Seekers and Guides: The Inconstant Student

Seekers and Guides: The Inconstant Student November 24, 2014

“That looks like . . . work.” Source:

It has got to be the most frustrating part of teaching.

A teacher of the Craft usually puts a lot of work into the lessons they offer; and usually not for any return either, aside from the joy of watching someone’s eyes light up when they discover a Mystery.  Someone who is taking the time to teach the Craft is probably pretty dedicated to it.  He or she likely has been practicing for many years and has incorporated faith into every aspect of his or her life; so it can be extremely discouraging when a student just does not seem to have the respect and love for the Craft that a teacher does.  I think that out of every ten people I have personally instructed, maybe one goes on to found a coven and teach others, because only one of the ten has the necessary focus, dedication and discipline to complete the process of becoming a Priest or Priestess of the Craft.

What are the causes of this discrepancy between the effort of the instructors and the effort of the students?  I’m not entirely sure, but I have some thoughts.

I believe that part of it is the difference between the Information Age and the Age of the Internet.  For most people currently teaching the Craft, information was hard-won.  There were only a handful of books in the 90s that taught anything useful about the Craft.  Most of us had to travel widely to festivals or to practice with covens, or read voraciously and piece together what we could from hard-to-find source material.  True information about the Craft in the middle of the Satanic Panic was carefully guarded.  This, I suspect, created a natural filter that excluded anyone who was not prepared to do a lot of independent research.  Now we have Google; Wicca is a household word, and information is freely available anywhere.  While overall I view this to be an improvement over “the bad old days,” that initial filter that vetted out anyone for whom the Craft was a casual interest is no longer present.

Part of it is likely due to a surplus of what I would call “easy spirituality.”  With the Hicks, Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer assuring us that all we need is the Law of Attraction, why would anyone want to waste their time learning the complex symbolism and theology of witchcraft?  Why not just look a spell up in a recipe book and be done with it if you need a spell?  Hell, why pursue magick at all?  Sometimes people are attracted to witchcraft and Paganism because it offers an individualistic path of personal spirituality, but they quickly become disenchanted when they realize exactly how much work is entailed.

I also believe that part of it lies in the lack of perceived value.  Because we do not believe in charging for the Craft, most of us, who have grown up in a capitalist-materialist world, do not perceive the skills, time or knowledge of a Craft teacher as having any value.  Therefore, it is available to disregard, disrespect, and waste.  In the meantime, courses in “easy spirituality” are worth several hundred dollars.

I am not suggesting that we should start charging money for the Craft.  I think each witch has to make his or her own decisions regarding this issue.  But I am suggesting that in this world that values “energy exchange,” perhaps there can be other methods of energy exchange set in place so that the value of lessons will be impressed upon our students.  Maybe it’s time to consider looking to our roots in medieval guilds and insist upon periods of apprenticeship; though that could be abused if a teacher is not careful.

Part of it may also lie in unrealistic expectations.  The truth is that not everyone has the inclination, dedication or desire to be clergy; but because of the process we have used to teach witchcraft for the past fifty years (or longer) everyone expects that they must join a coven to be a real, practicing witch.  But covens are training grounds for clergy; festivals are the place for Sabbat Pagans (or, as every other religion calls them, respectfully and without the same sort of ridiculous and self-defeating contempt that we seem to have adopted, “lay worshippers.”)  I suspect they feel as if people will not welcome them, or will not take them seriously, if they do not join a coven.  And if we have made them feel this way, we are, to not put too fine a point on it, fools.

Gerald Gardner when he wrote Witchcraft Today, believed that the witches of his time were maintaining a sort of seminary for Pagan clergy, and he also believed that the time would come when there would be lay worshippers among the Wiccans once again.  That means that even he recognized that not everyone is called to be clergy; and what’s wrong with that?

For some, Paganism and Wicca speaks to them as a way to relate to the Divine and the Universe.  They are not interested in the Craft itself and they don’t want to do more than honour the full moons and show up at Sabbats with their potluck contribution.  And indeed, why should anyone object to this?  Others feel a calling to devote their lives to the gods and to teaching and practicing the Craft.  This is what a coven is geared towards; but I see no reason why we should expect this of everyone.

Indeed, not everyone should expect this of her- or himself.  The study of the Craft is the path for the few, not the many.  It is time-consuming, exacting, and requires people to go deeper within themselves than they might ever have in their lives.  It requires us to deal with our personal demons.  Not everyone is geared for this kind of work; and not everyone who is has the time or energy to devote to it between job, kids, and life.  There should be no judgment if a person isn’t prepared for the dedication of coven work; but a person who seeks to study the Craft should have a realistic sense of his or her own capabilities in this, and should not denigrate the work, nor waste the time, of a potential teacher by asking for teaching when one is not prepared, or not able at this time, to do the work that is required.

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