So your new to the Path of Paganism, you're seeking information on where to begin, what to study, how to progress on your chosen path ...but... there's no Coven nearby and you don't know any practicing Pagans who can give you some idea of where to begin.
So what are your options?
* You could pay an arm and a leg for some of the online organisations you have seen, but you cant be sure of the information provided or the experience of the 'teachers'.
* You could trust that joining an online forum will give you at least some of the information, but the infighting between various factions puts you off.
* Or you can go it alone, find out what the basics are from a trusted source (well I hope your trust my qualifications which is why your reading this...lol) and do the research for yourself.
To be honest I have worked as both a Solitary and within a Coven and my opinion is when you first start out it is actually better for your spiritual development to go it alone, at least for a while. This allows you to research, study and practice what you discover in your own manner allowing you to develop your own 'spiritual personality', However it is still difficult to know where to begin so I have decided to release our Coven's Syllabus outlines for our various levels.
Please Note: this is an outline only, each level has further areas of study which may be required prior to initiation to each level. I have also included further pages which include further areas of study a solitary practitioner may wish to pursue.Please note: all following references to "degrees" are purely for comparative purposes.
Congregation: This is where an attendee is not a member of our Coven but is attending a Circle or a teaching session at the invitation of a group member (or an Open Circle). May be seen as an equivalent of the Wiccan 'Outer Court'.
Prospective Dedicant: An non-member attendee invited to attend meetings by a member (or an open Circle), who has attended more than 3 times in the intention of becoming a Dedicant within the Coven ("testing out the waters")
Basic Outline of Required Learning for Initiation to Dedicant:
All students working towards Dedicant level are required to learn and demonstrate a basic working understanding of the following;
1. Basic meditation techniques, visualisation and focus. This is laying the groundwork for later astral and shamanic journeying. Must have a solid understanding of meditation, stilling the mind, visualisation techniques and must have gained sufficient ability to enable them to shut out the outside world and focus on the spiritual task at hand.
2. Dedicants must demonstrate a basic understanding of the seasonal celebrations (ie what is celebrated, how and when it is marked by the Coven and why) and the basic mythology and symbolism behind these celebrations.
3. Dedicants are required tohave a basic understanding of basic herbal knowledge, (to later be extended to include medicinal uses of herbs, basic herb lore, and various other related subjects - at this stage of learning only the basic mundane uses of herbs are covered, the magickal properties will come later in the learning).
4. Basic psychic protection is an absolute MUST and ALL students must demonstrate a sound basic working knowledge of this area as well as a basic understanding of the unseen world. Dedicants are taught how to protect themselves and to repel unwanted energies, but at this early stage are not taught how to undertake spell workings of any kind.
5. Dedicants must also demonstrate a basic understanding of the Elements and Directions, and casting a white light Circle for the purpose of protection during any form of working .
6. Coven Dedicants must demonstrate a basic understanding of the pantheon we work with.
Once a Congregation member has attained this basic understanding of the path, and the manner in which the Terra Sphere Coven worships and trains it's members they may apply for Dedication.
Dedicant: The equivalent of a Neophyte, a Covener who has not yet attained a degree as such but who has decided to make the commitment to travel their spiritual path within our Coven. The dedication signifies that a student is to commence studies in order to obtain the first level of learning and is a recognition of the commitment they have made to undertake the journey on the path. Admission of a new member to the level of dedicant is subject to consensus of the group, to avoid conflicts.
The initiation into the level of Dedicant consists of a welcoming ritual and presentation of the student to the Gods in recognition of the path they have chosen to walk.
In order to be initiated as a Dedicant, the student must complete the following requirements in addition to the teachings outlined above:
1. The Dedicant must create their own personal Journal in which to record their travels (purchasing a completed journal is not permitted, the exception being the purchase of a book or file which the Dedicant may embellish as they see fit, the point of this exercise is the creation of the Journal and the infusion of the Dedicant's energies into it).
On completion of this task the Journal is handed into the safekeeping of the Elders until the initiation ceremony.
2. The initiation ceremony (for this and ALL levels) consists of both an outward and an inward journeys both of which take place within the Circle.
The Dedicant is left alone in Circle to meditate on the significance of this step forward, and in which hopefully their Patron Deity will make themselves known or pass on something useful. The Dedicant may also meet Spirit Guides, Power Animals or other beings from the spirit realms.
On completion of this inward journey, the new Initiate is presented to the Circle Elders who welcome the Initiate and present them with their Journal, and a Spirit Gift created specifically for them by the Elders. The student is told the basic significance of their Spirit Gift - they are permitted to add to it as they walk their path and their needs change.
Wytche: This is our equivalent of First Degree.
Wytches are required to demonstrate a sound working knowledge of the following areas:
1. Intermediate herbal studies - more on the mundane and medicinal use of herbs, and a beginning study of the magickal uses of herbs.
2. Astral travel and protection
3. Ability to record their journeys in journal, and to analize their journey and determine the lessons they are being taught from it themselves (to include dream work and visions).
4. Basic spellwork, including such topics as candle magick, talismans/charms and magickal ethics.
5. Intermediate meditation and focusing techniques, basic shamanic journeying, the use of breathing techniques to aid journeying, magick workings and meditation.
6. Expanded symbolism and mythology of the festivals and Pantheons, as both are extremely crucial to the Path.
7. Students at Wytche level are required to make or obtain and adapt a working knife (This is NOT an athame, as within our Coven we use our Ritual Knife for both mundane and magickal purposes), which must be ppropriately cleansed/consecrated/charged by the student (as part of the requirements for this level of study) in front of the Elders.
Initiation consists of a similar journeys of a meditation/vision quest ceremony. The Initiate is required to take an inward journey alone, however at this level on completion of this journey, the initiate is required to record all events of the journey in their journal, and to write an introspective analysis of that journey in order to gain some insight from it. This is then followed by a Coven Ceremony to Welcome the New Priest/ess
Priest/ess: This is our equivalent of SecondDegree. The initiation to the level of Elder Priest/ess is not simply a single ceremony but rather a series of tasks over an extended period (this may varying between individuals but for the sake of understanding - an example may be a period of approximately two weeks). In this time period leading up to the final initiation ceremony, the student is required to undergo regular journeys and record and study them, and many discussions with the Elders or Mentor and/or the rest of the Coven on the significance they may represent.
The task to be completed prior to the final initiation to Elder Priest/ess is the creation of the student's "Spirit or Medicine Bag", which is to be their own personal portable altar. This bundle is to be made from natural materials (eg cotton, leather or wool), and the student is not permitted to purchase the items within it, but is required to be gifted these items by the Gods, their Mentor or to purchase components to make the items themselves. The student is also required to decorate the bundle appropriately, and it must include items which are appropriate to the student's personal path (eg tools, herbs for religious/magickal purposes).
WITHOUT EXCEPTION there will be absolutely NO initiations into this level for students under the age of 18 years without written parental consent (see requirement number 8) and NO intiations under the age of 16 years regardless of parental consent.
Priest/esses must complete the following studies and demonstrate sound working knowledge of these areas:
1. Introduction to the concept of shape shifting and the mechanics of it: Including but not limited to;
*Shifting "into" other entities (as in Brazilian shamanism & Druidry)
2. Advanced herbal studies including far more extensive work on magickal herbs
3. Scientific/astrological data
5. More advanced and in depth spellwork and spellcraft, including learning to write ones' own spells and rituals for various situations.
6. Divination with tools.
7. Use of music, movement, rhythm, and rhyming in ritual/magickal workings and as a tool for journeying.
8. The Theory of utilization of the energies created during sex (practical application of this section is optional & only with consent)
Note 1: The Elders do not participate nor condone participation in sexual activity with the students - if the students are part of a couple we encourage them to take the basic learning we provide and put it into practice at home themselves, (this also teaches them to work together.)
Note 2: Although the practical aspect of this unit is optional, all students are required at the very least to have a theoretical knowledge of this area and students under 18 years will only be permitted to have a theoretical knowledge without exception.
9. Womens Mysteries & Magick - including the use of menstrual blood in ritual etc. (Again practical participation in this unit is optional but all students are required to have at least a sound knowledge of the theory behind it).
10. Beginning exploration of the "darker" sides of magick (Note: the term "darker" merely refers to those aspects which are more intense and less related to earning karmic brownie points , and does not necessarily refer to anything which may cause harm, although this side of things is covered in brief).
11. Working knowledge of the darker deities (albeit a basic one mostly in the interests of creating balance).
12. Far more hands-on practical work and less on-paper learning, but again the student is expected to document their journeys in depth and analize them.
13. During the course of the studies the student is required to obtain other magickal tools that they feel drawn to for magickal purposes which can be either purchased or made (cleansing, consecration and charging of these tools is to be evaluated as part of the training).
Initiation is as previously explain a combination of inner and outer spiritual journeys.
Elder Priest/ess: This initiation occurs over a period of several weeks rather than in one ritual. In order to be initiated as a High Priest/ess, the student must be able to write their own spells and rituals which are appropriate, and is required to write their own initiation ritual, which must include the in depth meditation/vision quest. Ritual fasting and meditation is to be undertaken in the weeks prior to the final initiation ceremony, as again is much introspection and documentation of journeys.
The initiate will also perform a Circle with the Elders in order to aid in the discovery of their magickal name. This magickal name may not be revealed, it is not encouraged at this stage to reveal the magickal name because the Spirit Self of the High Priest/ess is so new and vulnerable, and it is recognised that the magickal name holds great power for the person who is given it.
The initiate is also as part of this initiation required to create a percussion or other instrument to be used to implement rhythm, chanting or sound in their workings in some way. If the initiate's tool happens to be their voice, they are required to write, memorize and perform a magickal chant/song as part of their initiation ritual.
As part of the complete removal of Self and the recognition that the mundane self is no longer important, the student is required to write a list of aspects of their old Self which they wish to discard or change, and as part of the ritual this list is required to be burned, to symbolise the shedding of the old, mundane self and the birth of the new spirit self. As the student steps into the Role of High Priestess, so he/she steps out of their old Self and is required to leave that Self behind completely, to completely sever all attachments with the extraneous elements of that Self which they no longer require or desire.
Our equivalent of 3rd Degree. The student is required to attain a sound working level in all of the following areas:
1. Specialist training by the Elders in the leading of all the rituals of the Terra Sphere Coven, and begins to assume more important roles in group rituals. Continues to write own material.
2. Very in-depth study of shifting and manipulation of reality on the astral planes.
3. Heavy exploration of the shamanic journey and analysis/interpretation of what is done/seen on the Astral - the bringing back of things learned on the Astral and applying them to the mundane world.
4. Introspection and more introspection!!!
5. The student is also expected at this level to learn to interact with the Unseen world rather than just entering it as a bystander, including but not limited to communication with entities/energies in the Unseen.
High Priet/ess: This initiation again takes place over an extended period of time, with ritual fasting and meditation (again much introspection, reflection and analysis) occurring prior to the final ceremony. The High Priestess walks between the worlds, always with one foot in the mundane and the other in the unseen world.
Prior to the final initiation ceremony, the student is required to create for themselves a staff. This staff is the symbol of the High Priestess, and if the student has progressed along their path they will be gifted with the elements of this staff as the Gods see fit. Upon receipt of these elements the prospective High Priest/ess is to meditate upon each element and its significance in the overall picture of the Staff, and to document this in their Journal. The prospective High Priest/ess when they have all the elements of their Staff, construct, cleanse, consecrate and charge it as part of the lead up to their final initiation, and then hand it into the safekeeping of the Elders until the final ceremony.
The prospective High Priest/ess is to write their own initiation ceremony.
This is the fourth level of learning in our group, and by far the most introspective and intense. It is impossible to lay out a strict syllabus for this level as each individual student's learning will vary enormously, however this level is the culmination of all the previous work and extends the student's previous learning. At the completion of this level the student knows the Unseen world like they do the mundane and have reached the level of complete comfort in working in the Unseen.
The High Priest/ess begins to assume a teaching role within the group, acting as mentor to the newer students and being "2IC" to the Elders, assisting them in lessons to the other students of lower levels. However the majority of the High Priest/ess work is introspective.
Elder: The initiation to the level of Elder is the highest recognition which can be achieved by a group member. The title of Elder is awarded to those who have been unanimously recognised by the group as having completed their training and gained the respect of the entire group in the capacity of a mentor/elder to the group.
The initiation into Elder is the recognition of the end of the learning cycle - another "death", and the rebirth of the initiate as a Teacher with the responsibility to pass on the knowledge and experiences they have accumulated.
The role of the Elder is to teach and guide, and to assist in the running of the group.
Reverend: The title Reverend can only be attained by those who have reached the level of Elder and who have chosen (or been chosen) and recognised to branch out and begin their own Coven. They are still very much a part of the original Coven and we would hope that strong ties would be maintained in love and friendship! :)
This recognistion may also be gained once a Student has reached Elder staus, by an organisation other than that of Terra Sphere Coven and is then recognised within the Coven also as such, this generally happen when the student has chosen not to branch out and form their own Coven and wishes to remain with their Mother Coven.
If at any time a student decides that our path is not the one they should follow, they are free to leave. However if a student wishes to leave, they are required to notify the Elders and attend a Coven council. This is NOT to prevent the student from leaving but rather, so that the Elders may find out why the student wishes to leave, and if there is a problem within the Coven or some aspect of our structures, teachings or whatever, that problem may be immediately identified and addressed to prevent future difficulties.
If the Elders decide unanimously that a certain member is not working for the best interests of the Coven, or is behaving inappropriately in any way that prevents the Coven from functioning as a group, again a Council will be held and the student will be notified of the issues at hand. Should it be decided that it is best that the student leaves, their membership in the Coven will be terminated with no ill-will and they will be directed to other Pagans of a path which may be more suited to that particular student. In the event that a student turns out to be unsuitable for the path of Terra Sphere Coven, rather than see that student isolated and "kicked out", we would rather help them to find an alternative path which may be more suitable and as such, will endeavor to assist them in any way possible by referring them to others who may be able to help.
Students who come to us from other paths are required to bring references from their previous groups (obviously not applicable in the case of those who have worked as solitaries) and/or to provide some proof of their previous level of learning so that we may integrate them into the equivalent level of our group rather than having them start over and have to work from the ground up rehashing things that they have already learned. There will however be a short "refresher" course to familiarise the new student with the requirements for the levels of our path and ensure that they are familiar with the specific methods and techniques used by our group, to best determine which level is appropriate for their learning :)