By Chic Cicero & Sandra Tabatha Cicero
Initiation ceremonies have always played a major role in magical organizations, from ancient times to modern times. Several mystical groups and secret societies have had a tradition of tracing their hereditary roots back to the mystery cults and religions that prospered in the archaic world. Many people of ancient times were drawn to these mystery religions because of the sense of spiritual vigor and euphoria they provided through elaborate initiation ceremonies.
There are generally three types of people who seek initiation. The first type is an individual who feels that it is absolutely crucial to be initiated into a legitimate magical group in order to do the magical work properly. The second type seeks initiation in order to gain magical and social status. The final type of individual seeks initiation for purely spiritual reasons, without any concern for status or rank. This person can work either solo or within the structure of a magical group, depending upon what s/he feels is more conducive to true spiritual growth.
To be an Initiate means that one is accepted into an inner circle whose teachings and rituals are meaningful only to other members of the group who share this common experience. This is just as true today as it was in antiquity. Admittance to such a group confers a sense of status and belonging, of knowing arcane information and of having been uplifted through the disclosure of divinely inspired wisdom. The candidate seeking acceptance must first prove him/her self worthy of inclusion into the group or magical current.
A prospective candidate entering the temple is in a heightened state of awareness; adrenaline is pumping, the senses are sharpened. The candidate is poised to receive an influx of energy. All this is brought about by the calculated decision to become an initiate of the mysteries. The rite of initiation is meant to purify the candidate and prepare him/her to receive the secrets and teachings of that current. The new Initiate does not receive the bulk of this knowledge immediately, but in gradual stages. This process of spiritual evolution begins at the bottom of a hierarchical ladder; each step of which is accompanied by an additional initiation ceremony and further study work.
The word initiation means literally “to begin.” It is the beginning of a new stage of life; the passage into a distinctly new type of existence. Initiation represents spiritual growth; the dawning of a new life dedicated to an entirely new group of principles from those of mundane or materialistic society The earmarks of this spiritual “new birth” are indicated by an expansion of the mind to include a realization of higher levels of consciousness.
Initiation is the forerunner of immortality. It is that which gives us the ability to explore the Divine within us. Humanity has always had the potential for immortality, but only acquires It when men and women affiliate themselves with the immortal spiritual substance that supports all facets of the physical universe; that same Divine quintessence which is far too often neglected by the general public. Capturing that rare and marvelous essence is the ultimate goal of the Western Magical Tradition. The objective of all students of this tradition is the purification of the natural human being–to extract the pure gold of spiritual completion from the outer shell of the lower personality.
Initiation is the first active step in the realm of magic. A true initiation is the internal and secret principle which pushes the student to seek a particular occult path to knowledge with a perseverance that will not be turned aside. This introductory step is the unveiling of the Divine Light; the cultivation of the primary spark of eternal consciousness. To secure this spark requires a calm and peaceful mind, an understanding of one’s own unconscious make-up, constant hard work, and a healthy measure of self-sacrifice. Communication with this universal power is possible only after the hidden abode of the Inner Self is reached. But through the simple act of one student attempting to connect with this Power, the whole of humankind is enriched.
Initiation ceremonies are an integral component of western magic. When we speak of magic, we are referring to a specialized system of discipline and science that has a spiritual rather than a worldly or material goal. Magic is an intimate science whose doctrines are grounded in the essential understanding of the true Inner Being which exists behind the apparent “reality” of the outer and mundane aspects of life.
Ritual Magic is a process of symbolism and ceremony which results in the direct stimulation of the will and the rapture of the imagination. What this is designed to bring about is the purification of the lower personality (the “me first” part of the psyche) and the establishment of an exalted level of consciousness, so that the magician’s ego is gradually able to unite with his/her own Higher and Divine Genius.
Each and every aspect of an initiation ceremony–every idea, movement, and speech–is fashioned to bring about this supreme result. Through the Hermetic system of associated symbols and concepts, every impression within the ceremony becomes the source of a sequence of interrelated thoughts which climax in the ultimate goal of the ritual. One symbol after another saturates the psyche of the magician. This, combined with the excitement of the ritual itself, stimulates the magician’s emotional state to its highest level, when the perfect moment of spiritual euphoria is achieved. An open passageway is created between the intellectual mind and the soul of the magician, resulting in an elevated concentration of psychic capabilities and the exhilaration of the true and divine nature of the Initiate.
There are two forms of initiation: astral and physical. The astral initiation takes place on the ethereal planes and is not always recognized by the individual until a certain amount of time has passed (although sometimes it is immediately comprehended). This type of initiation is granted to a person directly by the spiritual archetypes within the psyche. The other type of initiation is a tangible ceremony carried out by an initiating team in a physical temple. Some may assume that the astral initiation is the only form that is valid–the physical one being only a staged dramatization. This is simply not true. A physical induction reaffirms the candidate’s spiritual will by the deliberate act of submitting him/her self to the process of the initiation ceremony. A physical initiation grounds the energies of the astral initiation. It is a visible proclamation to the manifest universe of one’s desire to follow on the path of an Initiate of the mysteries.
Is one form of initiation superior to the other? Maybe, maybe not. What is clear, however, is that one form of initiation, astral or physical, must always precede or occur simultaneously with the other form. Both types are important to the overall initiatory experience.
Self-initiation has been a subject of much debate. Israel Regardie strongly believed in the idea that a student could initiate him/her self through the various levels of spiritual growth. It was his opinion that by repeated performance of such rituals as the Opening by Watchtower and the Middle Pillar Exercise, the aspiring Magician could effectively be considered an Initiate of the Golden Dawn current. But it was also his opinion that success in this endeavor hinged upon the student’s own fortitude and determination. Responsibility for spiritual progress, its success or failure, was up to the individual.
All of this leads us to the notion of “legitimacy.” Does a solitary student need to be a member of a legitimate initiatory temple or magical group? The answer is a resounding no. Whether or not one is associated with an officially recognized temple has no bearing on his/her spiritual fulfillment and magical growth. Much of the previously secret knowledge of a good many occult organizations is readily available in bookstores today. It is now possible for the student to become his/her own initiator through study and frequent practice of ritual work.
Any individual or group that claims to be the sole authority and proprietor of the Hermetic Mystery Tradition or claims to have singly “ascended to the throne” of the Illuminated Masters is doing students a great disservice by spouting off a lot of astral steam. This is also true for anyone who claims to know arcane “secrets” that can only be bought for an outrageous sum of money. The student needs to be cautious and use his/her own judgment in such matters.
Questions of legitimacy or lineage of a magical group can in fact interfere with spiritual growth if a student becomes caught up with the glamour of obtaining a magical merit badge from a recognized organization, rather than achieving conversation with one’s Higher and Divine Genius. Empty gestures and hollow proclamations of high degrees and titles mean little or nothing to one’s own Higher Self. The will and the determination to achieve union with the Divine are the only essential factors in proceeding on the path of an Initiate. One need not be a member of any acknowledged organization to do it.
Whether one experiences a self-initiation or an induction ceremony performed by a group, the fact remains that initiation of one kind or the other is of primary importance to spiritual growth and personal evolution. As the lower personality of the student is gradually trained and moved into an alignment with the Higher Self through purification and ritual work, a seed is planted in the student. The germ of Light that an initiation plants within the soul of the magician is a perpetual one that will remain intact throughout many different incarnations, growing stronger as the person rediscovers his/her psychic abilities with each new life cycle. A total shift in outlook and a single-minded devotion for the divine union is necessary for the nurturing of this seed.
Self-sacrifice is also required on the part of the lower personality. To the average person, sacrificing a part of the ego seems foolish, but the submission of the lower personality to the Higher and Divine Self truly results in the attainment of something which is far more satisfying and lasting than temporary wants and desires–the illumination of the human soul by the inner Divine Light.
Copyright © 1993 – 2021 by Chic Cicero & Sandra Tabatha Cicero
First published in Mezlim, Candlemas ”93′ issue