“One day,” he said, “you’ll fight me for your power.”
I had just finished telling my teacher how grateful I was to him. Without him, I’d be stumbling around trying to glean what I could from books and circles of people with no more experience than I.
“What do you mean, I’ll fight you? Why would I fight you?”
“Students turn against their teachers. To take power.”
“But, you don’t have my power.”
“You say that, now. But, one day . . .”
“No. You don’t have my power. Why would I need to fight you for what’s already mine? It isn’t yours to give.”
He was quiet for a long moment.
I said, “Just because others have done it, doesn’t mean we have to.”
It took care and attention for us not to fall into the trap so common to teachers and students, wherein they turn against one another, sometimes brutally. I learned to keep myself from projecting my sense of powerlessness, insecurity or self-authority onto him, and to refrain from idolizing him. It took tremendous discipline to keep from over-inflating his human flaws into ruinous, God-sized disorders capable of convincing me his teachings were worthless.
For my teacher, it took being willing to communicate clearly and frequently about my talent, my inadequacies, the positive and harmful uses of power. I’m sure it also took a good deal of patience.
Both of us practiced mutual forgiveness and compassion. We saught and earned one another’s respect.
In perfect love and perfect trust.
The relationship between student and teacher is a sacred bond, the onus of which rests with both parties. It requires both be capable of bestowing and worthy of receiving love and trust.
Perfect love and perfect trust must be more than empty words used to gain entrance to Circle. These words must sincerely convey the reality of the relationship between student and teacher. Without such sincerity, the deadly game of Kill the Teacher will, inevitably ensue.
Our teachers are everywhere: Authors and leaders in community, priestesses and priests, workshop facilitators, healers, entertainers, organizers, shop-owners and those other worthy adversaries who trigger our anger, insecurity or self-righteousness. Everyone has something to teach us.
We can only learn though, if we are willing to reflect upon our own motivations rather than presuming we can ever know what motivates someone else. We must be willing to contemplate our own human flaws, our broken places, our tender wounds and our rigid egos. This work should be enough to keep us distracted from worrying about others’ behaviors and character flaws.
If we give ourselves the luxury of time to wait things out when offended, chances are we’ll learn something valuable about ourselves. Great self-awareness comes from gazing curiously and intently upon the mirror our adversaries hold up for us. Eventually, we might even come to thank them. How much easier and immediately gratifying it is, however, to slap a bull’s eye on their back and declare open season on teachers and leaders, again.
A Witch deals in, wields and revels in power.
A Witch is power.
There are all kinds of pseudo-power: Bullying, gossiping, Witch wars, self righteousness, intellectual one-upmanship, political correctness, belittling, predation, use of unearned cultural privilege, manipulation, narcissistic abuse, gaslighting, mansplaining, blackmail, social ostracization and authoritarianism, to name a few.
These twisted versions of power can make us feel great! We feel justified! We feel vindicated! Yet, these feelings are short-lived. Soon, we need another adversary to rail against. False power is addictive because it isn’t real.
These false-powers are constantly modeled for us in western culture. We cannot expect that by deigning to name ourselves pagan or Witch, that they will disappear from our personal or communal relationships. We act them out because we don’t yet know another way.
As teachers, leaders and healers, it’s our job to eschew pseudo-power and learn news ways of embodying and modeling non-manipulative, non-authoritarian power. It’s our job to create spaces where our students, community members and clients are exposed to inherent, natural power– so they can become accustomed to what it looks, sounds, feels, smells and tastes like.
The core of our work is to coax and cajole that occulted power from those we serve, enabling them to become whole and sound in their own power. The most sacred work teachers and leaders can do is to help those who come to us seeking healing, power and wisdom to find it within themselves.
“For if that which you seek, you find not within yourself,
you shall never find it without.”
Charge of the Goddess
No one can confer power or healing upon another. Nor can they take it away! Health and wholeness are inherent. Students need space to acknowledge and explore power–to make mistakes, to over-reach, to cower at the enormity of it, to self-correct, to lay claim to it, to embody it with grace and pride.
As students (and we are all students), our impulse to fight or break with our teachers, leaders, healers, lovers, covens, friends or families in the name of claiming power is all too common. We misperceive others as withholding power from us or maintaining conditions where we are incapable of embodying our power. But, when we understand how power arises from within us as naturally as sap rises in spring, we realize no one can keep us from us from it but ourselves.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is an ethical and magical imperative. We who would dare weave with the ways of nature, converse with spirits of land and history, dance with the Gods — have an obligation to do so from a non-conflicted, uncomplicated place of honesty, integrity and wisdom. For what is within us is made manifest in this and all the worlds.
There are no perfect teachers, leaders or healers. To demand perfection of them is to wound them–and ourselves. Likewise, there are no perfect students. Every teacher is a student. Each student is a teacher. We are all merely human — traumatized, flawed, confused, striving to become whole and do our best in the world.
Let us love and allow others their humanity while trusting everyone is doing the best they can. Let us hold one another in compassion. Let us have the courage to confront false-power within the context of interpersonal relationship rather than before an audience of faceless jurors.
If we are seeking a more just, compassionate and wise world, we must stop expecting someone else to give it to us. The power is within. Start there.