The History of a Year and a Day in Paganism

A person circling a date on the calendar.
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In many Wiccan traditions, it is customary for someone to study for a year and a day prior to being formally initiated. In some cases, it is the standard length of time that must pass between degree levels, once the person is initiated into the group.

Although the year and the day rule for initiates is most commonly found in Wicca and NeoWicca, it occasionally appears in other Pagan paths as well.

Background and History

This time period is based upon a number of early European traditions. In some feudal societies, if a serf ran away and was absent from his lord's holdings for a year and a day, he was automatically considered a free man. In Scotland, a couple who lived together as husband and wife for a year and a day were accorded all the privileges of marriage, whether or not they were formally wed (for more on this, read about Handfasting History). Even in the Wife of Bath's Tale, poet Geoffrey Chaucer gives his knight a year and a day to complete a quest.

The year-and-a-day rule is found in a number of cases of common law, both in the U.S. and in Europe. In the United States, notice of intention to file a medical malpractice lawsuit must be made within a year and a day of the alleged incident (this doesn’t mean the lawsuit itself has to be filed in that time frame, simply a notice of intent).

Edwidge Danticat of The New Yorker writes about the concept of the year and a day in Vodou, following the Haitian earthquake of January 2011.

She says, "In the Haitian Vodou tradition, it is believed by some that the souls of the newly dead slip into rivers and streams and remain there, under the water, for a year and a day. Then, lured by ritual prayer and song, the souls emerge from the water and the spirits are reborn... The year-and-a-day commemoration is seen, in families that believe in it and practice it, as a tremendous obligation, an honorable duty, in part because it assures a transcendental continuity of the kind that has kept us Haitians, no matter where we live, linked to our ancestors for generations."

Familiarizing Yourself with the Practice

For many Pagans and Wiccans, the year-and-a-day study period holds a special significance. If you've recently become part of a ​group, this time period is enough that you and the group's other members can get to know one another. It's also a time in which you can familiarize yourself with the concepts and principles of the group. If you're not part of an established tradition, using the year-and-a-day rule allows you to give your practice structure. Many solitaries choose to study for this time, prior to any sort of self-dedication ritual.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "The History of a Year and a Day in Paganism." Learn Religions, Sep. 4, 2021, Wigington, Patti. (2021, September 4). The History of a Year and a Day in Paganism. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "The History of a Year and a Day in Paganism." Learn Religions. (accessed April 1, 2023).