There are parts of the Wiccan ceremonies which clearly do not originate within Freemasonry, but for which we must look further back into history and to other sources. The second degree ceremony contains in essence the Sumerian myth of the descent of the goddess Inanna into the underworld, but in an adapted form. Gardner published a version of this in his book Witchcraft Today in which he referred to it as the “Myth of Witchcraft” and made no reference to it being used for an initiation. He seemed to think that the story may have originated from that of Ishtar or Siva, but went on to say that he thought it might be Celtic.
In his book Witchcraft and the Black Art, first published in 1920, Wickwar made a reference which may be significant to those familiar with the second degree initiation ceremony, which at its core contains the apostolic succession rites of one initiate to another, giving the candidate undergoing the elevation the right to initiate others into the first degree of the Wiccan tradition:
“The actual initiation into the mysteries of witchcraft must have been an exciting experience … and then the presiding Master of the Ceremonies or Chief Devil would proceed with the service as follows: Placing one hand on the crown of the head of the candidate and the other on the sole of the foot, he would declare that from now henceforward all that was betwixt and between his two hands - body and soul - were at the Devil’s service.”
Traditionally when a person is initiated into the Wiccan tradition it is as a member of a coven. The word coven is one which Murray used in her work, referring to it in The God of the Witches.:
“The word coven was used both in England and Scotland to designate a band of people of both sexes, who were always in close attendance to their god, who went to all the meetings, large or small, who performed the ceremonies either alone or in company with the Grandmaster, and who were conspicuous in the ritual.”
This is an interesting point to keep in mind as it implies the predominance of men as the leaders of groups of witches working together, rather than women, which is more often found in contemporary covens today. We find a reference to this term in Pitcairn’s Criminal Trial of Scotland (1662) saying:
“Ther wold sometimes meat a Coeven, and in ilk Coeven ther is threttein persones”
The tools are a pertinent part of the tradition of Wicca, being both symbolic and functional – some of the tools play a vital role in the majority of ceremonies, whereas others are only used in some specific instances. In the Wiccan tradition there are eight key tools, excluding the chalice. These eight tools are presented as part of the first degree initiation all initiates experience.
Interestingly the first mention made by Gerald Gardner to the presentation of the tools is in his novel, High Magic’s Aid when the character of the high priestess, Morven, presents six of the tools to the hero Jan during his initiation, starting the presentation by saying:
“…’Now I present thee with the working tools of a witch.’…”
The tools included in this fictitious initiation ceremony were the magick sword, the athame, the white handled knife, censer of incense, the scourge and the cords. Here we find an absence of the pentacle, the wand and the chalice, which although it may seem to be significant may just be poetic license or a deliberate blind, as of course this is a work of fiction containing identifiable elements rather than an account of a real initiation!
<1> The Religion of Babylonia & Assyria, Jastrow, 1893, also quoted in The Book of Witches, Hueffer, 1908
<2> An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft: With Observations Upon Matters of Fact, Hutchinson, 1718
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.