In 1600, German shoemaker, Jacob Boehme, had a divine revelation as he gazed at a pewter dish that sparkled in the sunlight. In 1612, he articulated this infused knowledge in his The Rising of Dawn. In 1670, Jane Lead, had a powerful vision of Virgin Sophia, not long after the death of her husband. In 1681, after the death of John Pordage, she assumed leadership of the Philadelphian Society, a group of Protestant Christians within the English dissenter movement. These are two examples of inward initiation within the context of the Western esoteric tradition.
Initiation is a hard thing to define. We like to limit it to those spooky rites that we undertake in candlelit lodges. But on a more base level it can include any event that causes a major shift in consciousness. It serves as a paradigm shift that shakes a person out of their doldrum existence. The individual cannot resume life as normal. Life has been shifted into a higher gear. The individual has traded in their old Honda for a Ferrari. Initiation provides a person with a newer, more-powerful vehicle for their consciousness. And it can take time to get used to the extra horsepower.
There are two main forms of initiation: outward and inward.
We are all familiar with the outward initiations that take place in lodges and temples. Inward initiations are those personal and subjective experiences that can cause a person to cross a liminal threshold:
- Near-death experiences
- Psychedelic experiences
The only hard rule is that these experiences have to be profound enough to cause a significant shift in consciousness. These experiences are given great importance in cultures that exist outside of industrial civilization. But in the West these experiences are usually discounted as aberrations of an unsound mind. Mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, can make it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Rational acumen and discernment are necessary to separate legitimate spiritual experience from whimsical fantasy. The individual must tread on sound and sturdy ground.
Outward initiation into a lodge serves to forge an etheric link between the candidate and the inner plane contact. This contact serves to guide and teach the members of the magical lodge. Inner development is necessary to maintain and strengthen this link; otherwise the link will dissipate and fade with time. For example, a person initiated into the Golden Dawn tradition must continue to do the work to retain the link. Likewise, a person who has received an inward initiation has forged such a link. But outward work must be done; otherwise the experience is lost to the individual.
The Hermetic credo “as above so below, as within so without” holds true. Outward initiation within a magical lodge must be reinforced with inner development; otherwise it is nothing more than empty ceremony. The Golden Dawn initiate must keep up with the daily ritual work that facilitates inner development. Inward initiation must be reinforced with outer work; otherwise it is nothing more than a mystical experience. The initiate must travel to the castle to locate Virgin Sophia and the crucible. There the experience is transmuted.
There are individuals who collect degrees and grades without any focus on inner development. There is a sort of consumerism mentality that can take place with some people. Likewise, there are individuals who are preoccupied with inward experiences without any focus on outer work. People on both sides of the coin must strive for balance. The Great Work requires the initiate to place his heart upon the altar as a sacrifice. In other words, you have to sacrifice and do the work to facilitate the initiatory process. You have to put gas in the tank.