I’ve come to view my wanderings and upcoming Great Adventure in a new light. Rather than a goal in and of themselves, they are a stage in my training. It’s the act of the journey that helps me reach my full potential.
In other words, I am a journeyman.
The idea of a journeyman is simple. When an artisan is good enough to go practice on his own, but not yet a master, he (or she) undertakes a journey. Along this journey, the artisan stays in many places for a few months or a year each. This lets them learn from other masters, study regional techniques, work on new kinds of projects and generally expand their horizons.
The idea of a journeyman is a very ancient, traditional part of learning a skilled art. In Europe, it has been a key part of the guild apprenticeship system for longer than history can record.
The traditional journeyman has a very specific goal. During their time traveling, they are preparing to make their master-piece. This is a piece of work which they will present to guild leaders, exhibiting their finest skill and everything they’ve learned. It is then up to the guild to decide if it is, indeed, the work of a master.
The system described above is still used in France to train a number of professionals: carpenters, masons, plumbers, even pastry chefs (get on it, Stacy!). Many people don’t realize that in ancient times, a similar apprenticeship system was used for virtually every occupation—even the poet-priests of ancient Ireland.
As a priest of the Old Belief, that’s significant to me. At our temple, we used a strict apprenticeship system to train students in the ways of meditation, sacrifice, myth, and other sacred arts.
I was always at a disadvantage. As one of the co-founders of our organization, I had helped reconstruct many lost elements of this tradition. But, knowledgeable as I was, I didn’t have a teacher of my own above me.
I had trained in other traditions, and continue to train in a very apprentice-like setting in Japanese martial arts, but that is different than having a priest of the Old Belief to learn from. The one teacher I did have a chance to apprentice with in our tradition turned out to be a less than spiritual man, and gladly he cut me free as his student after several years. For the most part, I was left to find my own way.
I worked to be the best teacher I could, with no one to show me the way. I told my first students that I would make mistakes. I made it very clear at all times that I was not (and am not) a master. All in all, it worked out pretty well.
But there’s the catch. This arrangement was very good for my students: they had a dedicated teacher guiding their practice. For me, I had nothing of the sort.
Shortly after losing my teacher I took my first trip to Ireland. On May Day morning I knelt on the Hill of Uisneach, which is the center of the universe. There I made offerings and asked how I could possibly proceed without a teacher to guide me.
“Learn from the Land,” they said.
I don’t get voices whispering in my ear. If I feel anything in prayer, it is just in my heart, just a silent glimmer of what to do. In this case, the glimmer was very clear. Learn from the Land.
I took the advice to heart. I pushed myself to be more and more at home in the wilderness. The next summer I lived with hunter gatherers. I put myself in uncomfortable situations to maximize my knowledge about the outdoors. In the end, these experiences didn’t just give me knowledge, they completely changed the way I (a nature priest) think about Nature.
Incidentally, these same skills are what are likely to keep me alive on the Adventure.
Eventually I did gain a new spiritual teacher. Lugh, the heroic deity, is the god above me. I formally gave myself to him as his apprentice to do with as he sees fit. It has been a productive, challenging apprenticeship.
But there comes a time when an apprentice needs to go out and see the world. Traditionally, the student would first learn from instruction, then learn by doing—by running a temple and by performing ceremonies. I have done that. But eventually the student must go into the world and challenge what they’ve learned.
By “challenge” I don’t necessarily mean questioning, though that’s fine. I mean putting it to the test. So meditation makes you more aware—great, you will survive this high-crime area, right? You’ve learned how to help people who feel stuck and need advice—okay, how about people starving to death? How about people who sell their kids into prostitution to buy drugs?
I’m not saying some meditation will guarantee your safety or that you can solve everyone’s problems. But in any art you will be put to the test when you abandon the familiar. Even though I can’t do everything, as a priest I should be able to have some effect on the people I meet.
Goals of the Journey
Templating the idea over to spiritual practice, what would we expect from a Journeyman Priest? At a minimum:
- The journeyman knows what the hell he is doing before he even sets out.
- The journeyman will meet and learn from a variety of masters in a variety of traditions. (Interestingly, mixing traditions is a big disaster for a beginning student, but it can be profound once you know your own tradition inside and out).
- The journeyman seeks out projects that test or expand his skills. For a priest that may mean mystical practices or it may mean charity, activism, and volunteerism.
- The journeyman will journey at least for several years, and will not consider the journey complete until he can submit a masterpiece.
The masterpiece is the big question mark. What would it look like for a priest?
For me, I will not know the final form of my masterpiece until I have completed my objective of meeting the gods. Given my focus and teachings, I should also be learning about heroism wherever I go.