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What is Initiation?

Initiation is a ceremony that shows that a person has been accepted into a group or society. It could also be a formal way to become an adult in a community or one of its formal parts. In a more general sense, it can also mean a transformation in which the person who starts is “reborn” into a new role. Examples of initiation ceremonies include Christian baptism or confirmation, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, acceptance into a fraternal organisation, secret society, or religious order, graduation from school, or training for the military or the police, among other things. These pictures show people taking part in traditional rites of passage, like the one shown here. People who do this are called initiates.

Initiation refers to a passage in time that denotes the entrance or even an acceptance of an individual or a group. This acceptance might also symbolise marking a society’s rite of passage into brand new ideologies and notions.

Initiation refers to the act of formal admission into adulthood for many. This formal admission might also signify a community’s acceptance of an individual into becoming one of its formal components. Through the extension of this definition, it can also denote an evolution or transformation of sorts, which signifies being “reborn” to suit a new role.

For instance, one can take the example of initiation ceremonies such as Christian baptism or confirmation, acceptance into a fraternal organisation, a secret society or religious order, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, or even graduation from school or university. A person who acts as the protagonist for this initiation ceremony is known as the ‘initiate’ in traditional terminologies.

Religious and spiritual

A spiritual initiation and its performance are meant to imply a shepherding process where people who are at the higher level of power are known to guide the ‘initiate’ (the person for whom this ceremony is held). This guidance is intended to expose greater knowledge that the initiate might not have been exposed to before this ritual. This knowledge may contain secrets that have not been revealed up until now. This particular form of spiritual initiation is also called a secret society in popular culture. One famous example is the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, which goes back to the Mycenaean period or “Bronze Age”.

Additionally, when contextualising ritual magic, an initiation is a process which is known to cause a process of foundational transformation in the life of the individual who is being initiated. One can feel the presence of this evolution within both the material world and the spiritual world. The person who is the head of this initiation process is also known as the initiator. This person is in the position of a certain level of power or a state of being, which is transferred to the person being initiated. This initiation process can be very well paralleled with an apostolic succession due to this transfer of power.

The initiation process also stipulates a simultaneous death and rebirth. The process invokes the idea of both a beginning as well as the ending of an individual’s existence. This ending of one’s existence denotes dropping one level down in the ascension to the next. Initiation is a significant component of Judaism, Sufism, Vaishnavism, Shiism, Sant Mat, Surat, Shabd Yoga, and similar conventions. It denotes that a disciple has agreed to the requirements of his guru. These requirements may range from living an ethical lifestyle to meditating and much more.

Trade union

When referred to in the context of an unionised organisation, the process of initiation is a brief familiarisation procedure carried out by the pre-existing members of the union. This straightforward procedure includes making an individual acquainted with basic guidelines and providing a copy of the appropriate collective bargaining agreement. This agreement is said to control the terms and conditions of the work performed by the union members. Some unions might also have a one-time initiation fee that is supposed to be paid by a person trying to join the union. After this membership fee is paid, this person is officially deemed a member of the association.

This ritual is more closely associated with communities that are on board a military vessel. Additionally, military soldiers also tend to behave like a close family which absorbs members. These members are usually formally accepted after a trial or hazing exercise. Similarly, other exercises also denote rites of passage, which aren’t authentic initiations as the participants are already members of the same community.

For instance, one such activity is crossing the equator on board a naval ship. If this activity is undertaken with passengers on board a ship, then these passengers do not become a part of anything but the “equator crossing club.” Another example is the “Kissing the Royal Belly” or “Royal Baby” ritual. This initiation asks a person to kneel before a senior crew member wearing a mock diaper for this ritual. This baby generally has a massive stomach covered with a spectrum of materials such as cooking oil, mustard, shaving cream, eggs, and oysters. Junior sailors are asked to lick the baby’s belly while the baby is supposed to grab their head and smear their heads all over these greasy materials.


An Initiation ritual in a gang requires new members to commit crimes to get accepted as a part of the gang. Other rituals might include new members getting physically beaten by fellow members to demonstrate courage or bravery. This particular ritual is also known as the “beat-in” or the “jump-in”, which often results in an accidental fatality.


Tribes are also said to have usual initiation rituals like many others. One such example is the initiation done in the Bapedi tribe of South Africa. This initiation is regarded as an announcement where a boy or a girl is taught to be an adult. In some African tribes, this initiation process constitutes circumcision/genital mutilation of males and sometimes females as well.

Initiation, as a process, is considered an essential ritual for an individual to be regarded as a full-fledged adult in a tribe. After this process, an individual is said to have significant roles and responsibilities in the functioning of a tribe. In the absence of this ritual, an individual might not even be allowed to participate in social rituals such as marriage or other similar ceremonies.

The initiation can also be termed as an event which formulates a teenager preparing themselves to be good husbands, wives and citizens of the society. In this era of modernisation, initiation as a ritual is not taken seriously by the citizens of modern times. However, there are still places where these rituals are performed traditionally. In some African tribes, these initiation rituals take 3โ€“4 months for their boy participants and 1โ€“2 months for their girl participants.

Nuriel Angel