What exactly is a “Dedication”?


Sunrise-TreesEarlier this month, I performed dedications for three of my students who have been studying with me for a while and who desired to enter into a dedication period within my system of Witchcraft practice. It got me to thinking, then, about what I might say goes into a dedication since that’s one of the terms that seems to populate the Pagan/Wiccan/Witchcraft community and is talked about in books a great deal.

So what exactly does it mean to have a Dedication when speaking in terms of Wicca or Witchcraft? Well, that really depends on if you are solitary or if you are practicing with a group, and if you are practicing with a group, is that group an established tradition? Also, are you specifically seeking to devote yourself and your practices to a particular god, goddess, or pantheon?

If you are solitary, that means you do not have or belong to a coven. You practice on your own. This may be out of either choice or necessity, but the fact remains that you don’t belong to a group. There are pros and cons to this, which I will discuss further in another blog post in the future. Practicing on your own gives you a lot of freedom, but along with that freedom often comes a lack of direction and focus. As a means of providing an ‘official starting point’ to studying and practicing, solitaries may make a dedication. Basically, this is a ritualized or formalized ceremony that marks the beginning of a person’s practice.

I should explain at this point that there really isn’t any such thing as a ‘Self-Initiation’. This term was popularized by a few authors about 20 or 30 years ago, give or take. I think the first one to really come up with the idea was likely Scott Cunningham, since he really brought out the idea of practicing Wicca as a solitary. I do know that the first time I personally came across the term ‘self-initiation’ was in one of his books, but as to whether or not he is the originator of the term, I can’t say for certain.  The problem that I have with the term isn’t with the idea of someone being a solitary Wiccan/Witch and devoting themselves to study or practice without a coven. I began that way on my own and I’m not one to disavow my own roots and beginnings. But the term ‘initiation’ means to be brought into a group. One can’t bring themselves into a group if they are the only one. One person is not a ‘group’ and one person can’t initiate him or herself. One person can dedicate oneself, which is what’s really going on in a ‘self-initiation’ type of ritual. I, and many others, are just picky about using accurate terminology.

So, that is one type of a dedication. The other type is when there is a group that you are seeking membership with in order to learn from. Lots of these systems, my own included, have a dedication period where the person seeking membership (called a Dedicant) has a trial membership before actually taking formal initiation. There is a lot to be gained from having this sort of set-up in place. It gives the Dedicant time to get to know the members of the group and see if they fit. It provides the Dedicant with a bit of the beliefs and practices of the particular coven to gauge her experience and satisfaction by. It also provides the coven members and leaders with time to get to know the Dedicant and see if the person will be a good fit for the group.

So that’s what a dedication is for, but it doesn’t entirely explain what taking dedication does or includes. That’s mainly because it can differ for different groups. In general though, dedication is a ceremony for making promises to the group that the Dedicant will act with honor and respect the teachings and practices of the group they are dedicating into. There are also usually oaths made to the particular gods or goddesses that the group works with, promising to learn about and work with them in an effort to learn if the path they are on is right for all concerned.

A dedication may also be a person’s promise to seek after and follow the ways of a particular god or goddess. Someone may dedicate themselves as a devotee of Brighid  for example. When this is done, it is important that the dedication ceremony involve things relevant to the deity the person is pledging himself or herself to. For Brighid, it would be important to have fire present in the form of a candle or bonfire, maybe some implements for healing, or a poem that the Dedicant has written. Someone may even have smithing tools present to be blessed or consecrated as all of these items represent aspects of the goddess.

The actual ceremony for dedication can be as simple or as elaborate and detailed as the person or people involved wish it to be. It could be as simple as consecrating a space and sitting or kneeling in front of representations of what the Dedicant’s chosen deity, the elements, and so on. It could be as detailed as circling around the area with blessed water and salt, incense and candle, speaking at each directional quarter of the circle, and invoking beings and deities to witness the oaths made. What really matters is that the Dedicant has a distinct feeling that what happens has marked a new beginning in their life and practice, that a promise has been made, either to deity or the group’s members if they are not practicing alone, that they will earnestly seek after what it is they are seeking. The dedication period typically lasts for ‘a year and a day’ according to older texts and rites. This may be taken literally, or there may be a bit of leeway in the interpretation, but a time has been established that when the Dedication period is over, the Dedicant will either continue in his or her chosen path and take vows of and receive full initiation into the group, or they may depart and seek elsewhere.

Dedication never means that someone’s free will is given away. A Dedicant should always be free to leave at any time if they feel the path they are on isn’t meeting their needs. Likewise, the group’s leaders may excuse a Dedicant from further study if the conclusion is reached that they aren’t a good fit before the dedication period has ended. If this happens, it is hoped that all parties concerned can part amicably. This isn’t always the case, and while it’s unfortunate, when it does happen it’s better that it has happened during dedication and not after initiation.

Books and multiple websites have outlines for dedication ceremonies and rituals, these can either be followed if someone finds one that particularly speaks to them. Or, they can use what they find as a guide or inspiration to writing their own dedication ritual. Personally, I think it’s best if a solitary Dedicant writes their own ceremony. There is something very special and magical about performing one’s own rite, especially for something as significant as taking an oath.

I like to attune the timing of rites like dedications to certain phases of the moon. I believe since a dedication is a time of new beginnings, the waxing phase is more appropriate than the waning phase. I’m less picky about which particular sign the moon is in at the time of dedication, but if it works out that the moon is in  a sign beneficial or significant to the person being dedicated, and it’s during the waxing phase, so much the better. Some groups also choose to do dedications around the time of Imbolc. I have also heard of dedications being performed at the time of the winter solstice. Both of these dates or times are chosen because of the idea of new growth or the quickening of life.

I really enjoy the idea behind dedicating and the reasons for doing it. I think it is a valuable experience that can greatly enhance a person’s practice. If you are solitary and haven’t done it, yet have been working for some time, it might not seem like a necessary thing. But I’d still give it a try. Ceremonially marking a starting point to something important in your life is a valuable experience and may open up feelings of growth and commitment that haven’t yet had a chance to be expressed. Go for it. You may be surprised by what follows.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “What exactly is a “Dedication”?

  1. Thanks for the wonderful post 🙂 I wrote one about this topic too a while back and translated it into English so if you want to have a look 🙂
    http://vjesticji-ormar.blogspot.com/2013/05/self-initiation.html

    I agree with you completely on the inaccuary of the term “self-initiation”, though etymologically speaking, self-initiation isn’t impossible since the word “initiation” comes for the latin verb initiare (to begin, to originate from somewhere).
    Anyway, I hope you’ll read my post and comment so this can turn into a discussion because this really is an interesting and up-to-date topic what with the number of Solitaries growing all the time.

    Blessed be! 🙂

    Like

  2. Hello Witch’s Cat!

    I see what you’re saying about the way that ‘self-initiate’ can be used, but in that case, it’s still wrong because while a person can decide to begin a path, ‘initiating a course of action’, they still can’t claim to be an ‘initiated witch’ because they weren’t on the receiving end of things. It’s a semantics hiccup and one that really doesn’t matter as long as a person isn’t claiming it falsely.

    I liked your page a lot and think you covered the topic very well. You went so far as to include examples and rituals that could be performed, which is a very nice addition. I hope that if people read this article of mine, they will follow the link to your blog to see what I spoke of about “finding rituals online” since you put out some really good ones!

    Like

    1. Hi there 🙂 glad to see you read the post and thanks for the compliments 🙂 just to make things clear, I agree with you that “self-dedication” is a much more appropriate term than “self-initiation”, but as for Solitaries not being on the “receiving end of things”, well…it depends.
      I read in interesting thought in a book entitled “Progressive Witchcraft” by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone (whom I respect quite a lot). What they say is that it isn’t the High Priest/Priestess who do the initiating but rather the God and Goddess (or a God/Goddess depending on the person’s path). If you look at it that way, then I don’t see why even a Solitary couldn’t be on the receiving end of and initiation. This also brings forward an interesting debate as to where and when an initiation can happen. If you believe that the God and Goddess are really in everything (as in energetically, in Nature and all that stuff) then initiation doesn’t even have to happen in the Circle!!! Now these kinds of thoughts are revolutionary in my opinion. I was astonished when I read them and I truly recommend you read the book to get the whole picture because it makes you think about how times have changed and how Wicca and Pagan religions in general can or should (?) change with it. Thus the name of the book “Progressive” Witchcraft.

      Also, the whole coven tradition isn’t all that old when you look at it. Even though Wicca is coven-oriented, there still seem to be more Solitaries scattered around. So why not adapt? I myself am not initiated and I have heard a few people judge me by saying something like “How can you claim to be a Wiccan if you haven’t been initiated?”. Like I said, I haven’t been initiated inside the circle, but the High Priest and Priestess can do only so much. It’s your faith that does most of the work from my perspective 🙂

      But just to repeat myself, I still agree that “self-dedication” is more appropriate. Just putting this info out there. 😀
      Sorry for the long “rant”. Hope you don’t mind it. I just like to engage in a good, friendly discussion.

      Like

      1. Hello!

        I’ve read that book, and actually own it and the revised version of it which is called “Inner Mysteries”. I thought I was getting a different book when I ordered it. It wasn’t until I received it from amazon.com that I realized it was “Progressive Witchcraft” updated 😛 Still very good though.

        It is the gods who perform the initiation. I definitely agree with you there. It’s the priest/priestess who facilitate that for the person, but the actual initiation happens because the gods say so.

        That doesn’t count towards what it means to be initiated into a tradition — which is something a solitary just doesn’t get the opportunity for, because that is the initiation into a group or tradition and you just can’t have that for yourself alone, because you are only a group of one. That’s what I was referring to about the solitaries being on the receiving end of things — from the tradition, not from the gods.

        I think that being a solitary, self-taught witch is perfectly valid. Group training or practice, or even having a teacher isn’t necessary. It is helpful, and it does add to the experience when you have others of a like mind to work and worship with, but being a witch definitely doesn’t depend on someone else calling you such.

        As far as ‘not being a Wiccan unless someone initiates you, that depends on the definition of “Wicca” that someone is using. I go into more detail about where I think that falls on my “Is there a difference between Wicca and Witchcraft” tab. To summarize it though, “Wicca” has two definitions, “Witchcraft” has two definitions, and one of each of them is totally interchangeable with the other. If you are talking to someone who views the word “Wicca” as only applying to the initiatory, oathbound traditions coming out of the New Forest, then no… unless you are initiated by someone who can pass along that lineage, you aren’t Wiccan. If you believe that Wicca as a term to describe a wider belief or practice in Paganism and Magic, then that sort of restriction doesn’t really apply, much to the frustration of others who want to hold on to that definition.

        I’m enjoying the conversation!

        Like

  3. I have to agree with you on everything 🙂 If you define Wicca as only coming down from the NF coven then you could basically call yourself a Traditionalist, couldn’t you? They’re the ones who take lineage as “rightful” way of becoming a Wiccan if I’m not mistaken. But there are many more traditions now and from what I know, practically all of them recognize Solitaries as valid practitioners 🙂

    As for your definition on initiation, it’s logical if you take “initiation” to refer to an entrance into a group, but to take it as an entrance into a tradition changes quite a bit since traditions aren’t made up of people per say but of…well…customs. But that’s just me being the linguist that I am and dissecting your sentences haha. Sorry for that! 🙂

    But there are some traditions in Wicca which I accept one cannot truly follow without being initiated simply because they do not recognize Solitaries, like Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca. You can adapt the rituals…no one can forbid you to do that, but it just loses it’s meaning when I look at it.

    I also have to than you for accepting Solitaries 😀 and since we’re on that topic, I assume you work in a coven/circle? It says in your short bio that you’re a priestess so I just assumed. Hope you don’t mind me asking.

    Like

    1. Oh, I absolutely accept the idea of solitary witches. I started out that way and was solitary for many years before connecting with groups. The only problem I have is when someone who is solitary, which typically comes from being self-taught (they learned from books) claims to have studied with or learned from or received training/initiation/degrees from someone they did not. Someone who is a liar, basically. It’s a shame, really, that people feel compelled to lie about their background and experience to seem more valid. I think part of that comes from people not taking solitaries seriously, so people think they have to have an impressive background to be a real witch. It’s silly.

      I have had the good fortune to work both as a solitary and as a group member. Along with being a group member, I’ve been on the student/member end of things and done the teaching/leadership stuff. I ran what I considered to be a ‘teaching coven’ for a couple of years. As the name implies, it was focused mainly on education of the members.

      The group I teach/lead now is partially a continuation of the stuff I did with running my other coven. I moved from the eastern part of the U.S. out west a few years ago and couldn’t find a group that did things the way I wanted. It wasn’t for lack of looking and trying LOL. There are a few different groups in my area, and each of them has their good qualities, but I was looking for something very specific. So, I decided that I would start a group and just train the people I wanted to circle with! I hope that someday the system I’m teaching may become a solid tradition in its own right.

      And the “… As for your definition on initiation, it’s logical if you take “initiation” to refer to an entrance into a group, but to take it as an entrance into a tradition changes quite a bit since traditions aren’t made up of people per say but of…well…customs.”

      Well, that depends on how you are defining ‘tradition’. Yes, one definition of ‘tradition’ is a series of customs that are passed along, but in Pagan vocabulary, it also means something along the lines of a ‘denomination’ in Christianity, which is a shared set of practices or beliefs among people. For example, Catholicism is a tradition [denomination] of Christianity practiced by Catholics. If you become Catholic, you are joining through both definitions: you are practicing the beliefs and also identifying yourself as a member of the group of people who practice those beliefs.

      So, the people practicing those are part of the ‘tradition’. So if the tradition is the body of people practicing the lore, then yes… you are still being initiated into both the teachings and the body of people who practice those teachings. 🙂

      I’m also a language nerd hehe, so please dissect away 🙂

      Like

  4. You’ve got to love dissecting 🙂 but I have nothing to add to you on this one. I realize that tradition is the same as denomination basically so I get your point. But like I said, I just had to “type it out loud” 🙂

    And you really are lucky to have had such experiences. Unfortunately, I am mostly self-taught though I have spent so much time on forums that I have discussed everything that was possible even before I read all of it in books. Though this helped me understand the difference between valid and invalid information…you know how forums can get.

    It wasn’t until maybe two years back that I got in touch with a group that works in another town in my country. I take the bus two-three times a year and visit them, do a ritual or two and go back home. The distance really messes things up, but I manage.

    “I hope that someday the system I’m teaching may become a solid tradition in its own right.” – well I wish you the best of luck with that 🙂 it really is wonderful to see such enthusiasm. Not so many people have that kind of will power nowadays so I like to talk to people as optimistic and (I’m guessing slightly bullheaded) like you (yes, that is a compliment coming from me).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s