Reprinted from the Seekers and Guides column at the Agora blog on the Patheos Pagan channel, originally published September 30, 2013:
The Craft is not an easy study. I think a lot of us come to it with a belief that it’s going to be a smooth and friendly process and that we can proceed at our own pace and take exactly what we want, leaving the rest. To some degree that is all very true; one of the very best things about Paganism is that it is very personal and versatile, and that we can approach it in our own way. I like to joke that if you get nine Pagans in a room, you’ll have thirteen different opinions. But the idea that it’s an easy way is an obstacle to learning the deep aspects that make the Craft so rewarding. This thought put me in mind of a few things that can create barriers in the learning process. Some of them have to do with perspective, some mindset, and some circumstance. Clear away these ideas and conceptions, and you’ll find your practice to be much more satisfying.
Don’t Expect to Coast Through
You can study your whole life and never understand all the Craft’s mysteries. I’ve been doing this formally for just shy of twenty-five years, and the Elders of the Craft hear that, smile, and tell me, “That’s just when it starts to get interesting!” And they’re right. Also, you will be challenged. I think I’ve pointed out many times that the quest of the Witch is to Know Thyself. This isn’t an easy process and it’s often not much fun. There’s a whole lot of sludge down in our subconscious minds. Weeding through it is a difficult task. And it can’t be avoided either. It takes a while (see above; twenty-five years, just getting started.) And, sooner or later your faith, like in any other religion, will be tested. Your gods will ask you to trust in Them, and to follow Their directives even if you don’t understand why.
A Full Cup Holds No More Water
Sometimes students come to the Craft with the belief that they are the one and true authority on their own spirituality. And that’s true. But just keep in mind that a full cup can hold no more water. If you already know everything, how can you learn anything? Keep an open mind. To quote Mercedes Lackey, “Your Swordmaster’s God, whoever he be, when he stands there before you to teach. So don’t argue or whine, or mock foolishly, or you’ll soon be consulting the leech!” Your teachers teach things for a reason and you may not always understand. Just do it. You can always reject it later if you don’t like it. (Of course, the exception is anything that strikes you as morally wrong. Naturally, don’t do those things. But put a little trust in someone you’ve asked to instruct you, anyway.)
It’s Not a Buffet
Because the Craft is so freeform and accepting, I think a lot of us come to it with the mistaken impression that everything within it is available for mix-and-matching. It’s not. What good are the runes if you only memorize half of them? And just try calling Thor and Lilith into the same circle some time; go on, I dare you. Perhaps Paganism is more aptly described this way; yes, it’s a buffet. But some flavors mix better than others, and the rule is, you have to eat everything you put on your plate, so choose wisely.
Your Teachers Aren’t Your Parents
Repeat this one like a mantra. Repeat it at least once a day. No really; I’m not kidding. It’s amazing how easy it is for this to be confused, somehow. Many students of the Craft expect their teachers to baby them or go out of their way to do things for them (if I had a nickel for every time a student expected me to drive him or her around somewhere!) Many students feel their teachers owe them something somehow; like it’s okay to demand their attention, even outside of designated circles or learning periods (you know, phone them up at 2 o’clock in the morning because there’s a personal crisis; that kind of thing.) And it seems that sooner or later, most students try to re-enact their childhood dramas on their teachers. If your father was distant and cold emotionally, you are likely to see your coven High Priest as being cold and emotionless and insensitive to your plights. If your mother was overbearing, you’ll often find yourself reacting with resentment and hostility to any directive from your High Priestess. This is especially true during the Second Degree period. If you persist in enacting childhood dramas, then you will find yourself revisiting the crises you never resolved (such as leaving the group in a huff if you left home in a huff as a teenager.) It wastes time in your study and it builds resentments where none are needed.
Things Cost Money
Yes, the Ardaynes forbid taking money for the Craft. Yes, some people try to bilk others for cash under the guise of religion or spirituality. But things cost money. If your teachers want $10 for photocopies or a $20 monthly fee for space rental, they are obviously not trying to finance a Mercedes. Cut them a break and pay for what you’re using. Energy also needs to be fairly exchanged to prevent burnout, and if your teachers are paying for the privilege of teaching you, they will run out of money eventually and the lessons will be over. What does your spirituality mean to you? No one’s asking you to refinance the house (I hope!) but surely your spiritual growth can take priority over a daily venti sugar-free vanilla latte?
Feces Must Be Coagulated
Sooner later, in any study in which you are seeking to Know Thyself, stuff will come up. Most of us find a period of time in which our learning is actively hampered by personal issues, financial problems, changes of schedule, changes of circumstance, and even struggles with emotional problems or physical or mental illness. It may not feel like this, but these things are part of your studies. You’ve got to get your real life together first, sometimes. What good is a spiritual practice if you can’t apply it to your daily life? Give yourself room to do this and approach it with the same verve you approach every other aspect of the Craft’s study.
All in all, just keep these things in mind when approaching your practice, whether studying from books and the internet, taking a distance learning course, or working with a teacher in person. I guarantee you will get a lot more out of it and progress will be considerably quicker than it might have been otherwise!
 “Advice to Would-Be Heroes” by Mercedes Lackey, performed by Leslie Fish. From the album “Oathbound”.