This is from "Pocket Guide to Wicca"
by Paul Tuitan and Estelle Daniels.
RITES OF PASSAGE
In creating a religion, Wiccans have addressed the various Rites of
experienced by all people throughout their lives. This is an area where Wicca is
still evolving, and practices vary widely from group to group and Tradition to
"Wiccaning" or "Naming" is the term used to describe the
celebration which accompanies the birth of a child.
As Wicca is nominally a fertility religion, the birth of a child is seen as a
gift from the Gods and a sacred rite in itself. Once the child is born, and the
life of the family has settled down a bit, the parents and community celebrate
the Wiccaning of the child, the act of introducing the child to the Gods and the
Community, and asking the Goddess, God, and Community for their protection of
the child as s/he grows. It is not a sealing of the child into Wicca. Wicca is a
religion of choice, and where children may be placed under the protection of the
Gods, the child is allowed to choose her or his religious path when old enough
to make that decision. Wiccanings can take place immediately after birth or up
to a year or more later. There is no set time frame.
COMING OF AGE
Celebrations of Puberty are also Wiccan rites of passage. Especially in the
Feminist groups, when a girl has her first menstrual period, she is considered a
woman. Many groups have the women gather for a party or celebration to honor the
girl and also let her know the responsibilities of sexual maturity. Wiccans are
very much choice-oriented. This includes the choice to not be sexually active,
the choice not to have an abortion, to responsibly use contraceptives, and to
understand the implications of being a sexual person. Just because Wicca is a
fertility religion, it does not mean Wiccans engage in free sex. Quite the
opposite. Personal responsibility and informed choice extends into the area of
sexual activity just as much as any other area of life.
With boys, the timing of celebrating sexual maturity is less defined. It can
be at the time of a boy's first wet dream, of the appearance of secondary sexual
characteristics like beard and pubic hair, of his conscious assuming the
responsibilities of a man. The tradition of celebrating a boy's sexual maturity
id less universal and not as formalized. The Gay movement currently seems
to be doing the most with writing and holding rituals and celebrations in this
area. Generally in them, the boy will learn about sexual responsibility, as well
as celebrate his new manhood. Wiccans view sexuality as a normal, natural part
of human life. How that sexuality manifests, be it homosexual, heterosexual,
bi-sexual or celibate is a private matter as long as an individual practices
their sexuality within the ideals of the Wiccan Rede, An ye harm none, do as ye
will. Pederasty and child pornography are not tolerated at all, anywhere
within Wicca, To Wiccans the family is sacred, but Wiccans are inclusive about
what they view as family. A family can be a nuclear family of parents and
children, but a family might extend to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
And it can include coven siblings, friends, High Priest and /or High Priestess,
and co-religionists. 'We are a family' is a phrase which Wiccans have readily
adopted. And many Wiccans behave as if all other Wiccans are family, you may not
love them, you may not get along with them, but you will come to their aid and
defense if necessary.
Rites of passage help define Wiccan families and the greater Wiccan
Community, which are much bigger and more diverse than most non-Wiccans would
Initiation is also seen as an important rite of passage. Ideally, an
Initiation not only marks a stage of learning and/or achievement, it also
acknowledges, or triggers, a change within. There is a definite mystical element
to a good Initiation, and a person's Initiation has taken when they show
evidence in their life of some deep inner revelation and/or change.
Initiation rituals may differ little from Tradition to Tradition, but the
words and ceremony are only the surface of an Initiation. The personal
experience is what is important, and this cannot be understood through reading,
but must be lived through and assimilated. As Wiccaning does not guarantee
a person will become Wiccan, the choice to take training and get an Initiation
is an important rite of passage. The first step is Dedication. This is the
commitment a person makes to himself or herself, to the Wiccan Community, and to
the Goddess and God, to learn about Wiccan and study the religion and Craft.
Being a Dedicant shows a certain level of commitment, yet does not confirm the
full membership that Initiation does. Each Tradition and group has its own
rules, but a somewhat recognized standard in Wicca is that at least a
year-and-a-day must pass to progress from Dedicant to Initiate. Since Wiccan
training covers the religion and practice of Wicca, including possibly the
practice of magick, ethics, and divination, a year and a day may sometimes seem
short. But many Dedicants may have already studied on their own, and have a head
start. An important part of Initiation is learning a groups technical language,
the buzzwords, so the person can communicate effectively with others of the
There is no specified age at which Initiation becomes an option, though many
groups will not allow minors into their groups, for consideration of
alcohol use and also legal protection. A fifteen-year-old may be fully informed
and mature enough to make a choice of religious path, but the parents may not
allow the person to actively pursue that interest. All these restrictions can
result in cutting most young people off from the possibility of Wiccan training,
but until society takes a more benign view of Wicca, the restrictions will
probably continue to exist.
As a person learns and progresses wit Wicca, there are three Initiations or
Degrees available. A somewhat common phrase states, A First Degree is
responsible for themselves. a Second Degree is responsible for others of their
immediate coven or group, and a third Degree is responsible for the community as
a whole. Each group and Tradition has its own definitions and levels of learning
and expertise for each level. The minimum time period for progression for First
to Second, and Second to Third, is again the usual year-and-a-day.
Not all Wiccans will get all three Degrees, but ideally each Wiccan will
train and study at least enough to get a First Degree. Wicca, as it is currently
practiced, is a religion of 'Priests' that is, each Initiate is considered to be
a Priestess or Priest in his or her own right and fully capable of communicating
with their Gods directly. Some Wiccan Traditions reserve the title 'High
Priestess' or 'High Priest' for people who have been initiated to the Third
Degree. Some use that title for the leaders of a coven.
Handfasting is the life passage which comes when a Wiccan wishes to be bonded
to a partner in the eyes of the Gods. This may or may not also be a legal
marriage. Wiccans are more broad in how they view committed partnerships.
Same-sex partnerships may be celebrated just as heterosexual ones are. And a few
Wiccans participate in multiple partnerships, though this is much less common. A
handfasting can be 'until death do we part' It is up to the participants.
Handfastings are celebrated much the same way as weddings, with all the
variations and styles seen in modern weddings. Wiccans usually hold the rite in
a Circle of some sort. The couple shares their vows, and then their hands may be
bound together as a symbol of their partnership. They then may 'jump the broom'
together, symbolizing the household they will share. Otherwise there are
few set rules. Of course, some sort of party and feast follows.
Handparting is the ceremony Wiccans use to mark the life passage of divorce
(or ending of a committed relationship). As handfasting is a magickal rite, so
should be the ceremony of ending a relationship, which was solemnized before the
Gods and Community. Oftentimes, it is not possible to get both partners together
for a handparting ceremony. But when possible, the ceremony can bring closure, a
concrete ending to a marriage or committed partnership. A handparting is done in
a Circle, and the hands which were bound, are unbound. It can also serve to
sever the emotional and magickal ties between partners, so each can go on with a
life free of the other's influence. This does not mean the relationship is
denied, ignored or forgotten. Just that each person is free to go his or her own
way. Sometimes there is a party and feast, sometimes not. It is usually most
desirable to have the person who officiated at the handfasting officiate at the
Eldering is a relatively new tradition and rite of passage in Wicca. Modern
western society has relegated older people to positions of obscurity. Wicca is
openly and consciously honoring and valuing those who have lived and learned and
are now valuable resources for the greater Wiccan Community. Perhaps because
Wicca is for the most part a chosen religion, there are currently few Elders who
have gone before and had the same experiences the younger Wiccans have. Those
who do exist and who have been in the Craft for 20 years or more, are being
valued. They become the wise counselors to the active leadership. They tell the
stories of the times before and what it was like for them when they were young.
They share their knowledge and insight. They are honored for the
achievements and accomplishments.
A ceremony of Eldering is sometimes done for those who have been around for a
long time and who have gravitated to the role of Elder. Sometimes the Eldering
ceremony happens at menopause for women, and a similar age for men. Retirement
used to be a good societal marker, but with the changing society, few can
actually count on a full retirement at a set age anymore. An Eldering ceremony
is similar to a Wiccaning, a party celebrating the individual and the
individual's place in the family and community of Wicca. Eldering is also seen
as an Initiation of sorts, though not a Degreed Initiation. Eldering can mark
the time when a person gives up active leadership and gains a seat around the
Death is the last life passage each of us will experience. Wiccans view death
as a natural part of life. Often some sort of reincarnation is a part of each
individual's beliefs. Many Wiccans choose to start working on the death passage
before actual death. If a person is known to be dying, Wiccans will often make
an effort to visit the person, talk and make their peace with him or her, or at
least visit one last time. Hopefully, the person who is dying will not be
fearful or anxious about the coming final Initiation. Wiccans will be sad at the
coming loss, but also hopeful of a rest in the Summerlands, a place where
Wiccans go between lives. It is said to be a place of eternal summer, warm,
green, and pleasant. The spirits of those who have gone before are there and
will greet the person upon arrival. Those who have passed away are still among
us in spirit, and they can manifest themselves to the living in various ways.
Many Wiccans have had what they consider to be concrete proof that there is life
after death. The dying person will try to make peace with the world, and prepare
for the transition ahead. In any case, the Wiccan death passage hopefully starts
before the actual death, so the person who is dying can take part and express
his or her wishes.
BURIAL OF THE DEAD
The Wiccan memorial celebration is not as codified as the other life passages
are. Death is a natural part of life. Wiccans celebrate the mystery of death
each year at Samhain, so we already have a yearly mourning period set aside in
one of our eight Sabbats. A Wiccan memorial can consist of a Circle and a group
singing of the Lyke Wake Dirge which although a song, is a magickal Circle and
rite in and of itself, and celebrates the cyclic nature of life and death. Some
groups will have a Circle in which each person offers a short memorial about the
deceased. There may be prayers for an easy passage or a pleasant sojourn in the
Summerlands. In the case of a sudden death, there may have been psychic trauma
for the soul of the deceased (which is one theory for the existence of ghosts).
Then the person may need help to spiritually pass beyond. The group will try to
aid in this with prayer and loving energy which can help the spirit on its
journey to the Summerlands.
Modern Wicca has had relatively few older people, so natural death isn't a
thing which has become routine. On the other hand, death through AIDS and other
diseases, or by accident are very common. Because Wicca is a less mainstream
religion, often the Wiccan "Crossing Over" or funeral ceremony is held
without the deceased or the family or most friends present. It is rare that a
Wiccan can be openly mourned and buried as Wiccan. Usually the Wiccan ceremony
is held after the "mundane" services and burial, often in the
Covenstead. For this reason, Wiccans seem ambivalent about memorial and burial
rites. Often they have little or no say in these, the wishes of their surviving,
often non-Wiccan, families being paramount. The secrecy of being Wiccan often
extends even into one's birth family.
Wiccans have little preferences in regard to body disposal. Some prefer
cremation (it's more ecologically sound), some want burial, and some express no
preference, knowing their families will do what they will. The idea of special
reverence for dead body is illogical to most Wiccans, as the true self is the
soul or spirit, and body is merely the fleshly vehicle. Once dead, the essence
lives on, and the body is no longer needed. No matter what time of year a Wiccan
dies, s/he will be remembered at the next Samhain, for that is what Samhain is
for, remembrance of those who have passed on before.