"Where are the holes in your training?" is a question I ask my students when they come to me for Witchy instruction, through the medium of my required placement questionnaire. The holes never fail to show themselves clearly through this document's series of questions that study, practice, mystery experience, community service, and more. Time and time again, I find so many folks, who, just like me, are self-trained, who consequently have huge holes in that training, usually having to do with energy work. Yet these very same people also have all these amazing community service activities listed that are clearly Adept- or Master-level accomplishments. It's almost as if we self-taught practitioners go from the basics of Dedicant training straight into community service, with no time in between to hone our own skills, learn how to cultivate our own vibrance, or study our own inner Mysteries before we're out there, giving back, typically becoming incredibly depleted in short order, and having to take time off every few years (or months!) in order to rest and heal before starting the cycle again.
This is why teaching the Initiate's Path has become my passion. You might even say it's my Witchy "cause." I feel it's vitally important that the Initiate have this time of training for herself, with no outer distractions or duties beyond simple assistance geared to her level, until she's passed her Adept Gate (the traditional second degree). From what I've seen, the Initiate work is what usually gets passed over or missed somehow in solitary training. It seems like so many folks who are out there on their own, studying the essentials of Wicca and Witchcraft, get the basics down by reading several books and doing the suggested practices, but then we get bogged down in all this Dedicant-level stuff even as we attempt to spread our wings, buying or borrowing book after book that turns out to be just like the book we just read, or the one before that… or the one before that.
Thank the gods that there are so many good books on the market, but when I was learning, there were no intermediate books, really, and certainly no courses of study. It's great that there are so many good ones today. However, many books are academic only, theoretical sojourns that describe only a part of the Big Picture that is Witchcraft. If the student is dedicated enough, throughout the following years, he can create his own actions in order to experience certain aspects of the path, from magic to Mystery, from ritual to readings. But how to put it in order or make sense of it? If you're like me, you went to the "Hit and Miss School of Wicca and Witchcraft," and took a lot longer than necessary to get where you wanted to go in the first place.
In my solitary, self-taught path, I had my beloved Artemis and my other matrons and patrons to teach me, but like many priests and priestesses in Pagandom, I was often stubborn when what they gave me seemed daunting, and at other times, in my lack of experience, I misread their signs and signals, so I got tripped up a lot, read a lot of repeats, and although I eventually got all the training I now feel most Initiates need, much of it was learned after years and years of community service, rather than at Initiate level, when it would have best served my spiritual development.
On the other hand, from what I've learned from my coven-trained peers, is that in coven training one typically has multiple teachers, who, together, have been through a myriad of life experiences, and whose sum total of Witchy training spans decades. In this way the student gets the advantage of all this knowledge and wisdom in a concise and well-ordered format, so that by the time she reaches her Adept gate (the traditional second-degree), she's more than primed to begin her community service work.
One of the places where my Initiate training plan really departs from tradition is in the idea that teaching Witchcraft should begin at Initiate level. In many Witchcraft traditions, Initiates are required to teach, but in my opinion, this is cheating both the Initiate and his students. In my opinion, Initiates have too much work still to do in order to hone their skills and fill their spiritual vessels, and to be required to teach at this crucial point would just deplete the Initiate's energies. Secondly, the Initiate's knowledge base just isn't that comprehensive, so students are often left hanging with incomplete or incorrect answers at best.
The Initiate's Path needs to be a balance, in my opinion, between the deep inner work required to truly know oneself as a Witch and the outer work that includes a beginning look at community service—a gathering of ideas as to exactly how that Witch might eventually wish to serve. So, in my opinion (and in both my classroom and my book, Initiate: A Witch's Circle of Water—A Course of Study in the Old Religion), the Initiate's Path is best pursued by following both an inner (lunar) and an outer (solar) journey.
The inner path is all about moon work, Esbats designed to increase power in the Witch by utilizing knowledge gained thus far in order to work on personal goals, spiritual ideals, connections with deity, healing shadows, and by simply running energy through our bodies and spirits in a myriad of ways. We try different methods to see what works best for us, cultivating the vibrance and health (on all five elemental levels) required to keep us strong and functioning as we grow into vital community leaders. The Initiate's work includes devotionals and adorations to our matron goddesses and patron gods, the emotions of which spill over beautifully into self-love by helping us to see how much like them we really are. I believe it's also essential that we become familiar with running energy through our bodies, including tuning in to the energies of our chakra system, finding what works for us in the realms of exercise and proper nutrition, and honoring ourselves for who we are, that we may best become who we most wish to be, both as priests and priestesses, and as human and divine beings.
The outer path, then, becomes a joyful building of traditions through revisiting and honoring the Sabbats, looking at the myriad of choices we have available in which to serve our communities, and finding our true spiritual gifts. Then, when we begin to give back to our gods through serving our fellows, it can hopefully be in ways we are both good at, and find deeply fulfilling.
Spiritual fulfillment is why we seek this path. So finding and filling in that "sea of holes" in our training, however we perceive it, creates a more grounded and wholly present Witch—a more powerful Witch! Imagine a thick, tall tree, old and strong, grounded deeply in the earth, healthy vibrant light running through every fiber, spilling over radiant energy to all who seek shelter in its boughs. So it is with the devoted priest or priestess of the Craft; if we keep our inner vibrance intact through a healthy balance of spiritual duty and impeccable self-care, our communities ultimately benefit, for we then have more to give everyone of our energy, our creativity, our wisdom, and our guidance.