– FoxFire Institute’s One Year Training
by S. Alexander Alich
What is Initiation?
Initiation is a word that is used and romanticized a lot these days. During my career as a teacher, many people have approached me and asked that I initiate them into shamanism. Unfortunately, many have had the attitude that it is something you can buy, then discard if you don’t like it. What does it mean to be an initiated person? Does it mean that you are a shaman? Is initiation different today than it was in the past?
Initiation technically means that you are introduced to a larger and initially unknown realm from which there is no turning back. It is a beginning point. As an example, you can use an initiation to mark the movement from dependence on your parents to interdependence and greater responsibility with the world around you. Hopefully it also shows you where you fit in that larger world and acknowledges you as part of something bigger than yourself. In a shamanic initiation, you can be introduced to a way to organize what does not fit into the material world–something missing in today’s modern culture.
Feeling the Call
Before you are initiated, you must have a solid base to stand on. You need this to withstand moving into that larger realm. Without a base the best initiation cannot work. You will simply discard what you have been given and move on. Helping people create that base is one of the biggest challenges I face as a teacher.
Most people who come to work with me are looking for this base, not to become a shaman. They are seeking a larger frame in which to hold the experiences that science and western culture cannot yet explain. Most important, they are looking to reconcile their nonordinary experiences so they can continue with their lives, without always wondering if what they experienced is possible or if there is something wrong with them.
They also seek initiation to sort out what belongs in daily reality and nonordinary reality, to support their psychological and physical well-being. Simply put, people are looking for what we can explain and what we can’t. When you create a grounded base to stand on and learn what belongs where, you can develop an overall sense of relief and comfort. The result is more mature and well-adjusted individuals with fewer problems who know where they belong in the world and in their community. A fundamentally sound shamanic initiation can help you to meet and work with your spirit guides and know that you are not alone on your path. It can also offer creative ways to work with the challenges that will arise in your life.
What Initiation Requires
Commitment and responsibility set things into motion and can give us direction. Without these, we can lose our energy and even part of our spirit. I like to think of commitment in four parts in this order:
- To yourself and your work. This needs to be your starting point because you should give no one else responsibility for your spiritual work. We must always willingly move forward on our own two feet.
- To spirit and something bigger than yourself, however you call this higher power.
- To a particular spiritual path, one example being shamanism.
- To a teacher who can guide and initiate you onto your next step.
In 1992 I was given the challenge to create a shamanic initiation that would function in today’s culture and address modern problems. I initially, of course, said no. My own initiation had taken me through my death and a complete obliteration of how I thought things functioned in the world. It also took me through many sacrifices spiritually as well as physically. This was a life and death experience that belonged to another culture and another time. I was at a loss to translate this to western people in a way that would support them to function in their daily lives after the experience. Fortunately, with a lot of help, patience, trust, and sacrifice from many people, a modern experiential shamanic initiation started to take form.
Today we work in a four-part training that covers one year. Students are given challenges and education to help them create a grounded spiritual base for their work and initiate them onto the shamanic path. The training includes experience and ritual work to help create and strengthen the students’ relationship to spirit. We work in the Beauty Way–a gentle and guided unfolding to reach the gift of each person.
We work with sacred tools, songs, ceremonies, practices, teachings, crafts, and hands-on healing intended to support your mind, body, heart, and spirit, as well as your own gifts. In addition to learning ritual and healing ways, the participants gain experience working with a spiritual teacher, community, and circle. This leads to a five-day initiation in nature, where each participant takes what they have learned and faces spirit. Here they have a chance to use everything they have learned and to release what no longer functions in their lives.