Teaching Wicca and Paganism
An Interview with Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
by Thea Sabin, June 2010
You have been teaching Wicca and/or Paganism in many, many ways, and
probably longer than anyone else. In your opinion, what characteristics
does a good Wiccan/Pagan teacher have? What does it take to be an
effective teacher in these areas?
Well, first off, a good teacher has to know their subject intimately,
and really love it with a burning passion. They have to be constantly
and obsessively researching and learning more all the time. Intense
curiosity is essential! They also have to love teaching what they know
to others, and be very good at it. They have to be able to explain
things creatively in such manner that their students can not only
understand, but really get it. And they need to have the charisma to
inspire their students to want to learn more from them, and to feel
fortunate and blessed to have such a great teacher. If your students are
bragging about having had you as their teacher 10 or 20 years from now,
you’ll know you were effective!
TS: Do you have any advice for anyone who is new to teaching Wicca or Paganism?
even think about teaching unless you really know and love your subject,
and really want to teach it! It’s best by far if you have had really
great teachers whom you admire, as these can serve as your inspirations
and models. Before you even begin to try and teach, take the time to
study as many different Paths and Traditions as you can. Undergo
Initiations into the Mysteries. Study with different teachers, read many
books, attend Pagan festivals and go to lots of presentations and
workshops. Hang out around the campfire or the con party rooms and ask
questions of the more experienced elders, teachers and leaders who’ll be
Do you have any inspiring, funny, or “don’t do what I did” cautionary
stories about teaching Wiccans or Pagans that you’re willing to share?
This can be from the Grey School or any other teaching situation(s).
In my earliest days of teaching Paganism and the Craft (in my late
20s), I was stunningly arrogant in my assumption of how much more I knew
than anyone else. I recall a particularly embarrassing (in retrospect)
incident when I had really only been studying the Craft myself for a
year or so. Since this put me way ahead of everyone else in the Nest,
they looked to me to teach them, and expected me to know all the
answers. One time they brought in a young black guy who wanted to meet
me, having heard of me as a great teacher. He said he was a Witch, so I
started asking him questions. But I was so ignorant that I didn’t know
anything about his Tradition (Alexandrian, as it turned out), and I cut
him down mercilessly when his answers differed from what I had been
taught and learned through my own studies—which was heavily based on
Crowley and Leland. Later on, when I learned about Gardnerian and
Alexandrian Trads, and realized he had been perfectly right, I felt like
a total fool. It was a very humbling experience, and I’ve always wished
I could have tracked that guy down and apologized profusely to him.
Many years later I even wrote a cautionary editorial about this in Green
TS: What inspires you as a teacher/leader?
Seeing my students go forth into the world and put into practice the
things I’ve taught them. Seeing them become effective and beloved
leaders and teachers in their turn, with students of their own. Seeing
the legacy of my life’s work and studies becoming manifest in succeeding
generations (I’ve now taught three generations!). And having my
students come back to me decades later and tell me how grateful they
were to have learned from me.
TS: Is there anything else you’d like to say to potential teachers that we haven’t covered here?
OZ: When the teacher is ready, the students will appear!
About the Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard...
TS: What were your most important goals in writing the Grimoire?
I wanted to provide young folks just starting out on the path I’ve
followed all my life with the information and tools I wish I’d been able
to get my hands on at the beginning! I had been concerned that most
Wiccan and Pagan Paths and Traditions were not offering training to
youths. And when the Harry Potter phenomenon hit, I knew that there
would be an entire generation of your readers who were going to come
searching for the real thing, which no one was offering to them. So I
decided to compile a sort of “Boy Scout Handbook” (or more accurately
perhaps, a “Junior Woodchuck Guide”) of Wizardry that would provide a
solid foundation in all aspects of arcane lore and the Artes Magicka.
And not only a book for kids, but one which would remain an essential
reference throughout one’s life. I contacted many respected sages and
mages, teachers and leaders, authors and elders in our community, and
formed the Grey Council, setting as our intention the creation of a
Grimoire for the Next Generation. The concept was to create the book we
each would want to be given to us at our Coming of Age ceremony in our
TS: The Grimoire is not your usual Wicca 101 book. How did you determine what subjects to include in the Grimoire?
Well, it’s not a book of Wicca, but of Wizardry, which has a far
broader scope, and isn’t a religion. There are plenty of books on Wicca
out there—but at the time there was hardly anything on
Wizardry—especially anything accessible to kids. I have always been
fascinated by Wizards, both historical and mythical, and the sort of
stuff they were reputed to know and be able to do. So I wanted to
include all the aspects and categories of arcane lore and practice. I
made a list of these, which formed the background of the book, and I
color-coded them according to traditional associations: Psychic Arts
(aqua), Healing (blue), Wortcunning (green), Divination (yellow),
Conjury (orange), Alchemy (red), Beast Mastery (brown), Cosmology
(violet), Mathemagicks (clear), Ceremonial Magick (white), Lore (grey),
and Dark Arts (black). And then I designed the book as an
apprentice-level textbook of magickal studies, with courses, classes,
and lessons. And I got an Editor who had experience editing children’s
books to help me adjust the language for reading levels advancing by one
year for each of seven “Courses,” starting with age 11. By the final
chapter, the reading level has advanced to age 18.
TS: What do you hope students will take away from reading and using the Grimoire?
An appreciation and knowledge of the entire field of magickal lore and
practice that a Wizard should be expected to know. This is a program of
apprenticeship, and it will eventually be followed by a Grimoire for the
Journeyman Wizard, and perhaps even a Grimoire for the Master Wizard.
And of course, the Grimoire became the foundation for the Grey School…
About the Grey School of Wizardry...
TS: What were your most important goals in setting up the Grey School of Wizardry?
To continue the studies introduced in the Grimoire, and provide a rich
learning environment with other students and teachers—much like the
fictional Hogwarts, only teaching real Wizardry. The word literally
means “wisdom,” and I think that about sums it up. In my view, wisdom is
about always considering the consequences…as far down the line as
possible. And foolishness—the opposite of wisdom—is failure to consider
the consequences. A Wizard is someone people come to for wise counsel on
a vast range of issues—from personal to metaphysical and cosmic. So a
Wizard is expected to know and understand a lot of stuff! But more than
anything, the purpose of a Wizard is to serve…
I read that you particularly wanted to reach boys who may be feeling
left out of the teen Wicca movement. How did you go about creating
curricula for youth?
Well, I took teacher training and got a teaching certificate from
Harris Teacher’s College in 1968. I taught several years of public
school (grades 4-5), and later served as a school counselor from grade
school through high school. I maintain contact with each generation of
youth culture through extensive reading of books and comics written for
them, watching movies and TV series aimed at teens, and, of course,
constant interaction with our the kids in our own Pagan community. I
noted an interesting distinction early on: virtually all the books on
Witchcraft were clearly aimed at girls, not boys. And so were most of
the magickal TV shows, such as Sabrina. The popular assumption has
always been that Witches are de facto female. But the Harry Potter books
and movies introduced the world to the idea that boys could play too—as
Wizards. And this provided a perfect hook for me to reach boys with
magickal teachings. And I knew that if I wrote books seemingly aimed at
boys, the girls would read ‘em too, not to be left out! And this has
proven to be the case.
TS: What have you found to be the differences between teaching adults and youth?
Remarkably little, actually. Mostly things like vocabulary (which we
address with frequent glossaries), generational cultural references, and
simple maturity. But since we have students of all ages, there is
actually a rather continuous gradient, and older and more sophisticated
students really help along those who are younger or less sophisticated
(which isn’t always a matter of age; kids raised in Wiccan or Pagan
families are generally far more sophisticated in many of these areas
than adults who only came to it recently). Of course, there are areas of
magickal teaching which we simply don’t get into with youths—such as
sex magick, rites of passage, demonology and certain other aspects of
the Dark Arts, Hoodoo, sorcery, etc. We’ll address those topics at the
Journeyman level in books and classes.
TS: Have you encountered challenges in teaching youth?
Not particularly. Youths (i.e. under 18) comprise about a quarter of
our student body. We tend to get the best and the brightest, and they
are pretty amazing! Many can hold their own quite well with
adults—especially since most of them come from Wiccan or Pagan families,
whereas many of our adults are really fairly new to all this. But we
have a wonderful Dean of Studies, and our House Heads are fantastic. And
with our leadership program of student Prefects and Captains, our kids
are very well taken care of. Also, we have a number of entire
families—kids and parents together—enrolled, and most are using our
program as a kind of home schooling resource. So the parents are part of
the kid’s teachers as well.
TS: How did you determine the curriculum of the Grey School, and what were your priorities in choosing the subject matter?
Well, I’d already pretty much developed the basic curriculum with the
Grimoire. The Courses in the Grimoire became the Departments in the Grey
School, for Majors and Minors. When we transferred the Grimoire’s
curriculum to the School, however, we realized that we needed to add a
few categories, and expand a few others. We added Magickal Practice
(gold), Nature Studies (silver), Lifeways (pink) and general Wizardry
(indigo). We broadened Conjury to include all performing arts, and
expanded Alchemy to include other hard sciences, such as physics,
chemistry, and technology. Dark Arts was developed more fully to
encompass both Sorcery (practical magick) as well as all the spooky
How did you determine the structure of the school and curriculum?
(Majors and minors, wizard colors, levels, house/lodge system, etc.)
I have a very creative mind for systems. I just started thinking of
everything it would take to make this whole thing work, made an outline,
and just kept filling in the blanks until it was complete. Half the
time new ideas came to me in my dreams, as I was really obsessing about
the School in its creation phases—as I continue to do in constantly
tweaking it—such as with our recent “Magister” program which allows
adult students to take an unlimited number of classes at the Grey School
from all levels without the constraints of the Apprenticeship program.
Magisters are not be eligible to receive a Journeyman Certificate, but
are able to participate fully in most aspects of student life at
GSW—social as well as academic.
and Minors were the natural product of the 16 Departments, which began
with the 12 “Courses” in the Grimoire. As for the colors, I started with
the easy ones (green for Wortcunning, blue for Healing, brown for Beast
Mastery, black for Dark Arts, white for Ceremonial…) and then worked
out the most natural and obvious assigning of all the other colors in
the spectrum—even resorting to metallics (gold and silver) to come up
with all 16 colors we needed. This sort of thing is standard in
academia, or course, where each field of discipline is color-coded in
regalia, so we had that as a model.
levels are simply grades. Since I originally designed the Grey School
to cover the same age/grade range as Hogwarts (i.e. middle school
through high school, or ages 11-18), that gave us a seven-year program.
This is also the traditional period of apprenticeship in the Medieval
Guild system, which provided our overall concept. Each level comprises
24 credits, which averages about 12 full classes. After the current
Apprentice to program, culminating in a Journeyman Certificate, we
intend to create a college-level program for Journeyman studies
culminating in a Master’s Degree. At that point, we will distinguish
three separate schools under the overall umbrella of the Grey School of
Wizardry: Arcane Academy (apprentices), Invisible College (journeymen),
and Unseen University (masters).
we started out, we assumed our students would all be teenagers (as at
Hogwarts). So we created four Elemental Houses (Sylphs, Undines, Gnomes
and Salamanders). We were rather stunned to discover that ? of those
enrolling were adults! With all those adults, we realized that we needed
an adult social system as well, so we created four Lodges: Winds,
Waters, Stones and Flames. This has worked perfectly. There is also a
separate adult forum, and even a campus tavern for adults only, called
“The Wizard’s Keep.” We also have all kinds of activities in which
students can earn Merit points for their House or Lodge, and at
Equinoxes we award the House Hat and the Lodge Cup to the House and
Lodge with the highest combined average of Merits and Academic Credits.
TS: How did you choose your faculty? What were your priorities and criteria?
Our first faculty members came from the Grey Council, which after the
Grimoire was published began serving as an Advisory Council for the Grey
School. Then I approached the authors of Wiccan/Pagan/Magickal books
and sent them invitations. New Page and Llewellyn gave me contact info
for any authors they had who I didn’t already know (not very many of
those!). My continuing criteria were the ability to write well, deep
knowledge of their respective subjects, and of course, a desire and
ability to teach students of varying ages. I developed a Faculty
Application process which includes a writing sample and extensive
interview. We also have special classes for teachers (“Fabulous
Faculty”), and a faculty mentorship program under the Department Deans
and the Dean of Faculty.
TS: How is teaching online different from teaching in person (other than the fact that you’re not face-to-face)?
Well, online teaching requires many of the same skills as classroom
teaching, but also the ability to express ones’ self extremely well in
writing—and for different ages. Also, online teaching isn’t
time/space-bound the way classroom teaching is. Lessons and assignments
come in around the clock, from throughout the world, rather than in a
fixed time and place. In many ways this is much easier, because teachers
can sit at home, don’t have to dress up, and can respond to students’
questions and grade assignments at their own convenience. Since the
teachers aren’t seeing the students face-to-face, there’s no question of
favoritism based on appearance, race, sex, age, clothes, etc. But by
the same token, all the visual cues we so depend on for daily
communications and feedback are entirely absent online: facial
expressions, body language, etc. So teachers have to be able to deal
About the Church of All Worlds and Green Egg Magazine...
TS: I know that CAW was inspired by Stranger in a Strange Land. Can you tell me a little more about how CAW came about?
Wow—that’s quite a long and complex story! Let me try to offer a brief
synopsis. Lance Christie and I met in our first year of college, in
1961. We’d both been “changelings” growing up, and when we discovered
each other we hit it off like long-lost brothers. We got to talking
about all the ways that we didn’t seem to fit into the extant
social/cultural institutions, and began imagining what a world suitable
for folks like us would have to be like. We were both into science
fiction, and when SISL came out that fall, and we read it, we felt an
instant rapport with many of the ideas and concepts articulated therein.
On April 7, 1962, we shared water and committed to living our lives
according to those precepts. We approached other students we felt might
share our perspective, and turned them onto SISL. Our water-brotherhood
grew over the next few years, and after we graduated, we took our
community Vision out into the world in two directions, spearheaded,
respectively, by Lance and me.
mutual objective throughout has been to conceive and create a
transformative new cultural paradigm that integrates the Wisdom of the
Ages (“Everything is alive; everything is interconnected”) with the
latest discoveries of science, provides a foundation and functional
models for new patterns of relationships with each other (ex. polyamory)
as well as with imminent Divinity (“Thou art God/dess”), foments and
fosters a global cultural and religious paradigm shift through a
worldwide Neo-Pagan Renaissance, and serves as a catalyst for the
coalescence of consciousness (“The Awakening”). My overt assignment
towards these goals was to create a public church and religious
movement. Lance’s was more covert: to develop political, scientific, and
ecological aspects less visibly. Thus I created the Church of All
Worlds (CAW), and Lance created the Association for the Tree of Life
(ATL). CAW was incorporated as such on March 4, 1968. ATL remained more
underground, not incorporating until decades later. But they are two
sides of the same coin, and Lance and I have been the closest of friends
and co-conspirators for nearly half a century. Our work has been very
effective and influential in its respective spheres, and we often say
it’s “the ultimate conspiracy:” By the time you know enough to grok what
we’re really all about, it’s too late—you’re already one of us! And the
rest is history.
TS: What is CAW’s role in the Pagan community today, as you see it?
Well, I guess I see our work as continuing to seed and tweak the
evolving community in the direction of our very “green” Vision and
Mission; specifically: “To evolve a network of information, mythology
and experience to awaken the divine within and to provide a context and
stimulus for reawakening Gaea and reuniting Her children through tribal
community dedicated to responsible stewardship and the evolutions of
consciousness.” Thus we sorta add our little influences here and there,
like working on a Bonsai tree. Most of this we’ve done by subtly
encouraging (through Green Egg, workshops, interviews, books, rituals,
art, music, our personal lives, etc.) things we think should be part of
the new world we are creating (such as inclusivity, cherishing
diversity, the Gaea Thesis, polytheism, immanent divinity, sacred
sexuality, feminist values, freedom of choice, equality,
environmentalism, seasonal celebrations, Nature worship, honesty,
integrity, wisdom, service, cooperation, community, Tribal values,
ordaining priestesses as well as priests—and acceptance of personal
lifestyle options such as different sexual orientations and
identifications, polyamory, and social/ritual nudity). And of course, to
not so subtly discourage aspects and attitudes we don’t think should be
part of the Pagan community, such as exclusivity, bigotry, dominance,
competition, contempt for other ways, homophobia, racism, classism,
sexism, “one-true-right-and-only-way-ism,” environmental desecration,
manipulation, dishonesty, stupidity, abuse, and buggering choir boys.
TS: How have CAW, Green Egg Magazine, and the Green Egg Online Forum affected how Wicca and Paganism are taught in the U.S.?
As pioneers, I think it can be fairly said that CAW and GE established
early templates that have served as models for many groups and, to a
great extent, much of the entire Pagan movement. Certainly much of our
CAW liturgy has been widely embraced and circulated throughout the Pagan
community—such as our Handfasting rites, water-sharing, theatrical
rituals, Gaean thealogy, etc. CAW’s 9-Circle training program is
directed primarily towards self-actualization and service rather than a
hierarchy of political privilege and power. But CAW and GE probably had
less impact on Wicca, as Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca preceded CAW
and GE by about 15 years, and they’d developed their own training
systems long before they came into contact with the dawning Neo-Pagan
movement in the early ‘70s. CAW’s approach to teaching has probably been
more informal that that found in most Wicca, tending to be more
participatory, gradually integrating folks more and more into the inner
Circles and Mysteries over years of involvement. And CAW is not about
requiring beliefs, only about participation.