Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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Teaching the Craft

I ran across this article today, and thought I'd share it.

It makes for an interesting and important thought that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind when I do my work.

As a young witch just starting out, I was often called upon to teach people things they wanted to know.  This was largely because I actually read the books that were available, and the other teens around me preferred to "stumble around blindly into magic" as I liked to say back then.  I was very often acknowledged to be the one who "had book knowledge."  This naturally was as often an outright insult as a back-handed compliment, and I learned early on to be wary of people applauding my "knowledge."  We were teenagers, after all- and no teen anywhere has ever been grateful to have a know-it-all for a friend, unless they wanted something.

However, the article makes a very good point- I taught lessons to people because it was a way to feel good about myself and my work.  I didn't know how much I didn't know, so I thought I knew everything.  After all, I'd read every witchcraft book I was able to find, and every other kind of magic book too.  And they all seemed to be the same, so magic must be pretty much the same everywhere, right?

I fortunately learned differently without causing undue harm to anyone, but I consider it one of the greatest lessons of my life.

We are not all-knowing.  Anyone can be a teacher, but most teachers aren't good teachers.  My first teacher of the Craft taught me some very bad habits, and I'm glad that Selene K. from the aforementioned article spoke about those things.

My first teacher planned a ritual in a single hour, and that was her way.  She made it a point of pride that she could whip something out like that without much effort, even to the point that she bragged to myself and the rest of her students that "one day you'll be able to do the same."

That was one of the worst pieces of advice I've ever received.  And sadly, it stuck with me for years before I finally realized that my rituals, although functional to my own mind, were often terrible for groups, or anyone who didn't get as stuffy as I did about ceremonial magic.

I spent the next five years learning new ritual practices, and getting better at engaging people.  I'm still not the most effective public ritualist, but I do much better than I used to.  And nowadays, I stick to teaching what I'm good at, and let others teach the things I'm not skilled in.

See, teaching is a craft in and of itself, entirely separate from the practice of the Craft of magic.  A teacher needs to be engaging, intelligent, and needs to have a talent (preferably honed into a skill) for helping people understand something without making them feel stupid.  They need to be three times better at something than their best student, because they need to be able to do it, teach it to someone with a knack, and also teach someone who doesn't get it.

It also takes a fair bit of public approval to teach something in an area.  People in the area need to know and trust you, or you will not only find the doors aren't opening for you, but people may actively fight against your right to teach.  After all, they have no proof that you're what you say you are, and at least here in my own area, we've gotten tired of charlatans and snake oil.

When I meet someone new in the community who wants to dive in and teach a class, it usually sets my teeth on edge.  I'm a reader at one of the local pagan hubs, a well established magic and metaphysics shop called Pathways.  We have a long standing reputation for having some of the best readers in town, and having the ability to get most anything an average practitioner of metaphysics needs for their practices.  If we can't find it, we can show you who can.

And that of course means we attract the new folk in the community, which is why I deal with this so often.

I always try to sit down with these people and find out what they're trying to teach and why.  And I struggle, because it can be really frustrating to hear someone talking about how they "can teach pretty much anything," and then they rattle off a series of practices which can be found in nearly every magical book by Llewellyn or Weiser since the early 60's.  Things like grounding and centering, shielding and casting circles, 'energy work' and stuff like Reiki.

I restrain myself, of course- it wouldn't be kind to pop their bubble.  I try to find tactful ways to mention that we have a Reiki Master Teacher in the shop, and most everyone in the community out here knows about shielding or grounding and centering, and many of us are well versed in Wicca, Qabalah, and a host of other things.

Telling them all this outright would be wrong, because it will make them feel stupid.  So instead, I ask them questions about their vision.  What is it they want to teach?  What do they believe?  How will they inspire the others in the community, and where will their vision most easily mesh with the rest of the people in my area?

Then, I give them a few suggestions and web links, perhaps an email or two, and send them to find their way.  My hope is that they will find the part of the community where they will thrive.

It doesn't always work.  Nothing always works exactly the same all the time.  But it works often enough that I feel good afterwards.  They'll have a chance to gain more competence, while sharing what they're good at with others.  And at the very least, they will know in the back of their mind that they're dealing with a community that has a competency level often not seen in other areas.  They'll discover that we aren't credulous wide-eyed fluffheads.  We practice, and we study, and we make progress.  And we don't claim to things we can't prove.

That's why I teach.  That vision of competence and harmony is my vision.  And it has been my joy to serve it as a professional teacher for nearly ten years now.

To you teachers out there: what is your vision?  What are your goals when you teach others?

To the students and seekers: what do you look for in a teacher or mentor?

I'd love to see your ideas in the comments!

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S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


  • Naya Aerodiode
    Naya Aerodiode Tuesday, 09 July 2013

    I studied and apprenticed under my own HP and HPS for over a decade before earning my third degree and forming my own coven. Though I did get impatient at times, I'm glad I took as long as I did - I wanted to make my mistakes myself before inflicting them on someone else.

    As a high priestess and teacher of the Craft, it's my goal to create people who are not sheep (following others), sheep dogs (leaders of the sheep), or wolves (predators of sheep) - but eagles. Soar to the greatest heights that you can achieve, to tap their deepest potential and bring it forth brilliantly into the world. This is achieved through repeated practice of our rituals, through magick, and through a devotion to the vision of divinity that each of us has. That last part is important because I encourage each member of my coven to find his or her own vision of the Divine. We are a dogma-free organization; as such, it's crucial that each person discover what the divine looks like for him or herself.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Sorry it took so long to comment- I've had a crazy week. However, I really like your use of the eagle as a symbol. And I love your emphasis on each person finding their own vision of the Divine. Awesome job!

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