Rites of Passage
Wiccans have several rites of passage, the most common of which is initiation. Others include the marking of important phases of life such as birth (wiccaning), coming of age, marriage (handfasting) and death. A rite of passage unique to Wicca is Eldering or the honoring of elder Wiccans.
Wicca is a religion by choice. For this reason, initiation takes on great importance since it marks a formal entrance of a free-willed individual into Wicca. Some Wiccans have a collective, celebratory ceremony, whereas others are happy with a simple, solitary meditation. Whichever way it is marked, it is a greatly spiritual moment, marking the beginning of a religious journey.
Various traditions and individuals have different ways of performing a Wiccan initiation ritual. Under British Traditional Wicca and other similar traditions, there are usually three degrees of initiation.
There is also a prescribed period of dedication before the first initiation. During the dedication period of a year and a day, a person promises to make an effort to study Wicca as much as possible. After that, the first degree initiation may be held. For coven initiates, there is usually a ceremony in which an individual is granted entrance into the Wiccan community. A first-degree Wiccan initiate then becomes responsible for his or her own spiritual well-being. The second and third degrees in Wicca mean an increase in the level of responsibility.
Another interesting, commonly performed Wiccan ceremony is handfasting. This rite is performed to join together two individuals in the eyes of the God and Goddess. Wiccan handfasting ceremonies are as varied as regular wedding ceremonies. They are usually performed in a circle like other Wiccan rituals. The hands of the couple are tied together for symbolic value. A common wedding vow amongst Wiccans is a variation of the beautiful phrase “for as long as love lasts.”
Wiccans have a naming or wiccaning ceremony upon the birth of a child. Although this child may not choose to be a Wiccan when he or she grows up, his Wiccan parents wish to keep him or her under the protection of the God and Goddess.
A fairly newer rite in Wicca is to honor those who have been on this religious path for more than 20 years. It is called eldering, and is a sort of a retirement for a senior Wiccan from a position of power. In the ceremony, the elder tells stories about his or her journey of Wicca. He or she shares experiences and gives advice to younger Wiccans. A passing away or death rite is also observed by many Wiccans. Usually this custom is started before the Wiccan’s actual death so that he or she may take part in it as well. The practices vary with each individual but are designed to make the dying Wiccan’s passage easier.
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