Learning Witchcraft for Beginners: What to Look for in a Mentor or Teacher
When you're learning Witchcraft, it can be overwhelming. Your first job is to try to sort through mountains of information to try and figure out which sources are the good, which are the bad and which are the ugly. Once you do find decent sources, there's tons to read and it may leave you with many questions. When beginning Witchcraft in practice, you may hesitate or feel uneasy because it's new and you're not really sure if you're doing it right.
Many people hope to find a mentor or teacher to help put them on the solid road to success in the Craft. It can be really great to have a guide—provided you find a good one. Unfortunately, not all those who offer services as 'teachers' are worthy of the title. They're either not what they claim to be, or have failed to learn the lessons themselves.
Here are some qualities to look for in someone offering to teach you the Craft.
Please note: this article is more geared toward the discussion of Witchcraft, not necessarily Wicca. While some may apply to Wicca as well, they're two different things. If you don't know the difference, please see Wicca and Witchcraft- Which is Witch, What’s What?
Learning Witchcraft: Finding a Mentor Helps
Great Places To Find Witch Mentors or Teachers
Open Pagan Festivals and Events
Unitarian Universalist CUUPS Groups (Covenant of the Unitarian Universalist Pagans)
Spiritual Shops and Classes
Spiritual Reading/Study Groups
Recommended Witchcraft Books
This book is more influenced by Wicca, however it provides a basic understanding of a lot of concepts and gives some great exercises to work on and improve one's abilities.
Find a Witch Who Knows Her Stuff
Witchcraft is such a broad term, and there is no one single way to practice it. Some people have learned from modern sources like Llewellyn books and the internet. Some may have been initiated into covens. Others may be practicing folk magic passed down through the family line. You will find conflicting information—different schools of thought, different methods, and different opinions.
If you're seeking a mentor, make sure to find someone who appears to be well versed in at least some specific areas of the Craft. She should be able to provide you with the names of reputable books or of systems of magic she's studied, and should grasp those things in depth. If she learned traditional or folk magic from a particular culture, there should be records of it somewhere. If she joined a coven, she should be able to provide you with a name and lineage.
When you're beginning Witchcraft, it may be difficult to differentiate between people who know what they're talking about and people who are essentially 'wanna-bes' who watched too much Charmed. A good rule of thumb is to avoid people who offer you silly little rhymes as 'spells' and lists of 'magickal [sic] ingredients', and find someone who actually takes study, understanding, philosophy, mental discipline, ethics, etc. seriously. Look for people teaching the hows and the whys rather than just telling you 'do this and that'.
As you read and learn, you'll be able to determine the extent of your teacher’s knowledge. Never be afraid to research any of his or her claims in depth. A true Witch and a good teacher won't want a student who just takes her word for it. She won't be intimidated by having to explain her position on something or offended by different opinions.
Beware of Witches who seem to be making stuff up as they go along, who contradict themselves or who can't (or won't) explain why they think something. Avoid those who seem to be regurgitating things from books and web sites (especially while hiding the fact that they got the ideas from other authors, presenting those ideas as their own inventions). Avoid teachers or mentors who become agitated or angry if you question them or challenge their information.
Don't OD on Fantasy
Find a Witch Grounded in Reality
While people with a flair for drama can be fun to be around, you still want a mentor who is grounded in reality. There's no doubt that Witches are people with open minds who may believe a lot of different theories and have spiritual interests. Sometimes what Witches believe may generally be considered 'out there' by most other people. That's a given.
But even as far as Witchcraft is concerned (or maybe particularly where Witchcraft is concerned) a dose of healthy skepticism is an asset. Witchcraft does not exclude common sense, or rational explanations. Jumping at shadows is not being open-minded, it's being gullible.
Beware of Witches who promise to teach you absurd things like how to fly, how to turn into a mermaid or how to raise the dead. If your potential mentor is making too many fantastic claims about things he's done or can do, consider it a red flag. Avoid people who are still under the delusion that Witchcraft is an Pagan ancient religion, who rant about "the burning times" or claim an unbroken line of Witchcraft through the ages.
Find a Witch Who Has His 'Stuff' Together
Witchcraft is known as the 'Craft of the Wise' for a reason. Unfortunately, however, some of its lessons are lost on people. Even people who have read every book, who has been studying and practicing for years, may never really 'get it'.
Before someone can offer to teach or mentor, she should have her own life together. That doesn't mean she has to have a perfect life; everyone has problems and everyone makes mistakes. But consider within reason whether she is a 'together' kind of person that has something worthwhile to offer. Has she herself achieved wisdom and learned to apply it to live enough so that she they can pass it down? If her life's a mess and she's like an emotional train wreck, chances are it may not be so.
A Witch that makes a good mentor should also have her own ego in check. Look for someone who can admit mistakes and faults, who can laugh at herself, and who doesn't make every lesson into a show about how wonderfully Witchy she is.
Beware of Witches who look like they need more help than they can give. If she doesn't have any happy relationships, if she has no self-control, if she finds life miserable, if she's deep in debt and legal problems because she's always making mistakes, if she blames the world for her problems, etc.—how can you trust anything she tries to teach you about the Craft when clearly she can't even use it to straighten out her own life? Also, always remember—you're a student, not a fan. If your teacher sounds like a crazy cult leader who expects to be worshiped, get out of there.
What Do You Say
Have you ever had a mentor or teacher in Witchcraft?
Find a Witch Who Behaves Ethically
Ethics and Witchcraft should always go hand and hand. Obviously, ethics and morals are frequently something that is debatable. I'm not going to lay down any arbitrary list of laws that I think all Witches should adhere to. There are always going to be differences. For example, if you're a Christian Witch, you may not agree with all the morals and ethics of a Wiccan Witch. That's okay—you have different sources for your ethics. It doesn't mean one must be right and one must be wrong.
However, when you are ready to crawl up under someone's wing to learn from him, that person should be someone who you can trust and respect. When he asks you to do things, it should be something you feel is a sound request, and something you feel ethically comfortable with doing. If you're not comfortable with something, your teacher should at least be respectful of your boundaries and feelings even if he disagrees with your ethics and morals.
Beware of Witches who would try to milk you for all you worth. While I'm personally not against charging for goods and services (even a Witch has to make a living), it should be for reasonably-priced supplies, or an honest service (you get what you pay for). Use caution if everything keeps leading to you 'needing' to make another purchase, the price gets higher and higher, and if the person tries to scare you with threats that something bad will happen if you don't pay. Beware of Witches who would encourage you to sneak around or lie to your parents if you're a minor. RUN AWAY from Witches who would try to pressure you into doing things you're uncomfortable with, such as anything sexual or criminal behavior.
Recommended Witchcraft Books
A lot of myths and misinformation revolves around Witchcraft. Hutton, a Pagan, respected Professor and historian, writes the most scholarly guide to date on Witchcraft's real history. This is a 'must read' on my list for any Witch as it separates myth and theories from evidence and facts.
Remember That Witches Are People Too
Witches are human. When someone says she's a Witch, don't assume anything about the person. Witches can be nice or mean, they can be people with good intentions or bad intentions, and they can be upstanding citizens or criminally depraved, educated or just plain short on intelligence and common sense.
If you are considering someone as a mentor, get to know that person, listen to your gut, and don't be so desperate to learn that you're willing to ignore warning signs and red flags.
© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright