Thursday, May 16, 2013

There are teachers out there for everyone

When the disciple is ready, the Master is ready also.
In literature, and in many non-fiction occult books, magic is something that is learned directly from a teacher, usually an older, wiser person who is passing on their knowledge before they die. (Many cultures actually believe that a witch cannot die until he or she has passed the ability onto someone else.) Being taught spells at the feet of ones grandmother, learning to pick and prepare herbs by the old healing woman, or being chosen as an apprentice to a wizened shaman are all ideal in theory, but most of us will never have that opportunity. We have to seek out our teachers and learn from them in whatever ways we can.

Certainly in the early days of modern witchcraft, everything was handed down personally from teacher to student. There were few books, and the organized coven was the only apparent model for learning magic. Of course there were always lone witches who weren't part of a coven, but by nature they were usually invisible, while some covens did maintain a public presence through rituals, classes or publications. Most people followed a familiar path of reading what few books were available (Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Sybil Leek, Janet and Stewart Farrar or Raymond Buckland if you were lucky; lurid "occult exposé" books if that's all you could find) and stumbling upon a notice of a class or public ritual in a local magazine or occult store. Some people stayed with the coven they first studied with; others moved on through the connections they'd made there, into groups more suited to their own interests and personalities. Eventually they initiated newcomers into those groups and the Craft was passed on.

Everything started to change with the publication of Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner in 1988. Suddenly it was acceptable to learn witchcraft from a book and never be part of a coven at all. Cunningham was an indefatigable writer and produced over thirty books in his short life, most of them written for those pursuing independent study in magic and witchcraft. He was shortly followed by a rising tide of prolific authors, including Ann Moura, Raven Gramassi, Silver Ravenwolf and many others. Every form of magical practice was laid out in how-to guides, from traditional Gardnerian Wicca to Siberian shamanism to casting spells via text message.

Like many of us, I was interested in magic from childhood, and devoured all the books available in our small-town library. There weren't many in the 1970's, and these were all of the "Encyclopedia of the Occult" and "History of Witchcraft and Demonology" type. By the mid-80's I found myself in a Golden Dawn ceremonial magic order, and soon I was attending Pagan festivals and public rituals, meeting Wiccans, Thelemites and other magical folk . But our group broke up after the death of its founder, and although I continued to read widely, and the number of books available grew exponentially, my own practice and interest dwindled and I lost contact with other magically-inclined people.

The growing online Pagan community somehow never had much attraction for me. Witchvox, MySpace, even the growing number of Pagan blogs never really grabbed my attention as I coasted through the end of the millennium. They were useful sources of information, but not something I felt a part of. Then about three years ago I discovered podcasts, and everything started to move forward again. Books and websites were always interesting and good resources, but no substitute for a living teacher. Listening to a podcast, however, gave a personal presence and a real connection to the speaker, and I found I was much more engaged than I ever had been with written material alone. I started studying magic again, and expanding into areas I had never even known of before.


The first podcasts I discovered were fun, chatty programs like The Darker Side of Fay,  A Pagan Heart in Maine, Pagan Hooligans, The Wigglian Way and Pennies in the Well. But each of them carried promos for other podcasts, and as soon as I'd listened to their archived recordings, I branched out to The Spiral Dance with Hawthorne, Media Astra Ac Terra (now Between the Earth and Stars), The Unnamed Path, and Pagan FM. One day a promo on Pagan Hooligans announced the launch of New World Witchery, a podcast exploring something quite new to me: American folk magic. An interview there led me to the grandmother of all Hoodoo podcasts, The Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour, then Five-Star Spells (which became Conjure Crossroads), Old Style Conjure and Lamplighter Blues. At the same time I was having my eyes opened to Hoodoo, Voodoo and other African diaspora traditions, I also found Druidcast and The Celtic Myth Podshow and headed back across the Atlantic to rediscover Druidry and ancient Celtic traditions. And my background in Ceremonial Magick wasn't neglected either, because I started listening to The Hermetic Hour, and was finally able to grasp some concepts of Kabbala, Gnosticism and Hermeticism that eluded me when I was younger.

Like radio shows, podcasts can include lessons, lectures, personal essays, panel discussions or phone-ins, but many also feature a lot of Pagan music. Some, like A Darker Shade of Pagan (now Numinosis) and The Magick Jukebox, are purely music shows. (Thanks to podcasts, my awareness and appreciation of modern Pagan music has grown exponentially over the past three years! )

Most podcasts have a home site where you can download or listen online to current and archived episodes. Some post a new episode monthly or even weekly, but most are more occasional. You can use "subscribe" to favourite podcasts using iTunes or another podcatcher utility (I use Juice) so that new episodes are automatically downloaded for you whenever they appear. I download them to my MP3 player and listen at work; lots of people listen in the car or while doing chores. You can also just listen at the computer while you're doing other work.

Some of My Favourite Magical Podcasts

  • The Spiral Dance with Hawthorne: a weekly hour of essays, stories, spells, mythology, meditation and information, with a lot of great music, from a very eclectic Pagan perspective.
  • The Wigglian Way: Sparrow and Mojo, two lovable and crazy Canadian Wiccans, host a more-or-less monthly program of chat, essays, Pagan politics and music.
  • Druidcast: The monthly podcast of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Hosted by musician Damh the Bard, it includes some teachings of the Order, but is mostly lectures (always fascinating), interviews and of course lots of music.
  • Ariel's Druidic Craft of the Wise: A long-running but occasional series of teaching lectures on spellcraft and magic.
  • Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour: A weekly 90-minute phone-in show where hosts cat yronwode and Conjureman Ali use divination and traditional conjure magic to help solve callers' personal problems. cat yronwode is a bottomless source of knowledge, and I've learned more about Tarot from this show than from thirty years of reading!
  • Conjure Crossroads: A panel discussion and general gabfest between four fabulously knowledgeable hoodoo practitioners: Susan Diamond, Starr Casas, Sindy Todo and Orion Foxwood. The amount of spells, charms, magic and folklore that pours out of these four, and host Shimmering Wolf, forces me to listen to each episode at least twice to take notes of it all.
  • New World Witchery: My absolute favourite podcast on traditional magic, mostly because the hosts Cory and Laine are just so adorable. But they have a lot to share, especially on the intersection of magic, folklore and popular culture. New episodes have become less regular, but it makes them more of a treat when they appear.
  • Between the Earth and Stars: The archived episodes of Oraia Helene's podcast are well worth listening to because of the long series she did of very informative programs on stones, crystals, astronomy and astrology. Plus lectures, personal essays and some music. Less frequent than in the past but always worth it.
  • Many podcasters use their shows to document their own ongoing exploration of Paganism and magic.  Scarlet Paige's Lakefront Pagan Voice is a good example, with personal essays, interviews with family members, meditations and accounts of personal magical experiences. 


Online teachers and mail-order classes

Mail-order magical training has been around for a long time, with groups like AMORC, The Society of the Inner Light and Fraternitas Rosae Crucis advertising their correspondence courses through ads in occult magazines. But the Internet has made it easier to find correspondence courses in astrology, witchcraft, ceremonial magick and other occult subjects, and now many online courses have been established to take advantage of the many benefits of online communication. For those who don't have access to teaching groups in their area, or who have trouble finding time to go to classes and meetings, this kind of distance teaching is very valuable. Much more in-depth than any book can be, correspondence classes are usually structured to ensure that the student has mastered each topic before moving on to the next. Courses can usually be completed at the student's own pace and schedule, while email, chat, Facebook and other social media groups allow for ongoing interaction between students and teachers. Fees for online and correspondence courses vary quite a bit, from just enough to cover the operating costs to commercial schools that teach classes for profit.

Some of the well-established online and correspondence schools I know of today are the OBOD Druidry Training Course, cat yronwode's Hoodoo Correspondence Course,  the Correllian Tradition's Witch School, Cherry Hill Seminary and the Aquarian Tabernacle Church's Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. I'm sure there are many others, both here in North America and in Britain and Europe. As well, many Pagan bloggers, authors and individual teachers offer online courses and workshops. These can be harder to find, and although many are listed on Witchvox and other Pagan sites, lots are not. For instance, Australian musician Wendy Rule and her husband teach an interesting-sounding online course called Living a Life of Magic, which I know about only from her fan newsletter - I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else.

Festivals and Conferences

Most Pagan authors and teachers, even famous ones whose books you probably have on your shelf, teach individual classes and workshops at Pagan festivals and conferences. Often the workshops are included in the festival admission price, though some conferences charge separately for each workshop. As well, local stores and groups sponsor workshops and classes by visiting Big Name Pagans. Many workshops and classes include handouts, and sometimes even books, magical supplies and spell kits. There are annual Pagan festivals and conferences throughout Canada, the US and Britain, though I don't know of any one site that lists all of them. Any local Pagan or occult store or publication in your area will have information on upcoming festivals and workshops. While the cost and time to attend a festival can be daunting, the amount you can learn from even a few hours with a very knowledgeable teacher is worth it; one good class can revitalize your magical training and practice.

Here are some to look for:

Pantheacon: This is the big western US Pagan conference, held in February each year in San Jose, CA. The list of workshops and presentations reads like a Who's Who of Paganism and witchcraft.

Starwood: It bills itself as "the largest Pagan/Magickal/Consciousness gathering in North America (perhaps the world)." Held annually each summer for 33 years, now each July in Ohio.

Gaia Gathering: The Canadian National Pagan Conference, held in a different host city each year on the May 24 long weekend. The 2013 conference is in Ottawa.

Sacred Space Conference: Held in March in the Washington D.C. area.

Traditional Folk Magic Festival: A relatively new conference on hoodoo, conjure and American folk magic, held in New Orleans in November. This year's festival will coincide with the Pagan Podkin Supermoot, an annual gathering of North American Pagan podcasters.

Wic-Can Fest / Harvestfest: Canada's oldest Pagan festivals, held annually in southern Ontario for 32 years. Wic-Can Fest is in mid June and Harvestfest on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

Hoodoo and Rootwork Training Workshops: Sponsored by the Missionary Independent Spiritual Church and hosted by the Lucky Mojo Curio Shop in northern California each spring.

Druidcamp: Held every July in the Forest of Dean, England.

Pagan Pride Days:  There are Pagan Pride Days held in cities throughout North America every fall. And while their focus is more on music, rituals and fun than workshops and lectures, there are usually at least some classes, sometimes by big-name guests.

So don't let being "isolated" keep you from finding teachers and continuing to learn first-hand about magic and Paganism. Books and websites just aren't enough - you need to hear real voices too!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Wulf for all the information! I have heard of the online classes and wondered if they were a scam or were indeed valuable! And now that I finally have satellite internet, I can listen to podcasts! I will have to check into some that you have mentioned! This is a great post!