I've had a couple people ask about the initiation process that people go through. I thought it might be a neat topic to put here.
Keep in mind that every tradition is different, and a majority of the traditions out there won't share all the details of what it takes to initiate into a coven, but this gives some idea of the different requirements out there before a person goes through that life-transforming moment.
Here's some links to different traditions describing what they expect for a person to seek initiation:
Here are the requirements used by the NorthWind Tradition:
1. One must be adept at meditation.
2. One must thoroughly understand the basic symbology of the Circle including,a. The Quarters and their calls of the Tradition in which being trained. Here, some teach the standard Gardnerian first. Following initiation the teach the ones particular to their Tradition.
b. Altar Layout and position.
c. Robe and badge of position (where used).
d. Circle protocol and etiquette.
3. Know the sacred elements.
4. Know the Coven and Tradition totems.
5. Know the history and philosophy of the Craft.
6. Know the pantheon of the Tradition in which being trained. Knowledge of other pantheons can be follow-up teaching.
7. Know the Sabbats
8. Know the Esbats
9. Have an introduction to healing arts.
10. General knowledge of the power of symbols. (May include runes).
11. Know how to cast sacred space and perform basic ritual.
12. Be knowledgeable of one form of divination.
13. Have a thorough knowledge of both Universal Law, Coven Law and live it to the best of their ability.
14. Know and adhere to the Code of Honor.
15. Should have served as a dedicant for a year and a day.
16. Be adept at conduction ritual.
17. Be free of substance abuse.
18. Be Capable of self-sufficiency in life or actively pursuing such goals (FC 101).
1. Be able to write a complete ritual for all Sabbats, Esbats and for Magical workings, including healing, prosperity, etc.
2. Be adept at one forms of divination and knowledgeable of another.
3. Know and adhere to Universal and Coven Law at all times.
4. Know and adhere to the Code of Honor at all times.
5. Be adept at teaching.
6. A basic understanding of Astrology is recommended.
7. Know the theories of magic.
8. Have a basic knowledge of Herbalism.
9. Has completed advanced psychic development program.
10. Be adept at one healing art.
11. Should have served as a 1st degree for a year and a day (some traditions require a longer period).
12. Has received basic counseling training.
13. Has completed a paper (or equivalent work) on the history, metaphysics or other aspect of Wicca.
1. Has demonstrated proficiency in all requirements of 1st and 2nd degree.
2. Has demonstrated the ability to serve as High Priest or High Priestess during the illness or other absence of the High Priest or High Priestess.
3. Has successfully trained dedicants to their 1st degrees.
4. Has demonstrated proficiency at conducting ritual.
5. Should have served as 2nd degree for 3 years. Again, some traditions require longer training periods. The majority who have time requirements believe one should have served in the Craft for a minimum total of eight years to earn a 3rd degree.
In the case of those who began training at a very early age, training usually takes a bit longer. For an exceptionally bright and dedicated young person, it still is not wise to elevate before they reach majority.
6. Is adept at personal counseling.
In my own Tradition, study for initiation involves several different processes. First of all there are the required readings and classes where the material we require the student to know is presented to them. Basic outlines of the course requirements can be found at http://www.tangledmoon.org/student_program.htm But student assignments may also contain additional material assigned at the discretion of the preceptor depending on the student's needs or interests.
We also require the student to successfully demonstrate mastery of the skills necessary for attainment of the particular degree. For instance, at First Degree the student must successfully cast a circle for group ritual and in the presence of Initiates who are not their teacher, and who can judge not only whether the student has mastered the words and gestures of the ritual, but also whether they successfully raised the energy to cast the circle.
But there is much more to the initiation process than just the items mentioned in the syllabus.
Something that we are looking for are for are the mental and spiritual changes that tell us that the student has reached the period in their spiritual growth where they have the ability to understand the Mystery that they will encounter during the initiation.
And the other thing that we look for has to do with our Tradition itself. We are a Trad that prides itself on preparing caring, competent Wiccan clergy. We want to initiate those who are going to carry on this tradition of service, who are a credit to the Trad itself, and who have their own personal and spiritual life in order. So it is perfectly possible (and has happened before) that someone could complete the coursework and be a perfectly technically capable Witch and not be initiated into our Trad.
I have seen groups where the initiation process consists only of "read this book, take this test" and I personally think that those groups are fooling themselves and their students and don't really understand what initiation should be about.
Ellen Cannon Reed said it best in her essay "A Plea for Initiation Standards". You can read that at http://www.tangledmoon.org/reed_standards.htm