Yet another big gap in this blog’s progress. But, as the anonymous writer of the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing says, we grow by delays. And that fits for what I am thinking a great deal about, the necessity of incubation of ideas and the concept of initiation.
So I was accepted into the Ovate grade, second of three levels of the course from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. This means that I am looking to being initiated into the grade, reading about doing the self-initiation, but also remembering how significant my Bardic initiation was for me and wanting to do that. I don’t have to do one or the other, but I’m thinking I will just do the group initiation. Being led to a circle of Druids in the forest is an amazing experience; it felt like the real initiation. So I think I will pass on the solitary initiation and wait until September at the East Coast Gathering.
The upshot is that I’m thinking a great deal about the concept of initiation. There are numerous references to darkness in initiation ritual. Perhaps not so coincidentally, on one of my storytelling podcasts I listened to yesterday (might have been Snap Judgment), there was a truly terrifying narrative about cave diving in South Africa; one man died while trying to bring another’s body back from the depths. Darkness has its terrors, real and imagined. When I began thinking seriously about initiation a few days ago, I immediately thought of an interesting evening at San Francisco’s Exploratorium circa 1980. We had booked places for the Tactile Dome, a kind of lightless chamber. You journeyed through the chamber without benefit of any guidance other than touch. There were no clues, no sounds, no smells, and just a few other participants. I quickly learned to move forward with small steps, to explore with slow movements of my hands and feet. And the way slowly opened. There were twists and turns, different levels. Climbing, balancing, and crawling were all called for. Somewhere in there, I felt a great rush of joy and gratitude as I made the connection between moving step by careful step through the chamber and moving through life guided by deity which I then saw in a Christian way. I also learned that sometimes when traveling through the darkness with others, a swift kick might sometimes be necessary in response to an opportunistic hand. As I think of that chamber now, I understand that one of its effect was to draw out my own coping skills, to call forth knowledge I either had forgotten or didn’t know I had, and to develop new ways of progression. For example, I remembered a book I’d read as a child about a newly-blind boy adapting to his surroundings and becoming autonomous. A social worker taught him about checking out his surroundings and identifying potential hazards using hands, feet, and a white cane. I remembered that book when I got into the total darkness. I don’t see initiation as necessarily trashing everything I already know to start anew, but building upon what I’ve found to be true.
I don’t approach initiation with what Wiccans like to call perfect trust. I don’t do perfect trust, actually. Everyone, absolutely everyone, can be wrong or into control in a bad way at times. I’m proud of what I’ve learned and of the permission I’ve given myself to keep safe, to follow the instincts that say, “Out of here.” Someone wants to override that, well, I’m not necessarily out of there, but I’m on my guard. Part of my comfort with OBOD is its emphasis on personal process and doing what is right for you. Indeed, my very first ritual admonition from a Druid was that I was free to go at any point.
Initiation is about gathering power and knowledge in response to new circumstances. I remember when I first began reporting, there was so much I didn’t know. So I learned, and I developed what was needed and continue to do so. For example, I reported a deposition in a law office in an old building in downtown Oakland. Surprise, the plugs had two prongs, something I haven’t seen since the early 1970s. The paralegal brought me an adapter. But on the way home, I stopped and bought my own; it remains in my steno bag. If I ever see one of those again, I’ll be ready.
There will always be more to be ready for. Onward, ever onward.