Initiation is a subject that carries with it a lot of baggage. For some, it holds a sense of mystery, formality, and the promise of occult secrets. For others it can seem scary and out of reach, leaving them uncertain of the validity of their practices and their powers. For many witches, the idea of initiation just seems unattainable since many witches live in isolation, not from people or society at large but from other witches. Those living outside of urban areas and large cities may be hard-pressed to find any other witches, much less formal groups with initiatory rites!
And then there remains the many questions about what this process even is. What counts as an initiation? Can you self initiate? Is initiation even necessary? What good does it do to be initiated? Today, we’re going to pull back the shroud on all of these questions and demystify the subject of initiation.
What Is Initiation?
An initiation is a rite of passage; it’s a ceremony or event that allows one access to further knowledge, power, resources, or acclaim. Unsurprisingly, in the world of magic, this can mean a great many things.
There are several types of initiation that occur within the context of magical practice. Some happen formally, within groups, covens, or secret societies, and then there are spirit initiations or initiations that are experienced through spiritual events. Personal devotional rites are also sometimes called initiations; we’ll get into those a little later.
Formal initiations into groups are what most people think of when they think “initiation”. You may imagine robed figures, ritual proceedings, and ceremonial passing of occult knowledge. The truth is, these formal initiations can take many forms. From the multilevel initiations of Gardnerian Wicca to the single, whole hog initiation of Feri Witchcraft, from the incredibly structured ritual initiations of organizations like the Golden Dawn or O.T.O to the more fluid, free form initiations in our everyday lives such as coming of age rites, initiations are incredibly varied.
The nice thing about these kinds of initiations is that it’s fairly straightforward to obtain them, at least in theory. You find and join a group and then follow their procedures to attain higher levels of knowledge, trust, and eventually, initiation as set out by that group. With this kind of initiation, you’ve either done it or you haven’t, there’s no ambiguity about it.
The second form of initiation is less straightforward. Spirit initiation is far less structured and can be quite hard to recognize if you don’t know what you’re looking for. These initiations are guided or instigated by spirits, guides, gods, or powers that you’re working with in order to transition you into new states of being and new states of readiness to receive further knowledge and power. The trouble with this kind of initiation is that you’re rarely given prior warning that it’s going to happen and you may not even know that it’s happened at all if you don’t know the signs.
For example, my first initiation was spontaneous. I wasn’t looking for initiation. I wasn’t trying to join any group or pick up any particular practice. I just wanted to go and meet some like-minded witchy women and maybe learn something new. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I got was a wild and dizzying out-of-body experience that ended in my astral dismemberment and being sewn back together again by bees.
If you’ve never experienced a dismemberment trance before, let me tell you, it’s incredibly jarring. The spirits I met, the pain I felt, the death and rebirth of that journey were completely out of the blue and I had no idea what had just happened to me. I thought maybe I’d had a bizarre nightmare. When I spoke to the other women in the group about it, however, I learned that this was not only a common experience for those new to the group but that it was a form of initiation into this particular practice!
This initiation wasn’t something the other women in the group could give me, it was something that came from a place of my own readiness, and the fact that this was a form of spiritual work that I was well suited to. The spirits and energy that were involved with this group and this practice decided that I would have an initiation experience. Not all new members of the group had these kinds of experiences, some took weeks or months to have such an initiation, and some never had one at all.
Spirit initiations come in many forms, this is only one example. Many gods, spirits, and practices come with forms of spiritual initiation that are completely independent of other people or organizations. The spiritual entities decide when and how these initiations happen. Not all spirit initiations are spontaneous, there are some spirits or practices that may ask you to undergo the initiation willingly, and there are some that you can instigate on your own. An initiation that you agree to or instigate is quite different from a self-initiation though.
Can You Self Initiate?
Short answer: No.
The fact of the matter is, you cannot initiate yourself into anything because an initiation implies the passage into a state of higher power and knowledge. You cannot give yourself any more knowledge and power than you currently have access to! In order for it to be a true initiation, there must be some fundamental change in your being or your status that is given to you externally.
Many solitary witches will undergo what they call a “self-initiation” wherein they will dedicate themselves formally to the practice of witchcraft. I am not in any way trying to invalidate these experiences or steal any of the meaning that they hold. These rituals can be incredibly potent! However, I do think the term self-initiation is misapplied. These rites are dedication rites, it is a formal declaration of the intention to become a witch. This is not an initiation, you are not being granted abilities or knowledge, you are declaring yourself anew!
These dedications can, at times, coincide with a spirit initiation but more often I find that spirits and the world at large allow the witch to have the limelight. This is a claiming of personal power, a declaration of your new identity, and a dedication to your path. This rite is about you. Many spirits will wait and see what comes of such a dedication rite, if you stick to your guns and pursue the craft or if you forget and return to the comfortable habits of your former identity. Only with proven commitment will the spiritual initiation come.
Do You Have To Be Initiated?
That said, initiation in its myriad forms is not necessary to the craft. A witch who has undergone a hundred initiations is not necessarily any more effective than the witch who has simply studied and practiced without initiation. We must always remember, the point of magic is not to be the most technically advanced witch. The point is not to do witchcraft “right”, it’s not to be the most traditional, it’s not even to be the most learned or well-researched witch.
The point is to claim your power and have the ability to change your life. That is why we are here. To take back our power, to create the life that we want, to have the ability to change that which does not suit us. You can accomplish that aim without ever undergoing a single initiation. Initiations can help, of course, if they are the right ones. Spirits and organizations and covens hold information that one might not otherwise have access to. But these avenues to power are not the only ones available to us. We can seize power for ourselves, without relying on outside forces to declare us worthy.
How Does Initiation Fit Into Your Craft?
Initiation should not be pursued for the sake of collecting acclaim. Initiations aren’t trophies, they aren’t girl scout badges, and they’re not Pokemon cards. Having more initiations or rare initiations does not inherently give you more power or skill. Rather, undergoing the right initiations for you and your goals can help you move further in your spiritual journey, learn information that will suit your purposes, and build a community that can support you in your magical endeavors.
This is the only good reason to pursue initiations of any type. You do not need to be initiated to be a witch, you do not need initiation to work spells or commune with spirits or tap into psychic gifts. You have these abilities within you already. If you pursue initiation, it should be with a specific goal in mind. The initiation should suit your purposes, it should give you access to the right kind of knowledge and the right kind of people to guide and assist you in your magical ventures.
I say this for one simple reason: Not all initiations are worth your time and not all groups are useful or healthy places to be. A person who is seeking initiation for a sense of validity will join any group that seems established and esoteric enough without consideration of how it will benefit their practice or what kind of organization they are joining.
It’s no secret that there are many covens, organizations, and secret societies that are rife with abuse and misconduct. The unfortunate truth is that pettiness, gossip, backstabbing, and outright abuse are not uncommon in our communities. There are safe, healthy, and wholesome spaces in magical communities but it pays to have your wits about you and your goals firmly in mind when someone offers you entrance into their group. Thinking critically about the path you choose to take can make the difference between your continued growth and having a craft of real substance, and winding up in a dead-end group, embroiled in their internal politics and making no progress toward your goals.
Initiation can be a wonderful and enlightening experience if it is pursued with eyes open and careful consideration. My goal in this post was not to dissuade you from pursuing initiation at all but rather to demystify it so that you can choose what is right for you with a clear head. People pursue initiations for many reasons. Some crave knowledge. Others want power. Others still seek growth or community. All of these reasons are valid but here, as witches, we do not need permission to be magical and to change our lives.