First year of practice

Before we get started, I want to clear up one fairly common misconception. People have gotten the idea that in order to be a witch (or a religious witch, or a Pagan, or whatever), you simply need to study for a year and a day. And that that time frame is really fixed – you can’t take longer. The reality is a bit more complicated, but basically – that’s not true. You can read more over here on the essay “a year and a day – why?”

Figuring out a structure:

You might start by doing some reading about why the year and a day turns up. (Start with the essay above, and explore some more on your own.) You might look at what various people include in group training or in initial materials (books that cover basics.)

When you’re planning for something so long-term (a year is a fair bit of time, after all), it’s good to think through a few things. I’d suggest thinking through:

  • What’s your goal for  the year? (Some examples are linked from the bottom of the page)
  • How will you know if you reach it?
  • What do you need (in terms of materials) over the year? (Very roughly: be adaptable)
  • What kind of time do you need on a regular basis?

So, for example, you might decide that you want to set aside time for each Sabbat and Esbat, expecting that your rituals will be very simple (and probably pretty short) to start, but probably get more complex as you learn more and are comfortable doing more. You also want time for reading, to learn to meditate, and some other things that will need an hour or so a couple of times a week, and you may know you want to build a devotional practice (5-15 minutes most days).

You might decide you need somewhere to keep notes (a journal, a computer, whatever), and some basic supplies. And you probably want some books.

Start with basics:

Take some time to prepare before you plan to start learning. I’d suggest allowing at least a month for planning and gathering some basic materials before you focus on learning any details. This will give you time to have new ideas, or ask questions, or check out multiple resources.

You might look through a bunch of people’s lists, and summarise the things that seem most important to you. For example, most books and witchcraft teachers will talk about the importance of learning the following:

  • basic energy skills (centering, grounding, shielding)
  • ethics (how to make choices about our actions, and what those choices mean)
  • ritual theory (how ritual works, how things fit together)
  • ways to begin to develop a relationship with deity.
  • when we do ritual (more about Sabbats, Esbats, and other events)
  • basic magical theory and an introduction to spellcrafting (not every possible technique, but at least one or two – candles, knot magic, herb magic, etc.)
  • some kind of divination (everything from something relatively simple like a pendulum to complex systems like Tarot or astrology).

However, there’s also a lot of variation – both in other topics covered, and in when and how much time they get. Some people may spend a lot of time on chakras, astrology I spend a fair bit of time talking with students about the broader Pagan community, and how what we do as a tradition fits within those other communities. We also spend more time than some groups on music, fiction, and other arts.

Draft out a basic list of what you want to learn. Then, brainstorm what would help you learn those things. Are there classes or workshops in your area that might cover a particular topic? (For example, you might choose to go to a day-long workshop on Tarot or astrology, rather than try and learn it from a book.) Thumb through the books and resources you have, and make note of which ones seem like they’d be really good for a particular thing.

Another option is to start by following someone else’s outline. There are a number of books out there that guide you (with varying degrees of detail) through a wide range of basic concepts and practices. Timothy Roderick’s 366 Days of Wicca has a short exercise, essay, or magical working for each day, while books like Starhawk and Hilary Valentine’s Twelve Wild Swans build core skills through the use of story.

Come up with a starting sequence:

Start by putting things into some kind of sequence. If you’re like most of the rest of us, you’ll end up rearranging it multiple times, as you realise you really need to figure out this topic before that topic. (For example, it’s probably a good idea to learn how to cleanse energies from a space before you focus on the details of casting a formal circle. It’s a good idea to learn what divination is, and how it’s used before you worry about a specific method.)

An example:

I’ve moved my (lengthy) discussion of how I approach a Dedicant year with my students to its own page.

[last edited April 30, 2014]

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