Wicca: Initiatory Traditions

Most Wiccan traditions have three levels of initiation. In Gardnerian and Alexandrian Craft, the first degree initiate is known as a Witch and Priest or Witch and Priestess, and the second and third degree initiate as High Priest or High Priestess. The first degree confers initiation into the Craft. The second initiation, which confers the rank of High Priest or High Priestess, is given when someone is competent to conduct rituals and to instruct first degree Witches.

In many traditions, at second degree, people may hive off to form their own covens and to initiate at first degree. The third degree is usually given to couples who have attained a level of seniority in the Craft. In some traditions, the third degree is only given to those who have successfully initiated and trained Witches at first degree level. In other traditions, the third degree initiation is given prior to a couple hiving off to form their own coven. Third degree Witches can initiate others to the first, second and third degree.

Some traditions do not have a system of three degrees. Instead, there are two senior people, usually an older couple, who run the coven, the Master and the Lady. They are assistend by the Maiden, a younger woman who is deputy to the Lady, and a Summoner, a mal Witch who does much of the administrative work of the coven. These positions are gained by election either on the part of the coven or by the individuals themselves who decide they are ready to run a coven. Some Gardnerian and Alexandrian covens will also have a Summoner and a Maiden. In these covens, the positions are usually held by second degree initiates.

Wicca is an esoteric religion with an initiatory religious and magical system. In this, Wicca differs from forms of Paganism that have open rituals and meetings and do not involve a formal ceremony of commitment. Followers of Wicca are also different from Witches who practise sympathetic magic purely as a magical art and may also pracise a religion such as Christianity or no religion at all.

Just as not all Egyptians were initiates of Isis, so all Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Some Pagans belong to other initiatory traditions such as Druidry. Many people wish to worship the Pagan Gods without the more formal commitment to a tradition which initiatory paths demand. Both types of Paganism have an important role to play.

In addition to the usual three degree system some covens have an outer court whose members can attend some coven ceremonies and possibly seasonal celebrations. Some covens also have a preliminary neophyte initiation before the first degree. This allows the neophyte to learn more and to explore before making a full commitment. After a year and a day, neophytes will either proceed further or decide that this is not their path.

The neophyte stage is akin to the postulant in religious orders. A postulant is a Latin-based word for who who knocks upon the door. In the Book of Shadows, the candidate for initiation is referred to as a postulant. Most covens, however, do not operate a neophyting system, believing that the willingness to take a step into the unknown is an essential feature of initiation. These groups follow the practice of not allowing anyone into their circles until they undergo the first degree initiation.
– Source: Vivianne Crowley, Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium. Thorsons, London. 1996. Pages 90-96

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