This week’s topic on The Witches’ Voice is Teaching and Teachers. I’ve read the first three essays and I recommend them, for different reasons. I’m going to comment on one of them in more detail in a future blog post.
Teaching is a big deal in many Pagan groups (especially in Wicca) because until maybe 20 years ago, it was the only way to learn. There were very few books on Pagan and Wiccan practice, and the ones that were available were difficult to find. Plus Wiccans tend to place a big emphasis on lineage, and that’s something you only get from a teacher.
As someone who is more than a seeker but not quite an elder (advanced seeker? junior elder? what does eight years of dabbling and another seven of serious practice qualify me for?), I’m in a position to see this issue from both sides. I’ve had people ask “will you teach me?” But when I asked what books they had read so far, every single one of them said “none.” I told them all to go read Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner and get back in touch with me when they finished it. Exactly zero have come back to me. There is some basic groundwork that can easily be done on your own, and it is not reasonable to expect anyone to tutor you until you’ve shown the initiative to take those first steps.
On the other hand, there is a real limit to what you can learn from books. I went looking for a CUUPS group in early 2003 because I knew I had reached my limit as a solitary. I’ve benefited greatly from Dolores’ Tarot classes, Summer’s consciousness classes, and from the paid (and none too cheap) class I took on beginning shamanism some years ago. I joined OBOD because I felt like I needed their formal training.
Denton CUUPS has no formal tradition (in the Pagan sense) and no standard practices. We teach new members our organizational history and structure, we encourage them to read through our old rituals, and we plug them into new rituals with small parts at first, then larger ones as their skills and desires manifest. But if someone comes to us and says “teach me how to be a Pagan” we really aren’t set up to do it.
The same thing happens in the wider UU church. If someone comes to our church, we can offer them our Sunday morning worship and our adult discussion RE class. But we can’t offer them a UU equivalent of an Evangelical Bible study class or a Buddhist meditation practice. I discussed some of this back in January – Rev. Diana and I started a conversation on it, but it died out when Rev. Bill got sick and we haven’t been able to re-start it.
As UUs (both Pagans and the larger church), I think we do a good job of welcoming people where they are and giving them a safe space to explore and practice. We do a decent job of pointing them toward instruction and training if they ask for it. But we do a poor job of actually providing that training, and an even worse job of helping people figure out what they don’t know.