Wicca, a pagan religion founded in the early 20th century, is practiced in diverse ways -- known as traditions -- by solitary practitioners and groups called covens. Adherents to traditional styles of Wicca are usually initiated into covens in degrees or steps. All initiated Wiccans are known as priests and priestesses, but the terms "high priest" and "high priestess" are generally reserved for third-degree Wiccans and for coven leaders. Initiation ceremonies for these leaders vary by tradition and are often secret.
When a practitioner does not have the ability to join a coven but has studied Wicca and feels comfortable committing to the religion, that person can perform a self-dedication ceremony. Self-dedication is not necessarily the same as initiation, which some traditions state must be performed by an initiated Wiccan. Dedication ceremonies can involve a commitment to the goddess and god to honor them, or to continue to study Wicca. Rituals such as a purifying bath or casting a circle may be part of the ceremony, which will be unique for each individual.
Traditional Wicca is a mystery religion with secret initiation rites that vary among covens. Covens sometimes require those interested in joining to study for a prolonged period of time prior to initiation. Initiation ceremonies take place for entry to all three degrees, with special knowledge and accomplishments usually required for each. These requirements can include skills like spell casting, or the ability to create or perform a ritual. Second-degree initiates, who are often given the power to initiate others and to act in a leadership capacity in the coven, can sometimes be known as high priests or priestesses, particularly in the Gardnerian tradition. Third degree initiates are known as high priests and priestesses in almost every tradition.
Common Ceremony Elements
Initiations for both priestesses and high priestesses usually involve casting a ritual circle and are conducted wearing ceremonial robes or in the nude. Some variations may involve blindfolding or binding the initiate's hands. Many traditional covens limit participation in degree initiation ceremonies to members who have attained at least that degree within the coven, and often require initiates to take an oath of secrecy prior to beginning the ceremony. Ritual invocations and guided meditation are both common parts of initiation ceremonies. Other aspects of the ceremony are unique to each coven.
Sex and Initiation
To honor the unity of the goddess and the god, many covens require initiation ceremonies for priestesses and high priestesses to be conducted by a high priest or priestess of the opposite sex. Ritualized sex, known as the Great Rite, may be a part of third-degree initiation in some covens, but is often substituted by a symbolic act such as dipping a dagger into a chalice of wine. In the Gardnerian tradition, the high priest may kiss parts of the initiate's body in a pattern known as the five-fold kiss, but this portion of the ceremony is not meant to be sexual.
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