Coming from my background in eclectic Wicca, the word “initiation” has certain connotations—first of group identification, and then of hierarchal advancement within the group into which one was initiated. Skill and experience were supposed to be equivalent with rank, and in many groups I’m sure they are; one knows, however, that in others—groups more closely aligned with the Masonic traditions from which the initiatory degrees arose, perhaps—access to information was and is restricted to initiatory rank. Whether or not that’s a functional system for some people is beside the point: I never wanted anything to do with it, and it’s one of the reasons I never pursued membership in a coven or lodge more vigorously. Alternatively, Christopher Penczak and some other eclectic Wiccan writers discuss initiation in slightly different terms. They speak of initiations as recognizing progress made, or the formal beginning of a period of intense work or study. It was in these senses that I underwent my own initiation, almost two years ago, and it is in this sense that I am planning to undergo my next at Samhain, assuming that my experiments continue proceeding according to plan.
Since entering into my study of the Western Ceremonial tradition, however—particularly post-Golden Dawn and post-Chaos Hermeticism—I increasingly find the word “initiation” used in radically different ways. Rufus Opus, for example, has frequently spoken of his Gates Rites, which he performs regularly, as initiatory experiences. I was recently linked to another gentleman discussing his elemental initiations.
This use of “initiation” seems to convey a sense of immersion in the elemental or planetary force being summoned, and/or of opening (or maintaining) a channel of that force into one’s “personal sphere”. This is a fascinating concept to me, and one which is probably not as revolutionary as it seems: going directly to the Powers of Elemental Fire for instruction in the nature and use of Fire; going directly to the Powers of Planetary Venus for instruction in the nature and use of her energies. Or maybe it is revolutionary. I don’t know enough about Medieval or Renaissance thought to even guess, and even within my own specialties of Classical Studies and modern Neo-Pagan witchcraft, it’s hard to say sometimes.
Whether or not the idea is new or not is beside the point. It’s one that I’m definitely going to have to experiment with, and which may find it’s way into my personal practice. Hell, in a sense I’ve already started: I’ve undergone Earth, Water, and Fire initiations (though they weren’t quite framed the same way) as part of my Penczak-based work (Outer Temple and Temple of High Magic), and begun the process of Earth/Malkuth and Moon/Yesod initiations. I did all these through visionary work rather than evocation, and I think I will finish out the full set of four elements and seven planets before I do evocation-based initiations.
And then … what happens when I start experimenting with the signs of the Zodiac as sources of power?