There are a lot of ways to look at initiation. The Online Merriam-Webster defines:
: the process of being formally accepted as a member of a group or organization : the process of being initiated
: a ceremony or series of actions that makes a person a member of a group or organization
: the act of starting something : the beginning of something
This doesn’t really cover the sense of the experience, or even the basis of an initiation ritual. In most cases, an initiation provides a shared experience. Members of the group have it, non-members don’t. In that sense sex can be looked on as a form of initiation, or childbirth, or Harry Potter’s Thesteral which you can only see if you have seen death. It is something that all the “information” about doesn’t come close to having the actual experience.
Experiences don’t have to be identical to be shared. I had quite the visitors in the hospital.
Another thing the dictionary doesn’t give us is that sense that once you’ve been through an initiation you can never go back. Innocence is lost forever and a new perspective is gained. This is why magicians are so unwilling (as a “club”) to share their secrets. We all think we want to know how the trick is done, but once we know we no longer experience the same joy and awe as when we are being entertained. It stops being fun, unless you are “the right sort” that is challenged by learning new and better tricks and performing them yourself. Then you belong “in the club”.
That piece: Who “should” be initiated? Who “belongs”?, is another factor in the initiatory experience. For most intentional initiations there is a training and testing period to see how badly you really want this. It also allows the initiators to get a sense of “fit” for the group. During this period there are often teasing hints about the initiation itself. “We haven’t lost anyone yet.” “Are you sure you’re not afraid of blood?” “How much pain do you think you can tolerate?” These are the kinds of things commonly heard prior to an initiatory experience.
What is being hinted at is that initiation is meant to be transformational. Rituals of initiation are designed to shift consciousness and point of view. Initiatory experiences naturally do the same. There is a reason that surrogate mothers, teens giving their children up for adoption, and people who experience trauma’s along with pregnancy change their minds after the child is born. They no longer feel the way they thought they would because in a real way, having gone through the experience, they are no longer the same people. You can argue that this is a small change in the drama of the moment, but I would suggest that there is still a real and permanent change in how the event is viewed, in perspective.
I truly feel like I have just been through an initiatory experience. I was tested prior to my surgery, challenged with dietary restrictions and pre-surgery preparation. I was given horror stories about the experiences other people have had and about what I was most likely to go through. I was questioned, challenged, in pre-op, about how badly I really wanted this. Was I willing to let whatever might happen happen? I was reminded that this was an elective surgery and I could back out – even at that last-minute. Now I find myself welcomed by others who’ve been through this process. I am adjusting to the “new perspective” as I begin to heal from the surgery.
Bee balm from my garden. I couldn’t get close enough to the honey bee to get him in the photo. Healing takes lots of forms.
It is, as the dictionary suggests, a new beginning. As I am only at the beginning there is still much to learn and a long way to go. But there is no going back, only forward on this journey. I take my small steps filled with gratitude. I’m grateful for the overwhelming support I have had. I am grateful for the skill of my surgeon who against all odds managed to do this in the least invasive manner possible. I am grateful for my own history and preparation which makes the first steps of this journey easier. I am grateful for all those who’ve been here before me and who continue to light my way.