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Risking Dedication

Why we created a Ritual of Dedication:

When you're working in a start-up situation, what really matters is to get things going. You can fine-tune later. That's how it was, back at the beginning of the neo-Pagan renascence.

By all accounts, Gerald Gardner was anxious to get as many different covens as possible started, so that some might flourish. They say that, when he met a woman who he felt had potential, he took just about a month with her. That's a month from their initial meeting to her Third Degree.

But all that was expected was that she would memorize a few ritual scripts and learn to perform them with force and feeling. Gardner's bet was that, by use of those rituals, training wheels that he and Lady Dafo created for us, groups of people would open themselves to the ongoing inspiration of the Gods. From that seed, the re-born Craft might grow and propagate.

We all won that bet. From Gardner's time to now, the Gods have gifted us generously, and we have put our best research skills and creative talents into giving those rich gifts form in our world. As we grow in understanding and skill, our religion matures and deepens. But what this means is that we can no longer train our priest/esses in a month or so.

Today, it's normal to take a year and a day from entry to Initiation - even longer for the more advanced degrees. It takes that long to cover the most elementary parts of a priest/ess' training without completely engulfing the rest of their lives -- something that we have many good reasons for not wanting to do. Many of us also feel it's desirable for students to experience at least one full turn of the Wheel of the Year in the serious study of the religion's inner mysteries before they make a full formal commitment to its priesthood.

But embarking on serious study and preparation for Initiation is in itself a major -- if temporary -- commitment. The candidate promises to spend a lot of time, do a lot of work, delve deeply into both the Craft and her- or himself. They promise to weigh deeply and honestly whether this is or is not their true life Path. More important, even, then that short-term commitment to explore, they surely should understand that what they learn will forever change their life, whether or not they eventually become Initiates.

So beginning study is a life passage worthy of being marked and celebrated. In Proteus Coven, we perceived this need and created a ritual to fill it. So did many other covens at around the same time. The fact that many coven leaders independently felt this need proves that the need was real.

What the student risks:

Taking a risk can equally be described as undertaking an act of trust. The greater the risk, the greater the trust required.

From my teen years, I was active in politics and aspired to become a lawyer, maybe someday a legislator. In 1970, I took a chance on my first dream. I entered Law School. That means I quit my job, took out a large loan, paid substantial tuition fees, invested hours of work -- and failed.

If you are considering Dedicating your next year to the study of the Craft, you are pondering some very similar risks, and some that are even scarier.

No teacher of Traditional Craft will ask you to pay more than your share of the actual expenses. You'll certainly be keeping your day job. Your financial risk will be minimal -- nothing much more expensive than the occasional box of cookies.

But the other thing I risked and lost in Law School was an important piece of my self-image and a lifelong hope. Any serious course of study begins with a dream, a goal, an intention of playing a new role in life.

Entry into training is a significant act of trust. You choose a coven and/or a teacher in hope that they know their stuff and know how to teach it well. You might be mistaken. You are betting on your own good judgement, your own inner guidance. This is the first significant risk.

You will be also be investing -- risking -- considerable time, work, and energy. You will temporarily relinquish some of your other interests and activities to clear time for your studies. Meetings will conflict with your social life. Some of your friends, or even family members, may feel you've gotten too weird for their comfort. Yet, none of this sacrifice guarantees success. Your second risk is a great disappointment.

Scarier yet, we do much more in coven than acquire new information and skills. We also look deeply into ourselves, exposing old hurts and scars and fragile new dreams along the way, in our effort to reach for the still, small voice of Spirit that sings from within. This is the way of mysticism, everywhere, and it is an absolute pre-requisite to acting as a priest/ess for others. Unless you have attended to your own growth, how can you mentor theirs?

But what occultists call the guardian at the gateway is the same thing that Jungians call the Shadow, the things about ourselves that we would rather not know. So you risk some very uncomfortable self-discoveries.

If you undertake this work of introspection as a solitary, you risk self- delusion. Without others to hear, reflect, and sometimes confront, your inner obstructions may evade your efforts to create a clear channel for Spirit. On the other hand, when you drop your shields and open your aura to your covenmates, you are trusting that they will be compassionately able to support you through the rough spots along your Path. You are trusting that they will not hurt you or exploit your vulnerability. Insofar as you trust your teachers and covenmates, you open yourself to the risk of their betrayal.

And finally, please understand the process of self-exploration and self- exposure is just what might reveal that the Craft was not, after all, your true Path. It may become your teacher's sad duty to honestly tell you this, to send you away to your next adventure. If it comes to this, they'll be handing you a painful disappointment. When you Dedicate yourself to study with a mentor, you are ceding to that mentor the terrifying power to judge you, which is meaningless unless you accept up front that the judgement could go either way.

Do not give this power to anyone unless you have first searchingly judged them and found them worthy.

Because what you risk is very far from trivial, entering training is necessarily an act of the most profound trust. Undertake it only with caution, care, and great anticipatory joy.

Dedication: the teacher's perspective

When we Initiate someone, we declare them to be a priest/ess and a Witch, whether or not they have any of the knowledge and skills required to fulfill that role. In the early days of the neo-Pagan renascence, they often did not. Typically, training followed Initiation. That felt so very wrong.

I could not stand before the Gods and the people and declare a raw beginner to be a priest/ess. I try my best to tell the truth, especially when in ritual state of consciousness, where words spoken penetrate deeply. Especially when I am speaking to the Ancient Gods.

In Proteus, we do not Initiate anyone unless they can actually do the job, at first as part of a team. Second Degree waits till they can function independently; Third till they can teach others.

So our pre-Initiatory training period stretched out to allow for suitable training and inner preparation. But that training involves skills of Witchcraft -- of priestcraft -- that can easily be misused, even abused. I was not willing to undertake this training unless the candidate had first undertaken some ethical commitments that are very important to me.

Thus, in Proteus Coven, we felt the need for a ritual to mark and celebrate the very beginning of training. Here are the components of our Dedication ritual:

The full text of our ritual is public, but not particularly important. The same key ideas can be well expressed in very different ritual styles -- and some of our daughter covens have done precisely that. May the Gods forbid that any one ritual script should ever become a litmus test of membership in the lineage of Proteus!

In summary:

Dedication is a frightening passage, one that requires deep trust and carries serious risk. Across that threshold are moments of terror and pain, to be sure, but also many moments of laughter, love, and joy. If your heart calls you to this Path, then be welcome as you travel it.

by Judy Harrow, HPs, Proteus Coven
updated: January 19, 2000; 1998, 2000, by Judy Harrow
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