Tools of Learning
MEMBERS OF COVENS have access to teachers, attend learning circles, and can enjoy the experience of other Wiccans in guiding and enriching their Wiccan knowledge. Solitary Wiccans lack all of these opportunities. What, then, are our tools of learning?
We must be creative. Self-teaching is a great challenge, but it can be accomplished through the use of four tools:
The use of these tools is the most effective method by which solitary Wiccans can increase their knowledge and understanding of Wicca. This fourfold approach may answer nearly every question you have if you’re willing to trust yourself; if you’re willing to think; and if you’re not caught up in worrying that you’re doing something incorrectly.
There’s no one correct method of casting a circle; of invoking the Goddess and God; of ritually observing the seasons or performing Wiccan magic. The fact that there are numerous methods of casting circles, invoking the Goddess and God, and observing the seasons points to the unique opportunity that lies in wait for the solitary Wiccan: to discover new forms of worship that others, conditioned to accept only certain avenues of Wiccan expression, may have missed.
How can you do this? By studying, thinking, praying, and experimenting.
Books have always been tools of magic. With the turn of the page, we can be transported to the bottom of the ocean; to the limitless desert; to the surface of the moon. Books can lift our spirits, heal our wounds, steel our courage, and strengthen our religious resolve. They can also arouse our curiosity, sharpen our minds, teach us new skills, and alter our opinions. Books are powerful tools of change.
Many people first learn of Wicca through reading books, and most use books to guide their first steps on the Wiccan path. Such books, if written in a clear manner by experienced Wiccans, can be valuable learning tools. Quality books of this kind become their readers’ High Priestess and High Priest, coveners, and friends.
Indeed, due to the scarcity of those willing to teach Wicca, and the small number of students that they can effectively instruct, we’ve thrown the mantle of experience and authority around books written by Wiccan authors. Such works have largely become the teachers of the new era of Wicca.
Sometimes, however, reading more than a few books may lead to confusion. Authors may make contradictory statements regarding Wiccan ritual practices and concepts. Some may deliberately obscure Wiccan knowledge with mystic prose. The solitary Wiccan, grasping for answers, may only come up with more questions, as expert after expert states that her or his way is the best or most effective (this tendency is disappearing in Wiccan books today, but many older books that contain such statements are still in print).
One book may state, “the altar is always in the east”; in another, the north. An author might write that counterclockwise movement within the circle is forbidden; another will direct the reader to move in precisely this direction. Dates and names for the sabbats and esbats vary widely according to the author. Tools are given differing names, attributes, and functions.
Eventually, the books that originally inspired the new solitary Wiccan may become a source of confusion and despair, and she or he may pack them away, deciding that no real learning can be achieved with them.
This is a shame, and can be avoided by keeping this concept in mind: Each book is a different teacher. Each teacher has distinct ideas concerning the subject being taught. Think of four experienced race-car drivers who are teaching beginners. Each instructs his or her student in the basics of this dangerous sport. The fastest engine designs; the best oil; the most effective strategy to use during the races themselves. Each driver teaches this subject in a different way, and expresses her or his biases, but they’re all teaching racing.
Wiccan books, as teachers, are quite similar. Experience and training have created specific ideals concerning Wicca within each book’s writer, and these ideals are clearly presented within her or his books. Divergences of opinion are natural in experts in any field and shouldn’t dismay those who are confronted by them.
When you’re challenged with seemingly contradictory information, examine this information and make a decision as to which to follow. Listen to your intuition. In other words, feel free to pick and choose among the published rituals and ritual textbooks to decide what feels right. It’s this selectivity that will usually prove to be the most effective.
I can already hear some of you saying: “Wait! I could never do that! I—I wouldn’t know if I was doing something right. I need someone to teach me!”
That’s where you come in. You become your own teacher, and books provide some of the lessons. Learn to trust yourself. Settle questions in the best way that you can. Think. Pray. Experiment (see the next three sections of this chapter). And just do it.
Books aren’t foolproof. Some books contain virtually no accurate information. Many readers are apt to believe anything in print. “After all,” they say, “it’s in this book right here. That proves it’s true.” Unfortunately, nearly anyone can write a book and even have it published. Does this ensure that the contents are true?
No. In fact, a few specialty publishers continue to publish lie-packed books describing the “satanic” nature of Wicca; that describe its rites as those of human sacrifice, orgies, and prayers to the Devil. Such books, written by a few virulent self-styled Christians, are easily spotted among others on the shelves by the repeated use of biblical quotations. These hateful tomes have nothing to teach and are best avoided.
Other books, while written by scholars or others interested in accurately recording Wiccan beliefs and practices, may contain misinformation. Most surveys of Wiccan belief (such as Tanya Luhrman’s Persuasions of the Witches’ Craft) are so slanted by the author’s bias that little truth has managed to squeeze onto their pages. Again, it’s best to avoid books of this nature and all books written by non-Wiccans about Wicca.
Another pitfall that may be encountered within books consists of glowing descriptions of negative magic. Such passages are usually found in spell books, not in Wiccan texts. Still, solitary Wiccans are apt to peruse magical texts, and the majority of these describe the wonders of cursing and reveal numerous methods of hexing one’s enemies. Such books may otherwise contain fine information, but passages like these can perpetuate the false idea that negative magic is acceptable. Material of this nature can be weeded out by a simple recitation of the Wiccan Law: Harm none.
Finally, some older books by Wiccans contain what seem to be absolute statements of fact that are absolutely false, such as “Wicca is a British religion”; “You must be naked in your rites”; “Sexual rites are necessary in Wicca”; or our old friend, “Only a Witch can make a Witch” (i.e., initiation is necessary). These statements are framed within the context of these authors’ Wiccan traditions, and may be quite correct within them. However, they have no validity to those outside their tradition. Such statements, where they appear in books, needn’t concern us.
One of the most popular forms of misinformation is found in books on the ancient history of Wicca. I won’t add to this argument, but I will advise you to read tales of ancient Wicca with a great deal of discernment and a large grain of salt.
While books aren’t infallible sources of information, they can be valuable allies on the solitary path if you keep these things in mind:
• Books are tools that are meant to be used. They provide lessons; we have to put the lessons to work.
• Books can’t answer every question, but neither can any High Priestess or teacher.
• Be discriminating when reading books. If an author makes wild statements that you know to be untrue, consider the book as apossiblesource of incorrect information.
• Mark up your books. Underline (with pencils) important passages, or use bookmarks to indicate valuable sections. You may wish to add to the index (many Wiccans do this). (Purists may purchase a second copy of the same book and leave this one in pristine condition on the shelf.)
• Combine information from a number of books on a specific topic, such as magic, energy raising, or circle construction. Write notes and study the combined teachings of several books. This may facilitate the process of assimilating (and using) this information, and will give you a greater chance of finding what’s right for you. (This process of collecting information, combining it, and utilizing it is one of the most important parts of learning any new skill, profession, hobby, or religion.) (See Part III of this book.)
• If books are too expensive for your budget, budget differently or haunt used bookstores in your area. Libraries are another possible source of Wiccan books, but don’t expect to find them on a shelf: they’re usually stolen if openly shelved. Most libraries keep occult books behind the counter or in storage. Some librarians may look with disgust at you for checking out books on Wicca. If this is a problem, say you’re working on a paper, ask the person if she or he has a problem, or simply say nothing and stare down the librarian. (Actually, most librarians don’t care what books are checked out.)
• Finally, don’t see reading as a passive activity. Make it an active process in which you play a vital role. Question everything, even this book and these instructions. Think about what you’re learning (see next section). Never take an author at her or his word. Search for similar themes. Remember “harm none.” Books are wonderful teachers, but we must allow ourselves to hear their messages and trust ourselves so that their lessons can begin to unfold.
I’ve already mentioned the importance of independent thought during study. This thought process should continue after you’ve closed the book. Many Wiccan teachers state that the classes that they lead are just the beginning of the lesson; that they should be springboards to continual learning. This can take place only when we reflect upon what we’re being taught.
This is in direct opposition to the “think this way, believe this way” attitude of most educational systems in this country. Independent thought thrusts a stick into the spokes of conventional education, and it is seen as a real threat to the old order. It’s discouraged at any but the highest level of education and in the most obscure disciplines (master’s degree programs; medical research; physics; and so on).
Thought is often combined with questioning. The question initiates (pardon the pun) the learning process. “How do I make a magic circle?” can be answered by reading, then reflecting on what’s been learned. This thought process must follow the uncovering of new information if it is to be available for use as needed.
Thinking through new material (such as various methods of casting the circle) allows you to closely examine it to weed out unsatisfactory information. If a published athame consecration leaves you cold, or requires two people, you can easily place it in the inactive file of your mind. Thus, thinking about what you’ve learned is a part of the process of elimination, and of finding your ideal Wiccan practice. It’s an integral aspect of the learning process.
Everything stated above applies equally to questions regarding the nature of the Goddess and God, reincarnation, morality, and every other aspect of Wiccan belief and practice.
Many new solitary Wiccans have a great number of questions regarding the Goddess: “What does she look like?”; “What’s the best method of contacting her?”; “Is she really real?”; “Can I touch her?”; “Where did she come from?”; “Which myths should I use?” Many of these and similar questions can be answered through study and thought; others require prayer and experimentation.
Thought should also be combined with feeling. We’ve been taught to distrust our feelings. In Wicca, however, we can realize that our feelings are usually what attracted us to Wicca in the first place. Would it be wise to toss them aside? I don’t think so.
Intuition (the unexplained knowledge or feeling that makes itself known in our conscious minds) is a form of psychic awareness. Use of this tool while learning Wicca is of the utmost importance, for it’s the filter through which you can evaluate questionable information. Your reactions to this information may profoundly affect your final decisions.
Thought, then, is a necessary part of learning solitary Wicca. It can be summed up in the following manner:
• Determine questions (if necessary).
• Study to uncover knowledge.
• Determine your feelings concerning this knowledge. Rely on your intuition.
• Based on this, determine what information is applicable to your solitary Wiccan practice.
Such processes are necessary for solitary Wiccans. Reflect on what you’ve studied. Trust yourself, your intuition, your feelings. And learn.
Prayer is another tool open to the Wiccan. When you’re absolutely stuck; when the information can’t be found in books, or when found, confuses you; when you have a real need for assistance, ask for it. Prayer of this nature needn’t be accompanied by lengthy ritual (particularly if you haven’t yet determined your best ritual forms). You might accompany your prayer with the lighting of a candle or a walk in the woods or park. You may pray while petting your cat, staring into a fire, standing in a shower, or sinking into a tub. You might also use a popular tool of divination, such as tarot cards, a pendulum, or rune stones, but use such tools following prayer—not before.
The structure of the prayer isn’t as important as the emotion that you place within it, and the clarity of your request. You might direct it solely to the Goddess or to both the Goddess and the God. Express your need for this information or for guidance with the present situation, and thank them in advance for their assistance.
True prayer is more than spoken words, for the devotee releases energy through the prayer to the Goddess and God. Because nature abhors a vacuum, an answer will appear (see chapter 8 for more information regarding Wiccan prayer).
This answer may take many forms. It can be something as simple as a voice suddenly saying, “I have much to teach you. Place two candles on the altar. Hold sabbats at night after everyone else is asleep. You need not initiate yourself at this time. Wine is fine, but apple cider or grape juice can also be used.” Such direct communication with the Goddess is possible because we each contain a spark of her divine fire within us. However, such direct communication is rather rare.
More commonly, the messages may appear in symbolic form: a cloud may suggest a shape; the shape may suggest an answer. Cards or stones or the movement of a pendulum could give you answers. Prayers for information before going to sleep might be answered in dreams. Record all such important dreams, think about them, and determine if they’re relevant to your question. (During sleep, communication with the Goddess and God is much easier, for the doubting conscious mind has been unchained and we operate in the subconscious (psychic) mind.
There are numerous other ways in which your prayer may be answered. You may suddenly find a book that contains the needed information, or come across an article in a Wiccan publication that’s just arrived in the mail. Prayers are always answered, but not always in direct ways.
Keep in mind, however, that the answers you receive may not be relevant for anyone but yourself. If the Goddess has spoken to you, it is to you that she has spoken—not to all Wiccans. Her messages may have little or no meaning to others. If you’ve always been fascinated by semiprecious stones and she tells you to create a circle with them, this knowledge is correct for you but may be completely incorrect for others. Divine revelations are usually of a personal, not global, nature. Though knowledge received in this fashion certainly should be used, it doesn’t invalidate the ways of other Wiccans. Though we may receive divine messages, no one can ever be the spokesperson for the Goddess.
Answers received in prayer deserve attention and thanks (rites of thanks to the Goddess and God can be found in chapter 10).
Don’t discount prayer as a tool of information gathering. It seems ethereal, but when we consider its source, is this so surprising?
So, you’ve read many books, thought about what you’ve read, and compiled information from a number of sources; you’ve filtered this knowledge through the sieve of your feelings (intuition) and have prayed to the deities for assistance. What’s next? Putting the information into practice.
Wicca is, after all, a living religion. Religions don’t exist within theories and ritual plans; they come to life only when they’re being practiced and lived. The outer forms (rituals, uses of tools) are important because they symbolize nonphysical processes, and remind us of what we’re doing in Wicca in the first place.
Begin to experiment with various ritual forms. Piece them together in various ways, discarding unsuccessful combinations and holding onto those that you find fulfilling. Questions such as “Is this the right way? Am I doing it wrong?” should not be allowed to interfere with your creative process. Such questions will only delay your progress.
The process of experimentation is necessary for determining all aspects of solitary Wicca: everything from seasonal festivals to esbats, power raising and sending techniques, magical rituals, the use and meaning of tools, self-initiations, and every other aspect of Wicca.
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This four-step self-learning plan can certainly be of value in sharpening your Wiccan beliefs and practices. How important is reincarnation in your Wiccan practice? How far can the law “harm none” be taken? When’s the best time to perform rituals? Do you have to hold a circle on every full moon and sabbat? Can you do them at other times as well? Each of these questions can be answered through study, thought, prayer, and experimentation.
A complete guide to creating your own solitary Wiccan tradition and writing your own Book of Shadows can be found in part 3 of this book. The information in that chapter should be useful if you decide to take this step.
You may decide that none of this is necessary. You might find a set of rituals and follow them to the exclusion of any others. This, too, is fine. But when you have questions about these rituals, you may wish to use the process outlined in this chapter to discover the answers.
The path of the solitary Wiccan can be difficult, but the school of trial and error is an excellent one. As your experience increases, so will your knowledge, and so, too, will your questions, which will lead to study, thought, prayer, and experimentation.
Having access to all the answers isn’t the goal of the solitary Wiccan—finding the most important of those answers is; and we can find them by practicing our religion and through the use of these tools of learning.