It is common for us to undertake a new endevor by first learning about it. This is good, healthy, and useful... But how do we get from studying to practicing?
Reading a book on electricity does not make one an electrician. In the same way, reading a book on wicca doesn't make one a wiccan. A person could read a dozen books on wicca and KNOW all the right answers to the right questions about wicca, and not be a wiccan....
Why? Because being wiccan is more. A wiccan PRACTICES wicca. They cast circles, and send out energy and connect and speak with the gods and nature. They have located thier inner energy and learned to harness it. They base what they do, not only what they have read, and seen, but on what they have experienced.
A fan of football may now all the rules of the game, know a good play from a bad one, and can point out minute details about the game. However, KNOWING the game does not make you a football player... until you put on the gear, and get out of the feild... you are still "just a fan". Are you a wiccan, or a fan of wicca?
It is OK to start out by just studying. I would be scared to death if a student of electricity decided "I am an electrician" after chapter one, and tried to wire my house...
You have to start by learning. Many people study for a year or more before ever truly practicing wicca. You need to learn, to be able to build the confidence to begin. You are on the path to being a wiccan. Then, you start simple, with exercises to begin learning about energy, grounding, channeling etc. You can learn to "feel" energy.
When you start doing, you are on the path to becoming a "real wiccan". Eventually you can ground, raise, and direct energy, and erect a ritual circle. There is a lot of discussion about the "right way" to cast a circle. Personally I feel that a circle is basicly cast the same way... you draw a energetic border around yourself or your space, shaped like a dome/sphere... HOW it is done is based on preference or tradition.
When you are capable of doing this, you are nearly there... you are nearly a fully functioning wiccan. You are a wiccan when you utterly and truly BELIEVE, and are capable of doing so with a thourough understanding of what wicca is. It is a realization.
In traditions which lay a heavy emphasis on initiation, the process of becoming a wiccan is aided through a manufactured experience by the coven or group. They transfer energy to you, and lead you through a process of events that creates psychological change in most people. Many religions have types of initiations, Baptisms, coming of age ceremonies, spirit quests... all send you through a process, from which you are supposed to come out changed.
HOWEVER, the change MUST occur internally. Sometimes it is immediate, other times it is latent. An in-person initiation can NOT create the life-changing result one expects... sometimes you have to find it later.
Can one be self-initiated? Yes and no. It is difficult to fabricate an experience for yourself that will facilitate real inner change. Not impossible... but it is like teaching yourself how to build a house, without ever having anyone show you how to swing a hammer, use a saw, or use a measuring tape. I feel that sometimes initiations just "happen". An experience will suddenly and permanently change you for life, and it is a gift from the gods. One moment you are lost, and the next you are found. It can be simple, or complex... But in essence these are spiritual epiphanies, and hard to replicate.
Don't Be disheartened though! I feel that these will happen exactly when you need them... if you are diligent and practice often! By doing rituals that speak to your soul, and connecting with your energy, and nature, and calling out to the gods, you create a primed atmosphere to have personal, deep, meaningful, life changing experiences.
A lot of people are confused... Where do we go after we have begun learning? These are my steps to developing a strong spiritual connection..
1. Begin to meditate. It is the ultimate tool in learning how to relax, focus, and enter into trance. All over the world religions use various methods to enter into trance when they use magic. Meditation happens to be one of the safest and easiest ways. I personally feel that if everyone worldwide meditated for 10 minutes everyday, we would have a happier, more peaceful, healthier world.
2. Learn something new every day. Even if it is small, simple things... an active mind that is seeking new knowlege is spending more time on growth, and less on dissinigration. Learn something new, but don't look to the "news"... which has conditioned us to focus on the negative, dis-integrative parts of the world. Instead, learn about an ancient culture through archeology and history, or learn about an animal you feel connected to, or study the magic of fractal mathematics. Study other religious philosophies to find commonality and diversity, and learn to think critically, but not negatively. People who are lifelong learners are wiser, more intellegent, better rounded, and more conscious. Even better if you learn and then RE-APPLY your new knowledge to your real life!
3. Express your faith. Every day do something simple and sincere. You could light a candle each day and do a chant to the gods, or a daily affirmation. Or go out on a walk each day and take note to take in the majesty of nature. Look for signs of wildlife, or gifts from the gods. Learn to let go of the rest of your life for a few moments and simple be one with nature. OR take a ritual bath each night, and go through the process of ritually cleansing yourself, relaxing, and reflecting on your spirituality. OR write letters to the divine in a journal each evening... reflect on each day and log anything you have had happen that you need help with, or recognize the daily blessings granted in our lives. The point of expressing your faith, is that you go from passive observer to active practitioner. Dedicated wiccans aren't wiccan sometimes, they are wiccan every day, from morning till evening, 365 days a year. Our faith guides all facets of our lives, and by taking the step of "daily practice" you draw that active spiritual energy into your life.
4. Connect with your inner energy. Learn about Grounding and Centering, Raising and Directing energy, and Drawing energy. But, don't stop there. Do exercises until you truly can feel and understand you energy. Knowing about it is not enough, you have to USE it. You could start sheilding each day, or pour energy into your houseplants, or food. The more you use your energy, the stronger your connection will become.
5. Connect with the elements IN REAL LIFE. Connect with earth by walking barefoot on the soil and grass, lay down on the ground and feel it's stable, cool energy and spirit. Go to a river stream of the ocean and bath in those waters and feel the pulse of their ebb and flow. Feel how they gently carve the world and connect us. Spend time with your arms outstretched and feel the creative, joyous, empowering energy of the wind. Feel the sheer power of it during a windstorm! Last, soak up the sun, the natural emblem of fire in our sky. Build a bonfire and watch true beauty of the flame, how it can be warm and loving, or destructive and terrible, all at once. Why must you know the elements? Because the are the forces of nature that we use in ritual, and they are the same forces that shape our existence.
6. Connect with your gods. This part of theology is one of the most argued about. Are all gods one, or not... I have discussed this elsewhere... so I won't say here. If you don't believe in them, skip the following... Irregardless of what you believe, begin calling out to the gods. It may not seem at first like they are there, but be patient. Wait for their response; it could be a feeling, a lucky break, an odd occurrence, or more. If you feel a god or goddess has connected to you, then begin to pray to them. I cannot tell you how many answered prayers I have had... more than I deserve perhaps.
7. Rinse and Repeat. Eventually you will feel comfortable enough to cast a circle and start doing monthly or bi-monthly rituals. If you feel like you MIGHT be ready, but are nervous, go ahead and try. We learn best by doing. Even if you "mess" up , you will learn something. It is very difficult to cast a circle "wrong". There are plenty of different ways to cast a circle or do a ritual on the internet, in books, or through traditions. Eventually, if you try several different types of circle castings, you may craft your own, or decide to adapt one of your favorites. If you belong to a tradition. you may just stick with the circle casting technique taught through them. All is a matter of preference... What about initiation? Some trads require it, but if you are a solitary or eclectic... you may find that you eventually have a life-changing experience that gives you purpose and focus in life, directed by the gods, or collective unconscious of the universe; a REAL initiation. Even if you are a solitary, you may choose to undergo a formal initiation at some point in your life. That is ok. People who are "pre-initiates" are still real valid wiccans, if they practice, believe, and study. Keep Meditating, keep connecting, keep practicing, keep studying...
My wicca, doesn't always look the same as everyone elses... Sometimes it is more "lax" - sometimes less. One person will practice wicca with a heavy dose of Magic (with or without a K)... Some wiccans celebrate every Sabbat, Esbat, Eclipse, and celestial occurrence with a full scale ritual. Some wiccans only pull out the "ole' witchy gear" in dire circumstances. There are wiccans who live in rural forested natural paradises, some live in highly populated cultural epicenters. I have met plenty of "tree hugger" style wiccans, and even some that don't like being outdoors much... I have met a ton of seekers that call themselves wiccans, but don't practice, and a few wiccans that aren't sure of themselves... There are wiccans who have tons of witchy gear, altars crowded with "artefacts" and who proudly display a pentacle on thier chest every wear they go. There are also wiccans who look like "everyone else"... soccer moms, business people, nurses, doctors, teachers, mechanics.
The separation of wiccan and wiccan to be (in my opinion) is practice & belief. Learn, Know, Grow... If that is your mantra, you are well on your way... perhaps you are already there. If you know what I am talking about, spread it outward, teach others to find thier own inner growth. When the world needs changing, BE that change. When you are lost, search and you will be found. When you are confused, ask and you will find clarity. Always forward, never back. Dig Deeper, Learn More, Repeat.
Knowledge which is born in the heart, tempered with the mind, and applied in real life, because wisdom!