Earlier this month, I performed dedications for three of my students who have been studying with me for a while and who desired to enter into a dedication period within my system of Witchcraft practice. It got me to thinking, then, about what I might say goes into a dedication since that’s one of the terms that seems to populate the Pagan/Wiccan/Witchcraft community and is talked about in books a great deal.
So what exactly does it mean to have a Dedication when speaking in terms of Wicca or Witchcraft? Well, that really depends on if you are solitary or if you are practicing with a group, and if you are practicing with a group, is that group an established tradition? Also, are you specifically seeking to devote yourself and your practices to a particular god, goddess, or pantheon?
If you are solitary, that means you do not have or belong to a coven. You practice on your own. This may be out of either choice or necessity, but the fact remains that you don’t belong to a group. There are pros and cons to this, which I will discuss further in another blog post in the future. Practicing on your own gives you a lot of freedom, but along with that freedom often comes a lack of direction and focus. As a means of providing an ‘official starting point’ to studying and practicing, solitaries may make a dedication. Basically, this is a ritualized or formalized ceremony that marks the beginning of a person’s practice.
I should explain at this point that there really isn’t any such thing as a ‘Self-Initiation’. This term was popularized by a few authors about 20 or 30 years ago, give or take. I think the first one to really come up with the idea was likely Scott Cunningham, since he really brought out the idea of practicing Wicca as a solitary. I do know that the first time I personally came across the term ‘self-initiation’ was in one of his books, but as to whether or not he is the originator of the term, I can’t say for certain. The problem that I have with the term isn’t with the idea of someone being a solitary Wiccan/Witch and devoting themselves to study or practice without a coven. I began that way on my own and I’m not one to disavow my own roots and beginnings. But the term ‘initiation’ means to be brought into a group. One can’t bring themselves into a group if they are the only one. One person is not a ‘group’ and one person can’t initiate him or herself. One person can dedicate oneself, which is what’s really going on in a ‘self-initiation’ type of ritual. I, and many others, are just picky about using accurate terminology.
So, that is one type of a dedication. The other type is when there is a group that you are seeking membership with in order to learn from. Lots of these systems, my own included, have a dedication period where the person seeking membership (called a Dedicant) has a trial membership before actually taking formal initiation. There is a lot to be gained from having this sort of set-up in place. It gives the Dedicant time to get to know the members of the group and see if they fit. It provides the Dedicant with a bit of the beliefs and practices of the particular coven to gauge her experience and satisfaction by. It also provides the coven members and leaders with time to get to know the Dedicant and see if the person will be a good fit for the group.
So that’s what a dedication is for, but it doesn’t entirely explain what taking dedication does or includes. That’s mainly because it can differ for different groups. In general though, dedication is a ceremony for making promises to the group that the Dedicant will act with honor and respect the teachings and practices of the group they are dedicating into. There are also usually oaths made to the particular gods or goddesses that the group works with, promising to learn about and work with them in an effort to learn if the path they are on is right for all concerned.
A dedication may also be a person’s promise to seek after and follow the ways of a particular god or goddess. Someone may dedicate themselves as a devotee of Brighid for example. When this is done, it is important that the dedication ceremony involve things relevant to the deity the person is pledging himself or herself to. For Brighid, it would be important to have fire present in the form of a candle or bonfire, maybe some implements for healing, or a poem that the Dedicant has written. Someone may even have smithing tools present to be blessed or consecrated as all of these items represent aspects of the goddess.
The actual ceremony for dedication can be as simple or as elaborate and detailed as the person or people involved wish it to be. It could be as simple as consecrating a space and sitting or kneeling in front of representations of what the Dedicant’s chosen deity, the elements, and so on. It could be as detailed as circling around the area with blessed water and salt, incense and candle, speaking at each directional quarter of the circle, and invoking beings and deities to witness the oaths made. What really matters is that the Dedicant has a distinct feeling that what happens has marked a new beginning in their life and practice, that a promise has been made, either to deity or the group’s members if they are not practicing alone, that they will earnestly seek after what it is they are seeking. The dedication period typically lasts for ‘a year and a day’ according to older texts and rites. This may be taken literally, or there may be a bit of leeway in the interpretation, but a time has been established that when the Dedication period is over, the Dedicant will either continue in his or her chosen path and take vows of and receive full initiation into the group, or they may depart and seek elsewhere.
Dedication never means that someone’s free will is given away. A Dedicant should always be free to leave at any time if they feel the path they are on isn’t meeting their needs. Likewise, the group’s leaders may excuse a Dedicant from further study if the conclusion is reached that they aren’t a good fit before the dedication period has ended. If this happens, it is hoped that all parties concerned can part amicably. This isn’t always the case, and while it’s unfortunate, when it does happen it’s better that it has happened during dedication and not after initiation.
Books and multiple websites have outlines for dedication ceremonies and rituals, these can either be followed if someone finds one that particularly speaks to them. Or, they can use what they find as a guide or inspiration to writing their own dedication ritual. Personally, I think it’s best if a solitary Dedicant writes their own ceremony. There is something very special and magical about performing one’s own rite, especially for something as significant as taking an oath.
I like to attune the timing of rites like dedications to certain phases of the moon. I believe since a dedication is a time of new beginnings, the waxing phase is more appropriate than the waning phase. I’m less picky about which particular sign the moon is in at the time of dedication, but if it works out that the moon is in a sign beneficial or significant to the person being dedicated, and it’s during the waxing phase, so much the better. Some groups also choose to do dedications around the time of Imbolc. I have also heard of dedications being performed at the time of the winter solstice. Both of these dates or times are chosen because of the idea of new growth or the quickening of life.
I really enjoy the idea behind dedicating and the reasons for doing it. I think it is a valuable experience that can greatly enhance a person’s practice. If you are solitary and haven’t done it, yet have been working for some time, it might not seem like a necessary thing. But I’d still give it a try. Ceremonially marking a starting point to something important in your life is a valuable experience and may open up feelings of growth and commitment that haven’t yet had a chance to be expressed. Go for it. You may be surprised by what follows.