What is it? Why only third degrees are allowed to attend? Does it really confer more power and knowledge? Does it lead to illumination?
These are just some of the questions I will attempt to answer in this post.
Most people become initiates with the view to attain one day the Third degree and become coven leaders or competent practitioners in their own right. Some believe that it will bestow on them special powers and wisdom. But does it? We all start with a certain amount of knowledge. Over time this knowledge grows as part of our natural evolution as sentient beings. Practice and experience in performing rituals and visualisations over and over again open doors we knew nothing about. This process is often filled with awe and wonder as we discover new worlds, interact with different intelligences and develop latent talents. In an ideal world, a coven leader would be able to spot the progress made and encourage the initiate to share knowledge and experience with others, as well as to coach newer initiates. However, coven leadership is often fraught by human emotions and the needs of the ego which might induce resistance in letting go of power and even feel threatened by someone who may be naturally talented. It has to be said, that as in any other social context , a coven is not exempt from resentment, jealousy, gossip, conflict, bullying and unfairness. Anyone thinking that a High Priest or High Priestess are being above these negative feelings, might want to remove the wool over their eyes NOW.
Much as been written about warning signs of a dysfunctional coven by the late Isaac Bonewitz, however, my experience in various covens shows that the quality and effectiveness of training given will more likely depend on the leaders’ personal favourites and what they will be saying about you to other coven leaders they’re close friends with. In plain english, you’ll only get your 3* if the coven leader likes you and as in a serious relationship, begins to introduce you to other Elders, and THEY also think well of you. Nevermind your talents, nevermind you are committed, reliable and dedicated: they must want you in their inner circle. The inner circle is just a fancy word for clique. You’re either part of it or you ain’t. If this resonates with something you’re getting frustrated with, chances are your teachers are at best mediocrely competent and they fear you. Where there is fear, there is no trust. My advice is: do not trust them either. In magic, you should always be wary and alert to those who fear you, even if you do not consciously give them reason to. That’s because a fearful person can become paranoid and strike at you just because they see you as a threat.
Ignore advice and commands not to practice magic outside of the coven. You are a magical person, not a robot or a puppet held with strings. Ultimately, your magical development is in your hands. The more you practice, the stronger the bond with your inner contacts and the more doorways will open to you.
There are other factors that will determine whether you are likely to get your 3* or not, and this has nothing to do with competence. There is nothing spiritual about the coven leaders’ motives either. Actually, anything but. As it happened at the Temple of Stella Maris, where I was first trained, more apt and dedicated initiates were overlooked for 3* degree in favour of an individual who could barely and only clumsily cast circle, never helped in the preparations, knew hardly anything that couldn’t quote from a book, spoke broken english and often fell asleep during circle. What he had, which none of the rest could match, was prominent contacts which could promote the name of coven leaders in his native country. Yes, it’s unfair. And yes, I thought it was only an isolated case, but as I’ve found out by becoming part of this exclusive inner circle, practices as such are rather the norm. It is said that power corrupts and to the majority it does indeed, much to the integrity we look up our teachers for when we first come into circle. I have seen perfectly devoted and competent initiates being flatly turned down for 3* initiation in front of their coven peers for petty reasons or because the coven leader did not want to upset another Elder who had a dislike on this person. In one instance Maxine Sanders herself influenced the decision because the person in question had failed to remunerate her for some help she had insisted on giving, in spite this person had emphatically stated there was no need of and never agreed any payment for beforehand.
I often wondered what Bonewitz would have had to say about this. Anyway, Maxine made sure anyone in a position to give 3* would know of this gripe, not directly, but working through other members of the inner circle who are quite good at spreading gossip, and to my knowledge, this initiate is still having a hard time completing his training somewhere else. Moreover, the High Priest called family, friends and employers to out him as a witch. Unfortunately once one’s reputation is shred to pieces from ‘high above’ is unlikely to ever be restored, and ostracism awaits anyone who dares to argue and go against it.
So, does 3* degree bestow any special knowledge and wisdom above ordinary training? Speaking from direct experience yes, it does. First of all, it’s a magical operation and if done properly it should open the gates of perception wider, enabling a person to see far beyond what we call reality and its illusions. The setting of where this occurs changes from the mundane world at 1*, to the coven and tradition setting at 2* and onto the inner (in the magical sense) at 3*. It is at 3* that usually a well and proper ‘dark night of the soul’ ensues, when everything and everyone and all we have done so far is gathered before an allegorical tribunal and brought into question. It is the moment of truth when one’s highest ideals and integrity are grindingly put to the test. It is where we will choose to whom and what causes we will be loyal to and cast the principle upon which we’ll build the fortress of our future life. It is where all our understanding and knowledge accumulated so far will prove decisive in choosing what path of destiny we’ll take. It is judgement in life and it can be brutal.
On a more mundane level, people of the inner circle will begin to trickle on what else has been accumulated in the tradition. One will have to work hard for it too at networking and forging new friendships and then maintaining them. And often, this is where we might be facing hard decisions, sacrificing a principle or ideal for the sake of obtaining knowledge, which in some cases turns out either to be a personally made up ritual, or something that could have easily been found from other sources in books or the net.
All this raises another debate: do you really need Third Degree to be a witch?