Initiation & Dedication
For as long as I’ve been active in the pagan community certain themes or questions keep coming back. In forums, blogs, study groups and now in Facebook groups people come up with the same old issues. That’s fine, it’s the natural cycle of things. One of those topics is initiation.
Let me start with a recurring misconception, that can be disputed by grammar and common sense. You can NOT initiate yourself, that’s simply impossible. The definition of initiation can slightly differ from source to source but the essence remains the same. Initiation is a process and/or ceremony by which a person is admitted to an organization / group or to knowledge. This is typically done by someone else: members of the group or people who already have the knowledge. Hence, you can’t initiate yourself. You can’t introduce yourself to knowledge you don’t have. You can’t welcome yourself into a group you aren’t part of yet…
When the above definition is given, you can sit and wait for the next question to pop up: “If that’s true, then who initiated the first member, the first witch?” The answer is simple. No-one did. That doesn’t make the definition less valuable though! Someone has to start a group or tradition; that can be one person or more. Knowledge is gathered, experiences happen and the first person or original group decides to keep that knowledge and experiences to themselves as a group. Only people who become part of the group can share in this: a person has to be initiated into the group. Some groups initiate a person from the moment they make the commitment and become part of the group. Other groups require a certain time of study beforehand, or a test. Every group has its own requirements.
So you can’t self-initiate, but there is an alternative for solo-practitioners. You can do a self-dedication in which you can dedicate yourself to the gods, or to your own path. This is by no means less than an initiation; it’s simply something different. A dedication can be a wonderful and valuable experience. You can write your own ritual, or you can perform an existing one. For example, in “A Witch Alone” Marian Green describes a way to prepare and perform a self-dedication and Scott Cunningham offers one in his book “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”, but there are more examples to be found online and in books. Personally, I did several dedications at various times in my life. I see a dedication as a commitment to myself, my path and the gods. I wrote my own rituals for it, using ideas from books and others but moulding it into my own thing.
(quote from Dion Fortune’s “Esoteric Orders and Their Work and the Training and Work of the Initiate”)
(British traditional) Wicca is initiatory by definition and thus initiation is a very important ritual. You can’t blatantly ask for a first degree initiation, it is offered to you when you are considered to be ready for it. It’s more than just a ritual to become part of the coven and the wicca community. It is a rite of passage, a personal journey, a consciousness-altering experience, a commitment with rights and obligations, and so much more. Initiation into the mysteries is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
As with everything these days, you can find the complete rituals on the internet. Although I’m good at finding stuff online, I deliberately and consciously decided not to look for them. That was a challenge, because I like to have control and be prepared by knowing what’s coming. It is much better though to go in without knowing, trusting yourself and your initiator(s). Perfect love and perfect trust if you will. Let go, give in, surrender to the moment. If you’re able to do just that, it will be worth it.
Of course wicca isn’t the only tradition that works with initiation. Lots of other pagan traditions, paths, communities or whatever you want to call them have their own system. Every group is free to model it according to their own ideas. Some choose not to perform official initiations, but just have a welcoming ritual. Others have one or more degrees of initiation, each with their own requirements and purpose.
When talking about initiation in the pagan community, another question often pops up: is initiation necessary to be a witch? Well, that completely depends on whom you ask… Some will say it is absolutely necessary, others say it’s not. Nobody is wrong. It all comes down to which path you prefer. When you choose (British traditional) wicca, then yes: initiation is necessary. There are also paths that don’t require initiation, and groups that have inner and outer courts in which inner court is initiatory and outer court is not. ‘Witch’ and ‘wicca’ aren’t protected terms, so anyone can use them, initiated or not. They definitely don’t mean the same to everyone though, which can cause some discussion. Likewise, ‘initiation’ doesn’t always mean the same to everyone. A traditional coven won’t acknowledge the initiation of an eclectic coven, but it will accept the initiation of another coven within the same tradition. And then there’s something called an ‘initiation by the gods’, but that’s a subject for a new column someday.