***TO THE MUSE***
Eternal Mother of the Silver Wheel
Under the glory of Your milky way,
Night covers all as frogs and crickets pray
In holy convocation as I kneel.
Counting each hazel bead my lips entone
Enchanted runes and triple mysteries,
In praise of Your divine inconstancies
Lost in the aweful depths of love’s unknown.
Our Lady of the sweet celestial pain,
Verr-Avna’s wisdom to my songs impart,
Endow with quickening power till once again
Your oracle shall be the poet’s heart.
O breathe upon the fires that dimly burn
Until for love of You the bards return.
A notable feature of Modern Pagan Witchcraft has been the multiplicity of traditions. I cannot help feeling that the word has become a little too casually bandied about. “Tradition” used to have a somewhat specific meaning, as did “coven,” and certainly “Book of Shadows.” I have spoken with some venerable Witches in my day, and back in the days of “Her hidden children,” the Craft was most commonly spoken of, simply, as the Way. All eyes that exist are in some measure identical, but the tail of a mighty Peacock may bloom with a thousand eyes. In Magick, there are countless ways in which to accomplish a desired Working, but the same current of human spiritual energy, or mana, manifests like a gleaming thread of diamond-blue through all.
It is fairly common today for an individual, or group of individuals, to create a Tradition. From where I sit, this process often looks to me more like the inauguration of a ritual circle with a specified focus, with shared intentions and obligations agreed upon by those who come together to make this happen. Circles may meet for the Sabbats, or more frequently, for Moons and other occasions. I happen to be a member of such a circle which has been turning the Wheel steadily for the past sixteen years. Our focus has been practical and celebratory, so we have never felt the need to create any sort of initiation rite. If what is being crafted anew is still in a coalescent state, I find the concept of an Initiation ceremony curious; just into what is the candidate being initiated? A dedication rite in which a newcomer pledges to honor the protocols and guidelines established by the group is, properly speaking, a very different sort of affair.
From our Elders, we learn that what are now termed Initiation rites were more widely understood in the past as coven adoption protocols, binding the candidate to hir new family by ceremony and oath. Margaret Murray in her classic work The Witch-cult in Western Europe calls such proceedings “ceremonies of admission” and a form of this term was still in use in the 1960s among some Witches. This is why in the older strata of Craft, there was only a single Initiation rite; once adopted, sworn, and welcomed into the Family, the new Witch was taught all that was needed for hir to know of the Art, according to hir special degree of aptitude and zeal for learning. You don’t have to adopt an individual into your family more than once. The degree system associated initially with initiatory Wicca came, as did many other details of rite and gesture, from Freemasonry. (Some would argue, of course, that the Masons got the idea from the Witches–and that many of the founding Masons were Witches.) There is an inner understanding of the spiritual Work of each degree (corresponding, in some measure, to what are termed “grades” in Lodges of ceremonial Magic, such as in the Golden Dawn system). Vivianne Crowley provides a Jungian explication of the system in her work on the essential path of Wicca. Unfortunately in far too many covens and “traditions” today, one sees an attitude and practice that I often sum up as “pass Go, collect $200” (from the old board game of “Monopoly”) in how an individual passes through the degrees.
Margaret Murray wrote in 1921:
In the ceremonies of admission, as in all the other ceremonies of the cult, the essentials are the same in every community and country, though the details differ.
It is fashionable nowadays to mock Dr. Murray’s research, but I find it fascinating and I always enjoy a visit with “the witch-girls of Lille” whenever I revisit her volume. Whatever may have been the case in the age of the witch trials that were her topic, it is, to this reader at least, doubtful whether “the essentials are the same” in the rites with which new candidates are brought in to the various traditions in existence today.
What does the word tradition mean to today’s Witches? I can only answer for myself. The bywords in Vodou, Honor and Respect, are to me foundational in the decision to embrace a specific tradition. But before Honor and Respect can be manifest, there must be love, which can only be built up over time and in an atmosphere in which genuine trust is carefully nurtured. There is discipline, a discipline that involves considerable patience, for Witchcraft can be slow to come to fruition, like the ripening, heavy corn in this tide of Lammas. There must be Honor, for a Witch’s Word is hir bond, and if she fails to be true to her word, she loses all. There must be Respect, for the labor, the beauty, and the legacy manifested by the Mighty Dead of the Craft. There must be a determination to pass on all the Teaching as given. Less well known is the expectation–perhaps even obligation–to increase the common store of wisdom of the Clan by passing on one’s own gnosis, one’s own creativity as manifested in song, story and art; to add to what one was given, while offering due diligence in conserving the treasures of the past. I think of Witchcraft as being much like a shark; if it stops moving, it dies. So a Tradition is a living, breathing, zestful plant, continually putting forth strange new flowers, nurturing dark delicious fruits, exposing exotic roots of terror and triumph. Traditions may come and go, but the Craft is unending. The Circle is open, but never broken.
There are those unseen and unknown who watch over certain lineages of the Craft. And as Witches have said from time immemorial, the eyes of the Goddess are always upon a High Priest/ess. When I first read those words, I confess that I felt fear. Now I embrace Her ever-watchful gaze, knowing that no matter what happens, Her Love is with me and Her Power steadfastly holds my back.