Definitions

Initiation rites

Initiation

[ih-nish-ee-ey-shuhn]

Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components. In an extended sense it can also signify a transformation in which the initiate is 'reborn' into a new role. Examples of initiation ceremonies might include Christian baptism or confirmation, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, acceptance into a fraternal organization, secret society or religious order, or graduation from school or recruit training.

A person taking the initiation ceremony in traditional rites, such as those depicted in these pictures, is called an initiate.

Etymology

The English word derives from the Latin, initium: "entrance" or "beginning," literally "a going in." The related English verb, initiate, means to begin or start a particular action, event, circumstance, or happening.

Religious and other spiritual initiations

A spiritual initiation rite normally implies a shepherding process where those who are at a higher level guide the initiate through a process of greater exposure of knowledge. This may include the revelation of secrets, hence the term secret society for such organizations, usually reserved for those at the higher level of understanding. One famous historical example is the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, thought to go back to at least the Mycenaean period or "bronze age".

In the context of ritual magic and esotericism, an initiation is considered to cause a fundamental process of change to begin within the person being initiated. The person conducting the initiation (the initiator), being in possession of a certain power or state of being, transfers this power or state to the person being initiated. Thus the concept of initiation is similar to that of apostolic succession. The initiation process is often likened to a simultaneous death and rebirth, because as well as being a beginning it also implies an ending as existence on one level drops away in an ascension to the next. Initiation is a key component of Sant Mat, Surat Shabd Yoga and similar religious gnostic traditions. It denotes acceptance by the Guru and also implies that the Chela (student or disciple) agrees to the requirements (such as living an ethical lifestyle, meditating, etc.)

Profane social organization initiations

In unionised organizations, the "initiation" is typically no more than a brief familiarization with basic procedures and the provision of a copy of the appropriate collective bargaining agreement that governs the work performed by members of the union. Some unions also charge a one-time initiation fee, after which the joining person is officially deemed to be a member in good standing.

Naval and military initiations

Some communities on board a military vessel and also of military soldiers tend to form a closed 'family' which absorbs in members, who are often formally accepted, generally after a form of trial or hazing.

In addition, there can be similar rites of passages associated with parts of naval and military life, which do not constitute true initiations as the participants are already and remain members of the same community. One such rite is associated with crossing the equator on board a naval ship, but it can even be taken by passengers on board a cruise liner, who aren't and don't become members of anything but the so-called 'equator crossing club'. Another form, “Kissing the Royal Belly” or “Royal Baby”, calls for initiates to kneel before a senior member of the crew, who wears a mock diaper. This “Baby” usually has a huge stomach covered with greasy materials ranging from cooking oil to mustard, shaving cream, eggs, and oysters. Junior sailors must lick the Baby’s navel area, while the "baby" grabs and shakes their head to better smear the goo onto their faces.

Tribal initiations

Tribes often have initiations. The initiation done in the Bapedi tribe of South Africa is normally regarded as a stage where a boy is to be taught manhood and a girl to be taught womanhood. In many African tribes, initiation involves circumcision of males and sometimes circumcision/genital mutilation of females as well. Initiation is considered necessary for the individual to be regarded as a full member of the tribe. Otherwise, the individual may not be allowed to participate in ceremonies or even in social ritual such as marriage. A man will not be allowed to marry or have any special relationship with a woman who didn't go to an initiation, because she is not considered as a woman.

Initiation may be thought of as an event which may help teens prepare themselves to be good husbands and wives. Where modernization is occurring, initiation is not taken so seriously as before, although there are still certain areas which still perform initiations.

In some African tribes, boys take about 3-4 months participating in initiation rites and girls take about 1-2 months.

See also

References

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