Update: The original title of this post was “My Gardnerian 1st-Degree Initiation.” I underwent a 2nd-degree elevation with this coven in early May 2015. At the time I underwent these rituals, my group understood itself to be dual-lineaged in the California and Long Island lines. In late August 2015, the HPS learned she was misinformed on the Long Island lineage. Because of some ambiguity in the creation of the California line, many Gardnerians outside the California line do not consider them to be Gardnerians; however, most who hold this lineage do consider themselves to be Gardnerians. To be respectful to both sides of the argument, I changed the title of this post to “My California Gardnerian 1st-Degree Initiation”.
I no longer believe the initiation I underwent at this time to have been a Gardnerian initiation, and I do not claim it to be so. I left the Pacific Northwest to move to Indiana in mid-May 2015. I was initiated into a Whitecroft line Gardnerian coven as a first degree in November 2015. This is now what I consider to be my Gardnerian initiation. I honor the instruction and love I was given in my former coven, and I deeply cherish my relationships with this coven family. I do not, however, continue to practice its tradition.
In October 2015, my former HPS was taken through all three degrees by a Long Island group in Portland, OR. She continued to lead the coven for some time, but has subsequently retired from coven leadership, and that coven disbanded. Should you wish to make contact with Gardnerian groups in the general Tacoma, Washington area or around Portland or Eugene, Oregon, I can direct you to them privately. Please see my “About and Contact” section to send me a private message.
On April 27th, Hartwood Grove met to celebrate Beltane…and we followed that with my first-degree initiation. I’ve been looking forward to this for so long…it’s sort of hard to unpack my feelings surrounding the ritual.
I thought that it would be terrifying. I mean, ever since I discovered what Gardnerian Wicca was back in my teens, I thought their reported initiations sounded a little too intense. Being led naked and blindfolded into a room of naked ‘strangers’, and then allowing yourself to be bound and beaten? That’s not something most people would even consider! I wanted to be a Gardnerian, but I did not know if I could ever allow myself to go through with something like this. Why couldn’t I find a sane group of Witches who believed in wearing clothes during ritual and giving lots of hugs instead of scourges?
After I met up with Z., Y., and the rest of the Hartwood gang, it took me a long time to ask for initiation. The woman who made it all through the same classes and everything that I did was initiated in the ninth month of our year-and-a-day dedication. I waited until three months after that year ended…and then it took over a year for the ritual to actually happen! In truth, even after I asked for initiation, I wasn’t fully convinced I could go through with it or that the ritual would ‘take’. In the handful of months leading up to my ritual, I would occasionally search out stories of other Pagans who had gone through a British Traditional Wicca initiation. Star Foster’s description of her initiation into the Ravenwood Tradition especially gave me pause. She opens her account with “Some of the shock and bewilderment have passed, I’m eating solid foods and life is sort-of back to normal” and proceeds to say:
It did happen. I’m profoundly grateful it did, but it scared the living daylights out of me. I went through a surreal, intense and irrevocably binding experience with people I profoundly respect, trust and love. I entered that Circle in Perfect Trust and Perfect Love. Had I entered with anything less than that I’d be nauseous right now. I’d be sick to my soul.
If I had taken that initiation because I wanted the status, because I craved knowledge, because I just wanted more magic, I’d be in deep spiritual trouble right now. If I had gone through initiation with initiators I suspected were dishonest, unkind, foolish, egotistical, disrespectful, or manipulative, my soul would be shattered right now. I’d be heartsick, berating myself and furiously searching my mind for some way to release my vows.
Honestly, after reading Foster’s account of her initiation, I quite got the impression that initiation would be akin to being raped…and asking for it. I was worried that going through with it would do something that would completely break the “me” I’ve lovingly constructed and force me to completely rebuild myself in its wake.
I dwelt and meditated on this for so long…but you know? One day my apprehensions just vanished. I guess I realized that I actually could enter that circle “in perfect love and perfect trust.” I trust my coven leaders and coveners completely. They catch me when I fall, and I catch them when they fall. They’ve never asked anything of me that they thought I couldn’t handle. In some cases, they’ve even gone overboard to make sure I was ‘okay’ with something. They love me so much…and I love them. I realized that even though I’ve only been in a couple skyclad circles with everyone, I’m completely fine with being naked with them–body image issues and all–and that says so, so much about the trust I have with these people. I realized that they could do no more to my body than what they knew I could accept, and they’ve already made their mark upon my heart and soul.
After I realized that…the initiation itself could almost have been superfluous…but I’m so glad we did it. As I luxuriated in the ritual bath and then lay in silent meditation after, I felt nothing but warm, comfortable, safe, and loved. The ritual itself was actually fun! And funny! Y. was all light and laughter, spinning me in. I practically shouted my oath, I was so, so ready to give it. All in all, there was so much mirth, and joy, and acceptance, I was actually a little sorry when we had to bring down the circle and return back to our normal lives.
As Z. and Y. say, I’m a really shielded person, so I handled the energies of the ritual a lot differently from how others told me they reacted. Apparently initiations open a lot of emotional centers in a lot of people, and in the days that follow they struggle with being overwhelmed or completely exhausted. I, on the other hand, was completely fine. Despite the fact that V. and I arrived back home around 2:30 am, I was plenty alert and cheery and could easily have handled the long drive back by myself. I was actually buzzing the next day, too. And, over all, I just feel a little happier, more centered, and more myself post-ritual.
I think that a lot of this was, as I said, that the ritual felt a little superfluous. In the month or so prior to it, I began making all these changes in my life that others have reported doing after theirs. I’m exercising and watching my diet for the first real time in my life, for example. Heck, I lost 20 pounds in the three weeks before the ritual! I’m taking more control of my spiritual practice, spending more quality time in meditation, and–in general–living a much better life than I have been.
I guess I have that obligation, now. I am a Priestess and a Witch! There is no going back, so I better do all I can to live up to those wonderful, wonderful words!