The past two weekends I’ve been sorely tempted to write about things I find on the internet that make me despair of my community. From teachers whose “principles” require a fealty oath to their person, to people once again hating on Wicca, to people defining Wicca as spiritual silly putty. Maybe I should write about those things, but I just don’t need to weigh down my soul with that right now. Instead, I’d like to tell you about why I petitioned for initiation into Traditional Witchcraft.
1. People Are Better Than Books
I can read through ritual liturgy, but learning it hands-on with my priestess is a transformative experience. She’s very patient and encouraging. I tend to be bookish, but some of the most mind-bending moments in my training so far have come from my priestess challenging my assumptions and guiding me into the proper channels for what I’m trying to accomplish. For someone who’d put in a decade of self-study, I never expected to learn so much prior to initiation.
It’s a lonely world we live in, and I am one of the least socially accomplished people I know. Forging connections with people in a coven setting is a powerful experience. Two springs ago I began circling with kind strangers, and now these people are family. I’m still probably the most awkward member of the family, but I’m grateful to have such a kind, wise and welcoming group of people with whom to learn from and grow with.
Sartre said “Hell is other people,” and what he said rings true too often. I am never discouraged by my religion or my Gods, but other Pagans often make me want to climb into a tree like Merlin. I sometimes think coming to Paganism via the internet puts me at a disadvantage. Pagans on the internet are vicious. Part of me always expects Pagans I meet to turn ugly in word and deed, a reversed version of Gawain’s bride.
The people in my tradition constantly challenge me while always making me feel at home. I know my coven, and our mother coven, is my refuge from the often disheartening world of interfaith and intrafaith squabbling. As little as I have to offer, Lady Jasmine, Lord Solandrin, Lady Moonshadow, Lady Ariadna, Lady D’Cie, Lady Larina and Lord Gaelin, along with too many others to mention, have always made me feel at home and treated me like a real person. That’s not as common as it should be.
I should also say that I’ve heard people in my tradition, elders and “youngers,” say that it doesn’t matter what the name of our tradition or our covens are, as long as the community, purpose and teaching is the same. That impresses me when people consider their tradition a living thing and not bound by nostalgia, ego or “name-brand” recognition. I’ve taken up the same attitude. I’d raise an eyebrow if I were informed we changed the name of our tradition to the Glitter Farting Fairies, but as long as we kept the same values I’d wear the name with pride.
2. Hierarchy Is Good
Service is such a huge concept in the tradition I’ve been accepted for initiation into, and responsibility is taken very seriously. Some people laugh at Trad Craft traditions that use titles, but I can tell you that witnessing the work my elders put into their Craft and the service they give others, they have earned any honorific given them. Becoming an elder in our tradition is like taking on a part-time job, and I don’t envy or begrudge anyone the title of Lord of Lady before their Craft name.
Hierarchy gets a bad rap from control freaks and power-hungry individuals. Proper hierarchy involves delegation, a feeling of service and sweat-equity, and the recognition that the coven is a community which depends on each other. My tradition does this well. I’ve never had to swear fealty to an individual, never felt that I was not able to question my elders and certainly never felt we were divided into worker bees and “queen bees.” The hierarchy, the distribution of duties and the emphasis that each degree brings with it responsibility and service to others sits very well with me.
My priestess works her butt off. I don’t help her nearly as much as I should. So when I see her consider, consult, discuss and then eventually make the decision’s she needs to make regardless, I’m ok with knowing the buck stops with her. I am comforted by our hierarchy, supportive our my priestess’ autonomy and fine with being bottom of the pyramid, because in almost 2 years I’ve never once seen any of my elders abuse their authority. Being able to type that out fills me with an enormous amount of pride.
3. Diversity in Action
I’ll admit that I have one of those minds that labels, classifies, arranges and marks percentages when dealing with groups of people. Being observant may be good, but I’m not certain this sort of behavior is healthy. So I may be one of the few people in my tradition who regularly remarks on our diversity, because it’s sort of a given. People from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual identities, occupations and points of view just sort of coalesce into a community without any active push for such a thing to happen that I can see.
Our diversity goes beyond what most people think of as diversity. Yes, we have male, female, straight, gay, married, single, ex-Christians, ex-Muslims, youth, elders, liberals and conservatives among us. We also have polytheists, pantheists, monotheists and a mixture of the three among us. The examples accompanying a lesson may be drawn from classical Greek myth, a Bible verse or Star Wars. I won’t pretend eye-rolling at Abrahamic antics doesn’t happen, but Christianity, Islam and Judaism are considered sources of wisdom alongside all the other great mythologies of the world. It’s not something that’s discussed. It’s treated as the natural order of things, and I love that.
4. Southern Hospitality
I have been cut from an egregore before. I found the whole idea odd, paranoid and uncertain. The egregores of the tradition I’m initiating into aren’t treated as fragile. From my perspective, the intention of those who created and maintained the egregores of my coven, our mother coven, and I would assume our tradition as a whole, is to create a community in which those who seek to learn, practice, teach and embody our tradition are welcomed and supported.
I felt that support the first time I stepped into circle as a new student, and one of the first questions I asked my priestess and priest was what would happen if I decided this path wasn’t for me. I was told that they would want to speak with me to make sure I was ok, but that people are free to come and go as they need. The Gods don’t require a lumpectomy every time someone leaves, and that was a big factor in my choosing to study with this coven.
I’m not going to pretend that my first ritual, particularly my first multi-coven ritual, felt like I was hanging out with old friends. I observed the love and friendship that existed, and eventually came to feel like it this was my family. At first it was like a friend inviting you over to visit their big, boisterous family when you’re an only child. Even though it’s not your family yet, you still catch the vibe and it makes you feel welcomed and at home.
The feelings of family, hospitality and welcome are reinforced by each person actively engaged in creating community in this tradition. It feels like the people and the egregores are continually reinforcing and strengthening this attitude of hospitality, so that atmosphere feels very much like the Goddess herself. If that sounds overblown, twee or pretentious, I don’t care. It’s how I feel. I never felt “left out” as a student, never felt I had to be initiated to see what the tradition was about, and my decision to petition for initiation was largely based on the fact that I knew I didn’t have to be initiated to feel welcome, or to be treated like a person.
5. Values Over Magic
I practice magic. My coven practices magic. Magical Theory is the subject of not just one, but two mandatory beginner classes that follow the brain-hurting Metaphysical Theory classes. I have had experiences regarding magic and energy work in this coven that have changed me profoundly. That said, we don’t focus on magic.
You don’t hear our elders talk about magic nearly as much as they talk about our tenets. It’s not unusual to find any of my elders talking about trust, tolerance or humility in the course of any conversation. They are constantly talking about spiritual growth, learning life lessons, bringing your life into balance and building character. The one time I did go to my elders looking for magical advice it came with a heavy dose of tenets and warnings to examine myself before moving forward. My spell worked quite well, and their advice to examine my life proved extremely valuable in both the execution and handling the results of my spell.
From my observation on their emphasis on values, and the strength of their magic, I’ve concluded that the effectiveness of your magic depends on the quality of the tool. A Witch is a magical tool, the finest ever created, and so a Witch must put themselves in order, in order to be magically effective. I find that fascinating.
6. Wicca-focused Wicca
Everyone takes the beginner classes. I was a solitary for 10 years when I took my first protocol class. I didn’t feel it was beneath me to sit and write down the names of the Sabbats. I was determined to glean whatever I could from the classes. I was surprised to find the lesson I learned is that Wicca is enough.
The classes contain snatches of astrology, herbalism and other disciplines, but the bulk of the material has to do with Wicca itself. Why we believe what we believe, the reasoning behind it, the lore, the practices that support and strengthen our Craft. One of my elders said that we don’t wave any flag but the Wiccan flag. She meant that we don’t get involved in politics or social causes as a tradition, that our main purpose is the Wiccan religion, but since I heard that I’ve come to think of it in other terms. We don’t wave the ceremonial magic flag. We don’t wave the tarot flag. We don’t wave the herbalism flag. We don’t wave the Druidic lore flag. Wicca is our focus, and Wicca is enough.
We spend a lot of time with those beginner classes. I’m trying to take them all again, because I’m still learning new things as I review the basics. People take the classes, they learn the material to be able to teach it, they bring it up in conversation, they keep it on hand for easy reference and they are constantly looking for new and different ways to communicate the concepts in the classes. Generally more than one person teaches a class, and sometimes several elders will teach a class because they each have unique communication styles and perspectives.
I’ve taken Herbalism, Broom Making, and Healing classes from my elders, but they are considered special interest classes. The core teachings of the tradition are Wiccan, the basics of Wicca are considered concepts worthy of deep thought and study, and I’ve never once seen someone replace any core teaching with something from another religion or spiritual discipline. Even meditation, which is a non-religious discipline, is taught as something that is grounded in and strengthens your Craft. You could take out every reference and discipline in the classes that is not core Wiccan practice and belief, and the classes would still stand as a cohesive, comprehensive grounding in the Wiccan religion. That means a lot to me.
Initiation has gone out of vogue, and many people view it and Traditional Witchcraft negatively. I know I’d been at points in my life where I wouldn’t be involved with Trad Craft to save my life, generally due to people representing Wicca poorly. As I have petitioned and been approved for initiation, as I see that date creep towards me on the calendar, I thought it would be useful to share why I choose this path. So many see initiation as restricting and oppressive, that I wanted to give a positive testimony as to why such an opinionated, pessimistic and independent crank such as myself would seek this out. It’s not an easy decision to make, not a decision to make lightly or for the wrong reasons, and certainly the process of initiation isn’t something to bring on yourself on a whim. I hope this is useful for people, and I hope it makes my decision make sense. Why my priestess is granting me initiation I haven’t made sense of yet. Would you want me as a student? I wouldn’t…
For the record, my coven is Grove of the WillowWood, our mother coven is House of RavenStone and the tradition we practice is the Ravenwood Tradition, founded by Lady Sintana and reportedly featuring an upline that includes Lady Circe, Lord Sariel, Lady Sheba, Robert Cochrane and other colorful characters. Perhaps in light of that this cranky blogger is right where she belongs…