Seeking a Teacher

A Few Things to Think About When Seeking a Teacher

By Valerie Voigt

A young woman had done quite a bit of reading and some solitary practice, and felt the Wiccan Path was where she belonged.  After some time, she felt she was ready to expand her Craft understanding by studying with a teacher.  She had finally found someone who had offered to teach her, but she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea.  He assured her that he was a Lord High Purple Robe Something-or-Other, and therefore well-qualified to be a teacher, but this “assurance” didn’t make her more comfortable.  Sound familiar?  Well, just offhand, I’d say the guy sounds like:

  • a black magician
  • an egomaniac
  • a crank

I’ve run into people who sounded like him — claiming all sorts of ooga-booga-type titles, etc.  Some of those were just harmless nut cases, but others were genuinely dangerous (in the sense of physical danger, and sometimes spiritual/magical danger as well).   There are many things that can be said about the ethics and relationships of teachers and students, but one of the most important is this:  Magical training forges a permanent karmic link between teacher and student.  Therefore, you should exercise caution and judgement when deciding to apprentice with any teacher: their problems, as well as their skills and strengths, will naturally, through the karmic link, tend to get passed along to you.  Thus, you want to choose a teacher whom you respect as a person, AND who has a reasonably good control over her/his life.  Some things you might want to think about:

  • Does this person have a healthy sense of her/his own identity?  That is, does s/he seem to have both an honest appreciation for herself and an honest awareness of her weaknesses?  (We all have them, and anyone who can’t accept that fact will tend to trip themself up.)  Does s/he like herself, yet have reasonable humility?  (If the phrases “power-tripper,” “doormat,” “egomaniac,” “paranoid” or “perpetual victim” apply, the answer is probably no.)
  • Does this person handle their life, including the annoying aspects of mundane reality, in a reasonably balanced manner?  The inner and the outer often mirror each other, and a person who is continually in crisis mode is not exercising their magic to good effect.  This doesn’t mean that a Witch should necessarily be rich, or free of problems, or otherwise above the daily work of living; but a Witch should not live habitually in self-generated crisis.
  • Do you WANT to share this person’s karma, or would you hope that, er, not too much of it would rub off, thank you?

Isaac Bonewits devised this handy little tool.  The higher the score, the more dangerous a group is likely to be.  Bonewits deliberately omits any numerical scoring system, preferring to leave it more to intuition:  The Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame © 1987 by P. E. I. Bonewits. Used by permission.  [Note: The current version of the ABCDEF may be found at Isaac Bonewits’ website:].

Rate each of the following from 1 (low) to 10 (high)…

___ Internal control, amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.

___ Wisdom claimed by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared about decisions.

___ Wisdom credited to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions made by leader(s).

___ Dogma, rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility.

___ Recruiting, emphasis on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing.

___ Front groups, number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of the main group.

___ Wealth, amount of money and/or property desired or obtained; emphasis on members’ donations.

___ Political power, amount of external political influence desired or obtained.

___ Sexual manipulation of members by leader(s); amount of control over sex lives of members.

___ Censorship, amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on the group, its doctrines, and/or its leader(s).

___ Dropout control, intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.

___ Endorsement of violence when used by or for the group or its leader(s).

___ Paranoia, amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; perceived power of opponents.

___ Grimness, amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines, or its leader(s).

There’s no shame in learning from books, either; and most good teachers will expect you to have read a few.  There are many excellent books available.  Some of the standards include: The Spiral Dance by Starhawk.  This one’s her basic book, and recommended before her others, which are also good.  Anything by Doreen Valiente or by Janet and/or Stewart Farrar.  These are particularly valuable for their English Traditional background.  Real Magic by P.E.I. Bonewits.  This little book is entertaining, informative, and very useful from a practical standpoint.  Should you be near a good library, you might also like to take a stroll through the Oxford Classical Dictionary — starting with the entry for “magic” and going from there.

Well, I hope my comments have been useful. Best wishes for spiritual and personal fulfillment.