There are many things people think of when they hear the word initiation. There is the hazing and acceptance of new members into fraternities. There is the offering of oaths of secrecy and/or service to a group, often a spiritual group; initiations into covens usually consist of this. It can refer to a process of teaching someone new abilities or skills, as in a sexual initiation. In shamanic traditions, initiation is a process where one dies to their old self to be reborn as one who can work in the spirit realms. Newcomers to the Craft often assume "initiation" will involve any or all of these things.
In my experience, there are many types of initiations. Some involve other people and some don't. Some involve oaths of loyalty to a group and some don't. Some involve testing and some don't. Some make us more powerful and some don't. Some involve great changes in us, even to the extent of a death and rebirth as a new self...and some don't.
I staged something I called an initiation for myself a year and a day (or a few days to allow it to fall at the New Moon) after I first found the Craft. I planned to go out into the woods and spend the night in meditation and prayer, dedicating myself to the Goddess. I was determined to stay out there fasting and facing my fears of the woods at night, opening myself to lessons until "something" dramatic and wonderful happened. Well, I made my dedication and I felt Her love as I had often in the past. And since it was in March, I got colder and colder until I was shivering so hard I couldn't handle the incense anymore. And I had the good sense to realise I should come home before I made myself sick.
It certainly wasn't an earth shattering experience, much less a reality shattering one. But it was what I realised later was a "dedication." I offered myself to the Goddess as Her servant and asked her to show me how to heal myself and teach myself what I needed in order to do Her work. Of course, I had already done that at my first Full Moon, but I hadn't heard about the "year and a day" at that time, and wanted to do it "right."
And in the next year and a half I learned and I grew and She helped me along the way. Primarily She helped me find books and teachers for the different skills that I was drawn to learn. She helped me avoid a couple of teachers who offered "initiation" but whose teaching was ego-based or disrespectful of individual truth. And there were many small transformative experiences along the way...bits of insight where pieces of the pattern dropped into place...bits of self discovery and bits of learning.
Then came the event I realised in hindsight was certainly an "initiation." It didn't involve another person, and the teacher who helped me to it was one I had met for the first time earlier that day. She was a lovely Sycamore tree.
It was the weekend when I made my drum. We had pulled our drums that afternoon and were sitting in a song and prayer circle in the evening. We started singing a very powerful song, and I was transported back in time. I had never had anything I recognised as a past-life experience before, but at this time I was tied to a stake with fire all around me and people dancing and chanting around the fire. I could literally feel the flames and the rope binding my wrists. I could see the hatred and fear in the faces of those around me. One spit on me and I felt that as initially cooling and later hot as it boiled.
The song ended and the vision faded. But I was an emotional wreck. Scared, intensely curious, angry at the ignorance that resulted in my burning...wondering what to do with the experience...
I sat in confusion for some time. Then we began singing "The Gratitude Song." I was there in the flames again...but felt an incredible sense of gratitude...and a cooling wave of love wash over me. The song ended, leaving me even more confused than before.
When the circle ended, I wanted to be alone, so I walked home from the workshop. I was still very confused and frightened. I passed by a park, and saw a tree I had noticed that morning, the first blush of fall colour on the edges of her leaves; I recalled thinking how beautiful she was. That day, some workers had come by and lopped off the top two thirds of her branches to make room for some power lines. I realised that I needed some healing and so did she.
So I went over and put my hands on her trunk. I started to hear a song. I sang it back...and it grew longer. I sat with my back to her trunk and grounded myself with her roots and reached up with her branches in a favourite meditation. I kept singing the song.
Then I noticed that when they topped the tree, they had piled the branches in a circle about three feet out from her base. And all of a sudden I was back being burned...my back against the pole...the faggots piled around. Again I felt the incredible sense of gratitude. And I realised the gratitude was a result of Her promise, given while I was in the flames, that I would come back again...at a time when my healing would be accepted...when mankind had grown enough that my gifts could be accepted without fear. And I kept singing as I dissolved in the joy of the flames.
Ever since that night, I've found myself attracted to trees or bodies of water or stones...put my hands on or in them...and heard them sing. Inevitably as I work with one of these songs, it aids my healing.
So this night there was a death and a rebirth. There was transfer of knowledge and a new ability. There was a new closeness to Goddess. No one can convince me that this was anything but an initiation...whether or not there was another human involved. That Sycamore Tree is still in my mind a teacher...and a High Priestess...
There have been other experiences like this where She offered me new knowledge and abilities, choosing beings in Nature to transfer Her gifts, but none have been quite so dramatic.
A year after that I was made a Reiki Master. During the attunement (more on attunements later) I offered myself to teach this lovely gentle healing method and opened to receive whatever empowerment would come. I was transported to another past life where I was being ordained as a Catholic priest. "Adsum Dominus:" here am I, Lord. I offered myself as I lay face down and felt the presence of God...and I felt God/dess in and around me as I offered myself in the dual role of teacher and ongoing student of the healing process.
Now I was able to do attunements to the Reiki energy. This is a process that opens the upper four chakras or energy centers, creating a channel for Universal Life Force to flow in through the crown and out through the hands. The first time I followed the instructions, I was surrounded by a sense of spirit beings who were helping me...and to my delight the recipient stood up and proceeded to channel huge amounts of healing energy to me. With practice, I realised that my job as an initiator of Reiki healers was primarily to encourage my students to open as widely as they felt safe and ready, to pull the Reiki energy into the room, and to let God/dess work through me and less corporeal helpers to create a channel for the energy.
Yes, I was involved as the one who performed the physical ritual, but I quickly realised the real initiation or attunement was a process of the student opening and God/dess directing the opening. I just provided Her with hands...that She may or may not have needed, but the student needed to feel.
This was when I realised that I have probably gone through an initiation of sorts every time I expressed willingness to take on more work under Her direction and She helped me find the knowledge or training or skills I needed to do that work.
This Imbolc just past, I actually went through a more traditional initiation. Again, it wasn't entirely what I expected, but it was very powerful. I was to be made a High Priestess in the healing Order I work with. Leading up to this event, I found myself being asked to do a lot of teaching where I work; nothing involving any formal appointments, but I found myself working with an ongoing stream of young people interested in learning more about the type of work I do.
Two weeks before the scheduled initiation, Goddess led me, through a series of what the unaware call "coincidences, to the office of a programmer at a local junior college. She wanted me to teach Reiki there. When she heard about my work with addicts, she said she was trying to put together a committee to formulate a course using holistic healing methods to treat addictions. Of course I was interested. I was also terrified....this meant coming forward in public and talking about how I used any number of spiritual healing methods before the cynical gaze of my professional colleagues.
But She also sent me a link to a site on the web that spoke about a very powerful way of healing pervasive fears, and I started using it. Before long I realised that this willingness to heal my fears and step forward as the healer I am was all part of my initiation process. I had been dodging opportunities and indulging in escapist behaviours through most of my life because of the fears I was now working with. And they were dissolving with Her help and my willingness.
Yes, when I swore my oath to the healing Order at Imbolc and the HPS touched me in ritual, I was treated to wonderful visions. More importantly, I also realised that this was the time to accept a greater level of responsibility in the Craft community I am part of. I groaned a little because I'm basically a shy person. But in the month or so since then I've gone to events they put on; and I introduced myself to people and I actually had a good time.
So this last initiation was one that involved a teacher and elder receiving an oath from me and passing on an empowerment. In many ways, I thought the initiation process had been completed by the Goddess before I got to that ritual. But during the ritual, I accepted a role as High Priestess which I had not even considered prior. *grin* Once again when I expressed willingness She stepped in and let me know what was required of me.
This essay turned out to be much more personal than many of them, and I feel a bit uneasy about revealing so much. There isn't a lot about initiations in books, possibly because of the oaths of secrecy that are usually asked, possibly because they are always highly personal meetings with the Sacred, possibly because the authors realise that if a seeker approaches initiation with expectations too clearly formed, s/he wouldn't be as open to the potential of the experience. What I've tried to do here is cut to the essence of what I've found in various initiatory experiences...to remove some of the obfuscation without belittling the mystery. I'm not sharing all of this to try to build myself up in anyone's eyes. These things happened and they filled me with awe and gratitude; but I realise that they happened because of commitments I made as I was ready. To the extent that we are ready, She will give us the gifts we need to do Her work.
A ritual or a confirmation from a teacher can bring our focus into a specific time and place and help us to see the exchange that takes place. But empowerment comes when we find the courage and dedication to accept it...it can happen in any moment.