On Teachers & Covens:
Why Good Training Is Important
© 2011 By Gaia_d@yahoo.com ; Please don’t reproduce without permission.
A. “Democratic” Ideals not a part of Metaphysics:
In recent years, there has developed among many wannabe and beginners to paganism, an attitude of “democracy” about learning and practicing. Democracy isn’t just about politics, it’s an attitude / assumption that all knowledge is for everyone, and should be available for the asking.
While that might be very true of *general* knowledge (and therefore has become a hallmark of education) it is *not* (and never has been) true of Metaphysics.
We tend to understand this in some contexts: for example, few would give knowledge of how to build an atomic bomb (or other “WofMD”) to a group of hotheaded, extremist terrorists, for obvious reasons. The same is true of the Powers of the Gods – one (should) not give information on how to do spell-craft, for example, to someone who wants to “make somebody love me” or “make my parents change their minds about letting me date”, or whatever.
B. What is Wicca?
I realize that there are many different definitions (some better / worse than others) that are used, but the one that I’m using here, is one that few beginners hear, because it's the one used by most experienced, "Traditional" Wiccans, while many beginners tend to become (initially at least) acquainted with the notions that are put forth by generally untrained beginners.
Wicca is an Initiatory, lineaged, MYSTERY Path/ Tradition, of Myth, Symbols, Ritual, Poetry, and Personal Experience -- whose most important and central mysteries are generally oath-bound.”
Now, let's explain some of the most important and relevant part(s) of that:
Wicca reveals and celebrates Truths that cannot be communicated -- not just because they are secret, but because there are no words that can adequately express them.
Mystery Religions might have been more common anciently – for example, the Elusinian Mysteries were among the most popular for a long time; people saved their whole lives to be able to attend them and become Initiates, just once. [NOTE: A brief study of the Elusinian Mysteries would be very helpful in understanding the nature of Wicca, and the huge differences between Christianity and Wicca – See for example, http://www.eleusinianmysteries.org/ .]
Again, It’s important to understand that Mysteries (and Mystery religions/ paths) are not just “secret” – they literally cannot be told because they are beyond words.
Some Wiccan Mysteries are freely available to everyone who “has ears to hear and eyes to see”; – But many others are simply not available publically in books, articles, or websites; they are only available to Initiates. Additionally, each Tradition tends to have their own Mysteries which are only available to the Initiates of that particular Tradition.
It is (part of) the “job” of a good Teacher to help prepare the student-Initiate to be in the right frame of mind, heart, soul and spirit to be able to access, comprehend, appreciate and learn from the Mysteries of his/her Tradition.
I want to stress that this is emphatically *not* a matter of “exclusivity” or “lording” anything over anyone -- as so many wannabes and beginners seem to think. It’s a matter of protecting and preserving sacred knowledge and experience, so it cannot be abused or misunderstood by the Student, prove a curse rather than a blessing to him/her, or be corrupted by those who disrespect or don’t understand and appreciate them.
Wicca is most definitely and emphatically NOT a religion or path of “belief” – and this distinguishes it from not only many of the most popular world religions (especially Christianity) but from what people have been led to expect about religion, so I’m going to go into some depth on this.
Most people have been conditioned to believe that religion is – and even “should” be -- about what you *believe*. But it’s only been since the rise of Christianity that this has been true. [ In Christianity, the "goal" is "Salvation", which is acquired by BELIEF in Jesus, alone; one may "repent" and "accept Jesus" on their deathbed, and as long as they “believe in” Jesus, they are “saved".]
Anciently, religion (or rather, spirituality) was about what you EXPERIENCED. You didn’t “believe” in Divinity – that was like “believing” in rivers, oceans, trees, birth and death, or love. A Pagan didn’t “believe” in God/dess – s/he *experienced* Divinity in every rock or herb; every time a baby was born into -- or death took an elder out of -- the Tribe / Village.
Similarly, Wicca is about EXPERIENCE. One is not Wiccan because they “believe” certain things – they are Wiccan if they have had certain (Wiccan) Experiences – especially and most importantly, the Mysteries (More on “Mysteries”, a bit later).
Basing spirituality on “belief” had some very important (and problematical) effects:
-- It made spirituality about having the “right” beliefs – which in turn raises the need for a particular “church” (to define, designate, teach and pass down, determine and provide sanctions (rewards and punishments) for -- the “right” or “wrong” beliefs. This (in part) is what turned “spirituality” into Religion – religion is about dogma, hierarchies of leadership and authority; it’s what turned “ministers” and Shamans into “preachers”, “confessors” and such.
Symbols are enormously powerful: they act instantaneously, on many different levels at once, including the unconscious. Pschologist Clifford Geertz has said that "Religion is a system of symbols which act to produce powerful, persuasive and long-lasting moods and motivations."
Here's a quote from the wonderful little book (which I most highly recommend!) "The Heart of Wicca" by Ellen Cannon Reed, which beautifully explains symbols, and their importance in and to Wicca:
"The use and misuse of symbology is one of the areas in which I find a big difference between "my" ["traditional'] Wicca, and that practiced by the "new" [ie, non-Initiatory,“Solitary”,“Neo] Wiccans”, and it is one of the most Significant. The importance of symbolism relates to everything we do. I have seen very few people in pop Wicca who realize that.
Symbols and myths have a reality beyond being pictures and stories. A failure to comprehend that will, at least, make your work ineffective, and at worst put you and others in peril. No, I don't want to be a doomsayer here, but I do want my readers to understand what I'm trying to say.
Most people tend to think of symbols as just pretty pictures that stand for something. They do stand for something, but they are much more complex than that. They don't just stand for something, they are keys to much more.
If you are a computer person, symbols are like the icons on your desktop. Icons are not just pictures, they are links to computer programs, programs that are much more complex than a simple symbol. If I click on the icon leading to my word processing program, I am linked to something of great complexity.
A word processing program contains formats for pages, fonts, graphics, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and the ability to put all these together in a document. Unless there's a computer glitch, I won't get anything else when I click on that icon. I won't get my desktop publishing program, or a graphics program, or a music program. So it is with symbols. An understanding of their importance, and their uses, is an integral part of Wicca, in almost all we do.
The true value of symbols is not what the symbols say to the conscious mind, but what they say to the deep mind. They are the language of that mind. That mind doesn't understand words, for words are too restricted, but mind will understand symbols. Communication with the deep mind is vital to the practice of Wicca, indeed of any magical path. I can't think of a single aspect of Wicca where symbology is not important.
The spiritual changes we are trying to make within ourselves are not made solely by attending a ritual, learning various subjects, learning meditation, and so forth, although all those practices are a part of making those changes. Spiritual growth comes from beyond the conscious mind, and it is to those deeper levels we-wish to speak. This is done by all the methods mentioned above, and others, through the use of symbology. .....
The basis of all these words is this: symbols are real. They have a being, or rather they represent something real, even if it's abstract. Once you realize that, you can put symbols to good use, and learn what they have to teach you.
A religious symbol conveys its message even if it is no longer consciously understood in every part. For a symbol speaks to the whole human being and not only to the intelligence.'
1. (Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (San Diego: Harvest/HB - San Diego, 1959), P .. 129
(End quoted material from "The Heart of Wicca" by Ellen Cannon Reed, pp 61-68)
It can be very difficult to learn even the most essential Basics (like Centering, Grounding, Psychic Cleansing, Shielding, Creating Sacred Space (including Casting Circle, etc) on one’s own, or through written materials “picked up” in books, Discussions, Chats, or Websites. Rather, a good, well-trained and experienced Teacher needs to be present with you, to see your technique, check your Aura, and how it changes as you develop these skills.
Wicca is not just about learning information, facts or skills; it is a *religion* and therefore, a Way of (New) Life.
In fact, serious problems can occur when one takes on the study and activities of metaphysics without accompanying, thorough self-discovery and self-discipline – which can be exceptionally difficult to do when studying without a good, experienced Teacher/ Mentor/ Guide. For example, I have elsewhere discussed the fact that we all have an internal “Shadow” which can cause us problems, especially in the practice of Metaphysics – (Please see “Magick, Metaphysics & The Shadow” here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BeginningWicca/message/19747 )
This is partly why nearly every metaphysical system has (at some point) a way designed within it, to lead the Seeker to confront and work through this “Shadow”. This is crucial work for anyone wanting to pursue a metaphysical path -- But again, it’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to do by oneself, since the Shadow is by definition, a part of ourselves that we hide from ourselves.
Students are generally advised to study just one particular Tradition at a time – with very good reason. During their initial training, various aspects of the Tradition, for example quarter correspondences, have to become like second nature. These correspondences eventually become like a second “language” – such that the moment someone calls or refers to “the South”, you will immediately associate it with Fire, Midday, Summer, Passion, Will, the Wand, the Censer, etc (or whatever the correspondences might be, for the Tradition in which you’re working).
If you're trying to work on a regular basis with multiple sets of correspondences from different Traditions, you're inevitably going to get confused – you may have to stop and think where (and which Tradition) you’re working in, and what attributions are made to that quarter. This definitely interferes with what you are trying to learn and accomplish. Here’s what Ellen Cannon Reed says about this, in her excellent book, “The Heart of Wicca”:
“Eventually, when your mind has learned this "language," the connection with the deeper meanings of symbols will not only be available more quickly, but the deep mind will begin to communicate with you in those symbols. It is this repetition that creates the connection with the symbols' deeper meanings, and with the deeper meanings of a ritual's symbolism.
Thus, when we call the quarters, we are acknowledging the presence of the elements and all they represent. The symbols we use to symbolize those elements -- colors, candles, items, and so forth, have (or will have) a connection in our deep mind with what the elements represent on both the physical and other levels. The more you have worked to establish that connection, the stronger that connection will be.
“Because in ritual you are working with more than one symbol, it is especially important that all the symbols be appropriate. A hodge-podge of symbols will confuse the deep mind and accomplish very little. ….
“Without a true understanding of symbolism, the rest of what we do has little meaning.”
(End quoted material by Reed, from “The Heart of Wicca”, pp 61-67).
Thus, If you’re trying to go it alone (without a good Teacher to guide and supervise all these things), and getting all your information from various books, web sites, discussion groups, etc, how are you going to know which principles and practices (like correspondences) belong to which Tradition? – It’s not always made clear. This accounts for a lot of the confusion and frustration that many beginners and students report and about which they complain.
Similarly, how is a beginner to know which authors, books, websites, or articles to rely upon for good, accurate, reliable information, and which to avoid? How can they determine what to study, when -- what is of “primary importance” versus what can (or even should) be left until later, when it will be more easily understood?
One might ask members of a Group – but how does one know whether *they* have good judgment and experience, on which to base good recommendations???
Thus, It can be enormously helpful to have a good, experienced, well-trained Teacher help guide one through those issues.
Still another good reason for studying with a good Teacher and learning within a Coven is that many of the most important, beautiful and powerful of Wiccan practices and rituals (for just a few examples: The Fivefold Kiss, Drawing Down the Moon and Drawing Down the Sun, the Great Rite and the Symbolic Great Rite, etc) –
Then there are the Chants, Songs, Charges, Runes, Invocations and Evocations, and other pieces of often-used and much-beloved Wiccan “Liturgy” (See http://www.thefreedictionary.com/liturgy --
These cannot really be experienced (in their full beauty and power) as a Solitary – they need to be experienced within an experienced, functioning Coven – which is one of the reasons why Wicca was originally designed to be learned and practiced within the context of a Coven.
Spell-casting is an advanced skill set, which requires mastery of a number of other, basic, essential skills. Students should therefore begin with the BASICS –Teaching spell-craft (or indeed any other magickal work) to a beginner is like trying to teach advanced Calculus to someone who has little or no experience of basic Math.
In fact, as many a beginner has discovered, to their surprise and distress -- there are very real issues – and even (potential) dangers – involved with practicing ritual, divination (or other psychic/ metaphysical activities) and magick, with little preparation or training.
I studied as a Solitary out of necessity when I began – over 30 years ago, in Utah (“Mormon Country”) -- long before one could walk into a bookstore and find rows upon rows of Pagan books. For over five years, I read (intensively, obsessively!) everything I could get my hands on – literally dozens and dozens of books, and articles from “Underground” Pagan newsletters –
But when I finally had the chance to meet and learn from a good teacher, I was amazed to discover that there were huge “holes” in my knowledge and experience: everything from the embarrassing mis-pronunciation of many Sabbat titles, to never having heard of (let alone know how to do/ use) important rituals, Chants, etc.
As High Priest and author Sam Wagar says in his article, “Wiccan Theology and Practice” –
“But, Wicca is, after all, an Initiatory Mystery Religion of Clergy worshipping in small closed groups, and using techniques of ecstatic trance and prophetic revelation to raise energy and work magick….
…. Our intention is to produce a religion of prophets, with direct access to the Gods, using symbols, including images and including our beliefs, as tools…..
So, Wicca is an elite religion, which most people are not suited to. Belief is not enough, it takes Talent and the capacity to experience certain things and to go through a process of personal transformation, Initiation, before one can practice it.
It also is not a solo path, but one where the most profound experiences are the result of group efforts. The capacity of a group of trained people to focus their energy magickally, the development and nurturance of an egregore, the strength of trance induction done by experienced people, the sophistication of an informed discussion of the Gods and the direct revelation from the Gods through possession and inspiration trance, the aesthetic pleasures of well-constructed and performed ritual, for these and other reasons the coven form is highly preferable.
People who are unwilling or unable to do the work are not clergy people and therefore are not candidates for Wicca. They may believe what Wiccans do, but Wicca is not principally about belief. These people are Pagans, and they might, some of them, be leaders in Pagan groups and activities. They are not, however, Wiccan clergy.
This leads me to briefly discuss public roles for Wiccans. We are, by the definition offered above, clergy, which means that our ability to realize ourselves individually and spiritually is tied into religious service to the broader Pagan community and to the broader human community.
Wiccans are clergy, servants of the divine as we understand it, which is expressed in and through other people, through social institutions like the government, families and universities, as much as through the natural world, through the joys and pleasures of life like sex, dancing and singing, marriage as much as through loss and disappointment. We must, it seems to me, make ourselves available to Pagans for the performance of rites of passage, to teach and to celebrate and mourn together in the presence of the Gods. But we must also participate as citizens in the larger social and political discourse.”
(End quoted material by Sam Wagar, “Wiccan Theology and Practice”, © Samuel Wagar, 2008, All rights Reserved; Used by permission. For the entire article, please see: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BeginningWicca/message/31751
This last point is one that few – even “intermediate” students -- seem to realize: Wicca is a religion of CLERGY – A Wiccan is initiated “Priest/ess and Witch” – so Wiccans are Priests and Priestesses to the Gods and Goddesses – which is perhaps the major reason why solitary practice is just not consistent with basic Wiccan principles.
Becoming Wiccan is not just a matter of acquiring information – It is a matter of entering into New LIFE – and that new Life has new responsibilities, obligations, blessings, characteristics and qualities.
Perhaps most importantly, a Wiccan is not just a “member” of Wicca – that’s a common MISunderstanding. A Wiccan is initiated “Priest(ess) and Witch” – therefore he or she becomes CLERGY – a Priest/ess to the God(s) and Goddess(es).
Furthermore, with each successive Initiation to Second or Third Degree (in most BTW (British Tradition Wicca) systems, there are three degrees) – there is more and more responsibility taken on.
And a key part of the Initiatory process is a (symbolic) death and re-birth, and a “bequest” (and please note, I’m using that term advisedly – to indicate “inheritance” and endowment) -- from the Teacher-High Priest/ess-Initiator -- of spiritual power and authority. This issomewhat difficult to explain – It is one of those “Mysteries” referred to earlier – But I can say that it is much, MUCH more than just sharing or passing on information.
Summary and Conclusion:
These are just a few of the major reasons why:
a. (Legitimate) Wiccan Teachers tend to be very careful about whom they accept as Students, and to whom they “teach” or provide information;
b. Anyone who presumes to “teach” Wicca (or any aspect thereof) to another, should be very careful and realize that it is a great and serious responsibility they are undertaking, with very serious and lasting responsibilities that they cannot ignore or dismiss.
c. I most strongly recommend that beginners who are *serious* about respecting (authentic) Wicca, and wanting to learn and practice it happily, successfully, and productively -- seek a good, well-trained, experienced (High Priest/ess) Teacher, preferably within the context of a Coven.
For more on this, please see: -http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BeginningWicca/message/35301
I hope that’s helpful – Good Luck and Blessed Be –
i noticed what you wrote about symbols, yes precisely and much much more than that. belief and experience are very different. beliefs usually fill the cup full of what you think you know, and are usually a box or a cage for the mind. in regard to whether a belief is helpful or not, it can depend upon what the nature of the belief is and its relationship with what is, and direct experience is needed for it to have real value for you. as for this next part, do not take this as an argument with what you said. also, everyone needs to understand these simple words "i am a student". we experience things and learn little bits, and those bits are never the totality of it all. the mind creates illusions and people think theyre great masters, not realizing that theyll never stop learning, experiencing, and growing unless they get stuck in the minds illusions. its a lesson for all of us. what i know today is less than i will tomorrow, and it is humbling and i love it. mysteries are meant to be experienced, pondered upon, meditated upon, etc. one does not learn or grow by talking and telling. one can very often understand more from questions than from answers, and hopefully the answers generate many more questions as they should. between answers and questions, which is causal to the other? it isnt linear like how the mind thinks, experience brings the beginnings of understanding. an answer resonating can bring itself into awareness at first as a curiousity or question and come into your awareness with greater clarity. these are things impossible to gain through casual inspection and casual thought. i remember one day i was working with a meditation technique, i opened my eyes and looked down. i couldnt see my body at all, nor could i see the earth. i saw with my eyes all the way into earths core, brilliant living and sentient golden rays of light shinning through me. it was a wonderful integrating experience. or like last night, in the dark holding my hands in front on me palms up with my eyes closed, and seeing my hands as if my eyes were open with decent lighting, and the shining life force radiating forth from them. it truly does have to be experienced to be understood, and even then there will always be more to understand, experience etc. about what you had to say about in part 1, good i hope it will be kept that way, as it should be. number 5, precisely. number 8, personally i wasnt given a choice in the matter, it was sink or swim from very early childhood onward. i was immersed in it, not understanding anything or having anything or anyone to tell me anything. i was learning through intuitive understanding and participating in the realities within and all around me for a long time. till my teen years i simply knew that when i do this, then that happens. i understood how to work with energies etc, but none of the words. my mother was terrified of me and hated me, but oddly enough she knew to absolutely trust my word about certain things. i enjoyed your article, thats why i wanted to comment. thank you for taking the time to post all of that.
do you also teach about the power of sound and music?
for example, how do you feel while you listen to this? https://youtu.be/EY5RcR-LQj4?t=5717