In an ongoing effort to clear up some misconceptions within the wider eclectic Wiccan community, we’d like to describe the traditional idea of a year and a day which is traditionally used to describe the time spent as a seeker, before initiation. Before we get into describing time periods and the process of properly approaching the religion known as Wicca, we should begin by setting some definitions for words that we are about to use. If you are a frequent reader of this blog (which is impossible, because we hardly ever post here), you’ll notice that we’ve mentioned a time or ten that eclectic Wiccans and traditional Wiccans are all speaking English, but hardly ever mean the same thing when they use many words.
Seeker: n. One that seeks: a seeker of the truth.
The question that the above definition should prompt is: what truth is one seeking? Let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion (monologue, really), that one is seeking the modern religion of Wicca. How does one go about seeking out the truth of Wicca? Well, the normal response of many people would be, “Why not ask a Wiccan?” Unfortunately, not everyone is normal. In fact, when it comes to those interested in Wicca, normal is, well, abnormal.
An unfortunate response to this question would be “Wicca is something you find within yourself.” While that is at most partially true, we posit that the larger truth is that Wicca is something within which you find yourself. And not just after being initiated, because then you find yourself in a Wiccan coven. We mean that the practice of witchcraft that is espoused by Wicca should be serving that age old and ultimate of classical pagan maxims: Know Thyself.
We digress; what is seeking? What is the traditional manner in which one undergoes this idea of “a year and a day?” Well, we hate to have to inform you (that’s a lie; we delight in it) that there is a word missing from this phrase. The true phrase is “At least a year and a day.” Do you see what we did there? We implied that there is a longer period of time in which people seek Wicca. We also indicated that this time has no set number, only that it lasts longer than a year. The whole “and a day” part means more “one year minimum” and less “exactly 366 days.”
Let us tell you a story about the history of Wicca. Long, long ago when the sun was newly formed and the planet had burst into life, there was the 1960s. I know, I know, this was before most of you were born, and if you remember it, you’re nearing death every day (you’re nearing death every day if you don’t remember it too, it’s just one of those things involved in being alive). In this Jurassic or Cretaceous or whatever period referred to as the 1960s, the very first Wiccan, Raymond Buckland, came to the pinnacle of the western world, the-flower powered United States of America. (Don’t come at us right now CVW people. No one knows when you showed up or who you showed up as, so we’re claiming first dibs on North America.) The fashion was awful, the hair was huge, and in stark relation to the bunch of stuff we just made up, the truth is that once Uncle Bucky got here (before his big blue book, even), he set up a Wiccan coven, and it was the only Wiccan coven in the entire USA.
Now, we were not in Ray’s coven, not in the individual sense, so we don’t know how exactly it operated. But since we’re definitely downline from it and got the bulk of our practice from that coven and its subsequent daughter and granddaughter covens, we can speak with some extremely limited authority on how things generally went during its tenure in New York and its daughter coven’s tenure on Long Island, and their daughter covens all over the eastern and western United States.
Covens are made of people witches. Wiccan covens are made of witches that are turned into Wiccans. What is the process of being turned into a Wiccan? Well, if you study hard and look for the right people, you may one day find out. But in this time of the 1960s and the 1970s, and hell, even today in the 2010s, people had to be brought into a coven. You don’t just show up accept the Goddess as your personal Lord and Savior in your heart and POOF, you’re a Wiccan and you get to come to our coven. Bringing people into the Craft is something that is never should never be undertaken lightly. You don’t just initiate anyone who walks slowly enough across your lawn. You’ll never get quality people that way. So there has to be a “getting to know you” period. Well, since people are all different, how can we determine a good time period for everyone to “get to know each other?”
We can do this by setting an open ended time period and giving it a minimum of a year and a day. And that is precisely what Wicca did. It espoused the idea that you never initiate anyone you haven’t known for at least a year. It was a sort of safety mechanism built in to keep covens from bringing in people they didn’t know well enough and to give the seeker enough time to get to know the coven and the coven enough time to get to know the seeker and for everyone to agree that it would be a good fit.
Sometimes it’s not a good fit. You may get along great with 4 out of 5 members of a coven, but for some reason that last person just rubs you the wrong way. That means you’re not a good fit for the coven. The coven is a group mind, a whole being, and if you don’t mesh with every part of it, there will be problems bringing you into that group mind. After a year, we like to think we’ll be able to adequately evaluate the whole situation and make a decision about initiation. Most people spend far more than a year and a day as a seeker. Some spend it as a dedicant to a coven, in an outer court. Some just happen to be longtime friends of the people running the coven and years later decide they’d like to take the plunge, and they get brought in. In this case, there’s been a long time for everyone to get to know each other and the decision can be made quite easily.
So where did this idea come from that a year and a day is exactly the amount of time it takes to become a Wiccan? Who spawned this idea that dedication is a thing where you spend a year and a day dedicated to studying Wicca by yourself? People. That’s who. People who didn’t know that the year and a day was a mechanism specific to covens and seekers evaluating each other. If you lived in rural Louisiana in the 1970s and read about Wicca in newspapers and magazines and wanted to become one, you would have needed to spend a lot of money traveling to New York or California or Kentucky (or Boston, because Alexandrians are Wiccans too), because that was where most of the Wiccans were at that point.
If that was not an option, as it likely wasn’t, then what was one to do? Well, easy! One could just decide that a year and a day is a great way to show dedication and prove that one is a Wiccan, because one read it on the internet. In the 70s. Makes total sense. This idea, in truth, didn’t really arise until the advent of the internet, when Wicca was written about widely both in print and online, and funneled out for mass consumption by organizations like the Llewellyn publishing house.
Much like the concept that the Book of Shadows is every witch’s personal grimoire and not the name Gardner gave to his working grimoire which held the rites of the Gods of the Wica that was handed down to his initiates, those outside of Wicca who desired entry but could not attain it (for many very legitimate, understandable, and not-their-fault reasons) decided to lift and switch another facet of our craft to suit their needs, which was entry into the cult from the outside, with no assistance or contact with actual priests of the religion.
Presently, one can find an endless array of misinformed people telling each other that a year and a day is everything from the proper solitary dedication period to how long one needs to wear white in order to start a Wiccan coven to the Nigerian Orisa Yemaya. Some appropriations of it are more obviously ludicrous than others. The fact remains though, and the point of this article, is that a year and a day is a minimum, not a solid number of semesters after which one gets a degree. If you really wish to seek entry into the Craft of the Wise (that’s fancy talk for Wicca), you should expect to spend more than just that minimum getting to know you period in forming what will ideally become a lifelong connection to your potential spiritual family and magical current.
Questions? Comments? Rants? Grammar Nazi crackdowns? Leave us a comment, and make it interesting.