Understanding Initiation Author(s): George Weckman Reviewed work(s): Source: History of Religions, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Aug., 1970), pp.

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in that it does refer rather clearly to a type of social activity with attendant notions of change. I find four kinds of approaches to initiation patterns by which scholars have tried to explain various rites or myths. The term "initiation" is not a problem. of course. It is the purpose of this essay to summarize the kinds of conclusions which various students of initiation ceremonies have made regarding some examples or the total phenomenon. since so many scholars in former years have assumed that a religious meaning is no meaning at all. The French use l'initiation to mean any introduction. Like religion itself.George Weckman UNDERSTANDING INITIATION The phenomenon of initiation is one of the most persistent and ubiquitous aspects of religion. The correlation of the various approaches to initiation will also indicate new significance in the further subdivision of the general category of initiation rites. to a new area of study-but such usage is obviously derivative and nonreligious. for example. a single definition which can apply to all instances and ramifications has proved very difficult to achieve. In the first group I place all interpretations which remove the significance of the rite from the religious sphere. Most prominent of 62 . The problem seems to lie instead with the multileveled meaning of this type of religious activity and its occurrence in so many cultures and doctrinal contexts. however. Recognition of the valid aspects which each approach has uncovered will lead into a way of relating these discoveries and bringing them into a larger conceptual framework. This is a great body of literature.

None of these aspects is peculiar to initiation rites. Heiler's famous book on prayer is a work of this type. (We have no full phenomenology of worship or ritual1 which could clarify the distinctions we must make briefly. Structure is important. Strasbourg. Paris. 1. Le culte. but it is the structure not only of the rite but of the whole situation. Reference must be made to assumed or desired psychic states. However. 1929. the psychology of religion does not investigate these ideal emotional patterns but probes into the actual feelings of a worshiper. that must be considered. Prayer (New York. they are a part of any cultic practice. but insufficient at many points. special time and rhythm. to point out areas of interpretation and investigation of cult which are not involved here at all. 1955). (vol. which is to be found in rites of initiation but also in less directly connected religious phenomena. Some attitudes are culture-formed poses and are a part of the objective structure of the rite. Paris. Homo ludens (Boston.History of Religions these approaches to initiation is the notion that such rites reinforce social values. and this is not necessarily a part of every investigation of religious phenomena. 1935). vol. including the extent to which he may personally reject the prescribed emotion or in some other way become self-conscious concerning the situation. different clothing. is Robert Will.) Most important of these other areas of cult scholarship is the structural analysis of the basic cultic situation. 3 vols. and the assumption of the "make-believe" attitude. 3 63 . It may be wise first. The fourth approach is the one I am trying to develop here. 1932). Thus the fourth opinion is an attempt to include aspects of the other three. In this endeavor Johan Huizinga2 has stimulated the perception of the gamelike aspects in cult: boundaries. The third group in my list focuses on the structure of the rite. We cannot and should not entertain more than the possibility of these individual feelings in most investigations because they have little to do with public intention 1 The major attempt to this date. social and symbolic. 2 Johan Huizinga. however. 3. Another way of studying cult is the examination of the emotions involved. 1925. 3 Friedrich Heiler. Here the key word is "transition" and under this rubric initiation flows over into other religious and social situations such as the celebration of seasonal change. Each of these four types of initiation scholarship will be more closely studied later in this article.3 This and similar books are admittedly exercises in the psychology of religion. vol. however. A second group of scholars emphasizes the meaning of the symbolism or mythology of transformation. 2.

Hooke. are sufficient to avoid some confusion. Since this change is more marked socially for the boy becoming 4 S. That which is relevant in the discussion of initiation is reviewed next. how. but the myth gives conscious form to the meaning of the rite. the rite does not dramatize the myth. it would be possible to continue into more and more remote areas of irrelevance. ed. Other areas of scholarship not directly concerned in initiation would include the so-called myth-ritual approach. it may disintegrate under external pressure or through the disappearance of its original world view. Two basic directions are recognizable in literature of this type: an emphasis on sexual identity and an emphasis on social roles. It has not been easy for former generations to see the serious and transcendent significance in such behavior as would be deemed foolish and obtuse in modern Western society. secondary interpretations. On Aboriginal Religion (Sydney. Stanner. E. on the basis of the coherent structure of the rite.4 There may be a myth which is clearly dramatized in an initiation rite. Myths must be used where present to determine the conscious framework with which the rites are practiced. 2.. These paragraphs. I hope. 1966). 5 W. NONRELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS: SOCIOGENIC The main thrust of the reductionist position has come from anthropological studies of the "puberty rite" among primitive peoples. chaps. 64 .UnderstandingInitiation of the cult.. 1933). H. 1. Myth and Ritual (Oxford. for example. H. Indeed it is part of my argument that mythological elements are added to the type of rite under discussion because of their structural meaning or basic symbolic reference (e. Both are aspects of the change in life patterns induced by physiological puberty. has led to a variety of valid but. Subsequent studies can entertain. We must admit only the possibility of sincere participation in the prescribed states of mind in order to proceed. plus the assumption that religion is not a basic factor in life but merely a cloak for more practical and scientific processes. in my opinion.5 but the connection is not as prominent as in the Akitu and similar festivals on which this school was based. death). The ethnologists' opinion does not stand or fall on the celebration of physiological change alone but on the wider implications of such a change for the society and for the individual. Of course. This. but it is unnecessary here to press a detailed connection.g.

Structure and Function in Primitive 1953). Certainly psychological maturity would depend on both the physiological and social factors plus many more individual elements. Some of the other approaches to initiation discussed below begin instead with the pattern of the rite of change. To be specific. The argument that puberty initiation effects a social change. It is characteristic of human societies and their rites. since the three areas of change hardly ever occur simultaneously in any individual. The 1929). On the social level this can be enforced. Paul Radin. Therefore they must be socialized. nevertheless. This fact should not disturb the scholar (or the believer. 1957).6 In addition to this somewhat negative function. a boy may have been physically mature for a number of years before he is officially permitted to marry. proceeds in this fashion: Social equilibrium is endangered by the growing prowess of the young boys. both psychological and physical. for it is a regular aspect of that general structure of any cult. let alone in a group. The facts of the case. and that its regular elements can be so explained. one's feelings or actual relationships. While the elders might not be aware of it.History of Religions a man. but in any case social order is also maintained. This difference in the immediate object of attention when approaching initiation must be remembered in order to understand the variations in defining initiation. and change his abode. join men's sphere of activities. psychological. for example. to be arbitrary in deciding when and where change will be recognized. Radcliffe-Brown. Ill. an equally social concern can be seen in the 6 See. Saying that puberty is an event does not seem accurate. R. The cultic recognition of puberty is on the same order as conventional activity such as weeping for Tammuz or a wedding ceremony for a couple in common law marriage. and physical maturation. implications are discussed in Elizabeth Anne Weber. this consists of teaching them the patterns of life in that particular society and enforcing this learning with various acts of intimidation and torment. Their strength and sexual capabilities threaten the order of society. Society (Glencoe. their action is capable of interpretation as selfish desire for continued power in the village. for that matter). however. are the prescribed and assumed situation which the rite itself never questions. Primitive Religion (New York. it is male puberty which has had the most elaborate public recognition. Some of the political Duks-Duk8 (Chicago. A. referred to above. 65 . Note well that this type of interpretation centers on the event of social.. internal or external.

The word "social" is used by both of us. he assumes that any valid meaning in the rite must be clearly present in every example and that a particular example cannot illuminate the others. Young. in this he distinguishes his study from the analysis of myths and symbols which occupies our second group of investigators. Young's pursuit of sociological indications in the puberty rites is not invalid. but Young and others want to 7 Hans Nevermann. 66 . 8 Frank W. 2. as growth magic. He does not recognize a difference between culturally (or religiously) creative and degenerate situations. and he does not deal responsibly with differences of types or levels of culture within the general terminology of "primitive peoples" in order to understand why the puberty rites might or might not be important. p.. while for me it means the social pattern recognized by the people themselves. Masken und Geheimbiinde in Melanesian (Berlin. including torture.e. What I wish to understand is their social world. 1933). since it is apparent that its focus is radically different from mine.. but for Young it refers to the particular society that can be observed at one point in its history. this is to be compared with the "psychogenic" type of approach to which we will turn presently. Initiation Ceremonies (Indianapolis. p. and passim. 1965).8 Young admits that he examines the function of the rite in the society and not its meaning for the society. But what is left when both the psychological dimensions and native interpretation are rejected? Young concludes that the whole puberty rite is geared to the social recognition of the sex role. It is not my concern to probe more deeply into the methods and results of this kind of study. pp." in which category his own theory predominantly rests.7 Frank Young has called this type of interpretation "sociogenic. 16.UnderstandingInitiation interpretation of some of the puberty-rite syndrome. but it is somewhat naive from the point of view of a historian of religions.9 Rigidly scientific (or should we say "scientistic"?) studies like Young's remind me of Yinger's comparison of American and European sociologists: the former do not care whether their findings are significant as long as they are true (i. His book proceeds on this assumption to analyze fifty-four primitive societies to see how great a degree of male or generally social solidarity is reflected by the intensity with which the rites are observed. 160. according to statistical tables and other semiscientific devices). 9 Ibid. 6.

121. for it is supposed to have made up ritual games in order to sublimate impulses antithetical to long-range social goals. p.10 Now this statement seems to be directly opposed to the opinion. Male Cults and Secret Initiations in Melanesia (Melbourne. however. even in the same ritual situation. widely held among believers. It is necessary only to state clearly. The recent publication of a study of Melanesian initiations by M. Allen brings up another element common in this type of analysis. that rites act out desirable emotions or rehearse necessary although uncomfortable events. It seems more reasonable to me to give priority to the positive function. Allen. Allen. This is among the life values to which I can readily concede a basic place in man's creative ritualization. But the crux of the problem lies in which we decide is most important. historians. I think that it is possible to admit both interpretations. sex envy or antagonism is displayed in a somewhat less harmful way than out-and-out bitterness and cruelty. Western terms and values.History of Religions translate their world into modern. R. Surely modern institutions have as many ulterior functions as the primitive. 1967). and the historian of religions finds himself seeing religious functions in contemporary society much as the anthropologist finds science among the simpler cultures. R. In addition to an understanding of the general puberty rite as a reflection and validation of sex-role differentiation. 10 M. that rites act out sentiments which are otherwise undesirable. just what the goals and terms of the investigation are. the celebration of life with all its processes including death and maturation and to see the expression of antagonism (or even sadism) as an incidental although functional accompaniment. 67 . including Allen. For ethnologists like Allen man's mind is basically devious. From this point of view a rite symbolizing or marking death is a way in which men introduce the dread thought of their own demise into their consciousness. and psychologists. For example. that is. What does lie at the basis of Allen's comments is the admittedly valid and important role of sex identity. is not alone among those who would also see man expressing in rite those attitudes which are all too much with him and need no reinforcement. to oneself and the reader. Allen displays a continuation of the social-solidarity line of thought but gives somewhat more attention to the psychology of sex involved.

Richard Kluckhohn. Ill. 1954). Totem and Taboo (New York. Symbolic Wounds (Glencoe. The fathers project their feelings of hostility onto the mythological monster who kills or swallows the boys. assumes importance as a subterfuge for castration. I would be willing to grant some significance to Bettelheim's notions only through this fact: that it may explain some of the feelings with which a young boy undergoes initiation. L. rather than any 11 J. Whiting. M.12Circumcision. and secrecy is seen as a veil for the fact that none of this is really successful. Ritual: Psycho-analytic Studies (New York. primitive man institutes a practice which will call attention to the change and force its appropriateresults. we note first the semisociological function already mentioned. 1958). 359-70. Theodor Reik. Macoby. penile bloodletting indicates envy of menstruation. W. Primitive social patterns leave the male child entirely within the mother's care and thus in a feminine world. ed.Understanding Initiation NONRELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS: PSYCHOGENIC Turning our attention now toward those who place most importance on the psychological effects of puberty rites in primitive societies. and E. especially its social permanence and adult interest. as a common form of mutilation. E. T. Newcomb. while the actual motive force is their threat of castration and the enforcementof the incest taboo." Quite opposite to this theory of a helpful attitude on the part of the adult males is the notion proposed by Freud that the puberty rites act out feelings of hostility. 1946). that of reinforcing male identity. 1952). Many elements receive new meanings with this approach. This. E. but he shifted the emphasis from Oedipal rivalry to male envy of the female sexual role. but precisely for this reason his theory cannot explain the whole institution. Most interesting is the fact that through Bettelheim's theory attention is removed from the adult role and the rites are seen in terms of the desires of the adolescent. the social and psychological aspects of puberty initiation." in Readings in Social Psychology.subincisionis an attempt at imitating female sex organs. M. pp. alone or together. 68 .for example. "The Function of Male Initiation Ceremonies at Puberty.13 Many elements of tribal initiations were to be found in male envy as he saw it in the lives of disturbed children. In his famous book Bruno Bettelheim showed clear continuity with the Freudian approach.. Hartly (New York. 12 Sigmund Freud. Lest the transition to male roles and attitudes be insufficiently accomplished by casual means. pp. 13 Bruno Bettelheim. When all has been said. 103-9. and Albert Anthony. do not deal with the phenomenon at the level of its cultural form.

that is.16 Against Young's objection that such symbolism does 14 15 16 C. Hutton Webster. primitive puberty rites. however. J. Bleeker. and so the search for subliminal and ulterior factors is always something of a rejection of the distinctly human aspects. dismisses such theories from the purview of the historian of religions. Now dreams. ed. Crawley added the concept of sex contagion. Mircea Eliade. visions. 25. Puberty rites. It is this symbolic scheme with its variations and modifications which provides the main platform today for the analysis of initiation symbolism.History of Religions detailed refutation. Compared with the focus by the first group on specific cultural data. 69 . If we wish to understand religion and its structures. we should note a few of the ways in which older scholarship understood the symbolism of puberty initiation. Cultural elements are aspects of human creativity. Frazer saw the rites as a means of exchanging one's soul for the soul of the totem. Primitive Secret Societies (New York. Rites and Symbols of Initiation (New York. p. Initiation (Leiden. and modern literature become sources for initiation patterns. as cultic expressions of initiation symbols. furthermore. 1908). Therefore I leave whatever of validity there may be in the analysis of unconscious personal or social forces and proceed to the main locus of religious studies.14 All such notions of the sense behind initiation acts and myths have disappeared with the growing recognition of the primacy and ubiquity of the death-rebirth symbolism. THE SYMBOLISM OF INITIATION The second major group of scholars who have contributed to the literature on initiation concentrates on the myths and ritual acts as a kind of language for expressing human awareness of transformation. 2. pp. Mircea Eliade. Recalling the history of religious studies. The definitive nature of his analysis was confirmed in the presentations of the Strasburg 1964 study conference of the International Association for the History of Religions. 1965). human consciousness must be taken at face value in at least part of a total investigation. Frobenius thought the natives thereby became spirits. the imagination and creative apprehension of conscious man. 1965).. in many places but most completely in the 1956 Haskell Lectures and the resulting publication. 18-19. the shift of attention to symbolism expands the reference of initiation. are joined by secret-society rites and "ordinations" to shamanism or other special religious roles.15 has summarized and analyzed the symbolism of death and rebirth with authority and comprehension.

One particular form of the general pattern is the imagery of the difficult journey. The details vary but the general notion persists. Greek mysteries. After the pain of death the boy and his whole society are regenerated to become fully human and to participate in significant human life. being a shaman. for the journey is typically a descent to the underworld or an impossible passage (e. This description does not by any means invalidate his work. pp. for example. these three categories cannot be distinguished.. 427-28. and the adoption of a mystical vocation. coherent types. As the death motif can expand and utilize various mythic 17 Eliade. the Symplegades) from which one cannot return alive..18 This is really not an alternative to the experience of death. Eliade sees that it is the social framework in each case which permits this differentiation. 1963). 18 Ibid. but his analysis does not dwell on the social aspects. These three categories are the puberty rites. sometimes embryo imagery is emphasized. pp. 70 . 2. Instead he presents a unified picture of the basic initiation symbol pattern and comments on the differences only as departures or adjustments of that pattern. Patterns in Comparative Religion (Cleveland. In any event. Eliade sees three categories of initiation rites among primitive peoples plus various uses of the basic initiation pattern in higher religions. Certainly the feeling of death and renewal is too basic and too apparent to be faulted by a lack of scientifically verifiable statistics. sometimes they are swallowed by a monster. however.g. entrance into a secret society.17 From the point of view of the symbols involved. Mircea Eliade.UnderstandingInitiation not clearly appear everywhere. for example. but it does explain why the secret-group initiation and other particular applications of initiation symbolism do not emerge as separate. 61-66. Sometimes the boys are simply killed. Heroic journey myths thus form a connection between obvious death images and ordeal rites or mythologems where the presence of death symbolization might not be immediately apparent. It is clearly the dramatization of death and rebirth which underlies the various scenarios of initiation. Eliade's approach recognizes the possibility of incomplete or degenerate examples of a ritual system whose overall dynamics are nevertheless too common to be ignored. p. Eliade's work draws on a wide variety of examples to present both the main theme and its variations in the whole history of initiation ritual. which Eliade associates with "heroic" initiations.

so the correlative movement of the rite or myth has many ramifications. and spiritual ways. The other scale of comparison is much clearer but is very difficult to demonstrate historically. His recognition of a distinction based on the type of group entered has already been mentioned. 20 Ibid. like the devouring monster or the dangerous journey. of course. the attempt to comprehend the peculiar nature of initiations as ritual situations raises questions which a study of the symbolism does not answer. a dictionary or dictionary of symbolic elements can only help in the discovery of meaning in a sentence (or a total ritual situation). social. Nevertheless. With this realization the connection between symbols of rebirth and conversion becomes apparent. Images derived from or similar to the psychological transformation at puberty can be found in rites and experiences of conversion to specific religious groups. magical victory.. it explains neither the unity nor the variation in initiation. and paradoxical or impossible actions). is no true scheme for the analysis of initiation but a list of the dominant historical examples. individual withdrawal into a wilderness. It seems that a study of ritual symbolism is akin to the study of word meanings or etymologies. dismemberment of the body.19 This. This is the observation that rites and symbols become more intense the more complex the culture. After a careful examination of the role of the myth or symbol within a total ritual. First is the type of symbolism (simple separation. Instead he pursues two other scales with which incidents of initiation can be organized and related. There are simply too many instances in which a word 19 Eliade. p. Rebirth can be seen in personal.History of Religions elements. p.20 The understanding of initiation in terms of symbols or myths of transformation can be supplemented but never replaced as scholars continue to find corroboration in variations on the basic pattern. Whether in its treatment of historical development or in a consensus of common usage. emphasis on gestation. Rites and Symbols of Initiation. 131. While it is instructive as an overview of the whole range of symbols which express initiation processes. 130. one might come to the conclusion that it is at variance with the dominant action. death through ordeals. Eliade is aware of three ways in which the many symbols and their many applications can be differentiated. along with the fact that he does not expand it. In each case the individual enters upon a life that is new and also more powerful than his former existence. 71 .

THE STRUCTURE OF INITIATION If Eliade has given us the classic study of the vocabulary of initiation. will be determined by many other factors. actions. hallowing the new by importing age-old associations. Therefore. The preservation of the Vedas in Hinduism can be understood to a great extent according to this principle. it is Arnold Van Gennep who has been the master grammarian. the most common way in which rites put mythic language to a new use is in creating an ancient and hoary aura through their traditional associations. does one have adequate categories for a full appreciation of any instance. An awareness of transformation symbolism is very important to the analysis of any initiation rite. He called attention to aspects of ritual which immediately commended themselves to ethnologists and sociologists. 72 . 1960). which." This is so because the structure of ritual transition applies not only to celebrations of human change but also to transitions in the natural world. Only then.Understanding Initiation or even a whole statement may be forced to bear unexpected connotations for the careful linguist to depend entirely on the fixed and isolated definitions of a lexicon. however. for one must proceed to an investigation of the other typical factors. In continuing the comparison with other types of approaches to initiation. Words. especially the social framework. What exactly is being said in each instance. For example. He did not deal directly with the symbolic vocabulary. It is best as an introduction. This problem is most acute in the translation of poetry. His study of the rites of transition21 first appeared in 1909 but has never been seriously refuted. if then. however. Thus seasonal or new 21 Arnold Van Gennep. nor did he examine the social worlds in which the cultic statements are made. the myths and symbols of ritual transformation provide the vocabulary with which a rite speaks. like rite. and even whole rites have been maintained in some cultures almost purely for their function in connecting the present with the past. The Rites of Passage (Chicago. myths. but he did formulate the basic mechanism of rituals. often carries meanings and produces effects which are not immediately recognizable. we note that Van Gennep's structural analysis includes more than is usually denoted by the term "initiation rites.

" Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade. Principles of Anthropology (New York.23 Furthermore. "Symbol of a Symbol." The essence of Van Gennep's presentation is the subdivision of the total cultic act into separate rites.. and the primitive mutilations become homeomorphic with the taking of life in a sacrifice rite. and incorporation. Stanner in the course of his study of Australian aboriginal rites. pp. E. a wide variety of actions and statements are organized and a framework with almost universal application is disclosed. Joseph M. Chapple and Coon suggest that the term "rites of intensification" be applied to the seasonal rites. however. pp. 73 . 7-9. but a great deal is thereby explained. ed. and sharing. 507 ff. Also see the application of sacrifice myths to puberty-rite situations in Greece as illuminated by Angelo Brelich. INITIATION AS A LIFE STRUCTURE Each of the approaches to the phenomenon of initiation which have been mentioned so far has been based on undeniably real aspects of initiation rituals. Here the initiation structure is homologized with the pattern of sacrifice and yields the following structure: consecration. 1969). 1942). Long (Chicago. Essays on the Ritual of Social Relations (Manchester. With the possible exception of the psychogenic approach. Another step in this same direction has been made by W. 2-16. Certainly the notion of initiation as sacrifice looms large in personal experience. pp. pp. his major premises are stultified by excess exemplification. 24 Van Gennep. 195-207. 5 above). 7. Chapple and Carlton S. immolation. his description of the mechanics of the rite as seen by the native mind is dependent on Tylor and Marettt and is consequently outdated. transformation.History of Religions year rites are seen to be comparable with "puberty" initiation.25 Again initiation is forced to share its root dynamics with another arena of cultic activity. transition.22 and this may be of help in narrowing the broad scope of the "rites de passage. These have three distinct effects: separation. p. all of these elements are necessary for the historian of religions to 22 Eliot D. return. Coon. ed.24 His basic contribution to the structural analysis of the cult remains important nonetheless. 1963). With these three basic moments in mind. H. Their major fault lies in an unwillingness to take the other factors into serious consideration. 23 Max Gluckman. Much more than this Van Gennep does not do. 25 Stanner (n. Kitagawa and Charles H.

We are forced to adopt this stance by the recognition of a reality in the minds of peoples who practice such rites. thus ruling out any effective help from psychological investigations. which can be compared with his former state and the groupings in which his neighbors are located. impurity.26 He notes. One should begin with an awareness of the social patterns which are created or affected by the rite. transformation. but in other initiations where the human condition is to be transcended. and transition-all of these themes concentrate on the ritual moment alone." Social change." but a much more careful and detailed division is possible. Furthermore. the role of civil laws. for example. One student of initiation patterns has tried to integrate all these concerns: Jean Cazeneuve. "L'initiation et les actes archetypiques. 327. He is incorporated into a sacred social reality. the other approaches must be combined and supplemented in order to give the corporate goal its due.27 Cazeneuve's comments are based on a division of initiations into two groups. 17. carefully listening to see whether it is being used for its immediate symbolic reference or for some other associations in the culture. But incorporation emphasizes the direction of the movement toward more restricted and more highly valued levels of being. and assexuation are dominant themes. confession and purification are stressed (as also sexuation). Third. p. Then one must note the language by which the social transition is accomplished. esp.. If one is being initiated into human life. 1958). The best single term by which to identify this fourth approach to initiation phenomena is the description of the rites as "incorporation. the structure of the rite itself will help in determining how symbolic elements are being used and what kind of social implications may result. chap." 27 Ibid. Therefore it becomes obvious in the course of this investigation that the whole study of initiation patterns must be reexamined.UnderstandingInitiation grasp the distinct nature of initiation rites. Because the cultural structure is so important in defining the purpose of the initiation ceremony it is invalid to center an analysis on the personal psychology of the transition. In an initiation a person changes not only his relationship with the spiritual world or the social world alone but his relationship with both together. Les rites et la condition humaine (Paris. 74 . transgression. "puberty" and "magical. even though modern viewpoints generally ignore or reject such a 26 Jean Cazeneuve.

not because they were practical necessities or because of any similar modern notion. The direction of initiation situations was upward toward higher realms of being and action. Keeping all this in mind. it would be to the end that realities like the traditional life structures into which initiation was required need to be created or renewed. So. emphasizing the contrast in levels. whether it be a novel or a skyscraper. however. it is constantly dependent on its foundations. This new state of life in traditional cultures demanded responsibility and other aspects of maturity. The structural study of ritual describes the shape and length of the ladder or rope. The lack of any such notion among men can be demonstrated by reference to maturation as currently understood. if I were to argue a contemporary issue from the perspective of this essay. Once demolished. Sociologists concentrate on the ways in which daily life is affected by the supposed change in level. whether he or his neighbors get up to it or not. Let us extend the preceding analogy so that it applies to the ways of studying initiation as reviewed above. Traditional man reaches heights by means of a ladder or a rope-the upper level is already there. therefore. can man ever again recover his sense for the structural nature of his ontology It may be impossible that adulthood can mean once more the entrance into a level of perception and receptivity which is qualitatively different from that of childhood. ontological inequality." The contrast between the mind-sets of modern and traditional peoples regarding initiation might become clearer by use of an analogy.History of Religions reality. With ease they were fueled by man's ambition to be more than is immediately given. adolescence and youth have been seldom as disturbingly noticeable as today. Symbologists study the terms with which the traditional mind in various situations describes each level and the mode of getting from one to another. 75 . but because they were part of one's participation in the operation of the universe. The most important thing in the phenomenon of initiation. and the process of reaching it depends on something attached and firmed above. is the fact of the change in level and the relationship of that level to other levels. Social scientists are concerned today to underline the tremendous significance of maturation processes in human life. partnership with divinity. Modern man builds from the bottom up. we are prepared to view the total situation. to strive and to transcend the "given. The reality I refer to is the conception of qualitatively different levels of human existence.

they do not operate as a single group. This second area must be divided into initiations which make the candidate a special functionary in the human community and those states which are their own reason for being. but many specific roles are designated. The child is not really on the human level socially or ontologically until the rite is performed. If I have been convincing. This is comparable with Cazeneuve's distinction between puberty and magical initiations. so another initiation can take a person out the opposite side of normal human life. This is not characteristic of the kind of 28 If many priests are present at a complex ceremony. The most sensitive subdivision of the whole area is. The structural and symbological approaches. and the like into a special category. one can. it is now possible to take the analysis even further at the general level. their primary role is performed individually. Such religious functionaries must be initiated into a special mode of being because of their familiarity with powerful. accomplished by a series of dichotomies. Social solidarity or psychological reinforcement fit primitive societies but are difficult to apply to the Greek mysteries or individual consecrations.Understanding TYPES Initiation RITUAL OF INITIATION None of the schools of interpretation alone could explain the unity of all that goes under the term "initiation" plus the distinct aspects of the various kinds of examples at the same time. extend into areas far removed from anything we can call initiation ritual.28 and it is a service to a laity which defines them. This distinction sounds confusing. however. Although priests and prophets are to be found in close-knit groups. A ritual can be identified as an example of initiation when it effects an ascent in status from one social and ontological level to another. sacred things. I think. but it is merely the separation of priests. 76 . return to any one of the avenues of approach traditionally pursued. shamans. however. on the other hand. To achieve a synoptic view of the scope of initiation. In no case does it seem to be anything more than convenience that divides the range of examples into smaller categories. of course. First one makes a division into initiations which usher the candidate into the human realm and those which take him beyond it. we do have a conceptual framework which accounts for all examples of initiation rite and nothing else. Having identified the basic intention of the rite. But in many places one has the further option of transcending the normal human state.

Unlike the utopian community's rejection of other religious groups. Since the listing of so many distinctions may have become 29 1960). pp. Thus members are of both sexes and children are often present. and I would also include the secret society as found among primitive peoples. Initiations into the mysteries of ancient Greece and Rome.30 The sect is that pole of the church-sect continuum which most nearly approaches the initiation group which separates itself socially as well as religiously from the rest of society. In order to be specific about the latter type if initiation.History of Religions initiation which bestows a new being and special character which have their own value and through which an individual shares in the essence of a group. this is the ecclesia. 1944). The final dichotomy in the series is that which distinguishes the two kinds of rigidly closed groups. Sociology of Religion (Chicago. It maintains a living relationship with nonmembers who share the same religious symbols. pp. 30 Ernst Troeltsch. are examples of this type. and perhaps the early "communistic" Christian community in Jerusalem. The one which is best exemplified by the utopian community attempts to reproduce total society within its own group. Although such an ecclesial and salvific community is ritually separated from the rest of society. The first nonfunctionary. 331-43. there is as little connection with or dependence on people outside the group as possible. American experiments like Oneida. Amana. as well as Christian baptism. 109 ff. The group formed by the initiatory fellowship is what Wach puts under the heading of the "specifically religious organization of society. this type of community recognizes the validity of religious perceptions outside its own group. some aspects of the Anabaptist side of the Reformation. the Shakers."29 to be contrasted with the religious comprehension of natural groups. Joachim Wach. 77 . In other words. The group formed by those who have been initiated may or may not be very rigorous and usually coexists with other social groupings. the religious group "called out" of ordinary life. we must divide the possibilities into two areas once again. The second group here is the monastery. Examples include Qumran. Troeltsch's distinction between sect and church is based on the degree to which a group is rigorously exclusive. The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches (New York. it is not a completely closed-off group. transcendent type of initiation is mainly salvatory.

B. makes an identification between circumcision or baptism and priestly ordination which serves a homiletic purpose. Initiation into a level of being which transcends the human condition A. Specifically religious group intermixed with nonmembers 2. Specific rites or general patterns can be found which have no religious overtones.Understanding Initiation confusing. in fact. confirmed. 2:4-10). One could also 78 . Initiation into the human condition ("puberty rites") II. two kinds of historical connections between different uses or types of initiation occur to me at this point. Baptism celebrated at puberty. some initiations. Transcendent status 1. however. and ordained. and Christian priests have been "canonized" to look and act like monks. This is not merely a particularization of puberty rite into secret-society initiation. 1 Pet. Second. 19:5-6. Buddhist monks are often called upon to act like priests. since so few men do not eventually join the society. The first and obvious fact to be noted is that in many religious traditions a person can have more than one initiation. The notion of ancient Israel as a nation of priests. Primitive secret societies may indeed be nothing more than social clubs in some instances. one initiation can replace another.1 in the chart above. Furthermore. among American Baptists. For example. demand a previous one. Separated religious group a) Utopian community b) Monastery PATTERNS OF COMPLICATION Once a typology like the above is established. Thus a Christian priest should be baptized. it is helpful to see the scheme I propose in the following summary chart: I. for example. joins sections I and II. A whole new area of possible confusion arises when one of the resulting groups imitates the role and structure of another. but a genuine replacement. Third. Religious functionaries B. used by Israelite and Christian writers (Exod. The scholars are legion who fight any notion of a typological framework because they are too well aware of the variations and combinations which characterize most examples. areas of Melanesia which have highly developed secret societies do not have puberty initiations. But even the possibilities for complication are not limitless and can be anticipated. the dual task of identification and definition is not complete. different types of initiation can be conflated.

the connections are even more peculiar when. I can anticipate that such intimate connection of religious patterns with status in society and ontological value will seem inappropriate to minds informed by certain strains of Christian thought and piety.History of Religions note here the secularization of the initiatory society of freemasonry or the use of initiation patterns by college fraternities. the peculiar transformation of symbols. a utopian community asserts its identity with early Christianity. which I have just sketched in these paragraphs demands a three-dimensional approach to cultural data. both mythical and ritual. 79 . its primary goal will have been achieved. Finally. If. FINAL COMMENTS All the questions have not been answered nor all the problems solved. This complex but necessary adjustment of traditional investigation into religious symbolism takes a bit of getting used to. however. opinions and facts about initiation phenomena have come into clearer focus through this essay. because its theological history and the actual historical development are opposed. for example. Likewise.

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