Connecting the esoteric teachings of Rosicrucians, Theosophists and Freemasons with Witches, Pagans and Heathens
Initiation: It Doesn't Just Happen in Fraternities
Here’s a funny thing: I had been a fan of initiations for most of my life - but never until my 60’s did I realize that every stage of my life was an initiation!
I used to think that initiations were elaborately staged rituals like fraternity hazings, designed to teach certain lessons. They were very different from real life, since the neophyte was never actually in danger. They seemed to threaten deadly penalties, but if the initiate lost heart and gave up he was safely whisked out of the ritual space and deposited outside. He would never again be invited to join that organization, but at no point had his life or limbs actually been in danger.
This false danger is described in Paul Christian's historic double volume, The History and Practice of Magic, wherein he conducts the reader through ancient Egyptian initiations of astounding technological complexity in a vast subterranean tunnel connecting the Great Pyramid with the Sphinx. His description has persisted through the ages and is enshrined, with only minor variations, in the traditions of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC.
A similar illusion of danger is created in the Third Degree of Masonry, in which the initiate is made to play the part of a semi-historical figure who was attacked and murdered; but of course the violence is only symbolic. After all, his brother Masons need new members! They have no intention of losing a good man, especially since he has already been unanimously voted in.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describes a terrifying initiation in his Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear. The initiate is told to step forward as he feels sharp needle-like points pressing against his blindfolded eyes. When he proves his bravery by proceeding, the points melt away.
How dense of me, to miss the next intuitive connection: that the initiations of Life possess the same assurance of ultimate safety, because death itself is an illusion! When you are in the proper spiritual consciousness, the physical outcome makes little difference; for your life goes on anyway. You simply make the seamless transition from material manifestation to immaterial…and eventually back to material again.
Initiations are not virtual reality; they are actual reality. And their point is not survival, but learning. What is important is to say, “Yes, I accept this initiation” - to enter into it with full attention and to persevere to its end. You will probably make some mistakes as you proceed; but that is part of the lesson, too.
Some of our life initiations take years, and lead us through stages of increasing complexity. Others may be over in a couple of hours or a few days. The initiation can be frightening or painful. But if you go into it with your spiritual eye open, you will come out the other end knowing a lot more than you did before. And, regardless of the form you find yourself in, you will still be you! Frank Herbert says this beautifully in Dune: “Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Your perception of the world will have changed, and you yourself will have changed as a result - without losing your essence. This is the very definition of an initiatory experience.
Real initiations are not easy, for what would be the point? Losing a loved one is an initiation. Bankruptcy is an initiation. Having your Social Security check delayed by petulant politicians is an initiation. Heart attack, stroke and disability are initiations. Cancer is an initiation. Alzheimer’s and death are stages in a long initiation. Once in, you have no choice but to continue to the end. But you will come through, when all is finally over, restored to yourself. For Alzheimer’s only affects the brain. It has no power over the soul. And the wheel continues to turn.
You will be you again. A wiser, steadier, more confident and compassionate you. This is the metaphysical meaning of the initiatory experience. This is the philosopher’s stone that transforms base elements into spiritual gold.
It would not be reasonable to expect our initiations to stop, because the entire purpose of life is to experience initiations - and, by means of them, to learn…to develop…to evolve…to become ever stronger like steel pounded and tempered in a fire…to grow into wise souls. It doesn't matter that we get tired; it does not signify that we don't always like it. Those in charge of these issues aren't impressed by our whining.
The Goddess is light, life and love. She is also Kali and the Morrigan. She preserves and teaches us through all of Her aspects, whether or not we think we're ready for the lesson.