My recent posts on vetting potential students and on seekers looking for specific teachers raise the question of what obligation those of us with certain levels of knowledge and experience have to teach newcomers. As with so much else in the Big Tent of Paganism, different traditions have different expectations, from “we take everyone” to “I take who I want, when I want, if I want.”
There are many ways to learn: books, classes, one-on-one instruction, distance learning, and learning by doing. All have their strengths and weaknesses; none are categorically better than the others. Some material is more easily and more reliably learned through a specific method, while some students are better suited to one or another.
While I strongly believe the training of the next generation is the obligation of the current generation, different teachers and traditions have different preferences and parameters for teaching. What works for one won’t work for another. And you don’t have to have a teacher to learn many forms of Paganism.
Given the recent conversations, it seems appropriate to lay out my own teaching parameters: what I do, what I don’t do, and what I expect in return. I’m not advertising for students, but if you come to me, this is what you should expect.
Most of my teaching is on this blog. If I’ve got a good idea, I’ve probably written about it. Most of what I have to teach is here. It may be hard to find, but the “search this blog” function in the right sidebar works fairly well. And if that doesn’t work, click on “all posts” under the header picture and browse by month. If you want what I have to offer, it’s probably here.
Some day I need to pull the instructional posts off the blog and work them into a nice, well organized book. Yeah, I need to do that. Soon. Like really soon…
Druidry has many excellent teaching resources. If you’re interested in Druidry, start with one or two of the good introductory books. Then join a Druid order. OBOD has the best distance learning program in the modern Pagan world and ADF’s program is also excellent. One will likely fit you better than the other, but you can’t go wrong either way. There are other orders that I’m not familiar with, but I don’t know of any I’d steer you away from. There is also a growing number of local groves. They generally don’t provide one-to-one instruction, but they will give you someone to practice with, and that’s extremely helpful.
So if you want to learn Druidry, you don’t need me to be your personal teacher.
Denton CUUPS has its own teaching practices. Denton CUUPS isn’t a typical CUUPS chapter, but we’re still a UU covenant group. We have no fixed traditions and we welcome all who come in good will. If you come in asking for teaching, we’re likely to sit down and ask what you want to learn. We’ll recommend a book or three, some daily spiritual practices, and we’ll give you the opportunity to start putting it into practice right away.
Our teaching methods are largely dependent on you to figure out what you want. The good news is that if you find out what you really want isn’t what you thought you wanted, there’s probably someone here who can help you anyway.
If you want me to teach you in person. Move to North Texas. Participate in Denton CUUPS. Support the Denton UU Fellowship. Now you’re part of my community. I’ll work with you face to face, I’ll show you what I do and how I do it, we’ll sit and talk theology, theurgy, and thaumaturgy over wine or tea or both. When you’re ready for initiation, I’ll help put it together.
You have to do the work – and if you don’t do the work, you’ll find yourself without a teacher in a hurry. But you have to do the work no matter who teaches you or how you learn.
If you want me to teach you remotely. I get a lot of questions via e-mail and Facebook. I do my best to answer them, but most of my answers are either book recommendations or links to blog posts. If you need more than that, you don’t need an occasional conversation – you need a training program. OBOD and ADF both offer those – they can do a better job of teaching you than I can.
Maybe you’re looking for spiritual direction – someone to listen to your goals and plans, and what you’re already doing, then make observations and recommendations. I do this work on a consulting basis – that means I expect to be paid for it.
Why? For one thing, my time is limited. I have a full time professional job. I have a family, a house, a church, and a CUUPS group that need my attention. I have this blog to keep up, and I have non-blog writing and speaking projects going pretty much all the time. If I’m working with you one-on-one, I’m not doing any of that.
But I also want to see a real commitment from you. Over the years I’ve found that a lot of beginners are enamored with the idea of having a teacher, but not so enamored with doing the work that teachers ask students to do. If I’m going to spend my limited time creating a teaching plan for you, presenting it to you, and evaluating my teaching effectiveness, I want a strong indication you’ll stick with it and not abandon it when it gets hard or when you decide you’d rather watch Dancing With the Stars. Like it or not, one of the best indications of whether or not someone will stick with something is whether or not they have a financial investment in the process.
If you can’t afford my standard rates, we’ll talk about what you can do. Making a sacrifice is one thing, creating a hardship is another.
This mirrors my own learning experiences. I started out reading books and websites. I went to Denton CUUPS to have a group to practice with. When I figured out I needed some formal training, I joined OBOD and signed up for their distance learning program. It took me five and a half years to work through the three grades of Bard, Ovate, and Druid. I learned from those who came before me at Denton CUUPS, and I’ve learned far more through doing – applying what I’ve learned in public, private, and solitary practice.
When I needed spiritual direction, I contacted teachers I respected and I paid them for their services.
I don’t hesitate to fire off a question to someone who’s a subject matter expert, but if I ask them to provide counseling or to do research that’s going to take a while, we work out some sort of compensation. Others do the same with me.
The world runs on reciprocity. If you want to receive, you should expect to give. Sometimes reciprocity means trading goods and services. Sometimes it means supporting a mutual community. And sometimes it means cash for services.
Some groups require specific forms of training. If you want to be an OBOD Druid, you have to take the correspondence courses. If you want to be a Feri Witch, you have to find a Feri initiate to teach you. But for many forms of contemporary Paganism, there are many ways to learn. Find the one that fits your needs and your learning style.