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From Maleck comes this topic:
“What’s it like being a teacher in the community?”
It depends on the subject at hand, if I am teaching students or peers, and who the larger audience receiving the information may be. Whether it is here on the blog through topics, at conventions like ConVocation, MI Paganfest, or Ann Arbor Pagan Pride Day teaching through workshops, or direct teaching, I generally find teaching a rewarding and powerful experience. There are few things as gratifying as getting a good question from someone who has real engagement in the subject, or a question or comment that makes you sit back, go “huh” and plumb your own knowledge or the crowd’s for an answer. I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy the opportunity to learn while doing it, and to share what I learn wrapped up in that.
When I do workshops, I find that I tend to have a really good time because the folks that come to them want to learn, and/or have a good grasp of the subject and want to compare notes. That was definitely my experience at the recent Ann Arbor Pagan Pride Day September 10th, for both my Basics of Heathen Magic and Polytheism 101 workshops. Folks who turned out for them had really excellent questions, solid engagement, and abiding interest in the topic at hand.
I would say a good chunk of what is challenging about being a teacher in the Heathen communities has nothing to do immediately with my students, peers, or folks that come to learn from me. Rather, it is the overall cultural currents we swim in, both in terms of the overculture and that of the general Heathen communities, that makes the work of being a teacher so hard. On the one hand folks want to be taught and to have spiritual experts available, and on the other, there is not a lot of support for us doing that work in a reliable way. Many Pagan communities eschew paying folks for their work, whether that work is divination, teaching, developing training materials, etc, yet the demand is still there for that work.
The need for teachers becomes fairly obvious in the dialogue that still happens around concepts like orthodoxy and orthopraxy, terms that describe right thought and right action. Often, because of how terms like orthodoxy are used and weaponized in Christian theology and communities, Pagan and polytheist folks tend to have reactions against the use of the term. I have also seen similar reactions to direct translations of the term, eg right relationship. Some of these objections are based in the notion that someone is trying to mediate their relationship with the Ginnreginn, and some are based in a rejection of anything that smacks of authority. Because of these prevailing views in the polytheist and Pagan communities, it makes deeper discussion of these concepts harder, if not impossible. I have found that presenting these as the neutral, descriptive terms that they are, as opposed to the often prescriptivist way they are used in Christian theology and communities, is a good counteractive to this. That requires us to be open to education, to communicating well, to deconstructing Christian theology and use of terms, and no small amount of patience.
Much of the reason for the two workshops I put on for Ann Arbor Pagan Pride is not only because those subjects are really useful in the context of being part of a Pagan Pride event, being 101 workshops, but because the sources we do have for solid historically-based information, especially with regard to modern and updated texts, are expensive and difficult to parse at times. Even in more approachable texts, like Dr. Price’s The Viking Way, they tend to be dense/hard to get through, and terms need to be broken down and made meaningful for a modern Heathen context. The meaningfulness here not only needs to be meaningful in regards to being able to be understood in a Heathen context, it also needs to be able to be applied to Heathen practice.
For an example of this, from Price:
“Besides the magic used by Óðinn, we also find the fifth category of ‘general’ sorcery. One aspect of this has a vocabulary of terms that appear to mean simply ‘magic’ in the same vague sense as we use the word today. The most common of these was fjolkyngi, which seems to have been especially well-used. In the Old Norse sources we also find fróðleikr, and slightly later, trolldómr (cf. Raudvere 2001: 88ff). The latter concept became increasingly common through the Middle Ages, and together with galdr it continued as one of the generic words for ‘witchcraft’ long into post-medieval times (see Hastrup 1987: 331–6 for Icelandic terminologies of magic during this period). There were also other terms which were used as collectives. These include gerningar, ljóð and taufr – all apparently kinds of chant or charm – and the complexities of runic lore as set out in Eddic poems such as Sigrdrífomál and Rígsþula. Another group of terms refers to various forms of unspecified magical knowledge, and include affixes implying this on the part of people or supernatural beings. Thus we find vísenda-, kúnatta- and similar words used for ‘those who know’, a relatively common perception of sorcerous power that occurs in many cultures.” (Price 33)
“The fabric of religious belief and practice in Viking-Age Scandinavia can be seen to have been nuanced, multi-scalar and far from static, with a degree of regional variation and change over time.” (Price 33)
I had to break down these terms and suggest ways we may use them in a modern Heathen context. In this way we continue to change the fabric of religious belief, nuance, and the application of these terms in a descriptive rather than prescriptive way for ourselves in our own time. For instance, while I often combine galdr (I tie this into singing/intoning the Runes) with the formation of taufr (physical charms) and other forms of magic techniques such as gerningar (chanting, sometimes mumbled under the breath) and ljóð (chanting or incantation which I interpret as being in verse, whether alliterative or rhyming), each stands on their own as a magical technique in its own right. Clearly definining and then applying these terms gives us a wider array of words, and in doing so, ways, of understanding magic.
Keep in mind these workshops are just at the 101 level. Being a teacher in the communities I am part of requires a recognition that folks are at wherever they are at when we come together. Some will have an excellent grounding in exoteric and esoteric Heathenry, whereas some will have a poor grounding in the exoteric parts of the religion, and others will have a poor grounding in esoteric religion. Sometimes folks will just be inexperienced with polytheist religion in general, or not have a good grounding in either exoteric or esoteric Heathenry. Having a mix of exoteric and esoteric practice in and of itself would not be at issue if it were grounded firmly in the Heathen worldview, experience, and understanding. So, I have to establish where we are. I often do this in my 101 workshops by starting off defining terms so we have a foundation to build conversation on. Unless we make these firm foundations deeper conversations are almost impossible to have. Once we have a shared language around the subject we can dig into it.
Part of the work of being a teacher is to ensure, as much as I can, that those I teach have a firm grounding in the material and its meaning. So long as folks are coming into our various polytheist and Pagan communities with these ideas grounded in worldviews other than our own this basic education will be necessary. To be clear: A lot of this I do not have to explain to my kids, who are second generation Heathens. It is a part of how they live their lives. This education is, by and large, necessary for those who were not raised in the religion.
Some of the reason for that lack of need to educate them is that my kids are only practicing exoteric Heathenry. My oldest has not expressed interest in learning esoteric practices, and my youngest is way too young to learn at the moment. Gods help me, though, she loves the Runes. When we go to have breakfast, she often picks ‘coffee Runes’ from my arms (I have tattoos on my forearms displaying all the Runes) that she has me ‘takes off’ my arm, puts them into my coffee, and than has me galdr the Rune. Then, I drink the coffee. It’s a fun way to share the Runes with her and empower myself for a full day. What esoteric practices my kids have learned are immediately applicable to exoteric practice and everyday life, namely cleansing by deep breathing. They have learned prayers and proper respect to show with the hearth, Sacred Fires, and other places the exoteric and esoteric tend to cross.
Teaching a workshop or even over the course of a weekend is one thing, but teaching folks in an ongoing way is a lot different. My Kindred started as a Rune study group, and eventually transormed into a Heathe Kindred, Mimisbrunnr Kindred, over about a year or two. Some folks from here asked for training in different areas, and delved into spirtwork in their own ways. Just being available has been a good part of my work with one-on-one work. Being available to answer questions, guide, or ask questions to help folks find their own answers, it is less the way we think of teaching in terms of a professor and student and more of a “I’ve walked this path and I’m here to help guide”.
Being a teacher, I get invited to help folks with their journey wherever they are when they come forward. Seeing folks really dig into their religion, whatever their experience with it, and getting to understand how it works and where they are within it is a gratifying thing. If I happen to get to help along that journey, if I can make a material impact on how they learn, what they learn, and make that easier or more involved or both, so much the better. The reason I teach is because the Ginnreginn call me to do it. On its own that is enough. What makes my work all the more gratifying is being able to see the folks I teach make progress as part of taking a workshop, watching a video, or asking me questions through email or Discord. Sometimes I have had folks come back to me a few weeks, months, or in some cases, years later, and share some of the absolutely amazing things they were able to do because of the time we shared. It really is an honor to do this work.
I have tried writing more on this but not much more is coming forward right now, so if you or other readers have more specific questions down this line please ask them!