Wiccan Leadership Structure (or Lack Thereof)
One of the fundamental concepts that many non-Wiccans can't seem to get their head around is that we don't have central leadership. We have leaders, we have high priests and priestesses, we have groups, you name it we probably have one, but at the end of the day you are your own highest authority on what is spiritual for you.
It's really crucial for anyone looking into becoming Wiccan to understand that we don't have a lot of regulation and we don't necessarily want to. There is no grand-poobah witch that we all bow down to. In fact we don't necessarily bow to our leaders. We appreciate them, we respect them, but we are in this to empower ourselves.
Some types of leadership models that you might find include:
High Priest / Priestess - This is a man or woman that has made a study of Wicca and often organizes rituals and teaches the craft to beginners.
Coven - This is a group of Wiccan's who come together regularly to study and celebrate rituals.
Elder - This is a member of a Wiccan group or circle that has been around for a significant amount of time and is respected by the community.
There are other types of leadership models but for the purposes of this article I will leave it at that. It is important to remember that with all things Wiccan your mileage may vary.
We do have what is sometimes called the degree system. Different groups set up hierarchies in different ways. A first degree often signifies a basic level of knowledge in a particular Wiccan path. There are almost as many Wiccan paths as there are Wiccans. A second degree usually denotes some advanced knowledge in some or all subject areas within a certain tradition. A third degree, usually the highest, is akin to being an expert and is usually the level attained before someone starts teaching. The difference between an elder and a third degree can be subtle and again, your mileage may vary.
One thing that I wish beginner books would address a little more clearly is that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can call themselves a witch, goddess, teacher, third degree, and start a coven or group. Many people won't try to discredit them because of the level of individuality involved in Wicca.
Someone who knows nothing and tries to teach may not be respected by other experienced Wiccans, but I'm not sure how a beginner would really differentiate. Most people who hang out their shingle as teachers have, however, made a significant study of Wicca.
I strongly recommend that anyone considering studying Wicca from a local or online teacher do some research into the reputation of the teacher. You may get a lot of different opinions, but that is partly because different people value different things in a tradition.
It's not a bad idea to make a list of things you are looking for in a tradition. For example, I don't drink so I like to be in sacred space that doesn't involve any drinking of alcohol. Some people feel strongly about other things.
Before seeking out a teacher, it's a good practice to do some self inventory. What are you hoping to gain from this experience? What are your boundaries and deal breakers in sharing your spirituality with others?
Who, if anyone, should you be following in the Wiccan path? That, my friend, is ultimately up to you.