Saturday, January 5, 2013

Initiation: Deja Vu all over again?

The following are personal ramblings on some subjective experiences. They are not well articulated and they wander in seemingly random ways. I am publishing these, not because I expect any answers, nor really because I feel the need to share them with many who are probably total strangers. Rather, it is the need to speak out loud about what I experience, and some of its incoherence. Doing so with only the cat as a witness didn't seem enough. There are changes in the world and in me that I do not yet fully understand. Perhaps posting this is because of some inchoate sense that others may be experiencing something similar.

Initiation is central to most cultures. Although contemporary society is no different in this regard, the majority in our culture are usually ill informed about the topic if not totally ignorant of it. This is reflected in how the term is used and misused in popular discussions of the subject.

With that in mind, I feel the need to consider a thoughtful definition of the term. Van Gennap in "Rites de passage" creates a definition which recognizes a three-part or three tiered process of ritual transformation. These three steps include, in his order,  the separation of the subject from the current or larger social group; a period in which the individual has no social identity; the initiand belongs neither to the old group nor to the new; and a final stage of initiation which admits the subject into the new society providing a new identity. I not interested in exploring emic and etic distinctions in academic terms. Neither am I going to explore the wider range of esoteric practices outside a generalized conceptualization of initiation and its meaning for the initiate.

Rather, from an emic perspective,  albeit as an individual simultaneously aware of and consciously exploring the etic approach to the subject, I will attempt to very briefly examine my feelings and reactions to a current process of initiation and of multiple initiations. 

I have experienced initiation into a variety of "secret societies" and esoteric traditions over much of my life. This began in the early 1970s including over the years initiations into both modern and more traditional Western Esoteric traditions, as well as African and Afro-diasporic traditions, and which have continued throughout my life. Over the past two years I have begun a renewed sequence of initiations, including concurrently different branches of Freemasonry, increased involvement with various Afro-diasporic traditions, and other modern forms of spiritual energetic systems.

In a traditional context, an individual might become an initiate in one tradition in a lifetime. At most, an individual might initiate into a couple of systems in a culture with some level of spiritual specialization. In the west, most in past centuries might be initiated into a major religion such as Christianity or Judaism, even though those traditions tend not to use such terminology. There were few alternatives until the late twentieth century. If male, the individual might initiate into Freemasonry or a similar society. For women, in a few locations, there was access to Freemasonry, but in many areas that was restricted, most notably in the Anglophone world, which always seems more socially recidivist than many of its neighbors.

In contrast, in today's society there are a myriad of traditions coexisting and many seem eager to sample everything. There is a reluctance, buried deep within my genes, to this approach. Yet, I find myself dealing with it, and am struggling with my own traditionalist preferences. I rationalize this with the recognition that I am being called to engage various disparate avenues of spiritual exploration, and it would seem, by the forces which are associated with some of these pathways. While I continue the good fight, I realize that my narrow, single-path aspirations have long ago given up the ghost. What can I say? Being Irish, I'm stubborn.

I first became aware of and began exploring alternatives to the standard models of Christianity that I was born into, quite early in life. I discovered the magical realm of nature spirits before entering grade school. I briefly examined various forms of Christianity, even briefly wanting to become Amish before I fully examined the theology, and for a few years explored a variety of alternate spiritual approaches. By the 1970s, I branched out and read everything I could find on African derived religions in Cuba, New Orleans, Haiti, and Brazil. By the early 80s, living in Ireland, I met the founders of the Fraternity of Isis and initiated my fascination with Egypt and its spiritual traditions.

Back in the United States and in graduate school, I returned to Afo-diasporic traditions and completed my doctoral dissertation in Folklore and Folklife on Central African religious traditions in the Americas. In the process, I received a number of initiations in Cuba, frequented many Vodou fetes, explored Brazilian traditions such as Umbanda and Quimbanda, and acquired a raft of initiations in (thankfully very irregular) Freemasonry in Europe. Armed with several initiations into different branches of the Congo religions of Cuba, Martinism and Memphis Misraim to name a few of the initiations I had accumulated, I also received attunements in a "new" branch of alternative healing called "Reiki." I was given the attunements for this (as initiation into Reiki is usually called) by a friend, and although I was interested in energy manipulation and healing, I really paid little attention to this latter "initiation" at the time.

A decade and a half later, having ignored Reiki almost altogether, and having become a lapsed Freemason, I found myself moving toward a renewed and intense involvement in both, on a level I had not predicted. Having embarked on gaining mastery in masonic obediences which were new to me, and now beginning an adventure into attuning to a dizzying degree to the mysteries of Reiki, far beyond that of a simple "Reiki Master," it seems to me that I need to investigate the issue of initiation and what it means, as well as what it does to an individual. 

All of this came as a result of my renewed involvement with Haitian Vodou. I discovered that the Loa or Haitian spiritual forces guided me through Afro-Cuban traditions and back to the Haitian which I had flirted with prior to my first trip to Cuba. Interestingly then, I found on a personal level that these same forces were presenting linkages through Egyptian spirituality with Freemasonry and even Reiki. I found that when I tried to untangle this net of associations I was met with a profound cognitive dissonance.

All of this is background and not at all that with which I am grappling. Why is it that I find myself at this point in my life, looking for new experiences and without having consciously sought it at this point, on a path of an excellerating cycle of  initiation, re-initiation, and continual initiation. To be honest, I do not have a clue. I do know that it is exciting to feel such a strong connection to spirit and it strikes me that since I am in several areas of my life, both in Quimbisa (a form of Afro-Cuban religion of Congo origin) and in Freemasonry, I am increasingly responsible for the initiations of others, and I am being led to experience, and re-experience the process from the perspective of the neophyte, as, I suppose, a reminder of the role, to assist me in making it more meaningful for those I assist. Each time I go through another initiation, I find myself experiencing the introduction to new ideas and new life that an initiation, any legitimate initiation provides. I also am becoming more conscious of the importance of making informed choices about where you rest your head, so to speak. I find that I am only being allowed access where it is healthy for me to go. Although I do not yet have a clue to what it looks like, there seems to be a meta-picture here somewhere. All the Afro-diasporic traditions have a connection, often directly to one another (at least between Cuba and Haiti) and from there to Egypt, and that is aligned through Hermeticism to Freemasonry. Beyond that, links appear to have been forged between Reiki, which originated in Japan, and with Egyptian traditions through people whom I met a quarter century ago when I was living in Ireland.

In the process of looking at this subject, at this point at least, I cannot find useful information from my intellectual brain. The etic is of little use in resolving these questions or quieting my own cognitive dissonance. There is no apparent logic behind such an experience. I can assure you they are not at all the choices I would have taken on my own, but I also bow to the logic of understanding that once one places faith in the spirit(s) giving direction to initiatic experience, they will make apparent connections that you may not have recognized, and they don't appear to be concerned with footnotes. Isn't that a relief?

No comments: