I know that as a neophyte Seeker to witchcraft you are probably just itching to find a mentor and fill your eager mind with all the magickal knowledge and wisdom that you can! However, not all mentors are worth your time and energy. When you are fresh and new it’s easy to let your enthusiasm cloud your judgement when it comes to choosing the right person to help lead you on your path. Here are some quick guidelines you can use to help guide you in making the right decision…
Tip #1: Do Your Personalities Mesh Well?
Ok, maybe that sounds a bit flippant or silly, but it's actually really important! Do they seem self-important and full of themselves or do they seem like someone you could see yourself sharing a beer with around a campfire? Would you feel comfortable being in a ritual environment with them? These may seem like exceedingly obviously, but extremely important questions! It would be torturous to be stuck with a mentor whose voice is like nails on a chalkboard to you. Not only will it be stressful and extremely frustrating, but you're unlikely to learn much!
To that end, what are their personal ethics when it comes to the Craft? Do they exclude men from ritual or classes? Do they include the God in ritual at all? Do they encourage the inclusion of children? Or make a face like someone farted every time one is in their presence? (If you’re a mom like me, that is a really important factor!) Either way, these very practical things matter when it comes to working with someone on the long-term.
Tip #2: How Do They Address Themselves?
Do they just tell you their first name? Or are they giving you a run down that is worthy of the Book of Genesis? --There are THREE chapters dedicated to the male lineage of Abraham... it's mind-numbing! If they feel it is necessary to give you a five-page rundown of all their accreditations and titles (Seventh Degree High Priestess of the Athenian Star Coven, Supreme Mugwump of the Wizenagamot, Chieftess of Big Cheddar... etc etc etc.) there's a good chance you're dealing with someone with a little more than a tiny bit of ego problems. These are the type of people that generally believe their way is THE right way and there is no room for wiggle. Isn't that the type of spiritual tyranny you were trying to avoid? Definitely avoid this one.
A good mentor, especially if they were trained in a specific traditional originally, may be a little strict when it comes to how they believe things should be done, but if they are so close-minded and full of themselves that they believe anyone who doesn’t anything else isn’t doing it right or simply won’t work — that’s the problem. Expect high standards and some very specific rules. But, don’t let yourself get fettered by close-minded thinking masquerading as mystical gnosis.
Tip #3: Can They Tell You Their Lineage?
Ok, I know — confusing after the right one, right? Let me explain: you don’t want someone who is throwing all their accomplishments in your face on the first meeting like bragging rights. BUT, if you want to be sure they are legit, they should have some kind of lineage they can describe to you upon request. (If they don’t volunteer the information first.) This is especially relevant in traditions in which lineage is considered particularly important such as shamanic traditions (like Peruvian shamanism), and some Afro-Carribean spiritual traditions. If they went to India for a two-week yoga conference and magically came back a “shaman”, you can bet that they are using a new age buzzword to cash in on trendy spirituality and they are more likely a charlatan rather than a legitimate teacher. (Hello, social appropriation, anyone?)
Of course, there is an exception to every rule — because so many folks come to Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism through solitary, self-taught means it is entirely possible you may happen across folks that do not have a specific lineage that lead to their offering their knowledge as a mentor or teacher. However, BE CAREFUL! How long have they been practicing? Have their worked with any mentors? Are they reputable? I would argue that this situation requires some serious research. Don’t shortchange yourself by not doing your due diligence!
Tip #3: What Are the Major Tenets of Their Tradition?
It's exciting to have anyone give you the time of day if they are a mentor-- books and articles make them seem so elusive that any attention can seem like a blessing. However, even if they pass all the other guidelines, this could still be a deal-breaker. This is where Google and websites like Patheos come in handy. Research is important!
What tradition does this person follow and what are the major tenets of it? What Gods/Goddesses/mythological pantheons do they typically work with? In short: do their beliefs mesh with yours? Of course, being fresh to the Craft, you might still be a bit malleable in what you believe. However, I’m betting there are still some things that — even if you don’t realize it — you are pretty settled on. If one of those tenets is counter to what you already have determined, perhaps unintentionally, is part of your personal belief system, it is likely to become a stumbling block down the line. Better to cut and run before you start butting heads or try forcing yourself to assimilate concepts that feel diametrically and fundamentally WRONG!
Tip #4: What Are Their Areas of Expertise?
Sure, they were probably trained in a specific tradition, but you can bet that if they’ve been at this witchcraft thing for any length of time that they probably have a laundry list of other, related interests that will weight heavily on how and what they present when they are teaching students. It’s important to compare this list of their interests with the things that you are interested in learning about. Are they the same? Are they different? To get as much as possible out of the experience it’s important to choose a mentor whose interests are as similar as possible to your own. You aren’t going to learn about herbalism from a techno-pagan! Pay attention to what they like!
Tip #5: Where Do They Offer Their Classes?
Ok, so this one is based specifically on my own personal experience. It might not be true across the board, but I find — as a generalization — that a real mentor is not going to be guiding you in a purely public location. Mentors may use public classes as a funnel system to find students and apprentices, but usually after they’ve used that tool to get to know you a little bit, mentorships often happen in much more private settings. The public intro classes are a way to make sure that YOU are trustworthy enough to be invited into their homes! So, if you came here from my newsletter talking about taking classes — this is another reason why that’s such a good idea! Mentors and real-life spiritual guides know that, like I already told you, witchy shops are a hub for Seekers just like yourself. If you’re not already getting out there and hitting the shops (even if you can only window shop) to network and meet people — you’re shortchanging yourself all around!
Tip #6: What Are Their Expectations?
What is their teaching style? How often are classes and what type of time commitment will they be looking for from you? When my husband proofead this article for me he made the statement that "we aren't islands"; that is to say that you are not just a Seeker looking for an apprenticeship. You are probably also, a wife/girlfriend, husband/boyfriend, mother, father, aunt, etc. -- plus you have a day job that requires your attention. Is the mentor going to be respectful and aware of the fact that they aren't the only commitment you have in your life?
Are classes going to be held every Tuesday and Thursday at noon for 4 hours? Not terribly convenient if you have a day job like the rest of us. Or are classes flexible and scheduled based on everyone’s availability? Or, more likely, something in the middle. These very practical, but important things to consider!
Tip #6: Do They Require Money Upfront Just to Have a Conversation?
Look, mentorship and teaching is a business at its very core. So it’s normal to have to pay something to get something. It’s all about the equal exchange of energy. Even if you’re not paying cold, hard cash — you can bet there is some kind of trade or barter happening. Maybe you have to come weed their garden, or do graphic design for them. However, in some way you can expect that you’re not going to get the whole package for free.
That said, the best mentors aren’t operating from a place of financial need, but rather a deep, inherent spiritual need to teach and help others. They won’t browbeat you for money just to have a quick chat about a question you may have. If it costs you just to have a Zoom chat with them to ask where on your altar you should put your altar bell, they are not the mentor for you. You want to be working with someone whose motivation is divine service to YOU, not monetary service to themselves.
Something to think about, too, is the value of what they are offering versus what you are giving. Is it an equal exchange or are you mostly just being treated as a house slave with little to no knowledge being shared in return? Of course, this is difficult to impossible to determine without actually giving it a try, but you should be on the lookout if you find yourself in barter-for-apprenticeship situation.
Tip #7: What Does Your Intuition Tell You?
Intuition can be difficult to differentiate from excitement when your new to the world of real magick. I know. I’ve fallen into that trap. However, intuition is also a valuable tool. When you (as objectively as possible) think about the prospect of learning from this person in the long term how do you feel about it? Happy and excited? Or uneasy and anxious? BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. The biggest trip-up for this tip is the ego-based, excited assertion that “it’s meant to be!” can absolutely overrule the subtle voice of your intuition. Even if you have only the smallest niggling worries about things going smoothly, LISTEN. I’ve literally gotten into car accidents because I didn’t listen to my intuition. Learn from my mistakes!
You can also do a little digging on social media and online to see what they’re all about if you haven’t already. Do they have a Facebook page? Instagram profile? Website? Can you view their personal profile on Facebook? Does it give you any hints about their personality and whether or not they’re someone you are comfortable putting in charge of the the health and wealth of you spiritual path? Nothing wrong with a little bit of “cyberstalking” (a little hyperbole — don’t take me literally!) to check into whether or not this person is worth their salt!
I know that when you are chomping at the bit for someone to take you under their wing, having “rules” to consider first might seem a little bit like a wet blanket. However, I promise that taking the little bit of time required to be certain you and your future mentor-to-be will get along in every way possible is 110% worth your effort.
What stumbling blocks have you come across when searching for a mentor? Do you have a 8th tip you might suggest to other readers? Let me know in the comments below!