Initiation: 1. formal admission into a society, etc. 2. the ceremony of admission. 3. the act of Initiating. 4. the fact of being Initiated. 5. Theosophy. development of consciousness surpassing the average human level. 6. the starting of a chain reaction in fissile material, as in an atomic bomb.

(Macquarie Dictionary p.912)

Hawkeye (NSW) - In any family there are those born with black hair, blondes, brunettes and with red hair; so some are born handicapped, some highly intelligent, some skilled with their hands, and some born Witches. None are converted to Witchdom.

There are two types of Initiation for the Witch, the magical birth, and social Initiation into the various traditions and through their degrees or rites. It's the magical birth or Initiation of the spirit by tutelary spirits (your shadows) which signifies the Witch. None are Initiated into the same magic and none are more or less powerful - we're just different.

At the commencement of magical birth, the Witch is drawn towards natural lifestyles and philosophies; they see themselves as different from their peers. Then comes the contact period, when other Witches 'recognize' them. As time passes apparent reality begins to fade and the animistic characteristics of natural phenomena become obvious. Drug taking, if used in the past, must stop here.

Now begin the magical voyages, escorted by your shadows, instruction from ancestors, draughts of knowledge from archetypal personalities, even feasting with the inhabitants of the underworld - anything goes as this is a highly individual process.

Then it's all over, your birthing is complete. You only get an occasional visit from your beloved shadows to see how you're going. You're now in the 'active' phase of your magical life. That's Initiation!

Valerie Voigt (USA) - Aspects of Initiation in order of importance are: the transformation of Initiate's consciousness; the passing of Power; and social and psychological validation. Interestingly, it appears that a lot of people value these aspects in reverse order of importance; it seems to make a difference to us who's in or out, on top or on bottom,etc.

The essence of Initiation is transformation of the individual. Their relationship with the entire universe is illuminated and, while the typical surge of awe and giddiness wears off to some extent, the spiritual and perceptual shift is permanent. Initiation leaves a permanent mark on the soul, the soul mark which the Gods seek, the real Witch's mark which is sometimes visible to other Witches, even to Initiates of other non-Craft spiritual systems.

The transformative experience is, strictly speaking, between the individual and the Divine. If the individual is not ready, this just won't happen, regardless of whatever prayers, ceremonies and hoohah anyone wants to do. Also, no HP,HPS or Teacher can keep it from happening if the Gods decide that the time is right. In that case, why have anyone other than the individual and the Gods involved? Why not self-initiate or just let it happen spontaneously?

While there is a lot to becoming a Witch that cannot be taught, there is a "Craft" side to the Craft which can be taught and those are the things a teacher is supposed to do. He or she can also, by their guidance preparatory to the ritual, help the Initiate lay the internal alchemical framework and provide a safe space, context and framework of magical and psychological support during and after the transformation (which can, contrary to romantic fantasies, sometimes be dangerous). In addition, the responsible teacher helps them keep their balance in the usually crazy seven days immediately following the Initiation. These days are crazy because Initiation results in what is commonly referred to as "karmic speed-up" - where everything that has been waiting to happen to you falls on you at once in the confrontation of initiation. Typically, at that point, you are floating in the air so it helps to have understanding and supportive people around you.

Then there are the social/psychological aspects of initiation which may seem trivial but need to be taken into consideration. These include:

. Validation of the individual by the group;

. Bringing the person into the group or family;

. Acceptance that "you are one of us now";

. Recognition that those not of the group are outsiders;

. Status within the community;

. Binding to the group;

. Commitment, with all that this implies.

An Oath is made which includes a conditional curse, voluntarily taken, and promises about what you will do for the group and that you will not betray it or use magic for harmful purposes.

Many Traditions use a system of degrees to structure the stages of growth in the Craft. Typically there is a year and a day between degrees, but usually only a few months between meeting a group and becoming a Dedicant. The Dedication ritual is usually psychological/social and may require an oath of binding to the group or an oath before the gods that you affirm you will study the Craft. The Dedicant should know what they are getting into and check out the person they will be studying with. All degrees which follow Dedication have certain social significance, as well as the other aspects we have discussed.

First Degree is seldom particularly "heavy" and in the old days (1950s and '60s) was almost like a dedication, though now there are higher standards. Before the Gods, the Initiate is welcomed to the community and they may take a magical name at this stage. The Initiate is presented with the tools of the craft, given the secret (first degree) names of Deity, of the Guardians and the Mighty Dead. Power is NOT called, nor are they taught how to do an Initiation or empowered to do so.

Second Degree - the big one! The Initiation into death, the journey into the Underworld. Power is called down - the initiatory power but not necessarily the authority that goes with that power. The passing of Power includes a calling down of raw energy, the passing on of secret names of deity and the ability (in the sense of raw physical ability) to Initiate - with or without the authority to do so. The traditional teaching about the passing of Power is that the vessel must be ready or it will break. A lot of passable Power is inherent in the spiritual transformation and it also creates a karmic link between the Initiator and Initiate. Second Degree is (ideally) a strong transformation and the person is sometimes given the title of Elder, depending on the tradition, and may take the Elder's oath at this stage. The Second Degree God names, names of Guardians and the Mighty Dead, and the second degree Book of Shadows (if there is one) is given.The power link creates or reinforces the karmic link between the Initiate and Initiator.

Third Degree - ideally the person is able at this stage to pass on the entire body of information of the Tradition up to, but not including, the material contained in the Third Degree Initiation. This person should be able to form a coven. The Third Degree power is called down, and related work is done, details of which are a secret of the Craft. (I am not being deliberately difficult here; it's in the difference between Mysteries and Secrets - you can talk about the Mysteries all day without anyone having the slightest notion about the reality of them, as you have to have been there to experience them. Secrets, on the other hand, are procedural things relating to the Mysteries and come under the heading of "things not to be passed on out of context".) Further God names, etc., are passed on, and the person is given the title of Elder. The Karmic link is again reinforced and they are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the Craft will survive. At Third degree they may "hive off" from the group and start their own Coven and, to a certain extent, may do as they choose. After the Third Degree Initiation is the time when "High Priest/ess Disease" typically sets in, so most groups will keep a new Third very busy with a project, or sit on them until the danger period is over. (High Priest/ess Disease is where you now have your Third Degree and, as no one can tell you what to do anymore, you want to go off and initiate all your friends. Sigh!)

The politics of Initiation are foremost in the eyes of those who aren't yet initiated. You get people saying things like: "My husband/wife has been initiated - why won't you initiate me?"; "Isn't it my turn now?"; and "You initiated them and they haven't been training for as long as I have.". If you have not been there (if you are not yet an Initiate), you cannot know whether you are ready and there are things that happen which you cannot be prepared for. That's what it's about - the Initiation may have further reaching effects than the Teacher or Coven expects as well. Before I do an Initiation, I do a particular kind of divination technique on a question such as: "Is this person ready?" and "Will they break?". There's a real responsibility when you initiate someone, and if they're not ready, it's about as effective as a mail-order degree is.

Similarly, if you are studying with a teacher or group and feel uncomfortable with their ethics, then you must shake the dust from your feet and and go elsewhere - you definitely don't want a karmic link with that person or group. If you leave a bad teacher, another good one will appear.

Karma is a two-way link once made, and this is a reason why I've not initiated more people. Someone may be ready for Initiation in most respects but they may be doing something that is okay for them to do but not okay for me - actions of people I initiate reflect on me and vice versa. The right to confront someone who has been behaving in an inappropriate manner is also implicit - and this goes both ways. (Editorial Note: This contribution is adapted from an introductory lecture by Valerie at the Ancient Ways Festival 1987.)

Tomas Rhymer (A.C.T.) - Whenever Craft people get together it seems that they inevitably get around to the topic of Initiation, and the question of validity of self-initiation. So why should I be any different? I stress that these thoughts on the topic are my own - agree or disagree as you will.

Firstly, let me state my viewpoint. I cannot and do not accept the concept of self-initiation as I have heard (and read) it espoused from various sources, some of them quite respectable. For me, a Craft Initiation (to whatever degree) requires guidance by an external participant. Sure, we get to the thorny question of who Initiates the first Initiate. But the answer to that "chicken and egg" question is - the one who developed the system in the first place. Yes, Virginia, it does say "developed", because I also cannot agree that our Craft practices are "old and ancient traditions". The BASIS for our religion, certainly, the concepts of the Lady and Her Consort, the Sabbats, etc. But the form given to the rituals is relatively modern, and was developed by people after long and careful study (in most cases, anyway). So the Initiatory experiences designed by these folk are (again usually) magically validated by careful study and practice.

By this reasoning then, it is impossible to self-initiate as a First or whatever degree Alexandrian, or Gardnerian (or Sussex, Essex, Wessex or Manx, whatever you may wish to call your style) Witch. Certainly you can dedicate yourself to the Old Ones in whatever form your tiny little heart desires. But don't try and tell me you've been Initiated, because you haven't!

As an Initiate (of what system it doesn't matter), the process of Initiation to me is a little like taking someone on a journey that you have made yourself, again under the guidance of another Initiate. As with all journeys, no two people ever perceive the same things (I use the word "perceive" with deliberation, as Initiations seem to involve all six senses to varying degrees) but the route they travel has the same beginning point and the same signposts along the way. This is the basis of Initiation - a trip in which you follow someone else's maps if you like. You will add your own details to the chart on the way.

Why is Initiation important? If you're solitary, its unimportant. It really doesn't matter because as a solitary you design, plan and make your own system. But when you're part of a group, it is necessary to have certain standards. If you don't have a basis for comparison, via deliberately designed and MAGICALLY VALIDATED experience, how do you assess where you're at, what your level of knowledge is? As High Priest of a Coven, I need to know where my members are up to so that I can use them, and ensure that they gain from the experience, in ritual. And some of the things we do could be down-right dangerous for folk at the wrong level. So, when we think folk are at the right level, we take them through an initiatory experience that validates that level of knowledge.

For me, that's why Initiation is important, and why you can't "do it yourself" from a book. And honestly, those self-initiates that I have met could not demonstrate to my satisfaction that they had the "God-given" knowledge to justify their claims. Mind you, I do know some folk who've developed valid systems of their own. But this latter group don't usually feel the need to claim Initiation by the Goddess or God either!

Rhea Shemazi (NSW-now Seattle) - Human creatures are like complex and individual musical instruments, who all resonate to a slightly different combination of sounds (energies). For this reason, magical training and Initiation is best effected by those who share a common resonance. I can see no good purpose in taking training or Initiation from someone who you do not respect or with whom you cannot effectively communicate; far better that you dedicate yourself to worship of the Old Gods and celebrate alone than compromise your own sense of correct behaviour or walk away from your own religious convictions. "Perfect Love and Perfect Trust" are absolutely necessary between those who decide to enter into a magical training and Initiation bond.

Initiation within a Mystery Tradition consists of a series of confrontations and challenges which are designed to break down the personality to its core, and reintegrate the person through a series of experiences with energy and Deity. It is a Mystery, and as such needs a responsible and knowledgeable Initiate and Master/Mistress of the Art to enact or facilitate the activation of the proper "Keys" so that the full impact of the Initiation is received - and to ascertain that the candidate is both suitable and properly prepared for this rite of transformation.

I consider it essential that the Initiating Priest/ess has travelled beyond the power passed to them in their own Initiation, to make contact with deeper currents of primal energies. Energy does not remain in stasis without losing quality, depth and timbre - keeping a current of energy which has been passed to you intact like a precious gem, locked away from contamination by the world, denies its origin in the power of connection and integration. The aim of Initiation is to integrate and transform the self, to apply your "enlarged and numerous senses" (William Blake) to a new perception of the world and to effect additional changes in yourself from that perspective. If a Master/Mistress of the Art remains static, then they cease to magnetize the power of the Deity - they become a historian rather than a contemporary practitioner of the Art. It is a little bit like a musical chord, which resonates and then decays in a particular manner; the last sound you hear will be a single note, rather than the complexity of the original chord; in like manner, the remembered energy, while it is correct, will only be a faint echo of the original, with only a part of its intensity and resonance.

As each person is different, it seems important to design a specific Initiation ritual each time, rather than relying on a standard one. I agree with the general principle that a ritual which has been enacted many times becomes refined; however, it is not a ritual which should ever be taken for granted - the Initiator should be very aware and sensitive to the psychological state of the candidate and be prepared to adapt the ritual accordingly. There are certain key parts of a ritual which cannot be altered as this would alter the current of energy being passed to the new Initiate; however, much of the ceremonial aspects could reasonably be tailored for the individual.

Initiation creates a Priest/ess of Deity who will be responsible for the power to catalyze change in others; to act as a channel for the power of the deity (not a container); a Priest/ess who is prepared for the demands made by Deity as Their part of the dialogue; a person who is prepared to change, to grow, to learn, to make connection with the web of life - to interpret the Mysteries; to teach responsibly, minister the sacraments of their religion and to guard the Mysteries from those who should not properly have access to them - and to respect the right of all other persons to find their own religious and philosophical truths.

Rufus (NSW - ex Britain - now back in Britain) - Initiation as an idea is as ancient as human records reveal. It has always been a concept relating to the development of the human spirit, to the maturation of the personality and the awakening of the soul. Its meaning is "a beginning" and within the context of Wicca and the Magical Arts it represents a process of spiritual growth which is graded into levels of Initiation that map the progress of an individual as they deepen their understanding of themselves and the world in which they live.

There is much argument as to whether Initiation can be earned purely on the grounds of individual merit or whether it must be conferred by another who has already attained the level of development to which the student aspires. My own view combines both these perspectives. The process of Initiation relies primarily upon the will of the individual to make a journey towards the Mystery. This process may be assisted by those more experienced, those with a greater level of understanding; however, without the primary will of the candidate Initiation cannot be conferred by another.

It has been one of the most ancient traditions of the Magical Arts that when a suitable candidate has progressed far enough by their own endeavour, a teacher will appear who can assist them on their journey. It has certainly been my own experience that this is the case; the teacher will be perfectly suited to that individual and will be able to fulfill what the candidate requires at that time. To the outside world, this person may seem strange, threatening, the least likely person you would wish your son or daughter to become involved with.

The ability to Initiate is not conferred by social standing, wealth or book knowledge. The essence of Initiation is to be found in Vision - it is this quality that inspires the candidate to make the journey and along that journey they will meet others who share in the Vision that they seek. The process of conferring Initiation on another is no more than lending assistance of the specific type that enables a candidate to see more clearly the Vision that they have pursued all along. Those who are more experienced are more able to see the Mystery that lies beyond the commonly accepted world, are more able to show the way to those that follow in their footsteps.

Magical and occult knowledge cannot be gleaned from print, however inspiring or erudite. Vision is an experience. It is an energy. It is a quality that emanates directly from the Source of all things. As such, it may be communicated from person to person through an intimate relationship over a period of time. The formal process of Initiation evolved from an understanding that the intimacy of relationship between teacher and apprentice was the key to the process. Training schemes, formal exercises, ritual methods, all serve one aim - the building of a magical link, the opening of a gateway between the candidate and the Mystery. The teacher acts as a facilitator or catalyst; the student must make the journey. The journey of Initiation can be made alone, but as ancient records attest, all teachers have had their teachers for this is the way of the Tradition.

Even the founders of the religious traditions most influential in the world today were taught and assisted by persons and beings closer to the Source than they were themselves when they began the journey. Initiation is a very real process and although I would not totally disallow the concept of self-initiation, ultimately Initiation as I understand it, is the passing on of an energy which I will call a Vision from one being or entity to another. In the case of a specific Tradition, someone must have been Initiated into it by someone who has already attained an understanding of the Vision of which the Tradition is a guardian.

If you would like to add your views on initiation to this forum, please Email us.


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