Titles are like Tits.
The People Who Have Large Ones Often Find Them Unwieldy, and Yet Others Seem to Envy Them and Yet More Burden Themselves Into Ridiculousness With Them In An Attempt To Be Admired.
It is the fundamental statement "I am not shallow about this. This is important to me. I do not want to even be thought of as having come to this place in a shallow way." Because, well, we've all met that one really shallow person - in fact, that statement probably brings one or more people to mind. I could go through a list of flaky characteristics, but you already know that person.
It's not about trying to claim you're something you're not - unless you are. It's about making sure that there is a distinction - a distinction that is important to you.
But is the distinction all that important?
I picked up my first book in Witchcraft because I wanted to see if it did the job. It was a shitty, shitty, book. I called myself "Wiccan" for a while. I was wrong. It did not change the value of my heart, my soul, or my craft. That I was a non-initiate at the time did not change my value. It changed my "mode". Then later I was a "Kemetic Pagan" , and at some point a "Chaote"... and eventually I added "Initiate of XYZ" to my arsenal.
I have come across many people who feel that training and initiation are bad things, or counter-productive, or that they MUST go on a crusade to save everyone from the troubling experiences they, themselves, had. There are different kinds of initiation, there are different types of initiates (or seekers). Conversely, there are folks who like to shove the idea of hierarchy, succession, and initiation down the throats of others. Both modalities strike me as being heavy on the asshole-factor.
A Rough Outline of Some Types of Training and Initiation
Accrediting Initiation - A recognition of something you've already gained. This is like "Graduation". You've already taken all the classes, and they're recognizing that by giving you the "Diploma" and credentials.
Successive Initiation - A transference of power and knowledge. This is what most Initiations, at least most "occult" initiations, are about. The other Priest/esses will power into the initiate, they give them the names of the gods, and whatnot.
Communal Initiation - Inclusion in a community, or slice of community. This type of initiation is most like rites of Manhood, Womanhood, rites of Passage... etc. Gaining one's citizenship to a nation as an immigrant, turning 21 and being taken for drinks, college hazing, military hazing and things of that nature are communal initiations (and usually also "ordeals").
Transformative Initiation - Shamans undergo this. It's where something psychological and spiritual happens to them, permanently changing them in some way. Generally this is "Spirit", or "God" initiation, and usually puts the initiate through an "Ordeal" - a physical or mental trial harsh enough to in some way break them down that they may be remade.
Symbolic Initiation - A lot of Neopagan groups use Symbolic Initiation. It's often more like a Drama Play, where the Initiate plays a role and is conducted through it by the other participants. It generally represents a loose, non-oathed/non-binding, dedication to developing one's skills, knowledge, power, place in the community, etc.
Self-Dedication (often given the misnomer of "Self-Initiation") is the most like Symbolic Initiation, except that it's done alone. No credentials are passed, no words of power or connections, no community is involved, there's usually no god-bolt from the blue to smite and re-form you. It's a simple dedication, a promise to oneself to move in the right-for-oneself direction.
That's Where The "Simplicity " Ends.When you set your foot on the Crooked Path - the Witching Way - the Saturnine Road - Things hear you stumbling out of the brush, and onto the roadway. They hear the footfalls, the scuffles and shuffles, the jaunty tune you whistle to yourself - and they respond. Spirits can, and often do, lie. They can, and often do, mutilate. They can, and often do, try, test, prod, poke, and annoy. But that's normal enough, and happens no matter who is holding your hand and guiding you.
The problem arises when you're calling up spirits to transform and change you, you're not just attracting things with your noisiness... you're COMMANDING them to come and bind you into Their service for an entire lifetime. An article I read over at Faerytradition.org said it better than I think I'll ever be able:
If initiation is “marrying the Goddess,” then self-initiation (or whatever you want to call it) is kidnapping one of the wedding party at random. You may get the Goddess, you may not; there’s a reason for all those bridesmaids. And unless you know what She looks like, you might end up with crazy Aunt Sally, the one who thinks it’s okay to burn the hemlock incense while driving.Group Initiation can be the least dangerous way of approaching Gods and Spirits seeking transformation, and even then it really depends on the group - danger is never absent. Seeking those experiences alone can be most dangerous - not in an "Edgy" way, either. In a "Psychologically damaged beyond repair" way. Self-dedication can be safest way to go it alone. To better oneself, to move forward, to not bind or oath oneself to anyone or anything just yet. To walk before attempting to run a marathon while being chased by rabid hounds that were promised blood.
God-Smote Initiates.A long time ago, one of my "covenmates" had an experience with Raven. I don't aim to say that they had an experience with the Native American deity, but rather "A very old, very Raven-like, Spirit which practically dripped creator-vibes". They pursued this experience, alone, without anyone to guide them - and asked Raven to bring them into His Priesthood.
He likened the Initiation to surgery without anesthetic, and the resultant recovery to "metaphysical torture". Raven did not do things slowly - he did them as a god does them - all at once. This covenmate was down and out for six months, and when he again emerged into the world the results were damned near fatal.
You see, Raven decided to send a Friend - a little Familiar-spirit to sit on his shoulder and tell him all kinds of things. Except, 'all kinds' really did mean 'all kinds'. No matter what he did, he was plagued with information, voices, murmurings, pouring into his skull. He couldn't handle it, and nearly killed himself. Fortunately, he was being watched and spent a fairly short stint in psychiatric care.
And this? This was when it goes "okay". That wasn't the worst we'd seen in Family or Friends. And that's when "God Initiation" was pretty much agreed (amongst our Folk, at least) to be a Very Bad Idea.
That's Not To Say That I'm Against Spirit-Communication.
The first guide/Familiar I ever had was a dead man. He carefully explained to me that we had known each-other in a prior incarnation, and that he had sworn then to return when I was "ready" and help me pick back up with the practices I'd been getting on with then. However, just as with good Covenmate's Helper, this was something that had not been alive for a very long time. He had the sensibilities of his era, and a lack of recent experience with being alive. To him, it was perfectly reasonable to "awaken" a 13-year-old girl, pour a life's worth of knowledge into a still-developing skull, and expect that it'll all work out right.
I loved that spirit passionately, and still do. I know that what he did is no more his fault than a snake striking my foot - he did what was in his nature. But that left me with some psychological scars, and hiccoughs. It took the careful hand of my first living teacher to undo some of the damage - to teach me how to restrain my skills, and how to be humble.
I still work with spirits quite a lot. Even that same spirit, on occasion. I still entreat with Raven, despite the experiences of my covenmate. I still do dealings with Goetic spirits, despite the numerous warnings issued. But what I do is temper that with experience - that of my teachers, and my own.
Shamanic Call and Mental Difference.
A grotesquely unpopular opinion, yet one often leg-humped by Neopagans, is that many witch-folk are just plain mentally different. They are called, siren-song'd, away from a normal life by the whispers of the Craft. They are sometimes dragged off of their normal path into a crooked one and skidded down the asphalt until little remains of who they were but a bloody trail.
So they seek out a cure, a salve, a cool compress to take the burn off. They seek practice, validation, ass-pats, initiations, training, books, tools, music... aesthetics and lifestyle choices. Some cope with the whispering of spirits gracefully on their own. They learn when and how to listen, and what parts of their life to compartmentalize to keep contamination down. Some folks go right to the professionals. Established elders who shimmer with the cunning fire and yet have their shit together. They get broken like a stallion, and put to good use - to be the horse of their gods.
Some do not. Some become unwashed, mentally deranged, delusional, whiners that everyone knows - "I'm the king of elfhame because I killed their king last midsummer during a shamanic trance induction from a Egyptian Odinist Reiki master. You should bow to me, not your stupid horned god. We ate him. Why won't girls DATE ME, I'm a GOOD GUY. Pagan guys are such pussies. You all need a REAL man, okay? I'm a GOD, okay? Look, that High Priestess deserved to be hit because she invoked a Jonntun, and I'm not saying I think she's secretly the Liesmith, but he changes shapes like people change clothes..."
Anderson said "Mad, Dead or a Poet"- he's right. God help the fool who comes back all three.