In an earlier blog post, I mentioned contracts with deities. If you've ever read a Wicca 101 book, you've probably come across the concept of "dedication" and matron and patron deities before. Many such books recommend practicing for at least a year and a day before declaring yourself a witch or committing to a magickal path.
Everyone has their own guideline for when dedication or contracts with deities is appropriate. My personal guideline is a minimum of one year in relationship with a deity before even considering dedication. Just as I would take time to consider moving in with a romantic partner, I do the same with deity.
By being in a relationship, I mean regular (at least once a week) prayer, study of lore and mythology (and other pieces that fill in understanding of the culture the deity was honoured, such as archaeological findings, the folklore of the living culture, honouring their holy day, meditation, tending an altar, trance work, making regular offerings, etc. While this can seem daunting, if you're not able to give a relationship 10 minutes a day, you might not be ready for the commitment that a relationship asks for.
If you believe that the gods are real (and I do), then at minimum, it makes sense and is basic kindness and courtesy to consider the implications of making promises without thinking through if you'll be able to live up to them. After all, how can you make promises or commitments which you intend to keep if you don't really know the being you're committing to, or their level of commitment to you?
It's important to point out that sometimes, we can't live up to a certain level of commitment at a given time. For example, it's probably not realistic to promise to undertake expensive or remote travel to sacred sites when you're starting a family or to promise to write a book about your deity when you're starting a new degree or certificate at university/college/apprenticeship. We can say "I can't promise X right now, but I can offer Y. I can do X in 2 years".
The one year timeframe gives time to learn from reliable sources, connect with other practitioners and benefit from their companionship and their wisdom in working with/for that deity, become familiar with that deity's energy and aspects, understand how they communicate with you,etc. It's a lot easier to get married than it is to get un-married.
In this post, I'm speaking broadly about folks who have an eclectic practice or are not seeking to be initiated into an established tradition such as Gardnerian Wicca or a closed practice such as Santeria. Of course, if you're interested in initiation into a Wiccan tradition, they each have their own initiatory system based on levels of experience and proven theoretical and applied knowledge and initiations are granted at the discretion of the High Priest or High Priestess of the coven you're studying with.
Depending on the nature of the relationship you've built with a deity, it's absolutely unnecessary to dedicate yourself to them, and it's vital to think through the fundamentals of what you're doing before committing to a god/goddess/power. I think of dedicating to a deity as being a serious task on par with deciding to get married. It's not meant to be entered into lightly or with an agenda of miraculously improving or deepening a relationship. Choosing to dissolve a relationship with a deity is a serious consideration which can have consequences.
What is the nature of the relationship between you and the deity? Monthly offerings, weekly trance work, daily prayer and libations,etc.
What do you give to the deity you work with? What do they give to you? Does that exchange feel equitable and sustainable?
What are the consequences of not being able to honour your commitments?
What is the timeline of your dedication? Are you committing to a 6 month cycle, 13 moons, the rest of your life, this life and all others?
Why is dedication the next step right now? Is this something the deity has asked for? How has your relationship with your deity evolved and deepened since it first began?
Why this particular duration? Is that the right amount of time to meet your goal or the work your deity has for you?
What goal are you hoping dedication will accomplish? What will you do if dedication doesn't accomplish that?
What kind of divination have you done to discern the will of the deity? Have the results been clear and consistent? Have you sought a second or third opinion from reliable, grounded folks who are dedicated/in service to that deity?
Dedication is often a negotiation and a leveling up of your commitment to your deity. What are you prepared to give to your deity and what are you prepared to give up?
What boundaries do you have with respect to your deity? This could be around the time, money, energy, etc, you can devote to them. Do you feel comfortable saying no to them?
These are just a handful of the many considerations which go into a formalized dedication to a deity. It's worth remembering that the strength of our relationships with deity doesn't rely on a formal ritualized commitment.
There's a world of difference between what it takes to pull of a successful wedding and what it takes to keep a marriage thriving, and that applies whether we're partnering with another human or with a deity. You can be engaged to a fellow human and that engagement ring is no indicator that your relationship is joyful, healthy, safe or meaningful.