I have been involved in occult and spiritual pursuits  since I was a child, performed rituals as a teenager, but my first attendance at a Pagan event was in 1978 so I count that as my start in the community. Next year will be my 40th year as a member of this community. In that time I have learned from peers, elders, students, spirits and God/des/es, and from close observation and contemplation of my experiences. I’ve owned and run a metaphysical shop twice in my time as a Pagan. The first time for 6 years and the second time for 10 years. Some of my most important lessons came to me from my role as a shop keeper.


I strived to be helpful, informative, nonjudgmental, and to only bring my preferences and beliefs to the fore if a customer’s requests were potentially dangerous or would require me to violate my principles. If a customer asked for information that I did not know, I would be forthright about my ignorance and endeavor to look up what they needed. If we did not have materials that they requested, I’d try to find a good source. If their request was problematic, I believed that I had a duty to warn them and a duty to not assist them in foolishness or malice. Adhering to my idealized image of a shop keeper of a magickal store required ongoing learning and self-assessment. This also inspired me to be a better listener and teacher for the people in our covens. Comparing my role as a shop keeper to my role as a High Priest, and later as an Elder, provided me with many concrete examples of how to manage shifting contexts and boundaries in both settings. 


Both my shops were in the central shopping districts of their respective towns. Just about every imaginable kind of person walked through the doors of my shops over the years. It did not always feel like a blessing, but it was. I had a constant stream of interactions with people whose ideology, religion, practices, and cultures regularly took me beyond my comfort zone. I am thankful for having the opportunity to know more about those who were not like me and mine. Though I valued the interactions that took me outside of my worldview bubble, the most eye-opening conversations were the ones that revealed the breadth of difference amongst people that self-identified as part of my broader community. Since many of the people coming to my shop did not know that I was an author, community organizer, and teacher, their comments tended to be more open, less guarded, and more instructive for me. 


More often than not, new customers would assume that my shop was owned by my store manager who was older and a women and thus fit their expectations.  I would continue mixing oils, creating incense, bagging herbs, or stocking books as they talked with her and I listened with care. Sometimes, she would suggest that they ask me for help. They would come to me and see me as no more and no less than an employee of an occult shop. I often had to talk people out of sketchy rituals, drinking potions with poisonous ingredients, and rushing in where both angels and demons fear to tread. Most of these questionable scenarios were crafted out of the great wisdom of internet searches and randomly selected chapters of partially skimmed books. I had to persuade them through logic, showing them other information in the books in the shop or online, and the power of dialogue. I had no position or authority as an author, teacher, elder in a tradition in their eyes so my words and reasoning had to stand on their own merits. I liked that. 


It is easy to get soft and slack when you rely upon authority to prove your point. These sort of exchanges were good for keeping me sharp. They were also good for reminding me of the value of humility. In addition to devising better ways to explain things or to organize my thoughts, I have had spiritual and psychological insights as a result of these conversations. One of the things I have gained is a greater capacity for detachment and equanimity while keeping a goal in mind.  These lessons help to make me a better teacher, priest, and person.


I don’t own a shop anymore, but I still seek out these sorts of lessons. I attend a goodly number of gatherings and conferences every year. I often will find a high traffic area at these events, and hang out to have random conversations. More often than not, I can have hours of discussions with numerous people who don't know me. I can recreate something of the experiences I had in my old shops. After a day or so or longer at larger events, people begin to notice that I am on the schedule. Then I start getting more conversations that are similar to the ones I have with my students. I still hang out in public areas at that point, because it is also my job to be available as a resource. Yes, some people recognize me immediately at events, but it is good to remember that even those of us who have been around for decades are still at best medium sized fish in a pond that is growing fast.


I suggest that you look at your work life, the public settings you frequent, the organizations that you are a part of within and outside of Paganism, and look for opportunities for lessons. Consider volunteering in some context that will put you in contact with people that are outside your normal pattern. If you use public transportation, spend time listening more closely, when reasonable engage in dialogue. If you have friends that work in retail, as bartenders, hair stylists, in teaching, social work, or any field that involves close contact with relative strangers, ask them to tell you about the golden moments they’ve had. There are plenty of the holy crap moments you’ve heard them vent about, these tend to be easier to remember, but there are also great lessons to be found in these interactions if you look for them.  I and others have often stated that by looking closely at nature, the mysteries will be revealed. Human nature is also nature and will also reveal the mysteries when closely observed.