The prevalence of sweeping generalizations in matters of religious and philosophical thought is one of the things that sent many of us running from the Christian Church in the first place. Instinctively, there seems to be a problem with the notion that there is One God, or One Way, to worship. But many of the same people who would respond to the previous statement with a resounding "Amen!" will, with straight faces, look me in the eye and swear that "it takes a Witch to make a Witch." What gives? I really haven't encountered much discussion about this. Fierce opinions, certainly, but most of what passes for dialogue amounts to the same people offering up the same polarized pronouncements and never coming any closer to understanding or agreement. "I'm right, you're wrong," is why I gave up on Christianity. But here I am, safe in the embrace of the Goddess, and I don't know that I've gotten any farther away from that sort of thinking.
So, to (hopefully) foster a little understanding, and maybe even validate more than one point of view, I would like to deconstruct this topic and take a closer look at a few of the pieces.
The Nature of our Community
A large chunk of the general population has absolutely no interest in hearing why I believe as I do. If you mention casually to any sort of Christian that you happen to be a Witch, you're not going to get a thoughtful discussion. You're going to be accused of eating babies, or worse. I know, this is ridiculous and sad, but I've been on the receiving end of just such an accusation, made by someone determined to protect her children from me.
Since we are not evangelical, and most of us don't enjoy going around picking fights, the response to such attitudes is obvious. We keep to ourselves, and we don't waste our energy trying to convince people that we're not Satanic. We don't take out adds looking for members, and we're careful when it comes to talking to others about what we do.
The most obvious result of all this is that, for someone just beginning to explore Wicca, access to a knowledgeable community may be minimal, if it exists at all. If I had my way, there would be whole towns dedicated to Wicca, and anyone who wished could come and learn from those with more experience in the Craft. No one would feel adrift, and none would have reason to fear the discussion of alternative beliefs. We do not, unfortunately, have such a luxury, and many who sincerely wish to begin their studies have no choice save to begin alone.
In the writer's humble opinion, telling these seekers that they are not, and cannot be, Witches is no better than the Church telling us we're all out of luck if we don't happen to know and accept Jesus. Who do we think we are that we are entitled to say such things? We do not evangelize (blessings on our heads for that), but neither should we be exclusive. It is in our best interests as a community to guide, but not to condemn. It's funny, but those who scream the loudest about the relative worthlessness of self-initiation are typically those who have never had to rely on one. They have studied and dedicated themselves in the presence of a loving and active support network. They are blessed to have had access to such a thing. But many don't, and we need to provide for them as well.
Veneration of the Old and Wise
One of the things that the solo seeker misses out on is the counsel of an older and wiser Witch. Our elders are our greatest treasure. They are the sum of our experience, the standard bearers for our faith. When you must, by necessity, begin your studies on your own, the lack of this steady guidance can be a real hindrance to you. On the other hand, you may make mistakes that you would not make otherwise, and it's always possible to learn from these. The important thing to remember is that you do not know everything, and you do not become an authority simply by reading a couple of books. Begin every day by telling yourself, "There is much for me to learn today." Do this every day for the rest of your life. It will never cease to be true, and it may help you to keep a healthy perspective.
The Choice of Tradition
While I believe it is possible to dedicate yourself to the practice of Wicca, I'm much more skeptical of those who attempt to dedicate themselves as a member of a tradition with which they have no contact. Some of the precepts of various traditions can always be found through reading, but the actual experience of being a Gardnerian, or a Dianic, or an Alexandrian Witch should be passed on as part of a living tradition. The same should hold true for honors such as titles and degrees. If you're practicing alone, what good does it do to announce to the world that you have now attained the second degree? The second degree of what? According to whom? You are, by necessity, your own priestess or priest, but calling yourself High Priestess or High Priest won't make your experience any more meaningful. Degrees and titles belong to traditions, and those traditions should be respected, even if they are not your own.
I think we might go a long way toward eliminating some of the bitterness engendered by this topic if we stop talking about initiation altogether. The first step on the path toward fulfillment in Wicca is not initiation into something, but rather a personal dedication to the Great Mother. To serve the Goddess, and to live in harmony with Her creation, should be the goal of every Witch, solitary or otherwise. These decisions must be made by each of us, no matter what sort of instruction we receive, or with what particular group we can claim affiliation. Whether awash in good advice and guidance, or entirely on our own, we are all self-dedicated. According to Scott Cunningham, time and devotion make one a Witch, not initiation ceremonies. I couldn't agree more.
The choice to live as a Wiccan should not be made lightly. It is a commitment, and it asks a lot of us, but in the end it's all up to you. You don't need permission, and you don't need anyone else to tell you that it's okay to begin. What you do need is respect and awareness of Witches and traditions that have been a part of this community for years. If you are able to seek their guidance, they will have much to teach you.
I wish you all good fortune, and joy on your journey.
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