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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Initiation is a rite of passage marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. Transmission received from a tantric master allowing a disciple to engage in the practices of a particular meditational deity. It is also referred to as an empowerment.

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 Hindu diksha, 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.

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".

[[Wikipedia: Mircea Eliade| Mircea Eliade]] discussed initiation as a principal 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."


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

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

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 protégés of the Supernatural Beings or even their equals."

Psychological effects of initiations

Laboratory experiments in psychology have shown that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance.

Dissonance is then thought to produce feelings of strong group attraction among initiates after the experience, because they want to justify the effort used.

Rewards during initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity.

As well as group attraction, initiations can also produce conformity among new members. Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of affiliation.

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 Vaishnavism, Sant Mat, Surat Shabd Yoga, Wicca, 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. </poem>