Every now and then, I hear various eclectics throw around the phrase “a year and a day.” And to be honest, I somewhat cringe when I hear it. It’s one of those cases where they’ve taken a phrase that came out of Traditional Wicca, taken it somewhat (if not completely) out of its original context, and changed what it’s all about.
In the context most eclectics use it (and I suspect it can be traced back to some author somewhere, though I’m not sure which one), the idea is that one must study for a year and a day to become a Witch. It’s also often assumed that one must study at a certain degree for that amount of time when for a year and a day before you can move on to the degree. In either case, it’s not entirely correct.
First of all, “a year and a day” was not originally a hard and fast rule. In fact, I’m not sure it’s a hard and fast rule today, but more a “rule of thumb.” But before a certain time (sometime in the 1980’s, if I’ve pieced together my information correctly), it wasn’t even that. You see, back in the hay days of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and possibly even the 1970’s, it was not unheard of to initiate new Witches on the spot. It also wasn’t unheard of to Initiate new Witches into all three degrees in the same weekend. This was done for various reasons, all of which I doubt I’m even aware of. However, the basic reason boiled down to the fact that those who were doing these initiations felt it was the necessary, correct, and proper to do things at the time. (At the time, I believe it was primarily motivated by the feeling that it was necessary in order to ensure the survival of Wicca.)
At some point, the various High Priests, High Priestesses, and Elders slowly came to the conclusion — both individually and collectively — that this was not such a good idea anymore. They found that it didn’t give New Witches the chance to truly come to grips with the Mysteries they were being introduced to, nor were they getting well prepared to run their own covens before being thrust into the position of High Priest or High Priestess. In effect, they got “fly by the seat of your pants” style training. Also, as they felt that the survival and continued propagation of Wicca was now assured, they decided that it would be more appropriate to slow down the training process and give Initiates a chance to truly grow in the Mysteries before thrusting them to the third degree and all of the responsibilities it entails. So Witches, covens, lines, and traditions began to set up systems of training to guide their Initiates (and in some-cases, their candidates for Initiation) through what they needed to properly experience the Mysteries of Wicca and work its magics (both big and little).
In addition to this, some of those Witches, covens, lines, and traditions considered the Mysteries. Recognizing that (1) a Witch’s experience of the Mysteries gets deeper in each degree (or in some traditions, each degree involves slightly different Mysteries) and (2) to experience the full range and subtleties of the Mysteries requires the observance of the full Wheel of the Year, they decided that it would be wise for each Witch to experience the full spectrum of Mysteries at each degree by spending a minimum of one turn of the Wheel before moving on to the next degree. And hence, “a year and a day” was born.
It is important to note that, to the best of my knowledge, this is not a unilateral requirement among all lines and traditions of Wicca. This is just what some — and probably even many — have determined is a good thing. It is also important to note that this is often considered a minimum. It is not unusual at all for the teacher or student to decide that more time is needed, for whatever reason. One common example of this is in a case where a student does no live close enough to the covenstead to attend all of the rituals in the year. In such a case, the student may find it necessary to take a few turns on the Wheel in order to experience all of the rituals and their particular aspects of the Wiccan Mysteries. Or there may simply be a matter in the Witch’s personal life that makes a longer timespan necessary.
You see, I think that’s what bothers me. Eclectics seem to think that “studying a year and a day” guarantees one’s Witchiness in some sense. It doesn’t. No amount of studying — either a year and a day or a decade and a year — will ever accomplish that. The only thing that does that is the processes that makes one a Witch.
I also balk at the idea that “a year and a day” is always associated with studying. It’s as if studying was what it’s all about. It’s not. Don’t get me wrong here. I think studying is extremely important. But studying alone accomplishes nothing. It is the process of experiencing the Mysteries that make Wicca what it is that is important. And that’s what “a year and a day” was originally all about.