Initiates and initiation
Dispelling the misinformation that surrounds the vexed topic of initiates and initiation
It is our intention in this article to dispel some of the misinformation that surrounds the vexed topic of Initiates and Initiation, by presenting you with the true occult facts—not speculative fancies—about these misunderstood subjects.
What is an initiate?
There exist many occult orders and groups in the world today that bestow the title 'initiate' upon their members. We are sorry to say that this is often a mere courtesy and nothing more, for the recipients rarely exhibit the virtues or knowledge we would associate with this rank. Moreover, we know of no genuine initiate, past or present, who has ever openly claimed this title, though they may hint, as the Apostle Paul does in his letters to the Corinthians:
"According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon."
(1 Corinthians 3:10)
The expression, master-builder, used only once in the whole Bible, and by Paul, may be considered as the closest any initiate has come to openly revealing his status. When Paul entitles himself a "master-builder," he is using a word pre-eminently Masonic, Kabbalistic and occult which no other apostle uses. He thus declares himself an Adept, having the right (laid the foundation) to initiate others.
There have been and are many different grades of initiates, and quite frankly such things can only be discussed and fully understood among those who are initiates, which we have never claimed to be, nor do we do so now. However, we can say that those who are worthy of this rank and honour possess certain knowledge denied to those below them, however accomplished they may be in other ways. This knowledge includes (but is not limited to) a complete understanding of the various subjects we discuss in our many articles, especially those we investigate in our occult studies course.
In olden times, when this island was still ruled by the wisdom of the genuine Druids, anyone aspiring to the rank of initiate was subjected to an examination by an Hierophant of the Mysteries, during which the candidate was asked certain questions. If he was unable to provide the correct answers he was summarily ejected from the assembly of the Wise and condemned as an imposter. We emphasise the word 'genuine', for there was a later time, when the knowledge and wisdom of the true Druids died out, to be replaced with the superstitious and often cruel rites we read so much about in the history of early Britain as recorded by the Romans and other conquerors of this island.
Now, you may ask what sort of questions were put to the candidate for initiation into the Mystic Rites of the Druids? It so happens that we know what many of these were, for they are preserved in some old Welsh manuscripts and histories of the early centuries of the Christian era. One example of this are the questions which the 6th century British Bard Taliesin mentions in his poem Mabgyvreu or 'Elements of Instruction', which you can find in the Mythology and Rites of the British Druids by Edward Davies.
"If ye are primitive Bards,
According to the discipline of qualified instructors
Relate the great secrets of the world we inhabit.
There is a formidable animal from the city of Satan
Which has made an inroad
Between the deep and the shallows.
His mouth is as wide as the mountain of Mynnau:
Neither death can vanquish him, nor hands, nor swords.
There is a load of nine hundred rocks between his two paws:
There is one eye in his head, vivid as the blue ice."
We doubt whether there are any 'initiates' in the well-known modern 'occult' orders or fraternities, who can interpret these enigmatical questions and provide the correct answers to them. Nor are there many who could answer the following question, to be found in the same poem by Taliesin.
Knowest thou what thou art
In the hour of sleep—
A mere body—a mere soul—
Or a secret retreat of light?
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the 5th century B.C., posits a very similar question in the Fragments attributed to him:
"But other men have no idea what they are doing when awake
Just as they forget what they do when they are asleep."
This proves that such questions were universal catechisms among the teachers of the Mysteries in both Britain and Greece. This is not surprising when we consider that these Mysteries all had a common origin, namely the occult scientific teachings of Atlantis, which were brought to Europe after the destruction of that continent, as you can read in our article about Atlantis. But let us see what other good questions Taliesin puts into the mouth of the Teacher of the Mysteries.
"O skilful son of harmony
Why wilt thou not answer me?
Knowest thou where the night awaits
For the passing of the day?
Knowest thou the mark
Of every leaf which grows?
What is it which heaves up the mountain
Before the convulsion of the elements?
Or what supports the fabric
Of the habitable earth?
You may be wondering what happened (and still happens) to those candidates for initiation who could not answer such questions? The answer is given by Taliesin: "Thy coming without external purity, is a pledge that I will not receive thee. Take out the gloomy one. From my territory I have alienated the rueful steed—my revenge upon the shoal of earth-worms, is their hopeless longing, for the pleasant allotment. Out of the receptacle which is thy aversion, did I obtain the rainbow." Thus did the Druid Hierophant address the rejected candidate. By 'external purity' is not meant physical cleanliness, though this is important, but humility, sincerity, loyalty, and a willingness to let go of wrong thinking and wrong attitudes, such as we discuss in the afterword to our final Astral Conversation. 'Gloomy' means those who dwell upon the dark side of life, and are negative in their thinking. 'Rueful' carries a similar meaning, for those who are continually dwelling upon negative conditions, harbour doubts, fears and regrets, have no control over their 'steed'—the lower self and body—and so are wholly unworthy of, and unready for initiation. The Teacher's 'revenge' upon such candidates—the shoal of earth-worms—is their impure desire for occult knowledge, which, as we may read in the Letter from a Master to his pupil elsewhere on our website, torments them but is never satisfied so long as they remain impure. You can read more about the origins, rites and teachings of the Druids in our article about these great philosophers and sages, as well as in our investigation of one of the main Druid temples in England—Stonehenge.
Having seen the fate that awaits those who seek initiation with impure minds and desires, let us now turn to the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, whose life and teachings proclaim him as one of the greatest initiates ever to have blessed this world with his holy presence. You can read more about this peer among Sages in the afterword to this article in the sidebar on your right. He too, had to acquire the knowledge that would enable him to learn the answers to the questions Taliesin poses—and many more—during an arduous novitiate which lasted more than 20 years. Where is the occult school or order that demands an equal length of training and comparable discipline of its members today? Frankly, we know of only one. For this reason it should not surprise us that the modern 'initiate' cannot make head nor tail of such enigmatical questions. How little present-day occultists know of the Mysteries they purport to teach is evident from the fact that, to the best of our knowledge, the verses we have quoted form no part of the curriculum of any modern occult order or group, with the notable exception, referred to earlier.
Nor were there many 'initiates' in Taliesin's time who could make head nor tail of such Druidical Wisdom either, for the keys to it had been lost long before, as the poet himself complains: "I marvel that, in their books they know not, with certainty, what are the properties of the Soul: of what form are its members: in what part, and when, it takes up its abode: by what wind, or what stream it is supplied." We have often echoed this complaint in many of our articles. Indeed, one reason we created this website and continue to add to it, is to counter the speculative opinions of the many teachers of the occult who, often with the best of intentions, lead the seeker after occult knowledge away from truth into a labyrinth of misinformation and fanciful conjecture, which only adds to the confusion that reigns in such seekers' minds.
What is initiation?
Having seen what the Druid initiate was required to know, and how long it took him to gain this knowledge, it must be clear what initiation really is: instruction in the occult mysteries by a genuine Master. It is a process lasting many years during which the candidate gradually acquires all-knowledge and all-wisdom, insofar as this is possible on earth. There will then be no more problems of a physical, spiritual or philosophical nature which he cannot solve, and he will be in every way fully master of his fate and circumstances. That is initiation and there are no short-cuts to it. Nor can initiation be conferred from one to another, as you may have read or been taught, for it is primarily a matter of personal growth and inner transformation, or we might even say transmutation, which no outside agency, be it the greatest Adept who ever lived, can make. Only the initiate himself can bring this about through his own efforts.
Initiation does not consist, as many occult writers have described in their colourful books, of various rites and ceremonies during which the candidate gains certain 'occult' powers over the spirits of the living and the dead, who are now at his or her command to fulfil his every desire! We are thinking here of such books as the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage and other 'magical' grimoires, after which the magician's 'Holy Guardian Angel' is supposed to appear and reveal magical 'secrets' to him. A moment's sober thought will dispel this silly fantasy, believed in by thousands of would-be 'initiates' the world over. The Soul is the true 'Guardian Angel', and it requires no rites or rituals to contact it, for it is always with us, whether we are conscious of it's presence or not. All that is needed to contact it is a heart purified of all selfish desires and a sincere longing to receive its loving guidance. Spiritual meditation is one way to make this contact. Heartfelt, earnest prayer is another. Indeed, the ways to this sublime communion are as many as there are human beings who pursue them, as you can read in our occult studies course.
In short, robes and wands, mystic pentacles and the bawling of weird incantations on a Welsh hilltop do not an initiate make. We are sorry to pour cold water on the fanciful pipe-dreams of any would-be 'Adepts' and 'Magicians' who may be reading this article, but it is far better that they learn the truth now, rather than waste their time, money, and quite possibly ruin their health and sanity, by pursuing such mad fantasies, for this is just what they are. We know we contradict a host of 'occult authorities' by saying this, but nevertheless we speak the truth. We do so not as our own personal opinion, but on the testimony of the great initiates of the past, many of whom have left a record of what they experienced during initiation.
The institution of the Mysteries
Let us sit at the feet of some of these Sages in order to learn what they had to say about initiation, and compare their accounts with the fanciful nonsense we may read in such books as that of Abramelin. Before we do so, we should explain to those who know little of our subjects that the Mysteries were established with the highest and most moral purpose in mind; namely the emancipation of the Higher Self from the bonds of matter through a long course of moral, metaphysical and scientific instruction. These Mysteries once constituted the spiritual life of ancient Greece and were in use for about two thousand years, being considered the proper means for physical and spiritual regeneration through an interior union with the Divine Essence.
These Mysteries were regarded with the deepest respect in ancient Greece. Although exhibiting some features of an Eastern origin, they were copied, like much of Greek philosophy and mysticism, from the Sublime Mysteries of ancient Egypt. Every act, rite, and person engaged in them was symbolical; and the individual revealing them was put to death without mercy. So also was any uninitiated person who happened to be present. Persons of all ages and both sexes were initiated and it was required that all candidates should be first admitted to the Lesser Mysteries, by a process of fasting called purification, after which they were styled mystae, or initiates. A year later, they might enter the higher degree. In this they learned the secret meaning of the rites, and were thenceforth denominated epoptae or seers. However, only a very small number of students obtained admission to these higher degrees. Any person who had not led a blameless life, or was guilty of any crime whatsoever, or known to dabble in witchcraft or black magic, was rigorously excluded.
Theon of Smyrna, an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries who flourished in the first century A.D., divides the Mysteries into five parts in his book Mathematica:
"The first of which is the previous purification; for neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receive them; but there are certain persons who are prevented by the voice of the crier. . . since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purifications: but after purification the reception of the sacred rite succeeds."
The 'purifications' Theon mentions have less to do with bodily cleanliness (though this is important too), but rather with the gradual sweeping away of wrong thinking and wrong ideas, leading to a clearer apperception of Truth in the mind of the candidate. Those who were unwilling or unable to divest themselves of their erroneous ideas were expelled from the Mysteries. This may seem harsh, but if you think about it you will see that it is actually a kindness. For there can be nothing more cruel and pointless than to instruct the unready and unreceptive. The 'reception of the sacred rite' means that after purification, which may last several years, the candidate receives instruction in the higher mysteries. Theon continues:
"The third part is denominated epopteia, or reception. And the fourth, which is the end and design of the revelation, is (the investiture) the binding of the head and fixing of the crowns. . .whether after this he (the initiate) becomes a torchbearer, or an hierophant of the Mysteries, or sustains some other part of the sacerdotal office. But the fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship and interior communion with God. And this was the last and most awful of all the Mysteries."
All this is fraught with deep meaning which will repay careful meditation on the part of our regular readers. 'Epopteia' means 'seeing' and an 'epopt', as we mentioned earlier, was a seer, that is one who beheld the naked, unadorned Truth, which was veiled from all those below him in rank. Plato, who was an initiate of these same Mysteries, alludes in a concealed manner to what this 'seeing' consisted of in Phaedrus:
"Being initiated in those Mysteries, which it is lawful to call the most blessed of all Mysteries . . . we were freed from the molestations of evils which otherwise await us in a future period of time. Likewise, in consequence of this divine initiation, we become spectators of entire, simple, immovable, and blessed visions, resident in a pure light."
This veiled confession shows that these Greek initiates enjoyed Theophany—saw visions of the Gods and of real immortal Spirits—as distinct from the illusory phantoms seen by so many modern psychics. Proclus, who lived many centuries after Plato, confirms the testimony of the Athenian Sage in his own account of his initiation:
"In all the initiations and Mysteries, the gods exhibit many forms of themselves, and appear in a variety of shapes; and sometimes, indeed, a formless light of themselves is held forth to the view; sometimes this light is according to a human form and sometimes it proceeds into a different shape."
These statements from such eminent initiates of the past confirm the high moral and spiritual purpose of the Mysteries. Such truthful visions of the Higher dimensions and the holy dwellers in them, were produced then as now, through the regular practise of certain exercises over many years to develop the hidden powers we all possess. We say then as now deliberately. For although the Eleusinian Mysteries are no more and the great temple-schools of ancient Egypt that once stood like an avenue of sacred torches along the Nile, have long since crumbled into dust, the Ancient Mystery Teachings live on for the benefit of the few who are ready and worthy to learn them.
We know of only one modern book in which is recorded a genuine initiation that corroborates the testimony of the Greek initiates discussed above. That book is The Quest of Ruru, by J Michaud PhD, published in full on this website. In it, you may read how the eponymous candidate faces and conquers the personified passions of his lower self, to emerge the Priest Illuminate, "wrapped in the habiliments of Light, and everywhere, above and around, the noble litanies of Spirits in praise of God rang out," as the book tells us. THIS is initiation into the Mysteries and the way to this glory is open to all, even today, as we shall discuss later. But ere we do so, we must explain how and why the Mysteries died out in Europe, and why there are so few truly great initiates in the world today.
The demise of the Mysteries
The reasons for the demise of the Mysteries are many. Among them is the closure of the last of the Greek Mystery schools some 2,000 years ago. Another is the wholesale persecution of the last European initiates during the long ascension of the Christian and Islamic religions. It was during the first century before our era that the last and supreme hour of the Mysteries struck. History shows the populations of Central Gaul revolting against the Roman yoke. The country was subject to Caesar, and the revolt was crushed; the result was the slaughter of the garrison at Alesia in 52 B.C., and of all its inhabitants, including the Druids, the college-priests and the neophytes; after this the whole city was plundered and razed to the ground.
The 19th century Masonic scholar, Jean-Marie Ragon, describes this city of the Druids in its heyday:
"Bibractis, the mother of sciences, the soul of the early nations (in Europe), a town equally famous for its sacred college of Druids, its civilisation, its schools, in which 40,000 students were taught philosophy, literature, grammar, jurisprudence, medicine, astrology, occult sciences, architecture, etc.
Rival of Thebes, of Memphis, of Athens and of Rome, it possessed an amphitheatre for gladiators, surrounded with colossal statues and accommodating 100,000 spectators, a capitol, temples of Janus, Pluto, Proserpine, Jupiter, Apollo, Minerva, Cybele, Venus and Anubis, and in the midst of these sumptuous edifices the Naumachy, with its vast basin, an incredible construction, a gigantic work wherein floated boats and galleys devoted to naval games; then a Champ de Mars, an aqueduct, fountains, public baths; finally fortifications and walls, the construction of which dated from the heroic ages."
Bibractis, also written Bibracte, was situated near the modern town of Autun in Burgundy, in France, the remains of which can still be seen today. Such was the last city in Gaul wherein died for Europe the secrets of the initiations of the Great Mysteries—the Mysteries of Nature—and of her forgotten occult Truths. Many of the manuscripts of the famous Alexandrian Library were burned and destroyed by Julius Caesar in 48 B.C. What little remained of this vast treasure of learning was obliterated in the succeeding centuries by Christian and Islamic mobs. This destruction culminated in the 4th century A.D. with the murder of one of the last teachers of the Greek Mysteries, Hypatia, the daughter of Theon of Smyrna, mentioned in our second article on Esoteric Philosophy as well as in a short story by Erika Hahn. This was the bloody work of the pious Christian Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, who ordered Hypatia's death for daring to oppose the dogmatic religion he espoused.
So it came about that the initiates of Europe became wanderers upon the face of the earth. Those who remained in Egypt found themselves obliged for fear of a profanation of the Sacred Mysteries to seek refuge in deserts and mountains, to form and establish secret societies and brotherhoods—such as the Essenes; those who had crossed the oceans to India and even to the New World, bound themselves by solemn oaths to keep silent, and to preserve secret their Sacred Knowledge and Science; thus these were buried deeper than ever out of human sight. In Central Asia and on the northern borderlands of India, the triumphant sword of Alexander swept away from his path of conquest every vestige of a once pure Religion: and its Adepts receded further and further from that path into the most hidden spots of the globe.
Initiates and initiation today
And so we arrive at the modern period when there are very few great initiates to be found anywhere in the world. Yet those few, scattered as they are, often unknown and unsung, and maintaining a strict secrecy about themselves and their work, still send forth their lightful call unto the worthy. One such initiate is described in the book The White Brother, which we review and recommend on our books page. We may meet such initiates at any time, in any place, but unless they choose to reveal themselves to us, it is quite impossible to recognise them. They affect no airs or graces, display no superior knowledge or claim any attainments, and only exhibit their superior wisdom to those whom they can trust not to reveal or misuse it. In short, the modern initiate is indistinguishable from the average man or woman, for they have long since learned the art of remaining hidden, though perfectly visible, and unseen, though present.
How then, may such initiates be contacted? Not by any obvious means. They do not advertise themselves in the pages of New Age magazines, YouTube videos, or social media websites. Nor are they to be found within the lesser occult orders or groups, though they may keep a watchful eye on such organisations in order to help a promising and deserving seeker take a few steps further on the path to the Light. This is one meaning of the well-known occult aphorism that "when the pupil is ready, the master appears." In other words, when a seeker, through their own efforts, has succeeded in reaching out in spirit to the higher dimensions and is filled with the earnest desire to learn the great Truths, the portals of Wisdom will open to them. This may come about in any number of different ways. They may find a book, or books that open their eyes to the sublime Truths of Life. They may encounter a friend who takes them by the hand, as was the case with the author of The White Brother mentioned above. In rare cases, they may even contact one of the Masters who reside in the higher realms through deep meditation or sincere prayer, and receive instruction and guidance in this way.
In these and similar ways will the sincere seeker find the Sublime Mysteries and those who teach them, for as we may read in the Bible:
"And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"
(Luke 11: 9-13).
You may search the Bible from cover to cover and not find a clearer confirmation of the existence of the Mysteries and those who teach them. For, as we said earlier, initiation is still open to all, even today, though there are very few who wish to tread this path and even fewer who reach its terminus. But this was ever so; the great Truths for the few, their fantastic shadow for the many. And this is as it should be, for we are all at different stages of the path to the Light, whether we know it or not, or even whether we wish it or not. What is meat for one seeker will be unpalatable to another, whereas some will find even the smallest morsels of Truth indigestible unless they are sugared with a large dose of fantasy. So each takes what he can, for all must evolve–or perish; such is the universal law that applies to all created beings, high or low.
If you are ready and worthy to tread the narrow way that leads to initiation into the Sublime Mysteries, then you may be sure that when you knock upon the portals of Wisdom, they will open to you. If you do not feel ready or worthy, your time will come, for there is no rush in Eternity. Meanwhile, whatever your place on the path to the Light, or even if you have not entered it, we hope that this article has encouraged you in your spiritual journey and dispelled some of the misconceptions that surround the much misunderstood subjects of initiates and initiation.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article added 30 November 2015. Updated 23 May 2021.