Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Spirit Initiation

Initiation is a rite that many witches go through to enter a covenant or understanding with a group or within a tradition. Many covens use initiation rituals to symbolise the death of the old self and the metamorphosis into the new self, as part of the group. Many shamans have written and spoken about their perilous and painful initiations to bring them to their new expressions of self.

There are two schools of thought in the traditional witchcraft community, two different sets of initiations, as demonstrated by renowned occultist Andrew Chumbley; the red thread and the white thread. The red thread is the physical initiation, usually conducted by a coven. It is the physical bond that is formed with your path. The white thread, however, is the initiation by spirit.

There are a lot of schools of thought on spirit initiation. In layman's terms, spirit initiation (sometimes noted as a shamanic initiation) is a death. It is the slow dismantling of the self, a breaking down the bits of the self to use as kindling for the fire it is about the start. It is a complete and total metamorphosis. It is a death - death of the self, death of the preconceived, death and decay - and it is difficult.

The metaphor of death is used in many traditions, from Wicca to Shamanism to Voudou. For some, it's a mere ritual. For some, it's symbolic. For others, it can be an experience that draws a practitioner  and forms a bond or a oath to that particular path. These spirit initiations are almost always unpleasant, and in some cases can exacerbate already existing depression or mental health issues. It manifests differently and in differing intensity, depending on the person experiencing it. People will sometimes describe the experience as feeling flat, deflated, empty, destroyed, or broken.

There are a variety of ways that it can manifest. For some, it is a long and unexplained bout of depression, or it's a persistent and on-going series of nightmares. For others, it borders into hallucinations, or can manifest as a physical sickness. These are usually marked by an initial period of personal crisis or trauma. It is almost always lead by a spirit of some kind. Some more traditional witches believe it is the Devil. Some, a horned god. Others see it as a spiritual guide who its meant to guide you through your transition, and there is always the possibility of a god intervening and guiding as well.

The main characteristic is that it is an ordeal, in the classic sense. It is pushing yourself to the point of breaking, and then acknowledging that you want to know more. When you hit that lowest point, that is the death and rebirth - that is the moment you are guided forward, like a newborn sprung from the womb. It is an unpleasant and torturous event, but it serves the great purpose of burning away all the unnecessary bullshit, and honing you into a sharp and sure weapon. It makes you dispose of the hurt and trauma of the past and forces you to truly connect with the spirits and your own power.

How do you know if what you am experiencing is not just symptoms of your mental illness? My answer is this - sometimes it is hard to know. I know that for me, it was helpful looking at all of my spiritual experiences and life experiences before it happened, and looking at my own bouts of depression in the past. Based purely on my own experiences and speaking with my therapist, I can safely say that the last year or so has been an abnormal cycle for me. I won't go into it too much, because I honestly feel these events can be a very private thing - but I think that some co-morbidity existed in my own case. However, my own transformation (which I am just coming out of) is very rooted with the traditional shamanic initiation - trauma or crisis event, spiritual revelation, and healing.

It is very important to develop a routine of self care and to ensure you care for all aspects of your health - mental, physical, and spiritual. Most of all, do not be afraid to seek help if you feel it may be more an issue with mental health than initiation.

This type of initiation is not for the faint of heart, but those who are not cowed by it will find a great deal of wisdom and power at the end. It can be terrifying and intimidating and soul crushing, but for me it is worth the effort.