When witchcraft became an underground organisation, the Craft of the Wise, it shared a characteristic common to all secret societies. Admission to it was by initiation.
Such initiation required the newly admitted member to swear a solemn oath of loyalty. When witchcraft was punishable by torture and death, such an oath was a serious matter. Today, when witchcraft has become like Freemasonry, not a secret society but a society with secrets, the idea of initiation still remains.
Initiations into witch circles nowadays take varying forms, as they probably always did. However, the old idea that initiation must pass from the male to the female, and from the female to the male, still persists. A male with must be initiated by a woman, and a female witch by a man. This belief may be found in other forms, in traditional folklore. For instance, the words of healing charms are often required to be passed on from a man to a woman, or from a woman to a man. Otherwise, the charm will have no potency.
There is also an old and deep-seated belief, both in Britain and in Italy, that witches cannot die until they have passed on their power to someone else. This belief in itself shows that witchcraft has been for centuries an initiatory organization, in which a tradition was handed on from one person to another.
The exception to the rule that a person must be initiated by one of the opposite sex, occurs in the case of a witch’s own children. A mother may initiate her daughter, or a father his son.
In general, for their own protection, covens have made a rule that they will not accept anyone as a member under the age of 21. Witches’ children are presented as babies to the Old Gods, and then not admitted to coven membership until they have reached their majority.
This rule became general in the terms of persecution. Secrecy upon which people’s lives depended was too great a burden for children’s shoulders to bear. It is evident, from the stories of witch persecutions, that witch-hunters realized how witchcraft was handed down in families. Any blood relative of a convicted witch was suspect.
The witch-hunting friar, Francesco-Maria Guazzo, in his ‘Compendium Maleficarum’ (Milan, 1608, 1626; English translation edited Montague Summers, London, 1929), tells us that “it is one among many sure and certain indications against those accused of witchcraft, if one of their parents were founded guilty of this crime”. When the infamous Matthew Hopkins started his career as Witch- Finder General, the first victim he seized upon was an old woman whose mother had been hanged as a witch.
There are a number of fragmentary accounts of old-time witch initiations, and from these a composite picture can be built up. The whole-hearted acceptance of the witch religion, and the oath of loyalty, were the main features. There was also the giving of a new name, or nick-name, by which the novice was henceforth to be known in the novice was given a certain amount of instruction, and, if the initiation took place at a Sabbat, as it often did, they were permitted to join in the feast and dancing that followed.
In some cases, in the days of really fierce persecution, a candidate was also required to make a formal renunciation of the official faith of the Christian Church, and to fortify this by some ritual act, such as trampling on a cross. This was to ensure that the postulant was no hypocritical spy; because such a one would not dare to commit an act which he or she would believe to be a mortal sin. Once the postulant had formally done such an act, they had in the eyes of the Church damned themselves, and abandoned them-selves to hellfire; so it was a real test of sincerity, and an effective deterrent to those who wanted to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Such acts are not, however, to my knowledge, required of witches today.
One of the ritual acts recorded as being part of a witch initiation is that described by Sir George Mackenzie, writing in 1699 about witchcraft in Scotland, in his book ‘Laws and Customs of Scotland” (Edinburgh, 1699): “The Slemnity confest by our Witches, is the putting one hand to the crown of the Head, and another to the sole of the Foot, renouncing thier Baptism in that posture.” Joseph Glanvill’s book ‘Sadducismus Triumphatus’ (London, 1726), had a frontispiece of pictures illustrating various stories of mysterious happenings, and one of these old woodcuts shows a witch in the act of doing this.
Her initiation is taking place out of doors, in some lonely spot between two big trees. With her are three other women, one of whom seems to be presenting her to the devil, who appears as the conventional figure of a horned and winged demon. In practice, however, the devil of the coven was a man dressed in black, who was sometimes called the Man in Black, for this reason. The “grand array” of the horned mask, etc., was only assumed upon special occasions.
A variant of this ritual was for the Man in Black to lay his hand upon the new witch’s head, and bid her to “give over all to him that was under his hand”. This, too, is recorded from Scotland, in 1661. Information about the initiation of men into witchcraft is much less than that referring to women. However, here is an account from the record of the trial of William Barton at Edinburgh, about 1655, evidently partly in his words and partly in those of his accusers, which tells how a young woman witch took a fancy to him, and initiated him:
One day, says he, going from my own house in Kirkliston, to the Queens Ferry, I over-took in Dalmeny Muire, a young Gentlewoman, as to appearance beautiful and comely. I drew near to her, but she shunned my company, and when I insisted, she became angry and very nyce. Said I, we are both going one way, be pleased to accept of a convoy. At last after much entreaty she grew better natured, and at length came to that Familiarity, that she suffered me to embrace her, and to do that which Christian ears ought not to hear of. At this time I parted with her very joyful. The next night, she appeared to him in that very same place, and after that which should not be named, he became sensible, that it was the devil. Here he renounced his baptism, and gave up himself to her service, and she called him her beloved and gave him this new name of John Baptist, and received the Mark.
The Devil’s make was made much of by professional witch-hunters, being supposed to be an indelible make given by the devil in person to each witch, upon his or her initiat-ion. However, it would surely have been very foolish of the devil to have marked his followers in this way, and thus indicated a means by which they might always be known. From the confused descriptions given at various times and places, it seems evident that the witch-hunters knew there was some ceremony of marking, but did not know what it was.
In witchcraft ceremonies today, the new initiate is marked with oil, wine, or some pigment, such as charcoal. However, as Margaret Murray has pointed out, there is a possibility, judging by the many old accounts of small red or blue markings being given, the infliction of which was painful but healed after a while, that this may have been a tattoo mark. Ritual tattooing is a very old practice; and some relics of this survive today, in the fact that people have themselves tattooed with various designs ‘for luck’. However, when persecution became very severe, it would have been unwise to continue this form of marking.
The most up-to-date instance I have heard, of the marking of new initiates, is the practice of a certain coven in Britain today, which uses eyeshadow for this purpose; because it is available in pleasing colours, is easily washed off, and does no harm to the skin. One wonders what old-time witches would think of it!
Source: “Lid Off The Cauldron. A wicca Handbook”, Patrica Crowther, 1992, Samuel Weiser inc., Maine. pp.34-
To become a witch you must have a natural inclination to worship the Old Gods. It must be a feeling which springs from the heart and carries you on towards your goal, in exactly the same way it happened to the first witches thousands of years ago.
The approach must be in this manner. Any other attitude, such as vulgar curiosity, a desire for power over others, or the selfish intention of using magic to gain material ends, will only end in failure and disillusion.
The Old Gods are ancient archetypal images of the divine powers behind all Nature. They are the oldest gods known to man. Pictures of them are painted all over Europe and show the great influence they had, even at the Dawn of Time.
Just because they are so old, is no reason to believe they are in any way ‘out of date’. Our ancestors were no fools: their way of life and their culture is gaining more and more respect as the years go by. Continuous discoveries about their skills and beliefs growing admiration and amazement.
Their deities were a Mother Goddess and a Horned God, representing the twin forces of life: male and female, light and dark, positive and negative, Sun and Moon, etc. These complimentary aspects in nature are ‘fact’ and cannot be disputed. And, because the Gods are true representations of the divine powers behind all manifestation, they have endured through millennia, and will always endure.
Unlike many other religions, where contact with divinity is sought through prayer and meditation, witchcraft teaches development of the soul through the Eight Paths of the Witches’ Wheel. These ways are part of the Western Mystery Tradition. The West and the East are two very different places. Eastern religions teach their followers to look ‘within’ for enlightenment, and although the West uses this method in meditation, it is only ‘one’ of the Eight Paths. The Western mind looks ‘outward’ and seeks spiritual grace by helping others. Thus, the witches use their powers to help those in sickness or trouble.
The Awakening can begin as an urge which rises from the depths of the soul. A state of boredom or desperation, which every human being comes to at some point of incarnation, can become as a beacon to the spirit. It is born to the struggling soul and to the complacent alike. Many lives may be endured before it is realized that the true self must take the initiative and begin to fight its own way out of the Cycles of Incarnation, which, without the control of the Higher Self, may continue indefinitely. Once the realization is born, and the quest begun, the soul is on its way from manhood to godhood.
Regarding the Craft, it is wise to seek initiation from a ‘genuine’ coven. This is not as easy as it sounds, as genuine adherents do not seek converts, and therefore do not advertise for members. they believe that if a person is sincere and determined enough in their desire to belong to the Craft, they will, sooner or later, make contact.
There are, however, various ways of speeding things up a little, such as contributing to one of the privately printed occult magazines, which are usually run by people ‘in the know’. Or even placing a small advert in one of these papers. You can also write to the author of a book on the subject, and send the letter via the publishers. It might then be forwarded to a coven in your area, although I must add here that even if this happens, and you are invited to meet someone from a coven, it would not be indicative of entry.
There are certain conditions which have to be fulfilled, such as blending in with the personalities of the members, having read widely on the subject, a willingness to submit to a waiting period, usually a year and a day, among others. Yet these conditions are valid ones; you cannot expect to be accepted quickly, but you will know that the witches you meet have undergone similar obstacles themselves.
The ways of the witches are those of caution, especially where strangers are concerned. After all, who would admit a stranger to their home without an introduction, let alone to a temple of the Mysteries.
Care must be taken, too, in finding a coven which is in close ‘rapport’ with your own life-style, culture and character. But, once contact is made, there is hope in finding a group where conditions, on both sides, can be fulfilled.
Although some covens wear robes, the traditional way of working in the Circle, is to be sky-clad, or naked. When you are brought into the Craft, you enter as you were born, without clothes or ties of any kind. The first initiation is virtually an introduction to a new way of life. You are made a ‘Child of the Goddess’; you are shown the tools of the Craft; told the ways of working magic, and made to swear an oath to keep the secrets of the Art. This is called the First Degree.
The Second Degree is the initiation proper. This involves the concept of symbolic death and symbolic resurrection, when you are re-born with the new magical personality. A new name (of your own choice) is given to you which represents the transformation, and by which, henceforth, you will be known when in the Circle.
The drama of this mystery play implants its ideas firmly in the subconscious mind of the adherent, and the mystery, which is enacted on the material plane, sets the seal on the future. It is not to be supposed that by initiation and teaching you will automatically be ‘re-born’. A way will be shown, and knowledge imparted, yet the journey is always ‘alone’ and the true ‘will’ tested to the very brink of breaking point.
In a sense, when initiation takes place it is very much like daring Fate to do its worst. One has taken a stand: “I announce to all creation that I will endure to progress.”
In witchcraft the soul develops a deeper understanding of ‘being’. This entails practice, which is why the Craft has grades of advancement. The highest grade is the consummation of the mysteries, where ritual yields to what is termed, ‘The Secret of the Silver Wheel’. There is also the imparting of certain ‘secret’ words, which, in themselves, convey very little, but their secret intention ‘is’ important and gently ‘nudges’ the aspirant onward.
By: Alex Rigel Source: “An ABC of Witchcraft”, Doreen Valiente, 1973, Phoenix publishing inc., Wash. pp.203-4.