Many covens and groups mark growth within their program using a set of degrees. Traditionally, at least in Wiccan covens, there is a set of three degrees. Elsewhere, you’ll see four or five degree systems, sometimes aligned with the elements, or other Pagan concepts. Other groups may align their degrees with the Kabbalistic Tree of life, or other mystic systems, giving them many more degrees to achieve. Each degree system is specific to a tradition or a coven. This means that a degree achieved within a coven or tradition only holds meaning within that group; it is meaningless in context to other groups or traditions.
I start with this statement, mainly because I have encountered seekers who have acquired a second or third degree in another tradition who expect that this will be honored when dedicating to the group I lead. Of course, it’s honored, meaning that we accept that you have this degree in XYZ Witchcraft. However, it doesn’t mean that a seeker can come into our tradition as a second or third degree. Since there are no ‘across the board’ requirements in regards to cross-traditional degrees, I don’t really know what knowledge or experience is expected of a second degree in XYZ Witchcraft. I know that it won’t align exactly with what our tradition’s degree program entails, as our degree program requires our tradition training. I am a third degree in the Twilight Wiccan tradition, but if I was to join another tradition or coven that isn’t Twilight, I would expect to begin at the beginning.
This being said, there is a general assumption of the following in regards to degrees, at least in the Wiccan or Wicca-influenced Pagan groups:
• Dedicant/ Neophyte- taking classes, probably in traditional concepts
• 1*- new to the tradition, probably new to Wicca/ Paganism, but has a working knowledge of concepts, tools, holidays, deity and magick
• 2*- has practiced many years, can lead a ritual in the tradition, probably working on Shadow work, specializing in one or two facets of Wicca/ Paganism, can teach concepts
• 3*- is able to lead a coven, channel deity, establish teaching programs, create transformative ritual, handle difficult group dynamics, is willing to help those who need teaching by either teaching them, or guiding them to other resources
The way a witch moves through a degree program will wildly vary from one group to the next. Some have clear, structured activities, while others have a mutable, personal approach. In the tradition of Twilight Wicca, a Dedicant takes structured classes, following a syllabus. If they complete all work asked of them, and they are a good fit for the coven, they will be allowed to initiate. At initiation, the witch receives her first degree. From first degree to second degree, the witch finds herself in a self-paced program, involving reading, writing, projects and exams, all meant to produce a well-rounded education. Once this has been completed, she will be elevated to second degree. Every initiate is expected to get to second degree- it’s not terribly difficult and can take less than a year to accomplish, depending on the witch’s background. Upon receive the second degree, if the witch wants to pursue the path of the high priestess, then she informs her high priestess of her desire of coven leadership- third degree studies. From second degree to third degree, the witch finds herself in personal sessions with the high priestess, if she already possesses strong core priestess skills (ritual leadership, organization, teaching). If the witch has challenges in regards to core priestess skills, the high priestess will work on resolving those first, before advancing to the more in-depth sessions. After all is completed, and the high priestess feels the witch is ready, she will be elevated to third degree, and hiving will be possible. This can take anywhere from one year to ten years, depending on the witch.
Most groups use something visual to denote degree levels. Some use different colored cords, sashes or stoles. Others use different robes, tattoos or jewelry. Some don’t use anything at all, really.
Having a clear training program involving degrees will result in clear expectations. Many covens and groups falter in their first year due to not having clear expectations communicated. Members of the group know what they need to accomplish in order to ‘move up’ in the coven. It also gives the witch the tools she needs to improve her witchy education and challenge herself. The caveat is to remember that just because you achieve a certain degree in one group or tradition doesn’t give you much bragging rights when seeking another group or tradition. It is an achievement, and once conferred, cannot be taken away, but a degree is non-transferable.