I’m a guy who teaches Wiccan-Witchcraft classes and gives all sorts of presentations across the country (and even in Canada and London!), but I don’t like being a teacher, and I really dislike being thought of as a teacher, especially in a coven situation. This all sounds rather contradictory, but in the wake of recent events, I’ve been thinking a lot about teachers, mentors, and all that goes along with it. Nothing wrong with teachers, I’ve had a few myself, and I know some very good ones. My feelings on the subject are directly related to how my wife and I try to best handle our business.
We started a circle at our house six years ago that eventually evolved into a coven. We started it because we wanted to do ritual with people we like, and we wanted it to start on time, and we had to have it in our house because my wife works in the medical field and is often on-call. The people we invited over for those first few months of rituals were friends, and peers. Some of them had less experience than us as Witches, but I’m quickly turning into an old man who listens to Dad-rock so that’s to be expected.
Never in that coven did we offer “teaching,” but we saw people progress as Witches and ritualists. We’d do shit in the circle, and if people had questions about why we were doing that shit we’d answer them. Watching people do ritual is a learning experience, and we saw people in our coven get better at leading ritual by following our example (and most likely observing our failures). This was really great to see, but we didn’t set ourselves up as teachers. Those we circle with have the option of observing, or not.
A few years later we started an initiation-only coven in an established tradition. People asked us to join or we sometimes broached the subject with them. Again, when we started that up, we didn’t want to be teachers. Sure, I can talk for hours about history and I love to do it, but I only hope people are listening because they find it interesting or simply want to know the stuff I find so fascinating. There are no quizzes when I’m done, and no one is required to listen to me ramble on about Gerald Gardner if they don’t want to.
In our traditional coven we do ritual of course, and when we do something that’s different from eclectic practice we explain why, but the only reason we know any of this stuff is simply because we’ve been doing it a little longer. I have a role in ritual that might require me to say more lines, but I’m no more important and no smarter than anyone else in that group. Every Witch I circle with has things to share, and provides me with a learning opportunity.
I know I know, “but Jason, you are the organizer of your covens, and probably write most of what your groups do.” That’s true, I do. Doesn’t make me a teacher, that just makes me a facilitator. I think every group is going to have power dynamics, no matter how it’s organized. (Even a group without an official “leader” will end up with someone or a group of someones filling that role, it’s just human nature.) And we should always be aware of how the power dynamics of a group are going to influence relationships and interactions. I write books, have this blog, people probably join our coven thinking I’m the expert, and then they meet Ari who is a much better Witch than I am, and they meet Angus who is also a better Witch than I am, and on down the line.The people I circle with are my friends, and my peers, and I think I can be friends with them precisely because I don’t want to set myself up as a teacher in that situation. I’m not always super-close to everyone I circle with, but there are some people I circle with that, along with Ari and certain sports franchises, are like the center of my world. They are people I go to concerts with, watch baseball games with, share holidays with, and all so much more. I can’t imagine practicing the Craft with people who aren’t a part of at least one of my social circles.
My role might be “High Priest” in at least one of my covens, but I don’t think High Priest translates as teacher. Some will disagree, and that’s fine, there are lots of covens out there and lots of different ways to run one, and conduct one’s business. Maybe the way my wife and I do things is wrong, I don’t know, I do know that other approaches work better for some groups and covens.
There are times when I think our approach doesn’t work for some folks. A new coven member said she was looking for a teacher (and those we circle with can and most certainly do participate in other groups), and it made me wonder if what we do is lacking. But I know from experience that the best teacher I ever had didn’t teach, she held discussion circles and didn’t want people sitting at her feet gazing up into her eyes. Witchcraft is always best learned by doing.
Things are a little more difficult when I’m teaching Wiccan-Witchcraft classes at the local Witch-shop. But that’s not a coven, and some people there probably view me only as a teacher, while I’ve developed deep and real friendships with some members of my class. And while “teaching” I’m always quite clear that “there is no one way in Witchcraft, only the way that works best for you.” (I really don’t like speaking in absolutes.)
Speaking on the road is different too, but I think of myself more as an entertainer than a teacher in such instances. I’m there to share information that I find interesting, also I like talking, so it’s cool to get a chance to do it. And at the end of the night at an outdoor festival we are all shitting in a portajohn.