Lessons Learned from Self-Teaching and from Teaching Others
Author: Trey Justice
I’m writing this article in response to the current topic of teaching and learning in our community. I have always been and still consider myself a solitary Wiccan. Despite my solitary status, I have participated in group teaching/lessons, group ritual, group exercise, and a few years ago, taught a person new to Wicca and helped guide her on her own solitary path. I am currently a member of a Wiccan/Pagan study group.
I have learned a few lessons from my experiences and am sharing them to, at the very least, make at least one person’s spiritual path a little easier. I’ll start with lessons I learned for myself and then discuss lessons I’ve learned from teaching others. I think that lessons from both can be equally applied to both situations.
Lessons from Self-Teaching
1. Read a lot. Read as many books as you can get your hands on. Read books from different publishers. Read different authors. Try to find books written in the beginning of the Witchcraft revival. Try reading a mixture of several books BEFORE beginning any type of magickal or ritual work. No matter how experienced you are, you can always still learn and it’s just waiting for you to get involved!
2. Learn and understand history and geography. In my case, the preference was for northern Europe before and during early Christianity. This will help you later with mythology, the history of the Craft, and God/Goddess studies.
3. Learn to meditate and visualize. Practice! Continue to practice even long after “you’ve got it”.
4. Question yourself and examine your motivations/knowledge. Always.
5. Keep an open mind and eye to other religions. They all contribute to your understanding of your path and yourself.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself or others unpopular questions or questions that will cause doubt or confusion in your understanding of Wicca. You need to examine the path you’re on from as many angles as possible. This can only be done by examination and searching.
7. Don’t be afraid of admitting you’re wrong or ignorant on a topic. There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t know everything. Accept all information from as many sources as possible. In time, you will be experienced enough to sort out what is right, what is wrong, and what is just plain crap.
8. Be honest with yourself and your intentions long before thinking of self-dedication or self initiation. You should have a very solid understanding of Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, and Magick before embarking on your path as a “full fledged” Witch.
9. When choosing books, always try to find those done by actual scholars and historians. Anyone can write a book. Not anyone can write a book with decent material AND sources for information. Go for academics, not fluff to make you feel good.
10. Try to study early Christianity as much as possible. This will shed light on information about the history of Witchcraft, Paganism, and how things came to be. Medieval history and Roman history are good sources that offer insight into Celtic and Teutonic history/paganism as well.
11. When conducting ritual or casting magick, start out small. Focus on the basics and essentials. You can always build up on that at your leisure. And of course, remember the Wiccan Rede and Three Fold Law.
12. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.
13. I do recommend finding and meeting other Witches and Pagans. I’m not necessarily talking about teacher/student relationships. It’s good to meet others because it will reaffirm that, at the very least, you’re not alone, and by talking to others, you learn automatically and will gain new insights into the path that you’ve chosen. It’s always good to make new friends as well.
Lessons from Teaching Others
1. My first biggest lesson was to examine myself as to WHY I wanted to teach, and in turn, I had to deal with the responsibility of teaching someone else. I didn’t want to teach for glory, ego, reputation, fame, money, sex, etc. I wanted to give something back to the community for all that I have learned; I wanted to contribute to the greater whole, I wanted to give to and strengthen our community. I still forced myself to examine my intentions as to what I knew, why I thought I could be a teacher, and what I would be getting out of this. You need to ask yourself some hard questions before even beginning to teach. At first glance, you might have good intentions, but if your ultimate goal in teaching another is for selfish reasons, you probably shouldn’t be teaching. Remember the Three Fold Law and Wiccan Rede. Teaching from a wrong reason/desire/position on your part is just wrong.
2. It’s very important to know yourself and to know what it is that you actually know. It’s very important to know what it is you can actually offer someone as a teacher. I began teaching AFTER several years of self-study (tons of books AND discussions with others), group study, group/individual ritual, and personal experiences on the path. I would not have been in a position to teach prior to all of that and I recognized that in myself.
Don’t think that reading one or two books or “dabbling” in ritual is sufficient. You have to have mastered the fundamentals (core beliefs and concepts) long ago. Ritual should be easy and natural for you. You have to use critical thinking skills to rationally understand, explain, teach, and defend your beliefs and knowledge. You need to get out in the Pagan world before taking the mantle of “teacher”. If you don’t have the credentials- and I’m not talking about a degree system or prior coven initiation- you shouldn’t be teaching.
Remember, your student must leave the training better educated and equipped to walk on their path than what they were before the training began. Teaching is designed to IMPROVE someone’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.
3. Another lesson that I mentioned earlier was responsibility. You have to be responsible enough to honestly examine yourself and what you have to offer. If you don’t have what is needed to give another, then be responsible and don’t give. It’s also important to be responsible in the knowledge that you give. Don’t just mention the Wiccan Rede and Three Fold Law in two sentences and then walk away from the topic forever. You are responsible for explaining, in its entirety, the topics that you are teaching. Don’t give them lip service. You have to examine them, you have to examine them with your student, and you have to discuss the ramifications of what you’ve gone over. No matter the topic, you must thoroughly understand it and then present it with all angles for the student. One of the greater failures in a teacher is to “under teach” a topic and leave the student still ignorant of what was taught. You’re supposed to teach, not to confuse, or create ignorance.
Look at it this way: you are taking it upon yourself to help someone who wishes to walk the path of the Lord and Lady. If you don’t do a good, thorough job of teaching that person, have you caused more harm than good in the end? Have you helped someone truly understand and appreciate the God and Goddess? Have you helped the community by releasing someone who is ignorant of the path into that very community, or the “outside” community? Be responsible in your preparation and execution of teaching. Your student and community deserve nothing less.
4. This might sound stupid or redundant, but my student and I agreed up front on what our relationship was and what it would not be. Learning, living, and practicing on the path of the Lord and Lady with someone else forms a close, personal relationship. I wanted to make it clear that romantic love, sex, and relationships were NOT a part of what we were doing. I was the teacher, she was the student. In time we became close friends, but that relationship should be clearly defined up front and should be adhered to. I gave her personal references if she wanted to “check up on me” before the teaching began.
5. My student and I agreed on the length of time the entire teaching would take place — we used the traditional year and a day for our training period. We agreed to meet at least once a week and agreed to religiously (pardon the pun) stick to our schedule. Nothing kills the teaching/learning experience more than excessive absenteeism. Regular sessions reinforce what was learned before and keep the topic “fresh” in our minds. Make a regular schedule and keep to it. That’s not to say that you can change days for special events (ritual, Sabbats, etc.) but you must maintain a regular habit of teaching and learning.
6. Before I began to teach, I had to examine and determine what to teach and when. This included which books to use, and I had my student get the same books. I created a syllabus of topics and general dates. I listed the books that we would use to learn.
I broke the overall training topics into: General Information (an introduction if you will); Construction of a Book of Shadows (this BoS was constructed by the student and expanded throughout the entire training cycle); History of Wicca/Witchcraft (included were geography and northern European history); Core Beliefs; Laws/Rules (including discussions of morality and other issues relating to the Wiccan Rede, Three Fold Law, etc.); Cycle of Life (the Sabbats/Esbats); Meditation/Visualization; Goddess Studies; God Studies; Celtic Mythology; Norse/Teutonic Mythology; Magick; Ritual; and a Final Test. I also broke the topics/aspects/subjects up into smaller sub-topics. This way, I could thoroughly go over and teach each one in detail.
By breaking up the entirety of what I would teach into smaller portions, we were better able to both teach and learn by focusing on the subject at hand. It’s easier to digest a little here and there without throwing it all together in some vast melting pot. There’s a lot to Wicca. You can’t teach or learn it all in one day. You wouldn’t be fair or honest to yourself if you did.
7. Throughout the entire training cycle, I had tests for reviewing what was learned to ensure that we weren’t leaving a topic under examined or incompletely explained. I also ended up going over each Sabbat in detail prior to the actual Sabbat. I gave a copy of the syllabus to the student and we made every effort to stick to is as much as possible.
8. At the beginning of each training session, we would go over questions my student had from the previous session. This included questions that came up through self-study on her part. I would answer questions throughout the session (I encourage them!) and would answer questions at the end of the session. Demand that your student asks questions.
9. Personally, go over your training materials and subject in detail days before the class/session begins. Go over the material again right before class. You should have your act together before actually teaching. There’s no shame in having to refresh yourself on something that you are already very familiar with. Be as prepared as possible; your student deserves no less.
10. I focused on the academics before the practice. It was important to get the essentials fully understood before conducting magick and ritual. For me, this is because I see Wicca as a religion, not just “another method” of conducting magick. Our mind, heart, and soul must be in the right place before creating spells and playing with energy. My opinion, but I kept to it.
11. I had my student write essays, write out answers to questions, conduct exercises, and actually conduct ritual on her own. I used the building block technique, in that we started out with the core concepts and worked our way up the cycle piece by piece. We rehearsed ritual often and I routinely tested her on magick/ritual tools. I gave both scheduled and non-scheduled tests to find out what material had been learned sufficiently and what wasn’t still understood.
12. Near the end of the entire training cycle, we began to attend group ritual in order to expose my student to that aspect of the path and to introduce her to the community at large. It was important for my student to be exposed to others and their thoughts/ideas, as opposed to only getting information from me. I routinely told her that I was one person with my own opinions and that she should meet and talk with others to complement her education.
13. I taught my student about my experiences as a solitary and taught her my lessons in self-study. I encouraged my student to continue her studies on her own in addition to what I was teaching. I also encouraged my student to meet with others and talk to them about the path.
14. I learned more of the path that I walk by teaching. That lesson shouldn’t have been such a big surprise, but it was. By having to explain and teach Wicca, I have learned of it from an angle that was previously denied to me. I am very thankful of the experience for being able to appreciate and understand my path in more detail.
Hopefully, the lessons I learned will be of help to you in the future. Blessed Be.