Seeking a Craft Teacher

I recently came across a blog in which an Elder was ranting about current students. The jist of her rant seemed to be “In the Good Old Days, I walked barefoot up a snowy mountain both ways for the beatings that I was grateful to receive”. This blog upset me for several reasons. Anyone seeking traditional teaching is in for a whole lot of hard work, transformation, grief and yes, even possibly pain. It is definitely not a path for just anyone, and a lot of people who seek it will drop out when the going gets tough. It is not easy, it is not without tears; essentially, expect to work your ass off. Traditional Craft training will eat up a good portion of your life and you should expect to agree to do what your teacher asks of you.

But…there seems to be some confusion out there about what is acceptable behavior from a traditional Craft teacher and what is not.

So, what should you look for when seeking a “traditional” Craft teacher? Once you’ve found someone you think you want to work with, what are the things you should think about and consider?

Doreen Valiente

Doreen Valiente

Things to do:

Verify that this person is who they say they are! Do I mean ask for their driver’s license and birth certificate? No. Ask, what is this person’s lineage or the training that certifies them as a teacher of the Craft? If you’ve approached someone claiming to be from a tradition, such as Gardnerian or Alexandrian, they should be able to tell you their lineage and how to contact the person who initiated them for verification. If this person has not been initiated into a particular tradition, they should be able to tell you where they got their training. Always be wary of a teacher who won’t give you their background. Why is this even important? Because for one thing, if the person is lying about the tradition they teach and practice, they’re bound to lie about other things too; for another, if you get an initiation, you will be part of that tradition, and you should know what the tradition is and how it is regarded by the Craft community. You should only ask this if you’re in a serious discussion with the person about being trained. It is considered extremely rude to ask someone for their lineage otherwise. Lineage is an extremely personal thing in most traditions. Most people don’t announce their lineages in public, but they will happily tell you what tradition they are initiated in. Watch out for someone who won’t tell you what tradition they are a teacher of. If you wander up to a Craft teacher and randomly demand their lineage, they’re probably going to tell you where to stick it.

If someone tells you that they learned things from reading a book, this is not someone who has earned the title of Craft teacher. If that’s all you want, go read the books for yourself. You can find them all on Amazon, in a Barnes and Noble, or in a local occult shop. (Support your local shops if you can people!)

Talk to this person’s other students, if they have any. What do they say about this teacher? Most groups will invite you to meet up with them if you are interested in joining. If you’re approaching a traditional group, the teacher will probably have someone from their lower degrees or outer court answer basic questions for you. This is to help that student learn how to talk to other people about the Craft and it’s also to help you get a better perspective on the teacher and the group that you are asking to join. Covens, traditional and non-traditional, become family. They won’t accept just anyone and neither should you. If you meet up with a group and you’re not clicking with it, this is probably not the teacher you should go with.

Talk to students who have either hived from the original group or who have left the group. Are there hard feelings? Did the person leave because it was time for them to start their own group or was there a reason that they couldn’t work with the old group anymore? Just because a student leaves for personal reasons doesn’t mean that they are bad reasons. Many students do not make it to initiation, that doesn’t mean there has to be hard feelings left over. People will report their experiences, good and bad.

What does the rest of the Craft community in the area say about this teacher? Teachers usually gain reputations in the community they work in and it can tell you a lot about the person as well. Stop in your local occult shops and ask around. People are usually willing to let you know about any personal prejudices they have before expounding on their opinion on the person. Having access to the internet is also useful these days. Usually teachers are involved in a lot of others things and you can find their personal blogs, pages, ect., online. Check those out and see if this person is talking about things that you can agree with or sound reasonable.

What does the rest of the teacher’s life look like? Are they productive? Are they doing things that you would support? Or, are they doing things that you wouldn’t support, such as sitting on the couch and watching TV all day? A respectable Craft teacher is not only going to be fully involved in the Craft, they will also have a healthy, balanced life away from the Craft.

Ask what the teacher’s expectations for their students are. Most groups will have a course of study mapped out and will readily explain what is expected of you. They may not give you details until after you’re dedicated to their group, but they should clearly tell you what they expect from you as a student.

In my tradition, students aren’t just expected to do the work towards initiation or elevation. They are expected to help out with anything Craft related. You might be asked to assist in keeping the temple room clean or in bringing food for a feast and then helping in cleaning up afterwards. You are expected to show up to classes and rituals and other outings as discussed. You will be expected to read a lot and do other homework assignments. And this is just some of the mundane work involved!

They should also tell you upfront if there are any costs associated with studying under them. Different traditions approach this differently. In traditional Wicca, a teacher should not ask you to pay them for teaching the Craft. They might, however, ask you to donate money towards supplies or a space if they don’t have one to teach from. Some covens have a schedule of dues to provide for supplies like candles and incense. This is also something that you need to take into consideration. Is money something that you are willing to give and if so, how much? Do the costs sound reasonable? Do some basic research on that specific path and see if asking for money is accepted by the larger tradition.

Janet and Stewart Farrar

Janet and Stewart Farrar

Things to avoid:

If a teacher can’t answer “Why” questions. If you ask a question and the teacher tells you “because that’s how it’s always been done”, this is probably not a great teacher. A teacher should always be able to give you the background on something. They might tell you that you can’t learn the answer behind something until after initiation, or that it is an oathbound answer, but even with an answer like that, there is probably some background info that they can give you. They should also be able to give you the answer as to why this isn’t something that won’t be taught until later. In Blue Star we say “if a student can phrase the question they deserve an answer.” This is good Craft policy: “Because I say so” is not!

Manipulation or coercion in any form is never acceptable.

Asking you, the student, to buy them things like nice dinners out, or giving them money for their living costs. I know of several “teachers” who have their students pay into their rent and utilities. This goes with the question of what is this teacher doing with their life. Since most teachers don’t accept money for teaching the Craft, they need to be able to support themselves in other ways. Expecting your students to do this for you is a big no-no in the community. I heard of one teacher who made their students take them to McDonalds for dinner for ritual. Does this seem like a normal thing to you?

Expecting you to come and mow their lawn or clean their house. They should be able to scrub their own toilets. It’s one thing to ask students to assist in keeping sacred spaces clean, this is probably a part of your training; it’s entirely different if they expect you to come and take care of their daily life for them.

If a teacher expects you to have sex with them, they should be avoided at all costs. Sex can be a completely sacred act, but it should never be used to reach a new elevation or to get recognition in the group. Most groups I know won’t even practice Skyclad in the Outer Court. While you can have completely healthy sexual relationships within your coven or with your teacher, any teacher that asks you to keep quiet about a sexual relationship or expects it in return for teaching is crossing a huge line of ethics. Most teachers will not sleep with a student without a prior relationship already established. Most teachers will also not sleep with a student who is not an initiate: this is so that no doubt can fall on the reason for the student’s initiation.

Being punished in a physical or humiliating way is not OK. The scourge sits on the altar for a reason and many traditions use it…but never to punish someone for giving the wrong answer. The scourge has many different uses, most of which you won’t learn until you are initiated, but it is not a tool that is used lightly or for punishment in the outer court. If a teacher mocks you or humiliates you for not knowing something, you should also look elsewhere. It’s one thing to have a light chuckle over an answer, it’s quite another to call someone stupid over and over. (I’ve heard some horror stories…)

More Janet and Stewart

More Janet and Stewart

At the end of the day, the most important aspect of any teacher of the Craft is respect. Do you respect this teacher and do they in return respect you and your needs? The Craft is a hard enough path for those of us that seek it that we shouldn’t be worried about how our teachers are treating us while we are working our way through it. Respect has to be earned by anyone, and teachers of the Craft are no exception. If someone gives you the heebie jeebies, if you curl your lip at their personal habits, if the things they do to you in Circle make you wonder if their behavior is acceptable…it probably isn’t. Don’t let someone treat you badly in the name of teaching you the Craft. It’s one thing to expect hard work and dedication; it’s quite another to make light of what you’re going through as you do it.

If you want to read the original Elder Rant, go here.

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Good Press, Bad Press

Sometimes I am torn between keeping silent, and speaking my mind. I have decided in this case to speak out.

The last few days have seen an article called Lessons in Modern Witchcraft, Minus the Broom circulating around the Internet, touted as an example of good press for Wicca. (Let us put the emphasis on the fact that this school is claiming in the article to teach Wicca and not Neo-Paganism or any other Pagan path).

When I first started blogging I wrote another blog about this same school of witchcraft in New York. Now, after studying Wicca for over a year and earning my own initiation, I would like to reiterate my thoughts.

I find the idea of charging money to students whom you plan to eventually initiate absolutely abhorrent. I feel even more strongly about this than I did a year ago.

Teaching a basic Wicca 101 class at a festival, Pagan store or public event? Then yes, the teacher has every right to charge for the teaching. In this scenario, someone is performing a one time service, sort of like performing a wedding or a funeral, and (one assumes) no secret teachings will be shared. This is not a case where you are connected to the teacher, or they are charged with teaching you the mysteries of the Crafts. They have made no promises to you and you have made no promises to them. In this scenario, buyer beware.

Does the teacher need to rent space for the class or need materials? Then yes, again, it is appropriate to ask students to help chip in the money for these things. But there should be honest disclosure about those costs in the very beginning. When you first start talking to a teacher, these costs should immediately be a part of the conversation. There is no stigma to charging an honest, proportionate fee for rental of a space. (My partner and I teach out of our home. We invite students into our private space to avoid expenses like this).

But asking for money for the teaching itself? Charging students that you will be escorting through the mysteries of the various degrees of a tradition? No.

A lot of people like to argue that paying for teaching Wicca is like paying for a college class, as this article does. This is not like going to college, this is not like buying a service. This is someone who is going to bring you through the veil; this person should not be doing this based on a financial transaction. This student/teacher exchange has nothing to do with money.

In traditional Wicca, teachers do not charge to teach the Craft. Oaths are taken about this.

Anyone who is charging to teach traditional Wicca is selling something other than Wicca. And I think that this article proves some of this.

“Let’s begin,” said Arlene Fried, another instructor, who sat behind a folding table that had been transformed into an altar, complete with candles, a chalice, a black-handled knife and a tiny caldron.

“Which of you can tell me what that star around your neck is called?” Ms. Fried said.

“A pentacle,” Ms. Collins replied.

“And what is it for?” Ms. Fried asked.

“It gives us protection against anything negative or evil; it’s kind of like a cross for Christians,” Ms. Monzon said, staring into her notebook as she spoke. “The top of the star represents the spirit. Each of the other points represent an element: earth, air, fire and water.”

My pentacle has nothing to do with the Christian cross. My pentacle has nothing to do with negative or “evil” energy. The very idea of evil is not a Wiccan one. Why would I ever compare my pentacle to a Christian cross?

I am horrified all over again by this school.

According to their website, they even charge an annual fee and a monthly tithe once you belong to their “temple”.

I am slightly relieved after digging further into their website (which on the Home page is covered in the word Wicca), to find that they are not actually traditional Wiccans. They say that the temple, “at its core, teaches a practice based upon many traditions. This core tradition has been conceived by two eclectic witches, by harmonizing and synergistically blending time honored tradition(s) into practical modern based witchcraft.” But most of their web page (and the article) cries that they are teaching Wicca. I see this as false advertising and feel bad for anyone who is seeking actual Wicca.

If you are seeking a traditional Wiccan initiation, do your research. Talk to the teacher in question. Seek other members of your Pagan community out and ask about the teacher’s reputation. Once you are initiated, the person who initiated you is your reference, they are your lineage, they are your proof of having done the work and gone through the training. At that point, anyone may call them and ask them to vouch for your initiation. Any traditional Wiccan teacher will immediately tell you (if you are discussing becoming their student), who initiated them, and they will not charge to teach you the Craft. This also goes for sexual or other “favors”. Any teacher who wants something so mundane for passing the Craft on is someone should be avoided like the plague. While a great deal of the Pagan community these days does not see the value of initiation, this is an example of where that lineage is necessary.

I hate that “schools” like this are becoming the proof that Wiccans are mainstream. Teachers like this are unethical. And as a traditional Wiccan, I hate the idea of people associating me with a group like this.

May the Gods preserve the Craft. The true, oath-bound, difficult to earn Craft.