“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”
– Chinese Proverb
Nearly everyone uses a computer. It has become so commonplace as to melt into our society with little notice. Most people also have internet access everywhere they go thanks to smartphones. This represents a huge storehouse of information for Solitary Practitioner (and really anyone interested in all things witchy).
Now instead of standing in a bookstore for hours trying to find just the right tome for your spiritual studies, Google comes to the rescue. A few clicks of your magic mouse and you have reviews and samples at your command. You might also decide that using the Net might be a good way for finding a Wiccan teacher, like-minded groups and products that can fill your home with good vibrations. The problem for most of us is that there is too much information from which to choose.
Surfing for Magic Online
Let’s say a curious seeker plugs in a search like “learning Wicca online”. They get a deluge of listings. A recent exploration for the question “what is Paganism” yielded over 27,000,000 in 39 seconds. Talk about daunting! So, let’s talk about the basic weeding out process for sorting through the dross.
- Ranking isn’t Everything: Just like at the store where price isn’t always indicative of quality, search engine ranking is not a perfect measure of a site’s quality. Search engines use a plethora of factors (as many as 200) in determining ranking. These factors include the age of the site, how relevant it is to the question or search, social demands/trends and prevalent competition in the field. Additionally, a search engine may rank different pages within a site at other levels than the main page. This can be frustrating. Sometimes you’re stuck having to peek at several results until you find one that seems reasonable and trustworthy.
- Claims to Fame: Speaking of trust, just because someone claims on their blog that their great-great-auntie was a Hedge Witch or a High Priestess does not make it so. Truthfully, the number of people who can honestly prove ancestral lineage in magic are very few. These types of claims are a huge red flag. It doesn’t matter if they sell a product, offer service or have classes, put that site in the ten-foot-pole-department.
- Amazing Power and Prosperity: Take a look around you. Do you see many Pagans or Witches wielding a magic wand and getting results like the Good Fairy? As moms everywhere say with a knowing gleam in their eyes, “if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.” That aphorism proves out even more substantially when people can hide behind a computer screen. Yes, magic works. We do believe in metaphysical powers and psychic abilities. We also have a strong regard for the artists crafting our jewelry, paintings, door signs and Knick Knacks. However common sense comes into play. If you’re looking at a ring and the description reads, “powerful entity within” look somewhere else (and before you ask, yes really)!
- Title Tempests: Similar to claims to fame, you will stumble upon people saying they have a specific coven ranking such as a High Priest. How, exactly did they get that title? Don’t be afraid to ask. No matter the answer, look closely at the information provided on the site. Is it sketchy? Does it feel like you’ve read the same thing before? Does the “expert” make the process seem facile? Learning magic takes an investment of time and attention. You don’t just read a book and become enlightened (don’t we wish!). You want an ethical, spiritual teacher. Most of the true wise Witches out there don’t need titles and rarely use them outside of a covenstead. So if this Priest says he’s a Gardnerian Wiccan, for example, you should be able to find someone that can verify his story. Don’t get this recommendation from Mr. Magic. Try getting independent corroboration if possible.
- Pay to Play: It is one thing to offer fee-based services like professional readings and consultations. It’s another thing altogether to require a $19.95 first class fee, with other classes charged incrementally. Look closely at fee-oriented sites. Who runs them? Where does the money go? What is the bang for your Buck? Regarding magical spells, there are practitioners (and I use that word loosely) who will happily create and cast a spell for you if the price is right. The practice is highly unethical, and something frowned upon in the community at large.
- Kiss My Ring: Everything they put on the screen is 100% true. Every spell, every ritual comes with guarantees for success. Oh, and did we mention being able to become part of the inner circle (oooh!)? Someone who tells you to follow his or her instructions exactly doesn’t know a whit about real magic. This website is simply a slimy ego fest. If it’s a group, be ready for drama with a capital D.
- Social Media Mayhem: Inevitably, no matter where you surf, you will run into various disputes between groups or individuals. These Witch Wars get pretty ugly. Unless you have an opinion, you want known or have clarifying information, just move along (it’s better for your blood pressure). Now, some of these “discussions” give information about a teacher or a source of goods. That’s great for networking but take care. Everyone has an opinion, and the one you’re reading is probably lopsided. Check a few other sources before you decide whether to do business there.
- Research Roulette: You are searching far and wide for dependable information on a specific topic. Every site you visit seems to have different accounts or instructions. Hint: Two of your best research sources have the extensions “edu” (colleges and other post-secondary educational institutions) and “org” (organization) both of which are non-profit. Use these when you want solid, extensive research. You won’t be disappointed.
- Practice Safe Surfing: Sadly, there are people out there who love sharing computer viruses or trying to capture your personal information. Some metaphysical sites don’t even know they’re infected with malware. So, have a good security program and keep it running. Regularly review that system for anything clogging up the works. In magical terms, this acts like cleansing and protective spells.
Spelling it Wrong
Usually, websites with misspellings, bad grammar, and horrid sentence structure are untrustworthy. Fighting for recognition on the Internet, unethical site owners use black-hat (shady) marketing methods. One way of doing this is by hiring writers who do not have English as their first language. Now, there’s nothing wrong with hiring English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) writers. But, some site owners do so because they can get cheap content in bulk. In fact, the material is a lot less expensive than paying a native English writer. However, there’s truth in the saying, “You get what you pay for.”
ESL writers produce traffic-drawing content including articles, site pages, and blogs. These writers may have some knowledge about the Craft or no knowledge whatsoever. Then, the site owner adds the sub-par material to the website regularly. The continuous addition of fresh material keeps the site’s search engine ranking high. It also makes the site receive more visitors.
Problems arise when a website owner cares little about the quality of the site’s written content. Their goal is to attract website visitors only. The intention is not to educate you about Wicca, Witchcraft, or Paganism. Yes, we’re all human. Mistakes with typos, spelling, and grammar will appear on even some of the best witchy websites online. But, the sure sign you’re dealing with a sham site is content riddled with misinformation, errors, and spelling mistakes.
To circumvent the issue (because witches’ love circles), when researching anything, read with a critical eye. Consider the source of the material. Circle back and use more than one reliable resource to contrast and compare the information you’re reviewing. You’ll have to be smart when approaching your studies! It isn’t called Wisecraft for nothing!
So, by all means, if your Grammar Goddess is screaming in your head, run the other direction and fast!
A Magical Teacher’s Talents
It’s often said that a teacher appears when the student is ready, and true to form this is rarely convenient timing! Patience is truly a virtue in his arena. In fact, many times those who end up being our best teachers and guides never even call themselves by that title. They simply say or do something that transforms our way of thinking and BE-ing, without anybody else being the wiser.
When you do think you’ve found a teacher, it’s imperative to ask yourself if that person has the qualities you’d expect from any good, ethical instructor. In particular:
- Does he or she have a vision for where you’re headed spiritually and is that vision honored?
- Does he or she inspire you to think and do for yourself?
- Does he or she have any accreditation or formal training in this specific path (i.e., do they share what they live daily; are they walking the walk)?
- Does he or she have other students who speak highly of what they’ve learned thus far?
- Does he or she respect your growth pace? Each student has a specific rate at which they learn effectively. Spirituality cannot be hurried for convenience sake.
- Does he or she release students without negativity if they find they’ve taken the wrong Path? Beware of overly controlling teachers!
- Does he or she keep the focus on you (as opposed to trying to become a guru of sorts)?
- Does he or she offer times during which you can get counseling or other assistance (i.e., is this person reasonably available)?
Please remember to carefully examine the answers to questions like these before entering a student-teacher relationship. It is a commitment on both people’s parts, one that takes time and energy. Invest in a teacher who stretches you to new places and new ways of thinking. Like any exercise, that stretching needs proper preparation and pacing.
The Accessibility of Magical Resources
The biggest advantage of using a computer for magical information is flexibility. You can be anywhere in the world and still have access to your mentor or favorite research sites. The internet is 24-7 (all things willing), so it appeals to the magical idea of “out of space; out of time.”
With the advent of programs like Skype and hardware such as webcams, you can have “live” face-to-cyber-face experiences. People can hook up on video chats and hold full rituals together (provided they adjust for different time zones). For people with travel limitations, this approach not only offers a solution but great blessings.
-Best wishes on your journey!
Adapted from “Witch’s Book of Wisdom,” by Patricia Telesco. All rights reserved.