Blog: Managing Initiation
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Editors’ Note: Life initiations—those times in our lives when our way of being changes radically, offer tremendous potential. Knowing how to manage such initiations is an essential skill that can be developed throughout life, as Isa Gucciardi discusses in her book Return to the Great Mother and in her upcoming Sacred Feminine workshop at the Sacred Stream Center. In anticipation of the workshop, we wanted to offer you an excerpt from the book (reprinted with permission) on this important topic. If you wish to learn even more about initiations, the Divine Feminine, and stepping into your authentic power, join Isa in class!
In traditional cultures, the way a culture meets and manages the initiatory processes of its individual members is one of its defining qualities. The management of these initiations is generally accomplished by helping the initiate move through a ritual of some kind. Initiatory rituals can be very elaborate and well defined. In fact, anthropologists generally learn about a culture through the study of initiation rituals.
Rituals and culturally defined structures are good management tools to direct and hold the power of the initiatory process. However, a significant drawback to many rituals and cultural structures is that they have been designed to direct the power that is released in the initiatory process into the society’s structures, rather than dedicating it to the initiate. When the power of the ritual is channeled into societal structures, cultural norms are solidified and carried forward from one generation to the next.
When the power of an initiatory process is directed into societal structures, it tends to make the culture and society stronger and the individual identity of the initiate weaker. This process binds the individual to the structures of the society in which the individual lives and ensures the continuation of those structures. Because the individual identity of the initiate is weakened in this process, initiation rituals can act as a deterrent to individualized expression in these cultural contexts.
For instance, puberty rites for young women in virtually every culture are very clear: The power that is released as the old forms of girlhood fall away and as the new forms of womanhood emerge does not belong to the female. The rituals around female puberty in many traditional cultures transfer the power of this initiation from one male to another, usually from father to husband.
Weddings, in Western culture, still manage this transfer of a woman’s power from male to male. The question, “Who presents this woman in marriage?” has historically been answered by the father, as he literally hands his daughter over to her husband. The power of biology that rests within females is almost never allowed to stay with the female, either in traditional or modern cultures, as she moves from one initiatory process to another.
Traditionally, when women have sought to claim this power for their own, they have been exiled or punished. This was demonstrated in the witch trials of midwives in the Middle Ages in Europe. These women sought to keep the power of birthing women with birthing women. They did not want to dedicate that power to the patriarchal cultural structures; and they paid a price for seeking to dedicate the power of the most important initiation a woman passes through to the woman herself.
In traditional cultures, this redirection of the power of initiation into societal structures was in many ways a necessary part of the continued existence of the culture. In particular, it maintained the group-oriented mindset. This mindset was at the very heart of the survival of cultures that relied on adherence to social structures to keep them safe and to ensure the continuance of the tribe. Today, however, many societies are more individualistic and the needs of these societies and their members are different. This is why it is so important to seek a new understanding of and engagement with ritual and the power of initiation and to redirect that power towards the individual. When the individual is empowered, the society will be empowered, and both will evolve.