Anthropology and mysticism in the making of initiation. A history of discourse and ideas for today.
By the 1980s, interest in initiation was at its peak; it was being employed both theoretically and practically, in gender politics and humanistic therapy. How did that come to be, how should we understand 'initiation', and what can be its future? This wide-ranging book looks at the history, evolution and contemporary idea of initiation. It traces origins in the ancient Mysteries and early Christian texts, through Renaissance rediscoveries to admission in Freemasonry and anthropological investigations in French Canada and British Australia. It introduces the 'initiation discourse', as something that was constructed through centuries of translations and nineteenth century human science leading to the making of the modern concept. It argues for a subject, 'initiation studies', that effectively secularised the eighteenth-century rites of admission to produce the twentieth-century rites of passage. And it details, as compensation for this hollowing out of the mystery, the study of shaman 'spirit-workers', the idea of death and rebirth, and the later sacralisation of the liminal in adolescent/adult initiation. Finally, a contemporary revision is explored that incorporates neglected aspects like depth psychology and education for an idea of youth as a life-stage. And while ritual is now deemphasised, the religious dimension is reaffirmed with a critical analysis of cosmic consciousness, the enduring Great Mystery.