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..:: Initiation ::..


Alan Schneider


               When we depart from the occasionally comfortable, frequently uncomfortable, but always observable realm of the Physical Plane, and explore the additional regions of conscious expression available to humanity, we eventually find ourselves confronting the Presence of the Self at the core of the Sphere of the Psyche.  This may be the journey of many lifetimes, or one particularly dedicated lifetime, but this phenomenon exists and can and will be observed, albeit the nature and method of this observation remains the subject of extreme debate among scholars and authorities around the world.  Some do not even accept the possibility of the Self as a real psychological manifestation occurring under any circumstances – on the other hand, many academicians do not accept the field of psychology itself as a valid area of investigation, either – the departure from the secure venue of the external physical senses is quite threatening to the uninitiated.  Hence, the subject of initiation is the theme of this essay.            

            The term initiate carries a variety of interpretations, but the sense we are dealing with here in this essay involves a progressive introduction to new and largely unknown methods of perceiving, and methods of invoking perception, beyond what is common in sensory experience, and beyond sensory experience itself.   This process also includes the introduction to novel interpretations of many events commonly manifesting externally in our experience, thereby conveying a new understanding of what they imply in life and living – essentially a reeducation of the individual along lines of interpretation that often depart markedly from anything previously encountered.  So, an initiation is both an introduction to, and an acknowledgement of, the advent of a new stage of learning in life, featuring new methods of inquiry, conducted along new lines of investigation. 

            The history of the Mystery Theories, particularly the Western Mysteries, is filled with initiations in countless traditions of inquiry – light and dark, grand and small, subtle and overt.  All are presumed to mark the achievement of a given degree of proficiency at one level of development, and simultaneous entry into, or qualification for, another, in what can be a very long sequence of instruction.   As an example, the Masonic Lodge, one of the oldest of the Western Mystery traditions, features thirty-three degrees of initiation, with a requirement that only a very few can be admitted to the thirty-third level under any circumstances at any one time.  Initiation is frequently seen as the mark of status and authority in an organization – the international university system uses the conference of a relatively small number of initiatory ranks (known as degrees, e.g. the bachelors, masters, and doctorate) that, however, take many years of hard work to amass in sequence, not to mention the investment of enormous amounts of time and money spent in the process.  This system assumes that the advancement through its ranks will necessarily be accompanied by enhanced social power and prestige, and it often is, although not always so.   As a final example, labor unions also feature levels of initiation in the form of the apprentice, journeyman, and master classification rubric, with a similar assumption of enhanced status and financial capability bestowed as one moves up through the ranks – and in this case, the relationship is very reliable, with the caveat that work at any stage may or may not be generally available. 

            The application of initiations in main stream society (e.g. as noted in the last two examples above) has obvious benefits, but hidden pitfalls as well, one of the most pernicious being the conveyance of what Alice Bailey has referred to as glamour.   If the essence of this existence is temporary and illusory, as many Mystery traditions maintain, then it is a grave mistake to embellish any achievement with the false luster of hope that these two conditions can be overcome or affected by any extent of material achievement.   Such embellishments only mask the truth of human consciousness behind an egoistic veil (in fact many veils) of avoidance and distraction that will have to be overcome eventually to live a real existence in an enlightened condition.  

            In the Mysteries and Mystery Schools, of which there is a truly bewildering array in manifestation, initiations can often be somewhat confusing in their plethora of forms, rites, degrees, and execution, and this should also be suspected of conveying glamour as opposed to enlightenment.  If we must all pass eventually through the gate of death and disintegration as a physical form, what is the significance of most of what we do while alive?  If we cannot take any of our possessions beyond the grave (certain Egyptian – and other – burial traditions notwithstanding!), of what use are they as anything other than distractions from the much more appropriate goal of attaining Enlightenment in the so very limited incarnate time at our disposal?  Indeed, what we really have, and really are, in this existence is block of linear time in a physical form, beginning at conception, and ending at the question mark of death.   This is all that can be known with certainty, and it behooves us to ponder well how we spend our so very brief endowment!  

            In this somber vein of realization, I will summarize what can be extracted from the maze of applications of initiation as being more or less consistent across traditions.   This process is, of course, subject to a large number of amendments and qualifiers, and you are all welcome, nay advised, to consider critically what I suggest here.  

            The mass of humanity is, from the perspective of the Mysteries, uninitiated, regardless of the material level they have achieved on the Physical Plane.  If I have not taken a hard look at my life and actions through the lens of mortality, I know nothing.   Thus, the First Initiation, the Awakening, begins with the dawning of the perception of a series of larger goals in life that surpass, and stand apart from, simple material acquisition.   This is what first puts us on the Path of Enlightenment, and on the way back to the Self, and Self Realization.  Needless to say, this can be a very rude awakening, to be sure, but would you really rather remain asleep to the Truth?  The Awakening is customarily accompanied and augmented by the manifestation of synchronicities – meaningful coincidences – that serve as guideposts and focuses of attention at this, and later, stages of spiritual growth.  

            Following the Awakening, a sequence of purification of one’s consciousness takes place that may take quite a while to establish with permanence.  At some point in this process, the Second Initiation, or Baptism, takes place.  There may, in fact, be several “baptisms”, or rites of heightened purity of perception, spanning a period of years involved in this process.   What is meant by “heightened purity of perception” here is the attainment of a state of experience that is significantly clearer and more insightful than the one typically afforded by the physical senses, and evaluated by the fundamentally ignorant ego in terms of its probability of providing sensory gratification.  There is a graduated sequence of such experiences known to the Mysteries (at least to some of them) that will bring the personal consciousness into more and more intimate proximity to the Self, as the absolutely pure focus of all observation, and this is what is to be maintained as the goal of spiritual development.   The Initiation of Baptism marks the progress along this Path back to Self Knowledge. 

            As one may have gathered by this point, the phenomenon of initiation is by no means cut and dried – if anything, it is two steps forward followed by (hopefully) only one step backward, with customarily many side journeys in between, as the requirements and conflicts of material existence are negotiated along the way.   With this kept in mind as the essence of spiritual progress, at a certain point in spiritual development, the Third Initiation, the Ascension, may take place.  There are many types of Ascension, but all have in common the attainment of entry into a condition of extremely Enlightened Perception, associated with the immanent presence of the Self.  

            The reports of observers fortunate, and determined, enough to experience this initiation vary regarding its features, but certain general characteristics are usually present.  The Ascension frequently involves a perception of an intense white visual light, or field of white light, along with equally intense displays of other colors.   A profound feeling of love and compassion may be present, possibly originating from a perceived or concealed source connected with the experience, and a sense of Presence may be involved, along with some form of interaction with that Presence – spoken words, symbolic forms, visual directions, intuitive perception – all may occur, or none may occur, as the individual case may be.  An altered or entirely absent sense of time, place, and the body may also accompany the Ascension experience.   The extremely altered state of perception that necessarily accompanies Ascension makes accurate and reliable observation in this state problematic, to say the least, and this is often reflected in the reportage of such events, when they are even reported at all.   Nonetheless, such accounts do exist in many spiritual traditions, and are quite comprehensive in some cases.  The Christian Bible is full of such events, as is the Muslim Koran, and both Buddhist and Hindu scriptures contain such accounts of altered conscious visions. 

            The Ascension may be episodic, extended, or permanent as the nature of contact with the Presence dictates, since this is unquestionably its source in consciousness.   It may also be relatively delightful or frightening in the perception of the observer, based upon that individual’s attitudes and mindset at the time of the experience – the observer who goes into this condition with an open consciousness, free of expectation, fear, or desire, stands the best chance of having a positive experience.    It should be noted here that the Ascension is something that is potentially classified as a psychotic episode from the perspective of strictly Freudian psychodynamics, and one should use discernment in revealing the contents or occurrence of this experience to others for that reason.   This is a circumstance that is heavily influenced by cultural factors – such experiences are often revered in countries like India as momentous spiritual achievements – a long standing tradition of experiential spiritualism exists there, with concomitant acceptance.   Virtually every guru, pundit, yogi, and master has had such experiences, customarily on an extended or permanent basis. 

            What is contacted in Ascension?  Many of the experiences that precede and lead up to this event are potentially classified as the perception of archetypal symbols within the Psyche – often of sequentially greater intensity as spiritual development advances within the individual.   Even the Awakening and the Baptism, along with the Ascension itself, are also fundamentally archetypal psychic experiences occurring within the Psyche.  The increasing levels of intensity across time, as development progresses within the spiritual discipline of the individual, all indicate that we are approaching, and perhaps realizing, the Jungian Self at the core of the Psyche in Ascension experiences.   At this foundation of observational perception, we are able to know the essence of the observer and observation through direct personal experience.  

            The many Western and Eastern Mystery Traditions frequently have dedicated terminology describing their processes of initiation and attendant spiritual symbolism, along with various modes of acknowledgement and recognition – perhaps very secretive ones – used as integral features of their rites and litany.   I have gleaned the common basic elements of many of these for this essay, but many others are also possible.   For example, Enlightenment itself may be considered as a Stage of Initiation in a given tradition, not merely an ongoing process of spiritual growth.    The three initiations that I have listed here are the most common practiced in all traditions to my knowledge, and I am confident of this, and the descriptions given, although these may well have very different names and placement in a specific group or organization.        It is well in dealing with this subject to bear Alice Bailey’s observation in mind that initiation per se is something that appeals to glamour.   The ego has been described by Deepak Chopra as “a social fiction”, and, as such, has a vested interest in the attainment of aggrandizement and embellishment as the means of controlling the Psyche, and creating the illusion of physicality from the impressions of the senses, when only the Self is real.    


                               n                                              - With Love, Alan -

                                                             (Copyright 2009, by Alan Schneider)


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