This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on July 27, 2013.
“…And you will earn the right of return,
and all the moons you can swallow”
~Tea With Witches, Kate Chadbourne
Right before I left for Sirius Rising, I came across one of Star Foster’s blogs about her experience with her own initiation, Considering Consent: Initiation, Baptism, and Other Religious Milestones. This blog left me with a lot to chew over, since my own initiation was nothing like Star’s experience and I was preparing to assist in elevating two of my students.
In the blog Star says, “I told my initiator afterwards that had I had an understanding of what the ritual would entail, I would never have requested an initiation. I would have remained a ‘friend of the house.’ To be perfectly honest, had I been given a paper copy of the ritual to peruse ahead of time, my response would have likely been ‘Oh HELL NO!’”
A required reading in my tradition is “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar. The very first chapter of the book is about initiation and describes a man going through it. I didn’t read it before I took initiation exactly because I didn’t want to know what would happen during an initiation. I have read the book since and am glad that I made the choice not to do so beforehand. For me, going through initiation was partly about proving to myself that even without knowing exactly what was going to happen, I was ready enough to handle it without any forewarning. That I could blindly take what was done and have the knowledge to handle anything thrown at me. While initiation is an undertaking that you’re given by others, my initiation was a test I had also set for myself.
Walking into my initiation, I was fairly nervous. While I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, I was trained well enough to have a good idea of what to expect. While I didn’t read other accounts of initiation before hand, my priest and priestess didn’t send me into things blindly. I didn’t walk into my initiation expecting a “positive, loving experience” as some of the people that Star talked to told her about, I walked into my initiation knowing that I would be facing my Gods face to face and was bolstered by the knowledge that my initiators deemed me ready to handle whatever came next. I expected to be uncomfortable, I expected to be tested. I expected to swear serious vows and to be asked uncomfortable questions. My tradition made sure to equip me with the tools I needed to get through my initiation healthy, happy and whole.
Initiation was not something I expected to be pleasant, it was something I expected, in some ways, to survive. It is about the death of an old life and the start of a new one. I didn’t expect this to be a happy experience. I expected this to be an ordeal.
Initiations and elevations are supposed to be ordeals. Jason Mankey, Pagan scholar and blogger (he has a blog over at Patheos called Raise the Horns and he will soon have a new column here at Witches and Pagans, go check it out!) and also a dear friend and Gardnerian was discussing initiation with me at Sirius Rising. Jason used that word, ordeal. And I think “ordeal” sums up everything about initiation beautifully.
During Sirius Rising, I assisted with two elevations. They were the first elevations that I have been the acting priestess for. While they were outer court elevations, they were elevations that are about the acceptance of taking the path to initiation.
What surprised me about leading others through this elevation was that it was not just an ordeal for the ones undertaking to elevate. This was also an ordeal for myself and my priest as well. In some ways, getting ready for this ritual was harder for myself and my partner than it was for those who were elevating. They just had to show up and get through it, we had to memorize several pages of lines, find a place, have all the tools, get the right objects needed, provide some things for after and facilitate the ritual, the ritual that was more draining for us performing it and channeling deity than it was for those undertaking it!
It took us several days to get ready and that was after all the time spent making sure our students were taught and properly prepared to handle the elevation. I stood anxiously throughout the ritual, after having done my part of it, waiting to see if our students stood up to the tests provided, hoping that I had prepared them enough and had judged correctly that they were ready. In many ways, their elevation was as much a test for me as it was for them, it was a test of my role as teacher.
This definitely changed my perspective on the act of initiation. I don’t know if I would have understood how an initiation or elevation could be an ordeal for those giving it without experiencing both sides of the coin first, but initiation is an ordeal for everyone involved. And I have a feeling that if it isn’t, you aren’t doing it right.
Also during Sirius Rising I took part in Jason Mankey’s Morrison ritual and was initiated into the Morrison Clan. If you ever have the opportunity to go to one, it is a heck of a lot of fun. The Morrison clan embraces the idea that Jim Morrison of the Doors fame was an incarnation of Dionysius, the ritual celebrates excess and all that life has to offer with music by the Doors playing in the background. Once again I had to prove myself deserving initiation. This time, initiation was a lot more fun, but that apprehension was still there. This time around, the things I did to “prove” myself were a lot more fun, but they were still trials, they were still an ordeal. I was still aware that we were in a Circle with the Gods and that my life would be changed forever by that act.
I hope that for my students now and in the future, I will not misjudge and I will continue to provide all the knowledge and support needed to get them to that place where they are ready to handle their initiation without feeling that they didn’t consent to what happens during one. I would hate to think that I had left someone with as a bad a taste for the Craft the way that it seems Star was. I hope to remember initiation is and always will be an ordeal. Initiation is not for the unprepared, it is trial, triumph and tribulation rolled all into one.