Initiation is one of the most valuable experiences in any person’s life. Many religions have initiatory rituals such as Confirmation, Baptism, Bar Mitzvah, and so forth. Generally, initiations are one of two types: initiation into a tradition and initiation into a group. For example, a person might be Baptized into the Christian tradition, but not align themselves with any particular church group. A person could be initiated into a fraternity or sorority which makes them a member of a group, but not of any spiritual tradition.
Occult traditions are filled with initiations. Some of the more famous initiations into groups can be found in books such as Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft or The Golden Dawn. These tend to be for initiation into both a tradition and a group. Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition includes initiation rituals into the tradition but not into any specific group.
I remember when I was sharing an apartment with Scott Cunningham that he obtained an advertisement from a teacher of Wicca who promised that when you finished his course you would get an identification card that would allow you into any Wiccan coven or ritual. We laughed at that because no coven (and we actually contacted several in order to check) had heard of this teacher or would have honored his ID card.
Initiation into a group and tradition can be a life-changing experience. It gives you no powers, it only gives you the right to begin (the word “initiation” comes from the Latin word initium meaning “entrance” or “beginning”) studying with a group. There are actually three ways to experience initiation, and I would contend that a complete occult education within a group structure requires that you experience all three at least once. Here are the three:
Experience One: As a candidate being initiated
This is what most people think of as the initiation experience. Usually, it involves some sort of hazing ranging from as simple as being blindfolded and pushed or shoved, to the threat of lethal violence (as in some Masonic initiations) or some form of minor or strident violence such as flogging. Being able to withstand this shows that you will keep the secrets of the group and are worthy of membership into the group or next level within the group.
Next, you are usually given some sort of information. This is often symbolic, as during the circumambulations in Golden Dawn groups where you stop to have metaphoric secrets given to you, or re-enactments of myths such as the Decent of the Goddess Ishtar (Inana).
One of the things this does is grant you membership into an “in” group. If someone else is a member, you may have secret words or actions that identify him or her as one of “us” as compared to those who are not part of the group. This convention was used in the Harry Potter books where those not initiated through the grades at Hogwarts were “Muggles.”
For the individual being initiated, the goal, really, is to start a change leading to what the Golden Dawn called being “more than human.” This change doesn’t occur so much on the physical plane as it does on the astral plane, what can appropriately be called an “astral initiation.” As a result, some groups offer “astral initiations.” But there is a difference between having your own astral initiation and being given an astral initiation by a group. Traditionally, the true astral initiation occurs either during a physical initiation or is triggered by the physical initiation, occurring later, perhaps during meditation or trancework (or even while observing another initiation). Groups that offer astral initiations usually do so in order to spread their group as widely as possible (which makes it available to those who might otherwise not be able to have a physical initiation), or, regrettably, simply as a way of getting money for the group. Most of the people I’ve met who talk about their astral initiations, in my opinion, received nothing of value. Those who become quality magicians and occultists do so because of their own studies, often distant from what the group offers, rather than from the group itself.
Even assuming that groups offering astral initiations are presenting something of value, there is still a difference between doing something by yourself and being part of a group rite. The physical, emotional, and psychological experience of an in-person initiation is different from astral initiations.
Experience Two: As an observer of an initiation
Sitting as an observer of an initiation ritual is not only a unique experience, it is also vital to the success of the rite. Not only will you be able to see what is going on from a different angle, you’ll also be able to see what is happening outside the vision of the person being initiated. This brings new insights and appreciations for what is going on, experiences that cannot be had by the initiate. It also allows you to send your energy to enhance the ritual. Depending upon the quality of the initiating team and their ability to use the energy, the more initiated observers the better.
I suggest observing initiations from different parts of a circle or temple or lodge. The experience, for me, is always different. I also find that there is a different experience for the observers depending upon the experience, background, personality and energy of each person being initiated .
Experience Three: As part of the team performing the initiation
Finally, performing a rite as an officer of the team doing the initiation is also a unique magickal experience. To do your best as part of the team means you are taking on the power, energy, and persona of what you are representing as one of the team. If you are a guardian of the circle, guard! In a Golden Dawn initiation you might take on the powers and energies of (“assuming the God form” of) Osiris. In a Wiccan initiation you might take on the being of The God or The Goddess through the rites of Drawing Down the Sun or Drawing Down the Moon.
Just as you’ll get a different experience as an observer from different positions around the circle or temple, you’ll also get different experiences depending upon the role you play as part of the initiation team. I suggest that people try to experience each of the positions in the initiation crew so you get the full impact of every aspect of the initiation.
Even during the same ritual, the three experiences are different…and valuable. In psychological terms, the experience is either associated (experienced through your own eyes) or dissociated (experienced observing the person being initiated). Both psychological experiences are powerful. Their value is more than just to the candidate for initiation. It is also of value to the initiation team, the observers, and the organization into which the candidate is being initiated.
What do you think?
Have you participated in initiations as initiate, initiator, or observer?
What is your experience of these different aspects of initiation?