February 08, 2011

Teaching Is Not Training*

I once asked Cora what they did when a student wasn’t right for the Craft. 

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Eventually they would just leave,” and turned her head.

My experience with the Andersons showed they would teach just about anybody.  Victor often taught through the phone, through written letters and many times cassette tapes of the teachings would be sent.  In fact, my first lessons were through that medium.  I became accustomed to the parade of people passing through the house.  But I also found that at some point the lessons for many of these students would stop and they became mere visitors. 

Teaching and training is not the same thing.  I was reminded of that this very day.  Often in conversations, spoken and written, I will hear the term ‘training’ and continue to think along the lines of ‘teaching’.  I’m sure this has caused a number of confusions, so let’s clear this up on my part.

Teaching can be done in any number of fashions. Benefits and handicaps aside, workshops and small classes are some good examples.  The expectation here is that the student will learn the topic at hand.  The hope is that the student will continue their study in this field.

But training holds a more profound expectation.  Both teacher and student commit to a long term and rigorous study of not only a single topic, but to the entire field of study.  The hope and yes, expectation for both the student and teacher is initiation.

Much has been said lately about training without the expectation of initiation.  Frankly, I don't think you can have any ‘intention’ of initiation. The default position in Feri, no matter what the form of training is, "You will not be initiated."   Decisions like this take time and much consideration. 

During this period of time many things may happen that might cause a teacher to let the student go.  And let us not forget that the student may also choose to leave the training before becoming initiated.  There are questions and issues that come up during training that one cannot know when the training begins.  They can be critical issues regarding integrity, or trivial issues such as interpersonal chemistry.  Honestly, I would never take any students on, if there were some sort of condition that this student must be initiated.

But when I'm asked what is my criteria for initiation I tell them, "I ask myself only one question. I ask myself: Am I willing to live with this person, not only for the rest of this life, but for all of my lives? Can I love this person for that long?"  I would suggest that this is a question a student hoping to be initiated might ask as well. 

I do think that offering (and taking) workshops in Feri is okay.  I feel that you should find one trainer and take as many workshops as possible. It rounds out the student. It offers perspective and exposure to many different ideas.  And I offer this advice to my students of dance and art as well.  This is practical advice for a student of any discipline.

As previously stated, training is a different breed of animal.  One of the primary criteria of initiation is: Can the candidate be brought into the family?  This was a very strong thread in the Anderson home.  Begin training only those who you would want to bring into the family.  Training guarantees nothing and initiation is only the beginning of your studies.

But what of the student who is looking for some training?  How can one begin to search for a reliable and responsible teacher?  I offer up some links that might be useful.  One of these pages links to Isaac Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame.  Mind you, I have been informed that the Lilith’s Lantern web site is undergoing some revisions.  I would check back often for updates.

The CDEF is pretty comprehensive, but I would like to add a few criteria for your search for a Feri teacher:

·      How does your teacher view the tradition?  Or rather how does the teacher’s view mesh with your needs?
·      Who trained/initiated your prospective trainer? 
·      How many years has s/he been an initiate? This goes to general experience. 
·      From what line does s/he descend and what does that line teach? 
·      Does the teacher offer a certain amount of transparency to their general character, rituals and theory? **
·      What is the teacher’s reputation among those you respect and admire? 
·      Does this teacher have a huge entourage of students/initiates?  Or do they have a small but very strong group?
 Finally ask yourself:  Who am I?  What do I want from this?  Why do I want this?  Can this trainer provide the guidance needed to help me realize what I want?

And remember, you can leave your training at any time, for whatever reason.  You may feel obligated to give your trainer a reason, and it is polite to do so, but if you feel this will cause harm to you or to others then just leave.

*I would like to thank K for our rigorous conversation this afternoon.  It was quite helpful, and made this blog a bit more than just a bramble of wandering thoughts.

**I know that this is quite controversial, but a certain amount of transparency is necessary for a healthy cult to flourish.  If only to avoid the very dangers outlined in the introduction to the CDEF.  I am NOT suggesting that all secrets be revealed!


  1. Yikes!!! Paragraph 11 should read "One of the primary criteria of training is..." Not Initiation. Sorry.

  2. "Yikes!!! Paragraph 11 should read "One of the primary criteria of training is..." Not Initiation. Sorry."
    Ha! really its the primary for both.
    I don't see the default position as 'you will not be initiated.' My default is 'Initiation is a posssibility'.
    If one accepts another under the criteria in paragraph 11 for training, to me, it suggests the possibility of initiation.
    Part of the misunderstandings also lie in the idea that initiation is *the* goal, not *a* goal( there's those definite and indefinite articles again,lol)and that Feri *is* an initiatory order.
    The real training, as it were, begins there. It hinges on those things passed at initiation.
    That's the crux of this so called 'split'.The idea of a non initiatory "Feri" and an initiatory one. It's happening and has happened.
    I recognise it as done. My energies aren't to stop it or change it, anymore than Canute tried to command the tide, but moreso as he recognised he couldn't:-)
    My energies are more towards, 'Yes there is THAT, but there is also this."

    *THAT* leads to some of the things you mention in your previous entry. Things are left out, and added to or changed, and so the soup becomes something entirely different. As you mentioned, the 'Gestalt', even though sum may be greater tha the parts, if the parts change the sum becomes different.

  3. Lots of good thoughts here. Teaching or training, with the expectation of initiation, means that someone is coming at the tradition from a stance of entitlement, the attitude of "I want that, so I should have it."

    I think it's reasonable to say, "I wonder what that is, and I want to find out if that's for me," but it's a terrible mistake to say "I want that, so I should have it, and if you keep me from it, I just might try to take it by force because I am entitled to it."

    Feri is not a tradition where one can declare oneself an initiate based on the fact that one wants to be an initiate. It is even more dangerous if someone travels around from teacher to teacher, student to student, and site to site, cadging, stealing and borrowing lore in order to patch together what he or she thinks might be Feri.

    That's a lot like collecting bits of gunpowder and nitroglycerine and putting them in a bucket to see if you can build a fireworks display.

    When you light it, either purposefully or accidentally, you will certainly get an explosion, but not necessarily the fireworks show you wanted. (Think Wile E. Coyote and all his bought-n-borrowed stuff from Acme Products, and how well that worked for him.)

    The other thing about the expectation of initiation is that it is rude at best, and assault at worst. It is the Conquistador mentality, the "sea to shining sea and damn the natives in between" way of thinking. No one "owns" the Feri tradition, just as no one "owns" any tradition or path. And no one is ever entitled to it.

  4. Thanks for posting this. These distinctions between teaching and training make a lot of sense. I think part of what's grated on some long-time students (and certainly many initiates) nerves is the habit (and oft-times insistence) of many students not on an initiatory track describing themselves as Feri, when that has traditionally been reserved only for students actively working towards initiation and initiates. It feeds into the perception that many of these students have a sense of entitlement to the mysteries of the tradition, just because they paid money for a class. I'm not sure what can be done about that, other than correct the misuse when appropriate, but it gets into that whole 'words have power' thing.

  5. I find myself in the absurd position of quoting myself. "The hope and yes, expectation for both the student and teacher is initiation."

    Think of it this way. You are pregnant and need an obstetrician. Both patient and obstetrician have high hopes for the delivery of a strong and healthy baby. The obstetrician has every intent to do so, but you want a guarantee. This cannot and will not be given because anything can happen at any point in the pregnancy. It's unreasonable and you find yourself without.

    But let's say you are reasonable. You are doing everything you can on your part. What do you look for? You look for a qualified and experience obstetrician whose birthing outlook closely mirrors your own. You hope for the best and the two of you do everything in your power to deliver a strong and healthy baby.

  6. The distinction between "training" and "teaching" is helpful.

    I think part of the discomfort for some recent students of Feri around initiation is because, before beginning training, they didn't think they would want or need it. I came out of a tradition that didn't emphasize initiation and usually taught in a classroom or workshop format, all of which was good. I thought I could study Feri the same way for a few years, and create a stronger and deeper personal practice. I didn't anticipate that after a few years of diligent work, I'd find myself on a spiritual bullet train of rapid change, getting the clear directive from my Godself and the Gods that initiation was in my future... with no real human supervision on the journey.

    I think a lot of problems are caused by misunderstandings about what Feri initiation is. My issues were partially caused by thinking I would probably never need or want it. Others' are caused by the perfectly reasonable desire to want to be formally recognized by -- and to make a formal commitment to -- the community that they feel a part of. But Feri initiation does not involve JUST adoption or commitment. That can be hard to understand for people who come in from traditions where initiation is mainly an adoption and practically guaranteed for any diligent student.

    I don't think there are any simple solutions to these problems. It will be interesting to see how our solutions mirror or differ from those of British Traditional Wicca, which had to deal with rapid growth and the creation of Wicca-identified non-lineaged covens, especially from the 1980s on. We have the additional complications of the Internet, which I feel sure will change the process and the outcome.

  7. In reply to Queen of Halves...
    It's different than what happened with BTW.
    The 'wicca identified non-lineage covens' don't claim to be Gardnerian or Alexandrian, etc.
    Nor are the initiates of these orders saying one can claim being of those orders with being initiated into them.
    Nor do these covens and groups or even solitaires associate themselves with these orders.

  8. MikeyJoinsonUKFebruary 15, 2011

    This is an excellent article, Anaar. I have just completed my planned course of studies with my two teachers and I found that about half way through the three years the energy shifted from one of teaching into one of training.

    I didn't really expect this actually, but we all reached the same conclusion that I was on the initiation path and from then on my studies became a little deeper. Do you think that the desire for initiation affects one's attitude to teaching/training?

  9. "Do you think that the desire for initiation affects one's attitude to teaching/training?"

    Hey Mikey. For the question above, do you mean on the teacher's side or the student's?

    I can only speak for myself as a teacher. I try to be as objective and careful as possible when taking a student on. I am extremely reluctant to initiate for the reasons stated in the post above. Basically, I'm not much of a Feri breeder, lol. But I do take every reasonable request for training seriously. And I do endeavor to answer questions to the best of my ability, and like the Andersons, I will answer jus about anyone who asks.

    On the student's side, gee I don't know. I suppose it depends on the student.

  10. MikeyJoinsonUKFebruary 16, 2011

    I think what I was trying to say was that if I know (as far as I CAN know) that I'm going to be married to the Gods one day, I want to work super hard at our relationship now so that I'm damned sure I'm the best 'husband' I possibly can be post-initiation. I suppose if initiation is not an option, then there is not so much a feeling of 'necessity' to be diligent in one's studies. Hmm....I think I'm going to have to meditate on this one.

  11. Ah!! I get what you're saying now. How about if I approach it this way. When you first meet someone really interesting, you want to spend time with that person. But there's no expectation on either part that this will develop into something like a marriage. It takes time. So maybe at some point, you decide yes!! This is the person for me, I want to spend the rest of my life with this person. That's when the relationship gets really interesting.