12 - Dedication to the Old Ways
We must be prepared to shift the basis of all our motives if we want to receive Initiation This requires singleness of purpose that baulks at no sacrifice - 'Sell all that thou hast and follow Me,' said the Master There is no reason why anyone should offer themselves as a candidate for Initiation, for they can achieve the goal of Divine Union by the winding path of evolution, but on the other hand, they must not declare that the ancient Secrets have been lost, because they, not being willing to pay the price, have not received the Great Pearl.
(Dion Fortune The Training And Work Of An Initiate)
One of the things which attracts quite a few people to the idea of witchcraft is that they will become 'Initiates', that they will be ritually taken into a coven, be able to work magic instantly and have all their desires met after that moment. Anyone who still holds such views will be in for a great disappointment!
People see magic as a way of gaining power, and this is certainly true, but it is not 'power over', to coin a phrase used by Starhawk, but 'power from within'. 'Power over' other people, the power to change them against their will, the power to dominate, physically, mentally, astrally or even spiritually, may appear to be the goal of magic, but those are all false concepts. What the training, through all its months of steady progress, will lead you to, if you have the guts and determination, is 'power from within', and initially it can only affect you.
The first real lesson of magic which you will learn is one of disillusionment. You may start out with all kinds of ideas about witchcraft, the Old Arts, magic and occultism, but if you work at any of the exercises, even sporadically and without concentration, you will produce results. Not precisely what you aimed for, probably; you may scare yourself with what happens and your dreams may change, but as your inner sight clears you will discover that the world you have lived in all your life is actually very different from what you had always assumed.
Magic is uncomfortable; its initial effects are likely to be far more fierce than those achieved by an adept, for they have had years of practice backed up by firm memories of many previous lives, spent perfecting their techniques. Magic is like golf; if you could be really good at it your Masters winner would get round in eighteen strokes, scoring a hole in one every time! No matter how good you are, there are always factors about which you know nothing, or which are beyond your control, like the weather over the golf course.
Magicians and old-time witches gradually learn just how much effort any kind of activity needs. It is actually for this reason that much time has to be spent sitting around with your eyes shut, meditating, concentrating, creating visions or unravelling symbolism. These simple but unavoidable arts are the ones which lead to control over those astral forces which come into play when you plant the seeds of a spell, make a talisman, pray or perform a ritual. Only by being able to sense the effects of your actions in the Otherworld can you learn to apply more or less effort to any particular working.
The second part of making progress on the path is not receiving 'initiations' from other people, going through group degree ceremonies, collecting notches on your wand for spells performed and so on, but the genuine experience of having made contact with the Goddess and the God of the Old Religion. No one else can do this, and most ceremonies do not actually make that contact for you.
You stand a far better chance of gaining true initiation, and the touch of power that that will bring with it, quite alone in a wild place when, with your knees knocking and your hand clutching the lantern shaking like an aspen, you actually encounter the High Ones face to face.
It really is important to have worked through most of these exercises and produced results before you decide to commit yourself to the path of witchcraft, whether solo or with a group. In fact, if you have been making efforts at some forms of meditation and the areas of inner analysis which such experiments require, you may well have decided that you would prefer the companionship of others, or that the lone path really does work and suits your needs.
It is certainly possible to use the simple kinds of spells and talismans described earlier to make yourself known to others in the esoteric world. Like all aspects of magic, it is not enough just to do a working and then sit back and expect the Inner to turn up with your request on a silken cushion.
If you seek occult friends then you will either have to go to the places where they may be found, perhaps at psychic or healing fairs or talks that the local library runs, or read announcements at the back of pagan journals (of which there are about a hundred published in the UK) covering all aspects of the Craft, magic, paganism, Earth Mysteries, healing and much more! A few of the more 'popular' varieties, dealing mainly with astrology and fortune-telling, are to be found in newsagents; the better ones, small, local or simple-format magazines and journals, need to be tracked down and are very well worth supporting.
There are even a number of occult contact magazines, but do read these first and be sure they are offering genuine pen-pals or training groups. The more simple the layout, the more likely they are to be genuine. Newspapers have always been happy to make out that witches involve children in their rituals or that they harm animals, when the opposite is the truth. To join most of the genuine training schools or covens the students have to be over 21 years of age; some won't take on people under 25.
Covens do not encourage sex outside marriage or involve youngsters under the age of eighteen. They never use drugs and very seldom even smoke cigarettes, and the drinking of wine is generally part of a communion and again not used to excess. This may all seem rather dull, but real magic does not take place in this everyday world but in the inner realms and there you need your wits about you, and to have absolute control over what is happening.
There are a few evil people who operate under the guise of magic, who do involve children and do some of the things the media is all too happy to pin on every witch and shaman, but those lawbreakers are a long way from the Path to the Light which lies at the heart of the Western Mysteries, on all levels.
They are being hunted just as much by the real adepts and the 'esoteric police' as they are by the social services and the ordinary police force. They are also likely to come under the thrall of the Lords of Karma, and they will then have to pay for their destructive actions in full.
You cannot be cruel, mistreat children or expand the drug culture without discovering that there is a threefold penalty for such disruptive behaviour. Be warned; if you dabble in selfish magic, try to curse or harm other people, take risks with drugs, alcohol or practices which common sense tells you are foolish or dangerous, then you will inevitably be caught, for karma reaches everywhere.
If you commit yourself to the Hidden Paths or walking the Old Ways you will certainly be in for some surprises. The most common of these are the feelings, which never entirely go away, of 'Why on Earth am I doing this? Why am I wearing this strange robe, talking to trees or invisible beings, thinking that "spells" can possibly work in the twenty-first century?' You will often find, right in the middle of a meditation or ritual, such thoughts creeping into your head, making you feel a fool.
This is a sure sign that your magic is working, for you have so certainly stepped out of your normal role in life or set aside, just for the moment, the very ordinary self to adopt that magical inner personality, that it is trying to reassert what it considers normality.
It never entirely goes away, as any adepts you come across will tell you, and even after decades of participating in celebrations, speaking directly with the Old Ones, venturing into the wilderness, both without and within, this sense of amusement, of fun and wonder, never really dies. It is a recollection that you are indeed straying from the ordinary world and it should never trouble you, just provide a moment's humour when the power is coming through.
If you meet other people on the Path, look at them closely. Are they your ideal sort of folk? Do they look healthy, act as if they are happy, or are they always bragging about the power they handle, or the secrets they know? Do you believe they have really walked the road to fairyland, but somehow returned without the stars in their eyes and the spring in their step? Do you see them as kindred to the Old Ones, grandchildren of the Goddess, known and loved by her and partners in her magic?
Have a good look and a good think, especially if they are inviting you to join their covens or training groups. If you have really worked at some of these exercises and made your own direct contact with the Great Ones then you would be a valuable prize to a failing occult group, adding not only new blood but new power to be drained off too.
That is why I have said that any magic work which leaves you tired or worn out has not been worked properly, for you should become a clear channel for the Light to flow through, no matter how much power is required, for in the end there will still be a residue of the Light left within you. Trust your own inner feelings, which ought to be becoming more sensitive and accurate, the more you walk in the Otherworld, free and clear.
Perhaps you do seek to be an initiate above all things. Well, you can join the Companions of the Inner Way on your own, in your own sacred place, making promises you can keep, and dealing with aspects of the Goddess and the God with which you feel at home and at peace. It is not something to do today, nor tomorrow, but if you plan carefully, walking gently and preparing thoroughly, you may well find you can enter that rare companionship as a free and equal member very soon.
Every initiation consists of several distinct and equally important parts. When these ceremonies are enacted as group rituals it is inevitable that the drama of the occasion may alter or change the balance or that some parts may be shortened or omitted, and more weight given to other considerations.
When you are making a personal dedication you will be able to make a timetable which allows plenty of time for everything to be done as you want it, and also sufficient free periods to await a response from the Old Ones who, after all, are the only beings who can grant true admittance to their eternal company.
You can begin to search out a suitable place and look through your diary for a day or weekend which can be largely devoted to making a permanent commitment to the magical ways. If you shy away from this great step then you are very wise; don't force yourself to take on any work that you know in your heart of hearts you are not ready for. On your own, that choice is absolutely yours.
Within a group there may be pressure to make up the numbers before a particular feast, or balance the males and females in a coven. Some newcomers are just too keen for their own good, wishing to rush into initiation helter-skelter without realising the seriousness of the step, or what is actually involved.
As an alternative you may, if you feel ready, undertake a ceremony of dedication, rather than an initiation. The true initiation may spontaneously occur during the working, if you are prepared and the Goddess is willing to have you reborn as her child, within her Family of the Mysteries.
A dedication is an individual and personal act wherein you promise to follow a particular path of your own choice, realising how serious this step may be, for the good of the work and for as long as that work may take. In return for your offer of time, effort and love of the Tradition, you will gain support from the Old Ones, safe guidance in the inner realms, training, power and the ability to heal, for example.
These are all skills which you have by birthright yet you need help and encouragement in bringing them into practical and controlled use. You will also gain a true companionship, both visible and invisible. There are many seekers on different parts of the Path, many walkers in the Old Ways, and once you join that company their presence will be made known to you, and yours to them. You may well discover familiar faces will suddenly reveal a new appearance for they too have walked the Fairy Path, the Starlit Road and, without ever speaking of such things, have already offered you companionship, trust and friendship, but until your admittance you have seemed as strangers.
Thousands of people are dedicated or are initiates of the inner way in Britain nowadays. Few of those who take their arts seriously will be wearing badges saying 'I am a Witch' or 'Born Again Oracle'. They live their lives, as you might have to do, in two parts, with one face for the world and the other, inner, hidden face always turned towards the secret starlight. They have learned the power of silence, of the kept word and unbroken promises.
They have seen things and experienced things which few ordinary folk would comprehend or credit as being true. They have entered the Otherworld and returned safe, many times. They have supped with gods, woven magical spells and brought about changes in the fabric of the world. They are doing it now, working by day and night, healing, mending, bringing about peace after conflict, unseen, yet perhaps next door to you, or in the house along the road. The ones who demonstrate their magical connections by their dress or badges, the mystical rings or whispered hints of secrets are either young souls who are playing, as children do, at things beyond their years, or they are fakes, acting out a fantasy of what they think a witch should be like, or how magicians should behave.
Look hard at them and see if you want to be like them. It is your choice. There are many who have taken oaths of silence and keep them, not because of threats but because they value what they have learned and cherish it in their hearts. They do not wish to brag about the successes they have had, or the failures which even the most experienced sometimes have, because they are working as agents for the Old Ones, the Creative Power on Earth, not for self-aggrandisement or show.
Another misconception about initiation is that it is immediate, and that at the completion of the ritual you will be an instant adept and all the forces of the universe will now bow to your whim. What has actually happened is that you have been given an entrance to a new school. You may have dressed up in the uniform, been given a new satchel full of fascinating books and sources of knowledge, but you are still outside the gates and have not passed your final examinations and gained your certificate of proficiency.
Many years of hard and consistent work lie ahead, just as would be needed to pass through junior, secondary and senior college, and to become really good, you need your Masters Degree in Magic, gained within the University of the Cosmos.
Becoming dedicated is an early step. It is a genuine request for guidance, and an attempt on a personal level to connect with the great powers of the universe, and to gain communion with the gods and goddesses of the land. You will need to know about making a magical circle and the use of the Elements to bless it.
You need a private and special place, and a staff to use as an altar. You need to have spent many months building up the Sphere of Light so that you can do it from memory, almost without thinking, and be aware that you are in a protected place and feel safe and confident. These are the absolute preliminaries, and if you think you know enough or can leave out these vital early stages, then you are either a fool or too foolhardy for your own good. There is no advantage in rushing, any more than it would do you any good entering a marathon race if you had only ever run for a bus in training!
Initiations or rites of dedication should begin with a vigil, preferably all night. You will have to sort this out with your family because it is the first test of your ability to keep secrets. You will need to find a place where you can sit under the stars and ask for help and power and instruction. You need to review your aims and magical ambitions, your sincerity towards service of the Old Ones, and conviction that this is the first step on a path you intend to follow, perhaps at first alone, and later on in the company of others.
It is a chance to resolve all doubts, or to be willing to give in to them, so that you don't take a step which you might not be ready for, or might later regret. It is also a time to find your magical name. Although you are working on your own, you are going to be reborn into the Old Ways, and as such you will become a child again!
In the Old Tradition the magical name was never that of a god or goddess (or a collection of them, as is all too common among American witches and others) but was often almost a nick-name. (Old Nick is another title of the Horned God!) Some names are those of plants, trees, animals or perhaps semi-precious stones. It could be an anagram of your own initials, or a variation of one of your ordinary given names.
The less dramatic the name that comes to you at this time, the more likely it is to be a genuine 'sending', that is, a message from the Goddess. This name should be absolutely secret, and only ever used on talismans. If you ever hear that name being called, you know it is the Great Ones who are demanding your attention. Sit silently, unprotected by magical circles and really think, all night, under a growing moon. This is your last chance to remain an ordinary human being!
If in the morning you are convinced that dedication is the right move, then you will need to set about your preparations for that. Have a bath and cast into the water cleansing herbs and calming ones. Bask in that and become refreshed, even if you have been awake all night. Later in the day, take a picnic to eat after your dedication, as you should fast beforehand if you are following the old way closely. (This is as near an ordeal as most modern people get during the ceremony, but something more weighty may well occur soon afterwards.)
Stage Two is the making of a promise. This is not an oath with spectacular penalties which you may have read about in books, but a sincere and heartfelt promise to try to be a better human being, to develop your unique and inborn talents for the benefit of the gods on Earth. It is a promise to study and work and help those who seek aid, or to be honest with them and say what they ask is beyond your trainee powers.
It is to realise the value of wisdom and ancient knowledge which you may gradually be gaining, and the responsibility of having the powers of divination. You must speak truth, but gently, so that the listener is not alarmed. These and many more are the ideas which you should promise to uphold. You should promise to keep silent, too, on those fragments of the Old Ways which could put power into the hands of the foolish or unprepared, yet you should also be willing to share your knowledge with others who are ripe to receive it.
Go to your special place, taking a candle lantern, some thing to eat and drink, a pen and a piece of clean paper, a sharp needle, your magical staff and some string to make a seasonal garland, and if you have one, your magical robe or a new garment and a pair of sandals which can become your occult outfit. With a handful of twigs, brush a circle of clear space in which you can lie flat with your collection of things beside you. This is one of the few occasions when you lie down during magic! When you feel ready, mentally 'Call the Light', and then light the candle lantern, placed at the foot of your altar staff.
Lay down flat on your back beside it, close your eyes and think of sinking into the Earth. With any luck after a few minutes, this will become a very strange sensation, as if the earth is moving under you, almost rocking like the sea. Concentrate on becoming part of the Earth and dying to your old life. Cast off bad habits, failures, regrets and old grudges. Empty yourself of worries; pour out your sadness, your loneliness, your grief into the Earth below until you feel hollow. This may take some time, it may make you cry, it may feel very peculiar, but it is part of the work. Discover how leaden and relaxed you are, how cool and dead you may feel, and how cleansed of old contamination.
Having died and been laid to rest, think of the seas and rivers, and springs and pools. Wash clean your sparkling inner self, and float gently in the waters of birth. Be at peace, drift, now allowing the new name to flow into your consciousness. Feel a sprinkling of water and a quiet voice saying 'In the name of the Living Oceans and of Pure Springs I baptise you ... May you receive blessing thereby.' Allow this to sink in fully, then you will feel as if you are drifting to the shore, on a sunlit beach or bright riverbank.
Gradually curl up into a foetal position, for you are named and about to be reborn of the Waters of Life into the Fire of Light. When you are ready, sit up, with your knees bent and your arms wrapped round them and your head bowed. Relax and begin to contemplate Fire, the Sun and his power as Sky God, the Hunter and Protector, Lord of Two Worlds. Think of your Earth Mother and slowly imagine yourself being reborn, gently, into the Light, represented by the lantern.
Now take up the pen and carefully write out your promise, starting 'I ... (put your ordinary name) promise ...' (state only things you will really try to keep) and end up with the old magical motto, 'I desire To Will, To Dare, To Know and To Keep Silent, in my new name ... I so promise.'
Now kiss the paper and burn it. Also pull out a few hairs and burn them over the flame of the candle. If you burn your finger, that is all right too. You should also prick the little finger of your left hand with the clean needle and squeeze a few drops of blood onto the Earth to symbolise the blood of birth flowing between you as a permanent bond. You may feel quite shaky at this moment so be still, with your eyes closed, and continue to sense that all is going well, and that your promise has been accepted.
The last part of this working is to breathe in new life. Take some really deep breaths and if you so wish, sing or chant or hum your new name. This may go on for some time, allowing any tensions that have built up to dissipate. You need to deepen the state of your relaxation even more for you will be entering the Otherworld and meeting the Goddess or the God who will confer upon you their sacred kinship.
Sink deeper and create vividly in your mind's eye the gateway between the trees, or across the waves, or into any other aspect of wilderness where you would greet your Great Ones. Remember, they were the First Parents, the Primal Ones, and you can be as a child to them again if you trust yourself enough to let go of this reality and enter theirs.
I cannot tell you what you might encounter in this time, whether it be a brief moment or hours of clock time. I can only say that if you are sincere, and are committed to walking the Old Way, then you may well gain an experience which differs from all others in this life. If you have already been through initiation ceremonies within a group you may have had some sort of revelation, but this is rare.
When it does occur those seekers are satisfied and do not need to go on to other paths. Whatever does happen to you, if the Old Ones accept you and you genuinely acknowledge them as your Lady and Lord, they may teach you their secret names, in exchange for yours.
They may open within you, sharply and painfully, the psychic abilities to see true, to divine in running water and in smoke, to heal, to sing the old, lost magical songs, write poetry or beautiful ritual words. They may take something from you, leaving you bewildered and in darkness. I cannot say, for each of us is different. That is our unique value to those of the Otherworld. You will certainly know absolutely that you have been accepted, and that will be enough.
Perhaps you will need a few moments of rest for now is the time to eat your food, bread or fruit or cake, and drink your wine or juice and spring water, always scattering a few crumbs to others of Nature's children, and pouring a libation of thanks for what you have gained. Be still, be patient and allow whatever has happened, whether it was wild and dramatic or dark and deep within you, to assimilate. It will provide much material for you to mull over in the next few weeks.
Gradually collect your wits and say 'Thank You!' You will certainly have received something to be grateful about - if you haven't, you just weren't ready or sincere. Allow the Sphere of Light to drift away, again offering thanks for the peace and protection it brought you. At the end, be aware that the tiny spark of Light which is within you is now burning brighter.
Slowly get up, scattering more bread or seeds, take the garland from your altar staff and hang it on a tree or cast it into the river, depending where you are. Think of all the work you have to do, for you are taking on the power of magical responsibility, which is a great burden for you cannot act without due consideration of all the consequences. As you sow so will you reap, so learn to refine your seed ideas and demands, so that you produce a crop you can handle.
The ritual can be gently brought to a close by saying prayers for guidance for yourself and the courage to fulfil the promises you have made. You can ask for world peace, for solutions to the ecological problems, hunger, despair, pollution and healing for those parts of the Lady's mantle which have been ruined by careless and greedy people. Give out the last ripples of power to healing the Earth, and so its human burden. Get up and stretch.
You are stepping into a new life and will begin to see the world differently. Your dreams may be vivid and impulsions start to flow through your mind. You will be led into all sorts of new ventures over the next few months, and your commitment will be sorely tested. Although you may not at first be aware of it, the Light of the Old Ones will shine from your eyes, and their symbol will be all round you.
Those who have walked the same paths will recognise you, and you may find new friends arriving or old acquaintances turning away because they feel this new power about you. Things in your life will change and for several months may be quite difficult as you adapt to the role you have freely accepted.
It does help to prepare well before you begin such an exercise. Choose a day in a waxing moon so that her power will help you, although you could use your own birthday or a special date in the year regardless of the phase of the moon. Put on clean clothes or better still, something kept just for magic, a robe, kaftan or special belt even. Take off your watch and put aside money, for that has no value at all in the Otherworld. It is your personal commitment which indicates wealth on the Hidden Road, and those things which are necessary to you will arrive in payment of the work you do.
This may not sound as exciting as an initiation ceremony into a coven, but I can assure you that those who have tried both will say this personal dedication takes a lot of beating as a magical event. Like much of the old lore it is simple, and it is unique, for you are creating the pattern of it just for yourself, just for the time of its performance.
It cannot just be written in a book and repeated willy-nilly, as some people imagine magical work can be. Every single rite is an experiment and should be prepared as a one-off experience. The Old Ones do not seek sacrifices or offerings of things; they created them in the first place. We only borrow our bodies, our gardens and the things we use. They were once part of Nature and she will take them back in due time. We can only give of our own time and effort to bring about the changes in evolution that lead all of us towards the Light. This may be the first guttering candle you light, but in the end your soul may blaze like a star.
If you have read any of the many books on modern witchcraft you will know all about actual initiation ceremonies, the oaths, and taking of a measure with a cord by the priestess, and all kinds of things of dramatic and impressive nature. On your own you will have only the Old Ones to contend with and they have no book so your experience will be individual and unique, if you are ready to follow the instructions for the dedication here. As you will have discovered, a lot of the material cannot just be written down and passed on like a cookery book.
The recipes are given but you have to work out for yourself, with inner guidance, how to complete the process. If what you come up with seems untheatrical and simple, then it is probably far closer to the old way things were done than some of the elaborate and lengthy rites in modern books. Perhaps by now you will have had sufficient personal experiences to compensate for the inevitable disappointment about the down-to-earth nature of this old knowledge. What you have seen, heard, felt, 'imagined' even, cannot be shared by others, for they do not walk in your shoes nor dream your dreams.
Re-read all your notes and in the days leading up to your personal dedication be very sure you are happy and confident about the step you may soon be taking. There is no hurry. Some people have known about the Otherworld and the Hidden Ways for decades and not felt ready, and then suddenly known instinctively that it was time to proceed. Judge only by your own feelings, longings, intuitions and desires and you won't go wrong.
Begin your preparations slowly, meditating and even performing divinations to see if all is ready. Get your robe or other magical 'garment' ready, if you have chosen to make one. Think about your aims and the main direction you wish your work to follow in the coming years. Are you best at divination, at healing, at spells and talismans, or are you a poet or songsmith, or rescuer of lost knowledge? Each has a special task in the traditional crafts.
Some are craft-workers, making beautiful or useful things, others create rituals, design worshipping prayers, or handle power. Some are seers or oracles, speaking with the voices of the Goddess, others are guides through the inner realms, re-learning the narratives of inner journeys, telling tales, and refining knowledge with carefully chosen words.
You will have to study this chapter and gather the things you need, building up your own poems, gestures, food for the feast, flowers for the seasonal garland. You may also wish to make a witch's chaplet, a kind of rosary by which important things are remembered. Traditionally this is a length of ordinary rope, about four or five feet long.
At one end there is a loop with the rope turned back on itself and spliced, and then there are eight equally spaced knots, equating to the planets and the Earth. The last knot is at the end of the rope so when it is tucked through the loop, a circle is made. Each knot and loop counts as one of the Nine Festivals. This can be used as a circle on the ground, with the staff outside, or tied to the staff at the centre of a space with a stick put through the loop to mark out a circle on the ground.
Think about your connection with the Goddess, and see if your dreams suggest the name you should take, or the animal, plant or flower or other natural thing which will be your passport to the Otherworld.
Planning and performing the dedication, along with regular inner journeys, meditations and keeping your Book up to date, will take up all of the twelfth moon.
Here are some more books to read:
Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (Plymbridge Distributors)
Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches' Goddess and The Witches' God (Hale)
Dion Fortune, The Training and Work of an Initiate (Aquarian)
Evan John Jones, Witchcraft - An Old Tradition Revived (Hale)
T.C. Lethbridge, Witches (Routledge and Kegan Paul)
R.J. Stewart, The Underworld Initiation (Aquarian)