Friday, April 25, 2014

PBP: Week 17- Initiation

I have been on my path for about two decades now, and things are quite a bit different today than they were when I first started. The vast amount of information available, not only in print, but for free on line, is almost staggering. And the expectation for beginners is different as well. When I started learning, the expectation was that you could kind of muddle around as best you could alone, but eventually you would join a group, and they would lead you through a learning process. As you progressed, you would go through initiations to recognize where you were and what you had learned as well as to open the door to the next stage of your progress.

My concept of practice definitely revolved around the year and day learning that led up to a first degree initiation. And yet, in my two decades of practice, I have not apprenticed to a group and worked through any official program. I have done a couple of self study programs, and done my own versions of initiations along the way, which has worked well for me.

I got into a discussion on the power of initiations with some friends on a forum a while back. The question raised was whether or not an individual could preform an initiation for themselves (if they were solitary) and if group initiations had any worth (can anyone besides yourself bring you to a higher level of practice). There were a lot of opinions. Some thought that initiation ritual were just window dressing. They may celebrate advancement on your path, but they don't create that advancement. Others thought that in a group situation, an initiation ritual could be used to demonstrate a mystery which the initiate could then meditate and reflect upon which had the potential to open up their mind to a new perspective they might not have been able to reach as easily otherwise.

I'm of the opinion that initiation be many things, but at it's core it is an acknowledgment of accomplishments. As human beings, we like being noticed for the things we have done, especially those things that either changed who we are on a deeper level or things that were personal struggles for us. We may have preferences as to how many people celebrate with us (much as some of us like small parties with just a few very close friends and some of us like huge wild parties where everyone is welcome to show up).

You might have noticed that I use the word initiation kind of loosely. When I talk about initiation, I am not only talking about entrance into a group or a level within a group. Traditionally I know that there are three (or more) levels of initiation, and as you prove you know certain information and are skilled at particular practices, you have 'earned' that level of initiation. But just as many groups had slightly (or not so slightly) different qualification for different initiations, you can become initiated into different 'groups' entirely. Many of the hallmarks in our lives are a form of initiation, we just call them by a different name. Marriage 'initiates' you into the group of married couples. Loosing someone close to you is an initiation into death. Puberty is definitely an initiation (though one that we often don't even remark upon anymore).

I think that initiation plays a different role if you are part of an organized group than if you primarily practice on your own. In an organized group, initiation is a way to show your place in the group structure. It is a way for the group to recognize your work within the group and honor it. If you are solitary, initiation is often a very private matter, where you set aside a time to recognize the growth you have made or a particular hurdle you have gotten past.

But I don't think we need to stick to only doing group or solitary work. Many modern groups now host larger rituals, but much of the individual's daily work is still done on their own (or in smaller groups at least). And many solitary practitioners now meet up with others in their area or others of like interests online. There is a lot of room for bringing initiations across to other realms beyond our primary one.

There is no reason why you can't do a solitary initiation ritual even if you are a part of an organized group. Especially for work that centers around yourself and your personal growth and is not really focused on the group you are part of. Not every group recognizes the same accomplishments with ritual, so if you have something that was a huge step in your life, but wasn't something that your group would mark, then you have the option of honoring it on your own. I think that solitary work has a very different flavor from group work, and brings different things to the table.

When I work on my own, there is stillness and a silence that isn't present when I work with a group. Even if I am speaking, singing or playing music, that quality, almost of waiting, is present in the air. I am a pretty open person, but there are still things that I prefer not to share even with the people I am closest to. And I also think that no matter how close you are to the people you work with, some things just can't be said or shared, and when you work with these things in a group a part of you holds back, no matter how hard you try not to.

On the other hand, working with others often can be freeing in a different way. Working with a small group of people I know well and am comfortable with builds me up and helps me to be more than I can be on my own. Every time I have worked with others, I have learned things, not only about how they do things, but about my self, seen through the reflection of the other person. Working in a larger group, especially with people I don't know at all, has a different kind of energy as well. I think that larger groups call me to be a part of me that I am not always comfortable with (because I don't always do well with either groups or strangers), but it is a good kind of uncomfortable (the kind you get when you are growing and haven't quite come to terms with the new you yet). I also think that larger groups there is a sense of anonymity that can be very different for a solitary person. I work differently depending on what role I am taking in a group working.

There isn't a lot of precedence for initiation rituals in a 'group' of solitaries. Most of the published group initiations are for progress within a group, and wouldn't be useful for use in a less formal group. In the past couple of years I have seen a lot more talk about life-initiations (things like puberty, marriage/divorce, birth, death), which can make great initiations for any group. But I also think that you could do personal path initiations and invite others to attend.

For example, lets say I have decided to dedicate myself to the study of Runes. I start learning, and practicing, and working with the Runes, and after some time I feel that I am experienced enough with them to consider myself proficient at them. I would like to honor this accomplishment and decide to host a ritual and invite several others I know to come to recognize my abilities as a rune-caster.

Often part of an initiation ritual includes small demonstrations of skills that were learned as part of the initiation. I might plan to have small rune necklaces made up for everyone who comes. As part of the initiation, I might present each person with a necklace and then explain what the rune means in general. Later, I might speak with each person individually and give a bit more personal insight: how I felt that rune spoke to them.

Another part of many initiation rituals is gifting, where the other participants gift tools or supplies to the initiate that they will need for their new practices. It can make a very nice gesture, especially if you request that gifts be inexpensive or handmade. If I were thinking of a gift for a new rune-caster, I might sew them a bag to keep their runes in, find a nice journal they could use to record their impressions in, or draw a picture featuring runes for them. Another option is instead of requesting a gift for the initiate, to ask people to bring a small offering for the initiation altar. If you want to add more participation, you could ask them to go for a walk and bring back an object they found while walking, and then offer it up with a blessing for the initiate. The items could then be collected into a pouch and used by the initiate when doing future workings with runes.

If you are a solitary, and the only contact you have with others is online, it may be a bit harder, but you can do a sort of virtual 'write-in' initiation. You can write up a bit on what you have been learning and where you are at. If you have done a personal ritual of initiation to mark the event, you can share some or all of it (depending on how personal it was and how public the medium that you are sharing it is). You might ask people to share their stories about what you have learned, which could lead to some wonderful connection. Some websites offer virtual shrines, and you could do something similar. Perhaps ask people to light a candle and offer you a wish or blessing in your path, which could be shared on the thread.

Ultimately, I believe initiation comes from within. We change, and through that changing we see the world in a different way. And most times, as we have changed, so the world sees us differently. That difference is what we celebrate with initiations, whether those initiations are done alone or in a group. Whether we are laughing or crying together, we are together, in heart and spirit if not in body.

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