Confessions of a Pagan Teacher

My heart hesitates to write this post.  While “it” has called to me, sometimes in the middle of the night (and I wake up all: wtf? I don’t wanna), I have resisted it like a belligerent mule.  Partly because so many of us can end up so damn political, in spite of our knowing better, but partly I have resisted this–to be deadly honest–in fear that I would lose readers.

Eh.  Two tears in a bucket . . . let’s party.

I teach the craft.  I teach from experience, from the soul, from tradition.  With the most sincere apologies to my sisters and brothers who thump otherwise, I literally hold not much truck with books and what the “Pagan” world considers correct.  And here’s why:

At least six years ago, a young (but huge) AU football player showed up in my class.  Now, I have been teaching these warrior males for almost twelve years, but this one was special in that soul-wrenching, you-just-called-my-ass-to-the-carpet kinda way.  On the reading schedule was Dickens, I believe Great Expectations, and Mr. X had trudged through about a hundred pages when he showed up-hat in hand-on a late afternoon as I was grading at my desk.  As Southern as it sounds, it’s true: the sun was going down all gold/red across my fake mahogany desk.  He placed his black hand next to mine and fiddled with a Number Two pencil, tap, tap, tap. It went a little something like this:

Why should I give a shit about some old dead white guy who didn’t give a shit about me?

Because, son.  It’s your literary history, too.  Don’t you want to be ready for some redneck interviewing you for a job?  Don’t you want to throw all of his history right back at him?

Naw, Momma K.  I don’t care what has been said, what’s been written.  I asked you why should I, myself, care about this Dickens fella?  You ain’t answering my question.

Ah.  Well.  I reckon I’m not.  How about this?  You are as smart as the dickens (pun intended).  The way I figure, your red-blooded soul hears its own thumping, and I for one want to hear it.  Untouched.  Un-influenced.  Un-f’d with.  Whatcha got?

I’ll letcha know.

I waited for an entire semester to hear the answer.  One late afternoon, worn down and holding on for that long, spiral ride down the elevator to freedom and wine, Mr. X showed up beside my five-foot-two frame and thunked his extraordinary hand down upon my little white shoulder.  And this is what he said:

Thank you, Momma K.  That English boy suffered, just like me.  My answer to my own question is: we all bleed.  And that boy needed was a friend to tell him, ya know, that sometimes we need to let the girl go.  If ya don’t, you’re asking to be haunted like he was.  Guess those folks back then didn’t get each other’s back.

Well. Well, then.  Amen.  I can’t think of a better assessment of Dickens.  But, laws, what if I had told him, dictated to him, those sanctioned regulations and policements of how to approach that century?  What if, just imagine with me, that I had told him that there were academes who had already determined and dictated what good ol’ Charles was whispering in that cold London room with a pen?  Now, I hear ya.  That sweet football player had to be, at least, cognizant of “the correct and standard interpretation.” But not, oh sweet god, not before he grappled with what HE thought.  Not before he and Dickens sat down and had a beer.  Everything else is power and politics.  New knowledge doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and Mr. X knew that.

Are we, I wonder, simply gatekeepers?  Standing with our guns/swords, threatening in our posturing, with our books and traditions and self-righteous wigs?

Screw that.

I’m about to (gasp!) break the rules.  This is how SKW teaches, ready?

I do not haze.  Or ask my students to memorize verbatim some passage in a 1950s text.  Or demand that they strip naked, dance like a chicken, or kneel to me.

I do not tell them the “right” or “standard” interpretation to anything until they have chased the tail of a mystery, a history or an idea.  Smelled its tail, in all its stink, like a hound dog.  Then, and only then, do I share the rest. I figure, they have a soul.  They have a brain.  And like Plato, I refuse to contaminate the crystallized-sugar moment of their “aha!” mostly because: they might miss TRUTH.  And that’s personal, man.

I give them enough rope to hang themselves.  For the last twenty-six years, I’ve been a momma.  What I have learned from that long ride is thus: you can tell a child that the oven is hot.  You can plead and beg and warn and cajole them not to put their sweet, angelic finger on that red eye.  Inevitably, your beloved shuga is gonna try–and learn.  Good on ’em.  Means they have a bit of hutsbah!  And they will never, never do that dumb ass shit again.  (And will lean against you, all maya culpa, in their remembrance of your warnings.  Never say “I told you so.”  They learned, the hard way.  Got aloe?)

I never, NEVER posture that I know everything.  Ridiculous, this affected egotistical outfit we drape across ourselves like a late-seventies Elvis cape, when we damn well know that we have failed, questioned or struggled–and if our students believe that we (their teachers) are ten-foot-tall and bullet proof, then they are facing an un-win-able battle.  They will never be that BIG.  And you have set it up like that.  Hmm. Who needs a teacher, now?

Once per week, I ask my tribe to Oathe to a new endeavor–very maple-thick serious–and at the end of our “session,” I Oathe, too.  What?  Oh, you think I don’t need to grow?  Sista, please.  I cannot ask for anything if I am not willing to bend, challenge and fail out in public, my-own-self.  Pants all around my ridiculous scrawny ankles.  Everything else is power–and I know that smell.  Smells like . . .

Teen Spirit?  Um, ew.

Socks and hormones?  No thanks.

I also allow for individual paths, individual lesson plans.  Yor’ access to the Divine, darlin’, is Sacred.  I will not posture to know that whisper in the pines.  I am an organic human and understand the slow, syrupy glow of a spirit.  In that vein, my tribe are offered private lessons–in their time, on their request–as well as group convening.  Isn’t it the bomb when we can share?  Unafraid of threats or condemnation?  (Now, this is where SKW gets a little Alpha Witch.  No one, and I mean no one, disrespects one of my shugas when they are cracking open their souls, lessen they would like to feel my pointy canines against their vascular system.  This is my job.  Amen.)

And finally, but not really, because there is never finality in my path: I allow for auditors. To be down home clear: these are like-minded folk who are on the same page with our methodology of respect/love/responsibility.  My auditors listen, commune and wait.  I’ve always thought: how can I write a prospectus for a dissertation if I’ve never seen one?  Right, then.  Scootch over, allow a sista/brotha to have a listen in–and look at it like this.  Remember learning to fish?  How ’bout driving a truck, all four gears through ‘Bama mud?  Fry chicken for the first time?  Right, then.  Lesse: bet nothin’ bit, bet nothing got you through the sludge, bet that scald was more black than gold.  Now.

What if you had been blessed enough to be a witness? (And boy-howdy, you just might have learned as much from their cussin’ streak and failures as you would their Superman moment. Now, that’s the good stuff.)

And so, from my Cherokee/Celt/Hereditary soul, I humbly address my Pagan kin (Wicca/Faery/Neo-Christian/Whatever) as a teacher of the craft.  Where have we given?  Sacrificed into the dusty earth our egos?  Assured that we have laid down as much gold as we have grasped for?

I have a new friend, who like me, has struggled to reach out to her community–not to benefit herself, not to become wealthy and own a Mercedes, and certainly not to have folk bow to her awesome power– but for one pure, righteously whole motive: to give.  Whether or not anyone is watching.  [1]  Now.  What price do we place on that moment?  Right then.  So: it’s free.  Otherwise, no one could afford it.

So, teaching–while private and hereditary in my neck of the woods–is not necessarily an exclusive bitch.  Like Plato, I am wary of tainted motives, unjust humans and power plays.  Snuggle up close, though darlin’, and I will tell you stories of kings and men, goddesses and sirens.  Got yor’ popcorn?

‘Cause this ride is free.  (Although I have never met a Carnie who wouldn’t spit out a trouble maker on a ferris wheel.)  But wait: did you ride by yourself?  All brave and strong and hearing the thump of an almighty deep against your bones like wine on stone? Didn’t test out, memorize a text, but knelt like a child at the dawn of a new day?  Well, then.

I reckon’ you and my football player have a lot in common.  And I reckon you both hold the world in your hands.

Blessed Be,

Seba

1.  This post is dedicated to a sister of my mind, Nancy Meese White, for whom I have had the deep and wondrous pleasure to befriend and share a common goal with–I have heard her thump.  And it was mine, too.  Love you.

P.S. The picture is of my boys, almost ten years ago, learning about dinosaurs.  Sitting in a dinosaur print.  Feeling it.

18 Comments on “Confessions of a Pagan Teacher

  1. Beautiful message. I find I have to surrender myself to your posts, be engulfed by their language, or I find myself outside them, unable to understand. You come with a learning curve for this northwesterner. 🙂

    • Sylvanna: hang on, sister. I want you here. It’s warm. 🙂

  2. Anytime I read/hear something about babies and a hot stove, I think of what my mama used to say…”A mama cat will sit on a hot stove lid one time, she won’t do it again, but she won’t sit on a cold one either!”
    I’m careful of what I choose for my little one to read, I try to encourage her to use a lot of history and “feel” it…

    xoxoxoxo

  3. Very well said. I think it needs to be said…. We all get confused with purpose and message at times and we have to have the reminders that we are teachers to an individual path… plain and simple.

    I hope to meet you one day and in the meantime, I will keep reading. Blessed Be.

  4. Hello there! I just found your blog and after reading this post I’ll definitely start following you. In my opinion, nothing beats a teacher who teaches by personal experience. You mentioned in the beginning that you didn’t really care about books and what the Pagan community deems correct, and I just want to hug you. =) I find it extremely hard to trust teachings in pagan/new age/whatever books, mainly because I can’t help questioning the motive of the writer. What’s the writer’s true purpose? To make money? To get a bunch of loyal followers and be treated as a master? Of course that’s not true of all such writers but how can you tell the difference?

    • I totally accept the cyber hug, and back atcha. I know exactly what you mean–books can be critical resources, but we have the ability to learn in other ways. You have to wonder: what did the Cherokee people do when they couldn’t get to Barnes and Noble? Hee hee. 🙂

  5. Pingback: "Confessions of a Pagan Teacher" - The Noble Pagan Forums

  6. I have been feeling such a pull toward paganism as of late, most specifically female-centered spirituality. I’ve been casting about trying to find some sort of guidance or at the very least book recommendations to glean more knowledge but to no avail.

    • I know that pull. It pretty much means “follow your gut,” and there’s nothing more righteous than that. I’m right here if you need community or fellowsip. Love and Light!

  7. Where are you located? I would love to learn from you…or learn with you, in the case you have made 😉

    Also, as a public school teacher, I greatly applaud and appreciate your comment about allowing young readers to devour a book, allow their minds, hearts, and souls to come to truths on their own without being told what the “right” answer is.
    Brightest Blessings

    • This post truly grabbed me–as a fellow teacher–so thank you for empathizing on those sweet souls who already know what they know! I am in Auburn, Alabama. My email address is sebaokiley@gmail.com.

      And blessings right back atcha! Seba

  8. Reblogged this on Southern Fried Witch and commented:

    One year ago, I wrote this piece on teaching. I will always feel that teaching is, in effect, re-learning at its finest and have been blessed to have initiated my final student for a while. (Overloading makes no sense to me, unless you are in it for the ego pat. Blech.) In 2013, I await the graduation of one, the leveling up of two and the fabulously, blindingly sacred growth of all six. We have had the honor of hosting two High Priestesses in our bi-weekly workshops as auditors–a practice that builds connections and offers diverse perspectives in the learning process. Personally, my year has begun with new shadow work and the possibility of growing within a tradition heretofore unexplored in my craft. Hopefully, my “initiation” will be forthcoming!

    Check back in soon for a little extra kitchen witchery–think butter–and some new recipes, magic style. Until then:

  9. Reblogged this on Southern Fried Witch and commented:

    One year ago, I wrote this piece on teaching. I will always feel that teaching is, in effect, re-learning at its finest and have been blessed to have initiated my final student for a while. (Overloading makes no sense to me, unless you are in it for the ego pat. Blech.) In 2013, I await the graduation of one, the leveling up of two and the fabulously, blindingly sacred growth of all six. We have had the honor of hosting two High Priestesses in our bi-weekly workshops as auditors–a practice that builds connections and offers diverse perspectives in the learning process. Personally, my year has begun with new shadow work and the possibility of growing within a tradition heretofore unexplored in my craft. Hopefully, my “initiation” will be forthcoming!

    Check back in soon for a little extra kitchen witchery–think butter–and some new recipes, magic style. Until then:

  10. You make a tear in my eye. Not, until I met you and Joy did I know how much I was loved and trusted. I love my new family.

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