Initiation struggles… one of the things that a magician must understand is that initiation into a true magickal current, brings struggles, complications and tests. These arise, as a result of the work and even serve as benchmarks of the same.
This is true of any enduring practice, whether it’s witchcraft, Thelema, Santeria, The Golden Dawn or Vodun.
You will not be able to simply waltz in, learn the mystical secrets, rise up the ladder of realms and become a powerful mage. The Guardians of the Paths will test your resolve, to see if you are indeed worthy of the knowledge and the increased level of power.
Things will go wrong and you must persist, in spite of the problems. There simply is no skirting around it; once you take the ticket… you must ride the ride.
Keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times and remember that your safety bar will not release until you come to a full stop.
Once you set the wheels in motion, with a firm resolve to accomplish your goal, the tests sometimes begin, even before your initiation ceremony.
What you face will vary widely, according to multiple factors and the nature of the particular step you are on.
A Journey Of A Thousand Miles…
For example, in Golden Dawn practice, the candidate walks into the Neophyte Hall and undergoes a sort of “general purpose” initiation, which may affect any or all parts of their life.
After completing this phase, they enter into various Elemental phases, in the succeeding grades. The aspiring magician receives the occult knowledge of the Elemental realms, along with a healthy dose of across-the-board magickal information to memorize and assimilate. One by one, they tackle the Elements, beginning with Earth the Zelator Grade and ending with Fire, in the Philosophus Grade.
The coloring of the time spent in the particular grade and the experiences of the magician will usually be astoundingly parallel to the nature of the Element in question.
For example, in the Earth Grade, there may well be financial struggles and perhaps health challenges, because of the physical character of the Element of Earth.
In the Water Grade, initiation struggles frequently include emotional turmoil and unconscious issues that arise, perhaps even with everyone realizing what is happening… except the candidate, themselves.
The Air Element can cause a person to float off the Path, entirely and become absorbed in several interests, unrelated to the work at hand and each one occurring to the individual as being a vital pursuit, rather than a devious distraction.
Fire relates to the passions and to energy itself. The magician sees illusions to chase, of love or sex. Many fall into some battle, whether they invite it or not.
After all these Elemental trials, the Golden Dawn practitioner comes to the Portal, where everything becomes suspect in a dark night of the soul experience.
Here, one often wonders if all has indeed been for naught, nothing accomplished, nothing gained. Even with forewarnings, those who step through the door, still forget these and questions abound. Many scuttle away in other directions, away from the original goal.
All of these distractions take place at the expense of the Magnum Opus (the Great Work), that is, the alchemy of the Spirit.
The magician is undergoing the formula of Solve et Coagula, the separation of the individual components of their being. This hopefully precedes the purification of each of those composite parts. This is the magician deciding to persist. In spite of life’s going to hell in a hand basket, they do the work, anyway.
The practitioner receives ritual work at the outset of the initiation. Through the execution of this work, they put forth the worst parts of themselves and give them up. This creates a more acceptable vehicle for the Divine.
An important point to mention here, is this. Many have no access to a proper coven, lodge, Temple, etc.
Some will have access but to something not quite right for them. An example is, a witch who has access to a House of Santeria, yet no interest in that particular work. Even with thoughtful, respectful study of its methods, no desire for it emerges. No fault lies on the House or the individual. The two need only keep seeking their own company.
For these folks, self-initiatory work garners the attention of the Spirits. The truly sincere will not likely escape their own tests.
I offer a set of rituals, their structure for awakening the Fire, Water, Air and Earth Elements within the aspirant. These are in my Conjure Club. Hopefully they provide a way for solo practitioners to do their Work.
Look! Over There… A Distraction!
Likewise, even the strengths which the candidate went into the ordeal with, become even better. That fact alone, might serve as a suitable distraction. For example, the Water Element additionally relates to creativity. My own time there… full of creative impulses, seeking expression through poetry and playing my guitar.
Words, strings of notes, more desire-inspiring than tables of magickal correspondence.
Induction of memory, giving way to flurries of inspiration. These, rising up especially strongly, when I would resolve to sit down and do my work.
On my way into the Temple, robe in hand, some burst of inspiration tempting me to change course. Anyone artistic knows well how quickly lost is a creative thought, failing to commit it to paper, immediately.
Regardless of your egregore (the energy paradigm of the Path you belong to), trouble comes. This is ironically a sign that the initiation went well… despite how disappointing it feels, going through it.
In fact, the greater the struggles, the greater the rewards… usually, anyway. Your mileage will vary and herein lies a tough bit of wisdom that you must thoroughly chew. Things you lose in a period of testing rarely return to you. Any damage done, whatever breaks… does not mend.
The Die Is Cast
The rough and tumble, spiritual hazing at the hands of the Guardians is quite real and sometimes even brutal.
If you are private, your affairs might become public. The extrovert might find some sort of enforced period of isolation. You’re spoiled? Then your sense of entitlement is ripe fruit for the taking.
The passive often find some sort of war, whether in business, family life or the street. The warlike are likely to find themselves in situations in which only diplomacy will resolve. Whatever you face, find the lesson, in the mess. And yet…
It usually feels at the time like it is a senseless, purposeless struggle that has no upside. This is what keeps the secrets truly secret.
The feint of heart do not enter the Hall of the Mysteries. Fools suffer greatly from the tribulations that arise on The Way.
Only the resolute, full of determination, the clever and the lucky emerge.
These are stronger for their initiation struggles and have words of wisdom on their tongues. Paradoxically, it is rare for these veterans to say much about it, one way or the other.
Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.
―Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching
Israel Regardie & Aleister Crowley
The following is an excerpt from Israel Regardie’s book, What You Should Know About The Golden Dawn:
The first step is analytical, the levelling down of all that man formerly held true and holy—the chaos, the darkness, and the Gates of the Land of Night. An unhappy state, but a very necessary one if progress is to be made and if the chaos is to be transcended.
From these ruins may be erected the new temple of Light, for it is always from the rubbish heap that are selected the materials for the manifestation of god-head. These symbols have a dual application. Not only do they refer to the epochs of creative evolution whose memory has long since faded even from the visible memory of Nature, but also to the recapitulations of those periods within personal progress on the Path.
And it is in connection with those recapitulations that the “aspirant on the threshold of Initiation” observes Crowley, “finds himself assailed by the ‘complexes’ which have corrupted him, their externalisation excruciating him, and his agonised reluctance to their elimination plunging him into such ordeals that he seems (both to himself and to others) to have turned from a noble and upright man into an unutterable scoundrel.”
These are the experiences and events which occur to every aspirant when initiation forces the realisation upon him that “all is sorrow.” In fact, the criterion or hallmark of successful initiation is the occurrence of these or similar experiences.
The whole universe, under the stimulation of the magical elements and inward analysis, seems to tumble like a pack of cards crazily about one’s feet. This is the solve half of the alchemical solve et coagula formula. Analysis must precede synthesis; corruption is the primitive base from which the pure gold of the spirit is drawn. So far as the nature of the environment and the creative power of the personal self permits, the task implied by the coagula formula is to assemble them and remould them nearer to the heart’s desire.
For the seekers
For those among you, looking for their own way… some references:
The Golden Dawn: Self-Initiation Into The Golden Dawn Tradition, by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero
Wicca: Wicca; A Guide To The Solitary Practitioner, by Scott Cunningham
Suggestions of books that are specifically for those going the route of self-initiation, are welcome. Feel free to recommend them, regardless of what Path.
Not specifically initiatory but more than suitable for getting into the practice of magick, see my own course, The Nascent Magician.