Chapter 2: Step One -- Introspection

In order to effectively assess whether a seeker would do well under your guidance, you must first know yourself, and you must also know your group or your dream. You cannot hope to transmit knowledge to someone else until you yourself have become knowledgeable.

First, know yourself

You may have done extensive self-assessment during your own time of training. If not, now's the time. Even if you did, you may want to check for changes. Here are some of the kinds of things you may want to know about yourself to help make good choices of students:
  • What is your personal temperament and style?
  • What is you current understanding of / best hope for / your Tradition or Path?
  • What are your core spiritual or magical values?
  • What kinds of attitudes and behaviors do you consider to be particularly appealing or offensive in another follower of your Path or member of your Tradition?
  • What are your specialties? Which of the knowledge or skills related to your Path or Tradition do you feel best qualified to teach?

Exploring your limits

When a seeker contacts us, there are four possible responses. We can accept them. We can refer them to some other teacher or group. We can defer them, tell them "not yet," perhaps giving them some suggestions about what they can work on to become more ready. Or we can just plain reject them. Also, sometimes we know nearly immediately what we want to do; while other times we mull over our reactions for quite a while.

To get a sense of where your own limits lie, try to describe the extremes, the people who you would accept or reject with only minimal consideration. Here are some examples:

You might immediately accept someone if

  • The seeker was recommended by someone you respect, perhaps your own elder.
  • The seeker is an old and dear friend.
  • The seeker was previously deferred. The reason you deferred them no longer applies. You feel obligated.
  • The seeker has some particular skill or talent that you miss having in your group.

You might summarily reject someone if

  • The seeker is a legal minor without parental consent. You are concerned about the legal risk
  • The seeker is, in your opinion, immature or emotionally unstable.
  • The seeker is hostile towards your elders, your life-mate, or an existing group member.
  • The seeker seems unable or unwilling to participate fully in your training program.
  • The seeker seems to want something you cannot or will not offer.
Note that these are just possibilities. They aren't even necessarily our own turn-ons and turnoffs. Even the two of us don't share identical turn-ons and turnoffs. You may have different ones altogether. We encourage you to identify your own, and also to identify which of them are truly absolute and which are just rebuttable presumptions, probable but tentative outcomes that might be changed as you get to know the seeker better. Judy, for example, would consider a stretched-out (but not watered-down) curriculum for someone balancing other life demands, but would absolutely reject anyone who is hostile to her elders, partner or current coven members.

Also notice that every one of the "immediate acceptance" situations listed above has pitfalls. Can you identify those dangers?


Beware of accepting or rejecting a seeker for extrinsic or ulterior reasons. For example:
  • The seeker has access to a better meeting-space than you do.
  • The seeker has lots of money and is generous.
  • You are physically or romantically attracted to the seeker.
  • Some other teacher, someone you don't think highly of, mistreated this seeker and you would like to do better by them (or get one-up on someone you dislike).
  • Some Big Name Pagan recommended the seeker to you. This gratifies your ego and impresses other coven leaders.
  • You think that having a larger number of students will increase your status in the community.
It's always a good idea to seek a second opinion from a respected elder. Whenever you think extrinsic issues like these might cloud your judgement, a second opinion becomes really imperative.

An exercise in sortilege:

Following are twelve descriptions of seekers who might come to you. Each one tells you a little bit about the seeker's life circumstances.

To work this exercise, download and print out the descriptions and cut them into twelve pieces (or, if you prefer, hand-copy the descriptions onto twelve index cards.) Sort the descriptions into three piles: people you would probably accept as students, people you would probably reject as students, and those about whom you are undecided. Now consider the following questions:

  • Were there any indications in common among the people you probably would accept?
  • What additional information would you want to have concerning these people before making a final decision?
  • Were there any indications in common among the people you probably would reject?
  • Would there be any extenuating circumstances that might lead you to accept a seeker who would otherwise appear to be unsuitable?
  • Which of these people would you refer to another local group? Which would you reject altogether? What differentiates these two groups?
  • What additional information would you need in order to make a decisions concerning the seekers about whom you are undecided?
If you decide to use this exercise with your own advanced students, you can create additional characters out of your own experiences.

Descriptions of the Twelve Seekers

Feel free to make photocopies of these descriptions, and then cut them into twelve pieces. If you wish, you may copy them by hand on to index cards.

Duncan is a musician who has written some beautiful songs about the Goddess. He tells you these songs came from his own imagination, rather than from some external source. You take this as evidence that She is calling him. Duncan has a clear ethical sense, and gives valuable advice. He is single and about 30 years old, with no children. He has a steady job. He seems to have a drinking problem.

Frank is a young Gay man, a friend of a friend of yours, who is still exploring his career and his relationships. You are aware that he made an angry break with his previous HPs (some years ago), but neither she nor he are willing to talk about it. Since then, he has been primary care-giver to his aging grandmother, which leads you to perceive him as a loyal and caring person. Your mutual friend believes that Frank has strong psychic talents. Frank lives about two hours away from your covenstead, and has his own car.

Alejandra is a writer in her mid-thirties who lives out in the suburbs about an hour away from your covenstead. She is an active volunteer for her local community association, but hasn't had a paying job since she married about ten years ago. She is very bright and articulate, but is moody and often hears hidden meanings in things that other people have to say about her or to her face. She has no children, but has eight cats and dogs.

Rebekah is an aspiring artist who just moved into your part of town, to attend art school on a full scholarship. She works and plays at night and seldom arises before six in the evening. She came to your Coven's open house meeting, and reported having had a dream of the Goddess which sounds so compelling in its intensity that the hairs rise up on the back of your neck. Rebekah is married to an architect who professes to be an atheist, but who (she says) has no problem with her exploration of Pagan ways.

Ralph is a garage-man in his early fifties, with three adult children. His wife died a few years ago, and he has been looking for someone with whom to share his life. Neighbourhood gossips say that Ralph used to beat his wife, and that he collects guns. All you personally know about Ralph is that he is jolly fellow, a good mechanic, and a good neighbor; when your car broke down on the street last Christmas Eve he came out of his house into the snow and helped you get it going again.

Buck is an engineer at the factory where you work, and you have been sharing jokes with him at the coffee-station for several years. You had always thought he was a Buddhist, but now he says he would like to learn more about Paganism, but he isn't sure how far he would like to go with it. Buck is a single parent. His evenings are given to his children, so it will be difficult for him to come to most meetings -- he has asked whether he could participate in your group via Internet, maybe attending every third meeting in person.

Gwendolyn has been a solitary for many years. During this time, she has studied briefly with a number of good teachers, and done intensive introspective work on her own personal Sacred contacts. At a recent workshop, she received an inspiration that it was time for her to learn to work in a group. The workshop leader, an old trusted friend, referred her to you. But she is very attached to the personal ways of working that she developed during her solitary years.

Surinder attends professional school, in a difficult and demanding program. In addition, she works 30+ hours a week to support herself. A young, attractive single woman, she is also actively seeking a life-mate, with little success this far because of the demands of school and work. She very much wants children, and is upset about still being single. She tells you she can and will fit your training program into her schedule.

Jim is legally blind and believes that people do not make adequate allowances for his handicap. A believer in reincarnation, he feels that he has had various disabilities in different lifetimes because a hostile discorporate entity has pursued him down the ages. He wants to learn magic both so that he can make people treat him better and so that he can, in time, lift the curse. He is more than willing to work hard for these goals.

Erika is your office-mate. She is a widowed mother with a daughter in high school. She is competent, personable and caring, altogether a good friend. Your admiration is mutual. She appears to be romantically attracted to you as well as wanting to learn what you teach.

Alan is an actor. He has a great deal of personal charisma, which can easily draw you in. He also has a genuine devotion to the Goddess. He is very strongly opinionated and talks far, far more than he listens. He reports having had some extraordinary spontaneous mystical experiences.

Robin has a PhD in religious studies, and has written some wonderful rituals and religious poetry. You have long admired her work from afar, and she just moved to your city. When she applies to join your group, you are astonished. You wonder what you might possibly teach her, but you certainly look forward to more contact, so that you can learn from her


Second, know your group (or your dream)

You may be about to start a new group, bringing together a bunch of beginners and strangers who you hope will meld into teammates and friends. The only thing you have to weigh them against is your dream, your vision or ideal of a good group. Up to a point, the more clear, specific and articulate you can make that vision, the better your screening will be. So here are some more points to ponder:
  • What did you like best about the group where you were trained, or any other groups you have been part of?
  • Was there anything in any of your former groups that you would have liked to decrease or eliminate?
  • Was there anything you would have liked to increase or add?
  • Are there any other groups you know that you particularly admire? What makes them special?
  • Do you have any qualms or concerns about any groups you know? What are they?
  • Beyond simple numeric growth, what contribution do you hope to make to your Tradition or Path by leading a group?
Try brainstorming answers to these and similar questions. We strongly advise you to do this with your partner, if you have one. Then disengage the rational gears and just daydream about your ideal group. Again, if you have a partner, you can try co-visioning. To do this, talk each other into a relaxed and receptive state, and describe your daydreams to each other. You may want to tape-record this exercise, since note-taking would tend to pull you out of relaxation.

Then, even if you have no intention at all of advertising your group, try writing the classified ad … "new group forming, seeks members …" The exercise of doing so will help you understand just who you are looking for.

But please remember that we said "up to a point." Leading a group is also the next step in your own growth. (that's right, another learning experience, with all the usual potential for joy and pain.) All wise teachers are open to learning from their students. All who truly walk the Path are open to surprises from the Gods we serve. By surprise, and not always comfortable surprise, They keep our minds young. So beware of too tight a self-definition, which might limit you to stagnant self-replication. You are good, but you are not perfect, and neither is your understanding. Leave room for growth.

Or you may be seeking new members for an existing group. You are weighing potential members against a reality, not a dream. You know how your group works, what it emphasises and so on. Whether or not you are considering new students, it will be good for your group to make this self-understanding explicit and available to all current members.

Basic functions of a coven

Here is a way to look at this: there are five basic functions that a coven might fulfil. These are:
  • Worship group ritually celebrating the Old Gods and the Old Ways.
  • Teaching group instructing new members in traditional lore and skills.
  • Growth/support group helping members work through the ordinary problems and perplexities of life and supporting their ongoing spiritual development.
  • Task group providing a community service, for example publishing a magazine or putting on a gathering.
  • Family of choice filling the gap left in members' lives by absent or dysfunctional families of origin.
  •             note: Judy's book, Wicca Covens (NY:Citadel, 2000), contains a full chapter on each of these functions.

    Please notice that different groups might emphasise these functions differently, or even abstain from one or more of them. Knowing what the balance is in your own group will help you determine how likely you are to providing what a particular seeker is hoping to find.

    At the risk of sounding pretentious, we encourage you to articulate this understanding by writing a descriptive "mission statement." Ask all current group members (and maybe even your graduates) for input. Collectively creating a mission statement will reinforce your group's sense of identity and cohesion.

    Better yet, giving this statement to seekers will serve as an easy first screen. Some seekers will be able to see that yours is not the group they were looking for, thus saving everybody a lot of time and stress. Others will be attracted by your self-description. But remember that our caveat against too tight a self-definition applies even more strongly to existing groups. When an existing group becomes too set in its ways, more than just the leaders' growth is retarded.

    As is often the case, the optimal growth path is down the center, somewhere between chaos and stasis.

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    Last revision: February 2, 2012