There are two types of initiation. One is a ceremony, ritual or test that one must undertake to join a group or hold an office. In Pagan culture, one usually commits to a group and the initiation is performed as a series of rites that highlight the transformation from seeker to dedicant to priesthood.
In shamanic cultures, initiation is seen as a real or symbolic brush with death that leaves one transformed with new insight. When the shaman undergoes a traumatic experience, he or she becomes imbued with spiritual energy for having come close to death. Many pagan rituals center on this theme.
However, all too often when we have a traumatic experience, it becomes a source of woundedness. These wounds begin to dictate how we interact with the world. This is part of the appeal of pagan and shamanic traditions. For when you begin your journey of healing and empowerment, initiation becomes a source of validation that can be difficult to find elsewhere.
But what if you are like me, someone who has not found a group or specific tradition to draw from? How do you take your wounds and turn them into a source of pride or strength without that external person or group to validate you?
I would like to suggest that the paradigm shift is in looking at any trauma in life and seeing it as an initiatory experience. No one would be who they are if they had not experienced some form of adversity. If we see trauma as an initiation, a death of the old self and birth of the new, we see rites of passage everywhere. Any event can become imbued with meaning if we simply allow ourselves to see it.
A concept that I have found to be incredibly helpful is that of wabi-sabi, a Japanese ascetic of beauty.
Wikipedia tells us this: “If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi. (Wabi-sabi) nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
To me, it means something that has been broken and put back together and is more beautiful now because of it. For example, you buy a vase and it breaks. You then glue the pieces back together, but you can still see the lines between the pieces. This makes the vase more beautiful because it now has a story, character and meaning.
In my own life, I have experienced a great amount of trauma. I have been physically abused, raped, manipulated, experienced disease, and faced my own death twice. I have contemplated suicide, moved across the country to escape my predicaments, and caused a fair amount of drama. It would be all too easy to let my past experiences and reactionary behaviors stop me from living the life I really want to live.
But in looking through the lens of Wabi Sabi, my traumas become the fire that hardens the clay of potential. I could say I have been broken many times, or I could say that I have survived many times. I could see my wounds as a weakness, or I could say my scars give me strength. Seeing the wounds of my soul as a testament to my resilience is what allows me the confidence to stand in my truth and face my own demons.
I offer this as a gift to the community. We all have our baggage; we all have our wounds. We don’t need to wait for someone else to put us in the spotlight before we can take pride in the people we are today. Life can be one of disappointment and strife. We can choose to see meaning in the profane.
Someone once said to me that life is a cruel teacher, because she gives the tests first and the lessons later. But if we see adversity as an opportunity for growth, then any trauma can become an initiation into the Priesthood of Wabi-Sabi.