ďThe First Steps on the PathĒ
This is the first rite of passage Iíll talk about that isnít dependant on an age or life-stage. Initiations and dedications, like marriages, ordinations and divorces, can happen at any time during adulthood and can sometimes happen several times throughout a personís life or, in some cases, not at all. Iím not suggesting any particular correct order.
When I first set out to research rituals of initiation and dedication, I assumed they would be more or less similar, with maybe one being a solitary exercise and the other being a group function. But Iíve come to realize that they serve different functions.
Looking up definition of dedication, the relevant definitions pointed to an act of consecrating an object, offering something in the name of a patron or practicing devotion to a subject.
Definitions of initiation, on the other hand, had to do with beginnings, entrances and formal acceptance into a group or experience of some kind.
Titled: Initiation, Dedication
When: Dedications may occur when someone has decided to become part of a particular spiritual pathÖ when the dedicant feels ready to devote themselves to a particular path or deity. Initiations take place when the initiate AND the group feels they are ready, often after a set period or course of teaching or independent study.
Why: The purpose of a dedication is to affirm to the dedicant that they are on the path of their choice and to indicate what the details of that path might be as well as any formal vows to behave in a particular way or to serve any particular deities or ways of life. For initiations, it is to affirm to the initiate and the group that the initiate is now a member of the group and is included in all that membership implies.
Typical Features: These may bear some similarities to coming of age rituals as a youth might be initiated into the adult world and also some similarities to a paganing as the initiate is joining the coven family.
Dedication rituals can range from the very simple to the very complex... it seems that the making of vows or promises in regards to following the path is the only major requirement. Dedications can be done alone or as part of a group.
The basics of a dedication ritual might be as follows, not necessarily in this order:
Isolation and contemplation is often a part of the initial stages of a dedication, composing of thoughts and beliefs and calming the mind helps the dedicant get a clear picture of what they are about to do.
The usual ritual preparations (including purifying baths) and opening of ritual space
Invoking or inviting the deities and other beings
A statement of intention and an introduction might be included
Symbolic death and rebirth enacted
Taking of vows or oaths of commitment
Sealing the oaths
Giving or sharing an offering/communion
The usual closing of ritual space
When it comes to initiations, the key point to remember is that an initiation implies the joining of a group, which usually entails acceptance by that group.
There are some fantastic elements of initiations in certain traditions that involve such taboo things as being whipped or tied up... while some of these things may sound off-putting to some people, remember that these rituals are not done to demean or humiliate the initiate. The subject is expected to put themselves in a position of absolute trust within the group and the group then rewards that trust by offering trust in return and membership in the group. Besides this, those acts also serve their own symbolic and spiritual functions and, in a good group anyways, these things are agreed to by the initiate and done to them with love and care by the group and not out of any sadistic or egotistical impulse.
An initiation ritual might include the following features.
A mentor to present the initiate
A challenger to assure the initiates willingness to participate and to test their readiness
Symbolic death and rebirth
There may be a formal greeting and blessing by the group
A connection may be created between members
A promise or vow made
The promise is sealed
Any secrets revealed
Any promises to the initiate are made
What are the general themes? Interestingly, these rituals have an air of secrecy about them, with a solitary dedication usually involving the dedicant seeking time alone or an initiation being performed in total privacy by the group often without outsiders even knowing that itís taken place until much later. This differs from other celebrations and points to the idea that oneís relationship with ones deities and those who worship with you are deeply personal relationships and that trust is a big element of these rituals. For newly minted witches, magick may be a primary theme as now the gates of the world of witchcraft have been opened to them. For others, their budding or deepening relationship with their deities may be the most important theme. For initiations, becoming ďOne of usĒ so to speak, is another primary theme.
Purifications may take the form of a bath prior to or during the ceremony, it may be a smudging with incense smoke or brushing, whipping or slapping of the body by the self or members of the group.
Death and rebirth may be symbolized by the removal of clothing and donning of special jewelry or ritual garb, perhaps the announcing of a new sacred name. It may include being blindfolded or wrapped in a shroud. Or it may be some act of surrender and the acceptance of tools.
Connections may be made by the tying of cords together, the joining of hands, the addition of a mark on the initiate or a mark on a communal object counting the number of group members. The measuring and cutting of a ritual cord symbolizing an umbilical tie between group members or towards the deities may also serve this function.
Vows and promises can vary greatly depending on tradition and when it comes to solitary dedication, composing oneís own promises may be a big part of the process. Vows of secrecy within a group may also be an important element of group work and membership. Revealing secrets to the initiate, especially secrets about the other members, helps to strengthen ties.
Sealing those vows may come in the form of the completion of the rebirth cycle within the ceremony, with the donning of ceremonial robes or the anointing of the dedicant.
Offerings and communions may take any number of forms depending on the tradition or preference of the dedicant.
Initiations may also include some form of dedication to the deities, thus combining the two concepts into one.
How is the personís life changed after the rite?
That depends on the ritual. After an initiation, the initiate is considered a member of the group. There may be further degrees and thus, further initiations to go through before reaching full member status, but after an initiation, the initiate can no longer be considered an outsider to that group. For dedications, the change is harder to pinpoint. It all depends on why the dedicant felt it necessary to take part in the ceremony. Some people feel that they cannot truly feel comfortable calling themselves a witch or pagan without having gone through a ceremony of some type, but thatís not true of all people. Perhaps the ceremony was done to dedicate oneís life to a particular deity or path, in which case, the dedicant may feel that they are truly on their chosen path after passing through such a ceremony, lending a sense of purpose, confidence and focus to their study and practice of the path that they may have lacked previously.