Can I get a Witness?

Can I get a Witness? September 26, 2011

It’s the last day of the lunar cycle, the moon is in Virgo, it’s raining and I would love to curl up under a quilt with a book. It’s one of those reflective, misty sort of days that make you crave chili and stew. It’s also less than two weeks to my initiation.

Despite being a blogging loudmouth, I don’t like attention. I don’t want to be the center of anything. I cringe up and want to hide when waiters decide to sing me Happy Birthday, much to family and friends delight. If I have to speak in public I just muster up some gumption and plow straight through it without much style of finesse. So when it comes to initiation, I’m really hoping nobody comes. For most folks it’s a long drive, and I’d be very content if it was just a few folks from my coven there. I have been told this is all wishful thinking, and that I need to accept that there will be more people there than I expect.

One of my elders told me, “You want a lot of people there. You want as many witnesses as you can get.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It seems archaic, doesn’t it? In this world of paper identification, of driver’s licenses, passports, social security numbers, diplomas, and student ID’s, to have something verified by a human being rather than an officially issued communication seems bizarre.

Yet, the Craft is a very human thing, it’s a very human path and a very human way of looking at the world. For traditional Craft, being an initiate is not an independent status, it’s not something that belongs to you alone, it’s not a door you walk through alone, nor are you alone on the other side of it. Your initiation doesn’t belong to you alone but is shared with your Craft brothers and sisters. It’s not something you can hold apart from other people. Today, we don’t have multi-generational homes and we prefer to drive all alone in our cars rather than take public transportation. We’re not good at sharing. We want something all of our own.

I think this is part of why solitary Wicca has become so popular, but it’s certainly not the only reason. We prefer to “do our own thing” and don’t want the hassle of other people. We don’t want to compromise, take feedback or consider other’s spiritual needs. We want to do what we need, when we need it and how we need it. There’s nothing wrong with that, I do that in my own personal practice, but it does leave out a lot of learning experiences.

In my tradition I’ve done a handful of training rituals. Every ritual is written by and led by a priestess and priest. No one just comes up with a ritual and leads it on their own. I find this both frustrating and rewarding. In at least one instance I had a real issue with a ritual I was working on with one of my elders. I wasn’t able or willing to compromise, and I just hated the whole thing. It was a frustrating experience, not because it was a bad idea for a ritual or that my elder’s ideas were bad, but because I wasn’t willing to budge, to learn and to grow. Since then I’ve learned better about the give and take, the learning process from working with other people and about being open to experiences that aren’t custom-tailored just for me.

Just so, I’m beginning to get the idea my initiation isn’t really about me. It’s about the community. Anyone can print up a certificate, present tokens or wear the significant bling. What makes me an initiate is not my own desire, nor any palpable token, perhaps not even the ceremony itself but having people step forward and claim as as part of their community/tradition.

That is intimidating. Having not just one person, but a whole crowd of people who are willing to vouch for your knowledge and character makes you feel pretty small, but not in a bad way. This initiation isn’t just me claiming my path, but stepping into a living continuum where I grasp the hand of those who go before and reach out my hand to those who come after. It’s a continuum that will survive with or without me, if I step out of it the hands will simply reach out and keep the connection. My initiation isn’t about my receiving special knowledge but about my willingness to reach out and forge an energetic connection to this community.

So if a big crowd shows up at initiation, it won’t be to celebrate MY initiation or the initiation of the other initiates specifically. It will be to celebrate the tradition itself, the community and the fact that the community is growing, the tradition lives. Especially in light of the deaths over the past year or so, it’s an important thing for a community to have births. Myself and the other initiates are symbols of that cycle, and that is what is being celebrated. The tradition itself is still giving birth, even as it is also still dying. It is renewing, it is reviving, it is restoring, just like the earth herself.

Like many Pagans, I don’t always have a close relationship to my biological family. The idea of having people who will witness my initiation, who will welcome me into their continuum, their living tradition, and if called on will vouch for me, is kind of an overwhelming thing right now. I feel small, as if I suddenly saw how big the universe really is. I’m starting to appreciate the idea of a big crowd at initiations, because on this sometimes lonely planet, it’s good to be able to count on people to witness and remind you that you are connected to something bigger than yourself.

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