In Autumn 2017 we started running our Introduction to Witchcraft & Magic course in Hampshire. The course was 5 workshops and the material was a mixture of theory based learning with practical elements introduced throughout the course.
Although the material was familiar to me (and I have done quite a few public presentations/speaks on witchcraft and other esoteric subjects!) this would be the first time I had taught the material in this way. I was joined by guest speaker High Priest Jonathan Lyceum Argento, who I have worked together with on a magical and ritual level for many years. It was nerve wracking but a success, and I am proud to say we have a fantastic group of ‘budding’ magic-workers completing this course. Many of them were brand new to the topic and they have been a pleasure to teach, all engaging in the subject, committing their evenings and creating some awesome magic!
It made me think back to the 2 women who I was lucky enough to be taught by, and I started asking myself – what are the qualities needed for a fantastic teacher of the esoteric? Its something that I have always strived towards (and will continue to do so!)
There is something to be said for face-to-face, genuine teaching. It seems there are a myriad of new-age ‘online courses’ (available in the topic of Wicca specifically, or Wicca pretending to be Old Craft – that old gem) aimed at people who are searching for something authentic. Social media and computer ‘bots’ very quickly match them with a questionable course which is both overpriced and overrated.
I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong for receiving payment for teaching at the basic, neophyte level, nor teaching this level of material to ‘jo-public’. Let’s face it, with all the other rubbish that is available out there under the guise of authentic Wicca and witchcraft, if the teacher is well trained and experienced then it can be just as beneficial and cost effective (if not more so) than purchasing a collection of books on the subject – and you have the benefit of a shared experience. So lets get something worthwhile out there, a pearl in a sea of pebbles.
The problem arises when a course (or indeed a coven/training group) recruits and teaches on the back of 1) No significant/actual experience of what they suggest they teach 2) Misinformation/’Hearsay History’ 3) Not ACTUALLY a Magic-Worker/Witch in the true sense of the word 4) False/Imagined Lineage 5) Misuse of Ego
I summarise what a good teacher needs INCLUDES these 5 points:
1) Experience of the tradition they intend to teach, from several angles. They person may have been in a coven for several years, received training themselves, observed other’s training techniques, made mistakes and learned how to avoid them in the future (or, self taught with a tonne of reading, researching, practicing by themselves for a significant amount of time; this isn’t ideal though IMO). I am not suggesting that you must be a pensioner in possession of Gerald Gardner’s false teeth (although many people are impressed by such things). Perhaps this is the first time you have taught, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? I was saddened to read that a coven that’s been running for generations is now almost wiped out due to deaths of the older members and the younger members not feeling worthy of continuing the tradition. Yet the experience of those young members far exceeded their years.
2) A commitment to questioning everything they hear before they repeat it. There’s lots of reasons why misinformation is a big part of witchcraft’s modern history, and this isn’t the place to explore that. History is REALLY important – both to enhance our own practice and to ensure that what we transmit to others is as genuine as possible and is not likely to make us the laughing stock when it comes out in ‘The Telegraph’. This doesn’t mean we blindly copy history and don’t do anything new. It just means that we know our roots. Equally, there are so many topics and subjects within the bubble we call magic/the esoteric. Before we practice, research whatever it is until you are blue in the face. Know the practice INSIDE OUT. Don’t just pay lipservice or blindly follow the herd.
3) To actually BE a witch. What do I mean? To be able to (and know how to help others to) cross the boundaries into the otherworlds, raise and move energy, enter trance states, work with nature and create magic that ACTUALLY WORKS. The purpose of ritual is NOT to stand in a circle and read from a piece of laminated paper, whilst others in the group get numb feet. We have to get out of this habit and its something that has sprung largely from groups forming with very little experience (see .1. !!) The Craft is an Art, a Practice, an Organic thing, like an artist you need a talent for it – many will TRY and FAIL.
4) Lineage. Does linage matter? It can, in some ways, for good and bad. The benefit of Lineage is not to create an exclusive club, what lineage does is link the practices of a group of people and create consistency and quality of teaching. In entertaining a false or imagined lineage you are already subscribing to a fantasy. Why bother? Only a handful of initiates are lucky enough these days to have traceable lineage back to the original traditions such as Alexandrian Craft or Gardnerian Craft. For those who do, I feel this is something that should be celebrated — as long as points 1, 2 and 3 & 5 are still adhered to and placed as ultimately MORE important (which unfortunately they are often NOT!!) If there is no lineage, then in my opinion a well-trained teacher (even a self taught one) still has every right to teach, assuming they are committed to questioning everything and creating something GENUINE and create a lineage of their very own.
5) A understanding of and conscious awareness of Ego and its use. With the practice of the Craft, in particular group/initiatory traditions, comes an unusual ‘balancing act’ of the Ego. The Ego is a hugely important part of ritual and magic and the developing of the magical self however as they say ‘everything in moderation’, and you must learn to use the Ego for certain aspects of your practice, and not in others. A good teacher is willing to accept and joke about their mistakes, fully admit when they have no idea, and practice for the love of the practice, rather than for how we appear to others. This is a huge topic and this is not the place to discuss it in depth but maybe another blog.
Of course, nobody is perfect and the above list is completely idealistic. But as practitioners and magic workers we are always learning and improving ourselves; anyone who says they tick all the boxes above needs to go back to square 1 !! Including me.