The Responsibilities of the Initiator

by Joe and Forest Butera (Rev. 8/17/01)

Screening potential students

The following questionnaire was put together with the help of the late (and dearly loved and missed) Robin Blackhood and used by us whenever interviewing potential students for our coven. Please feel free to use the questions but be sure to give credit to Robin.

(Link to Updated Questionnaire: Confidential Questionnaire )

How to evaluate whether or not you are the right teacher/group for the student

The above questionnaire will be a big help. You also need to determine exactly what it is the student looking for: Enlightenment? Power? A support group? Friends? Sex?

How does the student define Wicca? Do they see it as a religion?

Is this person looking for a support group? People in crisis do not generally make good students and they can be very disruptive to a class or coven. Suggest that they look into one of the many circle/support groups hosted at a new age store (It is best to name a store rather than use the term “new age”).

Can you envision being in Circle with this person? Can you hug this person?

Holding a short introductory course, with no obligation on your part for further teaching can be a good way to get to know a potential student.

How do I say, “no” nicely to those I choose not to teach?

The most diplomatic way we've come up with is: “I believe I am not the right teacher for you.” When possible suggest other teachers or other places the student can look for guidance.

What to tell potential students about the yourself and your group:

How long you have been involved in the craft.
How long you have been teaching the craft.
Who your teachers are/were.
Who your teacher's teacher's were, etc.
Who makes the decisions in the group. (i.e.: committee, majority vote, HP and/or HPS only)
Whether the group follows a particular pantheon or is eclectic.
Whether there a degree system, and if so what the structure consists of and how long it generally takes a student to progress from degree to degree.
Whether the group ever works skyclad.
What the group's policy on drugs and alcohol is.
Whether there are dues or other fees.
How much reading and other work is required.
How public the group is.

How to recognize and encourage a student's progress.

Know that most people need some amount of “stroking”. Many leaders (of covens, companies, countries, etc.) fail to recognize this need in others because they themselves do not need it. Sincere compliments are always appreciated.

Always encourage students to ask questions. That doesn't mean you are obligated to give them answers, but make sure they understand that questions show interest and there is no such thing as a dumb question.

Encourage mentorship (hooking up a new student with an experienced student) whenever possible. This takes some of the burden off of you and helps the more experienced student as well since there is no better way to increase your own knowledge than to teach.

How to end a student/teacher relationship when it isn't working out.

This one is easy when the student is the one who decides its time for them to leave. When its the teacher who comes to this conclusion and the student doesn't see it, then it can get very awkward.

It is best when you can get the student to make the decision. Sometimes this is possible through getting the student to evaluate his or her own progress and to see if they are meeting their own goals. (See “Honesty” paper)

Sometimes you just have to explain that you have taught them all you were meant to teach them, and that the time has come for them to leave you to seek the next step of their path.

Depending on the policies of the group and circumstances of the student's leaving you may have to decide whether or not to do a “parting of the ways” type ritual or take other steps to ensure a peaceful separation.

How to deal with squabbles and personality conflicts between students.

Of course each situation will be different, but it will help if you have a policy in place for dealing with conflict and make sure students are aware of it. You could ask that all problems be brought directly to the HP or HPS, or if it is a large coven other initiates or experienced members may be designated.

While you may feel that the “right” thing to do is to keep those with unresolved differences out of Circle, you may (especially if most or all of the members are experienced) want to consider using the situation as a teaching opportunity. The ones who are a bit hot under the collar will find out just how good they are at grounding and centering, and the rest of the group will get an exercise in dealing with negative energy in Circle and/or filling energy gaps. Make it clear to the parties involved exactly why they were allowed in Circle and that you still expect the problem to be resolved as soon as possible.

How to make sure each student feels like he or she is getting a fair amount of the HP & HPS's time.

Try to spend a few minutes alone with each student on a regular basis. This will help eliminate the student going through the, “Yikes I feel like I'm being called down to the principal's office!” syndrom that can occur when private conferences are reserved for special (and especially unpleasant) occasions.

You can also make it clear up front that there will be times when you will need to spend more time with individual students. The Church of T Tylwyth Teg, Inc. stated this very clearly in its, “Thirteen Precepts of Coven Etiquette” given to all new students:

“2. The High Priestess chooses, for reasons that are her own as a High Priestess, to meet with certain members of the group at certain times. Those who are not asked to those particular meetings should never take this in any sprit of offense. Above all, it is never appropriate to invite yourself over if the High Priestess has not extended a general invitation.”

For how long, under what circumstances, and to what extent is the initiator responsible for the magical actions of the initiate?

Once you initiate someone are you responsible for their actions for life? All lifetimes? Until the student leaves the coven? Does it depend on the circumstances under which the student leaves? (i.e.: hiving off; leaving to follow a different path; leaving due to conflict with the group). You need to have this point clear in your own mind before you can pass it on to students.

These are extremely important questions and you will have to sort out the answers with your gods. Just be sure you know what the answers are.

What do you do when a student behaves inappropriately?

Everyone forgets their manners once in a while. If a student is being disrespectful or otherwise making life uncomfortable for other students it is your responsibility to see that it stops. However, don't forget: praise in public, but correct in private. You may want to have some kind of policy in place for repeat offenders (i.e. “Three strikes and you're out”) Whatever your policy is make it clear (in writing if possible) for each incoming student.

What if the issue is inappropriate use of magic? Deliberate misuse of magic is a serious offence and should be dealt with in whatever way the situation seems to warrant. More often a newer student may do a spell without thinking it through first and considering all the consequences, and they may need a refresher on the steps involved in planning a spell or magical working.

Some covens forbid students to do magic until they have reached a particular level. We believe that this is the equivalent of saying abstinence is the best form of birth control: technically accurate, but fairly unrealistic. Do encourage them to wait until they have had enough instruction, but if they feel the must do something, they shouldn't be afraid to discuss their plans with you or the group before carrying them out.

How to decide when the student is ready for the next level.

This is up to the individual teacher, but be sure to have a system in place. Long-standing traditions will usually have a fairly clear set of tasks and goals which must be completed before the student progresses to the next level, but even so part of the evaluation is based on the gut feelings of the teacher and/or instructions from the gods to the teacher. Be sure students are aware of this so that you can avoid misunderstandings when a students completes the physical tasks required but, in your estimation, still isn't quite ready for elevation.

Your responsibility, as an initiator, to the entire pagan community:

Please make sure that each one of your students understands that, wherever they go, they represent both your coven and the entire craft community. Be sure that they thouroughly understand the Oath of Secrecy.

Wherever we are and whatever we do in life we are always showing ourselves to the world as an example of the groups we represent: When a man spits on the sidewalk someone is bound to generalize and think, “Men are so gross”. If an American visits a foreign country and treats the natives badly they will say, “Americans are rude,” and if a witch goes around bragging about putting spells on people and has to constantly be putting on a show so people can't miss knowing they are a witch, then we ALL have to deal with the fallout. Also remind them: If they have a pagan bumper-sticker on their car, they need to watch their driving manners and no rude hand signals!

Whether we like it or not people will judge an entire group by the behavior of a single individual. A lot of us have worked long and hard to help Wicca gain tolerance, acceptance and even respect in our communities and in the eyes of the public at large. It can take just one person to ruin years of public relations work when they act in an un-Wiccan-like manner.

See also, “The Seekers Bill of Rights” by the Texas Local Council COG, and “The Bill of Rights for Pagan Students and Teachers” by Maryam Webster.

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