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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

INITIATION

Part of the Initiation ceremony of a 1st degree Wiccan
Part of the Initiation ceremony of a
2nd Degree Wiccan male
by the Coven's High Priestess...
Initiations are usually performed male to female and female to male...
        One of the most ancient of rites, Initiation marks the psychological crossing of a threshold into new territories, knowledge and abilities.   The central themes of Initiation are suffering, death and rebirth.   The Initiate undergoes an ordeal, symbolically dies and is symbolically reborn as a new person, possessing new wisdom.

        In Theosophy there are four levels of Initiation, each at the beginning of a new stage on the Path, manifesting the knowledge of that stage.   On the first stage there are three obstacles or, as they are commonly termed, fetters, which must be realized only to be an illusion; doubt which must be cleared away by knowledge; and superstition which must be cleared away by the discovery of what in truth is real.

        This stage traversed, the second initiation follows, and after this comes the consciousness that earthly life will be short, that only once again will physical death be experienced, and the man begins more and more to function in his mental body.

        After the third initiation, the man has two other fetters to unloose - desire and aversion; and now his knowledge becomes keen and piercing and he can gaze deep into the heart of things.   After the fourth initiation, he enters on the last stage and finally frees himself of what fetters that remain - the desire for life whether bodily or not, and the sense of individual difference from his fellows.

In contrast the Ordo Templis Orientis (O.T.O.) was structured with nine active grades on which was superimposed a tenth, purely administrative grade.   Grades one to six were awarded by ritual Initiation, while the remainder were achieved wholly by instruction and were largely concerned with Sex Magick.

Rosicrucians progress through twelve degrees of Initiation, with the 10th through 12th degrees conferred psychically, usually in the Order's temples in the East.   As in Theosophy, such perfection comes only after various reincarnations, each devoted to achieving a greater oneness with the Supreme Being.

Rosicrucians claim influence on Freemasonry, especially since the 18th Masonic degree is the Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix of Heredom.

In Wicca and other forms of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, Initiation marks entry into a closed and traditionally 'secret society'; opens the door to the learning of ritual secrets, Magic and the development and use of Psychic powers; marks a spiritual transformation, in which the Initiate begins a journey into Self and toward the Divine Force.

While traditional Initiation rites exist, many Wiccans and Neo-Pagans feel the spiritual threshold may be crossed in many alternate ways, all of them valid to the individual, though Initiation also infers 'acceptance' into a group or society.   Therefore, an Initiate of one Coven or Tradition may be required to undergo Initiation again to become a member of another Coven or Tradition.

Initiation may be experienced in a group or alone.   It may be formal or informal.   It may be performed with an old ritual or a new one; it may come as a spontaneous spiritual awakening, in meditation or in dreams.   It may occur at a festival, Sabbat or Esbat.

In both Wicca and Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, Initiatory rites bear no resemblance to either the lurid descriptions offered by those medieval witch-hunters and demonologists or the hysterical and often farcical accounts of authors such as Rebbecca Brown MD (see WHAT'S WRONG WITH REBECCA BROWN... in the ARTICLES section of this Site), Audrey Harper, etc.

Rites vary according to tradition but generally keep to the universal theme of suffering-death-rebirth.   Despite variations, there are several things that universally are not part of Initiation into the Craft:
  • There is no renunciation of the Christian faith - or any faith for that matter.
  • There is no homage to the Devil, including kisses, oaths or pacts. Satan is not recognized by either Wiccans, other Neo-Pagan Witches or Neo-Pagans generally.
  • There is no blood Sacrifice. (see BLOOD)
  • Many Covens do not practice 'Skyclad' (naked - literally 'clad only by the sky') Initiations - though more than a few do.
  • There is no group sex or orgies involved.   As many Neo-Pagans laughingly reply when asked about this..."I should be so lucky! No ever invites me to such good parties..."
Traditionally in Wicca, a Witch is not considered a true member of the Craft without formal Initiation into a Coven, after an apprenticeship period of not less than a year and a day.   (However, many 'self-taught' Teen Witches ignore this entirely, and as a result, are often held in contempt by older Coven-trained Wiccans and Neo-Pagans)  

Women must be Initiated by a High Priest, men by a High Priestess.   Among some Hereditary Witches, mothers may Initiate daughters and fathers, sons.

In the Gardnerian and Alexandrian Traditions, the 'base' Traditions in modem Wicca, from which most others have formed, the Initiation is a formal ceremony conducted within a Magic Circle.

Both Gardnerian and Alexandrian Traditions have a system of three degrees of advancement, the entry to each level of which is marked by Initiation and while there are some differences between the two Traditions, but the major aspects are similar.

Advancement through the degrees is, like Masonry, advancement through the Mysteries of Western occultism; progressively, more secret teachings or 'Mysteries' are revealed.

An example of the 'Challenge'
A somewhat staged though
accurate portrayal of the 'Challenge'
as performed in the
1st Degree Wiccan Initiation...

In a first-degree Initiation, the candidate is blind-folded and bound with cords and challenged outside the Magic Circle as to the courage to continue. (see CHALLENGE)

In some covens, at the opening of the rite, and before the Initiate enters the circle, the Bagahi Rune is recited followed by the Charge of the Goddess and/or Charge of the God to invoke the deities.

At this juncture a gap or doorway is created in the periphery of the Magic Circle and a Witch's Broom is placed across the threshold to symbolize sexual union (between the rod and the brush).   The Initiate is again challenged by the Initiator who holds the Athame against the candidate's throat or breast and enquires if he or she possesses the courage to step across the threshold.

The Initiate responds that he or she is ready with "perfect love and perfect trust" to suffer, to be purified and learn. (see CHALLENGE)

The Athame is laid across the Broom and the Initiate is spun into the Magic Circle with a kiss of greeting and presented to the four quarters beginning (depending on the Coven's Tradition) in the east and moving Deosil (Clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere - Counter-Clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere) around to the north (south in the Southern Hemisphere).

The Coveners Dance in a circle and Chant the Names of Power after which a bell is rung and the Initiator kneels before the Initiate offering them a Five-fold Kiss on the feet, knees, genitals, breast and lips to symbolize the sacred nature of the body and to activate the Chakras.

The Initiate's ankles are loosely tied with one of the cords, and the Initiate is lightly scourged (see SCOURGE) before measured with a cord, which is tied in knots to mark the measures.

In the Alexandrian tradition, the measure is given back to the Witch.   In the Gardnerian tradition, it is customary for the Initiator to keep the measure.

According to Gerald Gardner, the English Witch for whom the Gardnerian tradition is named, the measure serves as a sort of insurance policy that the Oath will be kept.   In the "old days" (Gardner did not specify how far back the "old days" go), if a Witch broke the Oath of secrecy, his or her cord was buried with Curses, so that as it rotted, so would the traitor.

The candidate is then administered an Oath.   In the presence of the Goddess(es), god(s), Guardians, Mighty Dead and Sisters and Brothers of the Craft, the Initiate vows to guard and protect the Craft, the Secrets of the Craft, and the brothers and sisters of the Craft, and, in some Traditions, to render aid to said brothers and sisters

The Initiate adopts a Craft name (sometimes called a 'Magickal Name').

The Initiate is consecrated three times and the blindfold is removed.   He or she is then presented with the eight working tools of a Witch and, finally, the Initiate is led once more to the four guardian Watchtowers of the Magic Circle.

In the second-degree Wiccan Initiation, after which an Initiate becomes a full priest or priestess, the Witch is blind-folded and bound, and renews the Oath that it is necessary to suffer to learn and be purified.   A ritual scourging follows (see SCOURGE).  

The Initiate into the second degree may be naked and tethered but not blindfolded, and the rite includes, in some Covens, the transfer of a ring, worn on the third finger of the right hand as a personal gift from Initiator to Initiate.   The ring also symbolizes a transference of innate powers, the so-called 'willing of the power'.

The Initiate is offered wine and, as in the first stage, the Initiator delivers the Five-fold Kiss after which the last of the bonds are removed and the Initiate is presented with the eight Working Tools that he or she is now asked to put to use.   They are also presented with the ritual cords and a Scourge and are given the teaching of the Three-fold Law.

The Witch more often than not also assumes a new Craft or Magickal Name, and, at the ritual's core, is an Oath considered more binding than that uitered at the first degree ceremony.

In some Traditions the Legend of the Goddess may be enacted by members of the Coven.

My Certificate of 1st Degree Initiation

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My own 'Certificate of Initiation'
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NOTE: In Alexandrian Covens, first degree Initiates are allowed to witness the rite while in Gardnerian tradition, it is retained only for the audience of second and third degree witches.

The third-degree Wiccan Initiation, is considered to be the consummation of the Mysteries, and is the highest level of initiation to be completed by a Witch of most Traditions of Wicca. This Initiation allows an individual to form his or her own Covens, and to initiate others to second and third degree levels.

The Initiation rite centres upon the Great Rite through which the animus (male spirituality) or anima (female spirituality) of the Initiate becomes one with his or her opposite.   It is performed either symbolically or as an actual act of sexual intercourse of priest and priestess, and is based on the ancient Mesopotamian rite dating from at least the third of fourth millennium BC, which later became translated into the Mysteries of Isis and into the Greek hieros gamos).

All Wiccan Initiations traditionally end with a celebration of food and drink (see CAKES AND ALE).

Not all Wiccans or other Neo-Pagan Witches follow these exact same procedures.   Many Witches practice as Solitaires and do not feel they have to join Covens in order to be Witches.   They Initiate themselves in self-designed rituals.

Rites may include ritual baths (a form of baptism), anointing and pledges to serve the Goddess and use the powers of Witchcraft for the good of others.   Such 'self-initiations' are generally accepted - however - some who find they are - for whatever reason - ineligible for Initiation by an already existing Coven or Tradition form their own.  

Such 'self-generated' groups are almost universally held in very low regard by those who belong to Covens that trace their roots back, whether directly or indirectly, to the Gardnerian and Alexandrian Traditions, most of whom have trained for over a year or more before being accepted for Initiation.

Still other Witches, as well as many Neo-Pagans, have a vision quest as Initiation.   A Native American Indian tradition, a vision quest involves fasting and an all-night, solitary vigil outdoors, during which the Initiate comes into direct contact with the gods, discovers his or her own "medicine power" and connects with tutelary, totemic or Guardian Spirits, which usually assume an-imal or bird form.

Still other Witches and Neo-Pagans undertake a Shamanic Initiation, an Ecstatic journey to higher planes of consciousness (see PALEO-PAGANISM). Shamanic Initiations vary around the world.

In many, the Initiate suffers symbolic death by gruesome dismemberment; he or she is then reassembled and imbued with magical powers of Clairvoyant vision for healing the sick and seeing the future.   In other Initiations, the Shaman makes an ascsent to the sky, where he learns the secrets of the universe and acquires his magical powers.

In Shamanic cultures, Shamanic Initiations often involve blood Sacrifices of animals and the ingestion of intoxicants.   Neo-Pagan Shamanic Initiations eschew blood Sacrifices (animal life is considered sacrosanct); and the taking of intoxicants is an individual choice.

 


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PLEASE NOTE:
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc



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