Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When to teach

I got asked for advice tonight by someone on how to be an instructor in magic for someone that is just starting out. The person that asked me was twenty. My advice: don't.

This has nothing to do with the individual asking me. Unless you spent your teen years shut away in the Black School under the Glaciers of Iceland, or were raised as a Eckankarian Tulku in the secret Katsupari Monestary  than you are simply not ready to teach magic by the ripe old age of twenty.

You can and should recommend books and give advice. This should be done from the perspective of a fellow student of a higher grade giving advice to a younger student. Actually developing a curriculum and teaching is a whole other ball of wax. This leaves the question though: when should we teach?

If you belong to a solid tradition, than there are probably some rules in place. However, even in the oldest traditions there can be some wiggle room. For instance, you should not assume that everyone who calls themselves a Lama, or even is recognized as a Lama by the establishment, has been on three year retreat, or any major retreat at all for that matter.

Outside of those traditions magic is basically the wild wild west. Thats fine. I like it that way.

My advice however is not to teach when you think you ready.

When others think you are ready to teach, I still don't think you should jump into it. Instead you should maybe be in informal mentor. Perhaps lead a group of peers. Get some experience advising.

Only when others have been asking you for a while, and you have some experience of advising peers and mentoring should you consider setting yourself up with students.

This is just my advice of course. There are no hard rules. You can do as you please. Just be prepared to not be taken seriously if you are 20 and your students are 18.

Unless of course you were raised in the Black School or Katsupari Monestary. In which case: can I be your student?


Patrick said...

Jason, a lot of folks will read this post and think "well bugger that, I'm old enough." Let me tell you: you're not. I tried teaching someone magic in *high school* of all idiotic things. I don't know that I did her much long term damage, but it wasn't right and I regret it. In graduate school I took two more students, and that worked out much better. But when you're young, as in 20, you're still forming yourself. You have no right to try to form someone else.

In my experience, you are ready to teach when and only when you really, honestly, deep down do not want to.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

I second what Patrick said; the best teacher I ever had really did not want to teach.

Brother Christopher said...

and all this time I thought the Black School was under Wittenberg. Go figure!

I remember when I was in my mid-twenties and my friend asked me to be his teacher. I was kinda shocked and told him I need to think about it. I did, and when I came back I told him no, that i am not ready for that yet. I am happy with the decision I made, and it has worked out the best for both of us.

Jow said...

Teaching is a big responsibility, and honestly when I read the title of the post the first thing I thought was, "Don't!"

There are lots of folks who are just plain unsuited for teaching, though they make great magicians. It's a personality thing. Even they might have one or two students that are geared to understanding them, but literally like one or two in a life time.

There are also plenty of folks who I think would make a wonderful teacher who flat out refuse to, and only peer mentor, because once you put on the teacher's hat, the relationship takes on a whole new dynamic that they just don't want.

I agree with Patrick, too. Like someone who wants to be in politics, the best candidates don't want that crap at all, but do so out of a duty to country/tradition/wisdom/their calling.

The hesitance being that you are teaching someone how to cultivate the garden of their soul, and with all the trust that a student places in a teacher, you could screw them up for a very, very long time.

Even if someone WAS trained in the bowels of Iceland, they are still 20, and have a huge experience gap that a more seasoned person does not. Especially if they were raised in a network of caves in some crazy occult commune.

Rufus Opus said...

Ok, I gotta agree with the outpouring of wisdom I see here on the post and the comments. All excellent advice and very good insight into teaching magic and taking on students, setting yourself up as HPS of the Coven of your High School, College Campus, or whatever.

But at the same time, some of the best instruction I received about what it means to be a Christian came from teen counselors at Bible camp, and college youth group leaders in high school. They weren't the leaders of the church, but they were able to pass on what they learned so far.

There is room for a 20 year old with experience to teach an 18 year old the basics when they're part of a structured system. When they have their own mentor who is keeping an eye on their efforts, who can be turned to for support.

Magic doesn't have that kind of system, outside of a lodge structure. In the GD, a 1=10 can teach a 0=0 some things about the materials they're studying. The A:.A:. has a teaching structure that's all about the middle grades teaching the lower grades.

Most of the magical people I know are mavericks though, outside of any grade structure. Few of us have mentors monitoring our progress, few of us have a structure in place that is leading us from point A to B to C to D, with someone already at D who can intervene if someone at C is teaching the people at B the wrong things.

From what I understand, the A:.A:. structure and the GD structure have both led to offshoots of people misguided at stage B taking a bunch of people at stage A off and forming their own splinter group based on misapplication of the teachings because no one in their group ever made it to stage D. Like all the people who started GD Orders based on Regardie's writings, who didn't know that he never made it past Philosophus.

A graduate of the Supernatural Assistant Course should be able to teach it, honestly. I had hoped to make the Red Work series of Courses that kind of structured system that produced magicians capable of producing magicians.

So yeah, based on the realities of our situation, 20 somethings shouldn't be teaching teenage somethings about magic.

It's a damned shame though.

Kenaz Filan said...

Man, why do so many people want to be teachers? Being a teacher means fielding questions from all sorts of mixed nuts - the lovelorn, the incoherent, the folks who saw a couple of horror films and decided they were possessed by demons, and some who would leave Freud in a corner sucking his thumb.

Teaching, especially occult teaching, is a profession with lots of responsibilities and little reward. Unless you're going to work the New Age circuit (and that isn't teaching so much as spouting bland affirmations and stroking your audience's ego), there's not a lot of money in it. And while you get the joy of shaping people's lives, you also get the hassle of dealing with people who set you up as a divinely inspired guru, then turn on you when you don't live up to an office you never asked for.

Rufus Opus said...

Kenaz, LOL! Don't forget the nut jobs that also will magically attack you because you're a teacher and therefore someone of power to test themselves against.

On the plus side, you get emails from Africa that start out, "O GREAT LORD RUFUS OPUS..."

That always feels good, even when it's embarrassing as hell and totally wrong.

Jason Miller, said...

RO, I totally agree with you about the mentoring ability of late teens and twenty somethings. I said as much in my piece. I took this role for a few people as early as 19, but it was purely advisory, not as proper teacher.

Kenaz, totally agree with you. Everybody wants to play doctor before they have even finished taking their medicine.

Jason Miller, said...

Patrick and others,

I understand where you are coming from, I do. The same holds true of cops and political offices. Teachers though? Hmmmm

For me, once I felt like I had something to teach that no one else was offering I wanted to teach. I would actually say that I needed to teach. In the end teaching has become part of my learning process. You learn something well enough to teach it, than through teaching it you learn to think of it in many different ways and contexts. You also learn a hell of a lot from your students.

Maggi said...

I think a system that illustrates this sort of this well is the sempai/kohai relationship within Jananese dojos. Sempai means came before and kohai is junior. The relatioship is that if you came before, you have an obligation to your teachers to pass on your experience and look after your kohai. It is about obligation and duty, not about recognition or rank.

I had a person ask me recently if I'd be initiating people after my 13 week intro course and how long would it take for her to be a high priestess to teach my material. I told her at least 6 to 10 years of diligent training, and she tuned out the rest of the discussion that night. I haven't seen her again either.

Part of the problem in the community is people touting degrees given to them after 8 hours of classtime and no real training. People assume this sort of creditialing is appropriate.

Teaching is a labor of love. Thanks for your efforts!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever had contact with someone(through calling a help desk, going grocery shopping, or going to the DMV for something) that seem like they are slowly having the will to live sucked out of them?

Those individuals do not want to be doing what they are doing. If they could be doing anything else and still make ends meet, they would.

Would you want that person teaching you about anything about anything?

I myself would rather have someone teaching me that loves magic and loves teaching it. Like Carl Sagan or Robin Williams in "Dead Poet's Society".

Fred McCaughey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eldritch said...

I should clarify I wasn't so much looking for teaching tips as advice on talking to people about Magic who don't know anything about it (yet). I just have a problem talking to non-occultists about this stuff, however I worded my question poorly. When it comes to people I had in mind I wasn't going to teach them so much as recommend a few books, send them a few pdfs and articles.

Eldritch said...

Also the person I had in mind isn't 18 he's 21, anyway just to be clear I've never once thought of myself as a grand master or a great mentor or some nonsense like that. A buddy of mine expressed some interest in the occult and I've always had trouble talking about this stuff with non-occultists (it makes me extremely uncomfortable) so I thought I'd ask for advice. However I made the mistake of poorly wording my question.

Eldritch said...

Also Kenaz I don't really want to be a teacher I just mainly wanted some tips on how to talk to non-occultists about these topics. Also now I'm suddenly thinking about a heart warming movie where a gruff but loveable Magician has to use tough love to help a latin american teenager contact his HGA.

Jason Miller, said...

You actually clarified yourself well, afterwards. I totally encourage the type mentorship you intend to provide.

I was keeping you anonymous for that very reason.

It just sparked me thinking about the subject and others that have asked the same thing, and been even younger than you.

Eldritch said...