Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Training as a Green Witch

We seek to find our calling and to
develop the will and the wisdom to follow it.

- Spiral Steps, Step 13

I am a Green Witch. (1) I begin the formal training in my tradition with an older woman in California who is, among other things, writer, an artist and a naturalist. I have loved animals and nature since I was a child and before I began working with her, I had many years experience working with groups that protect both. Among other things, I had worked for over a decade as a volunteer with companion animal and wildlife rescue groups. I was also an avid gardener (most often using herbs and native plants) and while I wasn't a hard body hiker, I loved being outdoors and often did my rituals and mediations in wild places. So why, then, did I feel the need to train with this woman? Well, for one thing, I admired her skills and her renaissance mind. I also wanted to understand her connection with Gaia, which was different from my own. I'd heard from someone she had trained that she choose to work with very few students over the years but I was not told why. That sounded a bit daunting. Nevertheless, I went to her home, and asked if I could learn from her. When a student comes to her, she says this:

"Find a place that speaks to you. Adopt that place. Go there at least once a week. Pick up any trash you find there. Do not disturb the animals, do not remove anything from that place that belongs there. Make it known that you are there as a guardian and as a student. Do this for a year and a day. Take notes. Make sketches. Look at the clouds. Note the changes in weather. Take photos. Record your observations about the animals you encounter, what flowers bloom and when and where they bloom. Find out which birds come and go. Learn the names of the trees. Sit quietly from time to time, and just listen. Do this for four seasons. When you have done that, come back here and we'll begin. (2)

And this is why she had so few students. To many, it seemed like too much work. They wanted some spells and some ready-made answers. Most wanted power the easy way. Word to the earthwise: There is no easy way.

My mentor knew that she had a great deal to teach, and also a great deal left to learn and she wanted share this journey with those who also shared her passions and her dedication. The older I get, the more I understand this.

I did what she asked. After a year and a day I went back to her with my journals, sketches, photos and field notes. I thought she would ask me a great many questions. I was ready for this test in a way I hadn't been since graduate school. She brought us both some tea, and invited me to sit. She looked at my notes, briefly, while I admired her art collection, and petted her cat. Then she looked at me, and said, "So. How did this experience change you?"

That was it. That was her one question. When I look back on it now, I see that it's a vital question because it deals with the soul and center of our craft. (id. at 1) But just then I didn't know what to say. So we drank some more tea while the cat made a nest in my lap. I looked into it's golden eyes, and thought about my answer, and then I began to talk...and talk...and talk. Because when you look at it that way, I had a great deal to say. None of it was factual in nature. What I had learned from that place had gone so deep in me that it was now an instinctual, gut level awareness. It had nothing to do with my field notes, and everything to do with my love of this place and my relationship to it and to the beings that live there. She wanted to know how this connection had affected me, and how I had affected this place, and whether or not I got it. I had. From that day on, we began to work together, and we have done so for over a decade.

The central question in my tradition is this: "What are Witches for?

Each of us has to answer this question in our own way. (3) For me, it means I work with licensed groups that rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife, and help return them to the wild. I also am a foster mom for kittens and I work to find homes for cats in need. I work with native plants and help educate others on the importance of preserving wild lands and native habitat. I also help to organize events and raise money for grass roots organizations that do this sort of work. I still have to make a living, so I do this as service, as an unpaid volunteer, in my free time, along with thousands of other people just like me. This work has brought me a wealth of experience and enriched my life immeasurably. It's what I'm meant to do.

Whatever our spiritual practice, if our tradition is meaningful
then part of our life lesson is finding out what we are meant to do.
The rest is doing it.

When we ask the universe for teachers or lessons, they come to us. Very often they are not in the form we looked for. They might not be human. They might be an experience or an animal guide or an attraction to a place. The lesson might involve letting go or it might involve love and care. And the learning never stops. At some point in our lives we might be asked to mentor others, and this will lead to yet more connections and change.

After 25 years as a Pagan, this is what I know: We don't choose this path, it chooses us. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to understand and use the gifts we receive along the way.

Best of luck on your journey,


Art: Storyteller by Susan Sedden Boulet

Link: Spiral Steps


(1) To find out what I mean by that, read Pratchett and the Pagans

(2) Many Green Witches do this instinctively, don't we? She knew that.

(3) Another one of her students was a software engineer who loved horses. So she worked on a horse ranch as a volunteer, and she was given the same basic quest. Same experience, different paths. She now helps kids with disabilities learn how to ride and she rescues abused and neglected horses.


Anonymous said...

That's fantastic. I also see the path of the Witch as one of service. I think that's why so many don't make it, because they think it's about them (or it should be).

Anonymous said...

This piece of wisdom is not contained to places or Witchcraft, of course. Dedicating one's self to an idea or a course of action for a solid year, and doing so without thought of reward, is a rewarding and expansive experience no matter what the undertaking.

I recommend it to anyone.

Dj Connell said...

Oh, yes :-)

The themes of dedication, challenges, and apprenticeship will be familiar to any student of culture, myth and/or history. Readers of fantasy and science fiction books will also know this process, as will any Star Wars fan and those who watch martial arts films.

It is part of our common human story now - at least in theory. In practice, it is much more rare, and this is because of the reasons stated in the essay.


Anonymous said...

I really want to thank you for this but more importantly I want to thank you for turning me on to Terry Pratchett!! Because of this post I read "Pratchett and the Pagans" and I went out and bought "The Wyrd Sisters" and I am absolutely fascinated by him. I really appreciate you turning me onto this astonishing writer.

Dj Connell said...

You are most welcome :-)