Sunday, June 19, 2011

"I Am Looking for a Teacher- Can You Help?"

I have been asked many times by other seekers to help them find a Witchcraft teacher (or to teach them myself). While I do not feel qualified to teach adult others the totality of the Craft as I know it, I do teach children the basics (at their level). That is what I feel called to do at the moment.

When searching for a teacher, there are a few things that a student should know and ask. I have put together a checklist for folks who are seeking to find that special teacher.

1. The Witchcraft teacher-student relationship is one that is different from any other you have ever had (or should be). This kind of teacher is not like a public school teacher or a college professor- and the relationship should not feel this way. A Witchcraft teacher is giving of themselves to give you the most valuable thing that they have. The relationship is intimate and familial, like the teacher has adopted you in their family and is now personally responsible for your education and welfare as you do the work towards initiation into that tradition.

Cultivated (or actual distance) does not serve a student well in this case. So working with a teacher that has more than a handful of students is a very bad idea. How will your teacher get to know you, be able to see when you struggle, are failing, or lying to yourself if they have to keep track of the spiritual progress of dozens or more people? Often these kinds of teachers resort to the same activities over and over- for everyone under their tutelage. Trance journeys, week after week, in a carpeted room is not learning the Craft.

If you do not see your teacher regularly and frequently, you will not make progress. Seeing someone in person less than monthly is not going to cut it if you are serious about learning the Craft. Because you are asking a teacher to give you a lot of their time. Be respectful of that commitment that they are making to you. Do your work, show up on time and respect what they have to say, even when it may be hard to hear.

Getting back to the idea of distance learning (either by email list, web forum, or otherwise)- this does not teach the Craft. Exercises and periodic feedback does not give you customized instruction. Learning the Craft cannot be done in a classroom, one size fits most model. Heck, it hardly works for public education, why would it work for Witchcraft?

2. Ask around before deciding on the first teacher that appears. Often the ones that are the easiest to find are the ones you should be avoiding at all costs.

I ask you: if someone is advertising their classes like mad you have to wonder- who and what are they looking for? True apprentices who will carry on a sacred duty or simply paying customers? Are they seeking the select few who are destined to be Witches or just a mob of fawning people devoted to them and their foolishness? Witchcraft is not a commodity- so why are they using advertising- which is first and foremost a way to sell things as a way to find students?

Witchcraft and other pagan paths are trendy in some places. This gives rise to a lot of people stepping in to exploit that fact: by using people's seeking to either making money or devotees or both.

Further, the teacher that is loudly trumpeting themselves outside of their tradition where the public at large can find them are often precisely the ones who are not widely respected within their own community. They simply need to keep recruiting and advertising  for new people to surround themselves with because the people that are their peers want very little to do with them. Many people want to belong to a religious community after their training is over, and you are undermining your prospects of having that happen if you choose a teacher unwisely. Many who study with or initiated by oathbreakers (for example) are not recognized as kin. They are shunned. They are not respected and what you have learned will constantly be called into question if you choose a teacher like this.

Why not ask around about this particular teacher? Ask people in their tradition(s) about them and if they could recommend them as a teacher. And don't be sloppy about your homework- asking only their initiates or their friends is not really finding out what the tradition at large thinks of them. When I approached my current teacher, I already knew who liked her and who did not within the tradition (and for what reasons). The ones who did not like her were ones that I did not like myself, so I was totally going in with my eyes open.

3. Avoid those that make their living by the Craft. This includes those that make money off classes, even if it is not their full time gig. By this I do not mean that very fine Witches (who may also be very fine teachers) should not charge money for a tarot reading or remedies that they make for others and also teach. I mean those that charge for actual Craft teaching- be it in book form, in classes, or workshops.

These ways of conveying information are mass marketed ideas that may or may not apply to where you are in your spiritual development and will certainly not have an objective idea of what it is you REALLY need to work on to get you ready for Witchery. They are simply ones that resounded with the biggest audience- a publisher or the mass of seekers who may or may not be actual Witches. Remember- Witchcraft is a religion of a select few. It is not one for passive practitioners- it is for those that seek to be clergy, healers, and mad poets. Mass marketed ideas may feel really good, but they do not progress your spiritual advancement. I love reading Thich Nhat Hanh, for example. But reading those books does not get me anywhere closer to being a Buddhist Monk.

And they are just ideas and information- not actually the Craft. To get that passed to you, you need more than something easily bought. You need someone dedicated to your spiritual progress. You need a teacher, in the flesh- preferably one-on-one or in a very small intimate group (like a teaching coven).

Often these teachers-for-pay have dozens upon dozens of students, all hoping for special attention that never comes and they all want the initiation that will never happen with this particular teacher.

Here is what Free Feri Dot Org has to say about those that teach for money in that tradition:
"If you insist on taking online or distance classes on Feri, some teachers are better than others. Ask some hard any customer. Ask how many of their students they have ever initiated. Ask what their relationship with their initiator is, and with the rest of the initiate community. Be aware that the discussion from some quarters about how there IS no “Feri community” is a dodge to cover up the fact that there is a community, but those people do not have a good relationship with it. Ask to contact that person's initiator...that is not a rude question in an initiatory tradition when you are a prospective
student. Furthermore, ask, and consider from your own perspective, what that teacher's vetting process is. Teaching anyone who has the cash is a problem for the tradition, but it is also a problem for you as a student; it may place you in close proximity during an emotionally intense, vulnerable period with people who are unsavory or actually dangerous. Use your gut instincts but also use your head. Ask around. Caveat emptor."

4. Ask the teacher why they want to teach, and also why they want to teach YOU. Being a Craft teacher is a heavy commitment. Many traditions believe that you are karmically tied to your initiates for at least this lifetime, if not all others. So given that idea, what is it in this person that called them to do the work of a teacher? What is it that they feel they can give of themselves? What would they be doing if they were not teaching?

Further, what is it in you specifically that called to this teacher? Did you just show up and they said "OK, I'll teach you"? If so, step back and ask yourself why. They should have a very specific reason for wanting to take you on as a student. They should be able to articulate what those reason(s) are to you. If they cannot, I would seek elsewhere.

In my case, I wrote a very detailed letter to my current teacher about where I thought I was spiritually, where I wanted to go spiritually, and what I was looking for in a teacher. It was a numbered list of about 8 things and each item was followed by many many paragraphs. I spent hours on that letter. The letter had enough specifics that applied to her (not that I knew that at the time- we did not know one another all that well) that she was compelled enough to meet with me. But my teacher is one that does not take most people on. She prefers a one-on-one relationship with her students and does not charge for teaching. It is a commitment of her time and energy to have such a relationship and so she is choosy and says no a lot.

She met with me but her instinct was still to say no- as she has a busy life and she selects her commitments carefully. But she tells me that while she was very compelled by my letter and all, it was the gods that told her to teach me. She was literally in my bathroom on a visit to me when they reached out and told her to teach me. That they wanted me and claim me as theirs. And so my teacher-student relationship began with her. I was stunned frankly. I was hopeful but not sure that I would be selected.

Because I know how very precious the gift is that my teacher is giving me (not only Craft instruction towards initiation but her time, energy and focus), I try and return the gifts when I can. While she does not charge, when I see something that I think she will like (a bag of chantrelle mushrooms or some incense), I get it for her. These are small tokens, but that is the reality: how can I possibly "pay her back" or offer recompense for the enormity of what she is giving me? Because I recognize how sacred what she offers is, I know she could not possibly ask for money for teaching- it would reduce these gifts to crass commercialism.

Before having my current teacher, I was eclectic and solitary for many years (1989-2006), and decided upon my chosen tradition in 2006. I have had two other teachers in this tradition before my current teacher. One was a teacher that only met with her students quarterly. It was in a classroom model and we paid her, either in cash or in work trade. She makes her living this way. While I learned a lot (she is a gifted teacher), this model is only suited for the basics. If I wanted to progress towards initiation, I would need to seek elsewhere. My second teacher only taught up to 6 at a time, and all 6 students progress at the same pace with the same material. As a class, we did the sabbats together as well as a curriculum that my teacher helped design (along with a few people upline from her). She also took money for her classes- although not nearly as much as my first teacher. I progressed further, getting more individualized attention- but I also knew if I were to hone my specific skills and be a more kick-ass witch, I would need to seek elsewhere. You just know when the fits right or not, you know?

I mention my personal history because I know what I am saying flies in the face of what many seekers are experiencing today: the students that I talk to are only finding "rock star" teachers who want their money or adoration and cannot seem to find anything else- an actual teaching coven or apprenticeship. They know it isn't the real deal or the ideal for them, but they are at a loss to find what they actually seek. (Hint: you will most likely not find them on the internet- at least not advertising themselves as a teacher.) I urge you all to hold firm. If this path really is for you- you will find what you seek! And settling for cheap, tinsel-clad, second-best in the meantime is only going to be a hindrance, not a help. Many genuine Craft teachers will not make themselves known to you if they know you associate with the kind of teacher I describe above. I know it sounds awful, but be patient and open. Find the flow that takes you to a good teacher and do not settle for mass-marketed mediocre crap.

I leave you with a verse from Pink Floyd that seems appropriate to meditate upon:

And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?


  1. Great post! The only thing I personally don't agree with is the distance. Sometimes it is impossible to find a teacher within the area you live, even if you look several counties over. Thanks so much for sharing this list, these are all important things to keep in mind when someone is seeking a teacher.

  2. Well, you have left me with the certain impression that you and your teacher are the right fit. Would that more of us could experience such.

  3. @Sylvanna: I wish that for everyone destined for the Craft!

    @Stacy: I know it sounds harsh, but I agree with some of what Raven Kaldera says on his website about distance teaching:

    "I do not teach any of my skills online or long distance. If you want to learn anything from me, you'll have to make arrangements with me to come here, and you'll have to commit to the whole training, and you'll have to fend for yourself while you're here.... Teaching a student or taking on an apprentice is a huge commitment of my time and energy. You need to make it worth my while.

    Training takes time, and is hard work.

    I will not train you in spirit work if the spirits aren't interested."

    @Stacy: If it is not possible for you to learn from an actual teacher, face to face where you are- then your circumstances must change to allow room for training. Either you move (which I understand is not feasible for many at all times- other previous commitments often trump personal desires) or you forgo this kind of teaching and work on other things. Herbalism? Life Skills? Permaculture? So many things to learn in this lifetime...

    It is my opinion that Wyrd works in mysterious ways that are often frustrating to a seeker and hard to decipher. If there is not an in-person teacher that is convenient for you, perhaps that means it *should not* be convenient at this time, OR you need to work to make it so. Getting teaching requires sacrifice. You must make an offering to receive this knowledge. I made many many sacrifices to be where I am now- so I know what I am talking about (and just how frightening it is).

    Something to think about, anyway! Many blessings to you on your way.

  4. I was part of a year and a day teaching circle in FL. There was never a fee. The classes were truly given in perfect love and perfect trust. We offered an eclectic mix of wiccan ideas and thought, and encouraged students to develop their own beliefs and practices. The year was always fresh as most of us know, we are all both student and teacher. We gave a reading list, which was a mandatory part of the class, but we didn't sell any of the books or any supplies. Classes began with history, we also had classes on ethics, and general basic theology. As the year progressed, so did the deeper knowledge. We attended two festivals a year, together as a group. At the end of the year we performed an optional initiation (to the craft, not the coven) to celebrate the individual's year and a day in study.

    It was a wonderful group. I have since moved, and miss it very much.

    Great article and advice.


  5. Nothing is impossible. I know that for a fact. I found a teacher in the tradition that called to my heart in a city that had no one in that position (that anyone knew of). I looked at online stuff and we brought teachers in from other states for workshops, I traveled to other states to find teachers, more workshops.
    But by not settling for what seemed *all that was available* I found the right teacher, living in my city, and willing to take on an initiate. No money involved but the commitment is HUGE in desire, courage, change. It was all so *accidental*. I kept on looking for knowledge but the best thing I did was wait until the teacher appeared. Moving toward that but not forcing it by accepting what I knew to be NOT what I wanted. I did not even know what I DID want looked like. Be patient. Don't settle. All of life is experience.

  6. This is a wonderful post. Although now the world knows that I make most of my big decisions in the bathroom. LOL. But the gods speak where they speak, eh?

    I also wanted to say that I was impressed because you had reasons why you wanted to study with me in specific. Your work folded in with mine. I liked that you had spoken to people who did not like me necessarily, in addition to those who did. So it felt like you had done your homework.

    I also want to remind people to go to festivals and other pagan gatherings. At Pantheacon you can't swing a black cat without hitting a Feri or Faery witch. I had many people stop me and ask to talk to me about Faery.

    If you court the crazy shaman bards, you really have to shut down your computer and go outside. Dream, bleed, scream, dance, drum to call them. You can't order us up on the internet like so many pairs of underwear.

    And aren't you glad of that?

  7. I also enjoyed your post, but I would perhaps ask: What to do when one's teacher/initiator is no longer reachable, such as if they have passed away, or are so mortally ill that they cannot answer requests for information? If you have a student that expects to be able to contact a teacher's teacher, this situation is bound to arise. I might suggest that this step be "optional." If vouches can be obtained that said teacher is "of good repute", perhaps the specific request for information from *their* teacher might be not as essential.
    I remain in very good relation with my initiator, but she is currently having health problems that make her unable to reach out to anonymous requests for information about me. I *do*, however, have great relationships with my litter-mates, and stay in touch as I am able. Also, my initiator was never one to broadcast her name all over the place, so perhaps she would see this sort of thing as an invasion of privacy? I'm not sure. But I think the expectation was rather too firmly worded to be tenable. What do you think?
    Many Blessings, m'dear,

  8. Niklas- I agree. One of my teachers is also in failing health. If there are people who are not show-boaty and obviously well-respected powerful Witches that can vouch for someone, that works too!

    I was very displeased that my first teacher in Feri would not say anything disparaging about people she did not approve of. Rater, she would simply direct people elsewhere.

    I personally feel it is important to warn folks about snake oil salespeople, Witch-for-profits, and oathbreakers, myself.

    Smooches, Lily


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