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Initiation and Pain

Initiations -- both the planned and the unexpected -- have been an interest of mine for many years. Every so often I'll make lists of major transition points in my life, looking at which are simply that -- transitions -- and which qualify as initiations.

One of the most important qualities which sets initiations apart from other milestone events is that of transformation. After going through an initation you are not who you were before, and there is no going back to your pre-initiatory state. You have changed.

Today, for the first time, I started wondering about the pain that so frequently accompanies initiation, at least in my personal experience. I'm reluctant to say that all initiations must include an element of pain, but when I reflect back on my own iniatory experiences the ones that were most significant and the most profound were the ones that hurt -- or at least were deeply challenging.

It's too late in the evening now for me to come up with a personal conclusion, but I wanted to pose the question here and find out what my friends think.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)
I son't know that its necessary
though it is common. Even if the pain is bittersweet (leaving home) physical (menstrual cramps)there does seem to be a lot. I am trying to think of an initiation that didn't have pain, and I'm thinking of my Wiccan initiation, which was rather painless (physically and emotionally). Others have certainly not been.
I remember a joyful initiation when I was 14, of running away with my neighbor "ladies" and my mom for chocolate shakes at 3 am. We drank them in the car, gossiped, and watched the sun come up.
I was finally old enough, and they all treated me differently after that.
My first S and M scene was painless.
My first dance performance.
My first day as a stripper.
I also think that spontaneous ones can be rather painless, simply because they're unplanned, unexpected. I think we have been programmed to hear the word "initiation" and think "difficulty". I think we expect it.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 08:03 am (UTC)
One of the most important qualities which sets initiations apart from other milestone events is that of transformation. After going through an initation you are not who you were before, and there is no going back to your pre-initiatory state. You have changed.

Gods yes. I've had four that truly changed me - (in order) my priest initiation (which was actually in 3 parts, 1st, 2nd, & 3rd), the magical bonding ritual I did with teaotter (info here), the dragon bonding ritual my HPS & HP did for me (which essentially resulting in my becoming otherkin), and the magical bonding that both teaotter & I did with amberite. The 2nd and 3rd were in many ways the most powerful, but all have majorly changed my life.

Hmm, using your definitions, I'd perhaps raise that number to 6: there's this ritual to find love that I did almost precisely 5 months before I met and fell for amberite. I did an almost idential ritual 2 months before teaotter and I first started writing to one another.

Not all of my initiations have involved pain, but several have. Whether they did or not mostly seemed to involve how willing and able I was to accept the changes the initiation brought. In the case of the two rituals to find love, they both made certain that I was emotionally ready for a lasting romance - in the first case I was very far from that state (I'd never had one that lasted more than 4 months before) and over the next 2 and a half years, I became (swiftly and painfully) ready.

Edited at 2009-07-23 08:07 am (UTC)
Jul. 23rd, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Eh, I think it depends on how you want to define transformation and what you are going to qualify as pain - and if you think that an initiation has to have a conscious, intentional quality to it or not.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
After reading the responses above, I see there's a lot more variance in the interpretation of 'initiation' than what I was expecting. Once I get some other tasks done this morning, I'm going to make a longer post about what *I* mean by it.

But as far as intention goes: my personal experience is that my unplanned/unexpected initiations are the most powerful, and the ones most likely to involve pain. I've only experienced a couple of planned or formal initiations which truly "took" and resulted in authentic change.

I hadn't thought about defining pain. . .
Jul. 23rd, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
I turn around and suggest, at least as I use the term, that while all (or most) initiations are rites of passage, not all rites of passage are initiations.

Initiation is a pretty specific term and concept the way I hear and see it used. So that may just be where I'm coming from.


And our experience of pain is highly impacted by our perception of it - and our perception of it is highly determined by how we define it... ;-)

Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
that while all (or most) initiations are rites of passage, not all rites of passage are initiations

In fact, when I make my personal lists I usually make that distinction. I just wasn't thinking about it last night.

Still pondering the pain part. . .
Jul. 23rd, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
There are initiations, and then there are *magical* initiations. Not the same thing.

IME, magical initiations make you face your shit, and they also blow sky high anything in your life that isn't working. That can be a relief, but it can also hurt like hell.

Non-magical initiations, not so much.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
I hadn't been sure how to characterize magical initiations. I would think they might be considered a sub-category, since if they take they do change you profoundly.

Certainly my recent experience has been that the ritual of initiation itself is not painful, but the ripple effects can be.

Non-magical initiations may not always make you "face your shit" but the after-effects can be profoundly disruptive to your established patterns/lifestyle/relationships.

Clearly this requires a lot more pondering on my part.
Jul. 24th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)
I would say sub-category, myself; there are many forms of initiation. And certainly, non-magical initiations may have world-shifting impact.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
I guess it depends on what one means by "initiation" and by "pain".

I also think that unplanned initiations are more likely to involve pain, whereas planned ritualistic initiations may or may not, as there can be other elements that, crafted well, can do the job without it.

Some of the most transformative times in my life have been the most painful. But I have also undergone significant and transformative ritual initiations that were not painful.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
A piece of coal can't become a diamond without pressure. But once it transforms, it becomes harder and more beautiful than it was before. Just a thought.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
harder = stronger.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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