Many pagan groups or teaching covens consist of three levels. While the timing is not always exactly the same with every coven or every student, after a year and a day an initiation can be expected as a graduation to the next level of study. But what happens at the end of the year when a student feels they are ready for initiation, but the teacher doesn’t? Who gets to decide the benchmarks of progress or suitability? How do you handle it when the vision of the teacher is different than the vision of the student?
I have witnessed many angry schisms and personality conflicts growing out of poor communication, unrealistic expectations and resentment between teachers and students. More often than not, the issue arises from a student who feels undervalued or unrecognized. Much like a teen expressing a perceived failing on the part of his or her parents, so too will students challenge their teachers when they begin to outgrow what the group has to offer.
On our journey to find spiritual guidance, we often perceive spiritual teachers as being wiser than ourselves, possessing positive attributes we would like to emulate. However, the process of studying esoteric knowledge opens up darker aspects of our psyche. This can trigger old patterning that has the effect of turning a spiritual teacher into a spiritual parent. Because of this, the relationship can easily become less about the spiritual teachings and more about unresolved childhood dynamics or subconscious attitudes towards authority.
It is important for both teachers and students to recognize when subconscious expectations begin to surface. Sometimes, people get so focused on an end goal or outcome that they attempt to manipulate the experience to get what they want out of it. This can happen on both sides:
- On one side, a teacher who is trying to foster a specific kind of understanding or performance level from students may end up stifling the energy and direction of the group, which can lead to an implosion.
- On the other side, a student who wants validation or recognition but doesn’t get it might cause an explosion to get what they are looking for.
If an open discussion of the expectations involved in joining the group takes place at the beginning, and periodically throughout the course of study, then many dramas could be avoided. Discuss how grievances are handled and make it safe to speak out. If students aren’t getting what they want out of the material, explain their options. Discuss the role of leadership and explain why things are the way they are.
For teachers, it’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. You walk a fine line between facilitating a group and leading it. People will challenge your authority and question how well you walk that line. As a teacher, you are not you, but what you represent to that student, and therein lies the problem. It’s all too easy to get caught up in your perceived image. Students will periodically come along to challenge this. Sometimes the lesson isn’t about your syllabus, but your own ego and how you handle interpersonal relationships. Acknowledge your limitations and give people permission to leave gracefully.
For students, it is important to acknowledge and accept the fallibility of human nature. Realize that what you seek is not necessarily what you will learn. Sometimes the most challenging teachers are the best ones, not because of the wisdom they possess but because they teach us that the deepest secrets lie within.
So be clear about what you are seeking. Be willing to confront your own motives and accept that no single individual has all the answers. It’s okay if a teacher doesn’t work for you, or if you don’t get what you want. No one is to blame for that.
I firmly believe that hidden agendas are at the root of every interpersonal drama. People are unclear with themselves and each other on what their true intentions are. When conflict happens, it means that truth is about to surface. It’s how you react to that truth that determines the outcome.
So find the lesson. It’s in there.