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Some Thoughts on Teachers, Degrees and Titles...

"...I have been very disturbed by the increase in the use of titles like Priest, Priestess, Elder, Teacher, Shaman, Lady, and Lord in our community, specifically by those who really do not have the training to claim such honorable terms. ... ... ...In a world of seemingly shake-and-bake shamanism and instant priesthood, the route to true magical mastery isn't traversed quickly or without sacrifice, and it can't be found in the yellow pages. And it certainly has very little to do with a fancy or powerful sounding title. At its pinnacle, adept-hood isn't about impressing people; it's a way of living and being. In other words, the focus is not on "talking the talk," but on "walking the walk." What are some of the signs of a true elder, master or priest?

How about someone who:

In some ways a priest or elder doesn't ever "arrive" -- we are always getting there, realizing that the more we know, the more we realize how LITTLE we know (smile). When we finally reach this understanding, we're often ready to teach and lead with both heart and head; in balance is spiritual wisdom. In fact, I would hazard to guess that most people who are truly our priests, priestesses, elders and teachers are those who don't have to say so - we just know it by the example of their lives!"

(Excerpted from the Witch's Voice, a dialogue between Wren Walker and Patricia Telesco.)

All too often we hear of someone putting out a shingle, followed by rumors that so-and-so isn't really a Grand High Pooh-bah. Or the tale comes 'round that someone else has just found out - after months of diligent study - that the teacher they have been working with isn't really qualified to pass on that Tradition, or grant that degree that has been the supposed culmination.

Once upon a time, there were fewer Traditions, fewer variations of the Pagan and Wiccan paths. It was much easier to understand what someone was supposed to know to be a 2nd degree in this Tradition, or a 3rd in that one. It was a quick "shorthand" to let everyone know about what a person should know and be capable of.

Nowadays, a wide variety of new Traditions, and vastly varying styles and requirements of training have changed how useful the "shorthand" of titles and degrees is. Now, more so than ever before, lineages, degrees and titles are rather meaningless outside of the Traditions that have granted them.

Degree requirements are not the same (or even similar) from Tradition to Tradition - or in some cases from group to group. And lineage requirements and privileges are different in different Trads. Exactly what level degree is "authorized" to teach or to pass on a particular Tradition or lineage varies depending on the system, and there are few hard-and-fast guidelines.

In some groups, if you put in enough time doing menial chores for the High Priestess you can get elevated on a regular basis. In other groups, a "First Degree" can take years of study and hard work.

Some groups place great emphasis on ritual structure and tradition lore, others on magical skill, on community service skills, or on personal development. Each of these lead to great differences in what those groups will consider essential knowledge, and in their requirements for elevation or advancement.

Some groups are more interested in power, and will structure their system to ensure that those in charge can never be surpassed. Others are more interested in individual empowerment and will have systems that ensure everyone can develop to their potential. These differences in perspective will also have a significant impact on what is required from group members.

If being a part of a lineaged Tradition is important to you, learn all you can about that Tradition before looking for a teacher. Yes, parts of many Traditions are oath-bound. But significant amounts of material are available on almost all Original Traditions, and on many Old-School Traditions as well. If you spend time getting to know about the history, the nature, and the general 'feel' of the Tradition, you will be able to weed out the greatest number of frauds when you are ready for formal training.

If you are considering a newer Tradition or group, ask a lot of questions - of current or past students, and of the teachers. Why did they start their own group? What backgrounds do they have? What makes this group unique? What elements "define" their practice? What are their goals and objectives? How do they intend to meet them?

With either an older or a newer Tradition, talk to a lot of people in the general community who have worked with the group, or who have interacted with the teachers. Are they respected? Are they trusted? Do other people think they are well-trained? How are the students that have been trained by this group thought of? Do other teachers or leaders refer seekers to this group? Why or why not?

There are many tools available to assist folks to make wise decisions in group affiliation and training. Most Traditions where lineage or degree is important have ways to verify someone's status if there is a question, and there are resources such as Tracing the Blood and the Amber and Jet email list to help find qualified teachers in specific Traditions, or to vet someone's claims.

The best advice for a Seeker is to watch people and to trust themselves and their instincts. Teachers do appear just when folks need them most. If you are paying attention. And they're quite often not the person with the shingle out advertising that they are of such-and-such degree in whatever Tradition.

The best way to judge someone is by their words, their actions, and their demonstrated knowledge (or lack thereof) than on what number of stars they have, or the alphabet soup after their names. The best teacher is the person who's ethics you admire, who's way of living you respect, and who has demonstrated talents, skills or knowledge you want to learn more of.

Blessings on you and your endeavors,
Home Circle

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From Home Circle student materials.
For more information, please email homecircle@mindspring.com.