Remarks on Initiation

As Chair of the Speaker Selection Committee for NOTOCON 2003, I was not supposed to speak myself—it was considered a kind of conflict of interest. The convention organizers, however, ultimately generously went out of their way to invite me to deliver opening remarks and, along with some standard greetings and observations on the presentation selection process, I endeavored to succinctly define my own understanding of the process involved in the theme the event: initiation. Many thanks are due to the organizers for allowing me to do this, notably Soror E and Soror K, and to Frater Mick Taylor for his fine introduction, and to Frater John Crow for the photography.

Delivered in Portland, Oregon, Friday, August 8, 2003 E.V. —T.A.G.

TAG giving speech

Greetings Fellow Stars, and welcome to NOTOCON 2003. Our theme this year is initiation and I can well imagine taking four days or four times four just trying to define the term. In any case, in the twenty years I have been associated with the OTO I have been asked to do a great variety of things, and my tendency is to say yes, as long as its something I have a ghost of a clue about, which is why I have never accepted any jobs that deal with treasury or finance, since balancing a checkbook is a lot harder for me than, say, translating Enochian into Sanskrit.

This past year I was asked to chair the committee charged with selecting the presentations for this edition of NOTOCON. That would be formidable enough in and of itself, but I was also asked to approach the whole question of speakers and presentations in a somewhat unconventional manner. Rather than coming up with a wish list of established speakers and then approaching the people on said list about appearing here, I was asked to put out a general call to the membership and see who appeared with a good idea; You may judge how well this process worked between now and the end of this historic weekend.

I am pretty confident you,will like what you experience here, because I was pleasantly surprised myself by both the excellence and diversity of the proposals presented for my review. Indeed, the hardest part of the process was to report out to the rest of the Selection Committee which proposals to accept; most were outstanding, some were among the most perceptive ideas I had yet heard on the subject of initiation anywhere, and there was, refreshingly, no uniformity of approach.

TAG giving speech

This is my quick chance to take a stab at definition myself, so allow me to give it a try. We ought to distinguish between that which is initiatory in effect by its inherent nature and that which is initiatory in intent, in particular ritual initiation as practiced by OTO in a graduated series of mystery plays and wisdom literature with both a collective and an individual goal embedded in the process.

As to the former, any woman who has given birth to a child, or, for that matter, any man who has been present for the birth of his children, as I have, can tell you with confidence that not all things that qualify as initiatory are necessarily ritualistic or the product of human design. Birth, formal legal union with another, bodily union with another, death and the presence of death can all be initiatory-- that is, they are critical events or life passages that have the power to transform the percipient from one state of being to another. These are not even always the great life passages. There are barbecues that have been known to be initiations by ordeal, and, for that matter, there are overlong talks before dinner that are initiation by ordeal as well. Hopefully, that is not the case in this instance.

Those of us who, while waiting to be called into formal ritual OTO initiations, finding ourselves sitting on a floor in an increasingly uncomfortable series of positions for two, four, ten hours, not knowing what to expect and, indeed, by the tenth hour not much caring, all know a secret: that sometimes the initiation before the formal ritual initiation can be just as transformative, just as challenging and just as important as the ritual itself, even if you do not get a certificate for it.

Ritual initiations as such are another thing altogether. Life passage major initiatory experiences are often incorporated into our EGC work. Whether a sacrament is a separate category from initiation is another question for another time. But formal initiations, though they can vary even within our own illustrious Order a great deal, all have this in common: Initiation is the controlled inducing of crisis in the life of the candidate, controlled resolution of the crisis, and, within limits, explanation of that crisis and resolution in the context intended — namely, personal growth and unfolding.

In one respect this differs but little from the life passage events I alluded to, and is quite similar to the spontaneous transformative events studied by the Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. Bucke and by the American psychologist, William James, a century ago, and part and parcel of the lives of persons as diverse as St. Joan of Arc and Philip K. Dick. Phil Dick called these experiences, getting struck by the bright pink light, which is probably not as erudite as St. Paul or Moses, but which seems more in touch with our own times and form of collective understanding.

The difference is that such events are the product of, inherently, unknown forces impacting on the recipient. Ritual initiations are the product, first, of the composer of the initiation ritual, which is crafted to get the candidate from point A to Point B in a specific manner and, more or less, a specific period of time, and, second, of the act of initiation by the trained initiator, charged with the duty of manifesting for the candidate the induced crisis, resolution and explanation with sufficient excellence and fidelity to the composition, or mystery play, or ordeal, so that the genuinely receptive candidate can and will get it and experience the intended personal growth.

Aleister Crowley once admonished Frater Achad, that there was only one way to consecrate, through the laying on of hands. If this extends to ritual initiation, it might be observed that the process is one of the candidate submitting to a ritual mystery and ordeal conducted by those who have themselves previously submitted to that ritual mystery and ordeal. If there is another way, I have not myself experienced it. There is more to it than this, of course; the presence of the trained and duly chartered initiator, and the meeting of prerequisites come to mind, but similar matters surround consecration as well.

And with that, Fellow Stars, let us begin our encounter with the many faces of initiation we have labored long and hard to bring to you. May your experiences here be filled with intellectual understanding and delight, but, more, may this be a weekend not of mere discussion of initiation, but of the broader version of that divine process itself.

He must teach; but he may make severe the ordeals. The word of the Law is Thelema.

John Crow, Gerald del Campo, and TAG.
Click for larger version.

Crow, del Campo, and TAG with autographs

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