A Pagan Students Bill of Rights

A PAGAN STUDENT’S BILL OF RIGHTS

1. You have a right to the quality of education commensurate with the medians in similar education for others in your chosen area. Check several teachers or schools to find just what those medians are considered to be.

Corollary: You do not have the right to expect your teacher to be a “SuperPriest/ess” who will fulfill your every need, want and desire. Today, many are advertising themselves as “teachers” with little more than a few years experience themselves, much of which may be book learning. Truly experienced Elders and “Grand Masters” are exceedingly few and far between. Consider yourself astoundingly fortunate if your teacher falls into this category, but within reason, expect a teacher of Paganism to be human and fallible – resolve for yourself to learn what you can from the situation you are in.

2. The terms of your education shall be agreed upon in advance of its commencement by mutual contract between both teacher and student. Either party may at any time with prior advance notice, rescind said contract. Don’t accept an amorphous “well, we’ll just take it easy and see what happens” approach. You have the right to know exactly what to expect in terms of time, commitment and subjects learned.

Corollary: You may not drop out of tutorial with a teacher without making a reasonable attempt at telling them why you are feeling uncomfortable enough to do so. Be specific, they need to know how their behavior affected you and your potential for learning from them.

3. You have the right to expect a teacher who is compassionate, has a good sense of humor, has respect for you and others and who has a healthy level of self- esteem. A good teacher will admit when s/he is wrong in the moment and will usually heark back to their own novice days with anecdotes of their own trial and error to share with you. A good teacher knows how to maintain the delicate balance between friendship and appropriate discipline.

Corollary: Any teacher who projects as “too perfect” definitely isn’t. Beware also the teacher who is continually in a state of personal woe – these people need too much of your energy that you won’t have to give them. Walk out the door and keep searching.

4. You have the right for the teacher to always be truthful with you. Choose teachers whose styles permit you to question freely, who “lead by example” and show you as well as tell you the things you are learning. You can’t learn herbalism solely by reading books, some day you have to get out into the garden and root in the dirt. Look for a teacher, whatever their specialty, who does the equivalent in their particular form of practice.

Corollary: Beware of teachers whose main boast is how many books they’ve read, or that all of their knowledge is “book learned”. Such teachers will not be giving you anything authentic that you cannot learn on your own from the same books. A person “teaching” like this is perpetrating little short of plagiarism. To bring in the danger factor, you do not want someone “teaching” you the art of soul travel/astral projection who has never really done it themself. Don’t be someone else’s guinea pig. A teacher is a rich resource not only of the literary materials they have consumed, but of their own experiences: those triumphs, failures and illuminating moments of true enlightenment that cannot be learned from any book in print.

5. You have the right to expect your teacher to hold a broad education themselves, with specialty areas in which they might be considered to hold above-average knowledge. Anyone purporting to be a teacher of Witchcraft, Shamanism or one of the other forms of Paganism is held to a standard of excellence in their own community, and usually will have specialised in some branch or another of its components. Bonus points to a teacher who has cross- cultural initiations or similar expertise/other cultural referents to draw from. A broad educational base generally lends another primary desired quality of a good teacher: a broad mind.

Corollary: Ask your teacher to name their teachers or others in the community who know them, and talk to them before signing on to that particular teacher’s list. You may find they have an expertise in permaculture, spellcasting or soul retrieval – or you may discover knowledge that might lead you in another direction. It never hurts as a consumer of a service, to obtain references.

6. You have the right to expect discipline from your teacher. You have the right to expect that they will not let you get away with slackness in your learning, presentation or commission of your duties to them. When learning, expect no less than to apply yourself with the diligence most would reserve for a graduate school degree. A good teacher does their own research and give credit where it is due – expect the same of yourself. Be on time; ahead of time even, for lessons and coven/circle activities as your teacher should. Do one more bit of homework than is expected of you. Expect no less than excellence of yourself and you will be richly rewarded.

Corollary: You have the right to expect your teacher to be firm, but flexible within reason. Teachers should be expected to keep their committments to you as you do to them. Overly regimented structures are not conducive to learning, although sometimes in some traditions, such strictures may be put into place specifically to challenge you and help you grow. Look for teachers who walk the balance between firm and flexible for the best learning environment.

7. You have the right to expect change. Do not expect a smooth ride. Life is its own powerful teacher – learning the arts of Shamanism or Witchcraft are seriously advanced study in the crafting of your own soul. By virtue of this process, your issues will be brought out into the open and you will be expected to deal with them and act/react accordingly. How you react will be noted by your teacher and you can expect to have such reactions become the topic of discussion for your further growth. You have the right to expect during these “spiritual crises” for your teacher/s to be there for you to consult, lean on just a little bit and to provide you resources for getting through. You do NOT however, have the right to call the teacher in the wee hours every night of the week with a new crisis, to monopolize your teacher’s time for weeks on end due to a major crisis or series of smaller ones. Some support is to be expected from a teacher, but not unlimited support. Ask prior to your training what level of support the teacher is comfortable giving you and adhere to that. Know also when to refer yourself to a competent psychotherapist or healer. And if your teacher suggests you do so, take their advice without quibble. Clinginess from crisis-prone students who do not engage competent healing staff at the appropriate times is one of the behaviors that can be incredibly abusive of the teacher. If such clinginess is particularly time and energy consuming, it may cause the teacher to end their relationship with you.

Corollary: Your teacher does not have the right to use information concerning your spiritual crises against you, or to pass you off without seriously attempting to help you. Any teacher who does this you should immediately disengage from. Such a person is not the one to be trusting with your soul and your psyche as is required from a teacher of the metaphysical arts.

8. You have the right to be listened to, to have your questions answered and the right to expect a reasonable amount of your teacher’s time for the discussion of issues you might have with your training, different areas you wish to explore, etcetera. A good teacher like a good psychologist learns to listen more than talk in order to know what is important and relevant to you, the better to help them custom-craft your learning experience. Walk away from teachers who refuse you time to state your concerns, pooh-pooh your questions or who motormouth over your every utterance.

9. At the appropriate time, you have the right to expect your teacher to either inform you that it is time for you to move on into your own practice, or to be open to your suggesting something similar to them. A good teacher expects their students to mature and progress beyond them and will be quite pleased for you when this happens.

Corollary: Any teacher who keeps you hanging on indefinitely for initiation, advancement, further training et. al. with prolonged and continual protestations of “you’re not ready!” when you know you are is not behaving in a mature manner. If it gets to this point, leave and seek those who will support your spiritual growth and advancement.

When You Might Not Want to Come Out of the Broom Closet

Author: Bronwen Forbes

A great deal has been written about the benefits and advantages of coming out as Pagan to your family, friends and co-workers, both here on Witchvox and in other places. Living an honest life, helping Paganism be more accepted as more people say “I know a Pagan, ” and taking pride in who and what you are – these are all excellent reasons to be open about your faith. However, as a friend of mine reminded me recently, coming out is never something you do just once. You continue to choose with every new day, every new situation and every new person you meet whether or not to say anything about your spiritual path.

Which means, of course, that there are some valid reasons to never come out to anyone, or only to a select few in specific situations. For example (obvious as it is) , if you’ve recently begun the process of legally severing your marital bonds with someone and, before the divorce is final and all child and property custody disputes have been resolved, and you realize in the middle of all this that you’re Pagan, it would probably be in your best interests not to announce your new path until after the dust has settled.

Another obvious example is on the job. I hate to sound like an alarmist, but in this economy, just because you think it’s safe to be openly Pagan at work doesn’t mean it *is* safe. I lived for years in the Baltimore-Washington DC area where no one, not even my employers, cared if I was Pagan or not.

I left DC for a Midwest town that had a university – and a very prominent journalism school. As leaders of a training coven (consisting mostly of college students including one journalism major) , my husband and I were pretty good candidates for “interview a witch for the Halloween edition of the school paper.” It happened every year. While I wasn’t exactly out at work, between my regular appearance in the university’s school newspaper and occasional mentions in the city’s paper for being on various Pagan-related discussion panels, I wasn’t exactly hiding my religion, either. Five minutes on Google would have told my employers everything they wanted to know about it. I don’t think it even occurred to them to check.

Unfortunately, I took this lack of interest in my religious affairs for granted when we moved to a tiny town in New Mexico and I got a job at the local (much smaller) university in the admissions office. We also tried to help revive the campus Pagan student group which had been prominently featured in the local paper a year earlier, when every Baptist minister in the county denounced its existence (which should have been a clue to me to keep my flapping mouth shut) . Connections were made among the students, and next thing I knew it was two weeks before Samhain and the editor of the school paper was interviewing me. It was a good, well-written article, and no one in my office said a word about the fact that I’d just outed myself to the entire campus. I didn’t think any more about it.

Until I realized that my immediate supervisor was quietly and subtly going out of her way to make my workday a living hell – and had been since the article appeared in the paper.

For example, whatever I did wrong was discussed loudly and in public, while my co-worker, a Catholic, got a bit of quiet privacy when her errors were pointed out (We started the same day and did the exact same job) . I mentioned it to my boss and was told it was all my imagination and that I was “too sensitive.”

Eventually I quit; I’m convinced that if I hadn’t, I would have been fired. Was it because of the article? I’ll never know for sure, but in retrospect my decision to come out of the broom closet was, in this instance, a pretty poor one.

Sometimes, though, the decision of whether or not to come out as Pagan is not so obvious. Family and close friends, for example, are the people you most want to accept this part of you, and as a result your prediction of their reaction to your news may be skewed; you so very much need them to be happy for you that you could project the reaction you want onto them.

I’ve asked around, and a lot of my friends suggest telling a close sibling, aunt or uncle and see how they react before having the “Big Talk” with Mom and Dad. But – and this is hard – telling your nearest and dearest may not only be a bad idea, you may not know it’s a bad idea until it’s too late.

Back in the mid 1980s when I first realized I was Pagan, I told my parents. I had plenty of solid, valid reasons for doing so: 1) I was about to be divorced by my first husband over my Paganism and I thought they deserved to know the truth. 2) I had a strong feeling, even in the early days, that my spiritual path was going to be a major part of my life (turns out I was right) and I couldn’t see cutting my parents out of that much of my world (we were a lot closer back then) . 3) My parents are highly educated people with five college degrees between the two of them, have been professional performers most their lives (i.e. used to odd, artistic, fringe folk) , and are reasonably liberal in their personal and political views. In other words, if there are (or were) two Christians (Episcopalians) more likely to accept their daughter’s new spiritual path with open-mindedness and grace, I don’t know them.

At first it looked like I made a good decision to come out to my folks. My father, a college librarian, found a copy of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance on my recommendation and read it. He said that while he’d never be a Pagan, he was struck by how “poetic it is.”

Fast forward a decade or so. In the intervening years my religion has been referred to as “that Pagan b*llsh*t” more than once. I’ve been told, “We’re just so relieved you’ve managed to stay away from the drugs” (What drugs? Did I miss the memo on rampant drug use in the Pagan community?) , and treated to this day like a not-quite-bright teenager by – you guessed it – my intellectual, liberal parents.

Was coming out to my parents a good idea? Probably not.

Knowing what I know now, would I do it today? No.

The decision to tell or not to tell someone you’re Pagan is a deeply personal one, and not in any way something you should be pressured into. Coming out as Pagan is not “cool” or something to do for the shock it might cause the listener. Although it’s true that the more of a presence we are in society the less “other” we become, and the more our faith is accepted in the world.

But we need to be aware that sharing our religious choice with anyone or everyone is not always the best solution. We no longer need to worry about witchfinders, hangings and other historically dire consequences for openly celebrating our faith, but we do need to think very hard about our livelihoods, our children and the feelings of the one we’re outing ourselves to before we choose to share this most personal information.