Would you benefit from studying with an online Wicca or Pagan school? To explore this topic, I interviewed Heather Greene, Luna Marr, and Aline O’Brien.
(Some responses may have been edited for length.)
* When should someone consider going to an online school?
Luna: When it’s necessary. Some students work out very well with books and doing their own research, but there are others . . . who feel they need to hide their beliefs and study in secret, or just live in areas where a one-on-one pagan education isn’t available. Not all online educations are equal. . . . Some online schools just charge you money, hand you a bunch of information with little to no guidance. And others give you a mentor experience [in] your own home via the Internet.
Aline O’Brien: In the case of Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS), because there is no other school offering full training parallel with what is taught at mainstream seminaries. I strongly feel that Pagans should collaborate on the creation of our own culture. That means not attending liberal Protestant seminaries because you think they’re the only game in town when it comes to seminary-type training (chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, interfaith, history, etc.)
Heather: Online schools can help people who, for one reason or another, don’t have the ability to physically attend classes. In addition schools like Cherry Hill Seminary offer access to subjects and teachers that might not be available locally.
Moonwater: I agree. Online education may be necessary for someone who does not have a local pagan community for support.
* Would you use an online choice for your primary way of learning Wicca verses face-to-face learning?
Aline: Not necessarily. It really depends a lot on what’s available in a particular individual’s area.
Heather: I would not choose distance learning as my primary way of learning any subject unless no other option was available. And there are situations where that is the case. I do prefer the immediacy of presence and the concentrated, shared energy of the “classroom” experience. This cannot be replicated online. However I also believe that there are educational opportunities in all forms of learning processes. Distance learning gives us access to teachers and professional who might otherwise not be available to us at any point in our lives. I see that alone as an invaluable resource.
Luna: I wouldn’t say that I would choose it over face-to-face learning, simply that it’s an alternative and another valuable option. . . . In my school Pagans Learning Online we believe that an online education should mimic the face-to-face experience as closely as possible, through technology such as Skype, Google, and the ability to upload voice, video, and written materials. We are able to replicate the face-to-face experience fairly well. Is it the same as having that mentor there who can give you a hug when you’re down? Absolutely not. However, an online education can still offer the same benefits.
Moonwater: I prefer the face-to-face approach when possible. This way you can experience how your student moves and uses energy. However, it’s important to me that students have access to information. That’s the reason that I write this blog (with the help of my editors) and I wrote my book The Hidden Children of the Goddess.
* Are online schools helpful or harmful to our community?
Luna: This question is like a double edged sword. I want to say that online schools can be incredibly helpful to the Pagan and Wiccan community . . . . [But] some schools offer a lot of false certifications and dangerous ideas that if a person was so willing they could take advantage of. I even heard of one online school that tells you that you’re not allowed to worship the Gods and Goddesses unless you are a Level 1 priestess and [have] passed their tests. A student looking into an online school needs to know when something just doesn’t sound right or seem right. They need to do their research. . . . Healing of the aura and the chakras is something that should be left up to trained professionals. . . . For people who are forced to practice in the shadows, having the opportunity to practice online is something that [can] change who they are in a positive way. Online schools have the ability to help guide and grow future leaders of the Pagan and Wiccan community so that the next batch of people who look for a place to learn may not have the same struggles.
Aline: Some are helpful, others not so much; depends upon the school. I can say, however, that Pagans attend CHS for two primary reasons: one is for personal enrichment and the other to better serve their own communities. They don’t come so they can get a degree and get a job by being hired by some Pagan ‘church.’ They don’t come so they can get a raise at their current job. In the bigger picture, some seek chaplaincy degrees because in the mainstream world having one is required in order for one to do that work (the military being the most stringent in terms of chaplaincy requirements).
Heather: Just like anything, distance learning can be both helpful and harmful. It is helpful for the reasons specified above. Distance learning can offer people an opportunity to attend classes that they might not be able to otherwise. At the same time, distance learning is not yet accredited in the same way as conventional institutions. Assessing a school’s credibility and legitimacy is left to student and [it’s] often very difficult. The digital world has created a universe in which legitimacy is easier to falsify. Students must be very cautious.
* Online schools are on the rise, so how can you tell if one is right for your student?
Luna: It’s about doing the research, knowing yourself and your own personal learning style, and using your common sense. . . . Paganism and Wicca are terms for thousands of proud and dedicated religious pathways and traditions, rooted 60,000 years in the past. That isn’t easy stuff to learn over night. I think that as a society we get far too wrapped up in the “I want it now” of things and we overlook the hard work and dedication it takes to do something right. So before you jump into the first online school of Paganism that you see, do some research and ask some questions and remember that if it doesn’t look right or sound right then keep looking.
Heather: It is important to research the institution, teachers and the administrative staff; to examine the promises made and the cost; to talk to former students and to ask as many questions as possible.
Aline: I would say in the same way one would explore schools for any other kind of learning–read everything possible, ask others who attended that school, etc. I’m not sure I quite ‘get’ telling what’s right for one’s student. To me, the student her/himself would be the person making such decisions. S/he could seek advice and recommendations from a teacher. Alternatively, a particular teacher may wish to direct a particular student to a specific online educational resource/school for, say, a course on ministering to the dying.
* When should you not consider a school as a supplement for your student?
Heather: If local resources and lifestyle permit, it is good to consider the local options first. I would also steer a student away from a school that does not “check out” as legitimate.
Aline: Again, I can’t really speak knowledgeably to this because my experience is with a graduate school. It’s not about learning Wicca per se.
Luna: The only answer I would have for this is when the reason for seeking out the education isn’t pure of intent. . . . However if what you’re looking for is a chance to grow both as a person and in your magical abilities and you embrace the dedication it takes, then online schools are a great choice. I have seen many students whose self-esteem has bloomed. [And, one’s] inner light and love of yourself and those around you [become] powerful tools to change the world.
Since, Luna and Aline are active with online schools, I asked this question:
What can web schools like yours offer students with mentors?
Luna: I suggest a student stay with their mentor . . . unless they aren’t getting a full education from their mentor. I have had very good mentors. My first mentor was a Wiccan High Priestess. I myself have chosen the path of druidry, but it was very nice and refreshing to be able to learn so much about the Wiccan beliefs and practices. [I enjoyed] spending time with someone who knew what I was going through at a young age and was able to help guide me. It was a valuable experience. However, she was only able to offer me part of the picture that I was looking for. She could only teach me about Wicca. Because of this, I found myself studying books for years, doing research and seeking out others who had other beliefs.
Aline: The online school with which I’m affiliated, Cherry Hill Seminary (www.cherryhillseminary.org), provides primarily graduate-level education. We offer two masters’ degrees–M.A. in Pagan Studies and M.Div. So CHS is different from other online Pagan schools in that our students are already whatever kind of educated Pagan they are. In other words, mentors aren’t in the picture. Those who are seeking degrees, which is not all of our students, must attend two live, in-person multi-day retreats during the course of their studies. (http://www.cherryhillseminary.org/) CHS has a Dean of Students, who is not exactly a mentor but does help students determine their personal course of study. I think (not entirely sure) students have faculty advisors when they choose a degree path. (There’s tons of detailed info on this topic in CHS’ Catalogue.)
Some Pagans view Online Wiccan education as a controversial topic. The views expressed above belong to those who expressed them.
I, Moonwater, prefer the one-to-one mentor/student process (and that is my training). However, it strikes me that it is helpful to carefully study material if a local Pagan community is not available.
As with other important decisions, devote great care to your educational path.
Biographies of Our Interviewees
Luna Marr, has been studying paganism both independently and with various mentors for the last 21 years. She is very proactive in her local pagan community, serving as both clergy and secretary in her local pagan church. She says, “I have always believed that paganism deserves the same respect as other religions, but with that respect comes responsibilities to be knowledgeable in your beliefs and in the history of your beliefs. I feel that with the growing interest in paganism there need to be more hands-on ways for people to learn and grow without the pressure of being forced down one pathway or another.” Email: Luna@paganslearningonline.org Her online school is Pagans Learning On Line.
Aline O’Brien, known among her co-religionists as M. Macha NightMare, is an internationally published author, ritualist and all-round Pagan webweaver. A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, the Nature Religion Scholars Network, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), and the Advisory Council of the Sacred Dying Foundation, Macha speaks informatively about Paganism to news media and academic researchers, presents at colleges, universities and seminaries, and teaches on the broomstick circuit. She has taught at Starr King School for the Ministry and since 2000 has served in various capacities at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community. Blogs: Broomstick Chronicles, Witch at Large , Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape at Patheos.
Heather Greene, is a freelance writer living in the South. She has a master’s degree in Film with a background in commercial media and technology. She is currently serving as National Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess. From 2010-2012, she served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council. Additionally, she collaborates with Lady Liberty League on a variety of cases and is a regular contributor to Circle Magazine. Heather has been practicing Wicca and Witchcraft for almost twenty years in both solitary and group settings. Personal Blog Google + Twitter Pinterest – See more at: http://wildhunt.org/about/heather-greene#sthash.mwzYAeWA.dpuf