Some Thoughts On Initiation
With the going public of BlackTree Coven we felt that voicing some thoughts about the practice and utilization of initiation in a group environment would be appreciated as it has a tendency to be over dramatized and misrepresented by many practitioners and systems within modern witchcraft. We feel that offering our thoughts on the matter might be a nice change of pace for some who read this.
What are some of the misconceptions about initiation?
- Initiation makes someone a witch.
- Initiation elevates the conscious of the initiate.
- Initiation kick-starts one into a higher level of magical understanding.
- Initiation creates some metaphysical transformation in the initiate.
- Initiation can be removed at a later date or time.
- Initiation may not have worked on someone.
These and similar statements are a part of the problematic views regarding initiation in modern witchcraft. After all, witches can be born, self taught, or made through instruction without undergoing any form of formal group initiation whatsoever. The other statements listed are some of the woo-woo assumptions about initiation which lead into some of the negative realities often associated with such modes of thinking, those being inflated egos, feelings of superiority, ‘validating’ someone and their path, etc. Also, once an initiatory experience has been had by someone there is no way that experience can be taken from them. In some instances their membership in a group or tradition may be able to be removed, but not the initiation experience itself or what was learned from it. And finally, the ways an initiation may not have worked, is if the initiator themselves did not possess the proper credentials in regards to the tradition or if the initiation itself was performed so poorly by the group that it failed on a practical level, which for any serious group to actually fail at performing such a ritual is tough, if not suspicious or questionable. This is because initiation is a ritual and surely a group of experienced practitioners can perform any initiation they set out to do, blindfolded and backwards if they need to. Also, not to mention- there is no initiate ‘turkey timer’ to indicate if an initiate is ‘ready/done’ or ‘P.K.E. Meter’ to check their ‘midi-chlorian’ levels after their initiation has been performed. So, for anyone to proclaim that an initiation ‘did not work’ or ‘did not take’ is not only making an absurd statement, but they are also being dishonest, abusive, and manipulative towards the initiate in question. It is these types of aspects that we are trying to avoid in what we are doing with BlackTree Coven and our practice.
Initiation can and should be:
- A positive memorable experience.
- A personally and socially transformative experience.
- A learning experience.
- An induction to a group or organization.
- A rite of passage.
Many groups and traditions do formal initiations for those who wish to join and I offered my input to a post online about the subject of initiation which has been copied and quoted here, with some modification to help with the context of some of the elements found in the statement.
To me initiation is a means by which to make someone a member of a particular group as well as teach the initiate about the group. Most magical systems are coed fraternities. Even in British Traditional Wicca we see this. The coven is a lodge based scenario. It has meetings that have opening and closing rituals. It does work. It has members. It has modes of recognition, etc. It is a coed fraternity though it is rarely described in this manner. Of course there are aspects to initiation that may be inappropriate to talk about, but as a Freemason, 1* Gardnerian, and even technically a Minerval 0* in the OTO, the similarities between my various experiences are distinct and obvious.
On a practical level, initiations strategically teach, incorporate, and integrate people into a situation in a way which secures the organization from outsiders. I think in many ways the idea of initiation gets blown out of proportion by certain communities who do not realize the origins or basic necessity of doing initiations and present them as being something they are not. Also the hierarchies that develop in certain systems, as a result, can play out in a dishonorable fashion much like in a college fraternity. In polite contrast to a college fraternity example, as I made my way through my Masonic degrees I never felt like a grunt or less than someone else. I cannot say that for all my other group experiences though.
So- in short, I feel that initiations serve a very practical purpose which few people acknowledge or understand, but which many over emphasize and glorify unnecessarily.
I realize that the closing to the above quote is a bold statement, but at the same time I felt that it is a valid and much needed one to make. The glorification of initiation in the context of modern witchcraft tends to be unnecessary. Initiation in regards to the Western Esoteric Tradition mostly comes to modern witchcraft through COED Freemasonry and its influence can be seen in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, and British Traditional Wicca just to name a few.
In a basic sense, initiation is a process of becoming. It is a way and method to bring someone into a group or organization. In regards to traditional based witchcraft, initiation is often a means to an end. Meaning, initiation is a way to protect the inner workings and teachings of a particular tradition from an outsider by offering a specific method for an outsider to become an insider of said tradition. This method has been adopted from similar oath bound systems because it provides the perfect manner for establishing this transition.
What is that method? An initiation may involve:
- Themes of birth, life, death, and rebirth or descent, search, and ascent as found in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
- The initiate being prepared in some manner.
- Some form of challenge or multiple challenges.
- The swearing of an oath to protect the tradition and the other members.
- Rewards and/or the receiving of base level teachings or purported secrets about the tradition.
- The taking on of a new name or role.
- The establishment of some form of ‘apostolic succession’ or lineage by default of the rite being performed.
The above list is often executed through speeches, lectures, actions, and organized interaction to produce specific messages that convey certain philosophies, tenets of belief, and any mysteries that may be associated with a particular ritual or tradition. The above are by means not the only things an initiation might involve, but they tend to be the most common.
The negative side effects of initiation. The problematic view of initiation in modern occult systems is when initiation is thought of as being an exaltation of one person above another. This type of thinking leads to superiority complexes, displays of favoritism, or some manner of abuse between members, mentors, group leaders, or against outsiders or seekers. In those groups who display such behavior there is no healthy bond or fellowship to be found, which is the primary basis of a fraternal structure. However, instead what occurs teeters more on being a cult and exhibiting cult-like tendencies rather than anything else. The core elements of fraternity are fellowship, friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood, and family and that is what can get overlooked in a poorly run group or tradition that suffers from inappropriate leadership, poor attitudes, egoism, or the ever favorite special snowflake syndrome.
What should an initiation NOT entail? Just in case this needs to be said, an initiation should never humiliate, debase, manipulate, or require someone to do something that they are not comfortable with. If this is the case, the tradition or group is not doing their job to foster a sense of family or community and it is recommend that the individual leave the situation as cordially as possible and to not look back. With that said, it is also advised that any person should leave a group if the group changes over time in unfavorable ways or begins to foster a bad taste in one’s mouth as they say. If you are a witch or magick person, always listen to your intuition, even if you do not like this post and want to stop reading this article. Then by all means do so. Trust your gut.
Initiations should serve a practical and positive role. So, what did I mean in a previous post about BlackTree Coven being an initiatory tradition for practical reasons? What I meant was that we do initiations as a means to teach and bring people into the group, which provides them with a unique experience in regards to learning about the tradition. Such methods are good for developing a bond of appreciation for a given system, as well as creating a rite of passage and a joyful memory for someone to cherish for years to come.
Our initiation also serves the practical purpose of maintaining specific aspects of the tradition that we would prefer to stay with us over the years rather than be taken and used by others. The tradition being formed by BlackTree Coven is exclusive to itself and very cohesive in the sense that the parts are necessary to make up the whole, and as a result, function better in the context of each other rather than separate from one another. Basically, we are proud of what we are doing and we look forward to sharing it with others in the future, so initiation is our way of doing just that.