As my most witchiest of seasons arrives, I’ve been thinking a lot about titles. I do a fair amount of interviews & Podcasts and people always want to know my title/label. In the world of bios, CVs and qualifiers, this title business is always daunting. Hell, I don’t even know if I feel comfortable calling myself a Beekeeper, let alone all the other things I am. Words are complicated. Titles, moreso. Sometimes people just give you a label. I’ve been called a priestess, shaman, initiate, Melissae and once, someone even wanted to call me a Guru. Thanks, but no thanks. The thing is, these are all titles that were once bestowed with great honor and after journeys that can take the better part of a lifetime.
For instance, within the Lyceum, the European bee tradition I am a part of, we learn shamanic practices, but I would not call myself a Shaman. Maybe shamanic healer. Maybe. We learn from teachings handed down by the Bee Mistress and the Melissae, but I would never call myself a Bee Mistress, because I am not one, and will probably never arrive at such a mastery of self in this lifetime. There are initiations rarely spoken of, but I am not initiated, therefore can not call myself an Initiate of The Path of Pollen. I mean, initiation is no joke. Initiation is always a death, a crossing the threshold and a return. The closest I’ve come is a wilderness rite of passage. Can you see where I’m going with this? What a conundrum.
We are starving. Over the course of a number of generations, the spiritual root system of most earth-based peoples has been systematically eradicated, syphoned off, demonized, and then processed and glossily repackaged. It’s now sold as a commodity and we consume all we can, because we are dying from the kind of thirst that can only be quenched by the kind of deep well tended by ravens and grandmothers. How do we reclaim our ancestral heritage of priestess, shaman, wise woman, or medicine man without watering down lineage and traditions with selective consumption, appropriation, or spiritual bypass?
It turns out it’s all about initiation. An initiation is a right of passage. To get to initiation takes some nose to the ground discipline and hard work. Or it blindsides you like a hunting falcon, but that’s a different story. As Martin Shaw writes, “Initiation creates a boundaried opportunity to step nearer the kingdom of death and be called back to the living by the singing voices of elders.” When a culture is lacking in sacred rites of passage and threshold locations, the youth seek it regardless: though drunken nights, death-defying acts, and engaging the wild self without any container to welcome you back upon return.
“The ground of real peril in a contemporary imitation is not the Threshold, but the Return Journey” so writes Shaw.
We know we need initiation. We crave it. We may not survive without it, but we also may not survive it. That’s why initiation involves the proverbial sting. Initiation involves crossing over a death threshold. It’s a stripping down. It’s 5 nights fasting in the wilderness speaking to the lost bones of your ancestors and the elusive badger in equal measure. It’s loosing your mind a little. It’s being reshaped in the fire. We only have a few rites of passage available to us outside of ceremony - births, deaths, and perhaps marriage. But we don’t have strong containers or elders to sit all night by the fire keeping vigil while we wander the wilderness of our own transformation. We have to do it for each other, with absolutely nothing in our society showing us the blueprint.
I believe, initiation is a culmination of years of moving through the trials of self growth within a container witnessed and held by spirit AND humans.
Initiation is not something that happens in a class, a drug trip or even after a potent ceremony. It’s unruly, serious, trickster. It chooses you as much as you choose it. I truly feel compassion for my younger self who grabbed that word and lusted after it because I recognized how badly I/we/society needed it. I believe there are rites of passage in life that truly initiate us into the next level of our development and those are deeply personal and can not be judged by outside opinion. But within a spiritual tradition that HAS initiation, it’s important to remember that to travel down the road of study is no mean trick. No walk in the park. No certificate to add to your CV. You will get squeezed. Your life will upend. Multiple times. It’s a death threshold, and while it is exquisitely beautiful, it is never pretty.
How do we find our way in? How do we follow Persephone’s footsteps? Prick our finger? Cut off our hair? Walk through the desert blinded? How do we become the elders that can sing our youth home when they climb bloodied and frostbitten from the depths of the underworld?
By letting ourselves be squeezed now. By loosing friends, jobs, lovers because we are willing to make the underworld journey, not just for ourselves but for the generations to come. By choosing the all night vigil with the cold stones, as well as the euphoria of the divine. By choosing the dark goddess and the wild god in exile, as well as the “Aha” moments when celestial geometry lines up, the sun rises, and inner peace is attained. To feel the ecstatic divine, we have to go fully into the gritty realm of the every day fuckery of the trickster gods. We have to die to ourselves a thousand times over, and when it’s time, turn back around and sing the song that calls each other home. We have to be the Earth dying to be the Earth blooming. We have to feel the sting with the honey.