The truth is not so extreme. The degree system comes to us from the Gardinarian tradition of Witchcraft. But heresy has been rampant from the beginning and most groups in America do not even claim to be Gardinarian even if their practices obviously derive from the traditions Gerald Gardener taught.
In practice the degree system is a yard stick to measure spiritual growth. Yard sticks are necessarily arbitrary and growth is by nature erratic therefore individuals rarely measure out evenly. Generally First Degree is introductory, Second Degree is study and Third Degree is depth and service. Someone who has attained 1st Degree has taken responsibility for their own religious growth and is knowledgeable enough about the tradition they are entering to make a considered decision. Second degree is the time to develop breadth of knowledge. Someone of 2nd Degree is more knowledgeable than someone of 1st degree. At 3rd one has the accumulated wisdom of practice and the dedication to offer this wisdom in the service of others. The training is dedicated to bringing about this wisdom. Most 3rds will honor someone who has achieved these things even if they have not been formally trained or formally initiated.
In defense of self styled Thirds we have to admit that we have met trained Thirds who are incompetent and self centered but we just took that as a warning to tighten up our program so that people who do graduate from the Braided Wheel Tradition are competent. Most of the Thirds we have met are competent. They did have to convince at least one person that they deserved that title.
"In fact the presentation of a staff to an apprentice wizard is usually a very impressive ceremony, especially if the staff has been inherited from an elder mage; by ancient lore there is a long and frightening ordeal involving masks and hoods and swords and fearful oaths about people's tongues being cut out and their entrails torn by wild birds and their ashes scattered to the eight winds and so on. After some hours of this sort of thing the apprentice can be admitted to the brotherhood of the Wise and Enlightened." Terry Pratchett
A religion that honors life recognizes transitions and life accomplishments and celebrates them in ritual.
Initiations serve many purposes. They are acknowledgements of accomplishments and therefor encouragement to further accomplishment. They are prizes to lure the foolish to wisdom. They are ceremonies to welcome new members into a group. And they are powerful religious experiences in themselves.
Just as some people can feel married without the ceremony and some people don't feel married even after the ceremony. So initiation is no guarantee of attainment of growth.
Since 1st degree is essentially self centered, few people deny the validity of self initiated 1sts. In the absence of a confirmed degree the only way to prove your achievement of the 3rd degree is to do 3rd degree work with 3rd degree skill, such as forming your own coven and initiating others. If you are not 3rd degree when you start you will be by the time you succeed.
Any degree system is inherently social. Social systems are used by groups of people to identify skills or accomplishments they value. If you have no intention of ever interacting with other Neopagans than you have no need of a Magical Degree. But if you are going to interact with other Neopagans the degree system measures real accomplishments and can convey important information, as well as being a transforming experience in its own right.
Initiation is the ritual celebration of an accomplishment. It represents the completion of one phase of life and the beginning of another. There are three types of initiations; initiation into a group, initiation as a graduation ceremony, and initiation as a transformative experience.
Initiation into a group means that the group recognizes you as a member and commits itself to your well-being and you make the same commitment in return. The mutual commitment is what is being celebrated. Initiation into a degree will always have some aspect of a graduation ceremony. Any well done ritual should be a transformative experience.
The Braided Wheel tradition does not require initiation into a coven in order to receive initiation in the Degrees of the Tradition. Training is a matter between the student and the teacher and does not require group membership.
A student/teacher relationship should be clearly defined. Teachers are held responsible for the behavior and spiritual well-being of their students. And students should respect the advice and experience of their teachers even if they don't always agree with them.
Choosing a group or a teacher are serious decisions and most teachers recommend getting to know the people involved for at least one year and reviewing your options before making the final commitment.
The Braided Wheel Tradition recognizes three categories of people who attend our rituals: Friends, people who attend the ritual without making any commitment to the Tradition or the group, people who are "just looking"; Postulants, people who have requested membership or training and been accepted; and Members, people who have been with the group for at least a year and been initiated.
Neopagan Witchcraft places a strong emphasis on personal freedom and consensus process. A Coven is a small group of individuals and every group will have its own system of relationships. For more information on group processes and consensus read "Dreaming the Dark" and "Truth or Dare" by Starhawk.
First Degree initiation is a recognition that the initiate knows the basics of Craft lore and is capable of performing the duties of Priest/ess for themselves. People who have attained First Degree are entitled to call themselves Initiate of the Mysteries, Witch, and Priest/ess. The Braided Wheel tradition adheres to the theory that the title of Priest/ess means someone who can communicate directly with the deity, and that no one should have to depend on others for that communion.
We recommend working with a group for at least one year before being initiated into a group. It is better to work out any major problems before a commitment is made.
First Degree goals:
Complete the 1st Degree course as described in the 1st Degree Syllabus
Attend three Rituals with other groups. (This exposes the initiate to other options. No one should join a tradition because they feel they have no other choice.)
Attend all eight Sabbats or write a ritual for the Sabbat. (The Initiate should be able to describe the relationship between The God and The Goddess and know the significance of all eight Sabbats.)
Show an inclination to perform Esbat ritual for yourself. (This is a religion of personal responsibility. Anyone who calls themselves a Priest/ess should have already taken some steps on their spiritual Path.)
Demonstrate understanding of the Ritual form by writing an origanal ritual.
Demonstrate that you are capable of HP/Sing a ritual.
Demonstrate basic understanding of the Craft philosophy and willingness to choose it as your religious path.
Request initiation from your teacher.
Braided Wheel uses an Eightfold system based on the seven Chakras plus Manifestation for categorizing Paths. This is a system for categorizing information according to its relationship to the whole being. Any activity can be developed into a religious Path. And any path can be categorized according to its relationship to the whole.
Second Degree goals:
Complete the 2nd Degree course as described in the 2nd Degree Syllabus
Study each of the Eight Chacras and the Paths associated with them.
Gain a basic understanding of the possibilities available.
Choose a field of magical study (Path).
Prepare a study plan for field requirements. Work with your teacher on Third Degree program.
Request initiation from your teacher.
Third Degree goals:
Complete the 3rd Degree course as described in the 3rd Degree Syllabus
Show leadership and competence in a field of magical study.
Show the ability to use the resources of the chosen Path in the Service or others.
Demonstrate the ability to comfort and assist those in need.
Provide a service for others.
Request Initiation, actual degree is conveyed by those you have helped.
© 1998-99 Sheherazahde, Braided Wheel Tradition
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