I have, for most of my spiritual life, been self-taught. I learned magic through reading books and trying out the exercises and then experimenting with them in order to see what I could do. I had a couple of would-be teachers show up in the early years of my practice and neither of them, despite having more experience, really demonstrated that they were a good fit or that what they knew about magic or thought they knew about me was really accurate. I have, in recent years, found a mentor of sorts, but even in that case, its in a very specific category of my spiritual work, and doesn’t apply to the majority of what I’m doing. I also offer a couple classes on magic, but I’ve done my best to set them up so that the person taking the class can set their own pace and take what they learn and experiment with it, because in my opinion that’s the best way to learn anything. You learn the foundational material and then you start teaching yourself and seeing what you can do with it.
Now its pretty easy to find books on Paganism and occultism. You can learn just about anything you want to without even having to meet the authors of the books or have a mentor figure in your life. While this has its downsides and upsides to it, it’s more important to understand that the best teacher you’ll ever find is yourself. Self-directed learning, where you choose what you learn based on what you are interested in, is the best type of learning because it is genuinely motivated by your interests.
If you do choose to work with someone where that person is your teacher, recognize that whatever authority that person has, it is at least partially derived by your choice to see that person as an authority. There is nothing wrong with questioning that authority or even questioning whether that person is qualified to teach. It’s also important to recognize that while that teacher can share information with you, inevitably it is flavored by his/her own biases and subjectivities, which in and of itself may be educational for you. Challenge everything because then you are learning based on your experiences versus just taking information it. I’d argue that you really only learn when you turn what you’ve learned into an experience that actually applies to your life in a meaningful manner.
I am self-taught because I couldn’t find the answers I was looking for in the authority of other people or, for that matter, the authority of any type of being. I could only find the answers through my own work and through my willingness to invest authority in myself to actually learn as I saw fit instead of learning what other people told me I should learn. When you figure that out–in your spiritual work and with life in general–you recognize that whatever you learn from anyone else is a gift but one that is informed by your own willingness to be the ultimate authority of your own life and the experiences you have.