Every Monday and Friday in January we will be asking people questions about Wicca. Want to weigh in? Find the next question at the bottom of this post!
With the increased access to information and growing numbers of solitaries, does initiatory Wicca still have something to offer?
*Once again everyone is speaking from their own point of view and not that of their traditions. The songs this time may seem a bit odd, but I chose popular music that reminded me of the Horned One.*
In my opinion, and some in my tradition and community will differ from me here, the initiatory path offers something that solitary practice does not. This is not to say, of course, that excellent priests and priestesses cannot come from solitary practice. I am well acquainted with some of these who have decided that the initiatory path is not their path to follow and their work is just as powerful, just as meaningful as those of us who have chosen an such a path. A person self-taught in music can create beautiful, complex works as well as a person who spent years in formal training and tutoring, but in many ways, the solitary path is a harder one to take. An experienced teacher and community can lend that experience to the seeker or neophyte. My own path would have been much different if I hadn’t decided to take a teacher and I am, indeed, quite grateful for what I’ve learned from them. It is, perhaps, more difficult to garner a deeper understanding of your own faith, how to practice, and how to serve others if the seeker chooses not to take a teacher.
There is another issue here: the initiation itself. Done well, the initiation causes a marked change in the initiated. Even if the candidate has read a text that outlines the ritual and “knows” what is going to happen, the actual experience can be a deeply meaningful and transformative one. Childbirth and motherhood is the same way. You can read about it and research all you like, but the experience changes you in a fundamental way. I’ve seen this change and recognized it not only in myself, but in priests and priestesses whose initiations I have participated in.
I chose an initiatory path because it was my intention to become a clergyperson and serve my gods by serving my community. This is not for everyone and nor would I recommend it to those who are not called to that kind of service. In the end, it is most important to choose a path that will enrich your life and serve your gods in the most effective way you know how. As Joseph Campbell would say: Follow your bliss.
Lady Moonshadow Xian (House of RavenStone) responds:
With the wealth of information available I believe that many people will chose the path of a solitary. Some people are just not “joiners”. Others have simply been completely alienated by their experiences with organized religion that the very idea of being part of a group is abhorrent. I can understand their point of view.
I was tossed out of the family Baptist church at the age of seven. From my early life experiences I didn’t believe them when they told me “Jesus doesn’t let bad things happen to children.” By that time I had seen the violent death of my older sister in an automobile accident. Had been injured myself in the same accident. And had seen one of the kids I played with in the neighborhood waste away with leukemia. I knew it was a lie. I was the child that scared the Sunday school teachers because I asked difficult questions about things that many adults had not yet faced.
I came to my own beliefs through the love of nature and the outdoors. I always kept track of the phases of the moon and seasons. Watched and learned about weather, plant and animals. They were my own beliefs and I thought totally unique.
Then I was introduced to Wicca by way of Lord Merlin of Ravenwood at a writer’s group meeting. He basically outlined my personal beliefs and told me to “Seek ye the Lady of Ravenwood.” And left me standing in the parking lot.
I was trained in a traditional group. Books and information were not nearly as readily available as they are now. I see that as both a blessing and a curse. I love books and think people should read more. The abundance of information can be overwhelming and it seems that there is now more bad information than good. You can learn a great deal from the books out there as long as you use good judgment as to what you internalize as good information. Some people will be content with the path they build with this information. However I think that most people desire community. They also reach a point that they feel they have learned all that they can on their own and now need a teacher or guide. If this were not the case people would not seek out festivals, gatherings and open circles to attend.
You can practice Wicca as a solitary and never need to be part of a group or community and never desire initiation. You do not need anyone between you and the Divine as you are part of the Divine.
There are things that can only be learned through experience and with the guidance of a teacher.
Initiation is far different from self dedication. It is a formal introduction to greater powers and the Elder Gods. You can not be a Witch/Priestess/Priest without being an Initiate. “It takes a Witch to make Witch.”
The Initiatory path will always continue. It may not always be the most popular path. It is not the only path. It is not the easy path. It is the best path for me.
If Initiatory Wicca (BTW) had somehow become outmoded or no longer appealed to modern practitioners, it would have fallen to the wayside by now, or show evidence of dwindling interest in it. That has not been the case. Rather, BTW and Solitary Wicca (SW) are two distinct forms of Craft, and the appeal of each is equally different. The advent of the latter does not impact the value or continuity of the former.
BTW is a priesthood, a collective in which the initiates are in service to their gods in a particular way. It appeals to those who are attracted to being part of a history and contributing to its continuity. It appeals to those who are drawn to being part of something bigger than themselves, yet still facilitates the individual’s journey. It’s a path that existed before the individual became an initiate and it will continue to exist long after he crosses over. Solitary Wicca, as the name indicates, centers on the individual. It is not a pre-existing path, but one created by each practitioner, tailored to his personal needs. Its beginning and end rests with him, only taking shape as the person defines and continues it.
As someone who’s been a witch for 30 years, with the past 2 decades specifically as a BTW, I’ve witnessed Traditions continue to celebrate new initiates and new covens within their various lines with no signs of slowing down. Also, a common misconception is that Solitary Wicca descends from Initiatory Wicca, technically it doesn’t. More correctly, they’re independent of each other. SW borrows elements of BTW, a base upon which the person cultivates his own mode of practice, often by also drawing on other paths. There was no splintering within BTW, no group of initiates deciding it no longer functions so a departure was needed. Rather, Solitary Wicca came into its own, addressing interests that are different from those addressed by BTW. Some reasons often heard is that a person is isolated and/or cannot find a traditional coven in which to train (but some would seek BTW initiation if they could). A more common sentiment is the person is simply not interested in being part of a collective, and/or doesn’t feel in agreement with all the practices associated with BTW, or simply feels drawn to elements of other practices too and prefers to design his own practice. These are all perfectly understandable reasons – if a path doesn’t fit the individual (nor the individual fits it), it makes sense to seek out what does, or create it for one’s self.
It’s not very likely either one will replace the other because they differ in appeal, approach and purpose. They exist independently of each other and each will, no doubt, continue to flourish.
“Different strokes for different folks.”
As for me? Well, I’ve made it clear that I study trad Craft and I’m reaching the point where it’s time to consider if I’m ready for initiation. I need to find time to sit with my priestess and have a good chat about it. Maybe she will think I’m ready. Maybe she won’t. Maybe I won’t feel quite ready. I want to be initiated but it’s a big decision and I’ve been Pagan long enough to learn to listen and observe and trust the energies and signs.
Yet it was not so long ago that I didn’t believe initiatory Wicca had anything to offer. I had been a solitary for almost a decade, exploring different Pagan religions sort of half-heartedly on my own, and didn’t have much patience with Pagans in groups. While my personal practice was satisfying I wanted more. The Horned One was taking a rather active interest in my life in several ways, not all of them pleasant. Some distinctly unpleasant. Part of it was learning that solitary practice does not really prepare you for trad Craft, that “not all that glitters is gold” and that the Craft, whether solitary or traditional, must be a living, breathing thing.
When I met my HPS and HP I had decided I wanted absolutely nothing to do with trad Craft. I’d tried it and I’d been scarred by the experience. Yet it was my bad experience that prepared me to be ready to be a student again. I’m blessed to be a student of a grounded, practical and earthy tradition that has allowed me to be active and challenged me, and even as a student has given me opportunity to dance with the Mystery. Being involved with trad Craft also has not negated my personal practice but enhanced it.
I think initiatory Wicca matters or I wouldn’t have taken endless notes for the past year and pushed myself to understand and connect the teachings of my tradition to my own understanding. Yet I know every coven and every tradition is different. Trad Craft is sometimes seen by outsiders as a whole, but it’s microcosm is as diverse as the Pagan macrocosm it inhabits. I think initiatory Wicca will survive, but which forms will thrive will have a lot to say about it’s future. Even if you look at it’s origin myths, Wicca has been ever an evolutionary (often revolutionary!) religion, and the key to evolution is, well, Darwin said it best:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
Our spiritual ancestors knew this, and will guide us if we are willing to listen.
This concludes the Wicca Series, which has been an unexpected yet fascinating project. I’m currently consulting with folks as to what we will focus on in February. We will feature other Pagan religions in the future, and we will have something announced for February by the end of the week. In the meantime have a Blessed Imbolc and thanks for participating and reading!