Initiation and training

Wiccan Rede * Summer 1983 by Merlin Sythove

This is the first article in a series, which attempts to deal with all the questions we regularly receive about the Craft. As suggested in the latest issue of Wiccan Rede we will do this by combining a few questions which are intimately related, and dealing with these in the form of a shortish article, rather than spending twenty or so lines on an individual question without taking the time to go into details or the why’s and wherefore’s.

Amongst all the questions we are asked quite a few deal with initiation and training. How important is initiation? Is it possible to start a coven without being initiated, from scratch of from knowledge taken from books? What does initiation actually mean? What does the training entail? Most of these and similar questions are very relevant to the Dutch audience, since it is still extremely hard to find companions or like-minded people in Holland, not to mention covens which can and will take in new people.

First of all, a few words about the concept of ‘initiation’. This word is used to cover a variety of experiences and happenings, and it might be a good idea to describe some of these. On the one hand, initiation is used to indicate that someone has made a definite step forward in his or her spiritual evolution. The ancient initiation rites of the Egyptians involved a time of ‘death’, usually three days spent in a sarcophagus, and during this period the spirit travelled to the higher worlds and received knowledge and wisdom. Upon its return to the body all the impressions could still be recalled, and the whole experience transformed the life of one thus ‘initiated’. In modern-day spiritual dreams this type of initiation is still experienced, although it is no longer physically induced as it was with the Egyptians. But ‘initiation’ still means that one has found one’s roots in the supernatural worlds; one is at home in the astral on a conscious level. The other use of the word initiation covers a wide field of acceptance-rituals, and this means that the postulant is now an accepted member of the society. Between these two extremes, the rite of acceptance on the one hand, and the reaching of a particular state in one’s spiritual evolution on the other, one finds a vast field of minor experiences, lessons, insights, realisations and happenings, which form the basis of one’s trainingprocess.

The initiation in the Craft can mean a greater deal to the postulant, and it can be extremely moving. Even so I think it should be classed among the acceptance-rituals as mentioned above. As such it is the beginning of a new period in one’s life, a new phase, and certainly not the goal to be reached, after which one can sit back and relax! Initiation into the Craft is a homecoming, finding and accepting one’s spiritual brothers and sisters, but also it marks the first step on a road, sometimes hard, often joyous, which may lead through various experiences and lessons to the initiation on the higher levels. In some groups and covens the new initiate is left to his own devices, as far as his or her development is concerned; in other groups one is expected to adhere to a strict training programme. We feel however that the ‘training’ is highly individual, and does in no way amount to a ‘drilling’, but has everything to do with learning from the lessons which life presents to you, both on magical and one purely physical or social levels! Many of these lessons will be learned through experience, virtually unnoticed. Some can be learned through study, or dedication, and in some cases some lessons will have to be learned the hard way.

What does the training actually amount to? Even though ‘training’ is a rather pompous word for the occasion I will use it nevertheless. Actually it starts at the time you make up your mind to join the Craft, and a lot of the training at this stage is intellectual. Getting acquainted with the various concepts used in the Craft – the God en Goddess, polarity, the four elements, the Wiccan Rede, to name a few – and with a personal selection of occult and magical techniques, like meditation, visualisation etc. And when one gets closer to the actual initiation the High Priestess and High Priest will make sure you are familiar with the coven members, the philosophy, what will be expected of you, and various practical points which have to be changed. This stage of one’s development usually sees a lot of changes, in personal circumstances, in ideas and outlook, in opinions, in self-knowledge and confidence. It is a good sign, meaning that the person has started work already, and in more ways than one this is a testing-stage, both for the postulant and for the coven. During this time it should become clear to both parties involved – usually very good friends by this time – that initiation is a wise step to take. The Craft of the Wise is a name to live up to, even for someone who is not yet initiated, and the stage of ‘becoming acquainted’ is meant to lead the would-be witch to the point where she or he can judge for him/herself whether initiation is the right step to take!

The actual initiation is a ritual of acceptance and a commitment of both parties. The commitment is symbolised by the oath, which the candidate repeats, but in the same vein the whole coven commits itself to help the new witch, support and accept him/her! From the above it follows that anyone who changes coven or tradition will be re-initiated, even though this might be a token or shortened initiation ceremony. The coven can be seen as one’s spiritual family, and like a true family there will be rules and regulations, there will be teaching and upbringing, there will be customs, uses, sayings, and yes, there may even be authority when called for!

The initiation ceremony marks the beginning of the training proper, because no matter how many books there are published about the Craft, it still remains a tradition which is passed on orally, and many of its uses and knowledge can only be learned by joining a coven. Apart from the things which are special to the particular coven, a lot of the training is concerned with magic, with bringing you true self to the foreground, with developing one’s hidden talents, with getting to know ‘nature’- not only the birds and the bees, but the nature of life – etc. As I said earlier, ‘training’ is a rather pompous word, because quite a lot of all this will just occur naturally – it wouldn’t be the Craft if it was otherwise! – but even so the High Priestess and High Priest must be able to guide and direct when necessary, and most important of all, they should not just be willing to accept the responsibility of anything goes wrong, but they should be able to handle it as well! Perfect Love and Perfect Trust are very high ideals indeed, and should be backed by good common sense and capability.

If we think back to one of the questions which was posed at the beginning: can one start a coven from scratch, or from book, than the answer must be a clear ‘no’ as far as we are concerned. The process which I have tried to outline in the above is something for which there is no substitute, quite apart from the knowledge which is just not available in bookform. Someone who really wants to join the Craft will have to be initiated eventually, and go through the training process. It is the only way to become a witch, a priest or priestess of the Craft.

Unfortunately, initiation is not available for everyone, or at every moment. So what can one do in the meantime? Actually a good deal of this has been outlined in the above, in the discussion of the period in which one becomes familiar with the Craft. Also there are plenty of books about the Wicca, with seasonal rituals and the like, which enable one to celebrate the festivals, alone or with one or two friends, and to experience some of the ritualistic sides of the Craft for yourself. And let’s face it: a number of people are quite happy celebrating the festivals, and being close with Mother Nature, without desiring anything else. It is also possible to do a self-dedication ritual. This is intended to provide a link with the God and Goddess, and basically you dedicate your life to the God and Goddess, stating that you want to help them in any way you can with their work. There are several rituals available in published form to accomplish this purpose (we even published one in ‘Wiccan Rede’). In the end all that matters is one’s love for the Old Gods, the Old Ways, fort furthering their cause and taking control of your own life. And to work towards these goals doesn’t mean you have to be initiated. But if you are willing to take the responsibility, the risk and the upheavals it might bring, if you think you can handle a confrontation with the real you, if you are prepared to take the bad with as much dignity as the good, in short, if you really want to become a witch: ask the Goddess and the God!

Blessed Be!

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