Initiation means to start, to become part of, to be admitted as a member of a group, to be given secret knowledge, and to have power or right to take action as part of that group.
Initiation ceremony is the marker of this start or the becoming part of the group, the place where knowledge is passed on or tested. The time when the one being initiated becomes marked as, is witnessed as, and is celebrated for the change that has started, the group they have become a part of, and the responsibilities that come with that belonging.
The importance of Initiation ceremonies as markers of rite of passage in life and as recognition of the skills, responsibility and age of the individual within the community has always been important and understood. It is part of our healthy psychological development, of the archetypical journey into maturity we as souls individually and collectively all must under take.
Within the field of biological child development, the clearly defined stages of maturity are understood and the shifts where the natural focus of the child is directed, seen. In many human societies around the world initiation is still very much part of the fabric of community and family life. Unfortunately in our Western societies we have mostly lost these important healthy markers of the change of energy of the body and the development of the soul.
Initiations are the expression of the collective recognition of these stages of development. In tribal communities a baby is welcomed with a naming ceremony; an opportunity for the blessing and welcoming of the new being, and the recognition of and commitment to support the new parents in their role by the wider family and community circle.
At around 7 years of age, the stage of leaving small childhood, when the focus of the child shifts from the mother to the father, this rite of passage is marked with a ‘Boyhood or Maidenhood ‘ ceremony in which the growing child is celebrated. The young person is told about the sacredness of their body and specialness and value of their being. The ceremony offers space for the commitment of the family and community to help and guide the child in the exploration of who they are, safely and respectfully. The child ceremonially leaves behind the baby childhood and takes on a responsibility which contributes to the wellbeing and running of the family/community (a job of their choice for which they are now responsible).
At around 14, when the child becomes a young person whose focus shifts from the mother/father to the mentor, a youth initiation would be held which marks the young person’s right to now sit in the women’s or men’s house, to listen and learn and start to contribute to adult life. The youth chooses or is given a mentor; someone who would have been part of the wider tribal community and who would have guided this next stage of the young persons development of stepping into the responsibility of being a young adult. In today’s distorted society, there are no mentors, and so peer groups or gangs of equally immature youngsters or adults have taken the place of the wise elder the young person would have chosen.
In our modern life, there is no initiation ceremony to mark the changes in the body and being of the young person, no community to hold the process, to give the secret teachings or provide the mentors, there is instead confusion as to what their role should be. Not only do they receive a whole lot of mixed messages, from not being allowed the privileges of belonging to the adult world but having to behave in a responsible manner, to being almost forced into a prolonged childhood of lack of responsibility and lack of nurturing and trust in their ability to take on further challenge and freedom. School systems are a strong example of how the discord of messages at this age is delivered. No wonder there is rebellion or ‘zoning out’, or the reckless experimentation with forbidden behaviour or substances, the seeking for identity and belonging amongst peer groups, etc that many young people experience as part of ‘normal’ young adulthood.
For girls there is at least the physical mark of entering young adulthood in the form of Menarche (first menstruation), which can come at any time between the ages of 8 to 17 within the normal biological range. Unfortunately, there is no preparation of any real kind to the deeper meanings of the start of this journey into womenhood, nor a healthy open attitude around how to hold and celebrate the Menarche itself. The loss of mentors as the wise women circles of old contribute strongly to the lack of maturity in women we see in our society today. This echos as lack of self-confidence and trust in the beautiful wisdom of the female body and energetic flow, which leads to the stunted flight of the individual throughout their lives. Menarche ceremonies are a way to restoring the healthy balance and building confidence in self assured young women.
For boys entering this stage of young adulthood the situation is even more bleak. There is no longer any honouring or marking of their changing energy and physical body, no responsibility to become theirs as they proof themselves worthy of the requirements of the community: no healthy way to channel their energy and gifts. The school exam has taken the place of the vision quest, the ‘mark of the man’ replaced by the latest fashion statement of discontent. We are now in a situation in the UK where young men are not allowed to buy a razor unless they are 18 or over, an age where most will long since have started exploring looking after their facial hair, and where a teenager into juggling and skilled with a fire staff can’t buy matches. We live in a world where most young man reach the legal age at which they can become soldiers trained to kill, before the age they are ‘allowed to’ become lovers, for which there is no training what so ever.
The feelings of lack of respect, understanding and total absence of the places of actually being appreciated for who they are and what they bring to society, or the experience of this being manipulated which most young people experience, are a sad reminder of how we as societies miss this precious resource of youth. We squander the opportunity to enhance the whole of the community young adults offer in their initiating into the adult world. Instead we have the self perpetuating conditions which lead to immature masculinity/femininity within us all, seeking and finding outlet in the undesirable behavioural expressions of the distortions of patriarchy.
It is time to re-address these issues, to reclaim and newly create meaningful markers of rites of passage, to remember the old ways of initiation ceremony which are an integral part of our psyche and our make up as human beings, and make them applicable to the here and now of our times.
It is time to re-learn how to hold initiation ceremony and sacred space for our own inner immature masculine and feminine and for our young people desperately asking for this guidance in our communities. Lets initiate a new way, lets start initiating our young people as valued, recognised members of our society, lets heal the wounding arising from the lack of initiation ceremonies for ourself and for others.