Initiation of an apprentice Freemason around 1800.
This engraving is based on that of Gabanon on the same subject dated 1745.
The costumes of the participants are changed to the English fashion at the start of the 19th century
and the engraving is colored, but otherwise is that of 1745.
In the Western Mystical Tradition there are three purposes for initiation. The first is to make you a member of a group or a level or degree within a group. The second, which is the outcome of the first, is to give you some power, knowledge, or rights that are not available to those who have not been initiated into either the group or a level within that group. The third purpose is the most mystical. Initiation in some unfathomable way links you to some sort of non-physical power or energy. When this power/energy/spirit is tightly aligned with a particular group or level within the group, it is known as an egregore.
There are three purposes of initiation, but there are four ways of appreciating and experiencing initiation. Let’s look at them.
Experience One:Â The Physical Initiated
This is what we most often think of as an initiation. In the image above, it is the blindfolded person who is being initiated. Â In a few moments his blindfold will be removed and he will observe the diagram and have it explained to him.
So, does it look like he’s being given any special powers or linking to the egregore? Not to me. He’s being made a member of the group. The flood of new sights, sounds, and information leaves him open to much more, but the physical initiation is only membership into the group.
Experience Two:Â The Astral Initiation
What you cannot see in the image above is what may or may not be going on astrally. For some people, the linking to the egregore may occur simultaneously with the physical initiation. In many, perhaps most cases, it does not. This, in reality, is the true mystical aspect of initiation. It has also resulted in a gross misconception.
The true astral initiation occurs when both you and the higher initiation forces/energies/spirits of the group are ready for it to happen. No sooner. No later. The physical initiation may help it occur sooner, perhaps simultaneous to the physical initiation. But because so many people these days want to be initiated, some groups have specialized in offering astral initiations. But are they valid within the Western Mystery Tradition?
If you take someone with little or no training and tell them to visualize walking around a triangle (as I was for an Order a long time ago), the answer is decidedly NO! If you take someone with a great deal of training, knowledge, and experience, the answer might be yes. A century ago, it appears that The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in Europe did give a few astral initiations to people in the U.S. in order to avoid the enormous costs of transatlantic transportation. While that might officially make the initiate a member of the group, did anything really happen with the egregore? I doubt it. What it did do was allow the initiate to get the information that, if diligently practiced, might allow him or her to achieve astral initiation in the future. That is why I like Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero’s Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition. With the information there you can work rituals that initiate you not into a particular Order, but into the tradition of the Golden Dawn. If you practice the Golden Dawn techniques regularly, you may end up linking with the egregore of the traditional Golden Dawn. That won’t make you a member of any particular group, but will give you the abilities and knowledge of the powers that keep the Order strong and vibrant.
Many years ago, while I was sharing an apartment with Scott Cunningham, we received information from a mail order Witchcraft school. They claimed that if you took their course and astral initiation you’d receive a membership card that would allow you to participate in any coven’s rituals. Scott and I actually contacted several covens to find out if this claim were true. It wasn’t.
My point here is that in the Western Mystery Tradition a true astral initiation does not necessarily take place because of a ritualâ€”most often it does not. It occurs when you and the higher forces are ready. This means that although so-called “astral initiations” sold to you may make you a member of a group (and allowed to pay them nice big yearly or monthly dues), on a spiritual basis it usually is meaningless.
So am I against astral initiations? Not at all! But what I am for is recognizing them for what they are. Remember, the word “initiation” comes from a root meaning to start or to begin. If a group offers astral initiation and then provides training, guidance, mentoring, skills, techniques, etc., that lead to spiritual development and eventual true initiation on the astral, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, most of the groups I’ve seen that offer such an initiation at best give you some papers copied from books (one actually just copied many pages of my Modern Magick!) and maybe an internet forum so you can talk about your issues with other people. Well, even that’s not too bad. The thing I don’t like is when people pay dues, read some papers, do no work, pay for various “astral initiations,” and then claim to be experts with high levels of initiation. They make real occultists and initiates look foolish and bad.
So although I am not against astral initiations per se, I am against those initiations that promise much, provide little, and usually cost a lot!
Experience Three:Â The Physical Initiating
Unfortunately, in some groups, the people who do the initiating are nothing but actors reading linesâ€”sometimes very poorly. In reality, each role in the initiation has a specific purpose. It’s up to the person acting in that role to bring forth that purpose. In the Western Mystery Tradition, that purpose is often represented as a deity. Therefore, to take on a role during an initiation means that you must assume that god’s form.
When someone assumes a god form during a physical initiation the result is electrifying! Often, the person’s voice changes. Sometimes, the person’s appearance actually changesâ€”I’ve seen this. The person can give forth the energy of that god in a way that mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually alters the candidate. Experiencing an initiation as an officer while holding a god form is also an incredible experience for the person playing that role. Therefore, one of the best ways to deeply understand any particular initiation ritual is to participate in the ritual and eventually to have taken all roles of the rite. In this way you experience all of the powers and energies in play during the ritual. It can help you achieve the true astral initiation if you haven’t already achieved it.
So if you are part of a group that initiates, I would urge you to participate. Try each of the positions and study the meaning of it in depth. Learn to assume the god position of that initiatory role. (By the way, I’m using “god” in a generic form, meaning god or goddess.)
Experience Four: Observing The Physical Initiation
Finally, observing an initiation can be a powerful experience in and of itself. You can get new insights into the ritual based on the words, the props, and the actions of the people. Sometimes, while observing, you can have an aha! moment of understanding leading to that true, astral initiation. That’s why, in the image above, there are more observers than participants. Observing an initiation with a mind open to the spiritual can be a powerful experience.
Receiving an initiation, acting as an initiator, and observing initiations are important parts of the initiation process that can lead to a true astral initiation. The so-called “astral initiation” offered by many groups may lead to positive results, but really give nothing spiritual in and of itself, only membership into an organization. An armful of such astral initiations doesn’t mean you’ve actually achieved anything. In some groups it may give you an opening so you can learn and achieve, but that is rarely the case.