Interfaith Now
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Interfaith Now

Initiation in a World Upside Down

How come we no longer know what we are doing?

Photo by Leo Moko on Unsplash

‘Entering the modern world is like stepping into an initiation already under way.’ Michael Meade

Like it or not, we are in a global initiation and very few people have been prepared or can comprehend where they find themselves.

That’s because so few of us have been through a deliberate rite of passage or initiation — there isn’t a bible of instructions and there are no maps.

You are either drowning, swimming or just keeping your head above water. That’s just the way things roll.

Initiation is not meant to be like this, but if we don’t go to the sacred voluntarily, if we don’t pay our tribute and have not been shown how — which is almost always the case — the hidden depths we have avoided will come up to meet us in any event.

Any culture that willfully spits on its ancestors and has no interest in its elders or its youth, is doomed. History has shown us repeatedly that handing everything over to patriarchal interests never ends well.

Fallen empires are simply a reflection of the shadow warrior and their diseased entrails of ego — selfishness, avarice, gluttony and vanity.

If we forget our origins, ignore praise and worship, separate ourselves from the Earth, devalue ritual and community, the results are never pretty. I think most of us can see that.

You have to be ready for initiation. In writing about the Greek practice of incubation recently, I suggested there was very careful selection and holding of the kouros as they descended to the underworld.

In adolescent initiations, as I learned from a Dagara tribal chief from Burkina Faso, young men were nurtured by their village, held and loved in the bosom of family and community, before they went out into the elements and possible death.

But frightened as they may have been, they also understood there are fates worse than death. We don’t know that anymore.

It’s why we roll over, accept anything without question, comply with apparent ease. We simply won’t face our fears.

The archetype of the warrior which contained qualities of nobility, honour and service has fallen into shadow. Modern warriors, most of whom work in business, are extremely aggressive certainly, yet often entirely self-serving.

Knightly traditions have disappeared along with the vital values they upheld and served. The exemplar of the servant leader has gone.

Politicians can now do as they please it seems, getting away with murder a breeze. There are no consequences other than perhaps a slap on the wrist, purely cosmetic.

In mythological terms, we might say the kingdom is in ruins, but it is not just one kingdom anymore, there are many who have given up the ghost, any pretense of decency or care.

Ugliness is de rigeur, certainly among those who purport to be superior.

What do they have in common? They have not been held properly in the container of family and community; they have not been initiated into anything greater than themselves.

They have lost respect for life itself. Humanity has become dispensable, people ten a penny.

No wonder so many have given up. Whether you believe in Plato’s Atlantis or not, let its fate be a warning: an evolved and once virtuous society imploded by the baser instincts already mentioned.

Just as surrender can be the wisest course in battle, those unready for initiation are advised to return to the Paradise Garden before going forward. You cannot descend when there is already no ground beneath you, no experience of a loving container.

The first task then is to go back to childhood, recover memories, find the holding you need, incorporate grief and innocence, otherwise initiation is simply another form of abuse.

That’s why people are not coping: they have been plunged into a descent before their time and they simply don’t know what to do.

What people have done and will likely continue to do is to project the qualities of the parent they needed onto authorities, kneeling in obeisance with an utterly misplaced childlike obedience and trust.

Initiation is always a stripping away of all we once knew, a nakedness and thus a deep vulnerability. Before becoming someone again, first you have to experience what it is to be no-one.

If people are not concerned by the line ‘you will own nothing and be happy’, it is because they don’t understand they are being stripped.

It is unlikely they will be restored. You won’t get to be The Six Million Dollar Man — stronger, better, faster — unless you have the requisite six million bucks!

When we regress to childhood in all our unknowing, we simply close our eyes to reality, rationalize that all will be well, and carry on minimizing our very real plight.

If you don’t have a personal spiritual practice, it is easy to bow to forces greater than yourself when they offer protection.

And if ever there was a time to start the inner journey it is now. God knows we need some spiritual warriors.

Anyone who has been on a vision quest or knows deep solitude, perhaps even participated in healthy and meaningful ritual, knows that incredible things can happen in ritual space.

The universe will literally shift on its axis to support you, bestowing revelations you wouldn’t get in ten years of therapy.

I was fortunate enough to have participated in a number of rituals during the 1990s and several since.

They both woke me up to deeper levels of myself and life, and alerted me to the conditions on my soul, what is sometimes called a geis, which were intended not for my wellbeing but my destruction.

If a myth, as Jung said, represents the collective dream of a culture, it would be wise to understand we are living through times that are equally archetypal, and understand exactly what we are being shown.

Copyright Simon Heathcote

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Simon Heathcote

Simon Heathcote

Psychotherapist writing on the human journey for some; irreverently for others; and poetry for myself; former newspaper editor.