The Rewards and Hazards of
Some budding Wiccans seem to feel that one cannot be a TRUE Wiccan unless they are schooled by a “master” priestess or priest. Since there aren’t always a lot of available resources by which to find such a teacher, the choices are considerably limited. My having been listed on the Witches’ Voice networking site for many years has often resulted in an occasional plea for instruction in Wiccan practice from people in my area. One day I thought, well, why not? At the time there wasn’t an operating coven or even study group within 150 miles of my city. Since there seemed to be so much interest, I decided to try and at least get a study group going.
At first, it actually went pretty well. We began with six fairly dedicated ladies who all expressed how glad they were to have found others of like mind to study with and learn from. Most of them had never conducted or even participated in a full moon or Sabbat ritual, and when my husband and I decided to teach them some basic ritual construction, they all enjoyed the experience immensely. In no time, I was writing and assigning lessons and beginning to consider officially creating a tradition based upon some basic beliefs that we all shared.
I cannot express enough how rewarding this work was. Having always worked either solitarily or with my husband and daughter, the dynamics of practicing with others from many different backgrounds were awesome. The satisfaction of conducting a meeting or ritual that went well is almost beyond description. For the first time I truly felt “in tune” with myself, my friends and relatives, and my gods. On a more personal level, I felt that I had finally found the perfect way to honor deity and the religion of Wicca---to promulgate it through education. This is a task that I still take very seriously today, though in somewhat a different form than group practice. Instead, I’m concentrating on (hopefully) inspiring others through my writing.
Unfortunately, there are very good reasons why I ultimately abandoned the idea of trying to teach others or even practicing with a group. Just as our group was becoming closer and stronger, our most experienced member began having problems with her spouse, who was dead-set against her practicing Wicca. When she became pregnant, she regretfully explained that she was going to have to quit the group. The loss of her seemed to start a downward trend that ultimately decimated the group and left me with nothing to show for the time, energy and yes, money I had invested in it. Needless to say, this was personally devastating for me and is certainly not the kind of experience I would have wanted to repeat.
However, fairly soon after we disbanded, I began receiving pleas to resume the group from some newcomers to town as well as a couple of our recalcitrant “ex-members.” Reluctantly, I knuckled under the pressure and arranged a “Pagan Picnic in the Park” day. I rented a ramada at the park, hung signs and purchased most of the food and beverages for everyone. I was rewarded with a complete no-show from all except our most loyal member, who never missed a meeting, and a couple of—shall we say interesting—folks from the next town who I had never met before.
At that point, I swore to permanently disband the group and never resume it again. But just before last Samhain, I got to feeling sentimental and missing the good times we had when the group was first formed. I had recently spoken with a couple of the former members and both begged to at least get together for a ritual. I emailed all the former members and asked them if they’d like to participate in a Samhain ritual at my home. When they all expressed interest, I set it for the Saturday before Samhain. Again, I purchased refreshments and went to a great deal of trouble to set up the ritual. One of the members had even promised to bring a bottle of Mead for us all to share.
I am sure you can guess what happened—or rather, what DIDN’T happen. Yep, all were a no-show but for the one reliable lady, bless her!
Since that time, I have received emails from several local Pagans expressing interest in doing group practice. This time, however, I’m going to keep my vow to myself and not be lured into re-forming the group. If anyone else decides to try forming one in the future, I just may attend some meetings, but that would be all. When I explain this to these seekers, they then beg me for some one-on-one instruction. I think that these budding Wiccans who desire basic instruction are overlooking a few possibilities other than this. There are quite a few online schools available (I won’t list them here since it might be construed as endorsing them, but try an online search) and some offer degree programs and charge very reasonable fees. Some are even free; check out Yahoo groups to find email lists for online schools.
An overwhelming majority of Wiccans owe their accumulated knowledge to the many books, magazines, articles, etc. that they love to read. In fact, many have become accomplished adepts without ever practicing with a group or benefiting from a master’s tutelage and the late author Scott Cunningham went to great lengths to reassure us that this was completely acceptable. That old saw “when the student is ready, the master appears” doesn’t always hold true.
It should also be mentioned that in these days of increasingly frequent occurrences of sexual predators and other assorted rough characters targeting young, naïve and trusting young people and even adults, it definitely pays to be very discriminating about who you choose to arrange a personal meeting with and where. I have always personally made a practice of making first-time meetings public.
If you decide to seek personal instruction, be alert to any attempts at coercion (either physical or mental) or charging exorbitant fees by the teacher. If you are fortunate enough to live where there are working covens or groves, chances are that they can offer much more in the way of instruction than a solitary teacher can. Never abandon personal study, however, as it is still the best way to learn.
If you choose to teach or try to lead a coven or study group, be aware of the potential pitfalls of doing so, but also be equally aware that there can be many rewards. Best of luck with either pursuit!