Ever since I was a teenager and became interested in magick, I wanted to be initiated. The idea of initiation held everything for me. I wanted to be taught by a master magician. I wanted to feel special.
At that time there was no Internet, and I wasn’t sure how to go about things. By the time the Internet made information and contact details of initiation available, I already had a few years of solitary study behind me. This independence taught me that you can go a long way without a teacher. There is so much you can do on your own: study, experiment, feel, try to meditate. The perseverance alone will guide you into a flow, and before you know it, you have started to grow as a person.
After some years, though, I found people who I could label “teacher,” and later still I had the opportunity to be initiated.
I hold the ideal that a formal initiation ceremony is not absolutely necessary but that it can help on your path of inner development. My opinion is coloured by the fact that I believe in spontaneous, initiatory events in life. I call these events “natural initiations.” In any case, initiation is something that changes you internally. I will give an account of my own experiences to explain my ideas.
When I started on the magical path, I was convinced that I had to do it on my own. At some point, however, I took a course, and met someone whom I regard as a teacher. A few years later, I met a second teacher. I call them “teachers,” because it was clear that they were ahead of me on the path of self-development. But if you would ask them, they would never call themselves teachers. It all depends on one’s perspective.
The relationship I developed with them was of a very different kind than the romantic one I imagined as a teenager. I realized they are just people like you and me — the only difference being that they have more experience. This turned out to be the key. It is not necessary to have a teacher, but having the opportunity of personal contact with someone who is ahead of you on the path of self-development (for lack of a better term) makes all the difference. By their mere presence, they teach you wider ranges of consciousness. Technically, their presence develops your own sensitivity.
It is the responsibility of a person with more experience to stimulate the minds of those who aspire to the same heights. It is the responsibility of a student to mark the opportunity, and experience how interaction with a spiritually more advanced person advances their own development. Interaction can be anything from having a coffee, to an engaging dialogue, to attending a talk or workshop, to a shared meditation or ritual practice.
One of most striking features about both of these teachers was that they did not get attached to their students. I don’t want to call them “my” teachers, since that is not how I think of them; neither do they look at me from that perspective. I understand that they feel responsibility and from a distance gauge my particular situation, but they don’t talk about it. Indeed, they allow for so much freedom that at first I had to rethink my concept of teacher and student. Neither of them ever asked anything from me in any way. I suppose my sincerity was initially my ticket into their personal life or in their class.
My personal account
Much later I was given the opportunity to enter a certain magical order and I applied. As it happened, it was one of my teachers who suggested that I contact this order. The circumstances felt right and the whole procedure went very smoothly. By that time, so many years had elapsed that I could look back and see how far I had come. I still believed in personal study and remained a solitary practitioner for the most part. I also maintained that formal initiations weren’t necessary to develop and reach a deep state that lasts 24/7. I was convinced that life itself initiates, but now I finally had the chance to experience formal initiation.
I applied for initiation in the month of August and soon received a positive reply. We would both wait for the right moment to present itself, and I was very confident. He also said we could do some preliminary working, from a distance, and scheduled this for December. Plenty of time. It didn’t take that long, however, to feel change in my life. In the course of September of that same year, everything in my life just seemed to speed up. By December, I had met so many new people and old acquaintances, all in the light of spirituality, that I had my hands full. My view on life already started to change and I fully participated.
That December I had a dream about the timing of my initiation and talked to my initiator. He said that the timing was good, because he would be giving a talk in a place and at a time which was convenient for me to attend. So things were arranged. I felt seriously driven by that time, and after the actual initiation my life relentlessly continued the speed for about 12 months, maybe even a year and a half. The whole episode felt like a storm with the day of initiation as the eye.
In hindsight, I laid most of the foundations of my later work in occultism in that period. Shortly after my initiation, I found a publisher and had my book published. Simultaneously, I started experimenting with material my initiator was involved in and was surprised by how different magical work felt now than before. I quickly discovered new states of consciousness. I became aware of other dimensions, I became sensitive to spirits and energy from the spirit world. For me, this was a drastic change. That is why I cannot say that initiations don’t matter.
In the month of August, exactly a year after my application, my magical life, my dream life and my daily life became a perfect match. During that same month, I had very deep experiences, often suddenly waking from my deep sleep in the middle of the night feeling refreshed and fully awake. I knew at that time that a high aspect of my Self was seeking entry into my conscious life. In fact, at the end of the month, someone as much as told me so. The synchronization between my magical life, dream life, and daily life began about a month after the initiation ritual and lasted for about two years, after which I consciously sought a more relaxed time.
Then what exactly is initiation? What does it do? Why should it be part of a magical path? First of all, formal initiations are usually initiations into a magical order. When a person receives initiation, they are linked with the group mind of the order. This group consciousness is called an egregore. The link gives you access to the accumulated experience of members of the order. The initiation therefore expands consciousness.
I should remark that the new member will still have to make an effort to develop their skills. Every person is different and everyone is talented in different areas. And yes, you can achieve this on your own, but it will be more difficult and take more time. If you diligently practice exercises, meditations or rituals of a certain order or school, you will gradually make contact with the school’s egregore. It means that even when you’re not initiated in the school you can still tap from its current. According to your effort and intent, your practice can carry your consciousness in and out of a school’s energy. When you stop the practice, it will disappear. However, it never stops when you are initiated.
This primary result of initiation is well-known to most of us. A Christian baptism, for example, is an initiation ritual. It adopts the person into the community. But this adoption is more than a formality. An energy link is created by the act of baptism. I remember when my cousin’s baby was baptized, I could see a line of light enter the top of her head when the priest poured water over her. In the Christian church, this act theoretically goes back all the way to John the Baptist and Jesus — exactly because you can only be initiated by someone who is an initiate themselves. This continuity is called apostolic succession. You can see how the ritual accumulates energy and information throughout the ages and makes it possible for the initiate to relate to it.
The line of light, which I saw, leads us to the second result of formal initiation. It facilitates soul contact; the soul being one’s Higher Self. Initiation aims to link a person with the so-called inner planes, which is the soul’s realm. It means that the person now will receive more energy and information from higher planes of consciousness, whether they are conscious of it or not. This is only true, of course, when the order or school is supported by so-called secret chiefs. According to your tradition, they are ascended masters, gods, or angelic beings. A school like that is called a “contacted school.”
This whole story makes us realize that initiation is not a physical thing. It has to do with energy and consciousness, even if it is administered under physical conditions. As a matter of fact, clairvoyant people can see whether you are initiated or not. I remember that about eight months after my formal initiation, I was at a certain seminar and the teacher was able to see that I was initiated, although I hadn’t told him anything. There was also another person present, who I hadn’t met before, who came to me after class and said that the energy about me was particularly different from the others. By the way, neither of my teachers judged my taking initiation. I think that is because my life is my own responsibility.
Thirdly, initiations can have specific intentions. In these cases, the candidate is not so much given access to a group mind but rather to a technique. I am thinking of clairvoyant abilities and shamanic techniques. I have little experience with this. About the only example I can give from practical experience is reiki. When you learn reiki, you are initiated in the technique. Symbols are used to make the transmission of certain qualities of energy into the candidate’s energy system possible. I don’t regard this as a formal initiation, since you are not adopted into a group mind. Moreover, reiki practitioners call these initiations “attunements,” which I think is very wise. Nonetheless, a reiki attunement speeds up a person’s skill in energy management, which would otherwise take loads of practice (unless you are naturally gifted).
Lastly, I should mention that any good ritual can be initiatory, regardless of school context. You could say that in this case “initiatory” really means a spontaneous establishment of soul contact, and therefore expansion of consciousness. Sometimes ritual can be such a paradigm shifting experience that you carry the effect with you forever.
Can you self-initiate? In my opinion, that is difficult. How can you make yourself enter something that you are not part of? Moreover, initiation can only be given by someone who has been initiated themselves, because you need that expanded mind to stimulate your mind to the same expansion. You can’t give yourself something that you don’t have.
What you can do is dedicate or commit yourself to a spiritual pathway, though this is more like a process than an event. A dedication can be compared to a promise, or setting a goal for the future. As time goes on, the goal is realized and your dedication becomes fact. I do believe it is possible to effect soul contact through solitary effort. In fact, I think that is the purpose of incarnate life. Either way, this is also a process, and may take lifetimes to achieve. The same goes for acquiring techniques. Hard work will yield results, but it will go smoother with a teacher.
In any valid sense, the only way to self-initiate would be to practice, as I pointed out above. Self-initiation is more like a process, rather than a one time event. Notwithstanding, a one time formal dedication ritual may mark the beginning of the process. But remember that this is in stark contrast with formal initiation, where the ceremony marks your achievement up until that point.
There might be one suggestion to give if you would still attempt self-initiation and that is to stage a real initiation. Ask a friend to participate in your ritual. The physical presence of another person in the room will help create the right atmosphere. The dynamics change dramatically when you perform a ritual with more people than just yourself. Remember that Jesus said, “Where two or three gather together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).
But, as I said before, life itself initiates. You don’t need formal initiations to grow. Because initiation happens on an energy level and deals with consciousness, we should take into account other, more spontaneous, forms of initiation. Some traditions speak about soul contact, others about inner guides. The western mysteries talk about the Holy Guardian Angel. Esoteric tradition talks about the Solar Angel. The bottom line is that you are not dependent upon incarnate beings. Your own soul can prompt you to a jump in evolution.
The year in which I had my formal initiation felt like a storm that went on for months. The effect is well known. But it doesn’t depend on formal initiations! Often, people who are new to esoteric or magical studies are going through just that kind of experience. It often marks the start of treading a spiritual or magical path. Even people who don’t want anything to do with the occult experience these storms of life. Sometimes a person goes through a difficult, traumatic period in their life, or a steady speeding up that doesn’t seem to stop. They go through the storms without the catalyst of initiation on the physical plane. In these cases, the storm might be initiated from more subtle planes, with the soul as agent. And these people grow just as much.
Life has purpose. The pressures of life and their resultant periods of crisis help develop this sense of purpose. This inner and silent development ultimately leads, according to esoteric philosophy, to a major crisis which tests your abilities to stand fast and act rightly. One of those major crises, in this life or the next, will cause a breakthrough in the expansion of your consciousness. In that case, an esoteric initiation will be given. This initiation is given by the masters of wisdom, who are humanity’s inner guides. This event is a formal initiation but can only happen according to the principles of natural initiation — it cannot be forced. The esoteric initiation is therefore a natural formal initiation.
Esoteric philosophy teaches that everyone is on the Path and will eventually take this esoteric initiation. Life itself is its preparation, though it can take many lifetimes to develop sufficiently to deal correctly with the opportunity of crisis. It is exactly under hard circumstances that the power of the soul can break through. If the person succeeds in overcoming his particular problem a crisis can be initiatory.
According to Alice Bailey’s book Initiation Human and Solar, these esoteric initiations take place on the mental plane and mark what the individual has been able to accomplish, especially in terms of soul contact. This kind of initiation makes use of ceremony and adopts the candidate in a universal brotherhood. Formal initiations in magical orders are a reflection of these esoteric ones.
(People who would like to know more should certainly read Dion Fortune’s books, in particular Esoteric Orders and Their Work. More up to date is The Door Unlocked, by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki and Stephanie Norris.)
Even after having been formally initiated, I still maintain that such initiations are not necessary. There is a greater force which initiates and indicates a person’s grade of self-development. I strongly believe in the self-discipline to become what you aspire to be. Perseverance, right effort and a clear direction will lead you to any door of initiation, whether formal, natural, or in any other sense. Everything you need will come to you when you sincerely aspire.
That said, formal initiation has its benefits. When you become a formal member of a magical order, you are supported by a group and their experience. The experience will certainly cause change in your inner life and give you a boost in your outer life.
In regards to techniques, some skills are difficult to master without a teacher to show you what you are looking for; this is even true for such a basic skill as meditation. Some magical skills might even need an initiation ritual to pass it on.
And last but not least, if you are indeed left to your own devices, you can always make that promise to yourself to dedicate your life to the highest principles that you can intuit, and gradually open yourself to the qualities of the world of the soul. And why not start with a dedication ritual to underline your determination?
Image credits: Geraint Rowlan, javier ruiz77, and Nikos Koutoulas