Traditional Apprenticeships: Training in the Modern Pagan Abbey
Article ID: 15589
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Treasach [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: January 5th. 2014
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My recent activities (1) have netted me many inquiries from those who wish to study in our pagan Abbeys (2) , specifically the healing and other technology, often associated with women, primarily from the European Aboriginal traditions (3) , which we specialize in. ‘Students’, however, are very much different from traditional ‘apprentices’. However, many are unaware of the rights and responsibilities of such relationships, which therefore need to be clarified. Traditional apprenticeships are of great antiquity and have many common elements including the interaction between mistress and apprentice, which we will also explore.
Lessons or sessions and apprenticeships are two different streams in our Abbeys. For the first, they are in-depth teaching opportunities to learn the intricacies of stillroom work for a more hobby use, perhaps as an introduction, or for personal healing. I do them usually for groups, with a full lecture and demo (4) , and in my home on an individual basis. They require a lot of prep and materials on my part, so I often have to charge for them. 'Course, I also trade for doing dishes, for example, since my dishwasher broke down... This is also traditional, since most people don’t have chickens to trade anymore...
Apprenticeship on the other hand is for those who believe this might be their Calling. It involves a far more intense and thorough program, with the expectation that apprentices repay their teaching in sweat equity rather than cash, and often continuing on to practice professionally. It is longer, too, and harder, usually involving an eventual restructuring of one's life to take on this goal (5) .
I take applicants for both methods, and people can switch streams whenever they like, if they are able to. I don't take on apprentices who are healing themselves of a severe condition, for example. There is far too much going on in someone's life when they are healing to add the intensity of a full time apprenticeship, too. They stay Students until they are more fully recovered.
With both methods, the dropout rate is still pretty high. Most people are not prepared for the revelations that occur when immersed into traditional healing, and what that means for themselves, their lives, their families, and how they fit in the world, or the world fits around them. It's a profound shift, and many people are simply not equipped to deal with it at that time. It's my job to help them with that, of course, but it's still too big a leap for many.
It is especially intense for those who seek the apprenticeship stream.
I take on very few apprentices. Since I also require the spiritual component, potential apprentices are accepted in similar ways to novitiates from other paths. (6) Sometimes, they simply need to apply, and I am satisfied that they are ready to dedicate themselves and meet the challenge. Usually, I allow them to commit to the apprenticeship stream after a trial period, especially if they seem adamant on the surface but some underlying issues are holding them back or making progress difficult. In certain cases, an Initiation or personal trial is required, for those who require a more visceral acknowledgement of the contract and to prove they won't fail out when the hard work begins.
No matter how they arrive to the path, however, all apprentices are chosen for their dedication not just to healing others, but to their own personal growth, character, and empowerment. No one can heal anyone else, of course. Only patients heal themselves, no matter what you cut out of them or dose them with. Someone who feels they are done with suffering will die no matter how successful the treatment is, and others will rise from their deathbeds with remarkable courage if they have the will. (7) The healing arts are to facilitate that recovery as much as possible. So I dislike the term Healer, since no one heals anybody else (except laying on of hands, which I have yet to have proven to me, but I'm keeping an open mind) , but since I can't really come up with a better term, it will have to suffice.
Because of this, however, one of the best methods to increase chances in patient outcome, in traditional or conventional healing, is having a fully actualized Healer. This is self-evident, but not included at all in conventional training, though very much a part of traditional healing in many parts of the world. (8, 9) Someone who has worked hard on their flaws, like racial or sexist prejudices, is a better patient advocate, for example, and can hear the vulnerable in a more meaningful way. (10) A humble healer will be more available to assist in vital procedures or discussions that other professionals might find beneath their dignity. A healer who practices Detached Compassion (11) will be strong and compassionate to those who invoke great pity in others, and the “Wounded Healer” such as a shaman can devote far more energy and time to palliative care than those who are struggling with their own mortality.
So, when I take on apprentices, I train them as traditional professional pagan healing nonnes. (I currently don't train men as apprentices, for various reasons. (12) ) This means not only studying for months or years to learn the traditional tech, but they also dedicate themselves to spiritual self-improvement. They examine their own lives for fatal flaws and empower themselves. Because of this, there is far less to cloud their judgments in their examinations of others, and they are more able to give of themselves with sincerity and reverence, and not simply as a drain on their resources. To that end, we emphasize knowledge, honour, duty, integrity, courage, discipline, deep personal self-examination in all the dark places, and ultimately, vows, if the dedicant chooses to make this her life's work.
For method and technique, we have to adapt to the modern era we live in, but there is a plethora of material to build upon from the past (13, 14, 15) , as well as some current best practices. We use whatever resources necessary; including other acknowledged professionals and accredited institutions. For example, our nuns learn how to 'read' a client, including body clues, intuiting and micro-expressions (16) to better understand a client's actual issues, including those they might not be willing to divulge, and investigate many other possibilities that most healers never know to look for. They also learn how to make the remedies themselves, like salves, decoctions, alcohols, poultices, candies, and healing foods, as well as suggest recommendations and train clients in their use. Some finish university degrees in our specialties, such as counseling and folklore. We also teach how to work within the laws and health requirements of each country, partner up with other members of the healing team, and not step on the toes of conventional med, the pharmaceutical industry, and food and drug administrations, which have a tendency to bite.
However, one of the most important reasons for me for the rigorous selection process and the choice of taking only a few apprentices is the personal trial they represent. By agreeing to be someone's Mistress, or mentor, or sifu, or yogini (17) , you commit to a lifelong relationship. You must not only train them in your particular art, but also move them along in their spiritual and personal journey. As you help them discover themselves, you volunteer to be their Dark Mirror, which requires a great deal of trust and honesty on both sides. As the training continues, it becomes impossible not to have a close and ultimately vulnerable relationship. I still sit down with my first Mistress, who is now nearly 70, and we discuss everything from our sex lives to our fears, our dreams, and our successes. We give each other insights in as open and often blunt way as we can, because no one else knows us better, and almost no one is prepared to be as honest and genuinely helpful. To this day, it still helps both of us in our lives and continually assists us to become better people.
Fantasy novels are full of students who have betrayed their masters' trust and try to destroy them. However, the reality is not far from that truth. In such an intimate relationship, as such tend to become, the wrong selection of student can be a devastating blow. Whether it's your business secrets or proprietary formulations, or your personal life lessons that you have imparted as examples for training, an apprentice that proves him or herself unworthy of carrying such secrets can make a huge mess of your life or career. Like most close relationships, really... I have some experience in this kind of heartbreak, and it guides my reluctance, my selection and my occasional trials or character proofs for applicants. Sadly…
Student or apprentice, I take my role as a sacred trust, and do my very best to give that person what I feel they most need: whether it be simple healing knowledge, physical health, spiritual self-examination, business and social training, or character building and empowerment. Even if they aren't aware of it, which is much harder… It can take a great personal toll, but the rewards of watching other people’s lives unfold beautifully are worth it, and can bring so much joy. I am always honoured when asked to serve my clients and students, and with hard work, personal sacrifice and dedication, to train others go out into the world committed to serve, heal, and fight for justice.
15."More than anything else, however, Brigid is renowned for her hospitality. The poor and the infirm come in their multitudes. She makes provision for the sick, tending to them with her knowledge of contemporary medicine. Kildare becomes a place of holy pilgrimage for all, from the prominent and powerful to the lowly and forgotten."
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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