hands_tied2aMetaphorically speaking, what could you do if you had your hands tied?  Probably not a whole lot.  So, at least consider the following…

One of the often overlooked aspects found in modern witchcraft is the idea of personal sovereignty, being the realization and rite of self-governance.  The overlooking of this basic right is actually quite strange because when you think about it, personal sovereignty is a pivotal component in the grand-scheme of any magickal practitioner’s practice and life.  After all, magick is about control, governance, helping oneself, opening doors, and bringing opportunity into one’s life right?   So, in light of that understanding…

Question: What kind of witch would someone be if they gave up a portion of their sovereignty to a person or group?

Answer: They would be less of a witch.

Huh?  Now, believe me when I say that I’m not being mean or condescending, but it’s true.  If a witch gave dominion of their person over to someone or something else, they are to some extent bound and limited by that person or group and are therefore less of a witch because of that action.  Think about that statement: “less of a witch because of that action.”

Doesn’t that sound bothersome?

Well believe it or not, as alluded to by several of the authors listed below, but without actually coming out and saying so, the relinquishing of one’s personal sovereignty as a witch is a common practice found in many modern witchcraft traditions.  This practice is often referred to as taking the measure which is usually done by most covens during a dedicant’s first degree initiation.

What is the measure?  The measure basically functions as a talisman that represents the witch and it is created by measuring parts of a witch’s body using a cord.  Knots are tied in the cord to mark certain measurements as they are taken and once created, the measure is then often kept by the coven as a symbol of loyalty (Farrar, 55).  Magickally speaking, the measure then acts as a direct connection to the witch that could theoretically be used to manipulate or control them if needed or to keep them true or loyal as explained by the Farrars in their book A Witches’ Bible and even referenced by Gardner in regards to an old custom,

…if anyone were guilty of betraying the secrets, their measure was buried at midnight in a boggy place, with curses that “as the measure rots, so they will rot.” (pg. 165)

Now, granted the mutual participation in this act of taking the measure initially demands perfect love and perfect trust as they say, but what this act also clearly implies is that the initiate trusts the coven more than the coven trusts the initiate or else why make something that could be used against the initiate if they leave the coven prematurely?  An even odder scenario (one which should probably never occur) is when the initiate has no prior knowledge or understanding of the measure or what it symbolizes and are thus entering into a ‘contractual’ agreement without being made fully aware of the terms and conditions that they are agreeing to.  I suppose this particular example is much like the old tale of someone signing a pact with the Devil at the crossroads in exchange for power, money, and success.  They know what they want, but do they actually fully realize the cost of their actions? Probably not.

Unfortunately though, the practice of taking a witch’s measure is very common across the scope of modern witchcraft, specifically in British Traditional Wicca (BTW), but I imagine many eclectic and perhaps even some Traditional Witchcraft (TW) groups also practice and apply this technique, but in TW they tend to refer to the measure as the cord instead.  However, some groups return the measure to the initiate at some point during their magickal career while some do not.

Ironically though, in BTW one may not be considered a witch unless they’ve been initiated (this is an old argument or perhaps a dead one in today’s world), but if a talisman is made of their person to be held as a means of control then how much of a witch could any initiate truly be if their measure has been taken and kept by a separate party?

I suppose a deeper response to that question would entirely depend on just where one thinks their power lies?  Where is one’s ‘witchiness’ rooted?  If one views their initiation as the start of their path as a witch, then if their measure was taken the presence of that reality may weigh upon them at times especially if they leave their coven prematurely, but if one feels that their path as a witch was something that they have always harbored then the idea of having their measure taken may not weigh upon them as much and it may instead be viewed as a mild inconvenience, one which can be dealt with if needed.

Dealt with how?  Despite being a physical item, the influence or attachment to the measure can be diluted or completely severed.   One way is to get help from a friendly neighboring coven as they may be willing to help sever any magickal ties that may still be present.  Or if there is no neighboring coven, a cutting ritual can also be performed, a ritual cleansing bath can be utilized, and even the goddess Morrigan can be consulted for help in such matters as personal sovereignty is one of her many specialties.  A final way, but one which most would probably choose to avoid (and is not recommended, but which is referenced here for simple acknowledgement), is utilizing the connection to the measure for one’s own needs.  Most people do not realize that the connection to the person inherent in the measure is two-way, and serves just as much as a connection to the possessor of the measure as the measure does to the individual witch.  In this sense the measure functions as a kind of Horcrux.  -Did I just make a Harry Potter reference? Yes. Yes, I did.-  Of course, the primary concern is the measure being used against the witch, so I encourage people to play nice in this regards and to treat the measure with a mutual respect for what its creation embodied, that being a pact of trust.

So, how does all this relate to the idea of sovereignty in witchcraft?  In regards to many modern forms of witchcraft, besides the creation of the measure, to become initiated does mean the loss of one’s personal sovereignty to some extent.  To become a part of a group does mean losing a part of your individuality and even a portion of your freedom as is usually the case when joining a group.  The taking of oaths to abide by certain practices and adopt certain policies is a practice rooted in assimilation and is a form of personal binding and restriction, all of which is disabling to a degree.  Even an alleged “autonomous” witch -a third degree witch in BTW- is not really granted their full sovereignty because for them to continue to function and be in good standing with the community that they have been initiated into, they still have to abide by certain expectations and rules depending on the situation or they risk expulsion or at the very least being looked down upon. So, just because an initiated witch did their time and became autonomous, does not necessarily mean that they can butter their bread however they please.  They will always be under the foot of their initiator and the peer pressure of the tradition based status quo unless they choose to move away from the community.

We are now more than a decade into the 21st century and we are entering a time where the ‘old ways’ of early 20th century witchcraft are no longer reflecting the needs and values of the community and have grown out of fashion, an issue touched upon by Peter Dybing.  It’s important for an individual to consider the role of initiation in today’s world.  In the ‘beginning’ some 60-70 years ago, initiation was pretty much the only way to learn about witchcraft (with the exception of existing folk practices, customs, or family traditions), now that is no longer the case.  What we need are new modes and methods that reflect who we are and where we are in the world.  There is enough material in print at this time that a sincere group of people, can create some wonderful and fresh approaches to working witchcraft in a spiritual and religious context that resolve the issues found in many of the current traditions and I encourage those of you who have been initiated into one of these traditions to consider what it is you are preserving and why?  And I urge those who have yet to become initiated to do more reading and consider what was discussed in this article before entering into such a situation.

_______________________________________________________________________

Sources

  • The Witch Book, by Raymond Buckland
  • Wicca, by Vivianne Crowley
  • A Witches’ Bible, by Janet and Stewart Farrar
  • Witchcraft and the Book of Shadows – Gerald B. Gardner, edited and compiled by A. R. Naylor
  • A Grimoire For Modern Cunningfolk, by Peter Paddon

15 Comments

Lloyd Hargrove · November 29, 2014 at 9:06 pm

Thoughtful and well written as usual, Chris. It almost sounds like you lean towards a self-initiation kind of thing which has long been recognised by certain organizations offering correspondence course instructions. I suspect the “measurement” thing does grow increasingly moot as any true progression is made. Again, food for thought.

    Chris Orapello · November 29, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Not entirely. To me the idea of initiation in any context of modern witchcraft comes directly from Freemasonry so the practice in modern witchcraft to me has become very out of place and silly in many ways. Mind you, my own initiation as a Gardnerian was a memorable experience, however at the same time it was not all that necessary in the grand scheme of things. This article was more of a criticism for the idea behind and the act of creating the measure and how its role actually compromises the witch and their own magical practice and life in many ways. It’s a very threatening thing and not one founded/based on love or trust. It’s simply an insurance policy backed by a magickally based threat. Also, much of the practices associated with modern witchcraft need to be changed in my opinion and in some cases eliminated all together.

Kate G · November 30, 2014 at 3:19 pm

If initiation is “not all that necessary” then it’s not being done right.

Initiation, whatever form it takes, is intended to bring about (or be the direct catalyst to bring about) a change of consciousness of the initiate. And that’s not a light thing. A change in consciousness is not just being privy to some new information, or feeling high (on the group’s energy), or anything that most “initiates” have ever experienced. A change in consciousness is profound and I’m not convinced many “initiatory” systems ever achieve that.

    Chris Orapello · December 1, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    I don’t believe initiation is necessary to make someone a witch. That is what I meant. The ritual of initiation in British Traditional Wicca is completely derived and adopted from Freemasonry and serves mostly the same function, being a ritual performed to “bring someone into the fold” as they say. To make them a member. It’s an experience to have. A rite of passage. The mystical extras that one may experience are simply a benefit. Arguing over who is doing something right implies that there is a perfect tried and true standard somewhere and the last I’ve heard, there’s plenty of bickering in the BTW community over “how to do things right.” Personally, I think they need to either drop all of their masonic rooted influences or learn how to keep there ritual in line.

Alder Lyncurium · December 2, 2014 at 11:11 am

While I don’t usually like to dismiss a person arguments by its lack of experience on the matter (I consider it a simple logical fallacy), I would make an exception here, only because the author seems to assume to understand the purpose behind the initiatory ritual.
The purpose of the ritual it is most definitely not to represent or symbolise all those aspects which are to be found in the to-be witch.
If that was the case, a bound person would definitely be a very bad symbol of a self-governing person. The same goes with blindfolds, oaths, or basically a 99% of the ritual.
The initiation is a mystical experience. The postulant undegoes certain processes, and one of them is the Ordeal, which is found not just in Freemasonry, but in many other mystery cults. I recommend a deep reading about the different tantric sects, they are fascinating!
You mention that the measure doesn’t really go with perfect love and perfect trust. However, that’s if we put the focus on the group not trusting the initiate. If we turn it around, we can see it as a proof of the trust of the initiate in the group, and the fact that they won’t use it.
The coven, on the other hand, is trusting the new initiates with its scerets, indetities, meeting places and a long etc… Therefore, trust goes both ways.
It has to be mentioned that many lines give the measures back after initiation, and many other at 3*.

I won’t comment on ‘The Laws’ simply because most of them are not followed. They were a clear later addition.

It is a shame, because the article could have been a great one if it topic had not been instrumentalised to server a personal dislike (in this acase towards the need of initiation in Traditional Wicca).

Nevertheless, I see no purpose on criticising the activities of a group in which their members seems to be totally fine with them. I would understand an article of that kind coming from someone who has gone through the experience, but not in this case.

Regards,

Alder

    Alder Lyncurium · December 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

    P.D.: Reading the comment above I have to correct myself about the experience bit. Which makes it even more fascinating.
    Since you have undergone the proccess, do you know feel that you have no soverignity as a witch? Did you actually feel governed and controlled by your coven?

    Also, it’s quite interesting that you have mentioned the binding of hands, but I would suppose that those cords didn’t stay there forever. I would also assume that if binding has a meaning, unbinding them does as well.

    Regarding authonomy, I must say I am a bit puzzled. Expulsion, from what?
    Once a witch, always a witch. There’s no ‘rule’ against that. One can definitely kick someone out of a group, but the person is free to join another one anytime; at least here in Europe.

    Chris Orapello · December 2, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Alder, I don’t want to seem as if I am ignoring your comments, but I feel that I addressed most of your inquiries in the article. However, after leaving the coven I was initiated into, I had some need to cut off my connection to them. I only think some of a person’s sovereignty gets compromised in regards to a BTW initiation due to the taking of the measure because the initiate is allowing the coven to create an item to keep of them, that can be used against them if the coven or the HPS and HP see fit to do so.

    In the states joining another group can be tricky only because you’re often required to give a reference and that could be problematic depending on one’s former HPS or HP. Generally speaking, joining another coven shouldn’t be difficult.

    Alder Lyncurium · December 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Yes, I have read the article, and still, I cannot understand the feelings or views you poser there. At least, they have no resemblance whatsoever with my Gardnerian training – it has all been about encouragement and trust.
    Regarding the measure, I still don’t see it as a big deal. To be honest, the coven holds deeper aspects of myself that could be quite more harmful used against me – I have shared very private and spiritual moments with them.
    I am just sorry that that was your experience. I only hope that other witches will always think twice before joining a group (and, needless to say, always verifing any lineage claims!! :D)
    Regards,
    Alder

Fetch · December 6, 2014 at 9:31 am

In my lineage, the measure as well as the initiatory ritual itself are regarded as metaphors and we hold our metaphors lightly. Initiations are human-level acknowledgements of spiritual events that we believe have already happened. The same holds true for elevations. So in other words, in an initiation ritual, we are saying that the candidate has already become a witch and we are making the statement. While some covens initiate at the beginning, most I know do so only after a period of dedication during which both the candidate and coven get to see how each fits the other.

Our training program stresses self actualization above all else. People receive their measures back at 3rd Degree. Those that remain behind when others leave (as some inevitably do) aren’t seen as having any real power over the individual (remember, they’re metaphors).

    Chris Orapello · December 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    What lineage would that be Fetch? The measure being viewed as a metaphor would be something else entirely.

Ruby · December 29, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Do you have an opinion regarding the possible situation in which an initiate receives their own measure back and wishes to destroy it?

    Chris Orapello · December 29, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    No. It is theirs to do with as they wish. I wouldn’t think that them destroying their own measure would matter all that much, but I think it would be the most appropriate thing to do.

Waning Gibbous Moon · June 16, 2015 at 8:54 pm

Well, I’m a little late to the party, but I’ll throw my two cents worth in. All initiations suffer from the same defect, namely, they are a form of external validation. For acceptance into a group that’s fine — usually. But when it comes to personal development, they miss the point. Personal power cannot be bestow or transferred or granted. It’s like exercise, eating right, or meditation: you have to do it yourself. All too often, the degree system does nothing but inflate egos.

    Chris Orapello · August 1, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Better late than never I say, as I too am late in replying to you! Thank you for your thoughts on the matter. I agree. 🙂

widdershins128 · February 11, 2019 at 7:28 am

I’m glad to have found this article.
I agree entirely with it, because it just depicts what I’ve experienced with Wicca.
My critisism isn’t just directed at the cord, but continues far beyond that.

When I got in touch with Wicca many years ago, I was searching for a religion, and back then, I believed to have found this in Gardnerian Wicca.
I still believe the theological background of Wicca is valuable (though it isn’t longer mine), but I criticize its structure and organization.
To understand this, one should recall the origins of Wicca, the 1950s in Great Britain. Authoritarian education was part of society and I’m convinced the roles of the High priest/ess are representative of socialization at that time. But now we have 2019 and time and society have changed.

Gardnerian Wicca (as I have experienced it) consist of people who invest a lot of time prying into affairs which are not their business. For instance, saying the practice (and/or initiations rituals) of other coven are wrong or that person X is “not valid” or that person Y committed a gaffe again.
(As if that would be the reason why they chose Wicca as their religion).

They have a global network and great care must be taken what you say/write (and to whom), otherwise you’re in danger of stigmatization and slur on reputation.
The truth is that it isn’t just possible to say or write what you think, as long as you are part of the “system”.

Once your reputation is damaged, it’s very difficult to get rid of it, because it isn’t easily possible to change the coven. Of course it is possible to leave, but if the (ex) High priest/ess wants to put obstacles in your way, she can denigrate you to the potential new coven, in order that they get the “proper picture” of you.

In my opinion these grown structures resemble a sect (much the same as Scientology) where people are controlled, bullied, manipulated by the so-called High Priestesses.

I understand that every religion/tradition has certain rules, but in my opinion it is here about a parallel system of justice, where democratic rights and human dignity are unimportant. Self-responsibility and sovereignty are unwished-for (all the more if you are 1st degree, and even a 3rd degree with an independent coven is not entirely free).

As things stand today I’m horrified to see that (supposed) grown-up people are willing to do all these things, just for a certain Wiccan degree or membership in a cult.

This and others reasons led me turn my back on Wicca and today I’m happy to practice on my own, without control, pressure and manipulation. I’m not saying that each individual acts as described, but I’m just writing over my experiences.

Maybe my post might sound somewhat confusing, but those who already made (bad) experience with Wicca will know what I mean.

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