Why don’t teachers move?

One question I’ve seen increasingly often recently from people who aren’t near a teacher (or a teacher of a particular tradition) has run “Why can’t the teacher move? Why do I have to be the one to travel and make sacrifices for this training?”

Now, one part of the answer to this is that while many Craft teachers are dedicated to teaching, they themselves have already sacrificed for their own training and learning. Asking them to sacrifice for *teaching* (something which they generally do without pay or other benefit than the joy of teaching something they love) seems a little much to ask.

But the other part is a bit more practical, and that’s what I want to explore here.

Why doesn’t the teacher move, or at least travel?

Because those teachers have lives, and families, and jobs, that they’re not just going to pick up and move away from.

Because those teachers already have students and initiates and group members to whom they have commitments and connections. Moving’s not impossible if the circumstances call for it, but it’s neither simple nor ideal.

Because moving – by yourself – and practicing trad is complicated and exhausting.

Because ‘more members’ is not the value that’s primary. Caring for existing connections, and for the well-being of the overall trad is often the first value.

And finally, because a lot of students say they’re interested, but for a wide variety of reasons, don’t continue past the first few meetings or first few months. (Which is a whole other essay.) A teacher making major life changes for any one given student is therefore not a stastically wise move.

Let’s look at an example:

This is one I’ve thought about a lot, because my life has recently involved a move 1500 miles across country, because, when it came down to it, taking a job in my field won out over staying in the place I’d been living and had lots of Pagan community ties. (The new job is awesome, and has a lot of other things going to it – I’m within driving distance of family and friends I’ve had to work hard to see for a decade.)

Now, I am a 3rd degree priestess in the tradition. I am fully able to move by myself, create a group around me, and find and train people. (Lots of people aren’t. I happened to be, and it’s partly because I consider my career to be part of my religious vocation that I was willing to do it.)

But I’m also not stupid. I’m fully aware of exactly how much work the process is going to take. And more than that, how much *time* it’s going to take, before I can have the kind of group experience I really really want to have again, and the kind of group experience that allows for full learning and understanding of the trad.

Let me lay that out, in practical terms:

I had potential students. When I decided to move, I have to let down two very lovely women who expressed interest in being my students in Minnesota. So it’s not “no students here, maybe students there.”

I need to get to know the new area on a mundane level, and also on a witchy level. Once I’ve sorted out “Where do I buy my groceries” and “Where’s the nearest decent supplier of herbs, or do I order online from the stores I know and love in Minnesota?”, I get to move onto “What’s the local Pagan community like?” and “What’s the land here like?” and “Where are the places of power and resonance in this landscape?” and “How do my assumptions about seasonal cycles fit into this geography?”

I expect all of that to take at least a year. Maybe more. (The good news is that by the time I’ve done all of that, I’ll be settled into the job, and have a bit more time and energy to throw at an active Craft life again.) And that’s with moving somewhere – Maine – that is in many ways (in terms of climate, seasonal patterns, flora and fauna) similar to Minnesota. If I’ve gotten the job I applied for in Tucson, it would have been a much larger adjustement.

Even though Minneapolis and where I am in Maine are at almost the same latitude, I’m still noticing lots of differences, though. And it’s also a shift to living somewhere rural, after living all my life somewhere urban or suburban.

Somewhere in there, I need to start establishing myself as person of potential cluefulness in the local community. That means going to more public rituals or other events than I might otherwise (In Minneapolis, I could easily give potential students other people in the community to ask about me. New place, I don’t have that yet.)

It means thinking of some things that a) I feel I can offer to the community b) fit with whatever the new job is (in terms of time/scheduling/how public the event is) and c) are not treading on the toes of people already offering stuff in the area. Both so I can get let people check me out – and so I can get to know them.

I may need to spend some time offering things that help give people the experience to decide if my tradition is a potential fit for them. Depending on what’s in the community, it may mean offering a bunch of intro-level options (if there’s nothing like that in the area). In Minneapolis, I didn’t have to do that: there are multiple sets of intro classes going most of the year, and a range of open ritual options.

In Maine, the distances involved mean that general public work is a little more complicated, and there’s a lot less of the short-class-series going on. (Though there are public or general invite rituals at various places around the state on a regular basis.)

Given that, I do feel an obligation to consider offering more public stuff than I’d otherwise choose to do, even of the “Here’s how to develop your personal practice, and understand what you’re doing better” variety.

There’s also some practical issues: I rented my current apartment sight-unseen, and it has a clause about guests. (I can only have 2 at a time: this is a college town, so I was not hugely surprised by that. It’s great in that there aren’t loud parties when I’m trying to sleep, but not so good for even small group noise-considerate work.)  Plus, I need to buy more actual furniture still.

So before I can do much in the way of teaching, I need to move to a better space for it, or find a suitable space to rent.

Figure we’re at 18 months or 2 years post-move here.

And then we get to start the whole personal process.
Once I’ve gotten to the point I can consider students for a small group, I’ve still got the whole “Are we a good fit for each other” process (a couple of months), then their Dedicancy (a year or more, depending on when they approach me, because there are times of the year we don’t start that process.)

Because there’s only one of me, I can only take so many students at once.
If I am working in a professionally demanding job, and running even occasional public workshops, that’s one person a year, maybe two. (And that’s assuming my health stays okay, though I do know lots of ways to make pieces of this work fairly efficiently in terms of my time and effort.)

Dedicancy takes a year, so we’re now at 3-4 years post-move here.

And *then* we have the problem of initiation.

My trad still does cross-gender initiation (though it’s a topic we need to revisit.) That means that to do an initiation, I need to import a priest to help me, if the initiate is a woman. (And really, should anyway, because the thought of doing the full initiation ritual without any support for the first time makes me go “ergh” a whole lot. It’s a ritual with a lot of different things to keep track of.)

Now, the HP who trained me is potentially willing to do that – but he’s a busy guy, there are scheduling complications, I’d feel I needed to pay his way, and it means that my theoretical initiates would be walking into a complex and sensitive ritual with someone they don’t know. There are obviously ways that email and phone conversations can help, but that’s not a simple problem.

(My preference would be to invite my HP and his husband out for a lovely weekend at the height of a pleasant travel season to get to know the current students, but that would mean making sure I had a guest room, etc.)

And then, to build a group
We’ve got to repeat the student part another year or two or three, even to end up with a small group. Because some of them will move, and some of them will have stuff happen.

But if I’m really on the ball magically, and also a bit lucky, I might be able to gather the four roles needed to do our actual trad work in… oh, another 1-2 years, and in another year or two have a lovely small group that complements each other and has synergy, and all those other great things. Because there are things about the trad you can’t learn until there’s enough people for the roles.

At which point, we can finally – 4-6 years post move – get back to the actual work I *wanted* to do when I first hived.

In other words:
The whole thing is a whole lot more complicated than “Sure, let me move and start doing what I’m doing here without missing a beat.” Just writing the thing out is pretty exhausting and overwhelming. (The fact I can is that I’ve been thinking about this particular issue for about 3 years now, because I knew I was in a profession where moving to find a professional job in my field might well come up.)

And there’s also the part where I’d be separated from the care and support of my tradmates. Where I’d have to figure out a way to do useful conversations about stuff that comes up as it does. (The HP who trained me is much better about email conversations than my HPS. I love – and respect, and honor them – both, but one of those is a lot more annoying long-distance than the other.) And it means that I – as the other 3rd degree in the trad – would not be handy to help out if *they* needed me. Which we’d all cope with if we had to, but is not ideal.

(I can obviously come visit, but that also takes a whole bunch of coordination and planning. And not a little cash.)

Was the move worth doing? Absolutely. My life took me away from trad-mates and friends, but I have an awesome job, I love where I’m living, and there are a lot of good things in Maine, too. But would I volunteer to do it just for the potential benefit of *potential* students? Really probably not.

But there’s also the part about ego. I adore my tradition. I think it has many wonderful things. But I *don’t* think it’s the right thing for everyone, and I don’t think that it’s the only possible road to self-transformation, or to the Gods, or to any other goal anyone might care to name.

Now, can I teach stuff other than my trad? Yep – and as you see above, I expect to do that, at least as part of what I was doing, for a year or two. I’m reasonably good at it, I enjoy it, and I’ve got a bunch of useful ideas wandering around my brain. But it doesn’t teach people the trad, and it doesn’t maintain *my* commitments to my trad, so it’s not a long-term sustainable stopping place, either.

So, what are the options?

A person, these days, really can develop a wonderful personal practice, deep connections to the Gods, a working practice of magic and correspondences, and a whole lot more with the published material, online resources, and some conversations online or in person to help over humps or smooth out rough edges. I’ve met some lovely people like that (including, actually, both my prospective students in Minnesota.) It takes work, sure, but there’s a lot out there to help these days.

(I have lots of suggestions here.)

What someone *can’t* learn from that is all the stuff that’s about a specific trad, and all the stuff that’s about leading a group.

The first, because you can’t connect yourself to the energies and practices of an existing community without experience in the existing community (and initiation, for those trads where that’s the key to the energetic linkages.) But in my eyes, someone is not ‘lesser’ because they don’t have that. Just on a different path, with a different set of commitments. They may be *more* able to do some very wonderful things in the world as a result.

If someone feels deeply called to a particular trad, they can figure out ways to explore that (or not, as they choose), but it doesn’t make them a better witch or priestess, or anything else whether they do or not. It matters to me a lot more what they do with what they *do* have.

The latter – well, you can’t learn to sing in harmony in a choir without a choir to sing with. And it takes practice with the choir, not just dreaming about the ideal of the choir. I do think that someone, going very carefully, and listening hard to advice, and maybe figuring out a way to find a mentoring connection in group leadership skills (on both practical and magical levels) could learn this without previous group experience fast enough to not get a group in trouble.

But it’s the place I’m most cautious about – other than a very few specific practices, like possessory work – because if someone gets it wrong, there are serious risks to them and to the people they’re working with.

And so, I really do encourage people looking at this one to find *some* way to at least get some experience, and to get some serious ongoing conversation going with people with a lot more. That might mean going to festivals or conventions occasionally. It might mean travelling for training for a period of time, being clear with everyone that you’d go back to your community when you were done. It might mean finding someone who’s able to drive, but who’s more flexible than a whole group, who could mentor you. There are options there that might be more accessible to a given person than full-blown training with a trad leading to initiation.

(Would I be willing to mentor on this for someone outside my trad? Yes, assuming that the person and I had mutually compatible discussion styles, and I had enough time and energies outside my own commitments – because I do think it’s important to have people do it well if they’re going to do it.)

But again, it’s not the ideal. And because part of what makes a trad – passing stuff along to another generation of practitioners – is so tied up in doing that group leadership stuff, that in-the-circle management stuff well, so that people can understand it and continue it, I really think it’s a second or third choice to working with a group for a substantial period.

Yeah, that leaves people out. Professional music leaves me out, too, because I don’t have the time or energy to put that much practice time in. We all have to make choices, and recognise what those choices lead us away from: staying in a particular location limits us to the choices in that place. Travelling limits our choices for deeper connections in the place we were. One isn’t automatically better than the other – but they’re both limits.

[last updated October 28, 2011]

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