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?
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.  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 necessarilyan 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.