with that. What others might think about my level of Craft (or lack thereof) doesn't usually get in the way of any of the "acts of love and pleasure that are Her ritual" that I practice in my daily life. The Goddess is still real to me, whether or not someone else thinks She should be.
But then there's days like today, when I started McCoy's book and she made it clear that she felt the only true path to becoming a Witch (despite being originally self-initiated herself) was being trained by a large coven. There are lots of references to remembering moments when your teachers taught you this or that, as if there was one shared path we've all trod upon, like a catechism. She makes a lot of references to the "ten blistered fingers" we all got by serving our masters.
This concept of a formalized path is so foreign to me that I don't even have a point of reference from the religion of my youth. I only know about catechisms through osmosis. I grew up in a mostly German/Irish Catholic town, but I was raised a Unitarian Universalist (a very liberal religion to start with), except not in a church, but in a fellowship. If you don't know what this is let me explain it at its most simple: we had no minister. A fellowship is structured not unlike a reading group. People get together. They talk. They have some snacks. They go home.
That was my STRUCTURED, ORGANIZED religion.
In fact, I didn't even know UU s had any kind of formal instruction until I moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul and discovered this crazy thing called a Unitarian church. With pews! With call and answer! With hymnals! With MINISTERS!! I mean, I knew we had a church building somewhere in Boston, the fabled First Unitarian Church, which I came to view as a kind of mystical Mecca, but I never once believed we had any kind of written liturgy or anything so formalized....
So, anyway, when you're raised to think "church" is sitting around in the meeting hall of an old folk's home with a bunch of other people (no one of them more vested with arcane knowledge than any other) talking, drinking coffee, and eating donuts, the idea that you need to be preached to from someone with an advanced degree in order to truly experience your spirituality is hard for me to grasp.
Learning from other people, I get.
Listening, I get.
Being receptive to experiences that come out of the universe, I get.
I also understand experts. In fact some days, I'd love to have a teacher like McCoy describes, which may be part of why I react so strongly when she assumes I should have had one. Especially since so far I've failed to find one. Utterly.
I thought I had a teacher when, several years ago, I joined a local branch of Reform Covenant of the Goddess. I think in the terms of New Age woo-woo I wasn't _ready_ to join a group like this. I had a lot of misconceptions about what it would really be like. I wanted a coven, and I got a ladies sewing circle (with attitude.) And, as those of you who know me, I'm a bit of a diva and an alpha personality. Humble newbie acolyte, I'm not. I lasted about two months, in which a lot of crazy magic happened, actually.
First sign: a starling got trapped in the altar room in my house. We have four cats and the altar room is our upstairs sun room. Somehow, a starling got in (through the flue in the basement?) and managed to spend a good portion of the day flapping around wounded, though not killed by the four fanged predators, in one particular room. I managed to capture it and brought to the wildlife rescue center. I told the person who had been assigned to mentor me in this group, and she told me that starlings are symbols of group activity. My response? What was I supposed to make of a wounded "group activity" on my altar? (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this starling showed up the very DAY I started doing the work assigned to me by RCG.) That seems like a pretty straightforward BAD sign. She said, "Well. Maybe you should focus on the fact that it was rescued."
Meanwhile, my horror movie spidey-sense was tingling. And as it turns out, I was right and the Goddess isn’t so subtle after all. Not more than two days later I got into a clash of personality with the high priestess/group leader, which ended in me getting asked to leave. The last group ritual I did with them was Samhain, and as part of that, they had people pull cards from a Tarot deck as their "message." Mine? The High Priestess. Seemed clear to me that I was supposed to go off and do my own thing.
So I did.
Only now I'm struggling to advance my craft. Every once and a while I think I need to try another group. We have a CUUPS (the Unitarian Universalist pagans) group in town, and I should probably consider trying out their rituals, but after my experience with RCG I'm a little gunshy about asking the Goddess for another group.
Yet, on days like today, I feel like I need one in order to grow.