Chapter Initiation

There are many ways to become a Wiccan. None of them, despite outsider's lies, involve the renunciation of the candidate's former religion.

In the recent past Wicca was primarily a secret, initiatory religion. In this "traditional" Wicca, most practitioners were members of covens (see Chapter 10). Covens are small groups of Wiccans who meet for study, worship, and magic. Some of these covens were primarily training organizations with varying memberships. As candidates learned the basics of ritual craft, they moved on and newcomers took their places. Others, however, retained cohesive group identities and rarely allowed new members to join.

This is still true today, but many nontraditional covens now exist. Some are non-initiatory, arguing that human beings really have no right to initiate others. Others are self-

initiatory, viewing this process as the domain of the Goddess and God.

Initiation is an age-old practice. It usually consists of a ritual that demonstrates and celebrates the acceptance of an individual to a group, religion, or a specific level of society. Conformation and first communion serve as two examples of Christian initiation. Anthropological textbooks, as well as back issues of National Geographic, discuss rituals in which young adults are subjected to circumcision, tooth extraction, scarification , and other drastic rites of passage.

Initiations aren't always performed as religious events. In American corporate society the presentation of the key to the executive rest room is a form of initiation. Hazing rituals of various degrees of danger are commonplace among college sororities and fraternities, and graduation day ast military boot camps marks the conclusion of a long initiatory process designed to transform a civilian into a member of the armed forces. Initiation ceremonies among such groups as the Shriners, Masons, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts are well known.

In Wicca, though, initiation is a mystical process. Traditional initiation rituals are usually dramatic experiences designed to awaken within the candidate a new consciousness that is attuned with the Goddess and God.

If the ceremony is properly enacted, the person undergoing the ritual is profoundly changed. She or he certainly emerges from it with a new identity as a Wiccan, and perhaps acquires a magical name; but the sten. Of the process is to expand her or his awareness of alternate states of consciousness and nonphysical realities.

Some covens perform initiations routinely, without a genuine sense of the ceremony's goals. Others view it with what I feel is the proper respect, for it is a ritual which changes the person undergoing it in many subtle and obvious ways.

Just what does a traditional Wiccan initiation ritual consist of? It can be broken down into five major stages:

A purification of some kind is usually undertaken. Among some groups this may by no more than a week or so of daily meditations, or a dip in an herbal bath and anointment with scented oils. In others, a strict dietary regime is presented to the candidate a week before the ceremony itself. The diet may eliminate meat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and other foods-all of which are thought to reduce psychic awareness. The use of illicit drugs is prohibited by virtually all Wiccan groups, so the breaking of such additions may also be a part of purification. Some Wiccan groups use the notorious symbolic scourging as part of the purification process-as well as the "ordeal" (see below).

A challenge of some kind is often presented to the candidate. This usually consists of questions: are you prepared? Do you wish to enter the religion of Wicca? What can you offer the Goddess and God?

Next, the candidate may undergo some type of ordeal. In some groups this consists of a symbolic scourging as mentioned above. The use of the scourge in Wicca-even in a symbolic sense-has caused much controversy and muckraking. It isn't used by all Wiccan covens, or even by the majority of them. Where it is used it's used in a symbolic sense, and ties in with one of the major Wiccan myths: The Journey of the Descent of the Goddess into the Underworld (printed in full in The Meaning of Witchcraft). It is performed without inflicting physical pain.

A symbolic death and rebirth usually follows. This is a worldwide feature of initiations, signifying the "death" of the candidate's earlier life and a rebirth into the religion or group. It may consist of simply being given a new magical name.

Or the candidate may be wound around with black cloth to symbolize a fetal state within the Goddess in Her mother aspect. The cloth is slowly unraveled and she or he emerges as a Wiccan person.

Following this, a dedication often occurs in which the new Wiccan offers testimony of her or his dedication to the Goddess and God through words, gestures, or deeds.

The candidate is now a member of Wicca, and usually, a member of a coven.

That's about it. No pacts with the Devil, no human sacrifices, no disturbed graves or demonic rites. Just a simple, dramatic ritual that serves to bring an outsider into the religion.

Until recently, this was the only way to become a member of Wicca. Exclusivity was the norm; if you weren't initiated by an acknowledged member of an acknowledged Wiccan tradition (see Chapter 10) you weren't, in some eyes, a true Wiccan.

This is changing. Self-initiation is a phenomenon of our times. Many are frustrated by fruitless searches for covens and qualified teachers. Thus, a woman in Kentucky may walk out under the Full Moon, spill wine upon the bare earth and dedicate herself to the Goddess. Or a man may lie on a grass-covered hill with his arms and legs outstretched so that his body forms the shape of the pentagram (a five-pointed star). In a moment out of time, the primal energies of the Earth and Sun surge through him and he discovers the presence of the Goddess and God within.

As early as 1970, initiated Wiccans were writing articles wondering if such persons were really Wiccans. The answer lies not within human minds or opinions but within the realm of spirituality, within the Goddess and God Themselves.

After all, Wicca and all religions serve one major purpose: to facilitate communication with Deity. If self-dedicated Wiccans establish relationships with the Goddess and God, observe Wiccan holidays, use Wiccan tools and uphold Wiccan ideals, what initiate can dare state that they aren't Wiccan?

Self-dedicated Wiccans are, truly, Wiccans as much as are those who have undergone initiation into the religion (and to a coven) at the hands of another human being.

In truth, the initiatory process doesn't consist of a physical rite. That is the outer form only. True Wiccan initiation is a process by which a human being becomes increasingly aware of the presence of divinity within, of those strong spiritual connections with the Goddess and God. This may take place instantaneously, but it is usually a gradual transformation.

Initiation may outwardly manifest in a love for nature and for the Earth. The person may have the urge to join ecological or animal-protection societies. A change in diet-even to the extent of embracing vegetarian-may also manifest.

In quite moments she or he may hear the music of the Moon as it rises and sets, and the glow of power from the Sun. The stars may cease to hold mysteries and may instead promise answers.

The endless cycle of seasons, the intricate processes of nature, and the planet upon which we live may be revealed as blessed manifestations of the Goddess and God.

Even the physical body-the flesh and blood and bone-is newly seen as a storehouse of ancient memories and a magical power generator.

When this and much more that can never be put down into words occurs within an individual, no physical rite of passage is necessary unless desired by the individual. She or he has experienced the ultimate Wiccan initiation-by and within the Goddess and God.

Chapter 10 - Wiccan Traditions

A tradition is a specific method of action, attitude, or craft that has been handed down from one generation to another. Among Wiccans, however, the word has a slightly different meaning. To them tradition signifies a specific set of rituals, ethics, and tools. In short, a Wiccan tradition is a specific Wiccan subgroup.

This chapter will explore the different kinds of Wiccan traditions. Because none of them are truly dominant (indeed, many Wiccans now proclaim no allegiance or lineage to any), we'll be looking at the differences between specific Wiccan traditions, as opposed to examining any one of them. This avoids the possibility of stepping on toes and revealing "secrets."

"Hi. What's your tradition?"

This question was once quite common wherever Wiccans met. The answer given often determined the bulk of the questioner's opinion concerning the answerer. Such sectarianism is melting away in the umbra of the 1990s, but it is still alive among more narrow-minded members of the Craft, as Wicca is also called.

A Wiccan tradition is a specific, structured system within the larger framework of Wicca. Unlike the widely divergent viewpoints to be found within Christianity, most Wiccan sects agree on the five basic points of the religion mentioned in Chapter 7:

1. The Goddess and God are acknowledged through timely rituals linked to the Moon and Sun.

2. The Earth is revered as a manifestation of divine energy.

3. Magic is viewed as a natural and joyous part of the religion and is used for life-affirming purposes.

4. Reincarnation is accepted as fact.

5. Proselytizing activities are taboo.

Not all traditions agree in whole with these five points. Many others would add several more. And indeed, one of the major divisions within Wicca is the prominence of the Goddess in worship. As mentioned previously, some Wiccans (whether affiliated with a tradition or not) devote their religious and magical activities exclusively to the Goddess. For others, the balance of both the Goddess and God is seen to be the ideal for religious workings.

I can't think of any Wiccan tradition that wouldn't agree with points 2 and 3, though they may have different teachings concerning these aspects of their religion.

Point 4, reincarnation, is again generally accepted. But here again wide latitude exists.

Some traditions insist that the human soul always incarnates in the same sex: i.e., if you're female in this life, then you always were and always will be female. Others see this aspect as far less structured. Few if any will accept the belief that humans incarnated as molds, flowers, insects, or animals before "evolving up" to the point at which they could inhabit human bodies.

Point 5 is universally recognized.

Even allowing for such minor variances, most Wiccan traditions accept these five points. These five principles, along with a small-group structure and the tools utilized in ritual, are what make Wicca Wiccan.

What, then, are the differences between individual Wiccan traditions? Here are some specific areas:

The Name. The name of the tradition in which they were initiated used to be of great importance to many Wiccans, for it signified the shape of their ritual workings, their world view, and their ideas concerning the Goddess and God.

For example, Georgian Wiccans utilize different ceremonies than, say, the Dianic Feminist Wicce. Their ideas concerning the nature of Deity may be radically different as well.

Many traditions have been named after either their earthly founder or the individual most closely associated with it. One excellent example of this is Gardnerian Wicca, named by nonmembers after Gerald Gardner.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s exclusivity was all the rage. An initiate of Tradition A might not have recognized initiates of Tradition B as true Wiccans. This is understandable, as the same has occurred among sects of most major religions.

But the time when the name of one's tradition was so important is over. Many Wiccans-even those initiated into rigid traditions-have assumed nonsectarian viewpoints. They welcome all other Wiccans into their rituals and confidences without prejudice, or in the words of one tradition, with "perfect love and perfect trust."

Ritual system. Among many traditions, the specific rituals actually used by members-religious as well as magical-are secrets that the initiate cannot reveal. This, then, is at the heart of the tradition. Rituals are skeletons, or patterns, for movement and speech. Their structure and the words, music, or dance used-even the time in which they are performed-vary from tradition to tradition. This is in part because each group identifies with slightly different concepts of the Goddess and God. Because rituals serve to unite humans with Deity, rituals performed for specific Deity-concepts differ from those of others.

A Seax ritual is thus far different in particularities than one of, say, the Gardnerians. This doesn't imply that one is better than the other; only that different human beings have different needs.

Remember, the only legitimate reason for practicing a religious ritual of any kind is to attune with Deity.

Wiccan traditions keep their particular rituals in what is often called the "Book of Shadows." These are rituals which utilize that specific tradition's nomenclature and tools, and which serve to distinguish one tradition from another.

In Wiccan traditions, magical rituals are group workings designed to rouse, program, release, and project natural energy to achieve personal or group goals. As such, these rites are usually more closely guarded than religious ceremonies. And because they're often done in connection with religious workings, they, too, reflect that tradition's specific mind-set.

Ritual practices. Some Wiccan traditions perform their rituals at night; others prefer the day. Some gather together and worship the Goddess and God in street clothing. Others prefer robes, and still others wear nothing at all (see Chapter 15). To make things even more complicated, initiates of some traditions shroud their heads with hoods during ritual; others don't use them.

Many traditions stress outdoor rituals, while others never leave the living room. Most traditions allow women and men to participate in their rituals and to gain entrance to their system; others admit only women, and a few, only men. Many attempt to achieve a balance of women and men within each coven.

Every tradition has definite reasons for holding on to their particular ritual practices, and it certainly isn't anyone else's business how one tradition's members achieve union with the Goddess and God and practice magic.

Covens. Covens, which can be narrowly defined as groups of Wiccans initiated into a single tradition to practice Wicca, are the keepers of each tradition. But even here there are plenty of options. Some covens maintain 12 or 13 members; others have anywhere up to 50 (known as a "college"). In some, only two or three members are necessary to form a coven.

Some traditions allow, and even encourage, initiates to practice alone; others practically forbid it, deeming coven membership to be necessary to Wiccan practice within their tradition.

Coven hierarchy. This has been a hotly debated point among Wiccans. Some traditions continue the practice of providing three separate initiations for members. These have different names among various traditions. Some call them "levels,": as in "Level 1." Others simply term them First Degree, Second Degree, etc. They may be symbolized by animals that have specific divine or totemic aspects within the tradition. Certain symbols are used within some traditions to designate each "degree" (this term is Masonic).

The basic form of the first of these three initiation ceremonies was described in Chapter Nine. It is an entrance to the religion of Wicca, to the specific tradition, and to the coven.

The second initiation usually takes place after religious and magical training within the tradition. This is known as Second Degree, or the second level. In some traditions a Second Degree Wiccan may be known as a "lesser priestess," or "lesser priest." Second Degree acknowledges much training within the tradition and mastery of Wiccan principles. The Third Degree creates what are commonly known as "High Priestess" and "High Priests." This has been described as the pinnacle of achievement within a specific tradition. It takes place, in theory, only after completion of a rigors training program encompassing magic, structure of ritual, magical group dynamics, Wiccan mythology, and a number of other areas, depending on the particular tradition.

Among hierarchal covens, only Third Degrees may lead the rituals and run working covens. Thus covens in these traditions are led by:

A High Priestess or

A High Priestess and a High Priest.

A High Priest alone rarely runs a coven.

During rituals the High Priestess (HPS) may act as the representative of the Goddess, the High Priest as the God. The HPS may draw the Goddess into herself and act as Her representative. In a sense, this practice is a form of religious Wiccan "channeling," but it isn't widespread among Wiccan groups.

Having said all that, many traditions don't use such a system of initiatory degrees. Covens may be run by one, two, or three persons, who may be elected by other members. Learned and experienced Wiccans are certainly respected, but they aren't necessarily in charge. Coven leadership may also change at each ritual.

Confusing? It's just another indication that Wicca is very much a religion of individualism.

Tools. As we'll see in Chapter 11, specific physical objects are used in Wiccan rituals for a variety of religious and magical purposes. Though some tools are standard among most traditions (such as the athame), some are not. A tradition's use or non-use of a tool again illustrates the independence that exists between Wiccan groups.

So these are a few of the areas in which Wiccan traditions differ from one another. This lack of cohesion is one of the strengths of Wicca, for the seeker can usually find an appropriate path among the various traditions.

Past Life Regression And Reincarnation

Past Life Regression And Reincarnation

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