According to Starhawk, global activist and one of the most well-known proponents of the Wiccan religion world-wide, the earth-based wicca has experienced a resurgence globally over the past twenty years. Groups of practitioners, or covens, may be led by a high priestess. Attaining this honor usually takes years of study and practice, after which the practitioner be named high priestess at an initiation ceremony. As there are no doctorates or standards for becoming a Wiccan high priestess or priest, some practitioners simply choose to declare themselves, others follow the initiate tradition of study and practice followed by a formal ceremony. The title of high priestess may also be passed down from one coven member to another.
Before becoming high priestess, a woman may spend a significant amount of time in training, either as a solitary practitioner, as a coven member, or as an apprentice. The responsibilities of the high priestess are to guide the coven, and to continue in her own education and spiritual development while doing so. Like a teacher of any subject, she must gain knowledge that she can pass on to her coven sisters, and like any other position of responsibility, she must develop skills to guide and manage the coven. Her sacred education may consist of reading, writing a grimoire or personal book of magic, working with teachers and guides, as well as personal and group spiritual practices.
In "The Spiral Dance," Starhawk describes a coven as the "Witch's support group". It is meant to be a place of safety where women practicing Wicca can learn, train, grow spiritually and commune with others who share their particular beliefs and a bond of trust. Covens come together in many different ways, often gathered together by a woman who has attained the status of high priestess, or a group of women may put a coven together and elect a high priestess. Generally, a ceremony of acknowledgment of the woman who will lead the group takes place when a decision is made to come together as a formal coven.
Preparing for the Ceremony
Prior to the ceremony, a space is selected that may be considered sacred or special to the coven. Coven members may be selected to provide spiritual readings, and a mistress of ceremonies may be appointed to lead the group through the event. An altar is prepared, upon which representation of the five elements, earth, air, fire, water and spirit, are placed. Coven members may also choose to present the prospective high priestess with gifts or remembrances, which will also be placed on or near the alter. A scared path to the area may be erected. This could be as simple as a candle-lined walk way, or some type of constructed arch. An offering table may be placed nearby and used to place gifts to honor ancestors, gods and goddesses and spiritual beings. Prior to the ceremony, coven members may help the prospective high priestess dress in sacred garments.
The Initiation Ceremony
Coven members enter the space to be used for the ceremony and a sacred fire is lit at its center. A circle is cast and deities and spiritual guides are called in. The prospective high priestess takes her place at the altar. Coven members may present her with readings, advice and encouragement. She may be asked to respond to a series of questions in regard to her knowledge, beliefs, practices and commitment to the coven. The prospective high priestess may have prepared messages for each coven member. She walks around the circle, delivering each message personally, receiving a kiss from each as acknowledgement. A communal cup of wine may also be shared around the circle. It is then traditional for a high priestess to receive a silver ring when appointed to lead a coven. By accepting the ring, the high priestess accepts responsibility for leadership of the coven. After the ceremony the circle is closed. Food and drink may then be shared with coven members and invited guests.
- The Spiral Dance, A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess; Starhawk
- wiccantogether.com: How do you become a High Priest or High Priestess?
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