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Initiation ceremony, Korogo Village, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, 1975. Franz Luthi

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.

Contents

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".

Freemasonry initiation. 18th century

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.)

Trade union 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 initiationodds 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.[1]

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.

Australian Aboriginal tribes usually had long periods of time to help prepare adolescent boys, teaching them the Law before they were ready to attend large elaborate ceremonies at the time of initiation when they were finally recognized as fully-fledged men in their society. Most tribes had circumcision and scarification as part of the male initiation rituals, while many Central Australian tribes also practiced subincision.

Resting after initiations, Korogo Village, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, 1975. Franz Luthi

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade discussed initiation as a principle religious act by classical or traditional societies. He defined initiation as "a basic change in existential condition," which liberates man from profane time and history. "Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew... [the initiand] can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods."

Reasons for and functions of Initiation

  • "this real valuation of ritual death finally led to conquest of the fear of real death."
  • "[initiation's] function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations and to help them assume the responsibility of being truly men and hence of participating in culture."
  • "it reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we should call transcendental."
  • "to make [the initiand] open to spiritual values."

Types of initiation

Eliade differentiates between types of initiations in two ways: types and functions. Types

  • Puberty Rites- "collective rituals whose function is to effect the transition from childhood or adolescence to adulthood." They represent "above all the revelation of the sacred."
  • Entering into a Secret Society-
  • Mystical Vocation- "the vocation of a medicine man or a shaman." This is limited to the few who are "destined to participate in a more intense religious experience than is accessible to the rest of the community."

These can be broken into two types:

  • puberty rites, "by virtue of which adolescents gain access to the sacred, to knowledge, and to sexuality-- by which, in short, they become human beings."
  • specialized initiations, which certain individuals undergo in order to transcend their human condition and become proteges of the Supernatural Beings or even their equals."

See also

References

  • Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, first edition, New York, NY Harper and Row, 1958.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

INITIATION (Lat. initium, beginning, entrance, from mire, to go in), the process of formally entering, and especially the rite of admission into, some office, or religious or secret society, &c. Among nearly all primitive races initiatory rites of a bloody character were and are common. The savage pays homage to strength, and the purpose of his initiatory rites is to test physical vigour, self-control and the power of enduring pain. Initiation is sometimes religious, sometimes social, but in primitive society it has always the same character. Thus, in Whydah (West Africa) the young girls consecrated to the worship of the serpent, "the brides of the Serpent," had figures of flowers and animals burnt into their skins with hot irons; while in the neighbouring Yorubaland the power of enduring a sound thrashing is the qualification for the throne. In no country was the practice of initiatory rites more general than in the Americas. The Colombian Indians compelled their would-be chief to submit to terrible tests. He had first to bear severe beatings without a murmur. Then, placed in a hammock with his hands tied, venomous ants were placed on his naked body. Finally a fire was lit beneath him. All this he had to bear without flinching. In ancient Mexico there were several orders of chivalry, entry into which was only permitted after brutal initiation. The nose of the candidate was pierced with an eagle's talon or a pointed bone, and he was expected to dig knives into his body. In Peru the young Inca princes had to fast and live for weeks without sleep. Among the North American Indians initiatory rites were universal. The Mandans held a feast at which the young "braves" supported the weight of their bodies on pieces of wood skewered through the muscles of shoulders, breasts and arms. With the Sioux, to become a medicine-man, it was necessary to submit to the ordeal known as "looking at the sun." The sufferer, nearly naked, was bound on the earth by cords passed through holes made in the pectoral muscles. With bow and arrow in hand, he lay in this position all day gazing at the sun. Around him his friends gathered to applaud his courage.

Religious brotherhoods of antiquity, too, were to be entered only after long and complicated initiation. But here the character of the ordeal is rather moral than physical. Such were the rites of admission to the Mysteries of Isis and Eleusis. Secret societies of all ages have been characterized by more or less elaborate initiation. That of the Femgerichte, the famous medieval German secret tribunal, took place at night in a cave, the neophyte kneeling and making oath of blind obedience. Imitations of such tests are perpetuated to-day in freemasonry; while the Mafia, the Camorra, the Clan-na-Gael, the Molly Maguires, the Ku-Klux Klan, are among more recent secret associations which have maintained the old idea of initiation.


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Simple English

initiation. 18th century]]

Initiation is a ceremony at the entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It can also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community.[1] Examples of initiation ceremonies are Christian baptism or confirmation, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, acceptance into a fraternal organization like the freemasons or religious order like the Benedictines, or graduation from school. A person taking the initiation ceremony is called an initiate.

Contents

Etymology

The English word comes from the Latin, initium: "entrance" or "beginning. The related English verb, initiate, means to begin or start a particular action.

Tribal initiations

Tribes often have initiations. In many African tribes, initiation means circumcision of males and sometimes circumcision/genital mutilation of females as well. Initiation is thought to be necessary for the individual to be regarded as a full member of the tribe. Otherwise, the individual may not be allowed to take part 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. Because of modernization initiation is not taken so seriously as before, but there are still certain areas which still perform initiations.

In some African tribes, boys have initiation rites for 3-4 months and girls for 1-2 months.

Australian Aboriginal tribes usually had long periods of time to help prepare adolescent boys, teaching them the Law before they were ready to attend large elaborate ceremonies at the time of initiation when they were finally recognized as men in their society. Most tribes had circumcision and scarification as part of the male initiation rituals, while many Central Australian tribes also practiced subincision.

Notes

  1. In an extended sense it can also mean a transformation in which the initiate is 'reborn' into a new role.

Literature

  • Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, first edition, New York, NY Harper and Row, 1958.








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