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NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
The Pressure to be Initiated
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It’s all over the internet, a frequent passage in many a book, and is on the minds of many newcomers – initiation. To the serious seeker, the prospect of being fully initiated into a tradition, to be fully welcomed into the circle, is an almost if not completely glorious concept.
It means being one with the divine being we choose to follow. It means having access to Craft secrets that may rest within the coven. It means having a closer understanding of the mysteries of the Goddess, the God, both, or whichever godform and pantheon you are called to. It means having a network of peers and covenmates with whom you can learn from and share experiences with. It even means that, should you go deeper within the circle, the possibility of teaching others in the years to come.
It all seems so enticing to those of us on the outside – those of us whose only Craft education comes from personal experience and Barnes and Noble. And I’ve certainly entertained the idea of formal training myself, which I am certain I will get someday in the future.
But I have noticed a trend as of late – a trend that frankly disturbs me. It seems more and more Pagans, of all traditions and beliefs, are beginning to make initiation into a tradition a priority in determining if a person is a “legitimate” Pagan (whichever kind of Pagan that may be). Some are beginning to degrade personal experience, making its value less important than one’s training and credentials.
Of course, this is most commonly found online. Unmonitored chat rooms and groups on sites like myspace.com tend to bring out the worst in the communities – the trolls, the fakers, the witchier-than-thous, etc. A common thread among these groups is that if you’re not an initiated member of your religion, then you’re not a real worshiper, rather a devotee. Some of these go a step further, saying you are a Neo-Wiccan or the like, effectively separating you from the rest of the religion, the traditional branch.
For those of us who seek acceptance into the fold, this can be quite a blow to our sense of community and fellowship. I should know – I’ve felt somewhat outcast by the traditionalists due to the fact that I’m untrained and uninitiated.
A couple of months ago, I felt I had had enough of this feeling, so I decided it was time to get some formal training. I looked into the various traditions to see which appealed to me the most, and I decided that I would like to study the Gardnerian or the Feri traditions. I dove through The Witches’ Voice, looking for various covens and organizations that would be willing to train me.
I thought I struck gold when I found a Wiccan organization the next town over, but I never heard back from them, so that was a dead end for me.
Then I found a Gardnerian High Priestess who was looking to start a new coven and train new members, so I gave that a shot. She thought it was wonderful that I wanted to be formally trained, but declined because she was not comfortable training someone under twenty-one.
I found a few other Pagan organizations outside of Wicca, which led to my first gathering experience, yet these didn’t appeal to me as a place I’d want to be taught. As of now, I’m still not being trained, still uninitiated, still learning the Craft on my own.
I felt dismayed at my lack of available teachers and organizations, so I went to the next best step – traditional books. Whereas I was introduced by such noteworthy names as Christopher Penczak, Scott Cunningham, even Silver Ravenwolf, traditionalists refer to books that are decades older – ancient by our teen standards.
The groups and individuals I contacted, along with the traditionalists I’ve seen chatting online, have suggested various works that one should read to truly understand Wicca. The oldest I had read beforehand was ‘Witchcraft Today’ – Gerald Gardner’s first book. But now I went on a small spending spree – buying up other works by Gardner, Vivianne Crowley, the Farrars, and Valiente. Though I’m a bit slow going through them, they have definitely helped broadened my views of traditional Wicca, if only for future knowledge as of now.
At this stage, I felt quite upset because, if the only true Wiccans or true members of other Pagan religions are those that have been initiated, that meant that I would not be a legitimate follower for at least a couple of years. But as I was flipping through Janet and Stewart Farrar’s, A Witches’ Bible, I came across the chapter on self-initiation.
In it, the Farrars said that yes, at one point you had to be initiated by a witch to be a witch, and that it’s still a good rule to follow whenever possible. But they have realized, as have many in the community that this is not always possible – the demographics and spread of Pagan religions has reached a point that such an inflexible commandment is just not feasible, and that quote, “a large section of today’s Craft (and by no means necessarily an inferior section) either is self-initiated or stems from people who were self-initiated.” They went on to say that any claim that a tradition or self trained witches and/or Wiccans were illegitimate belonged in the realm of fantasy.
Doreen Valiente voiced a similar opinion in ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’, saying “You have a right to be a pagan if you want to be…So do not let anyone browbeat you out of it.”
When I read that quote, it made me realize that even though I’m very much dedicated to my religion, I shouldn’t feel pressured into be initiated at the first chance I get. Granted, I feel if given the opportunity, one should certainly undertake formal training and be initiated. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen immediately.
Many teens out there are experiencing similar reservations and anxiety over the fact that their lack of training doesn’t make them a true Wiccan/Pagan/what-be-you. But we’re young – we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us for that. Just because we can’t begin such training now doesn’t mean it won’t be available to us later in life. And perhaps years of study before training might actually do us some good so that when we do start training, we aren’t completely clueless.
If you feel the heat from the witchier-than-thous, don’t fret. Don’t worry about pleasing somebody who exists on the other side of cyberspace. Your beliefs and faith are just as real and legitimate as any initiate.
Just learn what you can and live your religion as honestly and sincerely as possible. When you feel you are ready, by all means get trained and get initiated, but don’t feel that you have to because a chat room troll said you should.
Live and experience your religion for yourself, not for the approval of others.
And when all else fails, just remember, the gods will recognize their own.
Farrar, Janet and Stewart. A Witches’ Bible. Custer, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc. 1996. pg. 224-225
Valiente, Doreen. Witchcraft for Tomorrow. Custer, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc. 1988. pg. 22
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