In England you are legally considered an adult when you turn 18 years old, in truth just because someone turns 18, it doesn’t therefore mean one is an adult; there are certain attributes one must exhibit to be considered an adult regardless of their physical age and legal status. Now, keep this analogy in mind whilst I discuss initiation, what I think initiation is, what I think initiation isn’t and what I think it means for the individual and the craft community as a whole.
‘Initiation’ doesn’t always mean an individual has become Witch, just like turning 18 doesn’t mean a teenager has become an adult, that’s because the word initiation can have so many meanings…an unfortunate facet of language is that words can limit.
Ask any member of the craft community (traditional or otherwise) what initiation is and I would hazard a guess that most will refer to initiation into a group, coven, clan or some such organisation. But is this really initiation?
Indeed to be admitted into a Clan or Covine is a form of initiation. Expectations are clarified, often oaths are sworn and no doubt many traditions (including Wicca) require the candidate to pass some trial or ordeal, a test of resolve and commitment. This is significant, both for the candidate and the group taking a chance on them, not only for protection and loyality’s sake but also to make the candidate feel like they belong, and have earned the right to belong.
I however, do not believe this instantly entitles someone to consider themself ‘Witch’. Admission into a group and initiation into the craft are fundamentally different. For starters admission into a group often happens after a pre-determined time frame, at a pre-determined date…but who determines these things? The Gods? The Spirits? The Ancestors? Probably the leaders and / or elders of the group. Initiation into the craft cannot be planned; it cannot be predicated and does not follow a time frame, initiation is a process which takes as long as it takes. To me this is key. The act of ’becoming’ that is to say the process of transformation from one state of being to another doesn’t happen just like that! An hour long ritual, for example, is not equivalent to or going to replace what someone may accomplish after years, if not a lifetime.
Now that’s not to say a ritual either on one’s own or into a fellowship of some sort isn’t a great way to mark this profound rite of passage, it may even be considered quite apt. A good group, one based on experience where the elders and leaders live and have lived through the seasons of The Craft will know a prospective candidate inside and out, they will recognise any subtle (or not so subtle) changes which may be taking place over the candidates ‘career’ and perhaps then decide a suitable ritual to mark and celebrate the initiation would be appropriate…this may double up as a rite of admission into the group or that may have already happened some time ago. To further murky the waters, admission ceremonies may act as a catalyst for something deeper. Some traditions incorporate ritual blooding or the passing of power which may awaken the dormant ‘Witch blood’ within, but again this is facilitating a natural process governed by the individual’s dedication, and the Old Ones’ say so. What I’m getting at is that, in my ever so humble opinion, admission into a group and initiation into The Craft are not the same.
Why? Well for reasons other than those already stated, humans (no matter who they are or say they are) do not initiate anyone. Now it may well be, as referred to above, that ceremonies and training within a group facilitate the individual’s path towards initiation (as many ‘old craft’ groups will most likely do) but they do not cannot initiate. It is the Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (or all of these) which determine when a person should become one of the “Darling Crew” and through discussions with others and from personal experience I can say it is not an easy ride and it is a highly personal one…each individual will experience the road differently, learn different lessons, perhaps specialise in different aspects or develop certain abilities others may not. There is no way a generic ritual is going to sum up years, even decades of work, loneliness, heartache, personal sacrifice and it is by no means gonna cut it as a replacement for the spirits’ acceptance, the ear of the Gods, feeling the ancestors walking with you; there isn’t a [ritual] substitute in the world.
Reading the accounts and confessions from the Witch trials and so on we see common threads. For example, a pact with ‘The Devil’ usually through sexual union or signing in blood or the gifting of a familiar spirit and so on are all ‘trademarks’ of initiation. Perhaps ‘The Devil’ or the archetypal ‘Man In Black’ was a real man, the master of the local covine maybe, but we must bear in mind He isn’t presented as such, initiation into Witch-hood according to those interviewed happened via a supernatural agency and I believe true initiation cannot happen any other way.
Now I am not for one second suggesting that induction or admission into a traditional group / covine / family isn’t valid…of course it is, providing we know what we mean and expect when we tell people or use the terms. I find it incredible that in today’s day and age people fight and argue, some even feud for years over lineages, degrees, who is genuine, who isn’t and supposed “initiations” when at the end of the day, in the eyes of the spirits it means jack shit! I doubt that the Spirits, Ancestors and Old Ones care one iota about who was initiated into what tradition by who (and frankly neither do I for that matter) it is only important to the group and the workings of a group’s egregore or ‘group mind’ (but that’s a whole other matter entirely).
To call yourself Witch means something…no, it doesn’t mean you bake cakes or blend incense, no, it doesn’t mean you belong to a particular tradition, it doesn’t mean you were initiated by the grand high poo-bar, all those things mean simply that you can bake cakes, blend incense, belong to a certain tradition and were initiated into said tradition by the grand high poo-bar. All valid and useful things to do and be but please, please can we start to understand what we mean when we speak of initiation? It is a long process, often processes; it is a gradual act of becoming something other than the ‘I’, it is the result of years of hard work, sacrifice, sometimes even loss and loneliness. It isn’t a ‘better’ anything, for it is a milestone along the way, a rite of passage and all rites of passage or important at the time they happen. Neither is initiation the end, or the goal for the road doesn’t terminate once it happens!
We need to recognise however these things are not all the same, calling it something doesn’t make it so…being inducted into a tradition does not make a Witch any more than turning 18 makes one an adult. Many Witches have never been part of a group, and chances are if they have been subject to genuine initiation they probably wouldn’t ever speak of it! Chances are however, you may know! Something inside them, something in their blood, something oozing from their pores, the way they look at you perhaps…it has nothing to do with certificates, degrees or lineage!
You can leave a group, you can evolve away from a tradition and one day we all stop being 18 and turn 19…once we are adults however we can’t ever stop being adults, something changes, once initiated you can never ever stop being Witch!