November Gratitude: Initiatory Communities

This November, Patheos Pagan is observing the Thanksgiving season with a gratitude series: celebrating the Pagan or polytheist colleagues, friends, groups, and communities that make us glad to be part of the movement. Aine Llewellyn, Nimue BrownJulian BetkowskiJason Mankey, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, John Halstead, and Drea Parker have also contributed — I invite you to go read their contributions. But for now, here’s mine!


Eastern Passage, Knowth – image by Przemysław Sakrajda

Out of all my experiences in Pagan groups, the one that has moved me the most deeply has been the practice of initiation. I’ve gone through a few formal initiations — some performed by loved ones with whom I practiced regularly, some by a mix of my close loved ones and their loved ones, who had traveled for the occasion.

In each of these experiences, though, I’ve been overwhelmed by the care, attention, and sheer effort that those initiatory teams put out on my behalf. My initiators memorized pages upon pages of liturgy and embodied it with both priestly and theatrical skill; prepared gorgeous altars and planned ritual encounters with Neolithic tombs and stone circles; sang me beautiful songs; showered me with gifts; celebrated me, frightened me, challenged me, praised me, and in all ways showed me that they’d spent days or even months considering what words or actions might support my spiritual growth.

In ordinary American life, there are few opportunities to receive this depth of loving attention. The only time I have experienced it elsewhere was on my wedding day, when friends and family came together to bless and celebrate with me and my partner. Since my friends and I tend to be a bunch of do-it-yourselfers, we had some limited professional help, but a great many of the organizing, cooking, decorating, and ritualizing tasks were performed by volunteers in a concrete outpouring of love so profound that my husband and I almost felt high on the energy. To be so tenderly cared for by a community as one goes through an important rite of passage is an experience so moving and transformative that I find myself at a loss for words.

To me, marriage is a sacrament partially because it is a moment when divine love can be felt most clearly, both between oneself and a partner, and between couple and community. Initiation, at least as it is practiced in the Craft, not only binds the initiate to the family of practitioners, but it is also an occasion when the love between the Gods and the initiate can be felt most intimately. Like a wedding, when an initiation goes well, it seals the relationship and acts as a spell of intention for the future. To be initiated with care and skill by a loving community is a rare and precious gift.

I am grateful beyond measure for that gift, for the insights I gained through the act of initiation, for the profound transformation it has produced in my life, and above all for the loving hands and hearts that brought me into divine presence and accepted my commitment. Initiations are meant to make new family members, and I know only too well that they don’t always take; but by grace and luck and the generosity of my loved ones, I have found what I sought there. I can only hope that when it comes my turn to pass on that gift, that I will be able to do it with the same insight and love that my initiators did.

May the Gods continue to bless our initiatory communities, that others may also experience love so deeply! And to my initiators — thank you, thank you, thank you.