An Open Letter to My Peers and Students…

An Open Letter to My Peers and Students… September 6, 2015
Isaac Bonewits - 2008
Isaac Bonewits – 2008

(Phaedra Bonewits, Neopagan teacher, writer, and initiate of several traditions of Wicca, Witchcraft and Hermetic Magic, thinks of herself as just another occult generalist who insulates her house with books. In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Phaedra was a pioneer in public Pagan worship in Chicago where she was a founding member of Panthea Temple, was an active public Pagan in North Carolina, and served as national vice president of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). These days you can find her at the blog of the website, http://www.neopagan.net,  that she and Isaac ran. )

To all my friends who learned ritual and magic way back in the day when I did:

  • Please teach.
  • Please do public rituals.
  • Please start training covens/circles/temples/whatever.
  • Please pass along your depth of knowledge and skill as we were taught by people who were deep in their knowledge and skill.
  • Please give people the opportunity to learn from your example and mentorship, not just from books.

I am constantly meeting people who are so hungry for the real thing. They don’t even quite know what the real thing is, but they know something more must be possible. It’s just that, they don’t know how one gets there.

So many people have never experienced the powerful rites that we took for granted. They are earnest, they are committed, but they don’t know what can be achieved because they’ve never actually experienced it.

We can’t (and some would say shouldn’t) teach everyone. Over the years, I haven’t taken on that many personal students. It’s hard work, and if you move around the country a lot as I have done, it’s not possible to do one-on-one work with people for long periods of time. (And yes, teachers of mine, you were right; students will break your heart.) So you do what you can do, which is heaps better than doing nothing at all.

I would not be the practitioner I am today without the generosity of those who shared their skills and experience with me; to name a few: Christa Heiden Landon, Althea Northage-Orr and the late John Northage, Alan Salmi, Aidan Kelly, my beloved Isaac, of course, and many more, some well known, many not.

I also owe something to everyone who gave a workshop I attended, or put on an event, or officiated at a powerful ritual that I had the privilege to attend. All you old-school Pagans and occultists in Chicago who set such high standards, I owe you.

We’re getting old. We’re dying off. Too many of those who drove the scene (however you think of it) are already gone. (If you think at 50 or 60 you automatically have decades still ahead of you, believe me, it’s not something you can count on.)

Students and initiates of mine, have you trained at least one person? Have you done a ritual for guests or for the public so they can get a sense of what good ritual feels like? Have you done a presentation or given a lecture or led a workshop? Have you done these things the past decade? If you have, bless you, keep it up. If you haven’t, give it a shot. Do it for me.

Heck, do it for everyone. And for the ones who will come after them.


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  • Rory

    A core issue I have seen in the last 15-20 years is relative inability of young people either (a) to seek or (b) to accept instruction. The growth of Pagan resources on Usenet gave way to the growth of a consumer Internet and many more “101” books. These in turn gave rise to many more “101” readers and a plethora of web pages, YouTube videos and chatter channels of different kinds, where peer display or distinction became a higher priority than personal development or deepening. As that became the common culture, the perceived need to find teachers lessened. In combination with a sense that older folks were not “hip” to all these 101 readers saw as Pagan fundamentals, in-person tutors and apprenticeships faded.

    I am reminded of Phaedrus 274 forward, where Socrates discusses the influence of books:

    “They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances. The people of that time, not being
    so wise as you young folks, were content in their simplicity to hear an oak or a rock, provided only it spoke the truth; but to you, perhaps, it makes a difference who the speaker is and where he comes from, for you do not consider only whether his words are true or not.”

    Offering must precede acceptance, of course, but great teachers need good students; students who come with a desire to grow more than to be filled and to shine in front of others. Deep development does not lend itself to a facile Facebook, selfie culture. The humility and reverence once shown to elders is largely gone, I fear, leaving more unseen than unwilling to give.

  • Dana Corby

    I did all those things for 35 years, and now can’t. And almost none of my downline are, with one shining exception. It’s heartbreaking.

  • Samuel Wagar

    I am doing all of these, and I’ve never stopped. Although some years there were very few students and other times I was busy, and the mix of public and private, coven and Temple, has switched around over the years. And I agree with you that the Old Farts really need, to the extent that we are able, to do these things.

  • Thanks for the repost. But, it’s neopagan.NET, not dot org!

  • At the same time, if you don’t make yourself available, no one will find you.

  • Gordon Cooper

    Some of us are accessible, but almost no one cares about much beyond an FAQ with bulleted points on a website.

  • I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I stopped taking complete beginners as students. I want them to already have some effort put in, just to indicate they won’t float away because it’s not what they thought it was.

  • Gordon Cooper

    My hope is that in the next few years people who are largely uninterested will make that determination before they seek instruction. A degree in library card (As Brandy Williams has opined) may be as important as any other degree they seek.

  • Henry Buchy

    nope, sorry. done with all that. it’s a lot of the folks “who drove the scene” who did try to teach everybody via mass marketing D.Y.I , “just read my book, self initiate,come to a few of my ‘workshops’, sign up for my classes, and voila you’re a witch” or “High Priest/ess, lol. I mean that was the whole idea back then right? introduce the craft to the masses. Make it a religion, and still at it. It’s said the journey is sometimes more important than the destination,but over the last 30 years the ‘journey’ has been cut out,and the ‘destination’ is promised if one just ‘reads my book’ etc.
    as is said “be careful what you ask for”, lol
    There’s still some of us who maintain the older way of ‘teaching’, and we’re available, one just has to find us. One can’t really teach the craft, it has to be learnt, and so the burden is entirely on the one who want’s to learn. Nowdays, that burden is too much trouble.

  • I know plenty of people who never wrote books but where very valuable members of the community. Many did workshops; that’s often where they met their personal students. For all those who wrote books, dozens just did their thing and many a student is the better for it. Most of those books were from the ’90s. My teachers were trained (and were training) in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

    Of course you can teach the Craft. Not everyone is interested in everything, but that doesn’t mean knowledge can’t be exchanged and experiences created.