To initiate means ‘to begin’, coming from the Latin initium. In the context of Pagan or Wiccan initiations, it can mean acceptance into a particular coven or tradition, or it can imply the Goddess or God has called or acknowledged a particular person.
The March poll asked if one required a coven initiation to become a ‘real witch’. It is gratifying to see that the vast majority of you have voted sensibly, acknowledging that ‘no’, it is not a requirement. Ten years ago this may not have been the case.
Occasionally, online or at festivals, someone will introduce themselves as Lady or Lord So-and-so, third degree Grand Witch of X-Tradition, High Priest/ess, etc. One can only assume that this is intended to impress, however, truthfully, these people tend to come across more foolish than anything else.
Coven initiations and coven degrees only hold significance within that particular coven. Outside the circle they ought never be considered as concrete proof of knowledge, ability or skill, even if the coven is of the same or similar tradition to one you practice or are familiar with. Each coven has its own rules and requirements for its degree system and, even within the same tradition, these conditions are not mutually exclusive.
There seem to be a number of dodgy groups and companies out there who profess to train witches via the Internet and attempt to extract money for the dubious honour of receiving one of their ‘astral initiations’.
The skyclad truth of the matter is, the only creatures with any authority to initiate anyone are the Goddess and God. The Mysteries of divine initiation are conferred through experience. Coven or self-initiations are merely intended to recognize when a rite of passage has been met, a physical acknowledgement of what has already been spiritually earned.
There is a saying among the more sensible neo-pagans that goes: ‘a witch is a witch is a witch’. Meaning that whatever tradition, degree, or school of witchcraft one subscribes to, a witch is identifiable by certain, independently arrived, standards of legitimacy.
Certainly, there are different stages of knowledge and ability, but this does not confer or condone any power of one person over another. Paganism has no formal hierarchy, it has no bishops or decans, no mullahs or rabbis. Priest/esshood and degrees are defined within each individual coven. Respect should be earned, not forced, or expected based solely on the titles one uses.
As Pagans, we recognize that we are on a level playing field, each person may be on a different stage of their journey, but that does not lessons or increase their significance in the Pagan community.
Be comfortable with who you are, respect your Elders, and they in turn will respect you.
First published on Suite101.com on 03 April 2006. (Unfortunately.)