To initiate means “begin” and comes from the Latin word “initium”. In the context of Pagan or Wiccan initiations, this may mean acceptance within a particular coven or tradition. It can also mean that the Goddess or God has called a particular person.
The initiations in a coven and its degrees have a meaning within that coven. Outside the circle, they should never be considered as concrete evidence of knowledge, ability or skill. Each coven has its own rules and conditions for its system of degrees, and even within the same tradition these conditions are not reciprocally absolute.
The Mysteries of Divine Initiation are conferred through experience. Coven initiations or self-initiations are simply intended to recognize when a rite of passage has been lived. It is a physical recognition of what has already been spiritually won.
The Degree System
The traditional British Wicca, and many traditions that share the same values, have a system with three degrees of initiation. In a broad sense, first-degree initiation is open to all witches but the second and third degree are only for those who seek and respond to an inner call.
The higher degrees are not related to feats, power levels or magical study: but 2nd and 3rd degree wizards are people with management, communication and teaching skills as well as magical skills.
Those who are not emotionally, psychologically and socially balanced do not have the appropriate qualities to fulfill the conditions necessary to run a Circle.
One of the biggest problems that some Circles suffer from is being led by inexperienced or ‘incompetent’ people. Knowing all the rituals by heart and having a dominant or charismatic personality does not make you a good High Priestess or High Priest. For this reason we work in a strong but flexible structure of training, development and evaluation, which ensures that we do not allow incompetent rulers.
Before we look at “the Alexandrian initiation tree”, let us first see the basics for initiation into different degrees.
First degree: It is for those who just arrived at Wicca. As you will see elsewhere in the initiation information, this brings the new wizard into the Circle, connects them with the spirit of the Circle, and to the energy sources of the other plans with which this Circle and Tradition work.
Second degree: This marks the beginning of a deeper step in the Wiccan, and recognizes the commitment, the work and the effort that the second degree candidate has made since his first initiation.
Third degree: Is granted to those whose experience and knowledge are sufficient to work and lead a circle and who have been initiated long enough to become Elders of Wicca in their Circle.
The Tree of Initiation
In Wicca there are guidelines and rules as to who can initiate who. In all circumstances a man must be initiated by a woman, and a woman by a man. Except that a woman can initiate her daughter or son in the first or second degree if there is no other woman or man of the appropriate degree to do so. In exceptional circumstances a man can initiate his daughter to the first degree if the GPs is also the mother of this girl.
The first degrees can initiate other wiccans only in specific circumstances:
- As a “replacement” partner to a 2nd or 3rd degree in an “emergency” situation. For example, if there is no one of a higher degree to do it, if a member of the Circle is due for initiation while the GPs and GP are absent, and the initiation cannot be reasonably postponed till the return of the GPs or GP.
- If a Circle has stopped meeting and a first degree wiccan wishes to raise a partner or spouse so that they can work together.
- In all circumstances, a first degree can only initiate another into first degree. They may be involved in 2nd degree initiations as a partner of the initiator, but may not be the initiator under these circumstances.
In all the above cases except in 2, the initiations given by the first degree wizards must be practiced in an established circle, and should be done under the guidance and supervision of a third degree sorcerer.
Situations when a second degree can initiate another:
- Those of the second degree can initiate someone to the first and second degrees in a Circle; according to the guidelines for first degrees. Except that a second degree sorcerer may temporarily operate a Circle if the 3rd degree GP or GPs has left the group, and there is no High Priest or High Priestess of the third degree.
- In this case they must follow the instructions of number 3 below.
- Second degree wizards should only “elevate” or form a new Circle only in exceptional circumstances, and should seek the guidance of the GPs or GP of another Circle so that they can extend their training and development in a structured and sustained way to the third degree.
- If a wizard of the first or second degree leaves a Circle for negative reasons, he does not have the authority to form a new Circle or initiate people to form this new Circle. Although, sometimes there are disagreements between people, so those who leave their Circle for apparently negative reasons often seek the help and support of their sisters and brothers.
These guidelines and rules are not dogmatic or inflexible, and their sole purpose is to help wicca grow and strengthen. For example, the restriction against first degree wiccan giving initiations or forming Circles prevents the proliferation of groups led by inexperienced people.
If you want to join a Circle, would you rather be with people with deep experience and wisdom or go for a circle led by a shallow GP or GPs? It’s a question that is easy to answer.