Spiritual Paths and Rocky First Steps

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland by atomicpuppy68.

Photo by atomicpuppy68; creative commons license

I’ve been trying to explain the Wiccan degree system of formalized training to a new student who is excited about taking this important step on her spiritual path in late December.  I think it would be prudent of me to make sure I space out the rest of the Initiations so that everyone isn’t going through the same issues at the same times.  A wise High Priestess once told me this, mainly because she had eight students deep in the muck of their Second Degrees and they were driving her crazy with frantic middle-of-the-night phone calls and visits. 

The Second Degree is the one that usually worries me, mainly because I don’t want my students to face it as the personification of Personal Hell—as I was told by my Elders that it was for them and would be for me as well.  I teach my students instead that it’s a deep-cleansing process where the Initiate really takes responsibility and works through darkest personal shadows.  All those issues that hinder spirituality get power-blasted away, whether we like it or not.  My Second Degree Elevation was the point where my world turned upside down, and regardless of the warnings and expectations set for me, still I never expected it.  That’s because I was arrogant about my spirituality and where I thought I was on my path.

My then-High Priestess had already told me that my Second Degree would be sheer hell, but then comforted me, saying that if I got a lot of the crap cleared out in my life, then it probably wouldn’t be too bad. She said that some people actually had very lightweight Second Degrees because they’d done so much spiritual work and the hell-time wasn’t bad at all for them.   I actually thought I HAD cleared out many of my shadows before I ever embarked on my path, so I wasn’t much bothered.   In hindsight, oh, I had no idea how many shadows needed to be dispersed or that they even existed!  Worse.  I’d refused to look at the shadows before then.

For newer students to the path, the First Degree (Initiation in my path), tends to be a wonderful time of discovering spiritual gifts.  For those on the path as a solitary for many years, like me, it serves to jolt us out of our complacency.  I realize this only from the other side of the Third Degree Elevation and years of personal experience. 

On the afternoon of my own Initiation in a State Park in Pennsylvania in August 2002, a Priestess stood watch over me while the Circle was prepared for me.   Others who were being Initiated or Elevated chose to meditate for hours or fast all day.  Not me.  I was ready.  Right then.  I was impatient to begin.  The Priestess gave me several chances to back out, reminding me that I still had a choice before making such an important commitment and that there would be no turning back.  I shrugged her off.  I was ready, ready, ready to move forward on my spiritual path and I took my oaths with no falseness in my heart.

The same Priestess stood at my fender as I cranked my rental car to leave camp.  “Don’t get lost,” she told me, referring to an overnight stop and a two-hour drive to the airport.  I think I rolled my eyes at her.  Thirty minutes later, I was lost.   Three hours later,  I was slammed with an experience that devastated me and caused me to look at two of my personal relationships and realize they weren’t what I thought they were.   My High Priestess later said that I’d been on my path so long that I almost automatically went into my Second Degree.   Whereas many describe the three-degree journey as the Tarot’s Death card of change, mine was more of a Tower Card happening fast and quick and hard and brutal.

I still remember sitting in the airport, waiting for my plane, and sobbing on the phone to Vicki, hour after hour.  I had suddenly realized that there was something dreadfully wrong in my marriage and I didn’t want to go home to it, didn’t want to face it.  Until now, I’d forgotten, but my first test came very quickly, within a day of my Initiation–and within 3 months, I knew for certain that my relationship was over (only after I got up the courage to confront the situation), even if it took a few years to give up on it completely and extract myself.  I had to look at the truth of my situation, finally, and take responsibility I didn’t want to take.  I had to come clean about the way I really felt about the life I’d built and stop deceiving myself that everything was just fine.  It wasn’t easy, and I resisted for a long time, which just made life harder. 

I watched others with a similar background find their own tests to weather—leaving problematic careers, dealing with family members, climbing out of debt, sometimes all of these.  For me, it was about relationships more than anything else and getting myself out of situations where I was consistently manipulated and guilt-tripped.  But that’s just me.

When I arrived home from my Initiation, my husband was waiting for me, unhappily and silently, angry that I’d taken a leap of faith to grow spiritually.

Think of the Fool Card in Tarot, the man stepping off the cliff on his new journey.  It was the first step on my new path, and as they say, that first step was a doozy.