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.

Tradition

Having been an eclectic for a very long time, I finally chose Wicca as my path. But going from being eclectic to being Wiccan has made me contemplate a lot of what a tradition is and what it means to be a part of one. Why is being a part of a tradition worthwhile? Here are some of my thoughts on the pros and cons of being a part of a tradition.

Pros for being a part of a tradition:

1.) A tradition offers a structured support group. Delving into spirituality brings up issues for a lot of people and it’s good to have support. You have other people around who have walked the same path and have had similar experiences. While people won’t have had exactly the same experience, similar experiences can help guide you through what you’re experiencing on your own path to deity. It essentially makes your life easier and a little clearer.

2.) A tradition has a set syllabus. You’re learning things in a tried and true order which gives you the best experience of learning what can be powerful, difficult and confusing material. In an established tradition people have worked on the syllabus over time and have refined it. They can help direct you toward your goals and give you the tools you need to search on your own.

3.) A tradition provides a lineage, which I know some of you will pooh pooh, but there really is a good reason for having a lineage. Having a lineage gives you credibility. If people know that you learned from credible sources, who in their turn learned from credible sources, they know that you know what you’re doing. You become a much more trustworthy member of the community. You’re also standing with numerous other initiates who have come before you…think of the potential behind that! A lineage gives you unity. When you belong to a tradition, you can travel halfway across the world and still go to a familiar ritual. Religion in a large part is about comfort. How often do you feel uncomfortable when attending a ritual in a different religion or tradition?  When you belong to a tradition, the tradition’s lineage gives you access to other members all over the place. I know I can go to Europe and find other Blue Star people to worship with! How awesome is that?

4.) One of the things that strikes me about groups just starting up (and who often have some idea about what they’re doing), is that they really have to struggle with figuring out how to go about things. Established traditions have tried things and figured out what works and what doesn’t; essentially you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In traditions, there have probably been a few generations who have already figured these things out, so you don’t have to. This give you the freedom ti learn a good fundamental basis to work on, and then if you like, use this knowledge and experience to work things your way, without reinvention of material that has been there all along.

5.) If you find a tradition that you trust, generally speaking you can trust its initiates, which is important because you don’t have to vet them. You’re not walking into a situation with someone that you don’t know at all.  It essentially gives you a qualified clergy. In Paganism, we don’t have a central authority. For example, in the Catholic world, the Pope is the head of the church and oversees all church issues. If something is going wrong (technically speaking), the pope has dominion over dealing with it. In Paganism, you don’t really have that, so how can you figure out if a priest or priestess is a good one? This is not to say that bad apples don’t pop up, but…it’s at least a little less likely.

6.) An established tradition has a body of clergy, so if you don’t like one priest or priestess, but like the tradition, there are others out there. There are several priestess in Blue Star that I don’t want to work with for personal reasons, but that’s OK, I’m not stuck with them because there are many more out there.

Cons of being in a Tradition:

1.) By nature, traditions are staid. They look down on people who rebel against their teachings. People who look to forge new paths are not tolerated very well. Traditions have worked out what works for them, they don’t like change, even if it’s productive. You can break tradition, but you will most likely get flack for it. Still, after initiation, you are a free agent, and can do as you like.

2.) One bad apple can really spoil the whole bunch. If the tradition misses the fact that they have a bad priest or priestess, (either morally or as just a bad teacher), that person can initiate a whole lineage of people improperly trained or with dubious morals antithetical to the rest of the tradition. Which of course causes much upset and confusion down the line when other people in the tradition meet up with them and realize what’s going on. This in turn causes a lot of drama. (And aren’t Wiccans known for their drama?)

3. Traditional often equals fundamental, and fundamentalists are never lovely to be around. I don’t feel this one needs much elaboration.

4. It seems that a lot of people who become a part of a tradition, do so not for their spiritual selves, but for the “power” that such a structured hierarchy brings. The high priestess of a coven usually has the final say in all things and this can bring about much abuse of power. This can also engender a certain “snobby elitism” towards the rest of the Pagan community that most people I know, can’t stand, neither can I for that matter.

Wicca seems like it has become the dinosaur of the Pagan world. I avoided Wicca for a long time partly do to the fact that I saw it as being the fundamental side of Paganism and having left Christianity, I wanted to avoid that at all costs. It took finding a Wiccan who not only knew what he was doing, but who was responsible and drama free, that I was able to see past some of Wicca’s bad and even obnoxious reputation.

When I’m in circle with my Blue Star coven, we do ritual nearly weekly and we do it the same way each time. Each action causes a reaction and another action. We change details for what we are doing (esbats vs. sabbats, ect.), but the main part of the ritual stays the same. The idea behind this is that if you do something the same way so many times, you don’t have to consciously think about it and your subconscious can come out. I personally find Blue Star ritual to be both beautiful, moving and practical. It’s not the most elaborate ritual I’ve ever seen, nor is it the longest, but it creates a circle with power and great respect for deity behind it. As an eclectic, I always had trouble with ritual (and have gone through a number of just terribly done rituals), so after having been in ritual several times with Blue Star people, I was more easily seduced away from my eclectic practices. If this was what a tradition was about, than I wanted to be a part of it!

When I decided to ask for dedication, it was also because I agreed with the ideas behind the tradition. I never would have started this process towards initiation if I hadn’t agreed with Blue Star practices and principles. The idea of becoming a part of a tradition was a big deal to me. While I never felt that being a part of a tradition was vital to me as an eclectic, the older I get, the more I appreciate the resources and support that a tradition can offer.

So why do you join a tradition where the ideas and practices behind it are clearly laid out, if you don’t agree with it? One of the things that still bothers me about Wicca, are the people in it.

I was discussing this with another coven member and as she pointed out to me, “why worry about everyone else in the tradition? Why not enjoy the people we have and the way we do things?”. And to a certain extent, she’s right. There’s no point in worrying about the stupidity of other people. But then, what’s the point of being in a tradition anyway if you can’t depend on everyone else in it? As I pointed out above, that’s part of the point of a tradition! Why go to all this bother and work if everyone else in the tradition isn’t there to support you in it?

Even as a dedicant who is nowhere near my own initiation, I’ve already had a few run ins with other people in the tradition that have left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s also been pointed out to me that I don’t always bring up “positive issues”, even if they are valid ones. Which I take as diplomatic speak for the fact that people see me as a Negative Nancy. But there’s so many reasons that I avoided Wicca for as long as I did and even though I’m glad that I’ve come to it and have found joy in my own small, fledgling coven, there are still so many issues out there that I can’t ignore.

While I know that a lot of people see Wiccan’s as being elitist snobs, as an insider these days, I sort of get it. Wicca in general has worked for years to put together a religion that gets things done that a lot of eclectics can’t manage without years of study and training. But if Wicca and it’s traditions can’t get their acts together, how can they possibly survive and do they deserve to? That would be a blog for another day…

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardner

Alex Sanders

Alex Sanders