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Square Pegs in Round Holes
by Sunfell

Every group in society has them: those people who are on the periphery of a group, and who want to be part of it- sometimes desperately. Or, when they do manage to become part of a group, do not fit in, for whatever reason. I call them 'Not Ready Yets', because, for whatever reason, they are not ready to belong to a working magickal group. And some are not fit for doing magick at all.

I have known several 'Not Ready Yets' in my time as a Pagan: a dreamy unicorn chaser who believed that her 'shields' would protect her from her horrible driving habits; a tousled madwoman who called me by names other than my own; and a charming teddy-bear of a sociopath who did not want to take 'no' for an answer. Each wanted to be a student of mine, or join my Circle, and each was turned down.

In this day and age of growth and maturity in the Pagan paths, it is hard to imagine turning anyone away. Aren't our teachings for one and all? Shouldn't we lay our prejudices aside and welcome the misfit? Won't the study of magick make them well? The answer, quite frankly, is 'no'.

I'll confess that I felt this way when I was a zealous youngster on the Path. But bitter experience taught me that I should never ignore what my intuitive 'guts' tell me. They have never been wrong- but I have. Here is what happened to me:

When I was in training from Second to Third Degree in my Wiccan group, one of the requirements was that I had to create a study group so I could learn about group dynamics and how to lead people. Study groups often lead to working Circles, and I was to ascertain who might want to eventually move up to that level. I had four students- a couple, and two young men. Everything was going well, but one of the single men was a little restive. I wasn't sure if he was the right 'fit' for the class, but I let him come anyway. He kept asking questions about the Qabalah, the Golden Dawn, Crowley, and ceremonial magick. I was teaching the basics of magick, and the creation of the tools. The Golden Dawn and all that wasn't part of this course of study, and I politely told him this.

Apparently, I wasn't teaching it 'right' or quickly enough in this fellow's estimation. It didn't matter that he didn't know an athame from an asperger, he felt that he knew more than I did. Moreover, he decided that he could teach better than I could, and poached my class. Behind my back, he convinced them that they would learn much more much faster if they went with him.

And they did. Suddenly, everyone in my class resigned. I was crushed. My HPS was unruffled- she had the Wannabe Wizard pegged before I did, and pointed out my error. I swept away the remains of my deflated ego, absorbed the painful lesson, and continued my studies alone.

Meanwhile, the Wannabe Wizard had gotten himself into some major trouble. He'd bitten off more than he could chew, and had invoked a Chthonic Elemental who didn't want to leave. One of my former students sheepishly called me late one night and explained everything- Mister Wizard had dived straight into a mixture of the Golden Dawn, Crowley and Lovecraft's "Necromonicon" (!) and had managed to really mess up. There was a "thing" in his house that wouldn't go away. Would I come banish it?

I would not, but gave the guy instructions for doing so themselves- after all, they had gotten themselves into the trouble- so they could get themselves out. Their efforts failed, and again my assistance was asked. I checked on the Astral: this Elemental was a rather nasty piece of work, and it was trapped, and very unhappy. I sent it back to its own realm, and then royally chewed the ex-students up one side and down the other.

A few weeks later, I ran into the Wannabe Wizard, and he actually had the nerve to ask me if he could study with me again. "Ask me again in a year and a day- and do NO magick yourself until then," I replied. He was rather taken aback- he hadn't expected a negative answer. I moved before that year was done, so I did not find out whether he'd resumed his studies.

But he taught me a valuable lesson: if someone doesn't 'fit'- or 'feel' right, whatever the reason, it is best to turn them away before they become trouble. My Wannabe Wizard suffered from a badly inflated ego, and the wrong idea of what magick was really about. It almost killed him.

But how do you turn such a person away without totally wrecking their self-esteem? Well, you can't. It's going to hurt their feelings and bruise their ego to be turned away from a group or practice, but it has to be done- for the ethical good of all concerned. If you are not sure that your own hidden prejudices aren't influencing your decision, then schedule a group interview with the querent and some of your more sensitive and insightful colleagues. They might see beyond what is holding you back. And they might get the same nagging negativity. Trust their point of view. But use caution.

Dig down deep and ask yourself what it is about this person that needs to be repaired before you would be comfortable working with them. Is it maturity? Their distorted views of what magic truly is? Is their image of Wicca out of "The Craft"? These difficulties can be cleared up with some simple education, and it might be wiser to send such people to an Outer group, or suggest a course of individual study so they can be 'fit for public consumption'. Generally, I tell a querent of this sort that they can ask me again in a year and a day, and that I will quiz them if they return. If they have not done any studies, I turn them away permanently. I do not believe in something for nothing. A student has to be a self-starter and genuinely passionate in a good way about learning this path. I want them to burn for knowledge. I refuse to spoon feed anyone.

Others may be genuinely mentally unsuited. These have to be treated even more gingerly, and if you do not have counseling experience of your own, it might be best to contact someone who does, for advice for handling such a person.

One of my 'wannabe' students was a fellow who was a friend of a former colleague. He was outwardly very friendly and charming, but something about him made all my alarms go off. Some saw this, others didn't. There was something 'not right' about him, and when I briefly introduced him to a friend who was a psychologist, she immediately understood. The guy was a sociopath. On the surface, he was a real charmer, but he liked to speak of things that truly chilled me. He was an opportunistic drifter who could not keep a job. And he wanted me to teach him magick. He asked me more than once- and I refused him each time. Later I found out that he was jailed for molesting some youngsters in his charge- I shudder to think what he would have done within our sphere.

None of us spring out of our broom-closets completely fit for the Path. We all have a lot to learn, and we all must become firmly versed in the basics and ethics of our Path before we are ready to move on. Our rough edges and misperceptions must be sanded down for us to be fit for public consumption. On the Hermetic Path, it is often stated the 'when the student is ready, the Teacher will appear'. We are both Student, and as we mature on the Path, Teachers as well. We must always be ready to answer a student's question, or turn them back to their studies to learn more. And we must continue our own studies.

In this time-honored way, our Way will grow in strength and numbers. But never forget: trust your judgement. You might not be the right teacher for a potential student, but someone will be. Even if it is their own Higher Selves.


All material printed here is used by permission of the author, Sunfell, copyright 2000