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By Aaron Leitch (Khephera)
Welcome once again to the Mage's Guide. This is a series of essays dedicated to guiding the new student of the occult arts along an often confusing path. Herein, I have attempted to outline some of the major obstacles the seeker will encounter along his long climb to the summit of magickal experience. It is vital to understand the cultural factors that are working for or against one in such an undertaking. The main factor that plagues the modern student is simply an overabundance of information. Some of the information is good, most of it is bad. How can one ever hope to scale the endless stacks of useless printed and electronic material, and settle upon a course of action that will lead to magickal success? That, in fact, is the focus of this series.
At the same time, I have loosely attributed each installment so far with one of the four virtues of the mythical Sphinx: To Know, To Dare, To Will, and To Keep Silent. Installment one I called the Virtue of Silence, as I hoped to impress upon the reader the vital need to remain silent and solitary in the beginning, learning from various sources without claims or boasts. It also focused on how (and how not) to interact with others on the internet and in real life. Installment two was called the Virtue of Will, where I discussed the pros and cons of eclecticism, and the need for focus and dedication. Now we reach installment three:
My last two installments have all focused on passive techniques of safety, information gathering, and the proper mind-set to begin a serious scholarly study of magick. However, today we are discussing an important aspect of actual practice- the forces of initiation.
Hang around the internet occult message areas long enough, and someone will eventually ask to have the concept of "initiation" explained to them. Once that happens, the debate that will follow is predictable enough. Some few will claim that one must have an initiation ceremony performed by a master in order to use magick at all. Most will claim you need no such thing. Others will claim some stance between the two extremes. Yet, it is most unlikely that anyone will offer an explanation of what initiation is in and of itself. In this essay, we will explore the significance of magickal initiation, what it is, how it works, and what you can do about it.
The word "initiate" literally means "to begin". That is to say, it means to take the fist steps, or perhaps to switch on a process. You can initiate a lawsuit, or initiate a trend- or you might initiate a study of the occult. This, of course, is as simple as picking up your first book, and following that with your first practice session. However, when you hear others speaking of their own initiations, they are obviously speaking about something slightly different. They are indicating some sort of magickal process, or ceremony, which served to transform them into something more than they had been.
However, make no mistake, the word still means the same thing. An initiation- even a cosmic magical process of transformation- is still simply a beginning. Take note that this is the case in each of the definitions I will give below. No initiation in and of itself can make one an experienced adept with instant access to celestial power. Instead, it is more akin to the first day in Karate school, where everyone is handed a brand new white belt. All it means is that the student showed up, and that they have taken their first steps (a beginning) in a new discipline. The little known fact (whether it be Karate, magick, or a college course) is that one is not considered a master of a degree, belt, or grade until one leaves that degree behind. One might take the three degrees of Wicca as an example- an aspirant of the first degree is merely a student thereof until the second degree initiation takes place.
(This raises an amusing and useful point. When you encounter someone who attempts to use their "rank" or grade to impress you, always remember that you can- by default- subtract one from that grade for a more realistic idea of his knowledge and experience.)
Therefore, it might be that some of the things you were hoping about initiation are not true. While an initiation can set you in the direction of magickal growth, it can not accomplish the task in and of itself. It is not instant, and it is not even guaranteed. There are many people who are simply not ready for the forces stirred up by such a process, and thus are affected little (or affected badly) by them. Even those who are ready can wait for weeks, months, or even years before they are ready to move on to higher work.
Of course, this does not mean that the process is not vital- even if it were to take years. The fact is that no one who attempts to utilize the art of magick can escape the force of mystical initiation. This would be akin to suggesting that one could begin lifting weights without affecting the muscular system, or jog without affecting the circulatory system. If you use a part of your body, it is going to "switch on" and begin to do what comes natural. And that, in a nut-shell, is what initiation is all about. It is the switching on, or awakening, of your magickal self. It is the opening of your astral senses, the expansion of your awareness, and a general re-ordering of your psychological and neurological state. Your everyday man on the street can not perform the arts of magick any more than he can compete in weight-lifting contests or marathons (and remember that this goes for you, the new student, as well). It takes one who has developed all of the correct skills, and who has transformed his physical, mental, and spiritual self into a form that can accomplish miracles. Initiation is about becoming a new person- more than what you were before.
This can be one of the most harrowing and frightening periods for any aspirant, as he must watch his life shift and change in accordance with his new awakening and greater awareness. He is, in essence, embarking on a journey into a new universe; where the rules are different, and which may take him far from friends and loved ones of his past. This is why I have associated the Virtue of Daring to this installment. Having decided upon your course, it is time to begin considering the actual steps forward, and to accept all that comes with it. This is daring, indeed!
A formal initiation ceremony, performed by experienced adepts upon trusted students, is always the best case scenario. This option involves at least an aspirant and a master- if not an entire hall of officers- and the application of a formal ceremonial initiation.
It is common today to see these initiations downplayed as mere Magickal Order "red-tape". The idea is that these initiations are unnecessary for magickal growth, and exist only as formalized "swearing-in" ceremonies; such as the US President undergoes, or the highly involved Rites of the Masonic orders. It is true that this is a very large aspect of the initiations performed by magickal orders and covens. However, those who claim that this is "all" there is to the ceremonies are those who have not experienced them. In fact, these rites are highly magickal, and affect real change within the aspirant.
When you have chosen your magickal path, you have to keep in mind that you are going forth to personally meet with the Gods, Angels, and spirits of that particular path. In this sense, the various paths are referred to as "magickal currents". This suggests a more proper imagery- as if the astral plane were a great sea filled with currents criss-crossing throughout time and space. The ancient Egyptians had their own magickal current- a form of religion and mysticism that was distinctly their own. Meanwhile, the Sumer-Babylonians had their own magickal current, with it's own specific flavors.
Even within one land, or time, various currents can be discerned. Using Egypt as an example again, we can see that a Temple to Osiris would have had it's own personal current, different from a Temple to Thoth. In this sense, we have yet another term for the same force: an "egregore". Traditionally, this word referred to an artificial astral being created by a wizard as a kind of spirit helper. Today, the word has come to indicate a magickal current. However, as opposed to the imagery of rivers or seas, it gives one the impression of a conscious entity with it's own distinct personality. The egregore of a magickal group is the consciousness of the entire group. More than being its patron deity, the egregore is the combined efforts of various deities and spirits associated with the group, as well as the actions and energies of its human members.
What this knowledge creates is a very important dynamic between a human aspirant, and the astral current he is approaching. It makes it clear that each existing egregore has it's own ways of going about things. Each has it's own entities (or pantheon), and it's own set of Keys for entrance. Words and gestures that are vital to the entrance of one will mean nothing to another. If one attempts to gain the attention of the Babylonian God of the Sun using prayers written in Gaelic, one can only expect to work harder for results.
This is where the initiation ceremony comes into play. Just as it is a formal indoctrination to the group, so too is it a formal introduction to the egregore of that current. Only the adepts of that current know all of its keys, and how to get the attention of all of the right spiritual entities who must be present. Just as importantly, the magical force raised during these rites actually imprints your psyche and your aura. It is literally plugging you into the egregore, with all of the connections in the right place. For examples of this, simply find any book which contains initiation ceremonies. A Witches' Bible by the Farrars, or The Golden Dawn by Israel Regardie are great examples. Simply read through the ceremonies and take note of the various symbols that are presented, and those that are actually projected at, inscribed upon, or otherwise brought into physical contact with the aspirant. They are different for each magickal group and egregore.
Of course, this does not mean that undergoing such an initiation will forever imprison you within one current. Refer back to my last installment on eclecticism, and the fact that it is completely possible to engage in various currents at once. It is also possible to leave a current behind- to either return to it or not at your own will. In a functioning group, it is even possible to expel a member- after which said member would have no further access to the group's current at all.
Also keep in mind that any worthy initiation ceremony will be good for you in the long run. Even if you decide to leave that current later on, the spiritual growth and awakening that you gained from the experience are yours forever. If you are a Wiccan, there is no harm in your taking a Golden Dawn Initiation. The effects would reflect upon your practices of witchcraft, or any other form of magick.
This is a subject that always causes heated controversy. Astral initiation is where the aspirant is initiated by adepts who are actually miles away. The first question a student usually asks about astral inititation is if such a thing is even possible. I would say yes, it is possible to some degree. A group- such as a Masonic Lodge or Golden Dawn Order- can grant you formal "access" to their egregore by merely mailing you the proper papers. (That is called "institutional lineage" rather than "initiatory lineage.") Likewise, such a group- in your absence- can perform a magickal ceremony whose intent is to announce your membership to the group and its Spiritual Guardians. Even more, the ceremony can call upon those Guaridans to bring initiation to the new member- wherever they are.
However, there are a couple of downsides to this practice. First of all, there is simply no substitute for the experience of being presnt in a Temple for your formal Initaition Ceremony. "Absentee" initiation lacks the psychological impact, it lacks the direct contact with the magickally charged instruments and talismans, and it lacks the emotional bonding with the Officers who will then become one's new spiritual brothers and sisters.
In the end, the student can receive very little spiritual benefit from an astral initiation alone. That is to say, he can't just sit around at home watching TV and, at the proper time- BING- he's an initiate. He must be at home *participating* in some manner. He might be sitting in meditation with incense, candle and soft music playing- doing his best to "tune in" on the group who is working for him. Or he could perform his own Rite that corresponds in real-time with the work of the group. (See below for more on the concept of Self Initiation.) In any case, he will have to get to immediate work on his studies and active practice afterward, if he wishes for any benefit at all- which is also true for any type of initiation process. (See below for more on the subject of Passive Initiation.)
Another downside to astral initiation is the danger of running into fraudulent groups. On one hand, such predators may simply be after money- either for the initiations (which they may or may not perform) or for subsequent correspondence courses. On the other hand, the intended initiate is essentially agreeing to allow complete strangers to work magick upon him. I am not saying there are no honest attempts at astral initiation out there! However, I do wish to stress to the reader to always consider what you know, and what you may not know, about a group that wants to sell you an astral initiation.
Overall, the greatest majority of occultists do not have access to experienced groups. Even if one joins a Coven or Order later in their path, chances are still greatest that they will begin that path alone. It is likely that, for many students, no formal initiation ceremony will ever be enacted for them by a master.
In the above, I mentioned that those who claim that formal initiations are needless are those who have not experienced them. Here, however, I'm going to have to turn the tables. It is also common enough for those who have experienced a formal initiation to insist that one must follow suit or fail. During the 1980s and early 90s, it was quite usual to hear Wiccans telling others that one could only be a witch if one underwent an initiation by another witch. In such cases as this, I must say that only those who have not experienced the opposite would claim such a thing. In truth, it is possible- if difficult- to make your own way into the realm of the occult.
This series, of course, has been designed for just this kind of situation. By studying and practicing on your own, you will eventually make the same transformation that an initiation ceremony would grant. I personally made it alone for quite some time- reading everything I could get my hands onto. As I learned more and more about magick, and became more astute at putting it into practice, I found myself changing and re-shaping on all levels. As I read books about formal initiation Rites and spiritual evolution, I found that my own experiences mirrored what their ceremonies symbolized. My initiations, as they say, were strictly between myself and the Gods. In the end, of course, this is true no matter which of these techniques one chooses.
Seeking out a group and undergoing their techniques and training is definitely a short-cut, and eliminates any number of pitfalls and obstacles you would meet along the way as a solitary. The only one who can gage your progress as a solitary is yourself- and that is an extremely difficult thing to do. Those silent few who become masters via this route concentrate mainly on practical work, and the guidance of the small number of texts that have useful information. They make their way largely by trial and error. Although, there is one final option open to this kind of person (which is likely to be what you are yourself), and we will cover that now:
This option is a cross between the formal initiation by group, and the passive initiation of the solitary practitioner. It also happens to be one of the hottest occult debates of our modern time. Can a beginner, who has little to no experience, perform an initiation upon himself? Would this not be somewhat like performing surgery on oneself?
The answer is both yes and no- depending on the situation. If you attempted to perform the established initiatory rite of a group (such as the Golden Dawn Neophyte Initiation, or the First Degree Wiccan Rite) upon yourself, there is no chance that you will then be a member of that group. This is a big issue among the current neo-pagan and Wiccan communities. Before the 1970s and 80s, one could only become Wiccan if one found a coven with proper initiatory lineage and underwent their ceremonies. Today, Wicca has gained many sects that have no initiatory ties with the original groups; this meaning that the new sects arose on their own, without the involvement of any traditionally initiated Wiccan. I personally believe that it is acceptable to refer to oneself as Wiccan if that is the religion one chooses to adopt. However, one should stay away from referring to oneself as any specific type of Wiccan (i.e.- Gardnerian, Alexandrian, etc). The same goes for any other path you may choose. One can be a Golden Dawn magickian without claiming any grades or associations with a Temple. One can be a Thelemite without joining the O.T.O. By claiming to utilize a specific form of magick, you are merely illustrating how you go about things, and possibly the philosophies to which you adhere. It does not have to indicate or imply anything further.
Yet, there is a danger here. These rites were not written for the solitary practitioner, and it is quite impossible to do them correctly alone. This means altering the ceremony- and the student is just not in a position to make those kinds of decisions. Nor is the student experienced enough to perform all of the astral work that goes along with the physical movements of the ceremony.
Beyond all of this, however, there do exist further options. The most common is known as the "Self-Dedication". Space is too short here to grant full examples, but they can be found in many beginners' courses (a great one is included in Don Kraig's Modern Magick). Put simply, a self-dedication is a self-initiation. It is designed to formally gain the attention of- at the very least- your own personal guardians, and to state your dedication to the occult path. It works, and it works well. An aspirant who does this with his heart in the right place will soon find his life transforming at a rapid pace.
There is another method of self-initiation which extends back some way through history- and is even outlined in such magickal grimoires as the Key of Solomon the King. The process is summed up in a term you may have heard before: "Invoke Often". In fact, this method is closely allied with passive initiation- depending on the fact that simply using the forces will tend to initiate you into them. The only difference here is that one purposefully invokes a specific sequence of magickal forces with the intention of becoming an initiate of the higher spheres.
In the Key of Solomon the King, the aspirant is instructed to fashion a sequence of magickal talismans- several talismans for each of the seven planets. They follow in the order of Luna, Mercury, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Students of the Qabalah will know that this follows the ordering of the planets on the Tree of Life from lowest to highest, and astrology students will recognize this as the order of the planets by their speed across the sky- with Luna moving fastest, and Saturn (furthest away) moving the slowest. They represent the Seven Heavens of the Hebrew and Babylonian peoples, which must be passed through in order to reach the "Throne of God". The Key of Solomon has one use its Planetary talismans in succession to summon and command spirits related to each sphere. When these spirits arrive, the text tells us that the aspirant "…will see wonderful things, which it is impossible to relate, touching worldly matters and all sciences."
It seems apparent that all mages will eventually follow this course, regardless of their first initiatory experiences. Of course, one does not need to attempt something so drastic as summoning spirits for this purpose. One could just as well find or create invocations based upon the various spheres (or Sephiroth of the Tree of Light, if the Qabalah is your focus). This, in fact, adds Self-dedication into the mix; allowing one to invoke and dedicate oneself to each force in turn- from the most earthly to the highest.
Yet another option is to undertake formal ceremonies of initiation that have been re-written by adepts for the use of solitary aspirants. This is actually a completely modern option, and the majority of currently living wizards and witches had no access to such resources when they began. Today, you can run down to your local bookstore and pick up works such as Self Initiation Into the Golden Dawn Tradition by Chic and Tabatha Cicero. For those of a Wiccan bent, there is a self-initiation ceremony contained in A Witches' Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar. Of course, here the solitary still must face trial and error and the fact that he has only himself and his silent Guardians to guide him. However, a heart-felt dedication to the path will take one a long way; especially if it is accompanied with a self-dedication rite. Doing this will ensure that one is well aquatinted with the Mystery of Daring.
And this brings us to the end of this installment of the Mage's Guide. In the next issue, I will focus upon the final Virtue of the Sphinx: Knowledge. I will offer a list of books that you can easily purchase, and which I have personally found to be the best of the best. Even more, I will be discussing what is contained in each book, and how to use them all together to form a complete course of self-dedication, initiation, and awakening into the realm of magick. It will, I admit, focus largely on texts of ceremonial magick. However, I again must stress that your personal path does not have to figure into your decision to use these books. They will, after all, teach you how to use magick- regardless of your personal orientations. Plus, all of them are extremely "pagan-friendly", and should not be a cause of ethical concerns. Not everyone will wish to use them, of course, but anyone can gain useful information from them. Until then, Blessed Be.
Copyright© 1999, 2007 "Aaron Jason" Leitch
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