“Initiation includes death and rebirth, a radical altering of a person’s ‘mode of being’; a shattering and shaking all the way to the ground of the soul. the initiate becomes as another person; more fully in life emotionally and more spiritually aware. Loss of identity and even feeling betrayal of one’s self are essential to rites of passage.”
Modern Rites of Passage
At birth we fall into life through the body of our mothers. And then part way through our life’s journey, another kind of birth is asked of us; toward a “second life” as mythologist Michael Meade puts it. The second life is not just serving out another term of the first as an older person, rather it is a conscious marriage of our deep inner self, our soul. It is stepping into the great work of our own depths and heart.
In old cultures with intact initiatory rites, the second life initiation would be ushered forth into the lives of young people by the elders and adults of the culture. Stealing the initiates on the verge of adulthood into old rituals aimed at completely severing the initiates psychology from that of the child and pushing them onto the road of mature adulthood and their soul’s calling through certain trials or rituals. These were often physically, emotionally and spiritually trying.
Nowadays, the second life doesn’t come so clearly. Due to our lack of rites as a modern society the whisperings of our more authentic depths often have little choice but to come through darker pathways: depression, divorce, loss, trauma, addiction, debilitating fears and phobias - what many psychologists call symptoms of an out of balance psychology.
The more wild language of Initiation would perhaps claim these “symptoms” as deeper voices speaking to something much more whole and profound and precious than some chemical imbalance or illness. It would posit that a journey of trial and reflection is asked of the one who bares these troubles, in order for the seeds of their wisdom to blossom.
We need an innate kind of motivation to go out to the inner thresholds of what we know and the vast frontiers of what we don’t. We no longer have glint-in-their-eye elders who patiently watch our lives until they see us as ready to go walk through initiatory rites of passage. We have to call out the moments ourselves. And in doing so, we often discover that we are ready, and have been, perhaps, for a while now.
We are waiting to step into a trial that will push us out into the unknown so we can know more of our own voice; our own depth. Or an experience that can help mark the trials which we have already endured. The ceremonies are often necessary markers of experiences or wisdoms that have already arrived and which wait for us to claim them.