24 April, 2010

Initiation and Myth

Initiation is one of the favorite topics of magicians. Just go look on your bookshelf and I'm sure you'll find any number of books that devote at least a few pages, if not an entire chapter, or in some cases the whole of the book on the subject. Go ahead and look. I'll wait.

Back? Alright, my turn, then.

Normally, the academic in me would spend the next forty or fifty pages defining both of the above turns. Fortunately for us all, I've already done this in various venues so I don't need to bore you with it now. We'll go with short, short versions instead.

I'm going to speak of initiation first and to do so it will help to understand that I do not see initiation is a noun but a verb. As such initiation is not, cannot be, a goal. This is important, I think. I see any number of new magicians especially whose goal is to get initiated into this or that magical order. And that seems to be it. I want to be initiated into the Golden Dawn (OTO, AS, BOTA, insert preferred abbreviation here).

Okay, fine. To what end?

As I'm sure you all know (so I don't know why I'm about to tell you again, but will do so anyway), initiation comes from the Latin initiationem, "participation in secret rites," which comes from initiare, "originate." Notice how both of those are verbs? The overall connotation here might be to begin participating in secret rites or perhaps to begin by participating in said rites. As you might imagine, I favor the second interpretation.

So, yes, as we all know, initiation is a beginning. But a beginning of what? In modern esoteric circles initiation can be many things, but typically amongst them is the understanding that one is also beginning a spiritual process (the P word!). To become more than human in the language of the Golden Dawn, for instance. But how do you do that? Hands down western ceremonial magical traditions have the same answer for this question: myth.

For our intents and purposes we are going to (very) loosely define myths as sacred stories that deal with non-empirical truths. Yes, there's more to it than that, feel free to read my doctoral thesis on the subject if you're really interested (you'll find it in your local library filed under B for BhDA). Myths are the means through which we engage with the initiatory process. They are the stories that model our rituals but also model our spiritual process.

Take the initiations of the RR et AC, for instance. The Adeptus Minor ritual is specifically modeled on the Fama Fraternitatis. The candidate is not simply read the Fama, learning verbally, for instance, about the discovery of the tomb of CRC. No, the candidate is the one who finds the tomb and so engages directly with the myth, in the first person rather than the third. And this leaves a mark on the candidate. In some RR et AC initiation schemes this is taken further, because the Fama is not the only myth being employed, you may find the tomb of CRC but you are crucified, too. In some RR et AC orders the 6=5 and 7=4 rituals, in their overall mythos, replicate the death, descent into hell and rising into heaven of Christ, all through a Rosicrucian lens.

So what's going on here? Well, basically, the initiate is becoming Christ, or at least Christ-like, making this initiatory scheme a kind of theosis. But this isn't happening in a generic way, but through a specific filter. The candidate, then, is becoming a Rosicrucian Christ. There are, of course, other things going on. In the GD the myth of Osiris, interpreted alchemically, is employed. Different magical orders employ different myths, which means they way their spiritual goals are played out will also be different, even if the goals are the same (which they very well may not be).

There are repercussions to all this. For instance magical current comes into play and becomes stronger and its influence on the initiate becomes more refined as they progress through the stages of initiation. For writers of initiation rituals the choice of which myth or myths (usually the later) is of great import. What is the ultimate initiatory goal? What are its subgoals? How is one to get from point alef to point tav? What are points alef and tav? All of these will be put into action through myths. They will not only mold the progress of the candidate but the order as well.

If that is the case the selection of sacred stories and the ways in which they are ritually employed becomes of the utmost importance. In effect become the metaphor through which spiritual attainment is discussed and enacted. Death and resurrection, hieros gamos, the building of the Temple, the Magnum Opus and so forth. These becomes the foundations of our paths.

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