Declaring Yourself a Pagan
The first step to honoring your Pagan beliefs is declaring yourself a member of the religion or one of its branches. Before you can explain your beliefs to others, you must understand them yourself. You also need to recognize this change in your life, and you may find the transition to Neo-Paganism a long and hard road to walk, especially if you were raised in a particularly conservative religious or cultural tradition.
Initiation is a good way to recognize and declare your beliefs both internally and externally. If you choose self-initiation, you make the declaration to yourself, the elements, and the gods. If you choose a formal initiation with a coven, kindred, or grove, then the declaration is public as well as private.
For some time, the concept of self-initiation was controversial in the Pagan community. Members of formal traditions didn't consider self-initiations valid and only recognized those that came from covens, groves, or elders with a verifiable lineage. With the rise of solitary practitioners, self-initiation has become more accepted within the larger community.
Self-initiation, also known as self-dedication, is the act of declaring yourself a Pagan in some sort of ceremony without the assistance of a teacher or elder. Your self-initiation can take place whenever you are ready. It might follow a period of personal study, or you can dedicate yourself to your new path before you embark on your studies.
Before you initiate or dedicate yourself, make sure that you are fully committed to becoming a Pagan. Once you are ready, create a self-initiation ritual. You can find one in a book, but you might find it more powerful if you write it yourself and use the rituals in books as templates. The ritual can be as long or as short, as formal or informal, as you like. As you plan your self-initiation ceremony, consider the following elements:
Location: Choose a location that is sacred to you, whether it's a beach or a meadow. You can also hold the ceremony before a specially decorated altar in your home.
Date: The new moon, full moon, or Imbolc are most ideal.
Declaration: Your ritual should include your intent—accepting a new faith.
Personal Deities: You should announce your decision to your personal deities, or the gods in general.
New Name: If you wish to take a new Pagan name, you should announce it during the initiation.
Anointment: Anoint yourself with oil as a sign of your conversion.
Oath: Promise to honor your new beliefs regularly.
If you are particularly poetic, you can write beautiful words to accompany each declaration. If you can't even rhyme two words together, then speak from the heart, saying whatever feels appropriate to you. You could also burn incense or anointed candles, or cast a circle and call the quarters if you feel so moved and it fits with the tradition you've chosen.
If you've formed a working group of uninitiated friends, you could perform a round-robin initiation. Standing in a circle, each member initiates the member to his or her right until all are initiated. This ritual can also be used to formally dedicate a new working group.
A formal initiation is one you receive through a coven, grove, or kindred once you've been accepted into it. Initiation usually follows some period of training and study based on the group's recommended materials and methods. The initiation takes place on a formal occasion and follows the traditional framework established by the group. A formal initiation usually includes the following elements:
Introduction to the group
Vows to uphold the group's traditions and beliefs
A vow of secrecy (optional)
Being welcomed to the group
In some traditions, the challenge consists of physical binding and presentation to the group, followed by a vocal challenge asking if you fully understand what you're doing and come to the group with pure intent and of your free will. Other groups may offer some sort of challenge in meditation.