"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, June 26, 2009

Students, Apprentices, and Teachers Oh MY!

By Sophie Reicher

Magicians are territorial creatures. We grow more so as our power and skill levels increase. Working magic well takes a certain stubborn dominance of will that can lead to an incredible sensitivity toward power, territory and boundaries. We know where the sphere of our influence ends to the centimeter and we generally don’t much like others of equal power coming within a hundred yards of our territory, even sometimes when this happens by our own invitation. Negotiating protocol between a group of master magicians can be a headache-inducing exercise in diplomacy and tact (even when all of the magicians involved are good friends—there’s friendship and then there’s work after all). This is in part because magic is all about gaining and using power. I have heard politics called ‘the art of the possible’ and in truth, I think magic fits this bill even more. Those of us who reach the higher levels of practice are patterned and formed by the practice itself. If we don’t start out with rather large egos (often based in very clearly recognized and demonstrable skill), we tend to develop them over time. It goes, if you will pardon the pun, with the territory. High level magic can be quite difficult and quite physically painful and the Master or Adept develops a certain stubborn willfulness to endure and gain the upper hand. It’s a side effect of the necessities of training.

I never really gave much thought to how this affects a magician’s interaction with his or her students or apprentices until very recently. Over the years I have had both but the past two years I took something of a sabbatical from teaching (one does run the risk of burn out after awhile). Only recently have I again opened my doors to students and one erstwhile apprentice. I recently outsourced my current apprentice to another master magician for very specific training. When that magician in turn brought in a third teacher without informing me, I became quite angry. It was a violation (all unintentional on both our parts) of the protocol I had been taught. We’re all control freaks. That too goes with the territory: magicians are obsessed with controlling every aspect of their world as much as possible. Nowhere is that more pronounced than with students. There is a certain professional, collegial courtesy, an etiquette that we maintain when dealing with another’s student or apprentice, one that I’d never had cause to consciously put into words before. It’s painfully easy to forget about that etiquette when dealing with a colleague who is also a close friend. While the other magician and I had a productive discussion that resulted in my being kept ‘in the organizational loop’ so to speak (which was what I’d wanted), and while I agreed that the outsourcing to a third party was right and necessary, the whole incident caused me to re-evaluate how we were taught to relate to students and apprentices and what the difference between the two might be. There are differences and there is a traditional dynamic, a cosmological groove that often comes into play and oh how I wish I’d realized it when I first began teaching!

So here it is and any students or apprentices reading this might find the reality of the matter a bit dismaying. Understand that the magician is bound just as strongly as the student or apprentice. It’s in no way a one-sided binding. There are obligations and duties on both sides. No one gets the proverbial free lunch here. Basically, students and apprentices are both physical extensions of the magician’s territory. Understand that this means exactly what it says: the apprentice, particularly, and to a lesser degree the student are extensions of the magician’s sphere of influence. Students have far more freedom than apprentices and the magician has far fewer responsibilities to someone who is just a student (though what responsibilities there are tend to be quite binding). How tightly a magician controls the life of the Student or apprentice varies from practitioner to practitioner. I tend to train the way I myself was trained which was pretty old-fashioned and strict though the older I get the more flexible it seems I’ve become about the whole thing, at least in part.

There is a reason for the strictness of the training: an apprentice is learning to wield a significant amount of power. This is not a game or imaginary exercise. He or she is being exposed to training that can make him quite dangerous. It is the master’s responsibility to ensure that the student develops a certain sense of ethics, discipline and control, that he is she is not unbalanced by the training or the power, that he understands the costs, and the difference between lawful and unlawful action. Until the magician is sure that the student isn’t going to go off the deep end, or egregiously misuse his training, it’s best to keep control so that any potential problems can be nipped in the bud. We’ve all seen students who gain a little skill and suddenly develop egos all out of proportion to their training and who then rush out to do stupid things that end up either getting themselves or someone else hurt, or creating a mess for their teacher to clean up. The way to offset this is to maintain appropriate hierarchy, no matter how frustrating that might seem. It’s not enough to have the skill, there must also be a level of maturity and discipline. Understanding what I call chain of command from the very beginning helps immensely with that. It also gives the teacher the magical access and, moreover, the karmic right to lock the student down if necessary.

The magician is responsible for protecting the student or apprentice, for training him (or her), for helping him develop his gifts, and in some cases (I’m thinking of live in apprentices here) of providing room and board. In return, the apprentice or student works his ass off doing whatever he is told. That obedience is the coin with which the Student/apprentice pays for training. Apprenticeship takes this dynamic a step further. The apprentice is far more integrated into the magician’s life and household. Whereas students are simply expected to practice, study, and not seek out external training without permission, apprentices may become the magician’s errand boys, girl Fridays, house keepers, and assistants as needed. They maintain a far closer relationship with the magician and in turn, gain far more knowledge and power. Essentially, the apprentice becomes a reservoir for a certain level of power invested in him by the magician. The apprentice then becomes a living extension of the magician’s will. Over time, the magician begins to allow the apprentice to take more and more of an active role in whatever work is being done, to express far more individual initiative, and over time, both of these things combine to pattern and prepare the apprentice for handling higher and higher levels of power. Eventually, the bond reaches its fulfillment and the apprentice goes off on his own with the blessings of his teacher. The only obligation then maintained is that the apprentice cannot/should not use what he learned against his teacher. There remains a hierarchy of respect. It can be at its worst, a brutal system. At its best, it functions with military precision.

The downside occurs when expectations are not clearly set from the beginning. There is also the inevitability of transference (or counter transference), particularly if the Student or apprentice has any unresolved parental or authority issues. It’s incumbent on the magician to maintain constant objectivity with regard to the teacher-Student/apprentice relationship. The personal should not enter into it. It’s a hard road. My apprentice years were awful but I learned a tremendous amount and I don’t regret them in the least. I also learned that the hardest thing for a teacher is to know when to let go, when there is nothing more to teach. In the best relationship, the teacher learns as much from the process of teaching as the apprentice or Student does. Ideally, the apprentice is the most trusted person in the magician’s life. This is the person the magician is grooming to become a colleague, an equal, maybe a replacement. They should ultimately work as a well-honed team. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the ideal.

I also maintain a difference between a student: someone who comes to me asking for specific training in one or two areas, or who takes a class from me and a Student, someone who wants to learn the ins and outs of an esoteric art on an ongoing basis but who is not, for some reason, wishing to become an apprentice. I far prefer working with students, as the reciprocal obligations are few (teach what they’ve asked you to teach and let them go). The more in depth that a magician is working with someone, the more obligations for that person’s training, well-being, and safety the magician incurs. If an apprentice that I have trained goes bad, I’m responsible for cleaning up the mess and locking that person down regardless of the cost to myself. The severity of the teaching relationship allows the teacher to, as accurately as possible, suss out potential problems and instabilities. The downside is that as the apprentice progresses, he is well-placed to harm his teacher because he will know the ins and outs of the teacher’s protections and has access to the teacher’s workspace and tools. There’s a great degree of trust required on both sides. It also presupposes a degree of maturity and integrity on the part of the magician that, in reality, may sometimes be lacking. I see nothing wrong with asking for a trial period before entering into a master-apprentice bond because the last thing someone needs is to end up with a Teacher who is cruel or unbalanced. I’m not averse to actually writing up a contract with clearly defined responsibilities on both sides.

There is another side to the teacher-apprentice relationship (and to a limited degree the teacher-Student relationship) that is almost never discussed. Because the Student or Apprentice is so connected to the Teacher, the law of negative rebound often comes into affect. We most often see this with familiars: if someone throws malicious or harmful magic at a magician and his or her shields are too strong for the magic to affect him or her directly, it will often rebound and strike the point of greatest weakness: finances, love relationship, pets’ health, car…anything that isn’t protected adequately. One of the reasons that many magicians traditionally had pet familiars is that they form an early warning system that someone is trying to attack the magician magically. Familiars will absorb attacks meant for the magician and in worst case scenarios will sicken and die. This protects the magician and gives warning that counter measures must be taken. It’s one of the fundamental purposes of a familiar. Likewise, a powerful attack can hit the Students and apprentices before hitting the Master. This is one of the primary reasons that I keep a close and watchful eye on my own Students and my one apprentice: it is my duty to protect them from this eventuality. If you want to make a brutal point and weaken a magician, strike at his or her apprentice. It’s rude. It’s unfair. It’s a violation of traditional protocol but it’s also damned effective. It is right of ownership, invoked by the power of the traditional master-apprentice bond that allows the master magician to adequately circumvent this danger.

None of this means that the master magician doesn’t see and value the individual personality and talents of the Student or apprentice. He does. In fact he has to. It’s because of who the apprentice is that the magician accepted him or her in that role in the first place. There has to be mutual respect and a certain compatibility of approach and personality for it to really work well. What I’m discussing above is the over-arching dynamic in which that personal relationship rests, the bigger picture, if you will. The best teachers that I’ve encountered are the ones who are always carefully and exquisitely aware of their duties and responsibilities, who never take either students, Students, or apprentices for granted. It’s a privilege, not a right to take on that role. We have an obligation to be the type of teachers we ourselves would have wanted.

This is the reason why magicians often want students or apprentices but also at the same time dread having them.

No comments:

Post a Comment