“Do I need to be initiated?” is quite possibly one of the most common questions I get and the answer is: “it depends.”
Not all traditions and paths have initiation as part of them. In those cases the obvious answer is “no”. But there are plenty of paths the do require initiation such as Wicca or Shamanism (to name two of the most badly bastardized paths). So if you want to follow such a tradition, then the answer is YES! You absolutely need initiation.
So the next question is usually “why?” Apparently this is another one of those concepts that is assumed to be so basic that it never gets explained. Lets take a look at the “why” of initiation.
At it’s most basic, it is entrance into the a group. As such it’s done TO you by an outside force. If you just show up and announce that you are now part of what ever group it is, you will probably be laughed at before being shown the door…if you’re lucky.
But it’s more than just getting through the door. It also gives you access to the group egregore or thought form. This is the energy of all who have come before you, all their beliefs and understandings. Having access to that, is part of pretty much every experiential activity you will experience on the path. And being part of it will give a much greater depth of understanding that absolutely surpasses anything which could be communicated with our very limited human language.
Without initiation, all that you will learn will be incredibly superficial by comparison. That’s not to say that what you learn from “outer court” or pre-initiation information is without merit. That’s not the case. But in order to really practice an initiatory tradition, you have to be initiated so you get the full experience.
At this point there is usually a whine about how HARD it is to find a group or make time or whatever other excuse the person wants to throw up about why they can’t get initiated. This is usually followed by wailing about elitist and exclusionary rules and how that’s not how paganism is supposed to work, along with a boat load of entitlement as they demand to have their “self-initiation” recognized as valid.
And at this point I just wait for them to take a breath and point out that it IS a requirement of the tradition and IF they want to follow that tradition, it’s what they need to do. Now this is the thing a lot of folks don’t seem to get: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pagan paths. Lots of which have no initiation requirement. And which have a theology (or lack of theology) that is more befitting of the person’s wants. Same with the ethics of the path and so on. You aren’t limited to initiatory paths or any paths.
Anyhow, back to initiation. There are two general types: 1) by a human and 2) by Spirit/Gods. Now before people start jumping up and down claiming that they have been initiated by the gods, let me finish.
Being initiated by a High Priestess or a High Priest is a human initiation in their group and is what you will find in Wicca. There is a a transmission of energy and knowledge from the initiator to the initiated. Such an initiation can also be traced as part of the person’s “up line”. This is a means of fact checking if someone has the standing/training they are claiming to have.
Meanwhile, in regards to various shamanic traditions, it’s Spirit that initiates you. Likewise, Spirit (or spirits) will be teaching you. And frankly those that have been initiated by Spirit will rarely make such claims, because they don’t have to. Why would they? Spirit is the only one whose knowledge and opinion matters on the subject. If someone just randomly starts claiming to have been initiated by Spirit or some god or other–rather than it being a part of an explanation of their path–that’s a good indication that it’s time to walk away.
Now before you go thinking these two types are separate, they really aren’t as there will be elements of each found in the other.
Finally, let’s have a word about “self-initiation” and why it’s so very controversial. Self-initiation is an oxymoron, and the way of that goes right back to what I said earlier about how initiation is done by an outside source (either a person or Spirit). You can’t do it to yourself because you have no way of accessing the energy/egregore of whatever you are trying to bring yourself into. It just doesn’t work.
What does work and what many are actually meaning when they say “self-initiation” is a self-dedication. Now a self-dedication is exactly what it sounds like: you are dedicating your self to….whatever. You can do self-dedications to specific gods, or to following a specific path or course of study. It is a wonderful way to show yourself (don’t worry about others) that you are serious. But it’s not he same as an initiation.
In the end, the question of “do you need to be initiated?” comes down to do you want to practise a path that requires initiation in fact? Or just in name only? Or do you want to find a path where no initiation is required? It’s entirely your choice. Just remember that those who walk the path in fact, will probably call you on an effort to practice a watered down version of what they love and have given their lives to the practice of.