Degree System within Wicca Witchcraft

One cannot simply explain the deep mysteries that you would experience within Wicca; therefore, our rituals have always been enacted in full, as handed down through our traditional heritage, so that you would actually live the experience in your own way, which is invoked and activated by effective ritual.

As in anything deeply mystical or magickal, the meaning cannot be simply communicated intellectually; it has to work through an analogous process within the individual; a stream of symbols, images and experiences, rather than a mere explanation.

Wiccans today are priestesses and priests, initiates to the Ancient Powers and are never laity. They are secretive in their undertakings and do not proselytize, or spend constant hours merely talking about it. The basic message is that, what is fundamental to Wicca is the actual doing of it and no amount of theorising and intellectualisation can substitute for the actual experience.

Magick and Witchcraft is always looked at as being “rather different” to say the least and has in fact being persecuted throughout history. Therefore, most witches and occultists keep to the ancient tradition of “Keeping Absolute Secret”. Witchcraft has no dogma. It has no “you must believe this” rules and is completely free in one’s inner beliefs and practices. In fact, in groups, ‘like-minded’ people get together and form the covens and that coven is made up of either close friends, or strangers come together in a strong symbiosis of core understanding, who adapt and adopt their own working way, (as long as the basic handed down ancient rituals and initiations are followed closely).

You probably feel that you want the proper guidance and training from an experienced Wiccan, you would be right in holding that belief. There are so many self-made “experts” nowadays and I sigh with wonder where they get their profound expertise and knowledge from. The books nowadays are repetitive in content and have strayed so far from the foundation of Wicca and especially Traditional Craft, it is hardly recognizable, but these sort of books sell to the younger group, who think it is the true thing.

This sort of teaching can only really come from a “teacher”, or “tutor”, called a Mentor, as you become the “Dedicant” in the first steps and the teaching is handed down accordingly, as it has been for generations. It was the way I first learnt and have since taught many over the years. You definitely cannot and will not get the “real thing” from even the better books. They can only hint at the ways and cannot fully explain the unexplainable. It has to be “realized” from within, felt deeply rather than merely read. It is a wonderful “inner journey”, (or microcosm), otherworlds and mixing with the macrocosm and “what’s out there”, and will probably change your life – for the better.

Wiccans today are priestesses and priests, initiates to the Ancient Powers and are never laity. They are secretive in their undertakings and do not proselytize, or spend constant hours, days and months simply and merely talking about it on the net, or in little groups, when invariably no one is properly qualified to discuss the subject in full anyway, and unless they are initiated into a properly seeded coven, it can only be mere supposition on their part anyway. It is a personal and very much a “participant doing” activity and is of course, a way of life. Wicca is “doing” ritual, “doing” inner workings, “doing” magick, “doing” spiritual ceremonies and “following actively” the wheel of the year. It is “not” a talkers religion, it is a “doers” way of life.

To quote a new book recently published, “Unless a witch is willing to take initiation when the “magick calls”, and to “actively”, “consciously”, and with free will, “walk across the line” to live IN the world, but not OF it, and to take the oaths of a priestess or priest, then the line is not crossed. The power will withdraw because it knows the witch is not yet ready. ‘Some other time!’ it seems to say.” There will always be the talkers and the doers in anything in life, but who really gains the real insight and satisfaction of doing, rather than merely copying and reciting someone else’s experiences, perceptions and views. Think about it – it can’t be done!

The basic message is that, what is fundamental to Wicca is the actual doing of it and no amount of theorising and intellectualisation can substitute for the actual experience.

The beauty of Wicca, is that it allows and promotes the inner journey to its fullest by way of ritual and magickal workings in a way of living for the moment. So many people are driven relentlessly to a goal or nebulous tomorrow, (and there’s nothing wrong with having attainable goals in which hard work will ultimately realize), but most people are forgetting that it is often the journey that really counts and is all we’ve actually got, at the present. Living within the arms of Mother Nature is indeed a wonderful way and there’s so many things that we don’t, and probably never can, fully comprehend, but in a personal journey; you may “feel it” deeply within yourself.

If you are not yet initiated into any Craft as yet and you are actually seriously thinking following the “Wicca” ways, (whether in a group – or as a singleton, but nevertheless apart of an official coven), there are a few things you have to know and do first. I don’t know how many books you have read on Wicca, but most Wicca is quite formal in many of its ways (where other ways are free to grow and change), but you have to first begin to learn the “correct ways” in a form of standardized learning, BEFORE you can be advance or ultimately initiated.

However, in saying that, it does not mean that the doors are flung wide open to accept anyone who comes a’knocking. There are strict guidelines and steps to follow and ultimately, it is the various Coven’s own process’ and discussion, that either allows, or does not allow, a seeker to enter.

Many British Traditional Wicca and other traditions that share the same principles mostly have a system of three degrees of Initiation, while others like the Ordo Anno Mundi have seven degrees.

It is both significant and relevant to point out here that Seax Wicca does not have any degree system at all and no oath of secrecy, and to further alleviate any possibility of the abuse of power, the priesthood is chosen democratically by the coven members. In this Saxon based tradition, non-initiates, or cowans, are referred to as Theows (pronounced thoe) and are permitted to attend ritual meetings by invitation and would spend time with the other members of the Coven learning all they could before they were ready for their intuition. A neophyte training to enter a coven is known as a Ceorl (pronounced cawl), and once initiated becomes a Gesith. As there is no degree structure for further advancement, all Saxon Wiccans are therefore known as Gesiths. Once Gesith has been attained, he or she may break away and form a new coven, or start their own coven by doing a simple self-dedication rite before initiating others to join them.

However, to continue on with discussing other main stream Wicca that do follow a degree structure, initiation to the first degree is open to all Witches, governed by what is expressed below. However the second and third degree criteria are quite demanding, and essentially anyone who seeks and becomes 2nd or 3rd degree is responding to a deep inner calling.

Higher degrees aren’t about levels of magickal prowess, power or learning, although that goes with the turf, but 2nd and 3rd degree Witches have people skills, management skills, communication and teaching skills as well as magickal skills.

Those who aren’t well balanced emotionally, psychologically and socially; and who don’t have the appropriate skills; wouldn’t be able to successfully lead a Coven, nor would they be able to fulfill all the requirements that would be needed of them as a dedicated Mentor.

One of the greatest problems that some Covens suffer from is that of having inexperienced or ‘unqualified’ people in leading positions. Knowing all the rituals off by heart and having a dominant or charismatic personality does not alone make for a good High Priestess or High Priest and definitely not a good Mentor.

Because of this fact, Wiccans work within a strong but flexible training, development and assessment structure, and which then ensures that we do not unleash imbalanced, power hungry, exploitive or unstable people on to the community, who appear to have credibility because of their Initiatory degree status.

This superb teaching can only come about when the Dedicants are ready to learn and are taking Wicca seriously enough to devote not only their time, but their life to their chosen religion. It’s all about living Wicca, not learning it in a club like atmosphere.

This Wiccan degree system should provide a Dedicant with a basic but clear understanding of how and why certain things are carried out and how things work within the Craft. One should clearly see from this that the degree system therefore provides a framework of support, and a clearly defined structure to help the Dedicant along the Wiccan path.

For those who seek the Dedicant’s Degree and then later on wish initiation into the 1st degree; the degree system provides a rich source of knowledge and experience to draw from.

Having a suitable Mentor around you of experience and knowledge with ‘pickable brains’ makes life considerably easier and that fact can range from help in memorising chants and invocations to what’s the best wood to use for making a Wand.

As well as all that, a good Coven also provides a collective pool of skills for all members to draw from, ranging from herbal remedies to Tarot readings, to even such things as having access to a wide range of books and experiences shared from one’s Mentor.

If also you have an HPs and HP with experience and good people/life skills, then any conflicts and arguments between people can be quickly resolved without conflict, and you always have someone to turn to for advice and guidance in your life.

We set these criteria in Wicca to ensure that we work with people who truly do want to walk this path. After all Wicca is a path for those who want to walk it, and our question in regard to anyone who seeks to join our circle is very simply, “Would you do this even if you never met another Witch to do it with”?

Dedicant’s Degree

Is for those newly coming into the Craft. As you will see elsewhere in any information regarding Initiation, this brings the new Witch into the Coven, connects them with the Coven group-mind, connects them to the Inner Plane power sources which that Coven and Tradition works with, and Initiates- starts them on their path in a powerful and guided way.

It allows the new Dedicant to walk the path before committing to the first degree and to see if they like it or not and also for the Coven to see if they like the Dedicant and all can get along well together in perfect love and perfect trust. A symbiosis of sorts that goes extremely deep.

There are actually a number of approaches to this Dedicant’s Degree. Some Covens don’t even have a Dedicant’s Degree, but for those that do, some traditions take rather a “Bring ’em in and let the Goddess sort them out” type of approach, by initiating people very quickly, and before they have gained much knowledge and experience of the Craft and it’s principles.

On the basis that they can and will learn all they need to know thereafter. Others; like the Gardnerian tradition, require that before anyone is initiated to the first degree, they must have gained at least some real knowledge and experience in Wiccan basics, such as chants, circle principles, simple energy work, Coven etiquette, etc. This is generally taken as being a year and a day. The Dedicant’s Degree maintains the required interest and gives the Aspirant a further goal on which to shoot for and while feeling apart of the Coven as a officially Initiated Dedicant and already walking the Wiccan path.

This way they can then learn much more in a shorter time, all the time training and learning with their Mentor of either 2nd or 3rd degree, which gives a much firmer basic foundation on which to continue.

The idea is that the Dedicant’s Degree welcomes the initiate into Wicca and then the First Degree confirms that initiation and commits the Dedicant into a fully-fledged Priest or Priestess.

First degree

Essential Skills for first Degree

This listing details the requirements that are expected of those who are entering the Craft. Many people first set out on the Wiccan path with much of the required principles already part of their lives, while others only have a basic grasp of these principles and practices and that is not what is so important actually. What is important is that they all strive to achieve those required skills and principles to the best of their ability at all times.

The usual period of training before First-Degree initiation is the traditional ‘year and a day’ as already said. We are often flexible in this, if a new candidate has already undergone training in another Coven which has disbanded, or if they’ve had to move away from another Coven, or if they have already developed good skills and resources from being a Dedicant already. It is then that the probationary period can be shortened appropriately.

It must be said here that a major reason why we have a probationary period is to give people sufficient time in which we can all truly get to know each other, no matter how magickally adept any person appears to be. For if they feel they are above such mundane chores as Temple cleaning, or running the occasional coven errand, or if they try dominating other Coveners, or make other consistent breaches of circle etiquette; then naturally we want to be able to ‘weed them out’ before they get in too deep.

The flowing precepts are generally accepted as being criteria for becoming a First Degree Witch.

* Knows and accepts the fundamental Laws and tenets of the Craft and is sincerely dedicated to walking the Wiccan Way in kinship with nature, other Beings of all planes, and all that is, in full awareness and acceptance of the principle of personal responsibility.

* Understands the Coven principles and basic circle etiquette, etc.,

* Has a rapport with the other Coveners (especially with their 2nd/3rd Degree Sponsor)

* Has gathered together the basic Witches tools of, consisting of Athame, Pentacle, Cauldron or Goblet, Wand and has already started a Book of Shadows and a personal Magickal Diary.

* Has learned the “Witches Rune”, and the basic Wiccan Laws.

* Has developed basic visualization skills.

* Can raise Power sufficiently to carry out basic spells and discharge it in total gnosis.

* Can “Ground and centre”. (That is, can gather and hold personal power and sense of connectedness within rituals in a reasonably balanced way), and can ‘still’ the mind to a quiet and focused level in meditation or Pathworking.

* Can enter the twilight – altered state of consciousness in which magic happens.

* Can sense true Power Flow (i.e. senses it if it is there) and is able to channel Power for magickal work (with guidance).

* Is acquainted with the Theory of the Elements, all basic Wiccan theories and principles, and can tap the elemental energies for such as consecrating working tools.

* Has participated in Wiccan rituals and experienced true group rapport.

The intent for first degree Wiccans is to demonstrate an understanding of, and commitment to, the Wiccan way of living, while having the basic skills to be able to participate in Circles rather than merely passively observing.

Second degree

Marks the beginning of a deeper path within the Craft, and thereby and therein acknowledges the commitment, work and effort that the 2nd degree candidate has made following their First-Degree initiation.

Many people never move beyond 1st degree, which is fine, but for those that do want to deepen their knowledge and extend their Craft skills, herbalism, incense making, practical magick, ritual and ceremony, and for those who wish to be much more actively involved in rituals, the running of the Coven and its circles, training and helping new initiates and candidates, and other more challenging areas; do aspire to become 2nd degree.

It must be stressed before we go any further that 2nd and 3rd degrees bring great responsibility. There is a saying that “Rank brings its privileges”, but within the Craft, that is changed to “Rank brings greater responsibilities”.

‘2nd degrees within most Covens are usually involved in mustering up the 1st degrees to get them more organized and more incovlved and stop them from cruising along too much. They are also very necessary in the delegation of necessary tasks to lower degrees, such as cleaning and setting up the temple, laying out of food and similar tasks, but that’s never an excuse for anyone ‘throwing their weight around’. Usually, everyone in the Coven, whatever their rank, pulls their weight (and more) and hardly ever does anyone have to “chase” anyone for anything.

Third degree

Is granted only to those of sufficient experience and knowledge, who are either in a working partnership together and are going to leave their parent Coven to form a new one, or for a small number of individuals who do not have a working Craft partner to form a new Coven with, and of course, who have been Initiates for sufficiently long that they are becoming Elders of the Craft.

This degree is mostly for those (usually couples) who are going to leave their parent coven to form a new one of their own. This process is known as ‘hiving-off’. It is also sometimes granted to those of long Craft experience, but who do not have a working partner of equal experience, and whom are therefore going to stay with their Coven as one of the “Elders”.

In order to receive this degree, candidates must be 2nd degrees of good rapport, good solid experience, and with the necessary people, organisational, social, magickal and ritual skills to be able to run a working Coven in a way that benefits, empowers and nourishes all members thereof.

Within that a broad criteria is that one is generally of sufficient age to have gained the necessary life experiences, remembering the very blatant fact that there is nothing more potentially disruptive of a Coven than having immature people leading it.

The expectant 3rd Degree must have good magickal and energy awareness skills so that they can feel what Coveners are doing with any energy they raise, and also that they can ‘carry’ and encourage those who may be lacking or lagging behind. That is the foundation and the basis for a very well grounded and powerful Coven.

These aren’t skills that are exclusive to those with any parenting experience either, and it also must be said that a few new HPs and HPSs’, with the support of their own HP and HPS can indeed develop the balance needed by sheer hard work until it all comes together finally.

For those who are not going to found covens themselves but who are developing into ‘Craft Elders’, the criteria are much the same, in that Craft Elders need to be fully able to step into the shoes of the HPs or HP on those occasions when they are needed, and to guide and assist the HP and HPS whenever and wherever possible, all without indulging in any petty ‘power-play’ or other egotistical games.

They must also be able to shoulder much of the counseling, advisory and teaching work that would otherwise fall entirely onto the HPs or HP.

The Initiatory “Tree”

In the Craft there are indeed guidelines and rules as to who can initiate who.

In all circumstances a man must be initiated by a woman, and a woman by a man.

Except in very special circumstances, where a woman can initiate her daughter, or father a son to the First or Second Degree if there is no other woman or man of the appropriate degree to do so.

First degrees can only initiate others in specific circumstances, when…..

As a ‘stand-in’ partner to a 2nd or 3rd degree, in an accepted ’emergency’ situation. (Such as if there is no one of higher degree to do this at the time).

If a coven has ceased to meet and a first degree wishes to elevate a working partner or spouse so that they can work together.

In all circumstances, a first degree can only initiate to the first degree, or in the degree in which they are themselves. They should not be present in a higher degree initiation than their own degree, (as it will spoil their own when eventually taking it).

In all cases; excepting 2 above; any initiations performed by First -Degree Witches must be within an established Coven, and should be under the guidance and supervision of a third degree Witch.

Those of the second degree can initiate to the first and second degrees within a Coven; in accordance with the guidelines for first degrees. Except that a second degree Witch can temporarily take over the running of a Coven if the 3rd degree HPs or HP retires or leaves the Craft, and there is no third degree High Priestess or High Priest to do so.

In which case they should follow the guidelines as at 3 below.

Second degree Witches should only ‘hive-off’ or otherwise found new Covens under very exceptional circumstances, and should seek guidance and peer support from the HPs or HP of another Coven so that they can continue their training and development in a structured and supported way to the third degree. It really is important that only a 3rd Degree run a Coven.

If a first or second degree Witch leaves a Coven for negative reasons they do not have the authority to found a new Coven or initiate people in order to form a new Coven.

These guidelines and rules are not dogmatic or inflexible, and their sole purpose is to help the Craft grow and be strong with a similar and strong foundation to all Covens within Gardnerian Wicca.

If you are considering joining a Coven, would you want that Coven to be led by someone of little experience and with very low levels of expertise and Wiccan knowledge? Or would you prefer that to be with people of deep experience and high levels of expertise and wisdom? It’s really quite an easy question to answer….

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