On a related note (I’m also slightly known for topic drift), I'm also a massive (some might say ‘rabid’ - there is that over-reacting thing again) fan of the television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". I think that Buffy (the show, not so much the character - gads the character is actually kind of a jerk - but hey, I'm a Spike fan, and I will admit to being rabid about Spike) anyway, the show has a lot to say about practicing the Craft. Over the years I have watched the series I have seen a number of lessons explored, most of them valuable, some of them quite painful.
Being called to a vocation
In that same vein, many initiates I've met have described a feeling of 'coming home' or familiarity to learning the Craft. The idea that there is "something" that has pulled us here, some work for us to do, some family we weren't born into to be with, seems to be a pervasive one. It is perhaps also the first lesson in learning to not only listen to, but rely on and actually use one's intuition. An important lesson for a witch; because intuition is an important tool.
It takes work
Yes, Buffy was called to be a slayer. That part she didn't 'do'. However most of what happens after that, she works at. She hones her physical being, she studies tactics and the habits of her opponents. She does get support from others in this endeavor; but there are things she has to work at, to practice regularly to be good enough at. She does. In some cases, it is her habits; the things she knows and has worked with so well that they are completely internalized, that save her.
It takes multiple approaches
The show also deals with using multi-pronged approaches to things. There is the blunt 'go out and slay the bad guy' approach; personified most thoroughly by Buffy, and occasionally manifested by others. This remains the mainstay - after all, if you are chosen to 'do' something; anything, then it makes sense that a lot of time would be spent in doing it. Kind of a logical extension of ‘having been chosen’ in the first place.
There is the 'find another way' often led by Willow; via computer (more in the early seasons) and magic (more in the later seasons, although that appears to be changing). Included here would be looking up floor plans, using indirect powers, thwarting protections, talking to various sources to get information and other types of preparation. In a simplistic approach, these kinds of things would be overlooked. They aren't here.
In a craft context, this is the difference between a spell meant to "send so-and-so some good energy", and a spell meant to "strengthen lung capacity and oxygen transport". The more focused any attempt, the more inherently successful it will be. Things work better, and more effectively when a person knows what they are doing.
There is the research factor, till recently led by Giles. Explore the problem from many angles, and it will be better understood, and can be better dealt with. In fact, quite often, learning about the situation reveals that there is more to it than first appeared. These explorations can mean that the characters gain access to some important clue, or tool, or understanding. Sometimes someone who seemed nice, is actually the enemy. Sometimes uncomfortable doesn't mean dangerous.
The show does a good job reflecting reality in that no one person is always right. Sometimes the answer comes from an unexpected place. Sometimes instinct and intuition are right, and sometimes seemingly unending reading of endless tomes yields the clue to the solution. It's the fact that a multi-pronged approach is used, that provides a strong foundation and makes things usually work out well.
I see a single-approach methodology in some Craft groups, and I wonder at it. There are groups who describe themselves as primarily celebratory. Some of those groups are so very celebratory that if you mention the word 'theology' to them, you will get only blank looks in response. Okay, maybe occasionally curiosity is in there; but it's mostly just a blank. I want to celebrate; and I do find plenty to celebrate - but this is an extension; a culmination of my theological studies, not something that happens instead of them.
There are groups that take things seriously. Some of them are so serious, and so research oriented that they actually do, little. Okay sometimes nothing. All their energy is so focused on 'figuring things out' and self- congratulation that they don't actually have any time to notice that they aren't actually getting anything accomplished. They can be so busy ‘discovering’, so busy gathering data for the future, that they don't end up actually using any of these valuable lessons now.
To me, the Craft is a pragmatic path. I expect it to be useful So if someone answers my "so how do I deal with this divine revelation or inspiration on a practical level" type question with a blank look, I'm less than impressed. I think there is a good chance that their head is up somewhere it ought not to be.
Practical application of many things
One thing I really respect about the creator of Buffy, is that he was not content to let his story rest in a one-note universe. There are myriad aspects of the world to deal with. Computers and gadgets, and not all of them are good. Summoned beings and demons; and not all of them are bad. The more the characters know, and explore, and deal with, the more effectively they function in that world, and to large extent, the less ‘black and white’ and the much more gray, or even downright colorful, it becomes.
I see that same pattern in my life. There is a lot to the Craft.
Mythology; perennial and local. In the series, Buffy knows about the hellmouth she lives near. She is familiar with not only the basic kinds of demons and undead, but the fact that not all of them are the same. In my life, the application of my mythology is how I deal with the the gods and spirits that I relate to. The local spirits and beings that I interact with. How to contact them, how to ask their help and how to thank them. The more I know about them, the better I can connect with them. The more I do connect with them, the more developed our relationship becomes.
Herb lore; medicinal and edible. Buffy has had to learn the basics for her field; if she didn’t know how wood and holy water were useful to her Craft, she’d be a poor student of it. In my case, I ask what grows where I live? Can I eat it? Can my cats eat it safely? When are what flowers in bloom? To aim to know herbology as a science is a hefty task, and not one that I have the time and inclination to be up to at this point in my life. But I can and do look around me, and see what is already there, and learn about it and relate to it.
There are plenty of other things that I see as important parts of the Craft. Animal lore; domestic and wild. What ate my corn? What kind of spider did I see? Ritual work. Magick. Connection with the divine; as well as understanding your own inner self. Teaching others. Knowing the history of my group, of my path, of religious thought. How did I/we get here, in the pragmatic sense; why does our path exist? Granted not many folks will be masters of all of these, but if they aren't familiar with any, then what is their path for? What does it do for them, and them for it?
I remember once reading an article in a Craft magazine wherein a self-described member of an old path was derisive toward newer paths. One of the things he asked was how many of these new practitioners knew the right words to calm down horses. I'm torn here. I don't know any specific words to calm down horses. Even if I did, in my entire life, I have been in the presence of a horse twice. Yet the point is well-taken. What do I know that is specific, and applicable to my daily life? And most importantly; do I apply it?
Things end. Everyone is expendable
When you have done your best, when you have given your all, then it's time to end. Don't sit and wait for cheers and accolades (the ones that you hear aren't the important ones anyway). Don't think that you are 'not quite ready', because if the idea has been there, seriously, in your head for more than a few moments, chances are that it's past time. Leave. Leave well.
When I am ready to retire, there may be people out there who "want to be trained by me". Well, in a path with such a matter-of-fact acceptance of reincarnation, this isn't really a problem. We'll all be 'round again. And with Gods so involved in their lives, if they really need to be trained, a teacher will appear when the time is right.
If I were tempted to re-think a retirement that I had already chosen because of the appearance of some new student/fan, well, there would be two things, which I hope would stop me. Firstly, since there are plenty of other teachers, and good ones, what other reason would I have for staying, then ego? If it was really time to leave, then it is still time to leave. Secondly, how good of a job would I do, could I do, really? If I was ready to be done, it would be at least in part because the energy wasn't there. To stay would be a disservice to such students.
I think it could be argued that sometimes a teacher plans for ‘retirement’ when it turns out not really to be time; and the new student(s) are a way for the Gods to re-energize the teacher. That’s cool, and wonderful when it happens. It’s also a lot less common than the ‘I can’t leave the spotlight’ ego-and-insecurity driven pattern that I have seen. So the question I would use to differentiate would be “why are you staying?”. If you are staying to ride the wave of energy, and it’s exciting and grand, well and good. If you are staying because you can’t bear to leave, because you’ll be of no use without students at your feet, then I think there are some very important lessons about self-esteem that you need to learn.
On your own.
Sometimes to leave means death. I could only hope for a death as meet and meaningful as the one that Buffy ended her first series with. How many people die to save something that matters to them?
Sometimes to leave means to realize that staying is no longer the right thing to do. This can be true, no matter how well-intentioned, or how well-trained or experienced the person is. Giles recently demonstrated this on the series. It hurt him. Yes it was 'just a story', and it still hurt to watch it. Even so, the rightness of that choice was unmistakable. When the teacher is the student’s crutch, it’s time to go.
Maybe that is the most important lesson I've learned. In the show, it's not always about the slayer. In life, it's not always about me. It's about the relationship between me and my gods; between members of my group. It's about serving those I love, in whatever capacity I am called to and capable of. When I am called, it's about doing what needs to be done.
The group that supports Buffy calls themselves the scoobies. And they know, that however talented, however skilled they are; they are there as support to her. Nobility; and some would say that the leadership of the Craft ought to manifest nobility; ideally knows that same lesson. So what happens when someone new comes along; someone that needs teaching – and I can’t do it as well as I could? Someone who is right, perhaps called to lead the very group that I have so cherished. I need to remember that true nobility (as opposed to the ‘burning and raping the peasantry’ kind) is about service. Yes, I was called. I have, will have had ‘my turn’. When someone else is called, it's about supporting them in whatever way they may need, even if I wouldn't have chosen that style. Even if I 'really could do it better myself'.
There is a biblical quote about ‘greater love hath no one then he give his life for that other’. Sometimes giving life isn’t about dying for them. It can be about offering, to them, the life that you once had.
Sometimes it's about stepping out of the way.
“The hardest thing in this world, is to live in it” –Joss Whedan
"One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises,
is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do." -Henry Ford