Initiation and…So You Want To Be in a Witch Tradition?

2 August 2016

Initiation and…So You Want To Be in a Witch Tradition?

A witch is a witch is a witch is a witch. We discover and reveal ourselves to ourselves endlessly, in the furious journey of the witch’s initiation.

There is a mythic legacy to the witch’s initiation as I understand it and in some traditions we story it on the Wheel of the Year. As we become entranced by the Witch Gods’ journeys, so do we become enchanted by the alchemic process of the Seasons and how the Mysteries intersect or derive.

It could begin out of suffering, it could begin like Lammas or Lughnasadh – at mourning, sacrifice, being cut down, and dying to our old selves. It could begin with consummation, union, and encountering the Devil in the “Biblical sense” (haha) in the wild woods, or being seduced by the Lady in the moonlight wrapped in serpents, in the fields where the hares bound…

And there is a greater pattern always moving.

The pattern of…

Encountering the Mystery and becoming enchanted by the scents of the mysterious Craft. (Mid-Spring)

Consummation and Ecstasy that brings us to the edge of sanity and melts the barriers, blurs the boundaries, daring us to Love. (Beltaine)

Illumination, Splendour, Looming Shadows, and Conflict. (Midsummer)

Sacrifice, Mourning, Meeting Fate, and Death. (Lammas, Lughnasadh)

Descent into the Underworld to meet Death. (Mid-Autumn)

The Harrowing in Hell, Dissolving into the Darkness, Loosening and Unravelling. (Samhain, the Hallows)

Inversion, Hanging off the Tree, Labour and Rebirth. (Midwinter)

Dreaming, Stirring, Desiring, Purifying, Dedication to the Craft (Candlemas, Imbolc)

Here is a pattern for the Witch’s Initiation journey. It is there encoded in the Wheel of the Weaver.

The Wheel turns.

Initiation is an endless journey. I am reminded of this all the time.

Initiation into a Witch Tradition might be the process that facilitates, catalyses, or anchors these incredible transformations for us. In a more straight-forward sense it is often a matter of recognising kin, feeling called to the Current and/or the Spirits of that Tradition, or being invited in… we can not ask to be taught in all Traditions. Some initiates will invite us in, others we have to ask or they will never bring it up. And some Traditions occupy nuances between. I am involved in four Traditions of the Craft which speak to a variety ways of entering into covenant with kin and custom. 

Not all witches participate in or require initiation into Traditions.

Witches are not initiated by Traditions; Traditions are initiated by Witches. And of course this doesn’t happen overnight. A coven, or house, or clan, might develop and then out of the workings and experiences of that group certain pacts, methodologies, secrets shared, and cultures arise and anchor… the passing on of these things with purpose and with desire birth Traditions over time. Sometimes houses or traditions meet each other in their wanderings, sometimes there is cross-initiation; and some folk meeting each other fatefully help one another to shine light on deeper realities hidden or concealed within both the greater wilds of witchery and within the lore of that tradition.

To be a witch and to practise witchery one does not need to be initiated in a Tradition.

And – participation in a Tradition may catalyse the forging process that makes a witch stronger, while holding her through that process. The egregore of a Tradition will help to anchor that witch in a cosmology, a witnessing by certain Spirits and Powers that will test and receive that witch, and then help the witch to be reborn. People in traditions make covenants to something greater than themselves; we become woven into webs of what some people will call joyful obligation. We take oaths and to break an oath is a very serious infraction upon the integrity not only of that witch, but of the Tradition. These oaths vary from group to group, but are largely related to not revealing certain things, and to defending and aiding those in that group. Some traditions carry and keep protocol instead of spelling things out explicitly with verbal oaths… but to breach that protocol, those customs, is just as impacting on one’s community. Over time if someone has either broken an oath, or has continued to be negatively impactful to a Tradition, the Spirits will forsake that person, and the people will turn away from that person or even banish them.

All of this is to say that joining a Tradition is a serious endeavour, and involves the forging of deep bonds not to be made lightly. 

In traditions with more than 20-30 people, and most modern Traditions of the Craft are certainly over this number, there will be people who do not get along, and might not even like each other. This is normal, and not necessarily a negative issue if it does not directly influence the greater workings of the Tradition. It seems however if a Tradition grows over the number 200, there is a greater chance for the natural conflict in groups to establish perhaps irrevocable differences and divergences. In some Traditions this spells the formation of certain lineages or threads that whilst still begin of that Tradition, might keep to themselves. And so while people might have emerged from the same wellspring, different tributaries have now arisen and carved through new territories.

What to look for when feeling drawn to finding a Witch Tradition:

*Resonance with and respect for the information (lore/techniques/mythologies/cosmologies) you find. You will probably not resonate with every piece of it; but if it’s not a deep resonance at the core of what you feel it’s probably not going to be the best road. On the other hand deep resonance can often only occur over time as certain things unfold within training/apprenticeship/induction into a Tradition.

*Resonance with and respect for the cultural and customary roots or expressions. If you are not at all interested in Celtic customs or traditions, then why participate in a Celtic-rooted tradition? Some traditions are specifically rooted in specific cultural or regional origins. Some traditions, especially those that have arisen out of “New Worlds” are often woven of many threads, syncretised and braided influences and origins. Some traditions speak a certain language and gravitate to certain ancestral wells. I will say this however; if you come across racialist attitudes regarding who or who can not participate in a tradition because of ethnicity, move far away, and quickly. This goes for things like embracing diversity of sexual orientations, gender, and class, as well.

*Do the workings effect you? Do the techniques work for you?
Simple and straight-forward.

*Do you admire the witches you are in contact with in that Tradition? Do they challenge you, and do they entice you? Avoid succumbing to any “guru-worship” tendencies and if the teachers/mentors/initiates seem to want this from you, again – step away, this will not end well.

*Is there room for your own personal gnosis, i.e. if you encounter the spirits and have experiences of your own, are these welcome? 

Even if your experiences deviate from the overall lore, are you immediately shut down, or can conversation around this happen? There is also a difference between a teacher reminding you to contact the established lore AS WELL AS cultivating your personal gnosis. We might call this: the red (from human-to-human) thread and the white (spirit-to-human) thread.

*Does the tradition actually mentor you in magical skills?
If it doesn’t, why the fuck are you there? This is witchcraft people.

*Do the Spirits and Gods come to the rituals and workings? 
Seriously, if you are at the point where can observe this, check it out. Do the Spirits come when called; does magic happen?

*And this is an important one: are you prepared to do the work? Are you prepared and willing to turn up to what won’t be easy? Are you prepared and willing to meet Mystery, to encounter Beings of Power, and to have very human tensions with other humans in all kinds of ways – positive and negative? A sound tradition is made of such people.

*Sometimes it’s all just ineffable, and we have no fucking clue why we are drawn to something in particular…

be prepared however for some manner of questioning and interrogation by initiates of that Tradition if you contact them. Be prepared as well that it might not go in the way you wish for it to go. Be prepared for all manner of Mystery. What is fated, will be, and the witch will learn how to ride Fate.

Witchcraft is many things. It might be a religion, it might be sorcery, it might be ritual, it might be devotion, lore, story, custom, sex, poetry… and, to me, it is primarily an Art and Covenant. Initiation into the Art and Covenant of Witchcraft happens in many ways.

I am 28-years-old and I have been initiated several times. Into Witch Traditions and Houses, by Spirits, and into systems of magic and sorcery… but I was born a witch, like most of us who are witches… my mother gave birth to a witch.

 I have made bonds with human and non-human kin in the embrace and challenge of Traditions. It is not easy, but it is wondrous and evolutionary and requires risks, vulnerability, intimacy, laughter, discernment, willingness, and love.