wicca course - first degree initiation

WARNING - This document is part of the esoteric teaching of the Wiccan priesthood. The occult nature may offend persons who chance upon it. Keep print-outs safe. Persons reading this document do so at their own risk.

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Stepping stones to the Grail.

© David Sands 1997

There is an on-going debate in Wicca about whether initiation is necessary and if so whether self initiation is as good as or better than being initiated by another person. Another debate is whether to be initiated into Wicca or into a group i.e. a coven. This essay hopes to shed some light on this so that readers can make up their own minds.

What is initiation?

When a person has been studying Wicca for a while it becomes time for him/her to make the commitment to the spiritual journey they have chosen. This is not anyone's decision but the student's. The decision is usually the result of a lot of thinking and reading about Wicca culminating in the heartfelt need to formalize the feelings and make a commitment to the Wiccan path and to the Goddess and God. Almost every cult and religion has its initiation. As Tom Chetwynd puts it: "No amount of intellectual grasp of the intricacies of love amounts to loving, nor does thinking about finding your own centre and True Self get you any nearer to it. Only some form of initiation can bring about a real movement of the soul."

Throughout the Pagan culture is the principle of rites of passage. A rite of passage is a ceremony and ritual marking a milestone in a person's development, a change in one's life. Marriage is a rite of passage. A Christian baptism is also a rite of passage albeit usually one that is performed on an unconsenting baby. Originally it was performed on people who had made the concious choise to follow that spiritual journey. Initiation is a rite of passage. More than that, initiation is a sort of rebirth into Wicca.

Many Wiccans are unable to work in a group and practice alone, these are called solitary Witches. These Wiccans may carry out their own initiations, called self initiation. Self initiation is perfectly valid but those of us who have had initiations conducted for us would argue that self initiation is much more difficult. There is a danger of being so absorbed with the procedure and the words that the profoundness of the occasion can be missed. The other thing that happens in a formal initiation is 'passing of the power' from the initiator Witch to the initiate. Nevertheless some people have no choice. Does self initiation work? If you feel changed as a result of it then it has worked.

Before I continue I will just summarize the contexts in which an initiation can take place:
1. Solitary
2. Initiation by an elder into the craft of Wicca.
3. Initiation into a coven.
4. Mutual initiation by working partners.

The Gardnerians had three degrees of initiation, a concept possibly inherited from the surviving French craft, or maybe from the OTO, or maybe just created by Gerald Gardner. I don't want to get into that debate here but however artificial the three degree system may seem it certainly works and has been adopted, albeit much changed, by Wiccan elders and groups all over the western world. This is because they resonate with deep rooted human needs for stages in self transformation. For many people the first degree is the only one that is ever necessary and indeed very few people move on to 2nd or 3rd.

Recently the concept of an earlier step has become popular - dedication and we do this in our circle. This is simply where the novice dedicates him/herself to the Wiccan path. It is a commitment to learning and developing in that direction and an affirmation that this is what you want and what you are going to do. Self dedication works fine or you can do it in a group context. The first degree initiation can come later. Contrary to some opinions we do not believe one must wait a year and a day before the first degree initiation. It depends on whether the candidate feels ready or not. If the candidate has a teacher or reads avidly then the first will come up faster but for people who don't have so much time to allocate to Wicca the first may take longer. It is generally agreed there must be a complete turn of the wheel between 1st and 2nd.

Who can perform the initiation?

There has been alot of un-necessary argument about lineage. The lineage school of thought maintains that you must be initiated by an initiate of an initiate and so on, back to Gerald Gardner and beyond (if there is a beyond) or some other traditional line. The Christians have the ultimate lineage since it is probable that the baptism lineage goes right back to Saint John or Jesus himself. Frankly it doesn't matter about lineage. However it would seem reasonable to expect the initiator to have a lot of experience with ritual and to understand the energies involved well enough to be mediator between the initiate and the Goddess/God. Thus it would seem reasonable for the initiator to be also an initiate. A first degree initiate can initiate another at first degree; a second at second and so on.

It is important to understand that the initiator does nothing TO the initiate apart from 'passing the power'. He/she is a facilitator only, carrying out the Great Mother's work as Her servant. Moreover it is a great honor to be asked to be an initiator because it means the candidate trusts you to mediate properly and to conduct the ritual with not too many oops. Even more than that to perform an initiation is itself a kind of re-initiation for the facilitator. As the Goddess/God energies abound they are bound to rub off on the initiator. It is a profoundly magickal occasion that affects everyone involved. Such a qualified Wiccan I would call an 'elder' although age does not really come into it. An elder can perform 2 or 3 in the list above.

Initiation into Wicca is always a private affair, since the emphasis is on personal transformation and development. Group or mass initiations are impossible. Initiation into Wicca may be with only the initiate and initiator involved, or with the initiator and his/her Priest/Priestess working together. The initiator should always be of the opposite sex to the initiate, mirroring the male/female polarity of the universe and of the God and Goddess. The only people allowed into the circle are other initiates of the postulant's choosing.

Initiation into a coven is always accompanied by the coven and frequently actively involves the whole coven. The ceremony is conducted by the High Priest and High Priestess one of whom is the initiator.

Now a partnership is a different issue. If two people want to work together and explore the mysteries together then they can form a magickal partnership between them. They can be lovers but it's not necessary for one's magickal partner to be one's life partner. Their dedications will usually involve an oath between them. They can then initiate each other later at first degree level.

Whether it be a self initiation, mutual initiation, initiation by elders or into a coven the initiate is always unclothed or 'skyclad' - born naked so reborn naked. The initiators do not have to be skyclad and indeed it is better if they are not.

First degree

This is the big one for most Wiccans. By comparison the other two are more elevations than initiations, after all initiate means 'begin'. The ceremony starts with a challenge, there is an ordeal and vows. The theme of the ceremony is of rebirth, with the accent on both God and Goddess but mainly the Goddess. At the end the initiate is pronounced Witch and Priest/ess. The initiate starts the ceremony skyclad and symbolically finishes wearing his or her ritual robe.
First degree is your introduction to the Goddess. For a man it's an introduction to the female principle through new eyes, coming face to face with a new power he hasn't seen before. For the woman it's an introduction to the Goddess within her.

Second degree

Second degree initiation is focussed on the horned God. The rites are different for male and female. In our circle both ceremonies include a vigil, and ordeal. After this ceremony the initiate assumes the title of High Priest/ess. He/she has the obligation to teach and to help along the beginners and neophytes. Generally speaking there cannot be less than a year and a day between first and second degrees.

Third degree

Third degree initiation or elevation is taken after years of study and meditation and active work in the craft. It revolves around the relationship between God and Goddess, the balance and the transformation the initiates must undergo. The rite is usually modelled on the descent of Innana and the theme of the ceremony is the union of shadow and ego within the unconcious mind, union of male and female both on a psychological level and of God and Goddess. It always includes the Great Rite in True i.e. actual sexual union between initiator and initiate. Of course there are often reasons why this can't be done although there are ways round these reasons in some cases.