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The Initiation Process

By Alex Stark. Copyright and all rights reserved.

All initiatory processes are designed to introduce an individual into the next stage of their life and development. With adolescents, for example, this means that they are being introduced to adult society, and to the responsibilities, priviledges and obligations this entails. Marriage, Eldership, and Spiritual initiations are all important rites of passage which need to be honored and observed.

For more information, please consult the essay “On Initiation”, in the Essays section of our Resources page.

To achieve this, the initiatory process breaks down the main issues confronting the individual into a few manageable categories:

1. Relationship to the Natural World
2. Relationship to the Social World
3. Relationship to the Spirit or Spiritual World
4. Relationship to the Ancestors
5. Personal Talents and Creativity
6. Personal Mortality

Each of these categories represents a challenge and an opportunity. By opening up to each, the individual gathers strength, assumes personal control over their own power and responsibilities, and learns the meaning of cooperation and work

1. The Natural World
The basis idea here is to teach respect for all natural processes, and to make the individual understand that they are part of the web of nature. The fundamental concepts to teach are reciprocity and interdependence. To do this, you can do readings, take the initiate to wild places, and show him or her how technology destroys this web. The individual also needs to be give tools to maintain, develop and enhance their relationship with nature.

2. The Social World
The idea here is to expose the individual to the basic principles of behavior you expect them to follow in their relationship with society. Respect, cooperation, multi-culturalism, charity, are only a few of the many possibilities. Work ethics can be discussed, and basic psychological concepts can also be approached. Relationship with the other sex is also a very important part of this instruction, as the individual needs to understand what are the minimum requirements for behavior in love, marriage, and child-rearing.

3. The Spirit World
Here you need to expose the person to the philosophical or spiritual principles you feel will guide them into their adult lives. It is most important that they understand that there is a spiritual reality which is parallel to the Natural and Social one, and that personal success and depends in great measure on this force. It is important also to connect spiritual principles to expressions in culture, nature, and society. The initiatory process also needs to include instruction in ways to promote the individual’s spiritual knowledge and practices into the future.

4. The Ancestors
This part is often the hardest, depending on how connected or disconnected the family may be from its past. The key is to understand that we are all part of a lineage that includes both biology and culture, and that this lineage that extends into the remote past and will extend into the distant future. Instruction on family trees, geography of ancestry, cultural customs, are all possibilities. The individual needs to be exposed to ways in which to develop and promote reverence for the ancestors into their future.

5. Personal talents
This is often the most fun. The idea is to translate all of the above into works of creativity based on the personal interests if the individual, so that an image can be created that relates to the individual’s gifts and talents. The result should be a concrete work or art, craft, or some other talent that can be shared with friends and family.

6. Mortality
Fundamental to all of these instructions is the realization of Death as the ultimate criteria for life. An individual that is not aware of his or her own mortality is a dangerous person. Readings, poetry, and controlled risk-taking are ways to learn this. Exploration of the wildernesses is another. Learning rappelling, scuba, martial arts, mountaineering are all good options. Yoga, Chi Kung, and some other spiritual practices also provide this kind of instruction.

On the basis of the above, you can tailor the initiatory process to suit your interests, family traits, and schedules. I recommend that you put together a reading list, a list of activities and places you want the initiate to see and learn from, and a couple of key moments during which the importance of this process can be highlighted.

The basic process can then follow a schedule similar to this:

1. Initial Ceremony
At this ritual, an overview of the process is presented, and the projects, activities and readings are outlined. The importance of the process is explained, with particular emphasis on the desired outcome: the enhancement of the individual’s personal power, potential, and success. It is important that this initial ceremony take place in a place of power: either a wilderness, or a place with strong significance for the family’s ancestry, beliefs, or history.

2. Readings and Instruction
Based on your program, the initiate is then responsible to follow a schedule of activities. These should not be excessively demanding, but adherence is mandatory.

3. Mid-term evaluation
Somewhere towards the middle of the process, it is advisable to evaluate how the whole thing is going. This serves as a benchmark for the second half of the process.

4. Tests and Ordeals
Toward the end of the process, the individual is tested for their understanding of the material, their reactions to the process, and their readiness to take on adult life. Typically this might include an ordeal of some sort, such as staying up all night in the dark or in the wilderness, fasting for 24 hours, or some other form of privation or difficulty. It is best if the initiate is left alone to endure this in solitude.

5. Final Initiation Ceremony
In this final ceremony, the family group welcomes the initiate back into the fold with great happiness and celebrations. Gifts are given, speeches are made, and all efforts are made to make the person feel that they are now a valuable and productive member of their group. Sometimes a new name or a certificate can be given.

Once you have designed a particular process, it is important to schedule it around your convenience, the initiate’s age and maturity, and the seasonal or astrological markers that may be important to you. Feng Shui, for example, provides almanac recommendations for auspicious ceremonial days, or you may choose to perform the key ceremonies on solar or lunar markers such as the solstices, equinoxes, full or new moons. Seasonal festivals such as Beltaine, Lughnassa and so forth are also a good possibility.

These are my recommendations for an initiation process. Please study them, discuss them with key family members for a while and then see if you can tailor them to suit your family’s values. It is best if you can create a process that reflects your own traditions, beliefs, and customs, so please feel free to change and adjust as needed. If you want advice on readings or activities, let me know.