Some Notes About Wicca's Three Degrees
Degrees are one of the demarcations of rank employed in British Traditional Witchcraft, representing a series of initiatory mysteries which are undergone by the Wiccan in succession. In BTW, the system of degrees ranks First- through Third Degree (abbreviated 1*, 2*, and 3*), with different titles and responsibilities conferred by each stage. These are variables which differ between the various Traditions, or 'sects' of BTW.
The act of undergoing the particular particular Mystery Rite as a Candidate is called 'taking the ___ Degree', while the act of participation in the Mysteries to expose a candidate to them is called 'giving the ___ Degree'. In most Wiccan Trads, taking the First Degree is a requirement for being considered an official member of the religion, and usually carries along with it the designation of 'priest' or 'priestess' for that particular Trad. Until that time, those who wish to become Wiccan but who are not yet Initiated to the 1* are generally termed 'Seekers.'
Whether a Degree "Takes"
One of the main concerns that a coven leader has is the conferring of degrees and the amount of training which is undergone both before and afterwards. For one thing, the act of undergoing the Degree Rituals confers the title and public standing upon the Candidate. From that point on, it is within that person's rights to claim the mantle, standing, and any privileges which are associated with that Degree, which vary from Trad to Trad within the Wicca. For another thing, once the Degree Mysteries are experienced, they cannot be taken away. It is an irrevocable step.
The true mark of a Mystery lies in that experiencing the Rite is just the beginning. So, too, with Wiccan Mysteries. What happens from that point on determines whether or not the energies and deeper meanings of the Mystery settle well with the individual insights that the Candidate will later glean from them. No one can define exactly what a Mystery yields, because everyone interprets them differently based on their own subconscious symbolism and the level of their own interpretations. However, long experience has taught the community what the general reactions to the Mystery will be like, establishing a continuum which is useful in adjudicating where a Candidate 'is', psychologically, spiritually, magically, mentally, and emotionally.
When a Candidate vibes well with the Degree Mystery and produces responses, behavior patterns, and insights in the long run which fall within the continuum range that the Wiccan community defines as 'normal', it is said that "The Degree took well" with the Candidate. If the results are far outside of that range, and remain so over the course of time despite the efforts of Candidate, trainer, and community, it is said that "The Degree didn't 'take'" with the Candidate. At that point, the degree can be undergone again, or more likely, the Candidate ceases to pursue the path of Wicca, by their own decision or enforced by the Wiccan community.
The Year And a Day
It is customary to make someone wait a minimum amount of time between the Degrees, usually a Year and a Day. Although the number is somewhat arbitrary, it is necessary to wait between each of the Degree Mysteries for some significant amount of time to allow the energies and subconscious revisions to the psyche of the Candidate to fully settle in. It also allows the trainer to gauge the progress of the Candidate over time, and allows sufficient time for any problems or 'bad matches' to be discovered and training ceased or corrected.
There is no hard and fast rule concerning the length of time between Degrees, however. Coven leadership is more often ruled as a Benevolent Dictatorship in British Traditional Wicca. This is because the High Priest and High Priestess who confer the Degrees to the Candidate are always to some degree held responsible for the actions of the people they have trained. Where responsibility is taken, power is granted, so the maxim goes, and thus anyone who wishes to receive the Wiccan Degrees from someone had better be prepared to satisfy their trainers as to their personal capabilities and readiness on the mental, emotional, physical, magical, and spiritual levels.
The training up through the Wiccan Degrees often takes upwards of 5 years and represents a definite commitment on the part of the Candidate. It is not usually false pride which leads someone to claim their degree rank to an outsider, but a definite sense of accomplishment in having advanced suitably in their religious pursuit to have earned a certain level of rank and privilege. Ultimately, however, the Degree which a person holds is not so much a symbol of bragging rights, but rather lets Wiccan-savvy people know what they should reasonably expect from the Wiccan in terms of attitudes, behaviors, and experience. Therefore, claiming to be 3* is both a blessing and a curse, and represents both privilege of rank and the greatest of expectations for excellence.