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Initiations and Vision Quests

Also see the Rites of Passage category

and the 'Vision Quest' article

as well as the article below on

'Rites of Passage and Rites of Passage Gone Wrong'

(From: ‘Earth People’ Volume 1 Number 2 )

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Today we hear a lot about initiations, vision quests, and rites of passage, but what are we really seeking from these ancient rituals? Many people will say they are seeking enlightenment, but what is enlightenment?

I believe that if these rituals and ceremonies are properly conducted with the same amount of wisdom and compassion that the tribal elders used, then they can in fact give people what they are seeking. One could say we are not looking for a meaning for life, but an experience of the rapture of being alive, which can only come with a transformation of consciousness.

“People say that what we are seeking is a meaning for life.

“I don’t think that’s what we are really seeking. I think what we are seeking is an experience of being alive, so that life’s experiences on the physical plain will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we feel the rapture of being alive.”

(Joseph Campbell – ‘The Power of Myth’)

It seems that during our daily and personal activities most people have lost the experience of the sacredness and the wonders of life. The actions of eating, going to work, taking the kids to school, driving a car and even making love have all become robotic and automatic habits; living out of our cellular memory rather than conscious choices.

Initiations, rituals, spirituality, mythological stories, and enlightenment are all about that transformation of consciousness, from a robotic, mechanical existence to one of being truly alive. This is where all things and actions shine, so we can see the rapture and wonders of life everywhere and in everything.

Steve Bidduph's book, ‘Manhood’, is not just an action plan for changing men's lives, but as many women have found, who have read the book, it changes their lives as well, for the better. Mr. Biddulph writes:

“The men's movement already has an image of harking back to idealised older times, of primitive tribal gimmicks and rituals.... Ancient man was an environmentalist who knew how to thrive in the natural world in a sustainable way... The men's movement is very interested in the bonding rituals, the symbols, the initiation rites and the guiding metaphors from ancient times. We are scavenging for tools that we can use to make the future."

Joseph Campbell calls this psychological transformation, which everyone must undergo, the 'Hero Adventure'. This is where a hero or heroine finds or does something beyond the normal range of experience. There are three stages to this adventure, and they are:

1. Leaving home or separation from all that is familiar.

2. The frightening, difficult, but exhilarating journey often helped by unexpected and mystical allies; facing fears and a new way of consciousness; and when the boundaries of the old limited awareness fade and the new possibilities merge.

3. Returning as apparently the same person, but forever changed. This is where a deed has been achieved.

The deed comes in two forms. It is either a courageous act of saving a life or lives, going through a physical or psychological ordeal, or it is a spiritual deed of coming back from spirit realms with a message that can help humanity or society in some profound way.

Vision quests are also heroic deeds or journeys that are taken to reach the spiritual realms and to gain enlightening information, which will help you to know your spiritual path and know how to stay on that path in your physical life.

Traditionally, the vision quest takes place in a small, designated area set aside in the forest, in the bush, in a man-made lodge, or in a cave or high plateau for up to four days and nights without food or water. The purpose of this type of quest is to empty oneself of ego and open to the Creator through prayer and giving thanks to all of creation for the gifts and lessons which have been given so far in one's life. One asks for a vision and help on the path to become a better human being and for guidance in the next steps of life on that path.

In the ancient tribal societies, the males went through an ordeal that taught them what it was to be an adult male, and to protect the social order of life. This ordeal usually left the initiates with some form of physical scaring that would remind them forever of their new status with the male ranks of society. There were often further scaring (or in some cases tattooing) to acknowledge other shifts of consciousness and other rites of of passage that came later.

The females also went through an initiation, beginning at the time of her first menses, (or "Moon Time") where she was made to sit in a little hut for the duration of menstruation, to realise what she was. Joseph Campbell writes:

"She is now a woman. And what is a woman? A woman is the vehicle of life.... Woman is what it is all about - giving birth and the giving of nourishment.... And she has got to realise that about herself. The boy does not have a happening of this kind, so he has to be turned into a man and voluntarily become a servant of something greater than himself." [He becomes a member of society. Ed.]

I could go on and on, describing and explaining initiations and heroic deeds, but my main point is to explain how every act of life is a heroic adventure. Otto Rank has said that everyone is a hero in birth. Here, there is tremendous psychological and physical transformation, from a water creature living in amniotic fluid to becoming an air-breathing mammal. Even the mother in the act of giving birth, is performing a heroic deed by giving life to another.

How many of these heroic deeds, in our society today, are being recognised and celebrated in the way of our tribal ancestors? Do entire communities come to celebrate each and every one of these transformations of consciousness? Do they compel each new mother, child or initiate to feel like a hero by honouring him or her for numerous days and making really feel like the centre of the world?

In male tribal initiations, the whole society recognised the initiate was now, and always would be, a mature adult, and everyone treated them as such, thus making it impossible for the person to revert back to the old childish ways of life. How often in today's society do you see someone, say a criminal, go through a transformation and begin a new and healthier way of life, only to gradually slide back into his or her old habits?

I find it also ironic that in nature and in the traditional tribal societies there is no such thing as adolescence or youth; that is not in the teachings of the Medicine Wheel either. In nature and in the traditional societies it is through these rites of passage that the children, when psychologically ready, are transformed into adults. This youth consciousness that is created by our society having reduced or neglected these ancient rites of passage is a hazing, unguided; neither child-like, nor adult like consciousness that I have seen last into some men's old age. And dare I say, is one that has overtaken our society with it's idealisation of the rich and famous.

It would seem our current economic, industrialised society doesn't have the time to give it's members this experience of being truly accepted and honoured as a human at these crucial times of transformations of consciousness. As a result, our society is full of inhuman acts toward each other; murder, rape, child abuse; toward the self in various addictions to substances and activities which are an attempt to gain a surrogate or defacto recognition of these heroic adventures; and to the planet and 'All Our Relations'.


 

Rites of Passage

and Rites of Passage Gone Wrong

Inspired by and including the writings of

David Tacey, a doctor of Philosophy at Latrobe University.

(From: ‘Earth People’ Volume 2 Number 6 )

This subject can also be called “The Hero Adventure”, and is related to another article I have written called ‘Suffering and Compassion or Sacrifice and Bliss’. In Volume 1 Number 2 of ‘Earth People’, I wrote a brief introduction on this VERY IMPORTANT aspect of life in my article ‘Initiations and Vision Quests’ (above). It is so important that Joseph Campbell’s first book that he wrote, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, was solely on this subject. And it is, in fact, the beginning of all life, as we are all heroes in our birth; and the seeking of a spiritual understanding of life that often comes around middle age is another of the major hero adventures that we experience during the passage through a lifetime.

I recently read two articles on this subject that appeared in respected journals written by David Tacey, a doctor of Philosophy at Latrobe University. I was amazed to see that these articles appeared in 1995 and 1997/8, and if read and understood by society, it could solve possibly all of our problems, yet today the problems still persist. All I can say is; is anybody listening out there?

To refresh your memory of my previous article or to give a brief overview to those who have not read it, the main points are as follows.

Joseph Campbell calls this psychological transformation, which everyone must undergo, the "Hero Adventure." This is where a hero or heroine finds or does something beyond the normal range of experience. There are three stages to this adventure, and they are:

1. Leaving home or separation from all that is familiar.

2. The frightening, difficult, but exhilarating journey often helped by unexpected and mystical allies; facing fears and a new way of consciousness; and when the boundaries of the old limited awareness fade and the new possibilities merge.

3. Returning as apparently the same person, but forever changed. This is where a deed has been achieved.

The deed comes in two forms. It is either a courageous act of saving a life or lives, going through a physical or psychological ordeal, or it is a spiritual deed of coming back from spirit realms with a message that can help humanity or society in some profound way.

The rites of passage then, are the celebrations that Lynn Andrews speaks about in her article, ‘Rebirth of the Self Lodge’ (Not published yet). They are the celebrations within the whole community of these returns from the hero adventures, and the recognition of the shared importance of the revelations with which each individual hero has returned. 

It is this return that David Tacey points out in his two articles, ‘Rites and Wrongs of Passage’ and ‘Youth Spirituality and Authenticity’, saying that the return often doesn’t happen; and he connects this phenomena to society’s drug problems. And the following is a summery of ‘Rites and Wrongs of Passage’, which describe the main points in that article:

‘Rites and Wrongs of Passage’

Rites of passage, which are the soul’s evolution by incremental changes in consciousness, involve:

Separation from the existing, limited awareness (Childish).

Transition into a hazing period.

Return of the self into a big picture awareness (Maturity).

(See also Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero Adventure’ above.)

1. If culture does not help young people come to terms with age related changes in personal orientation, then the soul itself is forced to carry the burden of transformation.

2. If culture and society do not actually respect or conduct life cycle rituals, then the initiatory process will take place anyway, despite the absence of formal recognition.

3. Today’s undirected self-initiations remain problematical precisely because they lack the guiding hand of cultural wisdom and informed adults.

4. When the soul gives the urge for change it does not provide the rational understanding, the culture is supposed to do that.

5. Young people are thrown back on themselves, and they cannot always be expected to respond positively to the archetypal dictates and urges of the soul, especially when these urges remain unconscious and are presented to the ego or conscious mind in symbolic and non rational form.

6. Ad hoc attempts at initiation can get stuck in not being fully realised and experienced, because the urges of the soul are misunderstood and even condemned and opposed by society at large. So young people, charged by youthful idealism, rebellion and the natural deep urge of the soul can be caught in being forced to frequently act it out in negative re-occurring cycles such as risk taking behaviour and drug addiction.

Given some of these insights by David Tacey, the real reasons for drug addiction can be more easily understood, by exploring the effects of the rites of passage denied in the next section.

Drug Addiction and the Rites of Passage Denied

The evolutionary, sacred urges of the soul are relegated to the profane and sordid margins of social experience, because modern culture has failed to address a basic primal urge, the need for ecstasy and transcendence.

The rites of passage incorporate ecstasy as the new frequency of enlarged awareness. This enlarged awareness is not wanted by the adult world, which sets about to limit it, and in so doing creates sickness of the soul in its young people. Rites of passage thwarted by society create pathological behaviour in its young people. Society’s drug prohibition efforts have failed because they do not address the deeper issue, the urge of the soul, which is the propelling energy and why young people take drugs.

1. Drugs serve to separate them from normal society, into the sense of being an outsider, participating in an illegal activity. This fulfils the soul’s need for separation, even if it is only psychological, and not physical or spiritual.

2. Drugs create a transition away from normal conscious reality into a hazing between what was the old awareness and what the new soul perception experiences. This reinforces to the soul the fact that the journey has begun with a real sense of transition because of departure from the old existing awareness.

3. In the transition phase, young people find that drugs dissolve the boundaries of the former self. And they encounter a hazing, which releases them from the confined consciousness they were trying to separate themselves from, and into an ecstasy and a wider ecstatic experience which links them to the bigger picture of themselves and the world. This “high” satisfies the urge of the soul for transition.

4. The return stage of the soul’s journey is marred by the nightmare of a return into an imperfect world, which rejects their soul’s experience of ecstasy. Rather than society understanding, acknowledging and assisting them into the process to integrate this new awareness, it exiles them further as criminal outsiders.

5. The return stage, in many instances never happens because of cultural prejudice and hostility. Permanently and psychologically exiled from society and the opportunity to develop a new mature self, these young people seek that which satisfies them the most, the “high” of ecstasy, the place where their soul felt good.

6. Young people return to the hazing stage and remain stuck in it by habits of addiction to kill the emotional pain of depression resulting in dissatisfaction with the world and their immediate relationship to it. Adults, rather than treating them as people on a hero’s journey, reinforce the return to the hazing by rejection. This rejection creates soul sickness.

7. The new awareness, still trapped in transition, has no opportunity to return, and is not given the practical opportunities to grow into a new self by lack of place, purpose, position and fulfilment in society. Having departed, the soul cannot return and complete the cycle, and so engages indefinitely in repeated attempts to dissolve the self in drugs or suicide. The only remedy from this is cultural awareness, understanding and assistance in the return phase of rites of passage.

So maybe now you can see why I feel it is so important for society to understand and implement any and all of the mythological messages, which are actually all the same message. And all mythologies contain this pedagogical function, which includes these rites of passage for youth, as well as other rites of passage. As I have pointed out in the article ‘Dreams, Mythology and Symbolism’ of Volume 1 Number 3, myths serve four functions, which are:

1/ The Mythical Function. Realising the wonder of the universe, and the wonder of yourself as a living symbol of the Creator. Also that behind the surface of the forms of the world there is a mystery that somehow supports the surface physical world. “If mystery is manifest through all things, the universe becomes, as it were, a holy picture. You are always addressing the transcendent mystery through the conditions of your actual world.”

2/ The Cosmological Dimension. This is today the concern of science, to show the shape and nature of the universe and it is this aspect that changes according a societies understanding of the world. Early societies related this to the visible world of the sun, moon, and seasons. But cosmology and structure of the world must be shown in a way that allows the mystery and the experience of awe to still come through.

3/ The Sociological Function. Where the myth is supporting and validating a certain social order. This is where myths vary from one place to another and from one culture to another. According to Joseph Campbell, it is this function that has taken over in our current world, and is out of date, in all the pages and pages of rules on how to behave and what you should wear etc.

4/ The Pedagogical Function. This is the function that everyone must try to relate to, and gain from the wisdom of nature, realising the brotherhood we have with plants, animals, minerals and all living beings of the universe. This function of myths is the one that can teach us how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances, as it teaches us the stages of life from birth through maturity and death to rebirth.


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