Teaching (Widening the Circle) - Your Own Tradition

Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - Scott Cunningham 1993

Teaching (Widening the Circle)
Your Own Tradition

YOU ALREADY KNOW more about Wicca than many others. You may not be an expert, and you probably have many questions, but others who’ve never read a book or performed a Wiccan ritual have even more questions. As you continue to practice, read, and reflect on your Wiccan activities, your knowledge and experience will grow. If you mention your religion to even a few other persons, chances are that, eventually, someone will ask you to teach her or him because, after all, you’re an expert.

This may not occur, but if it does you have an important decision before you: to teach or not to teach. Answering the below questions may assist you in making this decision.

Do I have the necessary knowledge and experience?

In other words, are you proficient at basic Wiccan ritual skills; familiar with the tools; have a good understanding of the sabbats; and enjoy a deep relationship with the Goddess and God? Even if you aren’t an expert at coven-oriented Wicca, are you an expert in your own form?

Do I have the skills to teach others?

Can you explain complex theories in simple language? Are you skilled at actually demonstrating Wiccan techniques to a student? You needn’t have chalkboard and ruler to be a teacher. There are many forms of teaching. The best of these, when teaching solitary Wicca, is a mixture of honest talk and ritual demonstration (nothing heavy).

Do I have unlimited patience?

Can you repeat an answer to a question many times? Are you easily frustrated, especially with other humans? Do you believe that there are “dumb questions”? Do you mind an occasional phone call at 2 a.m.?

Do I know how to pick a student?

This is an important question. Potential students are of every kind of human. If someone studies for a few months and then never calls again, you haven’t wasted much time, and you may indeed have had a positive impact upon that person’s life. If you teach someone who’s unable to accept “harm none” and goes on to utilize Wiccan magical techniques in harmful ways, you may feel guilty at your choice of students. If you teach a man or woman simply because you’re involved with her or him, you may well be wasting your breath. Friends are another iffy proposition, for an established friendship doesn’t guarantee a suitable student.

Do I really want to teach?

Are you pleased with the idea of revealing a very personal aspect of your life to others? Do you wish to assume the responsibility of teaching?

If so, why?

What are your true motivations? Glory? Worship from your student? Ego strokes? Or the need to assist other humans with their spiritual development and happiness? Do you have an unconscious desire to “spread the word” of Wicca (a taboo), or do you simply wish to fulfill a need that has expressed itself?

How much time are you willing to invest in classes?

Even if you have only one student, you may wish to prepare notes for upcoming classes; read up on different aspects so that you’ll be fresh; find ways of communicating difficult Wiccan subjects in a way that they’re comprehensible to your student; block out time for classes and/or rituals, and other time-consuming projects. The number of classes that you teach is up to you—once a week seems to be about right.

How much can your student afford to spend?

Though there’s no fee for private Wiccan instruction, there are supplies that have to be purchased: tools, books, candles, incense. If your student has a tight budget, are you willing to loan books and tools to your student, or purchase duplicate supplies for their use? (Warning: most loaned Wiccan books are never returned.)

Your answers to these questions may well assist you in making the decision. If you decide that you’re simply not ready, or don’t want to begin teaching, explain this to the person who asked for instruction. If you do decide to teach others, it’s time to begin planning your classes.

The format of such lessons, as well as their length and frequency, are entirely in your hands. Classes on a specific day of the week (or month) are a good idea, since this helps the student to remember the date. Generally, it’s best to teach in your own home. This way, when a question arises, you’ll be able to show the student precisely what you’ve been talking about (in a book, with an illustration or using a tool that you may not have with you at the student’s house).

Classes are best held in private, though not necessarily in secret. Trying to explain the casting of a circle while three small children run underfoot, turn on the television, and let the dogs and cats into the living room will result in a wasted lesson. Ensure that you and your student will be alone together.

Here are some more suggested guidelines for teaching:

Teach what you know.

This may seem obvious, but many persons try to pass on knowledge that they’ve barely grasped themselves. If you’re no expert in certain subjects, don’t pretend to teach them. If these topics come up in class, make a short explanation and continue; don’t make them the focus of the class. Teach with honesty. When you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say so, and perhaps you and your student can discover the answer together.

Don’t let teaching rule your life.

It can be one aspect of it, and an important, fulfilling aspect, but it shouldn’t become the sole purpose of your existence.

Teach with humor.

Forget the method in which you may have been taught the religion of your childhood. Wicca is far from a stern, forbidding religion. It’s a religion of joy and love and pleasure, and your classes should reflect the nature of our way. If you’re no stand-up comic, at least teach Wicca in a lighthearted way. No solemn warnings; no stern lectures.

Teach with humility.

Pomposity may temporarily impress the wide-eyed student, but extravagant claims concerning your power and wisdom can be quickly disproved even by the newest of students. Additionally, don’t make your version of Wicca seem carved in stone. Remind your student that this is simply the way that you do things, and that there are many other ways. Don’t constantly warn the student of the “dangers” that may befall her or him after a skipped word in ritual. Such superstitious teachings have no place in Wicca.

Don’t teach the ancient history of Wicca unless you’re sure that it really exists.

Most books on this subject can’t be trusted—even those written by Wiccans. If you wish, teach the modern history of Wicca, beginning with Gerald Gardner. We can at least be sure of the last forty or so years.

Teach with common sense.

Don’t have your student jump into the deep end the first few times out. Start small and increase the scope and complexity of your lessons. Ask your students if they’ve understood particularly important points, and be certain that they have before continuing on to more challenging topics. (You can always test them.)

Don’t think of these classes as something to be endured.

Don’t continue to teach a person who shows little interest in the subject, or who hints that she or he is practicing destructive magic.

Don’t teach folk magic (see glossary) as Wicca.

We all know that Wicca doesn’t consist of spell casting and candle magic. Keep such distinctly nonreligious, non-Wiccan practices limited to separate classes if you decide to teach them.

Don’t teach to gain control over others.

This may seem to be another obvious warning, but some truly feel the need to dominate other persons. Since religion has been a dominant force in cultures throughout history, some begin teaching Wicca in order to become an authority figure. This, along with financial gain, are two of the worst reasons for teaching.

Teach with love.

You may not love your student, but you should certainly love your religion. Let your feelings for Wicca show in your classes, but beware of becoming a proselytizing, frothing, ranting fanatic in front of your students. Balance is recommended.

Never forget that you’ve made this decision to teach.

No one can truly force you to do anything. You’ve widened your circle and invited another to join it. Celebrate this fact.

Some sticky situations can arise when teaching, but all can be handled. After some training, or perhaps even before, your student may begin hinting around about initiation. This hinting may become more direct and open as time passes.

Never let such requests pass by without comment. Never give students false hope. If you don’t wish to perform an initiation ritual upon another human being, tell your student this on the first day of class. Suggest self-initiation and, if you wish, describe your own rite. Make this perfectly clear. Some students will still harbor a faint hope, but at least you’ve set the record straight from the onset.

If you don’t mind initiating others but don’t yet know if the student is ready, say that they’ll have to pass a test after completing instruction before the possibility would even arise. And if you’re already sure of the student’s sincerity, simply say, “When the time is right.” (Such initiation ceremonies aren’t necessarily the culmination of private Wiccan teachings. In fact, they’re rather rare. Still, every student wants an initiation. As a teacher, you’ll have to deal with this.)

Another situation may arise. You’ll most probably demonstrate a few rituals to your student. And eventually, your student will do ritual with you. This may lead to the false notion that you’ve formed a coven. Once again, explain from the beginning that you’re not forming a coven; you’re not looking for other members, and the rituals will last only as long as the classes. (Students who have completely accepted the coven organization of Wicca often find it hard to let it go. This will come up in their attitudes.)

There’s much more to be said regarding teaching, but you’ll discover it as you go along. Since we’re solitary Wiccans, it certainly isn’t necessary to teach others. However, it can be an especially rewarding activity on many levels.

Widening the circle is both a commitment to your religion and a celebration of your faith. It’s also an endless learning experience. As I’ve always said, if you want to learn something, teach it.