Education and Experimentation: The Witches Way

Posted: February 28, 2014 in Pagan Blog Project 2014, Pagan Perspectives
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“You shouldn’t try that until you know what you are doing.”

But how can one know, unless one does? Witchcraft is a very experiential path, full of mysteries and wonder that cannot be taught, only alluded to. It is for each practitioner to convert the knowledge shared by others into personal experience, for without experience the magic of the world is simply academic understanding. Direct experience turns the words on a page into a rich tapestry of understanding, and turns the knowledge of others into personal wisdom. With the wonder of modern technology, more and more practitioners are turning to online forums for guidance and support, which presents its own challenges. Despite the ease of meeting like minded souls virtually, and despite the accessibility of information, there is little support for in depth spiritual studies. So often I see the words above typed in chat rooms in response to valid questions – but no further information is shared. The teenage rebel in me rises her head every time and shouts ‘But how do I know when I know what I am doing unless I do it and see?!’ and the woman in me nods in understanding. Too often this kind of vague response only fires up the desire to experiment, rather than encouraging one to step back and reflect upon our skills and past experience.  The tone of this overused phrase comes across as a petty ‘I know something you don’t know’ at best, and at worst it appears superior, patronizing and condescending. Most of the time neither of these attitudes are actually present, but the lack of physical communication in a virtual world encumbers and disguises the true intent of such a statement. Most of the time, the practitioners who use this phrase and similar warning phrases genuinely care that others feel safe and secure in their spiritual experiences.

The truth is that you cannot know what you are doing until you experiment, discover what works and then practice, practice, practice. Witchcraft is a practice, and requires practice. However spiritual development is akin to child development, without the obvious natural learning limitations. We have the same wonder at the world shown to us, the same desire to experiment, the same thirst for knowledge, the same excitement – but as adults we are often capable of taking actions, even if they are deem ill advised. A child that sees another child run may dream of running, but physical limitations create natural boundaries to their experimentation. Their desire and will is strong, but the method of learning takes a logical progression.  First they learn to stand on wobbly legs, they strengthen their muscles, bend their knees, and they learn balance, discover gravity, they fall, they pick themselves up. They master each skill in turn, standing, walking, stopping, running, turning, and are always challenging themselves to do more. They push their limits in logical progression to achieve their goals. Children take risks, and when given the right environment to do so, the risks they take are most often educated and based upon a solid foundation of experience.  They will make mistakes, they will push themselves too far, and they will get hurt on occasion, but every mistake, every overreach, is still only a step beyond a previously mastered skill.

Maxine_SandersWitchcraft, in fact any spiritual path, requires the same degree of desire to learn and progression based upon a solid foundation of previous experience. Wisdom and knowledge are gained through personal experience and experimentation, but wisdom is knowing when to build upon knowledge and when the foundation is unstable. If a practitioner more experienced in a subject matter suggests that one should ‘know what they are doing’ prior to attempting a certain practice, they are often suggesting that one looks carefully at their foundation of knowledge before building upon it in an unsafe way. Are you dreaming of running long before you can walk? Do you understand the basics of balance and gravity, of stopping, of protecting yourself should you fall? Are you taking risks that are ill-educated and unnecessary? Is your desire outweighing your ability?

Do you have the education to support that experimentation?

If you do not have the education to support your experimentation, you are taking risks akin to crossing a road blindfolded. You may be lucky once, even twice, but continuing to practice that way increases the risk of eventually causing harm. That harm may be direct to you, to your physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health, or it may impact the lives of those around you (or both). When we teach a child to cross the road, we are not teaching them to walk over the tarmac, we are teaching them to assess risk, to look, to listen, to understand that others play a role in this simple task and to ultimately trust their own instincts. You may have the spiritual skills to actually do whatever it is you wish to do, but if you have no awareness of the risks, potential impact or other factors in play then you fall into the category of not knowing what you are doing.

I feel that the phrase ‘You shouldn’t do that unless you know what you are doing’ can be very harmful, no matter how well intentioned. It can deflate people, cause doubts to surface, damage confidence and disrupt a healthy desire to learn. It can also encourage people to take unhealthy risks in the response of a one finger salute. As a student, I welcome knowledge, advice and respectful challenge; as a more experienced practitioner I feel it is important to offer knowledge, advice and respectful challenge. I have no interest in being spoonfed or spoonfeeding others, but I do believe that Witchcraft empowers people and that helping to empower others is valuable. With that in mind I offer this advice for experimentation – Don’t experiment until you have the foundation of knowledge to build upon, but do experiment enough to continue building that foundation.

So how do you know if you know enough to move from theory to practice? Be honest with yourself, critical of your abilities, and practical about your goals. Be clear about what you actually want to achieve, and work towards that goal with logical progression.

What is it that you want to do?

Without a clear understanding of what it is that you are trying to achieve, it is almost impossible to work towards your goal. A thorough understanding of what you want to do, whatever that may be – Crystal grids, trance meditation, Shamanic journeying, spellcasting, scrying, communicating with spirits, invoking deity – is the first step to knowing whether it is something you should be doing at this point of your journey. Research the subject matter first, and look before you leap.

Does this new practice lead on from previous knowledge and experience?

Is this new practice similar to or based upon a previous skill that you already have a good understanding of? If not, you may need to take a step or two backwards to find a solid foundation before moving towards your goal.

What skills are required to achieve your goal?

Break down the skills that are needed to achieve your goal. If you need a good understanding of breathwork, of energy manipulation, of herblore, or of ritual structure, then make sure you are confident and capable in those areas before moving on.  What may appear to be a simple spellcasting may actually involve a complex array of distinctly different skills, so make sure you list all the skills required from the practical and mundane, to the psychic and magical.

Do you have the necessary skills, or do you need more foundational knowledge?

Once you know what skills are required, be honest with yourself about whether you actually have the necessary skills or whether you need to develop them further before you proceed.

What practices will develop, strengthen or enhance your skills?

Look back over your previous experiences to assess what techniques and practices worked well for you. Explore the ways in which you can strengthen your existing skills and develop any new skills you need.

What are the risks involved?

Risk assessment is an important part of all learning experiences. Understanding what the risks are, to ourselves and to others, helps us to put the knowledge in context and to value the skills and knowledge we acquire. We also learn when and where actions are appropriate to take, and when we should avoid taking action.

What are the potential consequences, both helpful and harmful, of your actions?

Every action has consequences, and we all need to accept responsibility for those consequences. Sometimes we are advised by those with more experience to avoid something not because the risks are so adverse, but because the potential consequences reach farther than we expect. Think beyond your immediate desire to experiment, and explore how far the consequences of your actions (successful or failed) may reach. Think about the people and the situations it could potentially affect, and the impact it may have in the various areas of your life.

What is your motivation?

Possibly the hardest question to answer truthfully, our motivations and our reasons behind our experimentations are the biggest tell for whether we should be attempting this new practice/technique/skill at all. There is nothing wrong with learning and expanding our knowledge and skills, but we need to be honest with ourselves as to whether such knowledge is necessary, helpful, productive, and for our highest good at this point in our journey. There is no reason why we cannot explore and experiment at a later date when our foundation of understanding is stronger.

Witchcraft is an experiential path, and no one else can live your experiences for you. In the quiet moments of your day, your own truth will whisper to you if you just listen. Educate yourself as best you can, listen to your inner voice, assess risk, expand your skills, learn your limitations, push your boundaries gently, experiment with awareness, and practice, practice, practice.

Pagan Blog Project 2014

Pagan Blog Project 2014

  1. onyx1688 says:

    agree 100% ^_^ awesome pbp post!


Please share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s