Many religions place heavy emphasis on celebrating and ritualizing important transitions and rites of passages during the lifetime of an individual. In most cases, Wicca is no exception. Wiccan traditions uniquely observe rites of passage in ways that incorporate profound symbolism embodying the ways in which an individual deepens her or his relationship and connection with the earth, with their community, and with the divinity within themselves.
Note: Not all Wiccans celebrate rites of passage, but the following are typical for most traditions within Traditional Craft Wiccan (TCW) and many other groups. They may also be known by different names in different groups.
Handfasting is the Wiccan marriage ceremony. Traditionally, a Handfasting was for a specified period of time, usually a year and a day, and was not legally binding. In most countries, a civil marriage is required for a union to be recognized by law; any religious ceremony is optional. In the United States, however, an ordained minister of any religious faith may perform a legally binding wedding, and no civil ceremony is required. There is a growing number of legally ordained Wiccan ministers worldwide, and more and more Handfastings are being performed as legal marriage ceremonies. If a Handfasting is performed in this context, then any change in marital status must be handled as a legal civil process.
Specific ceremonies vary from group to group and coven to coven, but the participants usually write or have significant input into the content. Of note in many Handfastings, participants may opt to promise themselves to each other pragmatically for "so long as Love shall last," versus the lofty standard of "til death do us part."
A Handparting ritual dissolves the Handfasting. Traditionally, at the end of the specified period, a couple decided whether or not they wanted to continue the union formed at the Handfasting. If they chose to remain in the relationship, then another Handfasting was performed, again for a specified period of time. The second Handfasting was usually for five, seven, or nine years or "for this and coming lifetimes." If they chose not to renew the relationship, then a Handparting was performed with the intent to allow the couple to separate amicably in love and harmony. If the Handfasting was legally binding, the Handparting is usually not performed until after the marriage is dissolved through civil process.
Many couples now feel free to openly bring up their children in the Wiccan religion. Wiccaning is the ritual of blessing for a newborn. The ceremonies again vary widely from group to group, but are usually developed by collaboration between the parents, High Priestess, and High Priest of the coven or group. While Wiccaning can be compared to a Christian "Baptism" there is a significant difference in philosophy. The parents introduce the child to the "Mighty Forces" and to the God and Goddess, asking for blessings and protection for the child. In some cases, parents entreat the Gods to give it talents and intellect, however the Wiccaning in no way binds the child to the Gods as in the Christian concept of Baptism.
Remember, it is a basic tenet of Wicca that its members must freely choose the Wiccan path. During the ceremony the Godparents chosen may be presented to the spiritual forces as well. As Wiccaning is a blessing and welcoming of the child into the greater family, it is appropriate for all blood relatives, extended family and close friends--who will impact the child’s life, to be welcomed in the Circle regardless of their religious beliefs.
Welcoming (Sometimes called Heralding or Hailing)
This ritual welcomes a child into the extended family of the coven or group, and usually takes place around the age of 13. Many traditions have a standard ritual for this, but it may vary from group to group. In many cases this is the event in which the celebrant officially chooses his/her path and makes a dedication or affirmation to The Craft. In most cases this signals an official beginning of training toward initiation into the group.
For covens that practice initiatory rites, these are the keystone rituals. They vary from tradition to tradition and always occur in a closed setting. Furthermore, most TCW groups regard "initiation" in its literal sense. It is a milestone that marks the beginning of a life-long process. Initiation is not a goal or an end in itself. See Vivianne Crowley's exposition cited in the "Annotated Bibliography" section.
Crossing — Requiem
These are Wiccan funeral rites. They range from very simple to very elaborate ceremonies depending on the tradition or group and the wishes of the deceased. With a background belief in reincarnation, the Wiccan religion does not fear a hell or some vague eternal damnation for anyone passing beyond the veil. Wiccans believe those who pass over have done so because they have completed all the lessons they were meant to learn in this lifetime and are now enjoying a repose until they are reborn to new lessons in a new life—a process that will go on until they have grown so completely in karmic balance as to pass over and become one with the cosmos ("to enter the Kingdom of God").
Because we view death as a completion of one cycle and the beginning of another, it is a time for celebration rather than mourning—a Wiccan does not escape from punishment for being good, rather one rests then is reborn. While there are loved ones left behind who cannot help but feel sorrow for their loss, A Wiccan funerary rite is usually not complete without a big party to follow the service—a party with food, wine, music and friendships; people who gather to share memories of the one who has crossed over and help those who grieve move on with new loves and friendships.
As in all rites of passage, participation in the ritual is open to all loved ones regardless of religious preference.