What makes you a priest/ess?

Michael asked, Am I a real priest?

Short answer, if you feel a calling to be one, then you probably are one, even if you’re on the beginner slopes.

My working definition of a priest or priestess is a person who can facilitate contact between the other-than-human and the human, and/or who can create meaning, community, and a sense of connectedness for others. Note that this definition includes atheists and animists.

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Review of “Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide”

If you are looking for a clear explanation of lineaged, initiatory witchcraft, this is it. If you are looking for a coven, thinking of joining a coven, or merely curious, I would recommend reading this book. Even if you are an experienced Wiccan initiate, you could benefit from the perspectives offered in this book.

If your coven is open to seekers, this book should go straight to the top of your recommended reading list, for seekers, new initiates, and even old hands. It’s clearly written, engaging, well-structured, and scholarly.

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Embodied Spirituality: Magical Tools

The other day, I saw a meme which said that you don’t need magical tools, initiation, or a Book of Shadows to be a Wiccan. Well, maybe you don’t need these things, but they are what people think of when they think of Wicca. They are among the things that get you recognised as being part of the Wiccan community, because they are symbols and experiences and ideas that we all share. They are also useful. You don’t need a knife and fork to eat your dinner, but it makes it a lot easier. You don’t need an address book to write your friends’ addresses in – but it makes it a lot easier to remember where they live and post them Yule cards.  And you don’t need a rite of passage to help you feel like an adult – but it makes it easier if a definite transition has been marked.

I would like there to be as broad an interpretation of the term “Wiccan” as possible, and an even broader interpretation of the term “witch”, because that is how they were originally intended to be used (the term Wiccan was not coined exclusively for the use of Gardnerian Wiccans, or even Alexandrian plus Gardnerian – it was intended to refer to all witches, as Ethan Doyle White has shown from his historical research). I am  okay with people identifying as Wiccan without initiation – but if you want to be part of the initiatory Wiccan community, or another initiatory community such as Feri, then you need initiation. Initiation is a powerful transformational ritual.

The purpose of a Book of Shadows is not to prescribe how you should do your rituals, but to record powerful rituals that you have done, and to transmit powerful rituals written by past Wiccans. Each witch’s book should be unique to them, although it will also contain the rituals that have been passed down to them. A Book of Shadows is a magical tool for recording and transmitting good rituals.

What about tools such as wands, athames, swords, chalices, and so on? There are several reasons why they are helpful. I do think that a good witch should be able to do a spell or ritual without any tools in an emergency – but I still use tools when they are available.

By Fer Doirich - Own work, CC0

Wiccan Altar, by Fer DoirichOwn work, CC0.

Humans are tool-using animals. One of the things that helps us to think and solve problems is our tool-using propensities. Look at other animals who use tools. We tend to think they are cleverer than animals who don’t use tools, because they can manipulate more of their environment.

According to Tool Use in Animals: Cognition and Ecology:

The last decade has witnessed remarkable discoveries and advances in our understanding of the tool using behaviour of animals. Wild populations of capuchin monkeys have been observed to crack open nuts with stone tools, similar to the skills of chimpanzees and humans. Corvids have been observed to use and make tools that rival in complexity the behaviours exhibited by the great apes. Excavations of the nut cracking sites of chimpanzees have been dated to around 4-5 thousand years ago.

Think about how we use physical tools such as screwdrivers, hammers, brooms, milk-frothers, egg-stiffeners, paint-stirrers, and so on, and how difficult life would be without those tools. Think about how chimpanzees have been seen getting ants out of ant-hills with a straw, or cracking nuts open with a rock. Frequently, tool use involves remembering that you saw a useful-looking rock, or a hollow blade of grass, going to fetch it, and bringing it to where the food is. So tool use involves the use of cognitive skills such as memory, comparison, and visualisation.

My partner Bob pointed out that it is much is easier to do a task (magical or mundane) without a tool when you have learnt to do it with a tool.

Tools are levers for affecting the world. You can’t tighten a screw without a screwdriver. You need a wooden spoon to stir a pan of soup or stew, otherwise you would burn your fingers.  You can cast a magical circle without a sword or a wand – but it feels like a better and more magical circle when it has been cast with the appropriate tool. The subtle energies involved in magic are affected by physical tools in much the same way as denser matter is affected by tools.

Magic is not all in the mind – the body is part of it too. The people who claim you don’t need tools also tend to claim that doing magic is a purely mental process. The conceptual separation of mind and body, spirit and matter, is a Western phenomenon which has been a disaster for our civilisation in so many ways, involving the denigration of sexuality and sensuality, the denial of the pleasures of the flesh, a dysfunctional relationship with food, and behaving as if the Earth, the other animals, birds, and plants with whom we share it are expendable. Using magical tools helps to remind us that magic is an embodied spirituality, and to involve our bodies in the process of creating magical energy. Indeed, some of the tools used in Wicca have specific uses for enhancing the sense of being in the body.

Tools are powerful symbols. Much of magic and ritual is about engaging with and awakening the poetic and symbolic aspects of the mind (the “right-brain” functions). The use of tools as symbols speaks to these aspects of the mind (sometimes referred to as “Younger Self”). Tools are part of a complex set of magical associations involving directions, elements, planets, deities, trees, and so on, all of which speak to the poetic, mystical, and symbolic side of our natures. They are part of a poetic language of witchcraft.  The process of getting into the twilight consciousness required for ritual is assisted and enhanced by the use of familiar words, tools, imagery, and physical movements, evoking muscle memory and awareness of space.

So, maybe you don’t need tools, but why would you want to do without them?

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.

Paganism for Beginners: Rites of Passage

A rite of passage is a ritual or ceremony to celebrate and mark the passage from one phase of life to the next. Rites of passage ease us over the threshold into the next phase, and help us to understand and embrace our new status.

Baby Naming

Most cultures have some kind of naming ceremony for babies, and Pagans do too. Pagans generally believe that children should be able to choose whether and which religion to follow when they are old enough, so Pagan naming ceremonies do not include a pledge to bring the child up Pagan – though they may include a desire to instil Pagan values into the child.

Coming of Age

Western culture generally lacks a single unified coming of age ritual. Judaism has one in the form of the Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah. Many Pagans celebrate the first menstruation of their daughters (as long as the daughters want to celebrate it). Many indigenous cultures have rites of passage into adulthood, in the form of a vision quest in the wilderness.

Coming Out

Coming out as LGBT is definitely a rite of passage, and usually a very liberating and empowering experience as the person who comes out feels more authentic as a result. I have written a Pagan coming-out ritual exploring some of the themes around coming out.


Several Pagan and other religious traditions have initiation ceremonies, in which the initiate becomes more fully part of the tradition into which they are being initiated, is given a new and sacred name, and has some of the tenets of the tradition imparted to them, usually in the form of ritual drama and ordeal.

There is sometimes controversy among Pagans as to the value of initiation, and whether self-initiation is the same thing as initiation into a coven or other group.

There are several different aspects of initiation, some of which are conferred by either form of initiation (encounter with the gods, inner transformation, encountering the Mysteries), and some of which can only be conferred as part of a group initiation (being given the secrets of the initiating group, joining the group mind of the initiating group; and the joining of the lineage or tradition of which the coven is part).


A Handfasting

Handfasting by Gordon” by Original uploader was Lizzievee at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; Transfer was stated to be made by User:Undead_warrior.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A Pagan wedding is called a handfasting, and can be contracted for a year and a day, for a lifetime, or for all lifetimes to come (the last of these seems a bit reckless to me). Pagans recognise both same-sex and opposite-sex weddings. Quite a few Pagans are polyamorous.

Pagan weddings have legal validity in the USA and Canada if the celebrant is registered with a recognised religious body, in Scotland if you are a registered celebrant, but not in England and Wales.

A handfasting is a wedding ceremony which involves wrapping cords around the couple’s clasped hands and tying a knot, symbolically binding them together in their declaration of unity. The contemporary handfasting ceremony is a revival of the handfastings of the past. The act of handfasting was originally part of a formal betrothal ceremony (the forerunner of today’s engagement) perhaps going as far back as ancient Celtic Scotland, and surviving up to the 16th century. During the betrothal ceremony, in which a couple agreed to marry each other in the future, there was a formal handshake to seal the deal. This was called the handfæstung, meaning, a pledge by the giving of the hand. To illustrate the imagery and importance of the handshake, the knotting of cords around the hands was eventually incorporated, possibly by contemporary Pagans.


Pagans have always been liberal about divorce, and the fact that a handfasting allows a trial marriage shows that Pagans are aware of the possibility that a relationship may change for the worse, and therefore divorce may become necessary. Of course, marriage should provide security and be a commitment to work at the relationship and treat one’s partner with integrity – but that does not preclude divorce, as that is sometimes the only way of dealing with a marriage that’s not working any more. Paganism lacks a ritual for divorce, but individual Pagans may have crafted divorce rituals.


Croning is a ritual for recognising the menopause, when a woman ceases to menstruate and becomes a “crone”. Pagans have reclaimed the word crone to signify a wise older woman.

Patti Wiginton writes:

In early cultures, the female elder was considered a wise woman. She was the healer, the teacher, the imparter of knowledge. She mediated disputes, she had influence over tribal leaders, and she cared for the dying as they took their final breaths. For many women in Wicca and other Pagan religions, reaching the status of Crone is a major milestone. These women are reclaiming the name of Crone in a positive way, and see it as a time to joyfully welcome one’s position as an elder within the community.


Pagan funerals generally focus on celebrating the life of the person who has died. There are some beautiful pieces of liturgy for Pagan funerals, and many of them can be found in the excellent book,  A Pagan Book of Living and Dying, by the Reclaiming Collective.

Gela Painter - Black Figure Pinax (Plaque) -Walters 48225

The lying in state of a body (prothesis) attended by family members, with the women ritually tearing their hair, depicted on a terracotta pinax by the Gela Painter, latter 6th century BC (Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons)

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 

The Pagan Channel has a page dedicated to posts about Rites of Passage. You can find out more information about handfastings, baby namings, Pagan funerals, and other rites of passage.


If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.

Paganism for Beginners: Wicca

Wicca is both a religion and a magical practice. Wiccans interact with the world on many levels – physical, spiritual, magical and emotional. Witchcraft is the craft of magic.

Wicca and Witchcraft overlap – all Wiccans are also witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. But the practice of witchcraft (in the sense of doing spells and so on) is only part of the practice of Wicca.

Initiatory Wicca (known in the USA as “British Traditional Wicca”) is essentially an esoteric mystery religion in which every practitioner is a priestess or priest.

A mystery religion is one in which the dramas of the psyche are enacted by and for the benefit of its initiates, but because these mysteries often involve non-verbal concepts, they cannot be communicated. Also, some material is oathbound (initiates are forbidden to disclose it to non-initiates). This is not because we want to keep these mysteries to ourselves, but because you need the ceremony of initiation to prepare you to encounter the mysteries.

"Wiccan altar (0)" by RaeVynn Sands, Flickr user cronewynd - originally uploaded to Flickr by RaeVynn Sands as Beltane Altar. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wiccan_altar_(0).png#/media/File:Wiccan_altar_(0).png

Wiccan altar (0)” by RaeVynn Sands, Flickr user cronewynd – originally uploaded to Flickr by RaeVynn Sands as Beltane Altar. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


There are three degrees of initiation in Wicca. After the first degree initiation, the initiate is responsible for their own spiritual development; in some groups, the period between first and second is where the new initiate is helped to develop their spirituality by their Coven and High Priestess and High Priest; after the second, they may take on responsibility for assisting others’ development; after the third, their psyche is fully integrated with itself. (The third degree is generally regarded as a personal step in British Gardnerian Wicca, not something that is required in order to be able to run a coven.)

Initiatory Wicca has many variants (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and offshoots of these) but all share an adherence to a similar ritual structure and the practice of initiation.


Early modern Wicca was inspired by the general interest in the early 20th century in ancient paganisms, esoteric orders of the 19th century, and a strong interest in nature and magical realms. It appears that the basic structure of modern Wicca was devised by two women in the Bournemouth area in the mid-1920s. They passed this on to Gerald Gardner via Dafo. Gardner genuinely believed that he had found an ancient practice which could be traced back centuries, possibly even millennia.  There were, however, other covens practising in other parts of Britain, but little is known about these other than that they existed, and most claims that traditional and hereditary Craft existed before Gardner have not been proven – but nor have they been disproved.

Gardner eventually published a novel, High Magic’s Aid (a fictional account of medieval witchcraft) and Witchcraft Today, an account of the witches that he had encountered.

Many people joined Gardner’s early covens, including Doreen Valiente, who added quite a lot of new material into Gardner’s Book of Shadows. Each new person added more  material.

The modern Craft both draws upon its roots in the Western Mystery Tradition, and looks to traditional forms of folk magic, folklore, and the pagan traditions of the British Isles for inspiration. The structure of rituals remains reasonably constant, but the content varies quite a lot according to the inclinations and tastes of individual covens. Only initiations remain fairly standard, in order to ensure that they will be recognised across the whole Craft.

Gods and other beings

Wicca encompasses a variety of beliefs:

  • A belief in many gods and goddesses, spirits of place, nature and elemental spirits (polytheism)
  • A belief that “all the gods are one God and all the Goddesses are one Goddess” (duotheism)
  • A belief that there is no duality of good versus evil (monism)
  • Devotion to a specific deity (henotheism)
  • Belief that there is only one deity, usually the Goddess or the Great Spirit (monotheism)
  • A belief that everything has a soul, including trees, rocks, animals, birds, places (animism)
  • A belief that the divine is immanent or manifest in the physical world (pantheism)
  • A combination of one or more of the above

Fortunately it is possible to accommodate all these different views within Wicca because of the autonomy of covens and the diversity in unity of Wiccan practice.


Most Wiccans gather in covens. Most covens have a High Priestess and High Priest, but the extent to which these are leaders in the generally-accepted sense of the word varies from one coven to another. Their role is more like that of a facilitator or mentor; their aim is to empower their coveners to develop as priestesses and priests in their own right, passing on their experience and knowledge to their coveners, and usually learning from them in the process. Covens are autonomous, but as their founders will have been trained in another coven, they usually maintain contact with their previous High Priestess and sometimes seek guidance from her. The maximum size of a coven is usually limited by the size of the room where they meet.

Most coven members will also practice on their own (either a full ritual or meditation and visualisation), and sometimes will become solitary for a time if they move to another part of the country and cannot find a compatible coven or simply because that is what they wish to do at the time.

Solitary Wicca is also practised by non-initiates, either because they do not want to join a coven or cannot find a compatible one. Solitaries sometimes perform a self-dedication or self-initiation ritual.

The structure of a ritual

The basic structure of a ritual is similar to that of a story. It has a beginning (the opening of the circle), a middle (the purpose for which the ritual is being conducted be it celebratory or magical) and an end (the closing of the circle).

Wicca is practised in a sacred circle, and most rituals have a structure broadly based upon the Western Mystery Tradition. This involves consecrating the space, orienting it to sacred geometry, raising some power, performing the ritual, sharing consecrated food and drink, and then closing the circle and bidding farewell to the beings and powers that have been called upon. Coveners usually bring a contribution to the feast.


Wiccans celebrate eight festivals and the thirteen Full Moons of the year. They will sometimes meet on other festivals and other phases of the Moon.

The eight festivals are Samhain or Hallowe’en (31st October); Yule (21st December); Imbolc (2nd February); Spring Equinox (21st March); Beltane (1st May); Midsummer or Litha (21st June); Lammas or Lughnasadh (1st August); and Autumn Equinox (21st September). The dates, practice and meaning of these vary according to where the coven is located, when particular plants actually come out, and the local traditions where the coven members live. Some covens celebrate on the nearest weekend to the actual festival. Some writers have tried to fit the festivals to the story of the interaction between “The God” and “The Goddess”.

It is now generally recognised that the eight festivals were not all celebrated by the same culture (in spite of wild claims made on some web sites), and some of them are retro-engineered Christian festivals, but this is in keeping with the nature of Wiccan practice. Whatever the origins of the festivals, they have now taken on a life of their own, and could be considered a valid development of pagan tradition, provided that we do not make spurious claims for their antiquity.

While the Solstices and Equinoxes are fixed points governed by the movements of specific movements of the Sun and Moon, the other four, Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas and Samhain are moveable and relate to the passing of the seasons as they display themselves wherever the practitioner happens to be geographically.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the equinoxes and solstices are reversed, so the winter solstice is in June, and so on.


Most Wiccans practice magic for healing and other ethical results. The intention behind the working of magic is not to impose our will on the universe, but to bend the currents of possibility somewhat to bring about a desired outcome. Magic is generally practised at Full Moons rather than major festivals.


The Wiccan attitude to ethics is mainly based on the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do what thou wilt”. However, it is significant that this injunction occurs as part of the first degree initiation, and was probably originally meant to show the new initiate that it is impossible to do anything without causing some harm, so it is necessary to consider carefully the consequences of one’s actions. The other famous (and often misquoted) injunction occurs at the second degree, and is generally known as the Law of Threefold Return. The actual text enjoins the initiate to return good threefold wherever s/he receives it. To my mind, the most important aspect of Wiccan ethics is the list of the eight virtues which occurs in The Charge of the Goddess. These are beauty and strength, power and compassion, mirth and reverence, honour and humility. Each of these pairs of virtues points to the need for balance.

Further reading

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.

November Gratitude: Initiatory Communities

This November, Patheos Pagan is observing the Thanksgiving season with a gratitude series: celebrating the Pagan or polytheist colleagues, friends, groups, and communities that make us glad to be part of the movement. Aine Llewellyn, Nimue BrownJulian BetkowskiJason Mankey, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, John Halstead, and Drea Parker have also contributed — I invite you to go read their contributions. But for now, here’s mine!


Eastern Passage, Knowth – image by Przemysław Sakrajda

Out of all my experiences in Pagan groups, the one that has moved me the most deeply has been the practice of initiation. I’ve gone through a few formal initiations — some performed by loved ones with whom I practiced regularly, some by a mix of my close loved ones and their loved ones, who had traveled for the occasion.

In each of these experiences, though, I’ve been overwhelmed by the care, attention, and sheer effort that those initiatory teams put out on my behalf. My initiators memorized pages upon pages of liturgy and embodied it with both priestly and theatrical skill; prepared gorgeous altars and planned ritual encounters with Neolithic tombs and stone circles; sang me beautiful songs; showered me with gifts; celebrated me, frightened me, challenged me, praised me, and in all ways showed me that they’d spent days or even months considering what words or actions might support my spiritual growth.

In ordinary American life, there are few opportunities to receive this depth of loving attention. The only time I have experienced it elsewhere was on my wedding day, when friends and family came together to bless and celebrate with me and my partner. Since my friends and I tend to be a bunch of do-it-yourselfers, we had some limited professional help, but a great many of the organizing, cooking, decorating, and ritualizing tasks were performed by volunteers in a concrete outpouring of love so profound that my husband and I almost felt high on the energy. To be so tenderly cared for by a community as one goes through an important rite of passage is an experience so moving and transformative that I find myself at a loss for words.

To me, marriage is a sacrament partially because it is a moment when divine love can be felt most clearly, both between oneself and a partner, and between couple and community. Initiation, at least as it is practiced in the Craft, not only binds the initiate to the family of practitioners, but it is also an occasion when the love between the Gods and the initiate can be felt most intimately. Like a wedding, when an initiation goes well, it seals the relationship and acts as a spell of intention for the future. To be initiated with care and skill by a loving community is a rare and precious gift.

I am grateful beyond measure for that gift, for the insights I gained through the act of initiation, for the profound transformation it has produced in my life, and above all for the loving hands and hearts that brought me into divine presence and accepted my commitment. Initiations are meant to make new family members, and I know only too well that they don’t always take; but by grace and luck and the generosity of my loved ones, I have found what I sought there. I can only hope that when it comes my turn to pass on that gift, that I will be able to do it with the same insight and love that my initiators did.

May the Gods continue to bless our initiatory communities, that others may also experience love so deeply! And to my initiators — thank you, thank you, thank you.

Aspects of initiation

Not all Pagan traditions have initiations, but some do. Not all these initiations will include all six of the features listed below. I originally wrote this article in a Wiccan context, but I would have thought it was at least applicable to other initiatory traditions.

In my view, there are six distinct aspects to initiation.

  • There is the inner process of transformation;
  • the initiation by the gods and goddesses (making contact with the numinous);
  • experiencing the Mysteries (that which cannot be spoken, or Arrheton);
  • being given the secrets of the initiating group (that which must not be spoken, or Aporrheton);
  • joining the group mind of the initiating group;
  • and the joining of the lineage or tradition of which the coven is part.

Some of these aspects can be conferred by self-initiation – but the group and lineage-related aspects cannot, and that is the main difference between self-initiation and group initiation. It is not that a self-initiation cannot confer genuine contact with the deities and genuine inner transformation; it is that the coven and lineage-related aspects can’t be part of self-initiation by its very definition. Similarly, if the group into which someone is initiated is not part of a lineage or tradition, then the initiation cannot confer membership of a lineage. (I would like to thank James Butler for pointing out the Arrheton and Aporrheton distinction.)

At this point it might be helpful to lay out the aspects of initiation in a table:



Group initiation
(no lineage)

Group initiation
with a lineage

Inner process of transformation




Initiation by the gods and goddesses




Experiencing the mysteries – Arrheton




Being given secrets – Aporrheton




Joining the group mind of the coven




Joining the lineage or tradition




In the Eleusinian mysteries, Arrheton was that which could not be spoken of, and Aporrheton was that which must not be spoken of by the initiates.

All six aspects of initiation might not happen at the same time – the timing of the initiation by the gods and goddesses is up to them, and the inner process of transformation is an ongoing process, both leading up to the initiation ritual and continuing after it. After all, to initiate means to begin something.

Let’s now look at each of the six aspects in more detail.

Inner process of transformation

“Know thyself” said the inscription at Delphi, and initiation is a significant step – sometimes the first step – on a journey of self-knowledge: understanding one’s inner processes; finding out what archetypes one identifies with, but then rounding them off into real personality traits by bringing them into conflict with other archetypes. This last idea comes from an excellent book called 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt; it’s actually a book about using archetypes to write better fictional characters, but it’s also useful from a self-development point of view.

We also need to be aware of the contents of our shadow and golden shadow, bringing them into conscious awareness.

The golden shadow is the characteristics of people you admire, but which you do not recognise in yourself. For example, if you admire someone who is brave, then you probably are brave as well, though you might not realise it.

The shadow is all the aspects of people you dislike, but which you do not recognise in yourself. For example, you might dislike someone because they are lazy, but in fact this might be because you are projecting your own laziness onto them.

Initiation of the gods and goddesses

The deities are both a real experience and a metaphor for some ineffable process – an expression of our relationship with the world of archetypes, the land and the collective unconscious. According to many Hindu schools of thought, the deities are just forms and faces of the Infinite – Brahman at play in the universe.

When we encounter the divine in an initiatory experience, it can be as a result of an initiation ritual, or it can happen when the deities decide it will happen – it’s not really under our conscious control. But the experience is one of great power and energy, of connectedness to all that is – perhaps a vision in which it’s suddenly clear how everything fits together, or maybe a sense that everything is full of gods and illuminated from within.

Experiencing the mysteries (Arrheton)

The awareness of the ineffable nature of the divine – that which underlies what is manifest – cannot be communicated in words. It may be experienced as a result of an initiation ritual, or as a result of some other experience or inner process.

Being given secrets (Aporrheton)

The secrets of a group or lineage are by definition only available from people who already know them. The reasons given for why they must not be spoken vary. Carl Gustav Jung said that people need secrets to create a sense of group identity. My own view is that it is because they are private and can only be understood in the context of the whole culture and symbolism of the initiatory tradition. There is also the argument that the mysteries are revealed in a certain order because they make more sense that way, and people can’t have the secrets till they have reached the right level of initiation. However, we must be careful not to act as if being given access to the secrets was the whole purpose of initiation – it is not, and the idea of getting access to secret knowledge is not a good motive for a candidate for initiation.

Joining the group mind 

Most magical groups seem to have had experiences of the group mind – knowing what is coming in a visualisation before the person leading it has said it; being able to sense where the other participants are in a visualisation; all turning up with the right food to make a feast; and so on.

Joining the group mind is obviously not available through self-initiation, because that is a solitary experience. The sense of a group mind develops gradually through working together, but if a new person joins, perhaps the jolt administered by the initiation ritual, and the shared experience of it, may be what inducts them into the group mind.

Joining the lineage or tradition

The idea of a lineage is that you inherit and have transmitted to you a particular current of energy that is special to your particular lineage, presumably because it has been modified by the people it has passed through, giving it a particular flavour.

There is also the possibility that you become part of the egregore or group mind of the tradition when you have been initiated. This is much more nebulous than the group mind of the working group.

The idea of a lineage may be related to the Christian idea of apostolic succession – but maybe it is older than that. The title of Pontifex Maximus used by the Pope originally belonged to the Roman emperors, as chief priests of the cult of the deities of Rome. Also, many ancient pagan priests became Christian priests, so the apostolic succession of the Christian church also contains lineages from pre-Christian traditions (both Jewish and pagan). More detail on this subject can be found in an excellent article by Tau Apiryon (1997), The role and function of Thelemic Clergy in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.

Again, joining the lineage, tradition or egregore is obviously not possible through self-initiation, because it is a solitary act.


Initiation is a multi-faceted experience and part of a process of transformation. It is not just about the ritual itself, but the experiences leading up to it, and the ongoing processes following it. Some of the transformation is internal and personal, and some of it is bestowed by the deities.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.