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To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.thelema,talk.religion.misc,talk.religion.newage,alt.pagan.magick,alt.wicca,alt.religion.wicca,alt.witchcraft Subject: Initiation From: V.H. Maroney
Date: 24 Jul 1999 02:19:17 -0700 Initiation is primordially a ritualized way of marking transitions. In tribal socities initiations serve to define a person's social role, including such biological issues as gender (it is normal to have separate male and female rites at adolesence), birth, mating, and death. Initiation has been studied by anthropologists and they see a three-step pattern known as the van Gennep formula, consisting of separation from the former role, a state of liminal suspension, and acceptance into the new social role by those already within it. In essence an initiation marks a boundary between those who are in a group and those who are not; it is a way of distinguishing self from other, tribe from non-tribe, colleague from outsider. Secret society rituals are a form of professional secrecy. Secret initiations were used to pass down legends about the foundation of trades and crafts and to keep their trade secrets restricted to an in-group. Masonry began as such a trade secret society, but due to the ritual drought in Scotland caused by the rise of Protestantism, wound up providing spiritual sustenance which the permitted mainstream churches could not. The focus shifted to the rituals themselves and the feelings of community and contact with the spiritual world that they engendered. The operative craft itself fell by the wayside. Golden Dawn, Thelemic and modern Witchcraft initiations are direct descendants of Freemasonic ritual. As such they do not necessarily know what they are all about; the initiatic tradition was created by an organic and evolutionary progress, not a scientific attempt to create particular effects. The actual functions of rituals are often quite different from their ostensible content. For instance, both the Hindu mantrist and the Christian rosarist may believe the meaning and efficacy of their practice relies on the meanings of their chants or prayers, while in fact the trances may be largely content-neutral and rely more on the psychological effects of repetition and aspiration. Modern secrect society initiations often appeal to people who lack a sense of membership in an in-group. In this century of alienation, we hardly could start to list all the reasons people feel this lack of community. I submit that this extended family function is the main effect of secret society initiations today, and that all the religious trappings in which they dress themselves are largely arbitrary and irrelevant, even though the initiates necessarily tend to view these trappings, the content of the rituals, as all-important. The usual goal stated in insider descriptions of secret society rituals, from ancient times to the present, is psychological transformation. I believe this to be something of a red herring. Psychological transformation does happen and can sometimes be facilitated by liminal ritual practices, but the main psychological transformation of a group initiation ritual is in understanding of one's own social role. In the new role one may behave differently, dress differently, speak differently, but this does not require any deep change in personality or perspective. The issue is further confused in modern practice in that the psychological transformation is often brought in post facto; that is, one has an initiation, then decides that all psychological changes in the next few months are the continuation of the initiation. In fact these changes might have happened regardless of ritual context. Initiation in its own legend, then, is a devotional exercise honoring the principle of transformation, which is certainly a worthy goal. But to view it as the actual vehicle of genuine psychological transformation confuses its spiritual legend with its social reality. -- V.H. Maroney firstname.lastname@example.org
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