28 March 2007
Airplane Rambles on Initiation

Tues March 27, 10pm, somewhere over Oregon I believe…

Finding out today while reading that Isaac Bonewits had been a member of the early Church of Satan as a teenager was interesting to me, and left me wanting to ask him about his transition from that school to being a founder for ADF, etc. It also made me want to go back and transcribe my notes from his lecture I attended entitled “Varieties of Initiatory Experiences.” I had been hoping to see more examples or ties into other ordeal workers, but was disappointed to find out, in my own view, Bonewits group of druids are wimps when it comes to ordeals.

According to Bonewits’ breakdown, there are 3 major approaches to initiation:

1 = Initiation as an acknowledgement of status already received. Examples include graduation, ordination and bat/bat mitzvahs. The point here is to gather together community to recognize growth. Often these are time-bound, and seen as sen scaras (rites of passage).

2 = Initiation as an ordeal of transformation. Examples from Bonewits include learning how to swim, fasting, sleep, flogging, being tempted/exhausted, locked into a space, and vision quests. This may be augmented with drugs depending on cultural goals: to induce altered states of consciousness to be reimprinted, often death and rebirth being key to giving up or growing out of an old identity. Ordeals serve as a screening mechanism (only survivors survive initiation to join the tribe as full members), promote or force growth, and unusually unlike type of initiation 1, failure IS possible.

3 = Initiation as a method for transferring knowledge, power, or gnosis. Examples include transmission of gnosis, apostolic succession, and traditions that pass on from initiator to initiate in a variety of esoteric rituals. These initiations open one up to external source as used by a group/community, to be better connected to a deity, ancestors, psychic rewiring for the flavor of energy used by a group, and are thus given right to act or speak for deity/ancestors/etc.

The key to all of these is that RESPONSIBILITY, RIGHTS, and PRIVELEGES are all tied together. One can not receive true initiations and take only the priveleges of an initiation and not the other two.

Bonewits then went on to break down groups into a few different types that he had experience with (interestingly he skilled his history with LaVeys group) to speak about their initiation styles.

Neopagan: in Bonewits view, “Uncle Gerald” handed out titles quickly to build up numbers in the faith, and that the 1st initiation is unfailable, thus leading to “2nd degree sickness” in the witch community. There is a lot of speed initiation crunching.

Ancient/Modern Druidic into RDNA and ADF: when druids were a caste of society, children were initiated into the craft in type 1. MesoDruids however borrowed from Masons, and the reality is that modern druidis stuff can’t go back more than 200+ years. In RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America), initiations are less formal than Masonic paths, where 1st order= Nature is good; 2nd order= drinking whiskey and pronouncing how good nature is; 3rd order involves an all night vigil that is a formal ordeal. In ADF 1st circle initiation is a self dedication with an al night vigil.

What do you get from initiation?
Recognition for hard work
Ready to be tested, pushed forward
Close magical ties to a tradition

Role of Clergy in Initiation: If someone is competent as clergy/initiator, type 1 needs supervision of group ritual. Type 2 involves passing judgement to say if someone in fact succeeded in the ordeal (he doesn’t mention the option of deity informing whether the person has succeeded). How to tell if someone succeeded include- are they alive, not crazy, tell of a vision, and did they actually do the entire ritual/ordeal- it is important that all agree on the result if passed. Type 3 varies depending on culture/group.

How does initiation change initiator or witnesses? (he didn’t really answer)
What is the best way to council someone who fails an initiation (he told a really pathetic story in my opinion of a couple who, when one failed and one succeeded, proceeded to say that the priestess was unfair, etc- but Bonewits did not actually answer this question)

Self Dedication is NOT Self Initiation.

Rites of passage change your relationship to a community.
Time delay fuses are often in place on initiations- it may sink in or actually go into effect days later.
Building rites of passage and other rituals is an art form.
Who are we in relation to the rest of the pack?

That was the lecture, but the side stories about what Bonewits considered an ordeal… made me a bit sad. Apparently making someone lie in a shallow grave under an open sunny sky is really really hard. Apparently an all night vigil on a cool night wearing sandals, jeans and a flannel shirt contemplating the universe and your place in it is a deeply transformative ordeal. I suppose for some people it might be- but gosh, maybe I expect more from someone who wants to learn truths of the universe. Maybe I shouldn’t say such, because I recently had to do an ordeal of being silent in public for a day, at a huge event, and when I spoke of it later to a friend, he said “so what.” To me, a one day oath of silence was huge. For him, as a wall flower often times, it would not have been a big deal. Thus, truly challenging ordeals are important only if they are in fact an ordeal for the person in question. Hook suspensions are not a good example of an ordeal for a hook monkey, unless of course deity steps in and makes it an ordeal. In my case, when people have asked me if my hook hang for Mama Bear was an ordeal, I have to answer- kinda. Making some specific changes to my brain and life are far more of an ordeal than what I physically went through- which involved being taken up in the air 3 times whereupon I passed out and went astral journeying each time, then was lowered to the ground, returned to my body, meditated for a period, then went again. 3 times out, three gifts gained, 3 promises made. I would say it was a transformative journey, but would I call it an ordeal- certainly not in my view. Was it using ordealistic tools to push me past my physical blocks (such as my lack of ability to go astral by casual choice) a huge part of that commitment- yes. Could it even be seen as a moment of Gnostic transference- yes. So did I undergo an initiation under the hand of a fellow spirit worker, guided by spirits- not really. See above, dedication is not initiation, unless we take in divinatory initiation, being initiated by spirits, and the reality is that isn’t quite what I did either.

Just contemplating- ok, back to reading now.