Informal Training

Informal Training

Author:   Mama Fortuna 

If I were planning on performing brain surgery, I would probably want to attend medical school first.

Lucky for me – and for anyone undergoing brain surgery – I’m not planning on doing any such thing. I’m merely planning on altering reality, which does not, in fact, require a medical degree in the slightest.

In fact… does it require any degree at all?

For some people, there’s something comforting about knowing that the person leading your religious ritual has some sort of credentials. Someone, somewhere, has deemed that That Guy up there invoking the gods is strong enough, responsible enough, and knowledgeable enough to handle the spiritual needs of a large body of people. Likewise, if there’s magic to be done, then That Guy can handle it because he’s passed some sort of test.  He knows what he’s doing.  Pressure’s off.

For other people, the idea of letting somebody else direct their rituals or spells makes them awfully uncomfortable. “Just who ARE these people who decided That Guy should be in charge? Why can’t I do it myself?”

And let’s face it – some people just do not play well with others.

I am such a person.

I’m skeptical by nature.  If someone tells me that they have the Secrets of the Universe™, my first instinct is not to say “Wow!” and throw piles of money at them, but rather to cackle maniacally and say, “Yeah, and I’m the Queen of Atlantis.” While this doesn’t exactly make me popular at parties, it does keep me from placing my trust in people who don’t deserve it. If somebody wants to teach me something, they had better expect me to interrogate them. Frequently.

I believe very strongly in personal responsibility.  I feel that every person on the planet is ultimately responsible for his or her own destiny. Therefore, even if you’re engaged in formal traditional training, it is your duty not to follow along blindly. Question everything. You’re dealing with concepts like your soul, here. If you were buying a new car, you’d ask plenty of questions.  Shouldn’t your spiritual path be afforded more thought than that?

A true teacher won’t mind if you ask questions. A really good teacher will expect you to, and a fantastic one will kick your ass if you don’t.

Looking back, I can safely say that the best teachers I’ve ever had – mundane or otherwise – were the ones who recognized the importance of personal experience. I learned the most from teachers who pointed the way and then stood back, letting me make my own discoveries and yes, my own mistakes. This method might be more frustrating, but I also find it infinitely more rewarding because everything you learn is taken to heart. There’s also a much greater sense of accomplishment to be had – you really earn your insights, rather than just having information handed to you.

And let’s face it — sometimes you won’t truly learn a lesson unless you learn it the hard way. No matter how many times you might have heard that summoning Pazuzu in your living room is a Bad Idea, you might not ever really believe it until you try. (Note: the author has nothing against Pazuzu personally, but feels he serves as an excellent example due to his lousy PR.)

If you have the drive and the ability to think critically, then a flesh-and-blood teacher isn’t exactly necessary. Your desire to improve yourself spiritually and magically will force you to try, try, and try again. In many ways, not having someone there to lay out the basics for you will make you work even harder, as you’ll imagine you need to keep up with some imaginary class of initiates. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, if only through trial-and-error.

Traditional ritual is not useless, mind you– there’s something to be said for tried and true methods. They can certainly be time-savers, to be sure, as you eliminate a lot of that previously mentioned trial-and-error. But we no longer live in small rural communities where 90% of people are illiterate; we live in the information age, where supposed ‘secret’ teachings are available for $24.99 on  If you really have your heart set on learning how to perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, you can do a Google search and presto! Knowledge at your fingertips. (Like magic, I’m tempted to say.)

This knowledge is pretty useless without practice, of course. The motivated practitioner realizes this and will take the time and effort required to master the techniques he/she learns. And all that practice translates into more personal experience. The learning never stops.

One of the downsides of sticking to a strict formal training regime is that some people fall into the trap of “this is the way it is done, and this is the ONLY way.” Gosh, sounds awfully dogmatic when you put it like that, doesn’t it? For many people, one of the allures of Paganism is the lack of rules etched on stone tablets and the encouragement of creative thought. While some people are content to do things the way they were taught and only the way they were taught, others find such an attitude stifling.

Ritual and magic are, I think, meant to push a person’s limits. You learn more about yourself – and indeed the world around you – when you force yourself to explore boundaries. It’s awfully hard to do that, however, if you don’t try and think critically and creatively about what you already know. How can you grow if you’re not willing to challenge yourself?

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” cry the Chaos Magicians. I think that all Pagans could benefit from meditating on what they mean by that. (Whether or not you wind up agreeing with it is totally irrelevant.)

The emphasis on personal interaction with deity in religious matters is another thing that is so attractive about Pagan paths, and to claim that one has to go through a series of qualifying events in order to truly be able to experience the Divine would seem to run completely counter to that idea. Is it truly necessary to complete some sort of theological course before a deity deigns to speak to you? I don’t think so, and if the stories of fellow Pagans are to be believed, the gods don’t think so either.

That’s another thing – if people are truly interacting with gods, wouldn’t that alone be sufficient to act as a learning aid? In my experience, if the desire to learn is present, the gods tend to be more than willing to teach. And I personally place a lot more importance on what my gods have to say rather than what any High Priest or Priestess does.

Formal training certainly has its place in Paganism, but it should not be viewed as the only method for judging how serious a person is about their faith, or as a measuring stick for magical adeptness. If a person does not hold a third-level degree in the Fantastic Coven of Our Lady of the Moonbeams, but they have been practicing and pushing their own magical limits for fifteen years, does that automatically mean they are not as skilled as some Pagan ‘elite clergy’?

If it does, then I think the Pagan community needs to re-examine its values.

Balancing Ourselves

Balancing Ourselves

Author:   Moonspider   

Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

So says the line from the Charge. Does this mean we are wishy-washy? Quite the contrary. It indicates a balance that we all must come to deal with everyday of our lives, magickally and mundanely. If we don’t we become unbalanced and unhealthy.

Because of this, we must recognize a lack of balance in others we come in contact with daily. They have their own sh*t to deal with, and they can be off too. And, from time to time, people do need sympathy and understanding. Given appropriately this can be very helpful and therapeutic. It is when compassionate people go overboard and enable the suffering to go on that it is inappropriate.

I will share another segment of my own experience with this. Some of you may know that in 1998 my world got turned upside-down with emergency brain surgery. Parts of that are in other essays here on The Voice, so I won’t rehash it all.

In a nutshell, a sinus infection traveled (yes, infections can move), it jumped the protective blood-brain barrier. Not a good thing since blood and its products are caustic to brain tissue. This caused an abscess (simply a puss-ball). So, I took ill at work while talking to a colleague, lost consciousness, woke up 2 1/2 days later with what resembled half a yarmulke on my head. Plus my head felt like it had been run over by an 18-wheeler.

I definitely needed compassion. I received it. Friends (and at times like these you find out who they really are) were great during the healing process. Much magick was done for me, and folks were understanding. Best of all, they treated me like me. Which is probably the most helpful in all healing situations.

Some friends, well-intentioned, kept after that, how are you, you know what I mean. Well that was fine for a while, but it’s over. I am not my abscess. We are not our illnesses. These times are tools to learn with. And yes, I did learn a great deal about myself during this period. As I should have. You can’t have an experience like this and not.

Can I ever forget it? No. I mean I have a j-hook shaped scar crowning my head to remind me of it. Life does go back to normal, whatever normal is. After years of working with mental health related areas, normal is relative.

I will always be grateful for the compassion bestowed on me by the community. It was necessary. It has also helped me be compassionate to people who need it. I’ve also been able to help others who’ve had brain surgery, seizure activity and stroke, since many experiences have related aspects.

So, my compassion is not limited to this community alone. As it shouldn’t. We are a Witch always, not just at Sabbats and Esbats. This comment likened to the Sunday, or Christmas Christian. Though I found true compassion from many communities, Pagan and not, during my healing process. I was dealt with as a person who needed help.

And, I got it. My healing was very rapid. Within less than a week I was out of the hospital. Because I was now prone to seizure activity I could not drive for 3 months. People were wonderful at keeping in contact however they could. Picked me up and took me places I wouldn’t have been able to get to otherwise. I try and remember this as I work.

Actually it fits in perfectly with the work that I do as a librarian for a state agency. My customers have problems, that need to be solved with information. Because of the work our agency does, I need to be aware that the customer needs the information to help a client. They are compassionate to the client. I in turn, need to be compassionate about both needs, since what I will provide will ultimately effect both of them. And, myself to a certain degree. I can’t handle all the information that I come in contact with, without being affected by it.

I need to be compassionate to my own needs too. This does not mean feeling sorry for ones’ self. Just a realistic understanding of what you can reasonably deal with.

Remember the flip side to compassion is power as we utter the Charge. We have to understand both. My own experience certainly has made me more powerful as a person. Understand this, you can face anything. And, I do mean anything.

In my own healing process, I had to face every single demon I had. Real or imagined. I took power back from them. They had been leeching off vital energies from me. It was the most terrifying, exhilarating, and easy thing I’d done.

Terrifying, because who really likes confrontation of anything, much less your own demons? Why do we create such monsters for ourselves? Growth, I suppose.

Exhilarating, because of the freedom it gave me. Now I am unencumbered by nonsense that had been hanging on—some of it for a lifetime.

Easy, yes, easy. Ultimately it was the easiest thing in the world for me to do. What else did I have to do? I was in the hospital for a week, drugs kept me awake for half of that, probably hallucinating for half of that. Great breeding ground for demons. One by one they came. When you face a demon squarely in the eye, it usually dissolves. You may have to talk to it, hit it, or, laugh at it. Demons don’t know what to do with laughter. Laughter is great healing medicine.

What did this leave me? A much more powerful person. Things that used to bother me don’t. Oh, do I get annoyed, sure, especially at stupidity. I’ve become much more cognizant of our internal power. For remember this. No matter how much others want to help, the only one who can truly help you is you. With others being compassionate, especially at trying times, it makes that process easier.

Please remember that power is knowing just the right amount of energy to use. A truly powerful person rarely exerts much energy. They simply know how to tap the source. The power is within. Be sympathetic to those in need, for you never know when you will need it, too. Both, power and compassion, are achieved, not owned¹.

1. Kerr Cuhulain, Wiccan Warrior (St. Paul, MN : Llewellyn Publications, 2000), pp. 22, 84, 117.

Mark MoonSpider Sosnowski