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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Let It Bloom

I was a professional barista in my past life.*  My job was more than just an after school or part-time college gig, and I was far more competent than those who steam milk into huge soap suds, who pull watery and weak shots of espresso, and who pump drinks full of syrup and sugar.  I was bona fide.   I had been trained by the best, award winning baristas in the area.  I read all of the latest coffee trade news and gossip.  I worked 40+ hours a week.  My cappuccinos were crafted to such perfection that all of the Italians in town would come flocking to the shop, bringing with them their friends and family visiting from Europe.  “The best cappuccino in town,” they’d say, as I poured the perfect micro-foam in the shape of delicate hearts, tulips, swans, or rosettas.  I went to trade shows, conferences, and competitions.  I had a job with benefits.  I was a professional.

But those days are far, far behind me.  I’m proud of my barista skills and training, but I am relieved that I no longer have to bust my butt for rude customers, demanding management, and lazy coworkers.  I don’t smell like milk or coffee grounds, and my arms aren’t dotted with burns or rashes from constant exposure to scalding hot machines or water.  It’s been years since I’ve slung espresso.  Much to my consternation, however, when I’m feeling particularly anxious or dealing with an especially troubling conundrum, my unconscious and dreaming mind often returns me to coffee shops and cafes.  In my dream worlds, coffee has become a literal manifestation of my anxiety.

I guess you can take the witch out of the coffee shop but you can’t take the barista out of the witch.  After ingesting that much caffeine, something probably changes in the way you view the world, so here are some thoughts on how being a coffee snob is a lot like being a witch.

Not too long ago I was up late at night doing some busywork on my computer.  I had received an email from one of my students, a baby witch who does not live locally.  I was replying to an email in which she had been complaining about her difficulties in finding information.  “You have to read everything in books or blogs,” she said.  “But what about people who don’t enjoy reading?  Or who are unable to read?  What if you are dyslexic or have ADHD?  What resources are available for us?” 

I thought on her words for a long time.  I remembered when I was at that stage, almost fifteen years ago, finding the Wiccan Rede on a flashy website full of glitter and fairies.  Long after my mom went to bed I clandestinely copied the Rede by hand into an old and ratty composition notebook.  I cringe when I recall the weird stuff I was exposed to when I was a Teen Witch - the dubious information, the downright bizarre spells and rituals, the fake and made-up history, and basic whacky nonsense I had found online and was trying out for myself when no one else was around.

Baby Witches are so lucky now because they have access to a ton of resources, and much of the information out there is pretty decent.  There are thousands of webs pages, blogs, Facebook groups, and other social media outlets.  Books are available readily in mainstream bookstores.  I have friends who are older than I am who complain about how “back in the day” the only books they had access to could only be ordered through snail mail via catalogs or newsletters.  For those who lived in less-than accepting families, access to information was even harder to come by.

But things haven’t changed so much.  Despite the overflow of information on the internet in 2016, both then and now the sense of isolation and confusion is very real for our Baby Pagans.  What can we, as teachers and mentors, or just folks with some basic experience, do to help them out?

I suggested to my student that we brainstorm some options to make things a bit easier for her.  Maybe we could do some meditations together, watch some YouTube videos, or even trying to find some Pagans for her to meet in her own community.  She suggested we use Facetime or some type of video chat for us to work with, which I think is a good next step.  But in the meantime…

I went to bed that night, and much to my dismay, I found myself back in a coffee shop.  In my dream I was once again a busy, harried coffee shop manager and professional barista.  Only this time rather than telling people what to do and fussing at customers, people were coming to me with questions.  “How do we make the perfect pour-over coffee?” they were asking.  I wanted to ignore them.  I was busy filling out paperwork, counting supplies, and organizing bags of coffee beans.  I had no time, patience, or interest in teaching them.

“Put a filter in the pour-over,” I said.  “Put the coffee inside.  Pour hot water from the kettle on top and let it drip through the coffee.”  My dream-employees looked to me in confusion, went off to do what I told them, and came back to show me their results.  I took one look at their sludge, and they visibly cringed away from my obvious look of judgement.

“You used the wrong coffee grind,” I said.  “It needs to be finely ground, not coarse.” 

“But a French press is coarse,” they said, trying to explain their reasoning.  “Isn’t it the same?”

“It’s not the same,” I explained.  “French press steeps so you need more surface area.  You get that with a coarse grind.  A pour-over needs a fine grind because the whole process happens much faster.”  So my dream-students left and came back, and the coffee was better but not very good. 

“What type of bean did you use?” I accused.  “Use something lightly roasted.  A pour-over is delicate, you want to enhance that delicate flavor.  You have to let the coffee bloom.  Did you let it bloom?  How could you forget to let it bloom!”  And back and forth and back and forth it went.  I was clearly distracted.  I clearly didn’t want to deal with these people who were coming to me for guidance and advice, but they kept on coming anyway. 

Within the dream I was trying to go through my memories of being a barista the best I could.  Was the filter moistened before the ground coffee was put into it?  Was the cup warmed with hot water before the coffee was added?  Were the wet coffee grounds given a chance to bloom before the final pour?  At the end of the dream my coffee students and I were all distressed and exasperated.  In both my dream and in my waking life I wondered – how on Earth do I tell someone how to make the perfect cup of pour-over coffee?

I woke up and thought, “Well, gee, I could have just shown them how to do it.”  But ugh, that would have taken work, and I’m not a barista anymore.  Well then, I reasoned, I could have stopped what I was doing when they came to me.  I could have walked them through the steps, either showing them myself, or being there physically with them while they made the coffee.  Rather than leaving out steps I could have taken my time, I could have slowed down a bit, I shouldn’t have made assumptions.  I even could have let them make mistakes, and then asked “okay, what could you do differently to improve upon this technique?”

This dream sat with me all day, and especially came back to me hard when I received another email from my student.  In an email I had tried to explain something that I thought was very simple and she had missed the point entirely.  How could this have happened?

What I realized recently was that I can teach my students the basics.  “You pour hot water over ground coffee beans.”  But in coffee and in witchcraft there is a style and finesse that is absent with words and text alone.  There is magic in the details, in the fragrant bloom of a pour-over coffee.  But those who lack the training and experience have had literally have no way of knowing the benefits of such a random and strange detail unless someone remembers to take the time out to tell them.

When my students asks “how do I do a ritual?” I find myself overwhelmed with the technicalities.  How do I summarize something so complex, but something that is so simple?  How do we overcome the limits of words and speech when so much of what we do is experience? 

“You cleanse. You bless.  You cast a circle, maybe, if that’s your tradition.  You call the quarters or the elements, it really depends.  And then maybe invite god and goddess or maybe a few but also maybe spirit.”  A lot of what we do is determined by our intentions, but also our tools at hand, our styles, or traditions.  Making magic is surprisingly a lot like making coffee.  What tools do you have?  What is the final product you are trying to achieve?

I’ve met many, many baristas in my life, and not all are professionals.  Please forgive me while I sound amazingly pretentious, but the ability to slop together a cup of morning java is very different from a finely crafted artisanal coffee beverage.  Drip coffee from a K-pod is just not the same as an Italian-style cappuccino.  The same has been my experience with ritual, too.  It’s ridiculously easy to tell the difference between a good ritual and a bad ritual, or a basic ritual leader and a trained High Priestess.  There is a huge difference in intention, technique, and in the result of the finished product.

All of this makes me deeply question my own training and abilities.  I identify as neo-Wiccan because, although I have been trained and initiated, these things were not within the framework of British Traditional Wicca.  There are Wiccan secrets not written about on blogs or in books, or talked about at public rituals or on YouTube videos.  Experimentation and UPG (unverified personal gnosis) can only take you so far.  Within Neo-Wicca there are technicalities that are glossed over, assumed, forgotten, or never even known of in the first place.  Like it or not, not all of us are working with the same amount of tools or with the same basic abilities or skills.  Not all of us have had the same training or the same access to information, teachers, or technique.

I learned about the treasured pour over “bloom” when I was a barista.  In the coffee community, pour over coffee drinks were all the rage a few years back.  Baristas from all over the world were coming up with the best tips and techniques of the trade to brew the perfect cup of coffee, and the internet was brimming with blogs and articles about new kettles, the perfect temperature of water, the best filters to use, how to grind the beans and which grinder to use, the type of water, and even how to move your wrist while pouring the water.  If done just-so, this technique would result in a rather pretty “bloom.”  This gave the coffee time to react to the water, thus bringing out subtle flavor notes and characteristics that would otherwise be lost.  In the end, it’s still a cup of coffee, but created by a bona fide coffee geek with a little bit of extra training and knowledge, it’s a damn fine cup of coffee.  Of course, this style of brewing was nothing new – you might even remember a gorgeous Chemex coffee pot/carafe on your mother or grandmother’s kitchen counter-top from decades ago.  This brew method does indeed make a good cup of coffee, but it fell out of style when automatic drip machines became popular. 

Maybe witchcraft and magic are similar, too.  Well-tried techniques and wisdom that were once widely known fall to the wayside as easier methods and new technologies replace them and as old knowledge is lost.  Handcrafted grimoires and books of shadows are replaced by tablets and smartphones.  Natural beeswax candles are expensive and harder to find than a bag of paraffin tea lights from the grocery store.  Rather than watching the stars, we check the apps on our phones, and rather than studying the charts and tables and correspondences, we copy a ritual out of a book and hope for the best.  Who needs to train for a year and a day when we can just read a book and initiate ourselves?

I’m not judging these things.  Not at all.  Like witches for hundreds and hundreds of years, we act out of necessity.  We live in a world ruled by hyper-culture and mania.  (Do you see the look of exasperation on the face of my avatar?  That’s me.  All the time.)  I’m just trying to point out that using a K-pod for your morning coffee is very different than using a pour-over (complete with the perfect bloom.)  Creating a coven out of your friends is really awesome and empowering, but it will have a completely different energy and set of knowledge and skills than an established tradition that has been around for a few decades.  There are gaps in technique and in knowledge, and what are we missing out on in the meantime?  How can we expect competent teachers, mentors, priestesses, and clergy, when their own knowledge and training is unreliable? 

Do-it-yourself witchcraft, like coffee, has its limitations.  Not everyone is a coffee snob, and not everyone is a high priestess of a lineage tradition.  Some of us just have to cobble together the tools and tricks we have, and I really wonder what we are missing out on in this process.  From the un-trained eye, it might all look the same - coffee is coffee and magic is magic.  But for those who know, there can be a world of difference. 

So what’s a witch to do?  How do I help those who come to me, when I myself am often just improvising all of this myself?  Like someone making artisanal coffee for the very first time, there are gaps in my knowledge, weaknesses in my technique, crappy tools, and sometimes, I’m just not very talented at what I’m trying to do. 

Like crafting a delicious pour-over coffee, I want to remind myself to not forget to let it all bloom.  I want my own wisdom and curiously to bloom.  I want my students to bloom as they explore their own skills and talents.  And I want our magic to bloom together.  But despite my best intentions… how am I supposed to teach them all they are supposed to know if I myself don’t even know it?

But I guess the good thing about coffee and magic is that with enough cream and sugar anything can be made at least nominally drinkable.  And from there, all the rest might just be amazingly pretentious distractions?



*About five years ago.

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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 ( and on Tumblr (!
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