Seekers and Guides: How to Design an Effective Wicca 101 Course

Seekers and Guides: How to Design an Effective Wicca 101 Course July 8, 2013

So you’re at a point in your practice when all the Pagan-curious people you know are starting to ask you about Wicca and how to study and practice it.  You realize that speaking individually to all of these people is simply taking up too much of your time and you have to organize something more structured.  You decide that you are going to teach a Wicca 101 course.  You have never done this before.  Where do you start?

Start with the Basics

Make a list of the elements of Wiccan practice that you consider to be essential.  Consider them as chapter titles of a book.  What would fall under those categories?  List them in point form or make a mind-map.  Decide which is the most important and which is the least.

When I first did this, my list included, in this order:

Wiccan Altar

  • What is Wicca?
  • History of the Craft
  • Ethics
  • Nature of the Divine
  • Magickal Tools
  • Altar Setup
  • Cycles of Time (Sabbats, Esbats, Life Cycles)
  • Divination
  • Symbolism
  • Spellcrafting and Magick
  • Chants and Music
  • Pagan Community
  • Ritual Design

Write What You Know

Work with your strengths first; it will take less time, and you will find the process less frustrating.  If you have made a formal study of the Sabbats, draw from what you’ve read and reproduce it.  If you are an herbalist, compile the essentials.  If you are known for your facility with spellcasting, think about how you go about creating spells, and explain that.

Draw on Your Existing Resources

Perhaps you are lucky enough to be hiving off from an existing coven and they will help you to establish your classes.  That’s great.  Most of us aren’t that lucky, but there are other things we can draw upon.  If you found a particular book helpful to you, make it required reading.  If you drew a huge planetary correspondence table in your Book of Shadows, reproduce it.  If you know a local expert on something you’d like to highlight (maybe a Tarot reader, or a Pagan musician, or a martial arts practitioner, who can teach energy work,) why not bring them in?

Fill in the Holes

I learned when I sat down to do this that I knew almost nothing about the history of the Craft.  I made a study of it at once and reproduced the information for my students.  I will say, however, that I ended up giving them a lot of information that interested me personally, but I don’t think was quite relevant to the basics in retrospect.  This is a potential pitfall to watch out for.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The only time this advice is invalid is if you’re writing a book (due to copyright issues).  But why waste time and paper re-creating a chart wheel of the Sabbats if there’s one you’re happy with online already?  When I started practicing our best bet was in scrabbling what we could from the public library to copy by hand into our Books of Shadows, and if we were blessed enough to actually have a metaphysical bookstore in our town, ordering stuff we read about in magazines and hoping that the store wasn’t New Age but anti-Pagan.  Now, we have Google.  Don’t make more work for yourself than you have to.

You’re Writing a Class, Not a Lecture

The next step is to figure out how to present this.  If you’ll remember my column on learning styles from a few months back, you know that everyone learns differently.  The most effective classes appeal to all four learning styles and all five senses.  So you can’t just lecture; you have to get people involved.  They might need quizzes, or hands-on exercises, or craft projects, or essays.  Figure out ways to use them all.

A great hands-on craft project is making your own magickal tools, and you can introduce them by bringing in your own for people to see.  A great subject for an essay is the meaning of the Wiccan Rede.  An excellent spiritual mediation and research project for understanding the Witches’ Gods is seeking a personal divine Matron and Patron.  Divination certainly should involve personal practice with runes, Tarot or scrying; and everyone loves to chant and drum!  There is a plethora of Pagan music out there and it makes wonderful teaching material; I know a handful of songs that teach the Rede or the Charge, a few that explain initiation, several that teach the significance and meaning of the Sabbats, and more that teach about the Pagan Gods and myths, or how to work magick.  Guided meditations are practical tools whether teaching Witchcraft or positive thinking.  Don’t neglect the traditional tools of schooling, either; PowerPoint presentations, charts, graphs, and heads-up displays are just as effective in teaching the Craft as they are in teaching history.

Make a Test Run

Have a fellow Pagan whom you expect and admire, or at least a good friend, read over your class first before you present it to the public.  Better yet, teach it to a group of friends.  Then you know how long everything takes to present, whether or not your exercises are effective, and what you might have missed.  Let your friends tell you if they found something boring or if they wanted more information in a particular subject.  Then take their opinions under advisement and work from there.  You don’t have to take every suggestion they make!  I know a lot of Witches who find Craft history boring in its entirety, and I make them do it anyway if they want to take my class because I think it’s important.

Don’t Neglect the Psychological Elements

Study of the Craft opens up parts of the brain that force us to confront our personal issues in ways that most people never will.  It’s never easy and it can’t be ignored.  Accept that you will likely get a lot of requests for personal advice from your students, and warn them that it may cause upheaval in their lives.  It’s only fair.  Don’t you wish that someone had warned you?

Set Limits

It seems astonishing, but I have had a regular issue with coven members who expect me to pick them up and drive them around.  Don’t do it, and if you do, at least make them pay for the gas.

What are your expectations regarding homework?  Are you going to throw someone out of your class for not doing it, just ignore them and expect them to catch up on their own, or hold up the rest of the class so everyone will be on the same page?  Let your students know your policies on this at the get-go.

If someone has a personal crisis, how free are they to call upon you?  Will it have to wait for class, will you let them call you any time, or will you make yourself available for talk on particular dates and times?  Or will you refer them to professional therapists instead?

Will you allow others to throw in their two cents in, or do you wish to establish that you are the teacher and if they want to offer their opinions, they can do so after class?  Are your discussions free-flowing or directed?  How much time will you allow for each discussion to take place?  Will you require people to raise their hands to ask questions, use a talking stick, or just allow people to bellow out when they have something to ask?  Less structure means more organic discussion and a more personalized learning experience, but a teacher must establish a certain amount of authority, and the more structure you have, the easier that authority is to maintain.  One thing I have learned is that the things that I consider to be common courtesy aren’t so common, so if you’re shy, be as formal and “school-like” as you can, no matter how much you hate it.

Don’t Get Left with the Check

People will always try to get something for nothing.  It’s not that they are jerks (though of course there are exceptions), it’s just that they naturally want as much as they can get for as little as they have to put out.  So do you.  One of the hardest lessons I had in this subject was that I was asked to teach my first Wicca 101 in a neighboring town (a two-hour drive).  I calculated the cost first of photocopies, then of materials, then of gas, then of space rental, and told each person who said they were coming that they would have to give me $10 a class.  Half of them never showed and two of the others were friends of mine who pleaded poverty due to unforeseen circumstances and never did catch up.  The end result is that I ended up paying for these trips out of my own pocket.

Never pay for the privilege of teaching anyone else!  Your instruction is a service and a valuable commodity.  If you are not making money, then at least be sure you aren’t losing any, even if your tradition is firm about the rule that we do not charge for the Craft.  That’s not fair to you, and worse yet, it devalues what you teach, because you are being disrespected by your students – which means that everything you have taught is being disrespected as well.

Next column: The Hero’s Journey: Dealing with the Psychology of Studying the Craft.

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