Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pagan Seekers & Teachers – What are the Responsibilities?

In 2001, I taught a workshop at a local pagan festival. At the end of the workshop, I was having pleasant conversation with some of the participants. A young man came up to me, interrupted my conversation and announced in a loud voice, “You WILL train me”. While I was a little shocked at his rudeness, I politely refused his demand and returned to my conversation. He immediately interrupted me a second time, insisting that it was my duty as a teacher and High Priestess to train anyone who formally requested such. Needless to say, I did not train him.

It was a real wake up call for me. Not all students and seekers have this attitude of entitlement. But more and more seem to be adopting the “if I ask for it, I should get it” attitude. Just because a seeker asks a teacher for training doesn’t mean the teacher is required to teach. Teaching is something that should be willfully given, not demanded.

In the evolution of Wicca, training resources were limited to people. As the years went on and witchcraft laws were repealed, books emerged which exposed Wicca & Witchcraft to a wider audience. Today we have the internet, and the amount of information out there for the Seeker is staggering. In some ways, finding teachers and information today is much easier than our forefathers/mothers had it. In some ways, it’s more difficult, because you need a stronger filter.

Studying any religious path shouldn’t be an easy road. I require my students to work for their lessons (as I was required to work for mine), or it won’t mean as much to them. I don’t make them clean my house or anything like that. But I do require them to put what they’ve learned into practice – to take the initiative to make the lessons real in their life, no matter how inconvenient it is. They have homework and writing assignments. They are required to take the initiative when it comes to scheduling classes. They need to show in practice that they understand the concepts being taught. A teacher isn’t responsible to chase a student down, if the student wants the knowledge, they will be the ones who schedule classes, show up on time (not pagan standard time), be respectful, and participate.

I believe that if you are a student, you need to be responsible for your own training. After all, it is your spirituality we’re talking about, which should be an important part of your life. You need to choose an ethical and competent teacher, not the first person you meet who might know more than you or who you think is popular in the pagan community. Research the teacher and their Tradition – interview them as much as you expect them to interview you. It is key to respect your Teacher for as long as you choose to study with them. Don’t take advantage of their time, remember that they’re your teacher, not your 24 hour on call psychologist. However, if you don’t agree with your teacher and think they have nothing to teach, you need to leave their tutelage. Don’t pressure them to teach you something – trust that they will teach you what you need to know when you need to know it. That also goes for speaking ill of them to others. If you feel the need to speak negatively about your teacher, it’s a big hint that you need to find another whose training you respect. Unless that teacher does something illegal, remain pleasant; just because they might not be the best teacher for you doesn’t mean they’re not the right teacher for someone else.

Don’t get me wrong, the teacher has responsibilities too. If you choose to teach, you take on the whole bag o’ bananas. As a teacher, you must be discrete in choosing to teach those who will use the information responsibly and not as a game. Don’t take on all comers – you must have discretion, because you are teaching something sacred to you. A teacher should provide the information necessary for their student to succeed and not hold certain pieces for ransom. I’ve seen teachers in my own Tradition withhold certain vital pieces of training and keep students in a type of indentured servitude for as long as they wanted and those students would work as hard as they could for that one little carrot. Teachers should not only train their students in the information, but in HOW to use that information ethically. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is important to remember that those students are karmically tied to the teacher. If those students use the information to hurt others, it will provide a spiritual backlash to the teacher. Most of all, a teacher’s job is to help students manifest their own potential. If you as a teacher can see the potential in a person, you do what you can to help them be the Priest/ess they are.

One of the things I hear in the pagan community is that there are too few teachers and not many people who want training. I don’t think that’s true at all. There are plenty of people willing and able to teach, provide demonstrations/presentations, and give classes. I think perhaps the issue is more along the lines of resources. While most pagan shops require a small fee, up front fees for a Unitarian Universalist church room is exorbitantly high. Public library rooms are not a reliable source either, and might be off limits to religious training. There are few other places for pagan teachers to share their knowledge.

Why not the teacher’s home as a venue? That might be ok for people you know and trust, such as your coven or magickal working group, but it is not always appropriate to bring people to your home that you do not know. The last thing a teacher needs is some Lady FluffWicca McNewbiePants showing up at their house at 2am to deliver a vision of Artemis driving a Panzer tank and wants the teacher to play dream interpreter for them at that moment.

I’m afraid that the fast-food mentality might have permeated some segments of the pagan community. When I tell people that it takes 3+ years of hard training to reach Initiation, they become discouraged. Just putting in the time isn’t enough. The 3 years is a guideline – spiritual benchmarks are what we’re looking for. I guess that’s one way to weed out those who are serious from those who just want the quick hamburger.

Finding a good teacher is a difficult but rewarding process. So too is finding the right students. I’ve had both good and bad students and teachers. But if you’ve made a good match, be grateful and honor it for what it is. The harder you work teaching and studying the more rewarding your spiritual path.