Developing My Teaching Style

Last month I took my second turn teaching at HSA Spirit Circle.  My first round, in October, was a reiteration of my Spirit Conjuration workshop that I ran at Heartland last year.  This time, I tried something new: a class focusing on elemental energy and circle-casting.  The course built on my oldest work – energy manipulation of that style that everyone I know from the 1990s learned somewhere, but which I have seen mentioned in few books and really explored in only one – and then intense elemental experiences of the rituals my crew and I designed and led for HPF 2015 and ’16.  It was a really great class, and I’ll probably write about it in detail eventually — maybe after I run it a second time at HPF this coming year — but that’s not actually the interesting part to me in this moment.

The class on spirit conjuration went fairly well, and the purification ritual I did after was reasonably received (and exceptionally potent when I re-wrote it as an outdoor ritual a couple weeks later).  But there was a …. dryness to it.  I was definitely speaking from an academic place.  It was a lecture not a class, and I don’t think anyone went back out into the world more ready to conjure spirits than they were when they came in.    Which, on the one hand, makes sense: I’m an academic as much as I am anything else.  All the very best classes I’ve taken were lectures and discussions.  My hands-on training was all much more informal, and over longer periods of time.  But the Kansas City Pagan and magical communities are … not academics, by and large.  And while the particular individuals who attend any class I’m teaching are probably not the anti-intellectuals causing so many problems in the community, it does no good to talk over their heads.  Also, I was super nervous and it really showed.

The elemental energies class, however, was a different matter entirely.  Rather than teaching from a place of expertise and authority, I came from a place of nerdy enthusiasm.  Instead of giving a lecture on a subject about which I was knowledgeable – though there was a citation-heavy introduction – I ran a hands-on class where I showed a half-dozen people how to do this thing I do.

It went fucking splendidly.  We cast circles.  We conjured the elements.  We passed around orbs of magical power.    People were engaged.  Lively.  There was laughter.  No one even tried to sit out the hands-on portions.  New friends were made.  It was a struggle to kick everyone out at the end of the evening.  Aradia thinks it was one of the very best Spirit Circles we’ve done, almost if not just as good as Shauna Aura Knight’s chanting class and full moon ritual.

In the process, I (re-) learned a thing as well.

I am large and hairy.  I have a resting bitch face that borders on serial killer visage.  I have been accused (perhaps fairly) of arrogance.  I don’t send the signals Pagans want and expect.  These are facts.  Teaching from a place of authority emphasizes all of that in all the worst ways.

Teaching from a place of enthusiasm, however, seems to mitigate all of that.  Even when my enthusiasm strays into the citation-heavy academic side of things, people are less put  off by it.  As an added bonus, I seem to have more fun, as well.

For much of my life, I have prided myself on my adaptability.  When my behavior was not achieving my goals, I changed it.  Tragically, that is exponentially more difficult at 36 than it was at 16.  But this change … this change I think I can make.


  1. While I’m thrilled for you that you feel like your teaching style is evolving in this manner, I wanted to say that I attended your spirit conjuration workshop and was particularly intrigued. “Finally,” I told my husband after the class, “This is what I’ve been looking for.” I feel like we don’t have enough classes in the pagan community that tackle intellectualism and and I think you’d be surprised the number of pagans craving it.

    I realize the underlying information of each course is still there, regardless of how your style evolves. I just wanted to let you know that your earlier workshop was not a failure and still achieved the effects you had hoped.

    Then again, I struggle with the same thing in my classes – how to evolve it from lecture – so maybe I’m not the best person to talk to on this note!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you got a lot out of my spirit conjuration workshop. It’s always hard to tell how rational my assessment of my own work is, and I’m happy to hear that I underestimated the impact of that class.

      I definitely agree that we need more academically rooted work in Paganism in general and Kansas City in particular: once upon a time we were, as a group, over educated and exceptionally well read, but I feel like that has become less true every year since about 1980. I would very much like to find more academically-minded Pagans in Kansas City. I hate watching people’s eyes glaze over while I explain the origins and mechanics of my rituals.

      Lecture is a good teaching tool for particular kinds of learners and particular kinds of materials. I’m not sure how hands-on I could take my conjuration class before I have to cap the attendance at 3 or 4. And even then, geeky enthusiasm may not be the pest approach: “Let’s summon a DEMON!!!111!!!!!!! 😀 ”

      But lots of what I have to teach is beginner level. “Let’s cast a circle!” and “Isn’t fire fun?” are much more approachable than “While sacred geometry can be traced back tot he very oldest magics, it has waxed and waned in popularity over the ages. The magic circle as we know it today has only the most conceptual roots in Renaisance Magic, and is really the product of the Golden Dawn on the one hand, and Gerald Gardner on the other …”

      I’m literally going to spend the rest of my life figuring out how to strike this balance.

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