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Mentoring - Commentary
Volkhvy -
11 / 17 / 2002

Why Mentoring?

I've watched the proliferation of Neo-Pagan seminaries (and ovaries for the Dianics among you) with mixed feelings. Cherry Hill Seminary, Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, Ardantane, and RCGI's Cella program all offer minister and/or priest/ess training for Neo-Pagans. The people involved have done a lot of hard work that benefits the rest of us.

On the one hand, this can be viewed as good news. It means we've been around long enough that we can mount something as ambitious as a seminary. As a result, standards for training and leadership are being developed. (Hopefully, we'll be seeing less of the fly-by-nite "ancient" traditions, and their shady leaders, that were so common in the earlier years of Neo-Paganism.) Also, by applying for and receiving governmental recognition, they've helped make Neo-Paganism legally "real." It created a foundation from which a legal claim of discrimination can be successfully launched. These and other factors are leading to an increasing acceptability of Neo-Paganism by the mainstream culture. Neo-Pagans now sit on many interfaith councils, and their views affect the decisions of these councils

On the other hand, this can be viewed as not so good. My experience of Neo-Paganism is that it's a peoples religion, in whatever form it takes. The very act of seeking government recognition disenfranchises those Neo-Pagans not associated with the group doing it. We see that in Canada where there is one "official" form of Wicca, and whatever the rest of the Canadian Wiccans are doing, it's just not Wicca. So much for diversity. Also, the recognized "leaders" do not represent the thoughts and feelings of the vast majority of Neo-Pagans. At the most, they represent a few hundred out of over a hundred thousand. And in creating a clergy and/or priest/esshood, they devalue the the very core of Wicca (and to lesser extent Neo-Paganism.) As a Wiccan, I seek direct experience of the divine; that's why I left Christianity. Are my experiences now to be deemed less "valid," because I've not attended one of these seminaries? Will Wicca have its mysteries safety tucked away, and become just another dogma-driven religion? I don't know about you, but I became a Neo-Pagan to get away from that sort of thing.

So what is the answer? I think it lies in mentoring our elders. Within a sustainable community, everyone eventually becomes an elder; no one is disenfranchised. That your elders are mentored means that they receive instruction in the community's values—what works for you locally—from those within the community. And they then help shape and maintain those values for the next generation. The value system, standards, power, and government remain local and responsive. The diversity of our communities is maintained.

Sure, being diverse makes it a lot harder for others to define us, but that's their problem. I do not favor us submitting to a Procrustean solution just to make their lives easier. Ultimately, that answer is not healthly for any us. Wicca is mystery religion; it's experiential. It really can't be defined. If the mainstream culture is uncomfortable with that, then maybe they need to grow-up.

I don't deny that our leaders need formal training, especially for those events that can tear apart a person's life. However, there are very real limits to "book" learning; the map is not the territory. The defining factors of elderhood are responsibility and experience, not formal learning. I learned a lot of facts in school, but learning how and when to use those facts came from my experiences, not my schooling. Studies show that humans learn best and most quickly when learning is interactive and experiential. Mentoring is intensively interactive and experiential.

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