initiation

Book Review: Reiki Insights by Frans Stiene

June, 2018

Book Review

Reiki Insights by author Frans Stiene

Publisher: Ayni

Text copyright: Frans Stiene 2017

I’ll be honest this book wasn’t what I was expected it to be. It turned out to be more. Mr. Frans Stiene (stee-nuh) has been a major global force in Reiki. He is the co-founder of The International House of Reiki.

In this book, Mr. Stiene has written about what Reiki truly is, a spiritual practice. The founder of Reiki Mikao Usui’s teachings shows that it was a spiritual practice. Reiki is a practice, has meditations on mantras and the symbols, on the hand positions, being in a meditative state while performing or receiving the reiju/initiation/attunement.

Mr. Stiene states that when he was working with his teachers in Japan and researching the original teachings of Mikao Usui, that the precepts where instructions to be followed. This teaching worked to help students bring about a state of wholeness. Wholeness is a state of mind: in which we are happy, content, at peace and full of compassion. This wholeness was a form of healing for the students and all who followed Usui’s teachings.

In today’s world, we often talk about either giving or receiving a Reiki healing. In the spiritual practice of Reiki, it was taught that you were “Being Reiki.” Reiki is often called spiritual energy, and we are always working with spiritual energy in that We are Spiritual beings having a human experience.” (unknown author)

Mr. Stiene also states in this book that through his research he found there is a correlation between the 5 precepts of Reiki and the 6 paramitas from Buddhism. In Japanese Buddhism, there are 3 precepts. I found it interesting that these 3 systems shared so much.

 

The 5 Precepts For Today

Do not Anger

Do not Worry

Be Grateful

Practice this Diligently

Show Compassion to Yourself & Other

 

6 Paramitas

Generosity

Morality

Patience

Persistence

Concentration

Wisdom

 

Japanese Precepts

Cease to do bad actions

Do Good actions

The action of helping others

If you want to get serious about your practice of Reiki, I would suggest this book no matter what your level is. Mr. Stiene wrote this book for all practitioners and teachers.

 

You can find out more about Reiki Insights by Frans Stiene on Amazon.

Reiki Insights

 

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About the Author:

Dawn Borries loves reading and was thrilled to become an E-Book reviewer for PaganPages.Org. Dawn, also, has been doing Tarot and Numerology readings for the past 25 years. Dawn does readings on her Facebook page.  If you are interested in a reading you can reach her at: https://www.facebook.com/Readings-by-Dawn-1608860142735781/

Book Review – Wicca, Plain & Simple: The Only Book You’ll Ever Need by Leanna Greenaway

April, 2018

The cover states that the book is plain and simple and, also, the only book you’ll ever need. The forward of the book was written by Judika Illes, who is, also, an author and I quite liked it. The first chapter informs the reader about Witches and magic. She touches on the different types of Witches like Hedge, Traditional, Gardnerian, etc. It’s nice because she just does a quick little description of each, but it’s enough to give the reader a good idea of the differences between them. After that, she mentions Covens and how they were formed when Wiccans were persecuted so they had to worship in secret. Then she gets into Angelic Wicca right at the end and how she has personally chosen to follow the Angelic Wiccan path. It’s a great first chapter considering all that she mentions, but it doesn’t seem overwhelming at any point.

Chapter two breaks down Wicca and positive thoughts. “Life is like a big classroom. With each day, we learn and encounter new experience, and although at times the problems we face are hard, by going through the processes, we climb that spiritual ladder and evolve to a higher plane.” Has got to be my favourite quote from the book. It resonated to me as someone who has survived a lot of abuse and it made me feel like maybe my next life may be better due to the struggles I’ve already endured. She ends the chapter after going over some “Wiccan Ground Rules”

As with almost all Wiccan books, there is a chapter about Tools. That’s chapter 3 here. She gives a good list of typical items, touches on colour significance in the candle section and briefly talks about all the things you should have on your altar. This book lives up to its claim of being plain and simple, but in a good way. The way she just touches the tip of everything would make it a great book for a beginner.

Lunar magic is next. I think lunar magic should also be a pretty standard topic in Wicca, as a lot of what we do is based on the moon cycle. “The gravitational field of a full moon changes energy particles that reach the earth, influencing the way that we think and feel by changing the functions of our brain”. She informs the reader about the various cycles and the importance of each.

Chapter 5 is a very short chapter about initiation, specifically self-dedication and initiation, with just a few steps. The following chapter is about growing your own garden, the benefits of that and some ideas on which plants to grow and why. It’s one of the longer chapters of the book, and for good reason. She writes about what would be good for teas, tonics and superstitions, but again, in a user-friendly way with nothing being too complicated.

Chapter seven delves into animal magic. It’s another very short chapter that doesn’t get into much. I would have liked this section to be a bit better as half of the chapter is a personal story that is nice, but considering how much space if takes up, there isn’t a lot on animal magic itself. The tarot magic chapter is next, and that one is much better, with a lot of good information in a short amount of space and she writes about how “all tarot cards hold a magic of their own, and they can all help to bring about a positive result to your spells.”

I really liked chapters nine and ten. Chapter nine is about magnetic magic and chapter 10 is about the power of the pendulum. I, personally, use a pendulum all the time to help me with tough decisions and she suggested a great way to use a dictionary to help with divination, and the way she talks about the healing powers of magnets, I think a lot of readers would like it. She touches on some basic spells as well, which they are plain and simple again, so beginners can feel like these are spells they can do easily.

The rest of the book is spells specifically. There are spells for love, health, wealth, prosperity, happy families, career and willpower. All of the spells are user-friendly, and don’t need much for supplies. I am a fan of casting a circle before doing certain types of magic, but the author suggests just sitting and asking for protection. I personally wouldn’t feel safe enough to perform some of these spells without a proper circle, but I’m sure a lot of people would be fine with it. I think once a person has had experience with darkness, they are a bit more cautious.

The book overall is only 127 pages, and so it really is “plain and simple”, but she touches on a lot of different topics in those few pages. I would recommend this book to anyone starting out, but not really to anyone that has been practicing Wicca for a while. I still took some information out of it, as I do every book and I was really happy with it. The book is a quick and easy read, and I know if I meet anyone who is interested in Wicca I would for sure tell them about this book. I, also, think I will be looking into more of Greenaways’ books as it seems like she knows what she is talking about, and I love that she doesn’t over-complicate anything. I am happy I had the opportunity to read this book and write a review for it.

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Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

November, 2015

 

On Initiation and The Old Ways

 

As we are in-between Sabbats, I thought I would submit an article on a different topic. Initiation.

It is certainly a sacred event in and of itself, and it is also a hot debate topic in Paganism today.

Introduction

I had a couple of conversations recently that made me think deeper on the topic of initiation and the way Pre-Christians did things.

One source I am too lazy to dig up states that the earliest discovered human burial was from about 100,000…ish years ago, and it is believed by some to be the first evidence of religion. It is said this shows belief in an afterlife.

Considering the fact there are about 4,200 different religions in existence today, Christianity being only one of them, I believe there is no one right way to be religious, regardless of what some may say.

Also, if we have been religious for as long as my un-cited source says, there is no way in hell modern humans who are neo-Pagans can completely recreate all the things that used to be done before Christianization. Especially since Christianity is just a couple thousand years young. It is also not possible for Christianity to exclusively have all the answers and for all other religions to have it all wrong.

No matter what faith tradition we belong to, if we are trying to reconstruct pre-Christian faiths, we are recreating religion to suit us, and we are aware that people always have. Unlike many groups of people faithfully recreating religion the way it was before, however, Neo-Pagans in North America are increasingly turning away from groups, initiation into traditions, and recognition of established clergy in favor of custom tailoring solitary practice.

What is the result? Many of us joke we have as many different Pagan religions as we have Pagans in the room at any given time. Joking aside, solitary practice seems to be working for a lot of individuals. That can’t be a bad thing in my opinion. Isn’t religious practice, after all, about bringing the worshipper closer to whatever god or gods they worship?

So what use is adhering to tradition in modern times at all, especially for a religion that solitary practice works so well for? Is it necessary? Is it useful? Is it for everybody? Are initiates better than non initiates?

This debate started before many of us were born, and the debate will continue long after all of us have crossed the veil.

I am one who believes in the power of initiation and in keeping traditions even if it isn’t for everybody.

Why, and why not in this day and age?

First, why not?

I have heard lots of reasons from individuals why they opt for Solitary neo paganism. These are a few.

*We don’t need elders and leaders to give us every scrap of inspired writing anymore. We are no longer illiterate and can read and interpret for ourselves if we do our homework. The Internet and publishers houses have provided plenty of information cheap or for free.

*It saves time. You don’t have to deal with other people when doing your own research and many are sick to death of other people telling them what to believe or how to worship. You can pick and choose what is useful to you and not waste time with something that seems to have no value to you. Who says one person’s way will work for the next person, anyhow?

* Many claim their current practices stem from memories of past lives that only they remember or understand and nothing else makes any sense to them. These past lives may be from thousands of years ago, their languages are extinct, and no physical artifacts remain to draw from. Established traditions in today’s world may be meaningless to such individuals.

*Some people say they have yet to find a tradition that makes sense to them, and they feel it is a waste of precious time continuing to search when they could be spending time focusing on their own personal research and growth instead.

*Many are also quick to point out that drama in the metaphysical and Pagan communities distract from their own practices and relationships with deity. Some folks have worked for years with groups only to have burned out, and they need peace and solitude, or to heal. What is worse, some cannot imagine a return to any group out of fear of more drama or hurt.

Oh yeah? Well…

These valid arguments aside, I believe that there are plenty of people who shun traditions and initiation into such who are simply lazy and disrespectful individuals. While not everybody falls into this category, we can tell if somebody is genuinely applying themselves to self-learning and improvement or not. One way is by whether they say disparaging things about people who are initiated or belong to groups in general.

I have been spit at so many times by people who are very vocal that they are proud to be self-taught. They claim to be Wiccan, Odinist, Druid, you name it, but never completed any coursework within an established group or organization. They oftentimes say it is because they think initiates are stuck up, holier-than-thou’s who brag about knowledge. If I ask what group they belong to, and upon them answering they read some books and found things on the internet, I make sure to point out that titles are earned within organizations. Such individuals shoot back I oughtn’t label them, although they just one heartbeat before falsely labeled themselves. When I further point THIS out, they get even angrier with me.

Here is the thing…

It is okay if you are not initiated. It is also okay if you are. Initiation is not for everybody. Initiates are no more superior as human beings than non-initiates and vice versa.

If you don’t want to bother with going to all the trouble of being initiated and fulfilling all the duties attached to belonging to a certain tradition, that is just fine. Really, it is! But, why would you want to label yourself as being such when in fact you are not? And why get mad when initiates tell you to get your paws off their tradition if you are not going to join up? You either joined, or you did not, period…which brings us to an ugly topic…

Misappropriation and Cultures we don’t belong to

If you are one of the mostly white neo-Pagans in North America who claim belonging to a VERY old tradition because you had a dream or past life memory about it, then you show zero understanding of how ancient tribal traditions worked and how the people continuing them today function.

You’d also forget our neo-traditions are not the ancient tribal ones. These new traditions pull aspects of old ones into modern practice , however they are not the actual traditions that ceased to exist upon Christianization or upon extinction of a peoples.

Go on and talk to a person who belongs to an existing tribal tradition, be they Vodun, Native American, South American Pagan, you name it, and your discussion will likely drift towards “cultural misappropriation”.

There are lots of white, instant ancient Pagans who hold all the secrets the pyramids told- even though they never went to the pyramids. There are just as many who build a sweat lodge in the back yard, or charge hundreds and thousands of dollars for seminars at fancy retreat centers, but are not affiliated with any Native American tribe. They have also completed no courses of study with Native Americans to reach ordination in that tradition. But they learned how in a book, and they might have authored a few of their own they will gladly sell you! They know all about how aliens built Stonehenge, or where they believe Atlantis is. They probably even have names they claim come from those ancient civilizations that they gave themselves and they want you to call them by.

I understand, white people, I really do, because I am a white American , too. I was swept away by the energy at powwows and struck by the power of the African tribal dancing I witnessed. I wept uncontrollably and felt it was religious ecstasy. I also felt it in Mexican Cathedrals that are a few hundred years old ( yes! GASP! Xtians!!!!!!) and on the grounds of places where Aztecs did human sacrifices. I see the beauty in those unbroken traditions and those deserted places. But I also realize they are not my traditions.

Because we are more sensitive to the power of energy and magic, we see and crave the power in those indigenous traditions. Christianization stripped our indigenous practice and dulled down what they did preserve. We have to dig and dig and dig to learn our lore and study the history of our people’s old practices.

On the other hand, all this indigenous stuff is right THERE…right in front of us! Merchants will sell a lot of “ authentic” stuff. Even better, sometimes, you can just show up uninvited and dance or whatever they are doing once you pay your admission fee! It is exhilarating to feel the power of being in those circles. It is absolutely intoxicating. Enough people will let you do it- as long as you are paying to do so, but guess what, white people? You are not Native American, or Peruvian, or African, or whatever. You are still white, and while you are allowed to pretend, it does not hold the same power it does for the actual initiates, and it never will.

Unless they are selling you something or you have been adopted, or accepted as a student into their tradition, (it can happen) these people do not like you snooping around. It is considered disrespectful profaning of the sacred. If you don’t believe me, or you think I am a judgmental, self-righteous bitch or that I am assuming I can control everybody’s personal practice, go try it. I don’t suggest anybody take my word for it. Find out for yourself.

Then and Now

One thing that separates modern solitary neos trying to recreate old practice from the old practitioners- besides time, of course, and actually belonging to that culture- is that the old religions were not focused on the individual. They were focused on the community. Many European high days that we have reworked as Sabbats were based on the seasons and the harvest. It was a community thing. Planting, nurturing, harvesting and storing crops were a group endeavor. Ancient European Pagans did not cast their circle and light a candle on high days by themselves. They helped with the work, and they feasted and prayed and gave sacrifice together afterwards. Just like everybody else and with everybody else.

Also, the way we get ordained differs. A lot of folks self-initiate into a newly created tradition, and oftentimes start new groups that they themselves have supreme power over. They recognize no elders, yet claim instant eldership for themselves, and bristle when the inevitable happens and somebody tells them they are full of shit.

I sometimes call myself the most hated Pagan in Columbus, because I have many times told such individuals what I think of them.

Their response entails them accusing me of insinuating I am better than everybody else because I was initiated by somebody who was initiated. I am often reminded of the fact that Wicca is not old anyways. I point out I don’t think I am any better. I just think you can’t claim to be Wiccan if you are not initiated into Wicca. The same goes for any other religion or tradition that requires initiation or passing classes to attain membership. I do not understand why people find this so difficult to understand. So you did not get baptized, have a first communion, and get confirmed a Catholic? Then you are not a Catholic. It is that simple, and it is the same with any tradition that calls for initiation.

What I also find so difficult to understand is how we have so many instant “urban shamans” and other instant holy people who have never studied with a real holy person. How is it that we have so many instant High Priests and Priestesses because they read things on the internet but never studied under a clergy person? How many white voodoo practitioners do we have who have never attended a real voodoo ritual, and would not kill a chicken to save their own life? And so on and so forth.

Many of these individuals demand kow-towing every time they enter the room and are dying to acquire followers. They are easily spotted because they are often anxious to pick an argument with established facilitators and elders. If somebody asks them for proof of some claim or why they do things a certain way, a tantrum often ensues. These folks are dying to be in the spotlight and take on a lot of responsibilities, but have a difficult time sharing the credit for team efforts.

Welcome to modern neo-Paganism. Everybody is an instant Priest or Priestess and you better bow to them just because they read a lot on their own, and they will be mad at you if you do not!

The Ancients and Ordination

Like most every neo, I research. I have discovered that not many of these old traditions worked the way we do by allowing instant ordination of clergy. As a matter of fact, I believe that absolutely none of them did.

Typically, you had your priestly orders, which had a small amount of members, and then you had everybody else. Or as Xtians do, you have the clergy, and the congregation is separate. A majority of the people belonged to the congregation. The Clergy might have had a job they did, like their own field to plow…but to be clergy was their JOB and the congregation, or tribe supported this. An excellent example of this today is how the Christians employ their clergypersons full-time . They get days off, sick time, insurance benefits, and vacation time, just like any other profession.

Modern neos, on the other hand, often resent paying a fee for classes or supplies and expect their priests and priestesses to provide a free location, all supplies, and not even ask love offerings in exchange for the work of ministering. We have a sense of entitlement in Pagan circles. The attendees oftentimes think it is the responsibility of the priests and priestesses to be on call 24/7 and foot the bill for everything as well. Priests and Priestesses are publically criticized and demonized if they charge money for services sometimes. I have seen Covens dissolved because of this dynamic and this is one thing I believe that is keeping us from having our own sanctuaries for every community. This is one reason why so many Pagan and metaphysical stores go out of business.

This was not practiced in the old days. In days of yore, tribute may have been paid to the temple for maintaining things or a tax or tithe would be collected. The clergy made administrative decisions for the town or tribe. They decreed war, they decreed death, they beat the shit out of people, or humiliated them as punishment in the town square, and they decided political alliances with other towns, nations, or tribes.

An example comes from The Celts, by Gerhard Herd on page 149:

In all public and private quarrels, (Caeser asserts) the priests alone judge and decide. They fix punishments and rewards, where crimes or murder have been committed, or boundary and inheritance disputes arise. If a private person or persons fail to respect their decision, they can exclude the men involved (where need be, the whole tribe) from public worship. This is for them, the worst punishment imaginable. Those thus excommunicated count as godless criminals; all men must avoid them and eschew talk with them, lest the infection be passed on.”

Unlike modern Pagan groups, if somebody from the town came and said to the Priests “I don’t have to do what you say because I am studying on my own, and you can’t tell me what to do!!!!!!!” they were cut off. It was as simple as that. They did not break off and start their own druid circle or whatever and compete with the clergy that had been established for generations.

Excommunication from the Catholic Church and the Amish shunning are two examples of this ancient practice being carried into modern times. In the old days, the “old ways” dictated you did as you were told by who was entrusted to lead.

My Way, Your Way

Pre-Christian Pagans had a set way of doing things. They had certain days they did things. Events were decided by celestial activity and were announced by the people who had learned how to read seasonal signs as to when the events should occur. Everybody went along with this because it was the way things had been succeeding for generations. The stone circles in the British Isles are a good example of this. When the sun aligned with a certain stone, or a certain opening within a certain structure, events such as Samhain began. It let people know when certain planting or harvesting activities were to occur and when to do certain things with the livestock based on the weather. The priests were responsible for keeping track of this. I highly doubt there were people who argued with the timekeepers and did not “want to” harvest at the right time because they did not “want to be told what to do.”

Responsibility for these things was handed down to people who demonstrated they could maintain the post. It was a big job, and not just anybody could do it.

The Chosen Few

Clergy membership was sometimes established by blood lines or decided at birth. The holy person’s daughter or son, for example would succeed them, or some youth who was pointed out by some omen or by some ability that superseded anybody else’s. Sitting Bull, for example was chosen because he was very generous and intelligent. At the age of ten, he had his first successful bison hunt, and he gave away most of the meat to elders who could not hunt for themselves. Those were considered to be early signs of good leadership skills.

It was often within small towns or tribes where few people left and few moved into that ancestor veneration was a huge part of the tradition. Priests’ blood relatives succeed them oftentimes. One practitioner by the name of Isaiah Oke was a Nigerian juju priest who began training at age ten under his grandfather. It was his birthright to continue the priestly tradition and it was entrusted to him to write down the rituals and teachings. He wound up converting to Christianity instead and completely destroyed the ancestor altar where relics and items had been venerated and maintained for generations! His fascinating story can be read in Blood Secrets, as told to Sam Wright.

All the same DNA was swirling around within some clergy circles, like Oke’s. If you suggest this is valid, many white neo Pagans will immediately scream from the rooftops that you are a racist. But in days of yore, you had tiny villages that nobody left and nobody came into very often if at all. Like royalty tries to keep kingly titles within the family, some clergy keep priestly titles within family. This practice can be found in some tribes where families belong to clans and each clan has jobs they do for the good of the tribe. They teach skills to succeed at these tasks so the whole of the people benefit. It is a form of specialization, and for many, this system works. It is done for practical reasons, not racist ones.

Us and Them and their blood and taboos!!!!!!!!!

We say we are resurrecting how they did things, but we look down on nearly everything they did. Not just by how they studied, (from childhood, and for decades), how they observed taboo (strictly), how they became clergy (by birth or by omens or capabilities, and after being chosen by existing clergy) but also how they worshipped and what they gave to the gods.

Blood. It is a sensitive topic for today’s Pagans. We’re sick of being accused of sacrificing kittens,and babies, and virgins, and puppies to the devil. The fact remains, that blood sacrifice, sometimes including human sacrifice, was a huge part of many ancient pre-Christian religions.

I will refer to The Golden Bough by James Frazer to reference this.

Various examples of pre-Christians using humans as sacrifice are listed in the section “ Human sacrifices for the crops”. The colorful language used by Frazier, who was writing prior to 1922 illustrates the attitude many have about these practices. He refers to the practices as “savage”. Many of the people’s practices, from various South American tribes, to places in India, and the Philippines are listed in great detail. From how the sacrificial victim is killed, how the body was chopped up before it is given to the earth, and whether cannibalism occurred are included.

So, ritual murder, butchering a human body, and then eating part of the body was a pre-Christian Pagan practice in many cultures. Of course, animal sacrifice was sometimes used instead, as in many Germanic tribes. Let’s not even mention stories of the groves of trees dripping with body parts the Druids reputably were in charge of, or the divination they did with the entrails of somebody they killed. Oops! I mentioned it! Let’s completely forget they used to watch how a ritual murder victim thrashed as they died for a form of divination as well.

I cannot think of one neo-Pagan I have met who would roll up their sleeves to help with this type ritual, let alone condone it, but ritual sacrifice was a major part of old ways. Various tribes in Ecuador and the Amazon are said to still practice killing people for head shrinking, and that is done sometimes for the purpose of making sure there are few enough people alive not to upset a balance. That my friends, is very Pagan.

We also forget taboos were a greater part of those ancient societies than even most modern Christians embrace. For example- while Gardner incorporated ritual nudity into religious practice, nudity was seen as unacceptable by many European Pre-Christian Pagans. It was used as torture and indignity during Roman crucifixion. They also forced the condemned naked into arenas for execution. While Romans at the time were Pagan and did beautiful nude statues of the gods, to be naked and tortured and killed was seen as great indignity, not as sacred.

People point out that some Gaulish tribal peoples ran naked into battle and it was stated their nudity made them feel closer to their gods- according to Romans, that is. However, the Gauls still wore clothing, and their priests, the Druids, were attested to have worn white robes, not to have officiated naked. I am not criticizing skyclad ritual. I am simply pointing out that to be naked in ritual is not characteristic of many pre-Christian Pagans. It is utilized by some in Wicca because some of the founders of Wicca were practicing nudists and preferred nudity. Period.

Sex!

While open relationships may be a huge part of what a lot of the folks who circle in Neo-Pagan groups embrace, having sex outside of marriage was immediate grounds for public shaming, genital mutilation, or even death in some Pre-Christian villages. Tacitus wrote about the punishment of having her head shaved and being paraded and whipped naked through the village that a woman would endure if her Germanic Pagan husband caught her being unfaithful in certain tribes. You find attestations of polygamy in the pre-Christian Jewish communities- but only for men. Women were not to have multiple mates, and like the mother of Jesus, if she was suspected unchaste before marriage, a woman could be condemned to death by public stoning…unless of course, she had been raped, and her rapist agreed to marry her.

In ancient Rome, some of the rich were well known for their lavish orgies. What many do not know, however, is that some of the attendees at some of those orgies were slaves, and the sex those servants engaged in would be considered rape in many cases today- because they couldn’t say no. Back then it was a matter of rich people using their slaves, or property as they saw fit. This does not resemble being in an open relationship by today’s standards.

It is also forgotten that the cultures take on sex is one reason Christianity became popular in ancient Rome, especially amongst women. Christianity encouraged chastity in a world where if somebody outranked you, they could screw you as they saw fit. Soldiers could be expected to have to bend over and take it up the ass from superior officers regardless of whether they wanted to or not, and it was derisively joked that Caeser took it up the ass from Mark Antony. The Christian mindset, on the other hand, was that your body was yours and gods, as opposed to everybody’s who outranked you, and this was very well received. Despite what a lot of modern neo-Pagans want to believe, ancient Rome was not a paradise of sexual freedom where everybody did as they pleased.

The Trojan War happened because a woman openly took another lover and fled with him against her husband’s wishes. This occurred in a Pagan Nation, by the way. It was instigated by the gods themselves, but human beings reacted to such an insult with war, and an entire city fell. This was hardly a culture being supportive of people doing as they saw fit sexually.

It was common practice in some Apache tribes to cut a woman’s nose off if she was judged unfaithful. This was an old practice of theirs predating the colonization of the Americas by Europeans, and therefore Pre-Christian.

Hinduism, also values chastity outside of marriage, and they have many ascetics who take lifelong devotions of celibacy. Hinduism is believed to be the world’s oldest religion and certainly not monotheistic.

So, we see that not all non-Abrahamic disciplines advocate zero sexual taboos.

What about women?

Sex aside, women are assumed to have been revered above all in all parts of the world before the Abrahamic religions became supreme. Not so. Any ancient religion where the lead of the pantheon is male- is a male dominated pantheon, and often also a male dominated people as evidenced by cultural practice. Zeus and Odin are just two examples of this. Male dominated tribal societies did not venerate the great mother above all or put women on a pedestal of human divinity. Many times, women were seen as inferior to men, although Pagan pantheons have female goddesses as well as male gods. It cannot be denied that in some cultures like Ancient Egypt, women had better rights and status than women in ancient monotheistic Israel. But like the Germanic Pagan woman accused of adultery mentioned , not all women who belonged to polytheistic non-Abrahamic religions had equal or superior social status to men.

One culture long hailed for their worship of goddesses is the Mesopotamians. Specifically, a story is told in The Epic of Gilgamesh, where the beautiful goddess of love, Ishtar, is insulted, and her advances refused by a human male, Gilgamesh. He later defeats the monster she sends to punish him for this. While Gilgamesh’s friend dies for this, Gilgamesh survives, and his insults of her do not keep him from becoming famous for all his heroic deeds.

In ancient Sumeria, one of the Mesopotamian cultures, women went from being a daughter to a wife, and if her husband died, a widow, and they were allowed to remarry. Not only were women identified by their relations with the men in the family, but a mortal human could insult a goddess and still prosper. This is not equal status for women just because there were goddesses.

Moving along to Africa, because of white Neo-Pagan fascination with Voodoo , (which originated in Africa before people took it to Haiti) I will bring up the topic of breast ironing and female circumcision. These are Pagan peoples living in some villages in an estimated 27 African nations that still practice female circumcision also called female genital mutilation. For those who don’t know, it is a belief by some Pagan Africans that the female body is impure and pieces of it must be cut off to make a woman fit for marriage. Parts of her vagina, that is. Girls as young as toddlers are held down and parts of their bodies are sliced off without painkillers or anesthesia, and sometimes, it is enough to induce death. This is hardly veneration of the female divine in the form of human women.

Breast ironing is a more gradual process of beating on a girl’s breasts over time to deform them and flatten them, thus making the breast less attractive. It is painful, and sometimes heat is applied, and the victims are sometimes unable to breast feed in later years. It is done by many mothers who say they are trying to protect their girls from rape or early marriage. This is also not worship and veneration of women over men in non-Abrahamic cultures.

I have actually spoken with people who converted to Christianity from African and Haitian tribal faiths because of these ancient practices and Christian condemnation of them.

Those gorgeous Noble Savages!!!!!!!!!

One of the many ways we romanticize pre-Christian Pagans is to assume they were all gorgeous and always dressed BDSM style or in ball gowns or other expensive, uncomfortable clothes. We portray them in heroic looking capes and assume that they all rode pedigreed horses and gloriously won battles. In reality, they were agriculturists oftentimes and they butchered their own meat they either hunted or raised at home. Many of them were poor and worked for a landowner or were enslaved. The rich, the royals, and the Priests were separate from the peasantry oftentimes, and there were far more peasants than rulers. It was not a fun, glorious, magical life. They were sometimes knee and elbow deep in dirt and shit and worms and animal guts all day. The ruling class might be in battles, but it was not glorious. It was hell. There were no antibiotics, and a major cut meant gangrene set in and you could die soon or lose a limb.

When they were building the mounds and stone circles, I know for sure they bitched about their bad backs, and they did not have deodorant, so they oftentimes stunk by modern standards. Depending on where they lived, the average life expectancy was 40 or in places like Egypt or Rome, as young as 22. Many of them had lost some if not all of their teeth to rot by that time. The flu or upper resp killed them. Wintertime killed them. Having natural, unfiltered water and no pharmaceuticals to combat bacteria killed them. Having no vaccinations killed them. Worse yet, despite our obsession with valorous, glamorous natural tribal beauty, they were butt ugly and unspeakably smelly by today’s standards. They did not use cosmetics and skin care like we do. Precious few could afford the hygienic paraphernalia let alone had time to be gloriously gorgeous and richly dressed all day. That was oftentimes for special occasions only and the peasantry may never be able to have the time let alone the resources to dress up like we portray them.

Of course, I am not insinuating that every non-Abrahamic ancient person suffered and died early. I am just saying it was not all glorious fun constantly until the “evil” Abrahamics came and took it all away from us!!!!!!!!! I wish more Neo Pagans realized this.

Undoing our own illusions from the old ways can only help us as Neo-Pagans to learn more about what the past was actually like and what was actually practiced.

What they are like today

I had a wonderful opportunity to experience unbroken traditions. It was a trip to a pueblo in New Mexico a couple of winters ago.

Under the false impression my family ancestry included Native American heritage, which it actually doesn’t, I had begun studying Native American history and doing Native American beading. I was very proud of all the things I learned from my suburban table off the Internet. I friended Native American people on Facebook, and went to as many powwows as I could. I watched movies, and read books. I volunteered at our local Native American Center. I nominated people for awards for community service.

The Pueblo was different. It was a settlement people had been living in for a thousand years. It was adobe, so unlike our wood and drywall houses in the Midwest, they just smooth new layers of adobe over old layers to upgrade the structure as needs be. Photos from nearly one hundred years ago of this settlement look identical to how it looks today. There is no electricity and no running water. People wearing jeans and who drive cars live there the same way people did generations ago. Properties have been passed on from generation to generation. National publications have undertaken major photography shoots at the pueblo, and pictures from decades ago that became famous can be seen in some of the silversmiths shops, displayed with pride. People learned their crafts from parents and grandparents who learned from their parents and grandparents.

These people did not LOOK like the Midwestern Indians I had met. For one thing, they all looked related and they all were very dark. Many of the indigenous Midwestern folk I met were almost as light as me. As a matter of fact, the Pueblo people resembled the ground they used to make their adobe homes from. Their facial features were also more distinctive, and you could tell immediately who was related to whom. Trithfully, they all seemed related. All of them had this sense of identity that identified them as a unified PEOPLE, not a person, individual and separate from everybody else around them.

Sure, everybody did their own thing, but togetherness seemed MORE together. And individuals walking alone really did not seem to actually be alone. It was as if all the people who had lived in that Pueblo for a thousand years still went about their business. They were present, their hands helping bake the bread. Their voices spoke in unison with the drum maker as he spoke of his creative process. The people who taught the potters to create their masterpieces seemed to be there, having had a hand in creating pieces the artists offered for sale.

These practices, while not religious necessarily, have been passed down from generation to generation. The techniques have been improved over time and everything one person learns from another has been learned by dozens or more before.

What is Tradition?

This is a testimony of how powerful it actually is to belong to a tradition. Every word that was spoken to me by these people seemed to be uttered by multiple individuals simultaneously. Every breath taken was taken by all the ancestors of the living people breathing them. When they created, their teachers and their teachers teachers created with them.

Of course, everybody who learns a tradition changes it a little bit. Maybe this drum maker decides to use some new materials that were not available to his mentor. Maybe when he sings and plays his drum, he writes new songs to share that nobody has sung or played before.

Tradition is a living, breathing, ever evolving thing. Much remains the same, but just as much changes to accommodate the people currently keeping that tradition alive.

Being a part of a tradition is not a fear of change or a compromise of individuality, but a participation in something that is more powerful than all the individuals combined and a sustainable way to express individuality.

And that in and of itself is magical.

So while today’s Neo Pagans may oftentimes look down on tradition and initiation and learning from a mentor, I see great value and great power in it. On one hand, a lot of people are starved for tradition, because they can see the beauty and power in it, but the taboos needed to be observed, and the ability to put aside personal views and just cooperate proves too much for many of today’s American Neo Pagans. We were raised in a culture of instant gratification and with little discipline, after all, and participating in a tradition is both time consuming and you have to do as you are bloody well told sometimes.

The Benefits

Belonging to a tradition is not for everybody, but there are perks to at least looking into it, and below is what I feel are just a few of them.

  1. To learn from somebody with more experience than you. Believe it or not, there are experts even in these new traditions who have been at it for a long time, and have a lot of knowledge they will gladly share. My Priest is old enough to be my father and has been participating in groups and has been studying on his own since before I was born. While I may be smart and can experience things on my own, I listen when he speaks. Learning about forty plus years of somebody else’s experience combined with what I am currently experiencing enhances my knowledge.
  2. To share progress and what you have learned with other people, maybe helping one another along, is another benefit. Two heads are definitely better than one. Three, four, or even ten, are better. We come together to share thoughts, learning, and experiences, and sometimes, just to reassure one another. What gift one lacks, another can make up for. What one person did not think of, another will. Together, we learn more than we could learn on our own.
  3. To contribute to something that was in existence before your participation, and to leave a mark that will live beyond your membership. This point was effectively illustrated to me at the pueblo. A tradition may only be as good as it effectively serves its members, but it is greater than its members. Contributing to something that is greater than you is just one perk to contributing to a tradition.
  4. To give yourself time to experience things. Self study may not give the motivation to stick with something that a mentor encouraging you to keep trying can. Maybe you self-motivate better than most people, but it never hurts to be motivated and encouraged a little more sometimes.
  5. To measure progress. Degrees, grades, turning in assignments, and graduating to posts of responsibility gives you goals to reach for and review of work helps show what you can work towards for betterment.
  6. To provide opportunity to later become the mentor, helping new people the way your mentors helped you. The circle is unbroken in this way.

Working within systems is not for everybody. But just because it may not be for you does not mean traditions are useless or that people who prefer to practice them think they are better than you. On the other hand, If being in a tradition is your thing, do not be so quick to look down on all self taught people. Some of the greatest thinkers like Crowley and Gardner did much of their own research, even though they worked with others and had mentors.

Changing Times

In many ways, today’s Neo-Pagans are not at all practicing the old ways. Times have changed and people have changed. They way we live our lives and the way we structure religion has changed. We are inspired by the old ways. The very fact so many Neo-Pagans are inspired to research, and talk about old traditions helps keep the knowledge of them alive. Despite that, we are not in fact, actually practicing the old ways, unless we are actually participating in traditions that do the things the old traditions did.

We look to tribal peoples who have been practicing pre-Christian ways in unbroken lines of ancestry for inspiration, yet we refuse to acknowledge those are THEIR traditions, and that we cannot partake of because we are NOT them. We have the option to be adopted into their traditions if we are accepted. We rather, stay as outsiders, learning from internet and print, often published by other outsiders who are making money off claiming to belong to traditions that are not their own. In this way, we misappropriate those practices, and are incensed when initiates who have studied and worked for degrees or titles for decades speak up and say “No, you are not one of us.”

What is better?

Initiation or self-study?

Both.

We need both.

We need people keeping old practices and we need people creating new practices, even solitary ones.

Believe it or not, we need the self-taught people that spit at other people’s practices , traditions, and community work too. Occasionally, they unearth something nobody found or realize something nobody else realized.

So, worship.

Practice.

Be.

Respect traditions. Respect individuals.

Blessed Be.

Tink about It

October, 2014

Initiation & Dedication

For as long as I’ve been active in the pagan community certain themes or questions keep coming back. In forums, blogs, study groups and now in Facebook groups people come up with the same old issues. That’s fine, it’s the natural cycle of things. One of those topics is initiation.

Let me start with a recurring misconception, that can be disputed by grammar and common sense. You can NOT initiate yourself, that’s simply impossible. The definition of initiation can slightly differ from source to source but the essence remains the same. Initiation is a process and/or ceremony by which a person is admitted to an organization / group or to knowledge. This is typically done by someone else: members of the group or people who already have the knowledge. Hence, you can’t initiate yourself. You can’t introduce yourself to knowledge you don’t have. You can’t welcome yourself into a group you aren’t part of yet…
When the above definition is given, you can sit and wait for the next question to pop up: “If that’s true, then who initiated the first member, the first witch?” The answer is simple. No-one did. That doesn’t make the definition less valuable though! Someone has to start a group or tradition; that can be one person or more. Knowledge is gathered, experiences happen and the first person or original group decides to keep that knowledge and experiences to themselves as a group. Only people who become part of the group can share in this: a person has to be initiated into the group. Some groups initiate a person from the moment they make the commitment and become part of the group. Other groups require a certain time of study beforehand, or a test. Every group has its own requirements.

So you can’t self-initiate, but there is an alternative for solo-practitioners. You can do a self-dedication in which you can dedicate yourself to the gods, or to your own path. This is by no means less than an initiation; it’s simply something different. A dedication can be a wonderful and valuable experience. You can write your own ritual, or you can perform an existing one. For example, in “A Witch Alone” Marian Green describes a way to prepare and perform a self-dedication and Scott Cunningham offers one in his book “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”, but there are more examples to be found online and in books. Personally, I did several dedications at various times in my life. I see a dedication as a commitment to myself, my path and the gods. I wrote my own rituals for it, using ideas from books and others but moulding it into my own thing.

 

Dion

 

(quote from Dion Fortune’s “Esoteric Orders and Their Work and the Training and Work of the Initiate”)

 

 

(British traditional) Wicca is initiatory by definition and thus initiation is a very important ritual. You can’t blatantly ask for a first degree initiation, it is offered to you when you are considered to be ready for it. It’s more than just a ritual to become part of the coven and the wicca community. It is a rite of passage, a personal journey, a consciousness-altering experience, a commitment with rights and obligations, and so much more. Initiation into the mysteries is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
As with everything these days, you can find the complete rituals on the internet. Although I’m good at finding stuff online, I deliberately and consciously decided not to look for them. That was a challenge, because I like to have control and be prepared by knowing what’s coming. It is much better though to go in without knowing, trusting yourself and your initiator(s). Perfect love and perfect trust if you will. Let go, give in, surrender to the moment. If you’re able to do just that, it will be worth it.

Of course wicca isn’t the only tradition that works with initiation. Lots of other pagan traditions, paths, communities or whatever you want to call them have their own system. Every group is free to model it according to their own ideas. Some choose not to perform official initiations, but just have a welcoming ritual. Others have one or more degrees of initiation, each with their own requirements and purpose.

When talking about initiation in the pagan community, another question often pops up: is initiation necessary to be a witch? Well, that completely depends on whom you ask… Some will say it is absolutely necessary, others say it’s not. Nobody is wrong. It all comes down to which path you prefer. When you choose (British traditional) wicca, then yes: initiation is necessary. There are also paths that don’t require initiation, and groups that have inner and outer courts in which inner court is initiatory and outer court is not. ‘Witch’ and ‘wicca’ aren’t protected terms, so anyone can use them, initiated or not. They definitely don’t mean the same to everyone though, which can cause some discussion. Likewise, ‘initiation’ doesn’t always mean the same to everyone. A traditional coven won’t acknowledge the initiation of an eclectic coven, but it will accept the initiation of another coven within the same tradition. And then there’s something called an ‘initiation by the gods’, but that’s a subject for a new column someday.

Initiation & Levels

March, 2009

From the late 1950’s until around 1980, what is today labeled simply as modern Paganism was making its way through Britain and North America, slowly but inexorably growing and developing.  During that time, those who were initiated to our beliefs were cautiously screened for certain qualities and the decision to allow them access to knowledge about us was made only after due consideration.  In other words, newcomers were vetted before they were initiated.

The usual procedure went something like the following:  Someone who was already an initiate took notice of your interest in something that they considered a possible indicator of how you might favorably react to their way of thinking.  After some preliminary cautious probing of your beliefs and patterns of behavior, if the person thought you could be approached a little more directly, they would take their findings and information to the person in charge of their group (usually the High Priestess of their own coven) and ask how to proceed.  At that time, the rule of the High Priestess was nearly absolute and the etiquette involved in these matters was fairly clear.  The coven model was almost exactly like the ‘cell’ system of the WWII French underground; everything was kept separate and only the heads of the cells knew anything about the other cells.  You only became part of a cell after a careful and thorough investigation and some surreptitious testing.

The reasoning behind the use of this system was complicated.  It could be argued that it was a necessity because of the laws against witchcraft that existed in some places even until the ‘90’s, but that would be too superficial of an explanation.  The fact is that those laws were largely unenforced and often forgotten.  It wasn’t the legal atmosphere that required such clandestine measures.  By far, the cultural/social atmosphere was a great deal more influential in such matters.  At that time, to utter the word ‘witch’ was virtually guaranteed to raise the hackles of nearly every man, woman, and child within hearing distance.  Anything that smacked of being odd or counter to what the general population considered ‘normal’ was met with immediate distrust and automatic condemnation.

In the ‘50’s, the world was beginning to recover from the ravages of WWII and the Korean War.  Television was a relatively new and fascinating technology and method of communication.  Its impact on the public’s psyche was (and arguably still is) huge, greater than the movies, telephone, and radio combined.  ‘Normal’ was shown on The Tube from 6:30 to 10:00 and every person, every family, nearly all of society gauged all behavior against the standard set by the makers of this form of ‘entertainment’.  What was shown on the TV news was important; what wasn’t shown was unimportant.  What was portrayed as the modern family on TV was the way every family should be.  And if you didn’t look and act like that, you didn’t measure up; you had failed.  The pressure to maintain the image set by TV was enormous.  And nearly everyone ‘failed’ in some way.

The Bohemian movement that had risen in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had made its way across the Atlantic, eventually becoming the Beat Generation of the ‘40’s and then transforming into the Hippie culture of the ‘60’s in America.  One of the hallmarks of this phenomenon was an in-your-face rejection of the standards set by the TV programs.  If it was considered ‘normal’ by most of society, it was almost automatically opposed by members of The Hip Generation.  Not surprisingly, so-called ‘organized religion’ suffered the same kind of rejection.  Many people who weren’t quite brave enough to drop completely out of society in such a dedicated way still hovered around the edges of the counter-cultural Hippie movement and selectively took comfort in the no-rules-applied social and material lifestyle.  The spiritual atmosphere was ripe for stunning changes and Paganism was well suited for growth in that environment.

By the mid 70’s, information about various forms of Paganism was becoming more available to the general population.  More and more books and magazines were showing up with real information about ‘witchcraft’, magic(k), and several other varieties of what we now see as the rainbow of spiritualities covered by the term ‘Pagan’.  The coven system, portrayed by medieval propaganda and encouraged by Gerald Gardner and others influential in the formation of modern witchcraft in the ‘50’s, was well tailored to provide insulation from the pressures of social outrage.  At that time, the word, ‘Wicca’ was almost never used; ‘witchcraft’ had a much more thrilling and even naughty allure.  And it appealed to the freewheeling, freethinking members of the counter culture who saw mainstream religion as part of the problem of a society they had rejected.  The increasing amount of information available to anyone created an evolutionary change in the coven system and the Pagan movement as a whole.

The most obvious change was a breakdown of the stringent code of secrecy that surrounded the covens and their members.  Whereas it once was seen as dangerous to proclaim one’s self as a ‘witch,’ more and more people were doing just that.  At first, only the people who either did not care about or perhaps even enjoyed the scandal elicited by the publicity of their behavior became visible.  The media had a field day over them.  Very few people saw (or wanted to believe) the more sophisticated public witches (such as the famous British witch, Sybil Leek) as representative of our beliefs.  Instead, they saw the outlandishly gowned, silver ringed, garish, and rude behaving ex-Hippie who now justified his or her juvenile behavior by claiming to belong to a millennia-old belief system that could make anyone into toads.  Most of the public pointed and laughed while serious Pagans groaned and shook their heads.  Moreover, some elements in the public sector, most notably intolerant and militant representatives of some mainstream religions, saw a golden opportunity to capitalize on these displays and make anyone found ‘guilty’ of such peculiar beliefs a target for their condemnation.  The immediate effect of the attacks launched from the pulpits of these fire-breathers was for the covens to close ranks.  Paranoia and fear spread throughout the movement and was fueled by a few very public persecutions of some who had been ‘caught’ practicing their craft.  Property damage and physical harm were tolerated and sometimes even encouraged by local officials and even some national politicians.  Jobs were lost, children taken away, and rights violated with no more respect for law and order than that given by a lynch mob.

But the covens didn’t just hunker down and try to weather the storm.  They began to band together, thinking that strength was to be found in numbers.  Small groups became larger groups with the hope that their power would be increased.  This had profound effects on the entire future of Paganism.  One of the first was the further breakdown of secrecy.  Not only did individual members of a coven know of and were intimately associated with members of other covens, but the larger the group became, the greater the number of tongues that spoke without due caution.  Combined with the feeling by many that it was time for the world to know the ‘truth’ about our spirituality and a willingness for publishers to buy the writings of these people, the public was exposed to even more information about us.  Luckily, some of it was even fairly accurate.  As the groups grew, rivalries became more intense.  So-called ‘witch wars’ began to explode with the result that we were fighting each other more than we were making the world safer for our kind.  Thinking that the larger the group the more influence it would have, it followed that each group needed to grow in numbers faster than its neighbors.  The standards that once excluded some from becoming initiated by a coven began to matter less and less.

Anyone who wished could write in and get a card saying they were a first degree Witch.  And a growing number of people didn’t even bother with such formalities as getting a card; they would simply declare themselves to be this or that flavor of Pagan and claim to be self-initiated.  Because of the initial paranoid reaction of the covens, the concept of self-initiation began to gain favor.  Some less scrupulous persons would make claims about having such great knowledge of magic and spirituality it bordered on (and even crossed over the line of) the ludicrous.  And even a few who were actual initiates but poorly trained and unqualified to teach set themselves up as gurus of ‘esoteric mysteries’ (often with an outrageous price tag) and ‘masters’ of occult knowledge.  Most, if not all of the traditions and standards involving initiations changed from what they meant in the latter half of the twentieth century and were considered by some to be of little value.

The system of three degrees that was maintained by most of the covens was being abandoned by many and there were some who argued that they never were anything more than meaningless ceremonies and fancy labels.  In their place came various reputable (for the most part) training schools and facilities that provided well-organized lessons presented by educated and skilled teachers.  The training offered to today’s Pagan is in many ways superior to what was available only a few years ago.  But initiations are still important and degrees still have meaning.

Many people who now consider themselves Pagan have not been initiated.  It used to be popular to say one was ‘self-initiated’ and then try to defend the claim and even the authority of the concept itself.  Exactly what was meant by such claims was never well spelled out.  Usually, if anything other than a way to authorize ones presence and participation, it meant that the person had made a self-dedication of some kind and marked that moment as the beginning of their search for spiritual understanding.

This was and is admirable and it could even be argued as necessary for anyone who joins a religion of any kind.  But is it an initiation?  And if not, what is an initiation and why is it important?

Initiations are important for some very sound emotional and psychological reasons.  Initiations are quite literally a life-changing event.  They should result in the initiate emerging from the ceremony as a changed person.  The initiate should be able to look back to their former life and see it from a perspective that provides all of it with new meaning.  And they should be able to look ahead with new understanding and meaning to every aspect of their life from that point on.  To perform such a task by one’s self is possible but highly unlikely.  If done consciously, it requires a dual perspective that borders on multiple personality.  Most who have gone through a real self-initiation have done so accidentally; events came together that caused an epiphany.  Even then, however, the event is poorly understood by the initiate and its meaning is not clearly seen until a considerable time has passed.  The subject may not even know that they are different from their former self until they have it pointed out to them by others who have known them well before the event.  Also, such epiphanies usually don’t have the lasting effect of a proper initiation conducted by others.

A rite of initiation is a carefully planned event that takes the initiate through something close to an epiphany and gives substance to the new perspectives that result from it.  The initiate knows they have changed and has at least a partial knowledge of what that change is supposed to engender.  To do this, the initiation ritual must accomplish three things:  It must place the initiate in a condition of psychic excitement that concentrates that person’s mental and emotional resources into one area.  Then it needs to separate the ego from that intense energy.  This step puts the initiate in a mental state that allows them to see their former self in a non-judgmental way and gives them new information and perspective about that past life.  Sometimes this is like a ‘psychic knockout’ and the initiators must realize that the initiate is extremely vulnerable while in this peculiar state of shock.  Every measure should be taken to insure the initiate’s physical, emotional, and psychic safety while this is going on.  That is why the authority to initiate was reserved to only those who had proven their sensitivity, superior knowledge, and unquestionable honor in the old three-degree coven system.

The third and last thing the initiation rite must do is to provide a meaning and focus to the new identity that will emerge in the initiate’s life thereafter.  Because this will be only a ‘seed,’ it should be mysterious.  That is, each initiate should be able to interpret it in a myriad of ways and will do so throughout their life.  Though mysterious, that seed should have a general purpose.  What that purpose may be is up to the initiators and their tradition.  We might say that a person has been initiated to a particular tradition or spiritual path, but in truth, they will be initiated to this seed of purpose and meaning.  The tradition or path is only there as fertilizer to help the seed grow.

The three-degree initiation system used by Gardner, et al was often seen as hierarchal.  Many still refer to these degrees as ‘levels’ which unfortunately perpetuates the idea that they confer superiority of the person’s position within the tradition.  This is a misrepresentation of the entire concept.  All three degrees are the steps everyone keeps going through as they follow their spiritual path.  To say that a person is ‘superior’ because they are at a particular position along a circular path is ridiculous.  It is by far more important that they are on a pathway and in motion than to ascribe rank to where they are.  All paths are circular and, ultimately, we all begin from a point beyond this world and we shall all end up there as well.  To assume one person is superior to another simply because they are on a different point of that circle is not worth further comment.

The three degrees of initiation are three focal points.  They represent the processes we go through as we try to understand our relationship to the world.  The first initiation celebrates the act of discovery.  This is characterized by wonder and excitement as well as a zeal for exploration of the object of discovery.  In a way, discovery is an act of creation for us and we receive great satisfaction from diving head first into our investigations.  We play (which is the highest form of discovery) with our new wonder and take great joy in all of it.  This is the First Degree.

Sooner or later, however, some parts of our discovery prove to be less wonderful than others.  We begin to see things that we don’t like or we think need improving.  Our familiarity with our discovery has produced some dissatisfaction and we become critical.  We might attempt to ‘fix’ it or we might cast about for something else, something more ‘perfect’ for us to play with.  We may reject our discovery altogether and believe that we are changing pathways.  During this phase, it is normal for the initiate to be highly critical, agitated, and to have feelings of being lost or adrift.  This is the point at which the initiate is most creative but also the most headstrong.  Second Degree is also where the initiate becomes more discerning and discovers new directions.  It is a time in which they can discover an area of interest that fascinates and attracts them to the exclusion of all others.  This is what is meant by The Great Work (a phrase undoubtedly borrowed from the Masonic orders) and it can simultaneously be both the most wonderful and the most terrifying of times.  The initiate will usually need much comfort and moral support during this time.  This is Second Degree.

Third Degree is not as easy to describe.  It is where the person has become familiar enough with their discovery that it has become part of their definition of self.  Their experience has allowed them to see it from many perspectives and their judgment and critical analysis has been transformed into wisdom and involvement.  They understand that their discovery is not just black and white, good or bad, but actually a rainbow and matrix that is always in a state of flux and connected to everything else.  As they grow more able to deal with their discovery, they make new ones and extend their involvement in the world around them.  And thus the cycle travels full circle and begins again.

Initiations in the Craft focus on a person’s discovery, analysis, and understanding of their magical and spiritual path and that is as it should be.  But these initiations should in no way be construed as a ranking system.  They highlight the initiate’s position in their discovery of the Craft but are not a judgment of their worth or authority.  Everyone operates on all three levels at all times.

True self-initiation, though possible, is rare.  But even initiation through others is difficult to accomplish in the strictest sense of the word.  To initiate is to begin, and it is very difficult to cause another to begin their journey unless they have already placed their feet upon a road that is a branch of our particular spirit path.  Consequently, most initiations are ceremonies created to improve the initiate’s ability to understand their pathway.  It is a procedure designed to help them make sense of the confusing and sometimes frightening journey ahead of them.  And it is a celebration of their participation in that journey.

There is every reason to continue initiations but it is important that they are done with considerable care and be crafted to fit our traditions as well as the person being initiated.  Self-initiation is unlikely to accomplish what a group can do to help the initiate understand the changes that have and will happen to them.  Our growth as a faith group is accelerating and it has changed how we are able to relate to one another as well as the rest of our society.  But we should not abandon one of the best methods we have to make our spirituality meaningful and beautiful for all who wish to be a part of it.

Oh Mighty Ones, I pray for understanding and compassion for the wonders of the world around me and all my relations.  May my life be a celebration of the magic You have given the world and a worship of Your love.  May all who seek, in whatever way they can, find You within their own hearts as I know You are in mine.

When first you feel magic’s thrall,

And everywhere you turn,
You hear its call,

You never suspect that you will fall,

Into that blissful trap:

To Be ALL!