One of the most commonly and easily misunderstood aspects of magick is the subject of initiation. In practice, many novice magicians rightly view this operation of magick to be a life changing event that they expect to have an apprehensive impact on their conscious awareness. It seems to mark a definite stage in the development of the magickal discipline and this makes it easy to see the ceremony itself as a one off event on which turns a definite before and after moment in life. From the uninitiated point of view it is hard to understand that just passing the ceremony doesn’t turn the Child of Earth into the initiated Adept.
It is doubtful whether any ceremony could have this much permanent transformative power and from a more experienced perspective it is clear that the true initiation comes from the repetition of the discipline that the ceremony of initiation merely introduced.
What is Initiation?
Initiation is the introduction to a new perspective of awareness. This can happen on any level and we are all initiated into understanding new things throughout our lives. More specifically, the initiations that are related to magickal disciplines are ceremonies or ordeals that expose the individual to the secrets of that particular spiritual school. These ceremonial introductions to the “Mysteries” are as old as culture and have been used by various spiritual schools around the world as a means of exposing novices to the forms and symbolism that they will use.
Magickal initiations generally take the form of introducing the new candidate to the temple and taking them symbolically through the ordeals of spiritual growth. This often involve a symbolic death and rebirth in which the old persona of the candidate is retired to make way for a new, more enlightened perspective. This is the general form of the Golden Dawn Neophyte Ceremony, the grand daddy of modern rites of initiation.
The Rites of Passage in the Temple of the Morning Star
The Golden Dawn initiation ceremony is a long and involved procedure that represents a highly evolved Masonic style rite of passage with a heavy dose of Victorian Scientific Illuminism and popular Egyptian symbolism thrown in for good measure. The rich symbolism that was developed by the Golden Dawn Adepts give this, their central ceremony, a huge range of symbolic correspondences that can be used by the Adept to work the magick that is taught in that order. The object of this ceremony is to expose the new candidate for initiation to the Elemental Temple and its officers to establish their understanding of the framework of the Golden Dawn system of magick.
The uninitiated candidate is bound and blindfolded before being led into the temple to swear an oath of obligation to the order. When this has been done he is led around the temple past the ordeal of exposing the depths of his inner Darkness to his redemption by the ordeal of being blasted by the Light. This newly enlightened perspective is then given balanced momentum in a specifically defined direction and the new Neophyte is accepted into the order by sharing the Mystic Repast (the Eucharist) with his new Fraters and Sorors.
This has an unquestionable impact on the Neophyte’s self awareness. Before the ceremony he was staggering blindly through the chaos and the darkness in his ignorance. After the ceremony he has a definite direction and a new set of symbols by which to interpret his universe. It is undeniable that being exposed to a big dose of the Light can have a profound influence on an individual but this is just the beginning of the true consecration to the Great Work that the Neophyte is undertaking. The real energy of spiritual growth will still have to be applied by the practice of the new discipline that the initiate has been exposed to.
Initiation in Practice
It is after the ceremony of initiation that the spiritual growth gains all of its real momentum. The actual ceremony itself merely imparted the initial momentum and direction but it is the repetition of the use of the symbols that really advances the neophyte’s understanding. This is the nature of all magick and the principle can be observed throughout all of the original texts on the Hermetic Arts. Rarely do we see a practice in a grimior that doesn’t need to be repeated or supported in some way in order to be efficacious. One of the most comprehensive of these old books of magick, the Sacred Magick of Abramelin the Mage, outlines an operation that is intended for everyday use over a period of six months in order to achieve what is really just a grand initiation.
The same principle holds true for all of the components of magick like the Pentagram Rituals or the various Qaballistic exercises that are a part of the Golden Dawn system of magick. These adepts understood the cumulative nature of the influence of the Light and their discipline is a measured approach, in graded steps, that exposes the magician to ever increasing amounts of that Light with the object of making the enlightenment permanent. This makes it a devotional method, the surest form of magick.
This echoes the oldest and simplest spiritual practices in a complex modern expression. The chela that spends endless hours intoning their mantra eventually arrives at a point where the once deeply meaningful words have become little more than gibberish. Pushing through this and continuing until the mantra has become his permanent expression it is no longer the chela that chants but the mantra that expresses itself and he has become merely the vehicle for that to occur. At this point, completely detached from the need to seek meaning the Truth of his mantra is revealed to him and he is enlightened by it.
The Pentagram Rituals work in the same way. The Novice at first uses them to “banish” the “influences” in his temple so that he can invoke the specific energy that he wants to use into the “magick circle” that he has formed. After going through the process of learning to recite the ritual, paying close attention to the meaning of every word and visualizing the Pentagrams to perfection, he feels that he has become the master of the method, that he understands it fully.
Thus empowered he continues with the practice, building his circles and reciting the Names while tracing the pentagrams until the ritual seems to be total and utter nonsense. The various names have lost their intellectual significance, the magick circle is revealed as an intellectual fiction and he might as well be drawing any shape and calling any names for all of the difference it would make.
The magician that persists for long enough will be merely an automaton in his temple as he goes through the forms and his physical presence has become just another one of the tools that is needed to perform the ritual. It is no longer his conscious self that traces the pentagrams and intones Tetragrammaton, now it is his unconscious self that is calling the Light into itself, and with its descent into the dark recesses the magician becomes aware of the symbolism of the Pentagram Ritual on a subtle, unconscious and fundamental level and its real power is revealed to him. He has become initiated into the use of the pentagram as a magickal tool.
This principle holds true on the larger scale as well. The Golden Dawn Neophyte replicates his own initiation ceremony as a practical part of his magickal work. First he uses it to consecrate his Magick Weapons and then he employs it for his practical operations like charging talismans and evoking spirits. This repetition of the ceremony in its entirety gradually exposes him to an unconscious understanding of the mechanisms of the Neophyte Formula that is the real force behind his truest initiation. While the ceremony itself may have conferred the titles and grades of the initiation upon him in a manifestly formal way, the use of the method that was shown to him during that rite has a cumulative effect that leads him to the Light almost in spite of himself.