I have been around the pagan scene rather a long time.
I have been pagan since I was around 11, though my mother would tell stories of my at three hanging out of a car window shouting at the moon. Went to my first ritual when I was around 20 and was initiated into the tradition that has given me so much at 26. I am now 51. So a pretty long time. I know that during my searching I have probably done some things that, looking back on it now, were downright unsafe.
Having searched for a long time for a coven or tradition that I was comfortable in I eventually ended up going to America, to Portland in the US, where my trainer and coven founder Rowan lived. Whilst I was there I met up with my relatives within that tradition and received my initiation. That looking back on it was either very brave or really, really stupid. I was lucky, when I arrived a rather bouncy mad woman was waiting for me at the airport and I had one of the most special and important visits of my life. That is how I know what it is to be trusting and to be in all honestly a little too trusting. During that visit I talked to people and was looked after by people that I had not met in real life. So when I say that I know now that anything could have happened I mean it. I look back on that time in my life with both pride at my commitment to my path and horror at the thought of a woman of 26 who had actually only just had a baby, trucking off to the states on my own, to meet a bunch of people that I had had limited contact with.
It could so easily have been this!!
Instead of this!!
For me it worked out beyond my wildest dreams. For me Perfect love and Perfect trust came true in all the ways that it should have and for me it changed my life to the one I have now, a life of family and beauty and the gods.
BUT for others here in the U.K it seems that this mix of naïveté and trusting is not a safe way to be.
In the last weeks I have heard horror stories from people who have fallen under the thrall of supposed experts in craft and this experience has left them physically and emotionally abused.
I have also read invitations from sectors of the occult to undergo training that seems to cost a phenomenal amount of money. Now I am not a person that says you should not pay for training, in fact that would be hypocritical of me, as I do charge for the workshops I run. However when people are charging thousands of pounds for what I would consider to be basic craft training it makes me sad.
So I thought I would write a guide for those who are seeking and don't know where to begin.
1. On looking for training.
First of all do you need training, well in my opinion you can function in your craft without it. But if you want to work with people its a good idea to get a grasp of the basics so that at least you have a place to start a conversation.
First read a bunch of books and make sure that you have a basic knowledge of what you are getting into.
These are the basics I would suggest. All of these are available in books. If you want a book list then I will add one to the library along with as many PDF versions of the books that I can muster.
1. Circle casting
2. Spell working ethics.
3. Basics of ritual
4. Wheel of the year.
5. Some basic Astrology
6. Some basic sympathetic magic
7. Herbs and herbalism
2. But I would like to work with likeminded people.
Find a moot, there are lots, and meet up with pagans or witches that are active in your area.
Go to some open rituals
Get the feel of groups and see if you find it comfortable. For some a group or coven is absolutely the best thing they could ever do, for others it is not a happy place. If you don't like being told what to do and how to do it then a traditional coven may not be the place for you.
3. How do I know its a safe place to be.
The short answer is you don't!
However there will be hints. Take them, No honestly, do not ignore your gut!!
These are normally the tells of a coven that is either untrustworthy or even incompetent. If someone is asking you to:-
1. Asking people to pay large amounts of money and then not giving any training.
2. Telling you that you are not allowed to talk to anyone about your coven work or training.
3. Telling you that if you do circle with others you will be asked to leave.
4. Telling you that you MUST go skyclad or the magic wont work
5. Asking you to do anything that is against your own moral compass. (this does not mean the coven is bad or evil, it just might be that it is not right for you, however if that's the case then get out of there)
6. Telling you that a sexual initiation is necessary for the correct passage of lineage.
7. Telling you that this is the Correct way of doing something. and everyone else is doing it wrong.
8. Initiating you without providing any training as the training itself is Oathbound.
9. Again asking you for large amounts of money for training that you could quite easily get out of a book.
Personally if you are willing to give someone sex for a supposed lineage then you really do need to take a little more responsibility for your own wellbeing. In other words grow the fuck up!! There is no such thing as Harry Potter, the magic you gain you work your ass off for. No one has a quick fix not even a witch. If you want it badly enough, then go and find it, but at the end of the day it is YOU that is saying yes to these insane demands, so blaming others for taking advantage is not the way forward.
Good training in the western mystery tradition should include the following, either before or after intiation.
An understanding of the way that Mythology works and the impact it has on the Psyche.
Different ways of using magic, for the development of the soul and for results in the material world.
A study of different systems of divination - Tarot, Geomancy, Pyromancy, I ching.
Studies of the methods of the magicians and witches of the past.
Practical training in ceremonial magic - either via grimoire or the Greek Magical papyri methods.
Ritual practise on a regular basis to give you the practical and spiritual skills to perform your own works.
An in-depth Personal, work based, understanding of the inhabitants of the magical world work, Plants, trees, Fey, Daimons, the dead, The gods and YOU.
New people forming groups.
If you cannot find a group that you are happy with, there is nothing wrong with getting together with people that you already know and forming a group. however forming a group is bloody hard work and making people believe that you know exactly what you are doing when you DONT is frankly Fraud.
So to start a group you need to decide the following.
1. Who is going to be in charge. - This is always a big nasty but it has to be done. Nothing gets done when you have a committee and you wont function without someone saying "No we will do it this way"
2. Who is going to be the one that monitors the person in charge. - I have several of these, My own personal compass at the moment are two lovely ladies in my group. One is a second degree and the other a first. They have not been with me since the start of the group but I trust them with my life and I listen when they say that I need to rethink an approach or a decision.
3. Ship in training.
There will always be someone out there that knows more than you do. Dont be afraid to say, actually we need to do some training on that, and ship someone in. There are lots of great speakers around who charge very little for their services.
4. Go to Occult or pagan conferences.
There are lots of these on the go now and in the majority they are superb value for money.
They give you tasters on many subjects and practical applications. They normally cost between 50 and 100 pounds for a weekend and are great fun.
Glastonbury occult conference.
London Occult conference
The Doreen valiente conference
The Pagan federation organises several conferences.
The festival of Light in Swansea - this is a local one in wales that gives great talks and workshops.
5. Pagan camps
Pagan camps are fantastic fun. some of them also offer workshops. But the main thing about a good pagan camp is the FUN!!. There is nothing like sitting around a fire, drumming and singing under the stars with people who are just as mad as you are.
Ahhhhhh those long summer nights
So there are lots of places to gain experience and yes you do have to pay for some of it. BUT remember you have to gain from the payment you make and if it looks fair but feels foul then go with your GUT.
As Douglas Adams said If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.