Initiation (glossary entry)  

This page concerns the initiation process. It covers the initiation experience, initiation ritual and the mechanism by which initiation effects its results.


I use the word sacred2 to mean "set aside for a rare and special purpose". This includes the common Western usage of sacred to refer to certain religious things.

There are sacred places and sacred things as well as sacred rituals, which include among them a specific sub-class of ritual which I call initiatory ritual.

Criteria of Sacred Place and Initiatory Ritual

Sacred Places and Initiatory Ritual each have at least four defining criteria, which parallel each other.

Criteria for Sacred Place

Criteria for Initiatory Ritual

The combination of these two things at the same time (initiation ritual, performed in a sacred place) will produce the effects necessary for initiatory learning (the type of learning that occurs during an individual's initiation) to take place. Sometimes this combination is called liminal space1, a term that refers to its role in the transition the individual might undergo from their pre-initiated state to the post-initiated state.

Immediate Effect on the Initiate

The combination of all of the above described properties of the liminal space has a powerful effect — it disables the intuitive function of the mind, while also preventing it from applying any of its learned habits and customs. The novelty of the environment and of the ritual, combined with the surprise and wonder of perceiving it as an art form, and the emotions associated with the shock and/or force of intentionality associated with entering that environment, together combine to make it almost certain that the mind will not know what to do. It is in this state that initiatory learning can take place (i.e., something in the mind can be "shattered and rebuilt").

A Turn in One's Life Journey

Initiation is often associated with a "change in direction" in one's life. It is important to note that the turn can come before, during or after the initiation.

When the turn comes before initiation, the emotion coming with the change can help fulfill the criteria for entering liminal space.

Sometimes the shattering and reconstruction of the self that happens while the mind is suspended (see "Immediate Effect", above) constitutes the turn in one's life. The initiate is changed so profoundly that they cannot avoid heading in a different direction immediately upon emerging back into the mundane world.

In the remaining cases the initiate takes a turn in their life as a result of the initation. This happens when the initiatory learning triggers other decisions of a mundane nature.

Artifacture and the Role of Mystery

The similarity of the two sets of criteria listed above points out the basic fact that the place and the ritual are just two parts of a complete system, all components of which satisfy a common set of criteria. Most of the shared criteria are part of the definition of my new term artifacture.

Artifacture constitutes most of the actual effort undertaken by the community producing the initiatory experience. It is like art, which is a narrower concept usually perceived to describe things whose purpose is largely or completely non-practical (aesthetic, expressive, or a tool to evoke emotion). It also resembles artifact, an ever narrower concept because it usually refers only to objects. However artifact and artifacture share the concept that they are "of cultural or historical interest" (Oxford American dict.).

"Artifacture" incorporates the idea that the purpose can be practical or impractical. For the current topic of initiation, it should also be unknown. It is also important that substantial effort was involved and that such effort is evident in its end-product. This table illustrates the distinction with six examples, all of which qualify as "artifacture":

category "impractical" purpose practical purpose
person musical theater a surgeon at work
place a beautiful and unusual building hospital emergency room
thing a wooden mask scientific instrumentation

In the case of the completely practical examples, their eligibility as part of an initiatory environment depends only on them having unknown purpose.

Related to the initiatory role of artifacture is the fact that nearly all currently recognized art forms are spin-offs of artifacture that were originally employed in liminal space or initiation ritual. In other words, if we trace them back in history to their roots, almost all art forms began with use exclusively in a sacred context.

The corollary to this is that, once some item of sacred artifacture enters the world of normal everyday experience, it is no longer an eligible component of sacred space or of initiation ritual. When this happens, the culture has to invent novel art forms, or introduce imported ones from other cultures, to replace those that have become "profane" — or risk having their liminal space become less powerful to the extent that it prevents an effective initiatory process.


1 : liminal: n 1 of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. 2 occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. (Oxford American dict.)

subliminal (meaning "below the threshold") is unrelated. The boundary or threshold that is relevant to this article is that between two stages of life, or two mental states: before the initiation and after the initiation. The threshold involved in the common usage of "subliminal" is the "threshold of consciousness". So, although subliminal things can occur in liminal space, there is no need for that relationship to exist.

2 : sacred: n 0 set aside for a rare and special purpose.

This definition of sacred is peculiar to this article. Ordinarily sacred denotes a connection with God (or a god, or gods) and other specifically religious connotations. Compare to the standard definitions (from Oxford American dict.); my usage is closest to 1c:

1 connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration

    a religious rather than secular

    b (of writing or text) embodying the laws or doctrines of a religion

    c regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual

    d sacrosanct

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