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Humans traverse between two realities: On one hand, we exist in the physical world that sustains us and allows us to live our human experience. On the other, we navigate existence through our minds in a world of thoughts, archetypes, and symbols. The physical reality is the same for all, whether we comprehend it or not: we are all subject to the same laws of gravity, inertia, thermodynamics, etc. However, mental reality is subjective, and we need to create constructs, either individual or collective, that serve as a frame of reference for our experiences.
We’ve discussed these constructs before. They are the social and cultural phenomena that humanity has invented to construct the society in which we live. Examples of these collective mental creations include our nations, political systems, sports, economy, businesses, and religions.
Since these systems are not natural but created by us, it is necessary to somehow transmit them to their new members. Hence, we have also created processes to transmit the rules and knowledge of each of these structures. These processes are known by different names: To enter companies, we use the education system; for sports, we use training; and to enter a nation, we either are born into it or immigrate from another nation. For both cases, there are citizenship and immigration processes.
These processes of entry into a social system can generally be called Initiation, as they aim to initiate an applicant into the norms and knowledge required to become a new member of the group.
The topic we will discuss today is precisely that of Initiation, a very special initiation into spirituality.
What is initiation?
You’ve probably heard this term before, often associated with cults, lodges, or masonic orders. This is because many of these groups use the term initiation for entry ceremonies or rites of passage to ascend in their organizational structure. We can also identify these rites of passage in almost all religions. In Catholicism, for example, there are several levels of initiation: first communion, confirmation, and ordination for those who wish to follow the canonical path.
I do not include baptism here because one of the conditions for initiation is that it must be voluntarily sought and achieved by the applicant. Moreover, in Catholic baptism, not all the parts that make up an initiatory ritual are present.
Other popularly known initiations are those in sports and universities. In sports, it is common for new team members to undergo a period during which they are excluded from many of the activities of the more experienced players. During this time, the player must prove their worth and loyalty to the group to eventually pass through the rite of passage to become an equal team member, through some test, sometimes humiliating, such as washing the socks of the rest of the team members or enduring the weight of the entire team piled on the rookie on the floor.
At universities, primarily in North America and Europe, fraternities and sororities have established initiation procedures and rites of passage for students who wish to join them. Many movies, especially 80’s comedies, depict these rituals with lots of beer, heavy pranks on teachers, and so on. In real life, however, the rituals are generally ceremonies with mystical or esoteric meanings where the fraternity’s history, its values, and the vows the candidate must take to be accepted are remembered.
This is the key point of initiation rituals, which are a performance in which a group of initiates welcomes one or more aspirants to something more than a group. It’s a rebirth into a new life with special values, rules, stories, symbols, and commitments. Some of these elements are public, but others are confidential, and that’s why the loyalty of the initiate is required. Above all, the initiate must feel that they are entering something more than agroup of friends. They must believe that they are becoming a member of something important, transcendent, and lifelong.
The Masonic Initiation
However, the most complex and “serious” initiations commonly known are those of the Masonic lodges. Next, I will read the experience of a Masonic initiate from the Grand Lodge of Colombia:
“After a brief meditation in broad daylight in the Masonic pantheon of the central cemetery of Bogotá, I was transported blindfolded to a place I did not know but which, according to the state of the roads, could not be outside the Colombian capital.
A descent into a damp environment, guided by gloved hands and escorted by a certain smell of mold, marked the moments before crossing the four chambers that awaited me as a prelude to entering the Temple in symbolism of values such as wisdom, virtue, and knowledge.
It was then when someone took my left hand and made me touch a spherical element, a skull, indicating that it represented those who had not passed the test. I then encountered Water, Fire, Air, and Earth as elements present within the ceremonies in confirmation of the connection with the cosmic world and its spirits called: “Salamanders, Undines, Sylphs, and Gnomes”  embodied in the force; word and essence of the first degree.
The Four Chambers
The water chamber was a blind, cold, and ultimately, soporific experience due to the lullabies of a calm flow. Perhaps it had to be this way, to effectively understand the value and essence of Thales of Miletus and other ancient philosophers, when their words came to me narrated in prose, explaining the significance of the arrival at a paradigm shift, an evolution transmuted in the tree of life and the potential spirit of everything.
After intervals in the gloom, assisted by my thoughts and a very dry throat, I was admitted to the fire chamber where for the first time I could remove the band that had covered my eyes since the afternoon and appreciate how warm and pleasant the personified ardor can be in the “fervor and zeal of the masons”. By its passage, as I was instructed, I could reflect on the light and its illumination manifested as the existence of a “Supreme and Omnipresent Intelligence that regulates the Universe.” 
Thus, once again, I accessed the next chamber, that of the wind, to find myself in front of an imposing, enigmatic, and almost mythical face that blew cold mercilessly on my countenance, lights on and off made me think about the vital airs around human functions that had been presented to me minutes before.
After a pause, the sound of a bell accompanied by the reading of another text, predisposed a shrunken entry into the earth chamber; according to Lavagnini, the chamber of reflection, the earth element represented as the “Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies ocultum lapidem -V.I.T.R.I.O.L.-“.
Assuming a symbolic death, to say goodbye to the vices of the profane world with which I had entered and restart on the path of truth and virtue that involves the transformation of lead into gold, I set out to write my own testament in preparation for a future rebirth, answering about my duties to the creator, to myself, and to others.
I must admit that I lost valuable time resolving those not at all insignificant questions, but there were not a few details that caught my attention during my visit to the interior of the earth; so while my strokes obeyed the volatility of a directionless pen, I contemplated myself immersed in the wheat as a sample of the fertile seed that takes root and germinates with its own effort, in sulfur and salt as two energetic realms that complement and mutually enrich each other in the Universal Force, and in bread and water, the mother substance that has produced the seed and is to return to the earth, confident in the resurrection of a future life under a Creative Principle.
Despite having experienced fear of the unknown in the hours prior to the visit to the cemetery, for some reason that I still do not decipher to this day, a comforting tranquility sheltered me when I became aware that I was not alone, I found myself, and peace came to my spirit.
In this way, and already stripped of metallic belongings before being admitted to the Temple, step by step, almost like Calcidius or the Umayyads, I was translating and unraveling that fundamental question of Greek thought in the Platonic myth of the cave; a holistic experience refined in a ceremony in which, devoid of sight, I lived fully with the other senses; sweet and bitter tastes, intense heat from the nearby fire, the stench of penetrating alcohol, music, whistles, voices, and rattles detailed the meaning of that human maelstrom that shaped my initial journeys, where, like the poet Baudelaire, “to murmur long phrases, no words are needed”.
This account poetically illustrates what was essentially a journey of several hours through halls, gardens, and mausoleums filled with esoteric symbols, ceremonial elements, and initiates dressed in robes and ornaments. However, the true initiation was not the entire performance but precisely what was happening in the mind and heart of the initiate: Thanks to the learning and suggestion that had been accumulating for months or sometimes years of preparation, each element of the ceremony, each passage of reading, each song, and riddle are connected with a mental state, a commitment, or a dimension of life.
You may have noticed that some of the symbols of the Masonic ceremony, such as the skull, the cemetery, or sulfur, may seem macabre or dark to us. This is entirely deliberate. Mystical initiation involves the acceptance of knowledge of the Universe in its entirety and the acceptance of all aspects of life, including everything that seems negative or taboo to us, such as darkness and death. This does not mean that a Mason aspires to act with malice or live in the midst of darkness, but rather that they must be knowledgeable about these mysteries precisely to avoid succumbing to them and to be able to discern with their own mind.
The use of symbols that traditional religions associate as dark or evil is not a coincidence. Many lodges and mystery cults from time immemorial have used this symbolism to keep away the curious and potential aspirants who are not willing to accept and understand these mysteries. In some ancient occult temples, for example, they had the image of Baphomet at the entrance to their study halls, precisely to keep at bay those who did not have the understanding of its symbolism to be able to transcend the grotesque of the image.
If you haven’t seen it, Baphomet is an image that is associated with Satan. Similar to the Devil in the Tarot, it is an androgynous being with female breasts and an erect penis disguised as a staff, it has goat legs and head, crow-like wings, a pentagram on the forehead, and with one hand it points upwards and with the other downwards. The religious person runs away from such a monstrosity, but the initiate begins to see the symbols of balance between light and darkness, ignorance and knowledge, day and night, masculine and feminine, the mundane and the sublime.
The key is that none of this gloomy and sinister symbolism is an object of worship but of study. Masons do not worship death or a skull, but use it to remind themselves that death accompanies us every day, that living and dying are two sides of the same coin, and that one must face and transcend death in order to be reborn. If you think you would never enter a place with something so macabre at the entrance, think again. If you are Catholic, it is very likely that you have entered more than one cathedral with demonic gargoyles on the cornices or borders.
Initiations in Everyday Life
Secular initiations usually do not have macabre symbols, but they do have other ways to keep at bay those who are not worthy of becoming members. The entrance exam to a university is a rite of passage to enter the lodge of academia: The candidate must show mastery of required knowledge, have the ability to manage anxiety and their own nerves, and comply with a code that prevents them from looking at their notes or talking to other applicants.
The applicant then becomes a student and must go through levels of initiation in the knowledge of their career known as semesters, overcoming new tests and new rites of passage. It is no coincidence that academia is full of symbols and rituals. During a graduation ceremony, teachers with doctorates dress in their ceremonial gowns and graduates’ parade in cap and gown, often with Latin inscriptions.
But the most important initiation of all does not require special clothing or mystical symbols but has all the other elements of any initiatory ritual: Spiritual initiation occurs when the individual has discovered that there is an order beyond the apparent randomness of life. That reality is not simply about fulfilling the traditional role of growing up, studying, working, reproducing, and dying; as an initiate once said, “leaving behind a sad story”.
When the profane becomes aware of their spiritual essence and their ability to transform the reality around them, in other words, when they realize the matrix that envelops us, then they become a candidate for initiation.
The Process of Initiation
Another way to define initiation is a process in which we represent existential wisdom through symbols and performances to give new meanings to the everyday. This means that initiation does not necessarily imply a change in actions or circumstances, but rather a change in the way of interpreting the same circumstances, which often generates a change in actions or simply a new meaning to them.
Let’s give an example to understand it better: Imagine that all your life, as far as you can remember, you’ve had a mysterious obligation: You have to receive a backpack, getting larger as you grew, put it on your back and carry it for several hours while you walk to a not-so-pleasant place several kilometers away. You deliver the backpack and return home to rest and fulfill your other obligations, only to repeat the same routine the next day. Over and over again, performing a miserable task for which you have never received a penny. For the exercise, let’s assume that there is no way to quit this task nor is there anyone to ask about this mysterious assignment.
Well, one fine day, already weary of such a monotonous life, after having cried and sought ways to free yourself from this task without success, you decide that if you can’t beat the enemy, you’re going to try to join them. So you decide that a job so repetitive, but apparently so important as to not let you quit it, must have a purpose. So, from that day on, you stop complaining about the fatigue and boredom, you make silence for the first time.
You walk with the backpack on your back, but this time you go with your attention focused on all the sounds around you, on everything you see on the way. The silence allows you to hear for the first time the faint sounds that are emitted from inside the backpack. Your attentive observation allows you to notice the people who cross your path, what the villages you pass through are like.
That day, for the first time, you arrive home feeling different, having learned new things, even with anticipation of what you will find the next day. Your journey to make the delivery then becomes a new experience every day. Even at night, you take note of what you learned during the day. Your life suddenly became an adventure, a learning experience. You ceased to be profane and became a candidate for your initiation.
Days, weeks, and then a few months go by, and now you know how many species of birds live on the route from your house to the mysterious village, you have discovered fruit trees, shortcuts, and places where the view is wonderful. But now you also know that what you carry every day are papers, envelopes, you’re even sure you’ve heard coins. Sometimes you carry liquids in small jars that you conclude are medicinal tinctures or essences.
You have observed that in the distance other walkers go with loads similar to yours and although you do not know them, now you know that you are not alone. You put together the pieces of the puzzle and realize that you are part of an ancestral network of couriers that carries letters, parcels, medicines, and money to the most remote villages in the country where you live.
The day you understand this, is the day of your initiation. You have overcome the tests of fire, earth, water, and wind and have understood your purpose. From that moment on, you are not just a walker, you are a messenger and you do not carry a backpack, you carry the life of your community, relationships, business, and healing for people on your back.
This is how initiation works in our life: We live on autopilot doing what we’ve been told we should do, walking from home to work and back with the sole purpose of earning money to save and someday be happy. Or we seek a partner with whom we can someday build a family and suddenly someday be happy. If you are older, the promise is to retire so that you can finally dedicate yourself to what you love and suddenly someday be happy.
Spiritual initiation awakens you to the understanding of your purpose in life, the sense of the burden you’ve had to carry for so long. It allows you to understand that you are not alone, that your community’s life is upheld on your shoulders, and that your happiness is in the here and now, not in an uncertain future.
The spiritual path is life itself; initiation is the death of the being who lives without purpose and the birth of the Being who is not a victim of circumstances, but understands, transcends, and builds their own happiness.
The Four Tests
Anyway, as you can imagine, reaching such an understanding is not easy. The Baphomet of fear is there at the entrance of the temple, scaring us away with any number of real and unreal possibilities of all the bad things that can happen to us if we decide to step into the void. Then we advance blindfolded through mysterious tunnels and touch a skull that reminds us that real and symbolic death are there lurking.
In spiritual initiation, all this happens in our mind, but life itself presents us with the tests we have to overcome to achieve the coveted liberation. One of the beautiful teachings I received in my journey through Samaelian Gnosis was the description of four types of tests that the candidate has to go through in the inner worlds (i.e., in our mind) and I will share it with you: