We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
Wiccan practices allows flexibility, and it is essential to realize that there is no singular structure or hierarchy adhered to by all practitioners of Wicca. In addition, there is no uniform system of establishing authorities in smaller work in covens or groves that is shared by all practitioners. It is up to a specific coven to develop a hierarchy: one delineated by their own traditions. This hierarchy will often recognize some form of rank or eldership, usually individuals titled clergy Priest or Priestess. These titles may continue to be defined based on specific tradition; for example, a High Priest and High Priestess might hold the most seniority and are the highest ranking elders in the specific coven. Other clergy in a coven group might hold rank of Priest, Priestess and, in some traditions, this is further broken down into degrees of which there are usually three. In many but not all covens, there are also significant milestones recognized in spiritual development that are acknowledged through title and privilege, such as a distinction between neophyte, dedicate, initiate etc. Such titles generally imply rank related responsibilities and privileges like the ability to hold ceremonies and rites specific to that tradition which are unknown to those of a lower rank; the ability to begin practicing Magick; the definition of role within the group as healer or in another specialty, or the ability to study and be attuned to the energy of a specific elemental force.
Traditions vary and the structure of specific covens differ. There is within each Coven also an understanding that the elders and clergy of a coven are to be respected for their knowledge and work, but the elders are not part of a larger council or governing body. This allows for autonomy and integrity of various traditions. It is also known in coven and solitary practice that, in this faith, there is respect given to those who have established themselves as pioneers in the re-claiming of the Craft and who have worked to promote Wicca as a legitimate, positive, innocuous religion: this respect comes prior to a title, degree, or rank. For example, much progress has been hard earned by Wiccans who fought to obtain the right to have a Pentacle signify the grave of Wiccan soldiers fallen in battle. Whether the individual was a High Priestess, Priestess of any degree etc. is not held as fundamental, but the respect of the perseverance of individuals and groups involved is acknowledged. Regardless of title, we strive to lead by example. In such a way, we recognize that our titles may not be given credit by the outside world, but our deeds will. We also acknowledge that neophyte through elder, our deeds are what truly delineate our connection with the Divine.
Angela Kaufman is the coauthor of Wicca: What’s the Real Deal? Breaking Through the Misconceptions, along with Dayna Winters, and Patricia Gardner. You can find out more about the book at: http://www.wwtrd.webs.com.