There is a strong belief that in order to learn about Witchcraft you must simply have a teacher. Whilst this isn’t always true there is nothing to stop you seeking out teachers, however, be prepared to be asked questions. These questions serve many purposes, not least to identify whether or not the seeker is actually ready to learn. There seem to be many seekers who are not prepared for, or to be, questioned on any level for one reason or another and for each and every seeker post I see there are as many flounces and upset.
There are many posts about what a seeker may consider asking of a potential teacher but I am adding my thoughts on some of the basic questions that a teacher may ask a prospective student. They are questions that I have been asked, and have asked myself of people who come to me looking for a teacher. My aim is to provoke some introspective thought, which is the purpose of the questions in the first place.
Why do you think you need a teacher?
As much as this seems an obvious first question very few people ask it of themselves as they post their plea for guidance in an open group. Assuming the poster is a genuine seeker, the realisation of “this is for me” sets of an impulse to act which, thanks to social media, often looks like an unplanned gush of joy. Unfortunately, the preconceived notion that Occult knowledge is only accessible through a teacher or other form of mediation is an old one. Whilst is it true when looking at individual lineages and traditions on a much broader level a teacher is totally unnecessary. There is a wealth of information on a wide variety of subjects and to an extent, this eradicates the need for formalised teaching. If the response is a variation of ‘I just assumed I needed one’ it is a safe bet that the seeker in question hasn’t don’t any real research into Witchcraft or any other magical traditions.
Now I admit, it can all appear a little daunting sometimes and it is not surprising that seekers often don’t know where to start. There is a massive amount of information available through the Internet. As well as the material published through mass paperback publishing houses there is a never ending supply of self-published materials available at low cost or even free. It is just a little too easy to print a book nowadays and identifying the pearls amongst the pig… poop is a job in itself, but it doesn’t exactly need a teacher. The process of learning by experience applies to both Witchcraft and it’s written sources and one of the best things you can do is read a book and critically assess it. If it passes muster then putting its words into practice is the next step.
What do you want to learn about?
Given that paganism is which a broad term, and the number of magical practices many and wide-ranging, it is important to try and narrow down What the seeker is actually seeking. This question not only helps the teacher identify whether or not they can actually teach you but gives them an indication of what you are wanting to learn about.
Asking this question helps both potential student and teacher identify if the fit is right. If the student is asking for something outside of the teacher’s knowledge then this is the opportunity for them to direct them to a more appropriate source.
There is no bigger turn off than the statement of ‘I want to learn everything’. Nearly two decades in and I don’t even know the name of half the magical and folk tradition that exists around the world, let alone know how to practice them. To learn ‘everything’ is an unrealistic goal.
What have you read?
I know quite a few training circles which will ask this question of every aspirant that comes their way as the answer gives an indication of the student’s starting point and direction of learning. No teacher will expect to you to have read every book on the market, nor have a fixed required number of books owned/read in mind. What they are looking for is some indication that the seeker has encountered the basic concepts of magical practice.
The other thing this question can reveal is a student’s commitment to learning as an independent student. No teacher is willing to spoon-feed their students, and is unlikely to take on someone who’s attitude amounts to ‘tell me what I need to know’. They expect the student to be able, and willing, to take basic or brief information and take it forward themselves and come back with insights and questions of their own. Even where a specific tradition is being imparted the teacher wants the student to be independent in though not a carbon copy.
Have you ever sought or received training before? How did it go?
This can be an interesting question, not so much for the number of people who give negative responses but the few who confirm they have sought or received training elsewhere. If things “just didn’t work out” what exactly was the problem and why do they think it will be different this time? The answer establish can be very telling, so can the other side of the story if it is available. References from prospective students are often sought for this very reason.
Will you take my advice?
Not everyone likes to be asked questioned and even fewer like being told ‘no’ regardless of the reason. This tends to turn them off to hearing anything else which is said to them. The aspiring student does themselves no favours by shutting their minds to the advice they have been given. In one sense it is short-sighted; the teacher has been approached because they are thought to be knowledgeable and skilled and a negative response is not a sign to the contrary.
In all likelihood, they have said no because they feel that the aspirant is lacking a foundation in the basic principles of the Craft or their tradition, or are generally unsuited for the tradition in question. At good teacher will not set a student up to fail. Equally a good teacher will send the student with information and to guidance and will leave the door open for the prospective student to return at a later date…
… If the student is willing to take their advice.