Author: Leandra Witchwood
When we seek out to discover something new, expand our current understanding of a topic, and become spiritually competent, it is a good idea to seek out a Teacher. Teachers and Elders are a necessary guide in spiritual transformations and enlightenment as they help guide us and support us. Although not all Elders are Teachers both are important as their years of experience help guide us and enlighten us on our long journey.
I have studied Wicca and Witchcraft under some very wonderful Elders and Teachers. I have studied various traditions from Reclaiming, to a form of Gardnerian, to simply reading material by my favorite authors. In the mix of these great teachers, I have also had some bad ones. Never the less, they all taught me something valuable and for that I am grateful.
It is through the teachings, support, and challenges my Teachers placed before me that allowed me to grow. I moved from being a curious student to a leader, counselor, Priestess, and on occasion a Teacher. Without their words of wisdom, advice, and knowledge, I would have had no good examples to base my own practices. The fundamental responsibility of a Teacher/Elder is to guide us, challenge us, and allow us to grow into our own. It is with good example and support students ar able to continue the legacy of spirituality.
In the past several years, I have noticed a disturbing trend within my own Pagan community. Compared to the other communities I have lived in and interacted with, Pagan/Wiccan Elders and Teachers are less than valued. Certainly not every person contributes, but the ill attitude is very evident. Perhaps, you have noticed this same trend in your community.
Quality Teachers and Elders are a unique breed of person. The really great Teachers are hard to come by because they have walked the walk for many years. Good Teachers are good because they have suffered the trials of spiritual growth and know their techniques, history, etc. As they offer up their knowledge and wisdom, they sacrifice their selves in hopes of continuing a spiritual legacy. They take time away from friends, family, work, home, and their own spirituality to offer to us something wonderful.
Quality Teachers and Elders are here to show us a way of achieving the things we desire and need through hard work and discipline. They are not here to hand us the answers. Instead, they are here to show us how to get the answers, then it is up to us to find the strength to hold on to these answers. Sometimes this requires us to realized and deal with something that is complex or upsetting. Quality Teachers and Elders challenge us to take that extra step and remove ourselves from our own suffocating bubble. Being uncomfortable is key to shedding our old skin so we can grow.
I like to associate learning a difficult Craft, Technique, and/or Tradition with my experience in learning mediation. When I was learning to meditate my teacher taught me about Shenpa. Roughly translated Shenpa means “Hooked” or even “what hooks you” to a certain reaction, feeling, moment, etc. Shenpa is what distracts you and prevents you from staying in the moment. Shenpa is difficult to describe because it is beyond description.
To grasp meditation and to get an understanding of my own Shenpa, I was instructed to allow my feelings, no matter how unpleasant to bubble up. Then I was asked to do something difficult, stay with these feelings. When I felt anxious or scared, I had to stay with it. I had to experience everything that comes along with it. I would allow the tension in my shoulders to come and feel the tension. When the sensation of something terrible is happening I had to stay in the moment and feel it. I had to allow myself to feel the perspiration of my body. I listened to the words coming to thought. I had to let it come so I could experience it all.
The process was incredibly difficult and on many days unbearable. Experiencing the panic and discomfort was the only way I could move forward. When I allowed my self to surrender to the moment realized something interesting was happening, the anxiety and fear dissolved. I was able to gain control of myself. When I accepted my discomfort instead of resisting, I was able to release my Shenpa. I became like the branches of a tree, I would sway in the wind instead of breaking. The feelings were able to flow through me instead of slam into me. This end result is what my teacher intended me to achieve. I could not achieved this ability if I chose to give up on the Teacher and the lesson. Worst of all if I had given up I would have given up on myself.
Teachers and Elders come to us in many ways. They write books with snippets of knowledge for us to consider. They offer classes on-line, in their homes, at gatherings, or in community centers, and more. So with so many ways to share knowledge and teach where have our quality Elders and Teachers gone? What made them disappear?
Over the past few years I witness what communities do to Teachers and Elders. We become too critical too often, we eat up their time, we complain about their fees, give up on their lessons when they become hard, we take these unique people for granted, and more! I even witness people discrediting Teachers and Elders before they give the individual a chance to teach. In some of the worst cases, we place mediocre Elders and Teachers on pedestals; we become their “groupies” as we lower our standards.
I know… I know… Not you…You would never treat an Elder or a Teacher with disrespect or over indulgence. Yeah, I thought the same about myself a while back. We do these things without realizing sometimes. Our actions or even non-actions become damaging, as we remain blind to our habits. After all, habits are best repeated when ignored.
Over the years, I notice that students give up and dish out the most disapproval toward Teachers and Elders when the lessons become tough. Learning the most valuable lessons is never easy, but always necessary. When we expect our teachers to just hand us the answers we are missing the point.
Would we want our grade school teachers to just give our kids the answers to an important test, especially if this test was significant to benefiting their future? Of course not, this would make most people very angry. We want to know that our kids know their stuff! We would see this type of education as a waste of money. We would recognize it as wasted time in the classroom and most of all we would see this as damage to the learning and growth process. The same goes for spiritual teachings. Why should we expect that our spiritual Teachers give us an easy road to follow? We must surrender to the lessons without making the lesson more difficult by putting up a wall of resistance.
Spiritual Elders and Teachers are here to challenge us. They are here to give us the key and it is up to us to open the door of spiritual growth. They are here to support us as we brush away the cobwebs and sweep out the dusty recesses of our hearts and minds. When we resist their lessons and when we expect the answers to come easily, we hinder our growth while masking the source of our being stuck. Witnessing a student give up on his/her self is one of the most frustrating things a Teacher can experience. After this happens, there is nothing the Teacher can do for the student.
My best teacher was a very hard teacher. She told you like it was and her lessons were difficult. She was a wealth of knowledge and a great asset to the community. She had guts, charisma, and wasn’t afraid to do what was necessary. Her best asset was also her flaw. She rubbed people the wrong way or rather people took her the wrong way.
Her no nonsense approach made people very uneasy and eventually she was forced to leave the community. She felt unwanted and betrayed by the people she sought to up lift. To this day her legacy is in full force but those who currently manage it have removed her from it. The solid base she gave the community remains, but she is forgotten. In looking back I am glad to have helped her achieve this mile stone in the community. However, I feel the pain and betrayal she was handed. The community wanted her ideas but not her standards. They were willing to ride the momentum of her drive, but unwilling to know and accept her. Ironically, this very community boasts about tolerance and acceptance. It is interesting to see how things like this work out.
Like many of our most valuable Teachers, she has taken all her years of knowledge and wisdom with her in retreat. The community used her up and discarded her with no remorse. Although it was sometimes hard, I stuck by her. I felt a certain compassion and empathy for her. Like I said, she is blunt! She never candy coated what you needed to do, nor did she hand out respect eagerly; You have to earn it. Perhaps there was something deep within me telling me that her difficult style would set me on the track to becoming balanced and knowledgeable.
It is not easy to learn things about yourself when you are not ready or willing to admit them, much less change them. I found I distanced myself from her on a number of occasions. Each time I came back I grew spiritually and personally. I chose to know her rather than give up. In doing this I did not giving up on myself. I am a different person now than I was 8 years ago. I owe a lot of my growth to her lessons and stern personality. I am now able to see her true quality and appreciate her. I understand her trials and her wisdom. I understand why she does certain things a certain way. I know she is never mean or cruel. Instead, she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. It is because of her heart and desire to help that she once opened herself up for others to benefit. To me she is exactly what any community needs. Sadly, she is gone from it and the community must go without. Those who now need her will not have her.
When you decide that you want to learn something and when you find a teacher who is willing to teach you, understand that it is not all about you. Remember, “It’s a two way street”. You can’t expect to automatically move forward without fully engaging the lessons of your Teacher. Your Teacher must become part of your journey. You must work to gain their respect and confidence. You need to humble yourself to their lessons. You have to earn your achievements. You have to work toward your goal for it should never be handed to you. Savor each moment and lesson. Do your very best even when the lesson is tedious or difficult. Cherish your Teachers and Elders, but don’t put them on pedestals. Listen to your Teachers and Elders, respect their time, and most of all give back to them what you take.
If your Teacher is teaching you free of charge, do something for them after each lesson that shows you care. Mow their lawn, wash their dishes, organize their library, replenish their supplies, or make them a great meal.
If the teacher you are using charges for the lessons, give your money graciously. Know that the money you pay is not only for their time and for effort but it is also going toward supplies, the facility, maintenance of the space, and so on. Whether you admit it or not, it takes a great deal of time, resource, experience, and effort to create a well thought out and educational class.
Most of all refrain from being too critical of your Teachers and Elders. Yes, they are human and yes they will make mistakes, but be an adult about it. If you need to address something, address it. Don’t make up stories in your head about the situation or dramatize it. Don’t make them out to be an aggressor and you the victim. Talk to them in a non-confrontational manner, one adult to another. Be accountable for your actions and reactions, as you would expect your teacher to be toward you.
Showing our respect and appreciation for our Elders and Teachers is most important. If you noticed that a teacher in your community seems to have dropped off the face of the planet, look them up. Send him/her a message of warmth and respect. Drop a plant off at their front door with a simple note or ask them to teach you something. Let them know you remember them and you consider them an asset to the community.
If we fail to show our appreciation and respect, we lose our best teachers. Without our Elders and Teachers, we limit ourselves in resources and perspective. The world would be a dreary place if we could only see in black and white.
**View this article on WitchVox,
Published May 31, 2009