Consent, Coercion, and Teaching the Craft (by Shimmer)

[Slightly revised from the original published at Boston Bloodrose Faery.]

We are a sex positive tradition, but you must know the heart of the one you approach. No one must ever be approached with force or poor intent.

~ Victor Anderson, 2001

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Coercion under any circumstances is morally and ethically wrong.  When coercion appears in the sphere of teaching, however, there is a particularly invidious taint that enters the picture.  Teaching is, at its heart, a fostering—which often requires challenging the student.  It is thus a process which has as its aim to provide a space in which the student can fully realize hir own potential to the finest possible flowering.

In horticulture, gardeners employ techniques of training and “forcing” and other potentially harsh methods.  But the human flower does not prosper under such conditions.  Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says that to follow the path of Self Realization is to walk the razor’s edge; the path of the teacher can be one that requires, every bit as much, a course of conduct as rigorously disciplined.  My happiest moments as a teacher have been seeing a student come fully and completely into the recognition of hir own Power; to fully own, and be at ease in, the wielding of hir own Strength, hir own faculty to pursue and embody Wisdom.  Coercion can have no place in this.

Tests are needed in the course of time to determine whether a student is ready to continue.   Often, the result of such a test is that the teacher must withdraw for a period and allow time to pass and seeds to germinate.  Such testing must not be exercised in a coercive manner.  It should never be about the teacher’s supposed superiority over the student.  It should always be about knowing just when the student is really ready to trod terrain that could otherwise be daunting, frightening, or overwhelming.  Perhaps all of that is part of why one of my favorite teachers always described himself as a tourguide.  A good guide knows not to lead one into the swamp until one is wearing proper wellies—so to speak.

Witchcraft is a deeply physical discipline.  The Faery current is fierce, feral, and unabashedly sexual.  It also holds high the values of honor, respect, and what Victor Anderson called “impeccability.”  Cora Anderson wrote:  The Craft as we know it has a code of honor and sexual morality that is as tough and demanding as the Bushido of Japan and of Shinto, which it strongly resembles and in many important ways is identical to. This code is in no way puritanical, ascetic or anti-sexual.   When I teach the Craft, I bear this code of honor rigorously in mind.  And all of this is why, when I evaluate a potential student, I look for an individual who has a secure, well-established sense of hir own boundaries and the capacity to learn and maintain habits of good psychic hygiene.  If the individual seems too unsteady, unsure of hirself, or just unstable, I will advise hir to go home and work on personal growth and nurture.  In such cases, I think it is most inadvisable for a person to engage in magical work that has any goal beyond self-healing and self-care.  And again, this is why I always begin by teaching the work of grounding, clearing, and centering:  observing a person going through these exercises and checking in with hir immediately afterwards can tell one a great deal about what’s really going on inside, as opposed to the “public version”—how the individual presents hirself to the outside world.​

Let us be clear and concise in expressing this foundational principle:  teaching and coercion, on any level, don’t go together.

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Witchcraft 101: So You Want to Be a Witch (by Traci)

[Slightly edited from the original published at Confessions of a Hedge Witch.]

Sometimes I imagine what I would say if one of my children explicitly asked me for training, or intentionally sought it for themselves. They were all exposed to the Craft, as well as general pagan perspectives (and I will continue using the general term ‘pagan’ because I feel it provides a touchstone we can come together on politically and academically). They also engage in witchy activities and hold very pagan beliefs, though they may be in various stages of consciousness on that front.

I think about the heartfelt advice given by one of my early initiators, Juniper. We shared a similar Christian upbringing, and we both had children. Through tears she bravely confessed that if she could go back, knowing what changes and pain lay ahead, she wasn’t sure she would choose this crooked path again. You see, once you put your foot to the path, there is no way but forward – whether to madness or transformation.

Most of my friends who are witches say they always knew they were. That there was never a moment of decision, only one of recognition. It may be that they were outsiders, or just felt themselves different, somehow. This is a critical point to ponder.

If you feel ostracized, if you feel outside the group: take notice whether these feelings make you uncomfortable. If there is a part of your mind seeking validation or the experience of fitting-in – you may want to reconsider this path. Certainly there will be a feeling of kinship, and a relief in having found your own kind, but consider: The Witch lives on the outside of society. Hir path is alone, through a forest darkly. There is no band of brothers who march off to fame and glory together, nor is there cultural acceptance or wide-spread recognition. There may be camaraderie, and you may finally understand your inherent difference, but think long and hard before committing yourself to further differentiation. To be Marked… is for life.

But, if one of my children did ask… even after I ignored them, or tried to put them off (you see, it is a dark path…and I can’t say I would wish it on anyone), the first task I would give them would be to GO OUTSIDE.

Not to glory in airy fairies, or rainbow ponies. I would require they spend a year learning the land: what her seasons are; what her geological history is; what other-than-human persons share the land with them; what the history of her communities are; what weather patterns are dominant; where is the sun in the sky on the longest day; what celestial observations when the season changes; what ARE those seasons there, on that land; what orientation is associated with significant phenomena, whether seasonal, atmospheric, or historical.

I would NOT ask them to leave their locale. This work does not require leaving the city and finding some idyllic country location. The Witch knows the environment he resides in, not one of hir imagining. The Great Powers are everywhere, and everywhere, are different. Know them.

At least I think these would be my first remarks…. if a child of mine saw this path in the forest and reached for the gate.

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