Teachers, GOOD & BAD...
The Many Ways to Pass along the Knowedge
by Wren Walker (11/7/97)
There are all kinds of people out there today who may call themselves "teachers" or "experts" in Witchcraft and Wicca. Some advertise in New Age shops and publications or over the Internet. Some are well known local personalities who offer regular lectures, workshops or Wicca 101 classes. You may hear of a teacher through networking with other Pagans in your area. How can you know that these people are who they say they are? Or more importantly to you perhaps, how can you know that a teacher will be the right one for you? There are many Paths and many different approaches to passing on the Craft. A little prior research into the various systems or Traditions in advance is almost a necessity before making the decision to take training in a particular system. We encourage everyone to do as much reading on the subjects as possible. See what interests you and then try to find a teacher that will help you further develop in these areas of interest.
There are some definitive things that you can do to help insure that you enjoy a positive experience BEFORE you spend a lot of time or money in classes or other training. We have provided a listing below that we have developed from personal experiences, the experiences of others and various reference materials that may help to know what you should be looking for and how to ask the questions that may help you decide if this is the teacher for you. Some teachers may not exhibit all of the signs listed, but most teachers will fall predominantly into one category or another.
A GOOD TEACHER... generally:
- Has a sense of humor... Humans do silly things sometimes, and a sense of humor can help keep things in perspective. A good teacher will help you laugh at yourself (and them!), but will not hold you up to ridicule.
- Has respect for all living things... One needn’t be a vegetarian to care about the lives and welfare of animals. Environmental concerns are also important as Neo-Paganism is a "nature or earth-based" religious Path. Abuse of any living thing is pretty much a "no-no".
- Has a healthy self image... A teacher who realizes that he or she can learn just as much from a novice as the novice may learn from the teacher is probably comfortable in what they know, yet open to new ideas and concepts.
- Is kind and compassionate... This doesn’t mean that you will not be challenged or have to work hard, but it does mean that your honest efforts will be met with encouragement and gentle guidance. A good teacher will not "look down his or her nose" at your sincere attempts; they realize that experience is necessary to gaining knowledge.
- Tells the truth and is direct... This means that you will not be led astray either by one who is afraid to confront you when you are heading in a wrong direction or by one who seeks to manipulate you for unspoken ends. They call a spade a spade and want you to do the same. They ‘walk their talk" and do not have a separate code of conduct for themselves while expecting you to follow another.
- Is able to teach by example... The good teacher will often tell stories of the time that they really ‘screwed up". They also can tell you about their successes and failures and do so-neither making excuses or being overly melodramatic about their experiences. They can offer practical examples and show applications of such examples clearly. They are not "mysterious" so much as they demonstrate the "mysteries" in simple ways to help you understand them.
- Has a global point of view... Local "gurus’ may only be interested in making a name or creating a following for themselves. A good teacher will encourage their students to reach beyond the local area and embrace the rest of the world community.
- Is inclusive rather than exclusive in attitude... Anyone who promotes an "us vs. them" is dangerously close to becoming a cult leader. There are real forces out there to contend with, but a teacher who finds an enemy around every corner should be avoided.
- Allows for mistakes and admits that he/she is not perfect... "We are all in this together" is a good statement to hear from a teacher that you are considering working with.
- Is flexible, yet honors commitments... Too rigid a set of rules and regulations stifles energy flow and the learning experience. Too random a training program may also interfere in the discipline required for growth. A balance between the two is best.
- Encourages you to do your own research and ask questions... A good teacher wants you to discover and explore new ideas. A good book list should be included in any training program. You should be able to disagree with a teacher without being censored or reprimanded.(A well thought out concept should be "thought provoking" however and not just "provoking".).
- Gives credit where credit is due... A teacher who is using references or techniques from other sources should plainly state this fact. The use other people’s work without credit is theft, plain and simple.
- Listens more than talks... A good teacher is genuinely interested in your thoughts, feelings and opinions. Feedback is one way that a teacher can tell how you are absorbing and integrating the materials and lessons. Someone who talks all the time about his/her experiences is more interested in impressing you with their personal knowledge than helping you to acquire knowledge of your own.
- Wants you to mature and move on... A good teacher wants his or her students to surpass them. That is the greatest compliment that a teacher can receive. Just as a good parent wants to send mature and well balanced children out into the world, so does a good spiritual teacher want their "children" to grow up and leave home.
ON THE OTHER HAND:... You Should AVOID a teacher who:
- Possesses a superior attitude... If a teacher states or implies that they are the sole holder of some sort of "special" or "secret" knowledge disclosed only to a "chosen few", you really don’t want to know what that may be...really.
- Excludes members of any race or culture... Bigotry of any kind has no place in spiritual circles.
- Is attacking or violent... Obviously.
- Is either overly sensitive or too insensitive... Someone who either sees slights and attacks where there are none or ignores actual tangible problems may not be in touch with "reality". Best to leave them to their own little fantasy world.
- Is ingratiating... Someone who is overly friendly and shares intimate details of their personal life with you almost immediately may be looking to "win you over." This is a real danger sign that is often overlooked. By "baring their soul", they encourage you to do the same in return. This "instant intimacy" can leave you vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. Go slowly when meeting someone new.
- Is controlling... No teacher should expect you to abandon your family and friends. Isolation from the rest of society is a classic cult activity. You should not be expected to run errands or perform tasks. Sometimes you and the teacher will work out a "fair exchange of energy" in return for training. Make sure it IS fair. If you feel like you are being taken advantage of, you probably are.
- Is continually cancelling classes... This is a classic indication that they simple have your money and no longer care about fullfilling the deal. If they are postponing classes until several months from now, you may have a real problem on your hands.
- Belittles you or uses you as an "example"... You deserve to be treated with respect even if you are a novice. No teacher has the right to strip you of your self esteem. You should not be bullied into doing something that makes you uncomfortable or that you do not understand. On the other hand, being held up to others as the "teacher’s pet" is also incorrect and this teacher may be setting you up for something that you may not want to become involved in.
- Has few or no "elders" in their group... "Where are the people who have been trained before me?" is a good question to ask. Perhaps they DID mature and move on... or perhaps they just ran screaming from the room!!...It pays to check. Talk to anyone you can find who has trained with this teacher before.
- Wants a lot of money up front... You should be able to get a class schedule or other outline of what the training will consist of BEFORE you sign up. Look it over carefully and ask questions. If the information seems to be no more than what you can get free from books or by talking with other Witches, it may not be a good value. Degrees and titles are earned, They are not bought...or sold.
- Has assistants, cohorts or senior students who you are expected to obey... Some groups do have a system of ‘elders" who deserve respect. However, you are not obligated to accept anyone simply based on their "rank" within a group. If the teacher has an "entourage" which follows them everywhere and seems to "cater" to this teacher’s every whim, watch carefully. You may end up being the next "groupie."
- Is overly idealistic and impractical... If this teacher has marvelous plans for the world-and especially if they tell YOU that you will be a part of this grand scheme-but he/she cannot balance their checkbook, take care of their children or hold onto a job, you want to leave now. You may end up not only shoring up these "dream castles", you may end up supporting this person financially and emotionally. Witchcraft is a Path of personal responsibility and a teacher should be able to manifest this in their own lives.
- Exhibits any of these characteristics... lying, sexual misconduct, theft, physical violence or abuse.
"Thus the wise man residing in the Tao
sets an example for all beings.
Because he does not display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is*,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal (secret personal agenda) in mind,
everything he does succeeds."
*(meaning he does not set him/herself above anyone.)
-Tao te Ching