The Six Most Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned on My Path as a Witch
Author: Northern Dreamer
I know, I know: who cares, right? Everyone’s experiences, everyone’s path, everyone’s lessons are different- it’s all based on where we came from and where we’re going. But I refuse to believe that I’m the only one who has benefitted from these lessons, these self-discoveries, and I put them out there in the hopes that someone may read them, then smile softly and subtly to him or herself as they remember the truth of the lesson, whether painful or joyful, and when he or she learned it. I also hope someone may get inspired to make a head start on their lesson learning. I’ve been practicing the craft in some form or other for nearly 20 years; much of it was self taught until I was lucky enough to find a wonderful coven and extended spiritual/Witchy family.
1. Don’t form or hold onto idealized versions of people. No matter how much someone excels in one area, he/she is only human, and will have flaws in other areas. This applies to our High Priests and Priestesses, our teachers, our coven members or others in our Pagan community whom we hold in high esteem, and even our own family, spouses, or significant others. I don’t say this to sound jaded. The person who taught me this lesson taught it to me quite unintentionally. I love her deeply, am thankful for her and everything she is and isn’t to me. But for a while I thought she was the best thing since sliced bread, and she was going to work with me, and show me the way, and she was the perfect combination of light and dark that I was looking for in a teacher. She had the spunk, knowledge, and humor that fit perfectly with my own personality. She was ready to teach and I was ready to learn, and advance farther than I was able to on my own. And I did. I grew by leaps and bounds, my confidence expanded, my knowledge, my trust in my intuition.
And then shadow work started. And shadow work can be deeply painful, yet freeing. It’s such important work for Witches to do, in my humble opinion. If we truly wish to affect change in our world- whether our own sphere of existence or the greater world at large- we must first experience change within ourselves. Know ourselves and our faults and work to change them. Through the shadow work, we revealed pieces of ourselves to each other and I gained a greater respect for the people I was working with. Such strong, bold people who have grown accustomed to hiding our pain, sharing it with only each other and a select few in our lives. And I’m not saying that seeing this vulnerability in her changed how I see her and negatively impacted it. That’s just wrong. But it helped me to see the areas where she was weak, where her shadows emerged in her life and interactions, and most importantly, where my own light that I cast upon her and others illuminated her and others so that I could not see the shadows when they were right under my nose. There were no lies, no deception, just a dawning realization that maybe she wasn’t perfect. That maybe promises made were unable to be kept… for perfectly valid reasons, but for whatever other reason, weren’t being communicated. The same traits I had loved and admired had become a source of hurt and disappointment over time. We can’t help this- it’s human nature, I feel, to overlook and ignore traits on someone whom we so badly want to believe will be the next big thing- whether it be boyfriend or girlfriend, boss, teacher, etc. Eventually the illusion has to end. Let it end with a whisper, not a bang; a smile, not a grudge. Your relationship might grow even more for having done so.
2. Know your faults, love your faults- and the faults of others. I know this is hard. From the time we’re very young, we’re taught to fix, cover-up, be ashamed of, and ultimately hate our faults. Unfortunately, no matter what age you are, from the very old to the very young, people still feel remarkably free (entitled) to share their opinions on exactly whatever it is they think you should do to make yourself “happier, ” i.e. change. I know my faults all too well- physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral. I’ve always prided myself on at least being able to acknowledge and be aware of my faults, if not fully embrace them and love them. But again, through shadow work, I’ve come to learn the source of a lot of my non-physical faults, and even some physical manifestations of them. This awareness has brought me to a place where I can step back in just about any situation (I’m still far from perfect, after all) , and see where my reactions and motivations come from, and how I need to adjust my approach. It is such a valuable skill to have.
There are so many things I would love to change about myself, but I don’t want to be perfect. I think some demons, some skeletons in closets, some dust and cobwebs and mysterious dark spots built character and give one depth. I wouldn’t want to be perfect, because I don’t want to be exalted by anyone. I want to be a part of a community, and part of being a part of anything involving humans is being imperfect.
So as you learn your own faults and shadows and ways to navigate around them, be sure to show yourself some compassion for being a perfectly imperfect and complicated human being. And don’t forget to show the same compassion and patience for others. This is something I’m guilty of, but am working on. Try to think before speaking, and avoid using phrases like “you should, ” or “why don’t you just, ” or even the cringe-worthy “you know what your problem is?” Embrace the cliche: everyone is fighting battles that you can’t see, including you. Recognizing your own weak spots makes it easier to acknowledge and go easier on those of others.
3. Not everything is a sign, not everything is not a sign- learn to read the signs. You know when you look at something, and something just shifts and clicks and you get a butterfly sensation that is followed by a feeling akin to a ghost punching you in your solar plexus? Chances are you’ve just been the recipient of a cosmic sign. Congratulations, good luck trying to sort it the *bleep* out! When one first embarks down the path of awareness or magick or work with the divine, it is tempting to fall victim to the belief that the universe is trying to reach out to you in a thousand different ways, get your attention and tell you everything is coming up roses, you’re on your way to greatness, and to pepper your path with flowers and ideas and inspiration. Isn’t that lovely? Remember that talk we had about idealizations… it applies to everything, sweetness.
For a while my intuition was completely blocked, for very good reasons. I couldn’t recognize a cosmic sign if it knocked me upside the head, tripped me, then introduced itself to me as it helped me back up. As a part of healing myself from a very long struggle with mental illness, I had closed myself off to much of what had given me strength. My empathic gifts were far too much for me to handle, and in order to heal myself and conquer my illness, I had to cut myself off. I didn’t know I had, but I built an astral Fort Knox around myself, which was a haven at first, but later began to feel like Alcatraz. Looking back, I can make the connections with experiences that had actually been signs, and the misses and near misses associated with said signs and my inability to recognize them. As I began my work with my coven, and the process of opening myself up again to experiencing energy of all kinds, including people’s energy and emotions, I was careful not to fall back into that pattern. I’ve been careful of a lot since my reclaiming of my sanity, including being extra careful not to fall into delusion.
I’m very aware of the stigma of mental illness, yes- even within the Pagan community, and as such have turned into a proud skeptic of sorts. It gives me strength to really appreciate the times when some cosmic force reaches out to me, whether it be one of the deities I have dedicated myself to, or some other source. We all do receive them, I wholeheartedly believe, but one person can’t receive seven a day while some go years without. I just don’t believe it works that way, because that would be wildly out of balance. In my experience, if a message/sign/symbol/omen hits you in the head it’s wishful thinking, if it hits you in the gut it’s hope or desire (or dread/fear) , if it’s right between the two, chances are you’ve been tapped to pay attention. And if you’re not sure what it means in the moment, well… good luck to you in working out the eternal mystery of the forces that guide us. Turn to divination, or meditate and reflect. If you’ve been on the path and have yet to receive a message or a sign, take heart and have hope. If you haven’t considered changing the way you listen or interpret what you hear (see, feel, etc.) , maybe it would be a good idea to look into ways to do that.
4. Judge not, it’s unbecoming of everyone. This is one I still struggle with, and probably always will. We’re born to judge- ourselves, others- that’s how we shape our world and determine our preferences and values. But I think everyone could use a helpful reminder now and then. At a Pagan gathering, I caught myself easily dismissing someone who was participating in a group discussion just because I thought her to be a little too… intense, and a little too into the drama of it all. Granted, some of what she said was just (from my point of view) attention seeking nonsense, and the rest of it was lost because I started judging her for her that gibberish. But I could have missed something that might have resonated with me, or made me think differently, and I could have possibly lost a lesson that I needed because of my judgment and dismissal, and now I may have to learn that lesson the hard way since I didn’t take in the message the first time around. I get this way around some New Age conversations because some people get so passionate about some things that I write it off as more or less hokey or bordering on the conspiracy theory side of things. I’m getting better at reminding myself of this when I catch myself judging or dismissing, I listen for if there is any value that I can take away, and either make a gracious exit if there’s not (and if it’s appropriate to do so) , or sift through what I find of value and don’t and make the most of my time.
Many people could just as easily think the same of me when I speak (or when they read this) . It’s hard, I know. But this is how we break down boundaries and connect to others from different paths, cultures, and races. Not every Christian is out to get you and tie you up and convert you. Most Christians I know don’t even carry rope with them. Not every Heathen is a beer/ale/mead guzzling barbarian who likes to play Viking. You get the idea. Let’s practice this idea of tolerance, because there’s too much division out there to be creating so much within our own communities. It’s easier said than done, I know, but I’ll try to take the lead.
5. Forgiveness is more powerful. Period. It is more powerful than anything else you can throw out into the universe, because forgiveness is an act of love. Love for yourself, and love for others. Forgiveness is also a process. It’s not like we can say someone is forgiven and all slights and sins and pain is washed clean away. Wouldn’t that be freakin’ nifty? Forgiveness is a process, and it can be a damn hard one at that. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you have to keep someone in your life that hurt you. You can, and I admire the people who work through issues like infidelity, betrayal, abandonment, etc. It doesn’t mean forgetting what harm was done. It means loving yourself, and placing enough value in yourself and your progress as a spiritual, magickal being, and making a conscious decision to begin healing. Grudges, anger, spite, and general malefic feelings are a heavy weight, a toxic blight on your spirit. If you can’t invest that kind of energy in yourself, show yourself that you’re worth it, why on Earth would any higher being want to invest any more time in you? I’m not saying they won’t, I’m just saying you’re sending mixed messages. Also, it doesn’t have to be an outside target, this forgiveness thing. Sometimes the biggest obstacles can be overcome by beginning the process of forgiving yourself. I know this personally. I spent the majority of my life living as a person with undiagnosed bipolar II disorder. I have been well and healthy and stable for 10 years. Before that… I’ve said, done, and been a lot of things that I am not proud of, that cause me shame, embarrassment, and general internal cringing when I think back on it. But that all came from a place of so much pain, frustration, and being in the dark. I was so sick, and I’m able to see that, and work towards healing that side of myself, forgiving myself. Even asking for forgiveness. It’s humbling. I understand certain twelve step programs have something similar. I don’t deal with substance addiction as an issue but find the act of talking with people who knew me then and letting them have a chance to know me now- it’s incredibly liberating. Sometimes. Sometimes it is awkward, and sometimes entirely not worth the trouble. But I put myself out there because I am worth it. And so are you.
So I recommend taking some time to take an inventory, and find a place to start. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be as small and powerful and symbolic as giving a silent thought, willing yourself to let go of that knot inside yourself, even if just a little at first, or as much as writing something on paper- a statement of forgiveness, a letter, a description of the event/person, then burning it as a symbol of release and scattering the ashes to the wind (responsibly, please- don’t burn down your back yard or neighbors house in your quest for healing and empowerment) . When I am ready to forgive, I have two methods that I like to use to symbolically acknowledge the beginning of healing that wound. If you’re handy with wood, you can carve out a symbol or word (s) representing the situation, then willfully wipe the slate clean by scraping/whittling/sanding the carvings off. You can also do this on paper by writing the symbol or words, then covering them with brighter, bolder, more powerful words of a positive intent to cover and replace the negativity. Either way, the media you choose to use is changed forever- you’ll never get that sliver of wood back to where it was, you’ll never be able to erase the marks off the paper, not completely, but you’ve chosen the course of alteration. Good on you.
Which leads us to…
6. You are more powerful than you will ever know, and will only keep surprising yourself. As long you are honest, work with integrity, pride, and keep working towards that goal of self-awareness. Know thyself. No power of three will set you free. You will. If you take the time to know yourself- your motivations, your aspirations (true aspirations, not just what you might tell people to sound impressive or make friends) , your spiritual and magickal work will take off. Honesty with yourself is the best, most solid foundation to any sort of learning you choose to embark on, but especially so with the Craft. Have fun with getting to know yourself. Approach it as method actor tries to get in the head of his character. You might be surprised and delighted by what you find. Love yourself, all your quirks and silly traits, all the things that bring you joy and pride. These are your strengths. When you have a better definition of you, your path will be that much better defined.
But these are just (some of) my lessons. I can’t speak for everyone. I hope you have found value in some of what I’ve written. I wish you much luck on your path. Steady footing out there, friends.