This profile was last updated in 2006
There are thirteen members of Sylvan Forest, including both regular and transient members. Most members live in the metropolitan Atlanta area, although a few live out of state. Sylvan Forest is organized into a five-level training and initiate program. Lady Arden emphasizes that these levels are used more as a measure for personal growth than status within the community. The levels (from lowest to highest) are as follows:
A student or Seeker is someone in the first three months of taking introductory classes. The student may study in a group setting or receive individual instruction.
A Dedicant or Neophyte is someone who has successfully completed his/her introductory training and passed a written test. In addition, a person at this level has participated in a Dedication and Naming ceremony, receiving both Inner and Outer Court names. Inner Court names are to be known and used only by those in the coven, while Outer Court names are the names members generally use outside of the coven. For example, in social or public settings, one would refer to the High Priestess as Lady Arden, her Outer Court name. However, within the Inner Court, or within the context of rituals performed by members of Sylvan Forest, an Inner Court name known only by coven members is used. At this level, the student becomes an official Outer Court member and continues to take Neophyte classes. A white single stranded cord is worn by Dedicants or Neophytes to signify their level of instruction and membership.
In order to obtain this degree, one must have studied for a minimum of one year and one day, although it is rare to reach this level in such a short period of time. In addition, one must complete Neophyte training, pass the first degree test, and be initiated. At this level, students become members of the Inner Court and become an integral part of the group. A three-stranded red cord is worn by members at this level, and their motto is “know thyself.”
This level is obtained only by those who have completed a minimum of one year and one day of Initiate training, passed the second degree test, and fulfilled other requirements that may be established for them. Again, it is rare to obtain this level after the minimum period. Students act this level are viewed as stewards of the four elements. A three-stranded green cord is worn to signify the Second Degree level, and their motto is “know the world.”
This level is obtained by someone who has successfully completed at least one year and one day of Second Degree Training. As with the prior levels, it is difficult to become a High Priestess or Priest in the minimum required period. A third degree initiate is qualified as a Priest or Priestess and acts as a steward of the fifth Element, Spirit. This entitles the initiate to the title Lord or Lady. This person then has the right to form a separate group. Responsibilities associated with this level include the duty to replace oneself (that is, to train another initiate to the third degree level); to serve one’s own Initiator for one year and one day; and to practice the Craft for a minimum of five years. In Sylvan Forest, only a Third Degree may confer an Initiation. A member at this level typically wears a three-stranded blue cord, and the motto is “know the Gods.”
An Elder is someone who has replaced himself/herself, completed five years of service, and agreed to serve on the Council of Elders. Elders mediate any disputes that arise between Third Degree members. Elders are also responsible for continuing traditions, establishing new teachings, and mentoring Third Degrees. Female Elders wear a three-stranded silver cord and male Elders wear a three-stranded gold cord.
A Queen is a High Priestess who has hived (separated) a minimum of three groups; that is, she has formed three groups from her original one, and she has performed community service. In some traditions she is elected by Third Degree members for a term of nine to thirteen years, and she oversees communities within the tradition.
A Magus is the male equivalent of a Queen.
Note: Members are not required to move up the hierarchy; some members stay Dedicates or Neophytes the entire time they belong to a coven while others progress through different levels. Readiness to move up, dedication, and desire may affect how quickly one moves up the hierarchy (if at all). Sylvan Forest has five Initiate level members, three First Degree members, one Second Degree member, and one Third Degree member (Lady Arden).
Members of Sylvan Forest reflect the demographics typical of many Wiccan groups in America. They are largely Caucasian, about 96%. The remaining four percent consists of one Hispanic member-the High Priestess of Sylvan Forest-and Native American and Asian students and members. Most members of Sylvan Forest are female, which is also typical of Wiccan covens across the country. All of the Sylvan Forest members have completed high school. Several members have obtained a Masters Degree, and one member has a Ph.D. The high education level among Sylvan Forest members could be due in part to the fact that they emphasize higher levels of learning as part of the spiritual practice.
Affliliation with Other Communities/Organizations
The Sylvan Forest community is a daughter group of “Grove of the Unicorn,” another Wiccan coven located in Atlanta. Custom holds that after hiving from a parent group, the daughter group should have no contact with that parent group for a year and a day. Many groups stay separated beyond that one year period, with almost no contact. Sylvan Forest maintains the closest ties of all the daughter groups to Grove of the Unicorn, and members still communicate with one another frequently.
The history of Sylvan Forest really centers on Lady Arden. She is the founder and organizer of the group, and she guides current practices as well, so the coven is a reflection of her. Sylvan Forest was founded in 1996 after Lady Arden hived from the Grove of the Unicorn where she was high priestess for a year and a half. Lady Arden began to attend Wicca meetings formally when she was eighteen, but she says that her understanding of Wicca beliefs goes back much earlier in her life. Her mother is Episcopalian and her father is Catholic. She grew up in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, and her early schooling was in this Jewish context. She and her mother were active participants in the Episcopal Church, and she attended Catholic school for a year and a half. By the time she was 18, she began to realize that she had beliefs that differed from Christianity, and she began merging these beliefs with Christian teachings. Ultimately, she determined that Wicca most closely resonated with her beliefs.
Activities and Schedule
The members of Sylvan Forest do not meet on a weekly basis. In part, this is because the community does not own any common property. Ritual celebrations take place at a member’s house or on a member’s private property. Sylvan Forest celebrates eight Sabbats a year, following the astrological calendar: Imbolic (generally celebrated in February), Ostara (March), Beltane (May), Litha (June), Lughwasadh (August), Mabon (September), Samhain (October) and Yule (December). In addition to the Sabbat celebrations, the members of Sylvan Forest celebrate each new and full moon. Full moon celebrations are only open to initiate or higher level members. Lady Arden explains that the energy work required for these celebrations can only be done by practioners at those levels. For example, initiates can open energy doorways. In addition, teachings are passed down in theses settings that are intended only meant for initiate level members. Finally, Lady Arden asserts that the energy core is stronger when initiate or higher level members are present.
This class includes a history of Paganism, an explanation of mystery religions, an overview of the different types of Wicca, and an outline of the structure of Sylvan Forest. Instruction also explains why members work with nature and magick and how the tradition views metaphysics in connection with ritual practices. Most concretely, instruction covers activities such as using a magick journal and the basic elements of “grounding and centering.”
This class includes instruction about the seven planes, the All, the interconnectedness with all things, the interconnectedness of religions, and the stages of physical space and consciousness.
Students learn about the God and Goddess and more about the belief structure.
Students learn about the four elements, divisions of the physical plane, and divisions of consciousness.
Students learn more about the witch’s circle, preparation for the circle, cosmic cycles, lunar and solar cycles, and the cyclic course of events.
Students learn more about the wheel of the year, the tides and Sabbats, and the Pagan Manifesto.
Instruction covers meditation, the eight steps to meditation, visualization, and the need for balance and harmony.
Students learn the uses of sonics and chanting, singing, sympathetic and contagious magic, and high and low magic.
Students learn the uses of parables and allegories, hermetic axioms, language of symbols, pentagram and pentacle, and the witch’s pyramid.
Students learn the seven rays and the magic of color.
In this class, instruction covers karma and reincarnation, Spirit guides, what it means to be a group mind, magical name and personality, and astral support.
Sylvan Forest does not own a building for community events. Several factors contribute to this. First, Wiccan communities tend to be small (traditionally 13 members), and there is no structured system of tithing or membership dues. Members are encouraged to contribute what they can and what they feel is necessary. As a result, there is little disposable income to spend on the purchase or upkeep of property.
The theological belief system is perhaps the most important element of Wicca tradition. There is a general understanding of a “divine essence” called “the All,” which is onnipresent and is the ultimate source of all that we encounter. The “All” radiates from a divine source, and as it descends into the lower planes of existence it begins to fragment into different entities. Yet, it is difficult to describe the All without first considering the different planes of existence.
There are some essential elements to the theology and practices that distinguish the Unicorn tradition from other Wicca groups. The first and most obvious is the use of an astrological calendar. All festival dates are based on the astrological calendar and related to the position of the sun.
Julie Dumoulin and James Fallaize