Teaching Paganism

Teaching Paganism June 15, 2018

This month, I’ve been teaching an introductory class on Pagan spirituality to a Lifelong Learning Institute. Most of the people in the class have almost no grounding in Paganism, so it has been interesting.

First, what should I cover? I had 3 sessions, each an hour and 15 minutes long. I decided to talk about Paganism in general on the first class, including some of the varieties of Paganism as currently practiced in America. Since I know Witchcraft best, I decided to focus in on that for the other two sessions. The second week, we talked about Esbats and Sabbats, the Wheel of the Year and the cycle of the moon. Today, I’m covering the Hermetic Principles and diving into a discussion of magick.

It’s been interesting to see what questions people have brought. We’ve talked a bit about the differences between science and spirituality. For my take on that, see this post. Some folks have been surprised that Witchcraft can be approached from a relatively rational place. Some people have been inclined to idealize Paganism, asking questions that seem inclined to grant us more respect than some of the mainstream religions. Others have been inclined toward the less flattering stereotypes of us, asking questions about devil worship and “black magick.”

(Let me pause here to say that the use of the terms “white magick” to mean good or helpful magick and “black magick” to mean bad or harmful magick are deeply problematic and reinforce the black=bad; white=good paradigm that upholds white supremacy and white privilege.)

I’ve done my best to answer all these questions, and to talk about my own practice and understanding in ways that can give others entry into this spiritual world that means so much to me. In the process, I’ve had to decide what aspects are the most important to include, and how I want to talk about them. I’ve had to formulate them into an accessible form, and then I’ve had to answer unexpected questions. As always, the act of trying to teach something has enabled me to get a better handle on it myself.

I highly recommend this exercise, if you ever have a chance. And if you don’t have an opportunity to do this for real, you can still do the mental exercise of deciding how you would go about it if you had the chance, which can help to focus and clarify your own thinking.

Here are some of the questions you might consider:

– Assuming I had 3 (or 4 or 5, pick a number!) sessions, what areas would I focus on?

– What is most important to include? Why? What is most important to me in my own practice?

– What analogies might I use to help people understand my spirituality who are unfamiliar with it? Are there references to other spiritual traditions that might help?

– What misconceptions might I want to counter? What did I misunderstand at some point that I’d want to be sure to explain?

– What do I love most about my practice or tradition? What joy and passion do I want to communicate?

– What is the story of how I arrived here? What do I know now that I didn’t know when I started?

The act of teaching something allows us to see what we really do know, and take some pride. It also forces us to confront the things we understand less well and find new ways to think about them. I’ve heard it said that you never really know a subject until you’ve taught it. Perhaps the same might be said of a spiritual path.

About Erica Baron
Rev. Erica Baron was raised as a Unitarian Universalist and was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in 2008 after receiving a Master of Divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School. She dabbled in Pagan spirituality from high school through graduate school, but got serious about pursuing a Pagan path after her ordination. She has received training from and is an active member of the Temple of Witchcraft. She currently serves as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills in Kingston, NY. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Taffy Dugan

    First off, YES to black vs. white magic being problematic and holding up racism! I’d add that magic has no “color” at all, it’s all magic. I use “helpful” and “hurtful” when I teach. Sometimes, hurting the bad guy is helpful

  • Veronica

    “that the use of the terms “white magick” to mean good or helpful magick and “black magick” to mean bad or harmful magick are deeply problematic and reinforce the black=bad; white=good paradigm that upholds white supremacy and white privilege.”
    AMEN!
    That has always bothered me! The “black=bad; white=good paradigm” is prevalent and pervasive in most Euro-white cultures, from fairy tales to myths, to modern phrases, and it absolutely does reinforce racism in society.
    You are the first Pagan person I have come across who acknowledges this.
    I think this is my new favorite blog! <3