Many newcomers to Wicca are curious about the process of initiation. What exactly is involved? Do you have to be initiated before you can truly be a Wiccan? Answers to these questions can vary from person to person, but below you’ll find my perspective on initiation and self-dedication.
Not everyone who wants to explore Wicca as a potential spiritual path will stick with it. Some people find themselves drawn to this form of the Craft for awhile, but eventually realize that it’s not for them. Others may discover Wicca as a starting point to a broader, less defined spiritual path that may have some similar beliefs and practices, but ultimately isn’t Wiccan.
And then there are those who truly find themselves at home in this world, who will eventually decide that they want to dedicate themselves to following the Wiccan path as a way of life. For this last group, the question of initiation will inevitably present itself. But just what is initiation, and how do you go about setting it in motion? What is involved in the Wiccan initiation ceremony itself? The answers depend on whether you want to practice Wicca among others within a coven, or forge a solo path of your own making.
For most people, the word initiation brings to mind a secret ceremony in which a person is admitted into a specific organization. If your aim is to join a traditional coven, then this is an apt description. In Wicca, the classic sense of initiation involves the passing down of specific traditions from one Witch to another. In this lineage system, would-be members of a coven will study under the mentorship of the initiated, experienced members until they are knowledgeable and practiced enough to participate in coven rituals, and—most importantly—to commit themselves to spiritual fellowship with the group.
In keeping with the traditions of secrecy regarding the Craft, the vast majority of covens do not share the details of their initiation rituals with outsiders. However, there are some general characteristics that many coven processes have in common—and initiation is indeed a process, a series of steps leading to an experience of spiritual transformation that involves, but is not limited to, the moment of the rite itself.
First, the would-be initiate meets and spends time with the coven members, learning basic information about the coven’s history and the tradition(s) they follow, and generally getting a sense for whether or not this particular group is a good fit. This is a crucial undertaking, for both the individual and the coven. A coven needs its members to be wholly committed to participating in rituals and contributing their energy on a consistent basis.
If you do find a good fit and decide to begin the initiation process, you will then enter a period of study and mentorship with one or more experienced members of the coven. During this time, you’ll be immersing yourself in the beliefs and practices followed by the coven, and depending on the coven’s philosophies, possibly engaging in your own explorations of the Craft as well. Once you’re initiated, you will be responsible for keeping your commitments to the coven—to show up for rituals and other meetings, to honor vows of secrecy, and to be part of the support system that coven membership offers.
Initiation into a coven is not something to be taken lightly. You are entering into very strong emotional and spiritual bonds with the individuals in this group, so you need to be truly compatible with them. In fact, some Witches have likened initiation to marriage, and many people find that they are closer to their fellow coveners than they are to their own family. So don’t ever join a coven just because you want to belong to a group of Witches, or you are likely to regret your choice. Indeed, it’s definitely better to practice on your own than to become bound to a situation that is anything less than joyful, caring, and fulfilling.
For solitary Wiccans, the path to initiation—and even the terminology associated with it—is less clear cut. Rather than initiation, the more widely-recognized term for a solitary Witch’s formal entrance into the Craft is self-dedication. A ritual of self-dedication may resemble aspects of a coven initiation to varying degrees, but because solitary Witches can design and perform this ritual in any way they like, it is a fundamentally different experience.
Self-dedication happens strictly on your own terms. The commitment you’re declaring in such a ritual is really to your inner self, to any deities you may incorporate into your practice, and to the divinity of the Universe as you understand it. It’s not a commitment to any other person, or an entrance into a group of fellow practitioners. And since this experience is strictly between you and the divine, you can call it whatever you like—initiation, self-dedication, self-initiation, or something else entirely, if that’s what makes the most sense to you.
Although this is a very different experience from that of a coven initiation, there are still important parallels on the journey to this milestone on your path. First, of course, is the work of really getting a feel for the Craft—exploring possible avenues in terms of established traditions, getting a sense for what resonates with you and what doesn’t, and continuing to read as much and as widely as you can. It’s traditionally recommended to spend a year and a day studying the Craft before undertaking your self-initiation, but you can certainly take longer if you like.
Once you feel ready to take steps toward initiation, you can start thinking about what this ritual will look like for you. If you’d like to take a structured approach to the process, you can find Wiccan books and online resources that will offer you a well-defined plan, from interactive classes to recommended book lists and more. If you’re looking to follow a specific, established practice rather than building your own eclectic form, you can find some good contemporary models, such as Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, or Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Both of these classic books provide plenty of practical information, including detailed rituals for self-dedication that you can follow to the letter, if you wish.
If you’re more eclectically inclined, you will probably want to borrow from more than one tradition as you develop your practice. But you can still set yourself a course of study to follow as you work your way toward the point where you feel ready for initiation. You can “assign” yourself a certain amount of reading per week, organize your studies around specific topics such as the Triple Goddess or the Wheel of the Year, and/or read all the books written by a particular author before moving on to a new one. Then again, you may want to be more free-wheeling and unmethodical about your study, following your inner guide from moment to moment until you’re thoroughly inspired to perform your self-dedication.
When it comes to the Wiccan initiation ritual itself, if you haven’t found one you want to follow in any of the sources you’ve consulted, then you will need to design your own. You may want to piece your process together from various sources, possibly including some details from your own inspiration. Or, you might invent one entirely from scratch. Just know that the details are less important than your sincere desire to formalize your commitment to the Wiccan way of life. You can even ask the Goddess and God to help you choose your best approach.
A long and winding path
Initiation/self-dedication is a personal decision that no one can make for you. Unless you are seeking official membership in a coven, it’s actually an entirely optional experience. But whether or not you seek initiation, know that a single ritual is not going to suddenly catapult you into a full-blown magical existence, or guarantee that you’ll stay on this particular path forever. There are Witches who have practiced all their lives without undergoing initiation, and plenty of initiated ones who lost interest in Wicca down the road. Throughout your life, it will be up to you to continue choosing the path, in your own way and at your own pace.