Initiation or Dedication?

There are not enough teachers in any of the Pagan traditions to properly support in person all of those who wish to learn. The consequence is that most of us end up doing some, or all of our learning alone. For Druids, there are a number of Orders that provide distance learning and mentoring in a way the wider community recognises, which is very helpful. Still, to a large extent you have to manage your own path.

The issue of self-initiation most often comes up for Wiccans, where the idea of initiation is very much part of how one learns and progresses. Can a person initiate themselves? Many do, so arguably the answer has to be ‘yes’. I don’t feel it’s my place to invalidate anybody else’s choices. However, I do have my own doubts about how we can, from inside ourselves, take ourselves deliberately forward into new stages of awareness and being. Of course the lone learner is on a constant progression, can make huge and sudden breakthroughs and will experience life initiations too, but initiation within a tradition is a formal thing. To me, it’s all about a group of people recognising where you’re at, and offering you the keys to the door of the next bit.

I’ve run bardic initiations, as they are usually called, but in practice I didn’t feel like I was initiating anyone really. To be a bard takes a lot of individual work, and all I can do is lay out what it means and hold the door open a bit. People have to make their own way through. Increasingly the word that came to feature in the ritual was ‘dedication’.

A dedication is an offering of self, and an expression of intention. We can do that privately, before whatever powers we honour or we can do it in circle with our fellow Druids as witness. We can dedicate to each other in handfasting, in teacher/student bonds, in the fellowship of a grove and as parent to child. We might dedicate ourselves to living more greenly, to peace work, or sitting down and writing that book. The act of dedication focuses the mind on the chosen task, sanctifies it and, if done publically, gives you some people who will notice how you do. When it comes to getting people to study, and adopt greener ways of living, those dedications made in circle bind and empower in equal measure. Once you’ve said it, you’re honour bound to give it your best shot.

We all want recognition, and in spiritual terms being initiated to the next level is a bit like passing a test, or getting a reward. There’s kudos. Dedications can be more private, less dramatic affairs, but I think for Druidry they work well. We pick our own and make them when we are ready, holding responsibility for our own journey. Many people who step up to ‘initiate as a bard’ at big gatherings are not, as far as I have seen, in a place of completion that means they are initiated, they are at a place of starting out, needing the focus and recognition to commence the work. A dedication seems more appropriate at this stage. You don’t begin with initiation, you are initiated into the next stage when you are ready. You begin with dedication.

I don’t think this is just a semantic issue, it’s a pragmatic one too, having everything to do with how we see ourselves and how we see our traditions. Initiations have a lot to do with power and status. Dedications don’t have the same aura of formal structure to them, they are more personal, more flexible, and I think that makes them good Druidry.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Initiation or Dedication?

  • seanmcdh

    Nice post. I think some of the early Neopagan writers confused everyone with “self-initiation”, when the intended aim was “self-dedication”. Most of the recent authors make a better distinction: initiation vs self-dedicated. I dedicated myself to Wicca in 1989 and it was a powerful, life changing experience that led to my initiation in 1991. I have since left Wicca in favor of modern Druidry but those first initial experiences of self-dedication followed by initiation are powerful milestones in my life that have forever shaped who I am.

  • lornasmithers

    Thanks for these thought provoking posts.

    I’ve reflected on what you have said and decided I see the difference being that initation involves an act of transformation whilst a dedication involves a confirmation / avowal of something that already exists.

    To me initiation involves reaching a threshold and not knowing what is going to happen next. After an initiation it is certain that life is never going to be the same again. Your mention of child birth was a great example. I attempted to self-initiate myself into being pagan a few years ago because I thought it was the done thing and ended up feeling silly, although the central tenets of the vow I made still stand. In distinct contrast going through a process of initiation with one of my personal deities has transformed the way I think and led me to places I could never have imagined.

    I see dedication as an ongoing part of everyday life- confirming what is of value in speech, writing and action, although some of these may be ritualised with more focused intent.

  • Angharad Lois

    I have always thought of initiation not as a completion but rather as a new beginning. I can be semantic to a fault sometimes 🙂

  • Maria P

    I see initiation as a beginning as well as the next step. Dedication is what gets you from step to step. It is not just in the spiritual I find this to be true but in my profession and hobbies as well. One difference is that my profession requires teaching and some mentoring and my spiritual beliefs are mine to explore to my hearts content.

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