Evolving paths and Wiccan degrees

Personal practice, Processing Add comments

When I first became Pagan, I was lucky to find NorthWind Tradition and to have the opportunity to train in an excellent program with some amazing people. NorthWind is a teaching tradition that provides a solid framework — a starting point. When NorthWind members are together, we use the NorthWind frame which doesn’t name a specific god or goddess. We all have different personal practices so I often thought that we use our own connections to our particular deities to invoke god and goddess. This freedom to both be part of the group together and have your own path was something I always liked. It seemed okay that I didn’t incorporate some aspects into my personal practices.

I knew from the initial First Degree class that I would continue through to Third Degree. Because it felt like something I needed to do. It would be important. It was, at the time.

People evolve and so do their spiritual paths. My focus changed from honoring a Wiccan view of the God and Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone) to one solely honoring Epona. The more I learned about Her, the more my understanding of Her changed. She wasn’t one aspect of a multifaceted Godhead. She is one deity of many. Over the years, I listened to my intuition (also inspired and informed by research). The Wiccan elements fell away and I slowly realized that a Wiccan wouldn’t recognize anything on my altar as Wiccan. An ancient Roman, however, would recognize most of the items.

For over a decade, I was one of the online First Degree class teachers for NorthWind. (We had an awesome group of people who met online once or twice a month for many years.) As my personal beliefs changed and I grew away from Wicca, teaching the tradition felt strange because I was teaching a path that wasn’t one I followed in my every day life. How can I be a good example when I wasn’t walking the path I taught? I worked around part of this by inviting guest speakers for topics where I didn’t know enough or personally follow. When I moved in 2007, it was a good opportunity to step away from teaching. Having an excuse like the move to stop teaching was a huge relief.

My participation in NorthWind was also minimal at the time I moved out of state. The tradition, like my online classes, had wound down its activities. The internal conflict I felt over teaching or belonging to a tradition that didn’t match my own personal practices was minimized and set aside for a while.

So long as I was participating as myself I didn’t feel the conflict. I was fine participating in local pagan activities and rituals. I was just another pagan helping organize events and meet other interesting people.

I’ve always felt that it is incredibly important to be true to yourself and to live a life so the spiritual and mundane parts are integrated. Sena at a pagan event is (mostly) the same Sena at work. Who I am at core stays the same, even if the topics I talk about are different depending upon the context.

I stayed as a member of NorthWind because it had been my home. Even if I felt like I didn’t fully belong because of how my personal beliefs had diverged from NorthWind’s core teachings, I still stayed a member. So long as I wasn’t asked to teach, the specific conflict of teaching that which isn’t my personal path didn’t come up. Since I moved in 2007, I’ve taught informally — call it mentoring — by helping people develop a personal relationship with their deities.

While mentoring is fun and helps improve my own understanding, it isn’t as challenging as having to understand something when learning something new. I wanted to be challenged. To be able to talk to peers (instead of people who were still learning the basics). I missed having people who were farther along in their paths.

And then last year I found out that Cat was sick and that I needed to drive out to see her. She was a wisp of who she had been. She was still there mentally, but physically she was half way to the other side. She had such dignity and grace in her transition. It was inspiring and amazing and so very sad to see the person who had been the cornerstone almost dissolving before my eyes. It was her time. (Some times it’s only when a person is gone that you realize how much they meant and how much of an impact they had on your life.)

NorthWind rallied around Cat and pulled together after she passed away. I was so elated to see so many old friends at her memorial last year. It was like a family reunion with people I hadn’t seen in years. So amazing.

It highlighted how much I missed having a community. Having that sense of belonging to something like NorthWind. I didn’t want to leave Cat’s memorial because I knew it was the last time my “extended family” would be together. Cat was the charismatic leader who brought all of these people together.

I wanted that connection. I wanted that sense of shared path and sense of community. So I tried really hard within the remaining NorthWind members to rebuild.

Last night, two of former my First Degree students asked me to continue their education for Second Degree. And I panicked. I felt conflicted because I’m not Wiccan any more and I also felt obligated because they have been my students. Second Degree is like getting a Master’s. It’s clergy and leadership training. Both of my initiates are amazing women and are very interested in the Native American elements for the areas where they live. These aspects of NorthWind are not an area I have ever used in my personal practice. Honored, yes; respected, yes; actively done? No. I feel like these students deserve to have the best teacher they can have. I’m not it because I can’t teach the class topics for Second Degree with conviction. It’s not my path any more. I’d be more of a guest speaker on deity relationships instead of the primary teacher.

How do you tell two very dear people that you can not be their teacher? Gently and with love, and hopefully help them find another person to be their teacher within the tradition.

Maybe it is time to consider truly stepping away and not just being inactive.

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