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So what does all that mean? What is an "initiatory, oathbound, mystery religion"?
The word "mystery" comes from the Greek word mystes, meaning "initiate". Although it has the everyday meaning of something not easily understood which could in fact be said to apply to Wicca it has more specific meanings in a religious context. One, according to our dictionary (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, just for the record), is "a religious truth that one can only know by revelation and cannot fully understand". In other words, an aspect of religion that can only be experienced, not explained fully in words a matter of experience, not dogma.
A second definition is "a secret religious rite believed (as in the Eleusinian or Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to the initiate." The ancient Greeks in particular had various rites of this sort, the best known being the Eleusinian Mysteries. The idea here is that being exposed to a mystery in the first sense an experiential religious revelation would bring about change and spiritual growth in the individual, making them, in a sense, a new person. "Initiation" literally means a new beginning.
While modern Wicca is certainly not an exact duplicate of the ancient mystery religions, it does draw on some of the same methods and ideas. Most Wiccans believe that the core of our faith is a matter of experience, and not of dogma or doctrine. Every myth, every symbol, every ritual act, holds multiple layers of meaning, many of which are not easily put into words. The successive initiations within most Wiccan traditions expose the initiates to gradually deeper understandings of the teachings and lore of the tradition, thus encouraging spiritual growth.
At each initiation, oaths are taken. These vary considerably from one tradition to the next, but generally involve pledging oneself to the service of the gods, to ethical conduct, and to secrecy regarding the inner teachings or mysteries of the tradition.
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