Why Initiation Made Me Love Solitary Wicca

Some of the shock and bewilderment have passed, I’m eating solid foods and life is sort-of back to normal. Some folks wanted me to unpack my experience a bit, and I’ve had some interesting insights that I can share, so here goes:

Even if my initiation wasn’t oathbound, I still really couldn’t tell you about it. Some human experiences can’t be effectively communicated. I’d imagine giving birth or losing a loved one to a wasting disease are good examples of those kinds of experiences. You can talk about them all you want, but it’s not really going to give someone who hasn’t had the experience an accurate picture of what that experience is like. My telling you exactly what happened would be like my telling you it was dark, or there were candles present: it isn’t actually going to convey what I went through.

I spent a good bit of time after initiation wondering what the &#$% just happened to me. That’s subsiding bit-by-bit as time passes. What I can tell you is it was nothing I expected, nothing I’d ever read about and, for me personally, it was an experience on the level of Eleusis. I’m still making symbolic connections and unpacking the whole ordeal. It’s one of the most significant events in my life, it has overwhelmed me and I’m very thankful for such an intense and unexpected spiritual experience.

My worst fear, the thing I was most afraid of, was that I’d walk away from initiation feeling a bit disappointed. That I’d sit there smiling, inwardly a bit regretful, trying to reconcile myself with the idea that it was a nice memory and that my initiators meant well. Instead I sat there afterwards surrounded by well-wishers and my favorite foods staring into space trying to believe that had really just happened to me.

It did happen. I’m profoundly grateful it did, but it scared the living daylights out of me. I went through a surreal, intense and irrevocably binding experience with people I profoundly respect, trust and love. I entered that Circle in Perfect Trust and Perfect Love. Had I entered with anything less than that I’d be nauseous right now. I’d be sick to my soul.

If I had taken that initiation because I wanted the status, because I craved knowledge, because I just wanted more magic, I’d be in deep spiritual trouble right now. If I had gone through initiation with initiators I suspected were dishonest, unkind, foolish, egotistical, disrespectful, or manipulative, my soul would be shattered right now. I’d be heartsick, berating myself and furiously searching my mind for some way to release my vows.

That is why solitary Wicca is important, why non-initiatory Wicca is important. Not everyone can find a group in which they would be comfortable initiating into, not everyone is willing to be bound to a tradition and it’s community in such a way, and there are teachers out there that simply do not inspire any kind of love and trust, much less “perfect.”

So here is what I realized, on the other side of the initiatory process: being solitary or non-initiatory Wiccan is a thousand times preferable than initiating into something you are unsure of or that might be harmful to you. Popular Wicca isn’t “fluffy” and initiatory Wicca isn’t “bad,” and in my opinion, in most cases popular Wicca is probably the best choice for most people. Finding a group, even with the increased choices today, is hard enough without adding the pressure of finding a group that you feel comfortable enough to endure the ordeal of initiation with and be bound to with dread bonds.

If I learned only one lesson from initiation it’s that I was entirely right to be solitary for so long. I was entirely right to walk away from covens that didn’t feel right. I was entirely right to avoid teachers that made alarm bells sound in my head. Had I not found the teachers I found, I would be solitary right now. That would be the correct and most appropriate path for me. It would be the best way for me to serve the God and Goddess with an honest soul.

That’s the heart of the matter: serving the God and Goddess with an honest soul, with all your heart and all your mind. Growing, learning, and becoming attuned to the world around you. Waxing wise and honoring that which is sacred. That’s what counts. Living an honest, examined and joyful life.

If you find a coven and/or tradition that you love and trust with all your heart and soul, then you may find initiation a rewarding experience. If you choose solitary or non-initiatory Wicca as the best path for you, then you may be acting in your best interest. Whatever you do, do it because you believe it’s the best thing for you and the most honest way for you to practice Wicca.

I can tell you I am very grateful and honored to have been initiated into my tradition by the teachers and friends I have come to love and admire. It’s literally one of the most important and strangely wonderful things that have ever happened to me.

I can also tell you this: had I taken this step for the wrong reasons or into a coven and/or tradition I was unsure of or doubting, I’d be seriously considering falling on my own sword. I’d feel violated and dirty and scared. Initiation isn’t the best or right path for everyone, but it’s certainly not one to be undertaken lightly.

Of course, other tradition’s initiation ceremonies may be vastly different. Maybe they are more laid-back. Maybe they aren’t as deeply unsettling and mysterious. I wouldn’t know. I’m not trying to scare you. I’m just saying listen to your heart. Initiation is like marriage without divorce, so be certain you want those energetic bonds to remain with you for life.

And if after you have considered the matter fully, searched your heart and feel that initiating is what is right for you, I wish you much joy. Life is short. If you truly like it, you should definitely “put a ring on it!”

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1226891346 Cara Schulz

    Congratulations on your initiation, Star!

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1226891346 Cara Schulz

    Congratulations on your initiation, Star!

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Thanks!

  • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com James Bulls

    Congratulations on initiating; having gone through this experience and now being able to say that you’ve been on both sides of the fence, has your opinion regarding initiatory traditions in general changed? The Reiki community, for example, is really broad and diverse, but it’s like Wicca in some ways in that there can be those two camps: people who discount your practices if you aren’t or weren’t initiated “correctly,” and those who value practice over principle. Do you feel as if each side of initiation debate attempts to discredit the other, or is it a new paradigm for you now?

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      The drawbacks of initiatory Wicca are secrecy and human fallibility. Those are hard to things to deal with, period. But the advantages of finding a good Trad Craft teacher are many. I think it’s worthwhile for any Wiccan to be open to learning from a Trad Craft teacher, but I also think that in our hearts we are all solitaries. We all pray, cast, meditate and work in our own idiosyncratic ways in our homes, before our private altars.

      I truly believe the eclectic/solitary/non-initiatory VS traditional dichotomy is false. It’s like arguing whether Protestants or Catholics are better. It’s silly and futile. Practice with sincerity, honesty and with a critical eye towards yourself. Find where you feel at home.

      I am an initiated Witch and Priestess of the First Degree of my tradition. I didn’t undergo that ordeal because I thought they were the Harvard of Witchcraft or that I was somehow less real or worthy for being a non-initiate. I did it because I was at home with them, where I personally belonged and I didn’t belong anywhere else.

      The ritual of initiation has expanded my understanding of initiation and the Craft in a lot of ways, and I highly recommend it if you can find an initiator and teacher you feel at home with. But you don’t get initiated to be “real” anymore than you get married to be “real.” If having a wedding is so important to you that you’re willing to marry the wrong person, then you’re doing it wrong. Traditional Craft is one path, but it’s not the right one for everyone. There is no “One True Wicca.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=614318627 Joanne Dunster

        “I also think that in our hearts we are all solitaries.”

        “I truly believe the eclectic/solitary/non-initiatory VS traditional dichotomy is false”

        Can I please like this, like a million times.

        So much stupid demonising happens over this and when you boil it down, all the arguments are based on misunderstandings and are basically false.

      • Greenflame

        Peter Paddon talks about this sense of always being solitary, even when you are in a Trad or group of sort, in his “Crooked Path” book and on one of his podcasts. Good insight.

      • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán J McElroy

        I truly believe the eclectic/solitary/non-initiatory VS traditional dichotomy is false.  It’s like arguing whether Protestants or Catholics are better. It’s silly and futile.

        I have eerily similar things to say about “recon VS ‘neopagan’” discussions in the Hellenic community.

  • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com James Bulls

    Congratulations on initiating; having gone through this experience and now being able to say that you’ve been on both sides of the fence, has your opinion regarding initiatory traditions in general changed? The Reiki community, for example, is really broad and diverse, but it’s like Wicca in some ways in that there can be those two camps: people who discount your practices if you aren’t or weren’t initiated “correctly,” and those who value practice over principle. Do you feel as if each side of initiation debate attempts to discredit the other, or is it a new paradigm for you now?

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      The drawbacks of initiatory Wicca are secrecy and human fallibility. Those are hard to things to deal with, period. But the advantages of finding a good Trad Craft teacher are many. I think it’s worthwhile for any Wiccan to be open to learning from a Trad Craft teacher, but I also think that in our hearts we are all solitaries. We all pray, cast, meditate and work in our own idiosyncratic ways in our homes, before our private altars.

      I truly believe the eclectic/solitary/non-initiatory VS traditional dichotomy is false. It’s like arguing whether Protestants or Catholics are better. It’s silly and futile. Practice with sincerity, honesty and with a critical eye towards yourself. Find where you feel at home.

      I am an initiated Witch and Priestess of the First Degree of my tradition. I didn’t undergo that ordeal because I thought they were the Harvard of Witchcraft or that I was somehow less real or worthy for being a non-initiate. I did it because I was at home with them, where I personally belonged and I didn’t belong anywhere else.

      The ritual of initiation has expanded my understanding of initiation and the Craft in a lot of ways, and I highly recommend it if you can find an initiator and teacher you feel at home with. But you don’t get initiated to be “real” anymore than you get married to be “real.” If having a wedding is so important to you that you’re willing to marry the wrong person, then you’re doing it wrong. Traditional Craft is one path, but it’s not the right one for everyone. There is no “One True Wicca.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=614318627 Joanne Dunster

        “I also think that in our hearts we are all solitaries.”

        “I truly believe the eclectic/solitary/non-initiatory VS traditional dichotomy is false”

        Can I please like this, like a million times.

        So much stupid demonising happens over this and when you boil it down, all the arguments are based on misunderstandings and are basically false.

      • Greenflame

        Peter Paddon talks about this sense of always being solitary, even when you are in a Trad or group of sort, in his “Crooked Path” book and on one of his podcasts. Good insight.

      • http://omo.peacockfairy.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

        I truly believe the eclectic/solitary/non-initiatory VS traditional dichotomy is false.  It’s like arguing whether Protestants or Catholics are better. It’s silly and futile.

        I have eerily similar things to say about “recon VS ‘neopagan’” discussions in the Hellenic community.

  • John

    Congratulations! Into what tradition were you initiated?

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Ravenwood tradition (“RavenStone line”) via Grove of the WillowWood.

  • John

    Congratulations! Into what tradition were you initiated?

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Ravenwood tradition (“RavenStone line”) via Grove of the WillowWood.

  • kenneth

    All very good advice. Had I listened to my own heart and that of others I trusted and even my own divinations, I would not have initiated into my old group. On the other hand, I now consider that ordeal to be part of the journey I was meant to take. It forced me to grow as a person and a witch in ways I probably would not have had I managed to hang on there or found some other more comfortable coven. To me the path of a witch is all about self discovery and a journey toward wisdom which is, by its nature, filled with ordeals. 

     All of these quests within the journey are initiations. The death of something within you or your life, and the birth of another.  The ordeal of a fundamental betrayal by one’s teachers and spiritual “parents” is, of course, not one many would knowingly choose. However, the wisdom and gifts resulting from that ordeal in hindsight made the whole thing worth it. I am not troubled by the oaths I took. The most important of those were to the Lord and Lady. Those still hold. Those made to people or institutions are held together by good faith. Deliberate dishonor renders those obligations null and void. In my worldview, oath breakers and those who take advantage of their power over others are just about the lowest forms of life. I don’t owe them common decency, let alone the sort of loyalty my own oaths promised in good faith. 

    That said, I have not tried to edit that period of my life or deny it entirely. I still wear my white cingulum. My parting with that group did not change the fact that I earned initiation and attained something from it. I still employ a few ritual elements from that tradition which I see value in. I still use some of the energy working fundamentals and spellcraft I learned there which I may not have learned as well on my own. 

    You’re quite correct to advise people to avoid putting themselves in bad situations.  At the same time, I would advise anyone on the path that hard knocks are part of the journey, and that they are often the most valuable parts of the curriculum. Never waste the learning opportunity misery provides!

  • kenneth

    All very good advice. Had I listened to my own heart and that of others I trusted and even my own divinations, I would not have initiated into my old group. On the other hand, I now consider that ordeal to be part of the journey I was meant to take. It forced me to grow as a person and a witch in ways I probably would not have had I managed to hang on there or found some other more comfortable coven. To me the path of a witch is all about self discovery and a journey toward wisdom which is, by its nature, filled with ordeals. 

     All of these quests within the journey are initiations. The death of something within you or your life, and the birth of another.  The ordeal of a fundamental betrayal by one’s teachers and spiritual “parents” is, of course, not one many would knowingly choose. However, the wisdom and gifts resulting from that ordeal in hindsight made the whole thing worth it. I am not troubled by the oaths I took. The most important of those were to the Lord and Lady. Those still hold. Those made to people or institutions are held together by good faith. Deliberate dishonor renders those obligations null and void. In my worldview, oath breakers and those who take advantage of their power over others are just about the lowest forms of life. I don’t owe them common decency, let alone the sort of loyalty my own oaths promised in good faith. 

    That said, I have not tried to edit that period of my life or deny it entirely. I still wear my white cingulum. My parting with that group did not change the fact that I earned initiation and attained something from it. I still employ a few ritual elements from that tradition which I see value in. I still use some of the energy working fundamentals and spellcraft I learned there which I may not have learned as well on my own. 

    You’re quite correct to advise people to avoid putting themselves in bad situations.  At the same time, I would advise anyone on the path that hard knocks are part of the journey, and that they are often the most valuable parts of the curriculum. Never waste the learning opportunity misery provides!

  • http://dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    “…being solitary or non-initiatory Wiccan is a thousand times preferable
    than initiating into something you are unsure of or that might be
    harmful to you. Popular Wicca isn’t “fluffy” and initiatory Wicca isn’t
    “bad,” and in my opinion, in most cases popular Wicca is probably the
    best choice for most people.”

    Thank you for this. It embodies something I’ve attempted to relay for years.

  • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    “…being solitary or non-initiatory Wiccan is a thousand times preferable
    than initiating into something you are unsure of or that might be
    harmful to you. Popular Wicca isn’t “fluffy” and initiatory Wicca isn’t
    “bad,” and in my opinion, in most cases popular Wicca is probably the
    best choice for most people.”

    Thank you for this. It embodies something I’ve attempted to relay for years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1405785827 Mark Pemburn

    Congratulations on your first formal step on the Path of the Initiate.  May the experience lead you deeper than you can possibly imagine!

    A slightly different perspective: Most of my career in Wicca has been as a member of a coven — about 12 or 13 out of the total of 15 years.  I took my First Degree a bit over six years ago and am looking forward to completing my Third Degree in the first part of next year.  For me, and for nearly everyone I know, the Path has been by turns both wrenching and joyous — and I absolutely would not choose to do otherwise if I had to start all over.

    During my years on the Path, I have witnessed and had both major and minor roles in dozens of initiations (our tradition is pretty large).  I’ve also planned and presided over initiations in my role as Acting High Priest.  All by way of saying, I know the process from both sides.  What you say about being in a group that is right for you is absolutely correct and it is *just* as bad for that group to discover after the fact that the match was a poor one.  Imagine someone taking the years and years to reach Third Degree and then walking away!  I’ve seen it happen more than once.  We humans know so little of ourselves.

    The other thing that I’d like to add is that when we initiate into the mysteries, our conscious perception of what is going on is just the smallest part of it.  It is my belief that forces much larger than we can comprehend are steering us toward awakening the light within ourselves so that we can perceive the Universe as it really is, and thereby participate in the greater evolution of Spirit.  Initiatory traditions, from this perspective, are not so much the conferrers of an honor or a trust, but the midwives for a new being, born *within* the human form of the initiate.  The sacred trust of the elders of that tradition is to know when someone is ready to take that step and to nurture them toward it.  Hard work but, as far as I can tell, the most important thing we can do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1405785827 Mark Pemburn

    Congratulations on your first formal step on the Path of the Initiate.  May the experience lead you deeper than you can possibly imagine!

    A slightly different perspective: Most of my career in Wicca has been as a member of a coven — about 12 or 13 out of the total of 15 years.  I took my First Degree a bit over six years ago and am looking forward to completing my Third Degree in the first part of next year.  For me, and for nearly everyone I know, the Path has been by turns both wrenching and joyous — and I absolutely would not choose to do otherwise if I had to start all over.

    During my years on the Path, I have witnessed and had both major and minor roles in dozens of initiations (our tradition is pretty large).  I’ve also planned and presided over initiations in my role as Acting High Priest.  All by way of saying, I know the process from both sides.  What you say about being in a group that is right for you is absolutely correct and it is *just* as bad for that group to discover after the fact that the match was a poor one.  Imagine someone taking the years and years to reach Third Degree and then walking away!  I’ve seen it happen more than once.  We humans know so little of ourselves.

    The other thing that I’d like to add is that when we initiate into the mysteries, our conscious perception of what is going on is just the smallest part of it.  It is my belief that forces much larger than we can comprehend are steering us toward awakening the light within ourselves so that we can perceive the Universe as it really is, and thereby participate in the greater evolution of Spirit.  Initiatory traditions, from this perspective, are not so much the conferrers of an honor or a trust, but the midwives for a new being, born *within* the human form of the initiate.  The sacred trust of the elders of that tradition is to know when someone is ready to take that step and to nurture them toward it.  Hard work but, as far as I can tell, the most important thing we can do.

  • http://www.myownashram.wordpress.com Niki Whiting

    This is one of the best things I’ve read on initiation. Thank you for writing about it – and congratulations!

  • http://www.myownashram.wordpress.com Niki Whiting

    This is one of the best things I’ve read on initiation. Thank you for writing about it – and congratulations!

  • Crow

    As many great posts as well. Very inlightning.

  • Crow

    As many great posts as well. Very inlightning.

  • Karendales

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I’m sending the url link to my students who are getting closer to that wonderful day of initiation (if they want it.:) I believe your article would be very helpful to them in their decision making process.

    Thank you!

  • Karendales

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I’m sending the url link to my students who are getting closer to that wonderful day of initiation (if they want it.:) I believe your article would be very helpful to them in their decision making process.

    Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edward-Bonthron/100000568391011 Edward Bonthron

    Very insightful post Star. As a solitary myself I have wondered about coven initiation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edward-Bonthron/100000568391011 Edward Bonthron

    Very insightful post Star. As a solitary myself I have wondered about coven initiation.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FCM62LRWJYSJZAWCXGUA62L7B4 nothing

    Beautiful post! When reading it I could feel your emotion and I’m very happy for you. May the Lord and Lady shower you with their love and blessings always.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FCM62LRWJYSJZAWCXGUA62L7B4 nothing

    Beautiful post! When reading it I could feel your emotion and I’m very happy for you. May the Lord and Lady shower you with their love and blessings always.

  • Alan928

    *applause*  Congratulations on your initiation, and on finding some folks to share that experience with!  Having been on both sides of the fence (initiate and initiator) I can tell you that initiating someone else can provide a lot of the same feelings.  One 3rd degree elevation I may never forget was so profound an experience that all I could do was thank the Gods for showing me how to build the framework for them to funnel all that magic through.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it 6 years later.

  • Alan928

    *applause*  Congratulations on your initiation, and on finding some folks to share that experience with!  Having been on both sides of the fence (initiate and initiator) I can tell you that initiating someone else can provide a lot of the same feelings.  One 3rd degree elevation I may never forget was so profound an experience that all I could do was thank the Gods for showing me how to build the framework for them to funnel all that magic through.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it 6 years later.

  • A’alyvyne

    Blessed Be, Star.  “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary, for those who do not, no explanation will suffice.”  This was a deeply moving post, and I think gives much to stir the cauldron of both hiraeth and divine discontent.  I think you may be a somewhat distant “cousin,” and was glad to see that your process (as well as your teachers/guides) served your spirit.

  • A’alyvyne

    Blessed Be, Star.  “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary, for those who do not, no explanation will suffice.”  This was a deeply moving post, and I think gives much to stir the cauldron of both hiraeth and divine discontent.  I think you may be a somewhat distant “cousin,” and was glad to see that your process (as well as your teachers/guides) served your spirit.

  • The_sunriser

    This is a very insightful post Star, thank you for writing it. I’m a solitary whose been practicing for some 8 years. But I don’t feel like getting to where I’d like to be on my path. I’ve been thinking of perhaps trying to find (or be found) by a coven or a teacher that I can get to know and fits with me to help me get to where I should be. Not for power or for prestige (I know my wording may imply those) but for wisdom, connection and spiritual exploration.
    I’ve found that I have not been casting, meditating or doing spell work regularly and I often miss sabbats. This makes me sad and disappointed in my self. Yes, there are things going on in my life right now which make focusing on my spirituality a bit tricky, but once that phase of my life is over and I find my feet again, I would like to get a better hold on my path. And while I enjoy solitary, I am drawn to finding a coven.

  • The_sunriser

    This is a very insightful post Star, thank you for writing it. I’m a solitary whose been practicing for some 8 years. But I don’t feel like getting to where I’d like to be on my path. I’ve been thinking of perhaps trying to find (or be found) by a coven or a teacher that I can get to know and fits with me to help me get to where I should be. Not for power or for prestige (I know my wording may imply those) but for wisdom, connection and spiritual exploration.
    I’ve found that I have not been casting, meditating or doing spell work regularly and I often miss sabbats. This makes me sad and disappointed in my self. Yes, there are things going on in my life right now which make focusing on my spirituality a bit tricky, but once that phase of my life is over and I find my feet again, I would like to get a better hold on my path. And while I enjoy solitary, I am drawn to finding a coven.


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