Microscopic initiations are more specific in their actions. One day I was
sitting tapping figures into the company accounting program, when I suddenly found myself thinking “I’d like to do an Accounts Course.” Now normally I would have regarded that as no more realistic than a wish to fly to the Moon tomorrow. Accounting is one of those tasks I am only too happy to leave up to someone else, and suddenly, I was becoming interested in it! Such newfound interests, particularly in subjects that you have accepted that you dislike or are uninterested in, can be likened to a small flame (symbolized by the Ace of Wands in Tarot) that could easily burn out again if smothered or ignored. The trick is to recognize that you are standing at a crossroads—a threshold of change. This recognition is the key to all initiations. Again, the A PIE formula is of use:
Stop. Look around you and assess your situation. Examine all possibilities for future action—there will always be more pathways available than is at first immediately obvious. What possible futures can you jump into? Use any technique that will gather useful information—options lists, divination, dream-oracles or asking your favorite deity. Often, all you have to do is open yourself to become vulnerable to the forces of Change.
Once you have chosen a course of action—plan what you need to do. What resources do you need? These may be material, magical, financial and perhaps most importantly, the support of other people. Be prepared to carry your plan onwards.
This is the hardest thing of all—to do what must be done. Often, fear will intervene at this stage. Be prepared to look at your motivations for not continuing upon your chosen course. Unacknowledged fears often take the form of inertia and laziness. Each step forwards gives further momentum to the next effort. Each barrier breached releases a rush of pleasure and freedom.
This is the stage of assimilation—not merely the practice of writing up one’s magical record, but being able to look back at your course through the initiatory period and realize what happened and how you dealt with it. Have you learned any important lessons? The value of such experience is to make knowledge flesh—assimilating experience until it seems perfectly simple and natural.
A key to understanding initiatory states is that they bring with them varying degrees of fear. One of the characteristics of Macroscopic Initiations is that suddenly, our current repertoire of coping strategies are useless. If something into which we have invested a good deal of emotional commitment and selfesteem is directly threatened or removed, and we are placed in a position of being unable to do anything about this, fear is often the dominant emotion.
Fear is the bodily gnosis which reinforces any emotional and cognitive patterns which serve us to hold change at bay. Fear is basically an excitatory state—the fight/flight reflex of the Autonomic Nervous System firing up. Using the Emotional Engineering techniques described in the previous chapter, you can deconstruct fear into excitement, which can then be used to gather momentum for moving over a threshold into change, rather than reinforcing your own resistance.
This is a process of orienting yourself so that you are sufficiently open to all the different possibilities that each moment of experience offers—enmeshed in the world in an attitude of receptive wonder. This is the knowledge that at any time, without warning, any life event could spin you sideways into Illumination. The sudden-ness of such an experience is one of the underlying themes encapsulated in the Great God Pan. Pan represents creative derangement, the possibility of moving from one state to another, from ordinary perception to divine inspiration. Pan can leap upon you any time, any place with the sudden realization that everything is alive and significant. In such an experience, physical arousal is a strength, rather than a weakness. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the possibility of change means letting into your life wild magic and the power of surprises. Initiatory states often tip
us into mental entropy and confusion, and this is a good time to free yourself from the bonds of the Past and the fetters of anticipated futures, and live in the now of your physical presence. Transform fear into wonder and open yourself to new possibilities. Transform fear into fuel and examine the thresholds and personal demons which hinder movement. This state is a form of ecstasy—a word which means “away from stillness,” implying some kind of agitation.
Sahaja is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “spontaneity.” If you can learn to relax within initiatory periods, abandoning all set routines and learned responses, you can act with a greater degree of freedom. Periods of initiation can be looked upon as windows of opportunity for major work upon yourself. So what kinds of techniques are appropriate here? Anything that enables you to make shifts in your Achievable Reality threshold. Procedures borrowed from NLP, Vivation, Bioenergetics or the various psychotherapies might prove useful here. What you should bear in mind is that recognition that you are entering a threshold of change is all-important. It is difficult to intentionally propel yourself into such states, particularly as at some point during the experience, it is necessary to surrender control.
Death by dismemberment is a strongly recurrent theme in shamanic cultures, where protoshamans are stripped of their flesh and torn apart by spirits, only to be remade anew.
The initiatory crisis tends to drive home (often very forcefully) the awareness of the fragility of day-today experiences, and of the hidden complexity behind that which we have taken for granted as normal. We have become addicted to a “sameness” of experience, and thus have difficulty coping with novelty or change. Hence the tendency, when faced with a crisis, to rely on learned habits, rather than actually observing the situation. Conversely, the magician has to recognize that there may well be an abyss around every corner, and that what rushes full-tilt at us must be faced head-on. In time, you will come to recognize that you have your own personal cycles of initiation— peaks, troughs and plateaus; you may well come to recognize that you are about to enter an initiatory period, and brace yourself accordingly.
Many world myths feature the descent into the Underworld as a central theme for transformation and the quest for power and mastery of self. The recognition of the necessity of “rites of passage” is played out both in tribal societies where the death of childhood and the rebirth into adulthood is marked by a rite of passing, and in Western magical and religious societies where “followers” are reborn into a new selfdom. Death by dismemberment is a strongly recurrent theme in shamanic cultures, where proto-shamans are stripped of their flesh and torn apart by spirits, only to be remade anew, usually with some additional part, such as an extra bone, organ, or crystal as an indication that they are now something “more” than previously. In some cultures (such as in the Tibetan Tantric Chod ritual), the dismemberment experience is a voluntary meditation, whereas in others, it is an involuntary (though understood) experience.
This kind of transition is not uncommon in Western approaches to magical development, both as a willed technique and as a (seemingly) spontaneous experience that results from working within a particular belief-system. I have for example, been burnt alive in the pyre of Kali, and more recently, had an eye ripped out by the Morrigan. Periodic descents into the Underworld are a necessary phase in the cycle of personal development, and are also associated with depth psychotherapy. According to the Western Esoteric Tradition, one of the key stages of initiatory confrontation is the encounter with “The Dweller on the Threshold.” Less prosaically, this phrase refers to the experience of our understanding of the gulf between the ego’s fiction of itself and our selves as we truly are. This necessitates the acceptance of light into the dark corners of the self, and the acceptance of our shortcomings, blind spots and personal weaknesses as aspects of ourselves that we must take responsibility for. The recognition that we are, ultimately, responsible for all aspects of ourselves, especially those bits which we are loath to admit to ourselves, is a step that must be taken if the initiatory journey is to proceed. It is not uncommon for people to remain at this stage for years, or to come back to it, time and time again. Such ordeals must be worked through, or they will return to “haunt” us until they are tackled, else they will become “obsessional complexes” (demons) that will grow until they have power over us. There are a myriad of techniques—both magical exercises and psychotherapeutic tools which can be actively used to examine these complexes, but the core of this ordeal is the beginnings of seeing yourself. In shamanic cultures, physical isolation from the tribe is often reinforced by physical ordeals such as fasting,
sleep deprivation, and exposure to rigors of heat or cold—all-powerful techniques for producing altered states of consciousness.
The initiatory cycle can be likened to a snake sloughing off its skin. So too, we must be prepared to slough off old patterns of thought, belief (about ourselves and the world) and behavior that are no longer appropriate for the new phase of our development. As we reach the initiatory stage of descent into the underworld, so we are descending into the Deep Mind, learning to rely on our own intuition about what is right for us, rather than what we have been told is correct. As the initiatory process becomes more and more intense, we reach a point where we have (to varying degrees) isolated ourselves from the Social World, (physically or mentally), and begun to dismember the layer of our Personal World, so that the Mythic World becomes paramount in our consciousness, perhaps in an intensely ‘real’ way that it has not been, beforehand. When we open up the floodgates of the Mythic World, we may find that our Deep Mind “speaks” to us using what psychologists call “autosymbolic images”; that is, symbols which reflect the churnings within us. These may well be entities or spirits from magical or religious belief systems that we have consciously assimilated, or they may arise “spontaneously” from the Deep Mind. These “entities” (whatever their source) may become the first of our “allies” or guides through the inner worlds that we have descended into. Accounts of shamanic initiation often recount the neo-shaman being “tested” in various ways by spirit guides and helpers, and, if she or he passes the testing, they become allies that the shaman can call upon, on returning from the underworld. Not all of the spirits one meets while undergoing the underworld experience will be helpful or benign; some will try to mislead or misdirect you. In this kind of instance you will need to rely even more on your own “truthsense” or discrimination. Ghosts are notoriously capricious, and an “elder brother” once told me to “be wary of spirits which herald a false dawn under the dark moon.” Particular “misguides” to watch out for are the spirits who will tell you that you are “mystically illuminated” beyond a point that anyone else has reached—they are “parts” of the ego attempting to save itself from destruction. You may have to “overcome” some of these spirits—not so much by defeating them in astral combat, but by recognizing that they have no power over you—that you understand their seductions and will not be swayed by them. The danger here hearkens back to the necessity of attempting to shed light on as many of your buried complexes as possible—“misguide” spirits will attempt to seduce
you into feeding those complexes so that you become caught up in them. Spirit guides and helpers usually come in a variety of forms and shapes. Their messages may not always be obvious, and may only become clear with hindsight—but then you cannot expect everything to be handed to you on a plate. It is not unknown for spirit guides to put the initiate through a pretty rough time, again to test their “strength,” as it were. Powerful spirits don’t tend to “like” shamans who won’t take chances or face difficulties and overcome them. This is a hard time to get through, but if you keep your wits about you and hang on in there, then the rewards are worth it. Guides will often show you “secret routes” through the underworld, and “places of power” there which you can access at a later point. Some Amerind shamanic traditions involve the shaman descending into the underworld periodically to learn the names of spirits which, when brought out again, can be placed in masks or other ritual objects.
The initiatory cycle can be likened to a snake sloughing off its skin. So too, we must be prepared to slough off old patterns of thought, belief (about ourselves and the world) and behavior that are no longer appropriate for the new phase of our development.
Another benefit of the “ordeals” stage is Innerworld Mapping—obtaining (or verifying) a symbolic plan of the connecting worlds that form the universe. Western occulture gives us conscious access to a wide variety of universal route maps, the Tree of Life that appears in many esoteric systems being just one well-known example. Western-derived maps seem to have a tendency to become very complicated very quickly—perhaps this reflects a cultural tendency to try and label everything neatly away. The interesting (and intriguing) thing about using innerworld maps is that you can metaprogram your Deep Mind to accept a number of different maps—images and symbols will arise accordingly. Our “tradition” for receiving innerworld maps (and indeed, any other esoteric teaching) is largely through the written word, rather than oral teaching or the psychoactively inspired communion with the tribal meme-pool which are the most common routes for shamans. But it is worth remembering that all the different inneruvorld maps had to come from somewhere, and the most likely source would seem to be the initiatory ordeals of very early shamans, which eventually became condensed into definite structures.
The “peak” of the initiation experience is that of death/rebirth, and subsequent “illumination.” That such an experience is common to all mystery religions, magical systems and many secular movements indicates that it may well be one of the essential manifestations of the process of change within the human psyche. Illumination is the much-desired goal for which many thousands of people worldwide have employed different psycho- technologies, and developed their own psychocosms. Illumination has also been linked with the use of LSD and similar drugs, and perhaps most mysteriously of all, it can occur seemingly spontaneously to people who have no knowledge or expectation of it. What characterizes an experience of illumination? Some of the prevalent factors are:
- A sense of unity—a fading of the self-other divide
- Transcendence of space and time as barriers to experience
- Positive sensations
- A sense of the numinous
- A sense of certitude—the “realness” of the experience
- Paradoxical insights
- Transience—the experience does not last
- Resultant change in attitude and behavior.
In neurological terms such experiences represent a reorganizing of activity in the brain as a whole. The loss of ego boundary and the involvement of all senses suggests that the Reticular Formation is being influenced so that the processes which normally convey a sense of being rooted in space-time are momentarily inhibited. The “floating” sensation often associated with astral projection and other such phenomena suggests that the Limbic system of the brain stem (which processes proprioceptive information about the body’s location in space) is also acting in an unusual mode.
The basis of this idea is that the movement of energy through a system causes fluctuations which, if they reach a critical level (i.e., a catastrophe cusp point) develop novel interactions until a new whole is produced.
What are the fruits of this experience—the insights, perceptions and messages brought back down to earth by the illuminate? Evolution of