There are three grades or degrees in contemporary witchcraft. They are, in ascending order of importance:
1. Priest and Witch of the Great Goddess;
2. Witch Queen or, in the case of a male, Magus; and
3. High Priestess or High Priest.
The first degree:
In the first degree the candidate is led naked, blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back, into the “Circle of Power”. After various occult mutterings from the leader of the coven, the postulant receives the five-fold kiss (on feet, knees, genitals, breast and lips) and forty strokes of the scourge, and takes an oath of secrecy:
“I, X. . .., in the presence of the Mighty Ones do of my own free will and accord most solemnly swear that I will ever keep secret and never reveal the secrets of the Art except it be to a proper person, properly prepared, with a Circle such as this. And that I will never deny the secrets of the Art to such a person if he or she be vouched for by a Brother or Sister of the Art. All this I swear by my hopes of a future life mindful that my measure has been taken and may my magical weapons turn against me if I break this my solemn oath.”
It can safely be said that no oath has so often been broken as this one; for the “secrets of the Art” have been recorded in books, shown on television and described in the popular Press. Following the administration of the oath, the candidate is handed various implements, known as the “working tools of the Art”, and has their use explained to him.
For example, he is given the athame, a black-hilted knife, the design of which Crowley and Gardner took from the old textbook of magic known as the Key of Solomon, and told that with it he can “form all Magic Circles, dominate, enslave and punish all rebellious spirits and demons and persuade angels and good spirits”.
Finally, the candidate is informed that he is now “Priest and Witch of the Great Goddess”.
The second degree:
The second degree again incorporates scourging; the aspirant is asked whether he is willing to “suffer and be purified in order to learn”, and after he has answered in the affirmative duly receives forty strokes of the scourge. The leader of the coven then states that “in Witchcraft thou must ever give as thou receive, but triple”, and the candidate is instructed to administer 120 strokes of the scourge to the initiator.
These proceedings being concluded, the “legend of the Goddess” is then either read out aloud or, in some covens, acted as a mystery play. This “legend” is a variant on the classical myth of Persephone and concludes with the words:
“There are three great events in the life of Man; Love, Death and Resurrection in a new body. Magic rules them all. For to make Love perfect you must return at the same time and place as the loved one, remember the past and love again.”
At the end of the reading or play the aspirant is led around the Circle and it is proclaimed to the “Mighty Ones of the Elements” that a new Magus or Witch Queen has been consecrated.
The third degree:
The third degree is centred around ritual sexual intercourse in the Circle between the candidate and the initiator. The rite is of little interest except to voyeurs and in many covens it takes place in symbolic form only. When this latter course is followed, the magic knife (athame) is solemnly dipped into a chalice of wine and the onlookers are informed that “as is the Woman to Man so is the Cup to the Athame”.