My California Gardnerian 1st-Degree Initiation

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.


The remnants of the ritual:  Sweet woodruff used to make the May wine, my first “battery candle”, some of the tulips used in ritual, my cords and necklace, and the necklaces gifted to me.  My HP and initiator, Y., gave me the necklace he received from his initiator and our HPS, Z.  It’s a yellow Connecticut soapstone.  Z. gave me a rose quartz and garnet necklace with a natural rose quartz point that had been wire-wrapped by one of her very first initiates.  Coven brother X. gave me a lovely lapis chip string.  There was so, so much love.

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!


7 thoughts on “My California Gardnerian 1st-Degree Initiation

  1. I rarely comment on anything anymore, but I was doing some SEO work on my blog and ran across this.

    You write: “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.”

    It has been a year and a half since my initiation. I have had a lot of time to process it since then. I left my tradition shortly afterward over an issue of safety and autonomy.

    While I would hesitate to describe initiation as “rape,” I have to admit their is some resonance both in what I wrote and with my experience and the concept of rape. I hadn’t considered that before. I’ll have to ponder it. It was certainly traumatic.

    Secondly, the process of initiation, regardless of tradition, is meant to break you down and force you to rebuild yourself. Doesn’t matter if it is a witchcraft initiation or military boot camp.I was warned of this beforehand but didn’t take it seriously. You may not be experiencing it now, but you may be surprised when you look back a year from now.

    Also, I was also feeling surrounded by love before my ritual, and to some degree afterward. That honeymoon didn’t last. I’m not saying your feelings will fade, but should you find yourself no longer feeling as positive in the near future then talk about it with a spiritual advisor you trust. Don’t deal with the aftermath of initiation alone if you can help it.

    And of course all this is my perspective and may have no bearing on your situation. Congratulations on your first degree! May it bring you nothing but joy!

    • Hi Star! Thanks for taking the time to wend the Google pathways and find my silly little blog.

      I do agree that my use of the word ‘rape’ was too strong, but I still lack a substitute that gets as close to how I was reading your emotions behind your words as ‘rape’ does. Your description was so traumatic, it strongly reminded me of how I have heard friends and colleagues describe the aftermaths of the sexual assaults they’ve experienced. I think perhaps some of the similarity was that you had a very strong, borderline negative physical and emotional/spiritual response and needed a chunk of time to figure out “what the &#$% just happened to [you]” and to reconcile the person you were prior to the experience with the person you are afterwards. Although, as you mention, this does fit with the fact that initiations of all types do involve a form of destruction and rebuilding of self, a lot of the language you used in your post left me with the impression that you felt violated in some way.

      I have a lot of experience in consensus training, and many of the people in the coven in which I was initiated also lead lives in which the idea of ‘consent’ is inviolable. It was subtle, but my initiator verbalized everything that he was going to do to me just before he did it at every step of the ritual. That couple of seconds between the information and the act actually gave me a moment where I very clearly could have said, “no way, I can’t handle this, abort, abort, abort!” And I have no doubt that everyone would have respected my wishes. But I did not need to opt out. As it was, the actual trials I endured were far worse in my pre-ritual imagination than they were in practice…and I also got the impression that my initiator was going a bit easy on me.

      I am definitely taking a lot of internal checks now post-initiation and doing my best to navigate the waters now that I am actually involved in coven work and not just the outer court meetings anymore. So far, everything is very good, but I also have a strong network of trusted spiritual advisors outside the group to whom I can turn if I need them. Thank you for your reminder that I can turn to them, and thank you very much for your congratulations!

      • Hi Melissa!
        Looking for something else I also stumbled here (I can’t even remember what was I looking for!).
        I have to say that I completely identify with your feelings (in the overall sense) about your initiation. Actually, we were both initiated in the same tradition, the same weekend! 😀
        If I had to describe it, it would be “a warm bath”, a change of perspective in which words like “family” go up to the very top in the hierarchy of priorities.
        There are, of course, parts that are challenging in the beginning but, to me, all of them faded after this “warm bath”.
        A long ago I did also read Star’s article, and I can’t identify myself at all with it. It may be a matter of diferences between traditions (actually I’ve never heard of Ravenwood here in Europe, so I don’t much about that), or between individuals.
        In short, do not feel as a weirdo 😛 And welcome to the family!

      • Merry Meet Alder! I think you’ve totally hit the nail on the head with the warm bath metaphor, and I agree with the change in perspective. I’ve always been a little ambitious and have sacrificed a lot of different relationships for academic work, but those relationships started to mean more and more to me in the months leading up to my initiation, and now they are the most important parts of my life. I’m actually trying to find work within my current geographical community rather than spreading my job hunt all over America…something I don’t think I would have even considered 6 months ago.

        I don’t know much about the Ravenwood tradition either. The webpages I’ve found that explain the most about the tradition and extant groups are and Ravenwood is mostly based around Atlanta, Georgia. From what I can tell, the tradition started somewhere in the mid-1970s and is an offshoot of Cochrane Witchcraft. I don’t really know much about their initiatory rituals, so I could only roughly speculate on what Star experienced, and she is obviously oathbound and cannot share. I think, though, that the differences in all our initiations are probably some cocktail of tradition differences, initiator preferences and presentation, and initiatee’s mindset.

        I’m so glad to have met a fellow new Gardnerian initiate, and I hope we can continue to correspond!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. After reading Star’s account of her initiation, I’ve been too scared to even think of going through it. Luckily, I found one of her articles where she refers to your account, and I feel so much better. I think the difference in your two responses has to do with personality. As a person with Asperger’s, Star has difficulty with emotional and physical contact outside what’s considered “normal”. This being the case, I can understand why the emotional and physical contact of an initiation – with no prior warning – had to be extremely difficult for her. I think it would be like someone who walks 2 miles a day with a bad hip being made to run the Boston marathon, with no warning or training prior. Even if they do finish it, the sense of accomplishment is overshadowed by the pain. For whatever reason, she either wasn’t in a place, or didn’t feel comfortable enough, to say “this is not ok.” I’m sorry for what she went through, and I hope she’s finally able to make peace with it, but I’m so glad that her experience isn’t the norm. Even in the article that’s cited by Alder, the author’s nervousness subsides once the initiation starts and all is right with the world. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for replying! I have to admit, I did not realize Star was on the autistic spectrum. I also have never considered what it might be like for someone who is not neurotypical to undergo an initiation experience like what we do in BTW. We would never ask a candidate who used a wheelchair to kneel…surely we could make accommodations elsewhere. You’ve definitely given me some food for thought to take to the community.

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