At the Crossroads: Anyone Bring a Flashlight?

A day in the life of one witch’s attempts at community organizing, group leadership, public Paganism, and joyous shenanigans. Balancing inner work with external obligations, a professional career with public Paganism, and a full social calendar with gratuitous amounts of sleep.

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The (witch's) Apprentice

I was a magician’s apprentice once.  True story!  I worked in a small metaphysical shop where I was employed as a personal assistant/store clerk/apprentice.  It was a fun and useful job in some ways, and terrible in many others.  I don’t want to get into too many personal details, but I can say that a few years later and after some valuable and hard lessons, I’m thankful for the overall experienced but so relieved that those years, that place, and those people, are far behind me.

Maybe it’s just so dangerously easy to let one’s ego take over when you have an apprentice/personal assistant?  Here you are, high on your throne (or in your office), with a mere mortal willing and eager to win your approval and do your bidding.  For people like me who are natural helpers (a.k.a. anxious hens who fuss over others, are love-starved, and have a hard time saying “no”) this can be a potentially dangerous scenario. 

To be fair, I’ve had many wonderful teachers.  Not everyone is out there to take advantage of others.  And I’ve also had positive experiences with taking on my own magical students, too.  Back in my barista days I was even in charge of a whole gaggle of underlings.  But my own style of problematic management/mentoring is “here, let me fuss over you needlessly and also micromanage this situation.”  Which of course isn’t any better than the ego-maniacal “I am your boss and you are my subordinate so treat me like a king, peasant!”  Neither of these two styles of teaching are a good role for either the teacher or the student. 

Because of my history of having a bad teacher, and also sometimes being a bad manager, I’m really, really on high-alert with my own, brand-new apprentice.

The Kid and I have studied together a bit in the past, but it’s been pretty informal.  He’s been lucky that as he’s gotten more involved in Paganism he’s had a few dozen “witch moms” fussing over him.  This is the benefit of having a close community – there’s always someone around to lend you a book, invite you to an event, or offer some advice.  But The Kid re-approached me recently after he was instructed to do so in a dream from one of his patron Goddesses.  (It’s really hard to argue with something like that!) 

“I’d really like to continue studying with you,” he said.  “Formally, this time.”

I casually asked my Sister-Witch for some feedback on the situation.  She is in the middle of re-launching her own training program right now, so this is a topic that has come up a lot for us.  “Girl,” she admonished me.  “You give away too much of your time and energy for free.  You have to figure out ways to get paid for your work.”

We enjoyed an incredibly useful conversation regarding different facets of fair pay for work done.  This has been a huge theme for both of us in the past year.  I fully advocate for people to receive fair compensation for the work they do – period.  But how that compensation manifests is something I’m still working through.  Over the years I’ve been blessed with many Priestess Gifts from generous and kind-hearted folks.  My community is very generous, really.  But jars of jam and handfuls of gorgeous crystals won’t pay the bills!  As I’ve written about before, being Pagan clergy is unpaid labor.  It’s my full time job, but it cuts into time and energy for my paid employment, and serving my community is often a huge expense for my monthly household budget. 

Lately I’ve been feeling the burn-out, big time.  As a result of some hard lessons I’ve been trying to examine areas in my life that trap me in the cycle of unfair give/take.  My personal goal has been to break this cycle, or at least disrupt it.  Moving forward, I want mentoring to be an area where I stop repeating past mistakes.

So, how does one ethically, and fairly, receive compensation from taking on students?

I remembered a conversation with a local Wiccan high priest who is part of a formal lineage tradition.  He told me of a scandal from few years ago when a local high priestess was teaching classes on Wicca - and charging money for them!  “That’s a big no-no in the Wiccan community,” he explained to me over cocktails and gossip one evening.

When I’ve taken students or taught classes in the past they were for free or donation based.  But me giving away my time/energy/resources like this just isn’t sustainable anymore.  So, the big question I’ve been asking myself is: how do I provide mentoring and instruction for The Kid, or any other potential students, without being taken advantage of myself, and especially without taking advantage of him?

“Just take him on as an apprentice,” The Husband said, practically, after I spent our whole date-night complaining to him about my life. 

Apprentice, eh?  I honestly liked the sound of that.  Having an apprentice sounds fun and witchy and esoteric.  But then I thought back to my own apprenticeship, which had been highly instructive, hands-on, intensive, and also, dangerously, a huge violation of my boundaries and safety in more ways than one.

“When can we meet to talk about stuff?” The Kid texted me, after I had been purposefully ignoring him for a few days.

I took the time out to ground and center myself before replying, knowing that we were navigating important territory.  “We have some serious talking to do,” I explained.  “Both of us have homework.  We need to think about both short and long term goals, boundaries and limits for both of us, as well as practical things like areas of focus, interest, and time commitments.”

“Sure!” came his reply.  Of course!  The Kid is young, eager, excited.  At this point, anything I suggest will sound like a good idea to him…

Oh no.

When we finally had a chance to meet I asked him to talk first.  He answered all of my homework questions for him and then offered some for me, as well.  After he had given me his thoughts, I presented mine to him.

“I want this to be a fair exchange…” I began.

“Okay!” he said.

“I’m not asking for money…” I emphasized. 

“Right!” he said.

“But I do need a little help.”

“You betcha!” he said.

“I want you to be my apprentice,” I finally blurted out.  His eyes lit up at the use of the word “apprentice”.  “But with that title comes some responsibilities,” I quickly added.

The Kid was quiet and thoughtful for a few moments, and then we began to dive deeper.  We talked about what I did as a leader in the community, what my challenges were, and mostly, what I have been needing help with.  This includes things like mowing the lawn before rituals, helping me gather firewood, running errands for me before events and rituals, helping wash dishes after post-ritual potlucks, or even pitching in for supplies when we’re doing hands-on activities and instruction.   I also mentioned situations where I might need an assistant or high priest during a ritual, which would include him helping me write and/or facilitate events (and also guarantee his attendance).

We had a long conversation about boundaries, communication, expectations, and even now I’m honestly not sure if I’m demanding too much of him, or if I’m not requiring enough.  It’s hard for me to ask for help, but I’ve definitely hit a point where I need it.  And also, as The Kid grows and matures in the community, I want to set a good example for him and others. I want him to learn lessons I was never taught and I’m still suffering from.  I want him to know that his time and energy (physical/magical/emotional) are immensely valuable.  I want him to know that he has natural magical talent and I want him to know that rituals are great but the prep-work and cleanup are incredibly time intensive.  I want him to never-ever be afraid of asking for help or compensation from his community. 

And what does The Kid want?  He wants someone whom he can text at random times throughout the night and day about witchy questions.  Someone he can talk to about scary and amazing magical things that are happening to him.  Someone he can borrow books or supplies from since he’s pretty much starting from scratch.  Someone he can talk to about mythology.  Someone to give him feedback and insight when he’s had dreams about goddesses and heroes.  Maybe he’ll undergo some ordeals?  Maybe he’ll have an initiation or two?  We’ll see what he (and the Gods) decide.

But in the meantime, The Husband is excited to have someone mow the lawn for him before I host the next High Day ritual.

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Trivia is a social worker, freelance writer, minister, and priestess. She loves to have a good adventure. Follow her exploits on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TriviaXRoads) and on Tumblr (http://triviaxroads.tumblr.com/)!

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