Mat Auryn is our guest columnist this week. An initiate of Sacred Fires tradition, Mat lives in New England. Find him at his Patheos Pagan blog, For Puck’s Sake as well as his personal website.
As someone who has studied with various traditions and taken many courses on magick over the years both in person and online, I’m constantly asked what the difference is and how it’s possible to learn magick online, especially when it comes to the idea of initiations. While there are a few differences between learning online and offline, it’s important to clear up some misconceptions about learning the craft from a teacher online.
Every witch is a solitary witch. Regardless of whether you’re a part of a large community, an in-person coven, or a formal tradition, at the end of the day it’s an individual path. It is the individual’s connection with the spirits, the gods, the teachings, and the magick itself, which makes the witch. It is not only the devotion to studying but also applying the teachings and experiencing directly that makes the quality and strength of the magickal practitioner. It is the witch who lives their own life and the witch who will experience the greatest mysteries of life, death, and rebirth on their own.
That being said, community is important. Humans are by nature social creatures. We are hardwired to seek out tribes of similar minded individuals. This is one of the reasons why social media is so successful. The need to connect with people of similar interests, especially when it comes to spirituality is crucial. Some people do not have the luxury of experiencing community in person, or the community that they’re near may not be a community that they’re interested in or feel a part of. Mobility issues, chronic pain, or medical conditions can also make in-person community and training extremely difficult if not impossible. Thanks to the internet this has shifted. I think many people underestimate how important sites like WitchVox were, before the age of social media, which allowed magickal practitioners to finally connect from all over the globe.
This internet also allowed for the growth of specific traditions, allowing people accessibility to a teacher more suited to themselves and their path. Devin Hunter, an instructor of Black Rose Witchcraft, The Sacred Fires Tradition, and Psychic Apprenticeship says that, “Online classes give us the ability to reach anyone with an internet connection and the desire to learn. In person classes often limit a class size and student pool due to the need for students to be in proximity.” On the other hand, while every class I’ve taken online also has an online community component, these class models are fantastic for those who are a bit more introverted or don’t desire the community aspect but just want to learn independently with a teacher for their own magickal and spiritual growth.
This is also true for groups who are not focused so much on magick, but rather devotion and worship such as Covenant of Hekate founded by Sorita d’Este. This group connects varying types of practitioners and worshippers who are united in their devotion to the goddess Hekate. This allows for devotees to set aside their differences and come together for discussion, exploration, and sharing ideas and practices with one another that would not be able to occur without the internet.
For those who are seeking the craft for the first time, many have this misconception that studying with a teacher will be like Yoda teaching Luke or Mr. Miyagi teaching the Karate Kid. This usually isn’t the case in my experience. Most often teachers will teach in a group environment. While there is definitely a greater level of direct connection, it’s often not an intensely personal and intimate partnership – rather it’s the model of teacher and students. This does not mean that there are no correspondences, in fact my experience has been that there’s a much greater level of correspondence with both teachers, mentors and fellow students when it’s online.
With studying online, you don’t have to worry about having a question after the class that you wish you asked and fear you may forget before the next one. You don’t have to worry about interruptions, and distracting behavior, or people wanting to share an experience for 20 minutes straight and taking up class time. I have also found that the chances for abusing power, manipulating students, false narratives of guruship, positive and negative projection occurring both ways, gossip, and gas-lighting occur much less frequently when studying online. That isn’t to say that this will happen in-person of course, just that in my own personal experience with various schools, traditions, and workshops, it is less frequent in an online setting. This also makes online learning easier to quietly bow out if it isn’t the right fit for you.
Witchcraft at its most basic is usually viewed as a skillset. You may find some that are willing to teach for free or without some sort of exchange, but it’s rare for someone who is adept at this skill to do so, especially without any strings attached. Jason Miller, an instructor of Strategic Sorcery, Sorcery of Hekate, and Take Back Your Mind says,
“I value expertise and guidance but there are situations in groups, be they orders or covens or cabals, where the leaders teach for ‘free’ because they want something other than money. This is not always something nefarious, but it can be. I have been extremely lucky to have had access to personal mentors that helped guide me on my path, but who never tried to ‘own’ me or my work. When I started to write and teach I first taught people I knew personally, then a few people one-on-one online, then through my books, and finally via my courses. I love teaching through my courses because they allow me to convey something in a deeper way than I can in a book, yet it also allows me to scale my teaching to meet demand. As to what I want from them, its straight forward: the fee for the course. I come from a long line of honest and honorable businessmen and I appreciate a direct and clear exchange. In return I work my hardest to provide a course worthy of the money they paid, the time that they invest, and the effort they put in. I am constantly amazed by the field reports from my students and the things that they accomplish. I am happy that my teachings have played any small role in their success.”
But what about initiations? Can initiations be passed on over distance? Having had self-initiations, as well as initiations and attunements both in-person and over distance, my answer is yes. I have had mind-blowing initiations in person, but I have also had initiations where it felt like I was just handed a certificate and a pat on the head. I have had initiations over distance that seemed empty, and yet one of my best initiation experiences was my Black Rose Initiation by Storm Faerywolf while we were on different coasts of the country. It really depends on the teacher, the student, the connection, as well as the views of initiation.
A freemason friend of mine likened initiation to being a fraternal acceptance and felt this is all that there is when it comes to the Craft’s initiations in his experience. This may be true for some, but I tend to disagree. The person giving initiation is merely the conduit for a stream of energy. Usually it’s an attunement connecting you with the egregore(s) of the tradition, the deities and spirits, and a passing on of a current of power, allowing access to the next level of mysteries. To believe that initiation can only be given or received in person, would mean that one believes that the egregores, deities and spirits, are incapable of interacting over distances. Initiation makes a witch, but that also doesn’t mean that this initiation has to ever be performed by another human. It is the spirits that bestow initiation. It is just that usually a tradition is given the authority by their spirits and gods to “initiate” this spiritual experience for another at their discernment. After all, who initiated the first witch?
Andrew Chumbley wrote in The Golden Chain and the Lonely Road that,
“Although we may exchange money for text, money alone will never purchase initiation, neither will text alone permit us to enter the Sabbat. And yet, if one is possessed of the suitable capacity, lineage may be given by means of formal textual transmission. In such an instance, the pages of a rite are formally given by a Master or Mistress to an aspirant and the spiritual wardens of the Book are bestowed as familiars or guides to the Book’s new owner. In cases where face-to-face tuition cannot be accomplished, a one-to-one mode of textual transmission is sometimes utilised, most often accompanied by a psychic linking between Bestower and Recipient.”
How is that possible? I asked Storm Faerywolf, an instructor of Black Rose Witchcraft, BlueRose Faery, and Blue Lotus Reiki how this transmission works over distances.
“Long distance training and even initiation into some forms of the Craft can easily be achieved by following a few simple guidelines. What is necessary is not physical location, but presence of mind. For the trained witch or warlock, most of the tools that we have learned in a more traditional setting can be easily adapted for a remote session. First and foremost, what is necessary is to establish a shared mental and spiritual space. This is a simple matter of connecting the teacher and student using the technology that is available to us today. This can be done using video conferencing systems, such as Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or Skype, or even audio-only options such as over the phone. What is required to to create a spiritual space using all the same techniques for altering consciousness with which we are familiar in our Craft, such as meditation, breath work, chanting, and the like. Once the consciousness of both teacher and student have been adequately altered, then the steps necessary to pass the deeper mysteries are largely the same as for an in-person meeting. While certain things cannot currently be directly conveyed (the scent of a certain incense or resin, for example) even this can be achieved by requiring the student to have said incense available on their end.”
He expanded upon this saying that,
“Working with tools, participating in chanting or other ritual actions, are largely identical to that performed in a more traditional physical setting. Even actions such as anointing with oils can be approximated using guided imagery, relying on the skills of the teacher to lead a journey in trance. Once one considers that even in a physical-only setting the bulk of the transformation that occurs is on the inner planes, one can begin to relax into the idea that passing such knowledge without regard to physical location need not be a source of anxiety or puzzlement, but is a natural evolution of our skills as witches, and a necessary one to address the growing needs of a populace that is seeking genuine knowledge and training in our Craft, but who would otherwise have no access to a quality teacher based on their location.”
Whether studying online or in-person is a better option is solely left to the individual and what their needs are. Studying in-person can be powerful and life changing, or it may be disillusioning or disempowering. What is better suited for the individual is up to the individual themselves. But studying online is indeed a valid option worth looking into.
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