The cost of being an initiate
I am not asking you to get suicidal. Although, the title to this piece is actually based on the rather life-hostile Bible. Yes, I will refer to a passage from the New Testament (I imagine all pseudo-dark-core-magicians shrieking now) – because I think it illustrates a point essential to every truly initiatory, that is transformative path, and I have actually contemplated it several times over the years.
Even if you do not have any Christian background, you might have come across the saying that to become Christ’s disciple you have to leave your loved ones, i.e. everything behind. We can interpret this quite literally in meaning to leave your home and go live with the prophet, group etc. as many spiritual or religious communities and not just Christians have done over the centuries. We can also understand it in accord with mysticism as meaning that your love for ‘God’ (or in our case the Gnosis) must always come first. This is conveyed by the Contemporary English Version, rendering Luke 14:26 as “You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot follow me unless you love me more than you love your own life.” This is a point worth to consider because we should certainly take into account the cost of being an initiate before we set foot on the path.
Then again, when everything is still fresh and new and shiny, it is easy to say, ‘Yes, I want this, I am willing to give everything to it.’ Also, it is fairly simple to pay lip service to ideas or beliefs (to gnosis and magic if you so want) as long as they remain abstract concepts in our minds. Concepts that are enticing us, built on our own fantasies, our desires and needs. For many, entering the path is similar to a new relationship: You fall in love; it is great and beautiful and exciting, ‘I love you’ comes easy. But then reality hits. Feelings go away, change, expectations are not met. The ideas you had about yourself, the other, the way it will go – all crumble away. Now you can leave and try another one (like finding another messiah if Jesus fails to deliver). Or you can settle in and live a bleak, unsatisfying compromise (reducing your path to a mere theory most likely). Naturally, there is also another option: you can actually submit to the necessity of change, open up to the process and embrace this path as the path you have chosen.
Because it is a choice. And only IF you ‘love me [the teacher, the Gnosis] more’ (than anything else) can and should you follow. Some people might call this an ‘elitist’ attitude but I think it corresponds to becoming a professional in a field. Not everybody is meant to be a disciple. Not everybody is meant to be a master. Not everybody will partake in the same Gnosis. Entering the path, leaving everything behind, does not automatically make you better or less than anyone else. It means that you choose a certain route. And to reroute to the quote of Luke 14: most translations do not say “love more than” but they actually say “hate.” “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Now this is a much stronger expression; it is one thing to love something more than anything else but still love what you had previously (just less). It is quite another to hate what you have/had. I do think both translations convey the most important points but to “hate your life” as a condition to become a disciple/initiate emphasizes that there has to be a very clear difference as well as a strong urge, an inner drive towards the path.
We have to consider our true motivation: do we want to take a way (begin these studies, join this order, practice that system of magic) because we dislike our ordinary life, want to add some ‘spiritual’ power or simply make it more interesting? If so, this is totally fine, go for it. But if we want to follow an initiatory path that is centered around actual transformation, that will change our experience and perception of Life and the world not just temporarily or in our mind, then we should feel ‘a must,’ an urgent need, to do so. We must ‘hate our life.’ Not in the adolescent ‘I hate the world/system’-rebellious-kind of way but in the ‘this is not right’-inner-knowledge-kind of way. Because on such a path you WILL, you MUST indeed leave the old world behind.
And as said before, it is easy to think ‘I want this’ in the beginning; actually, to many of us it will be something we might have to re-consider more than once. At every initiation / ordination I received, I contemplated whether I was willing to give what it will ask of me. To leave everything behind and go to a place that I might think I know but do not. I admit that early on I thought, ‘sure,’ and went ahead, but then life happened, things did not turn the way I wanted them to turn or on the contrary, things came into reach that I thought I might want more, and suddenly I realized I had been led astray; or I became too comfortable in the status quo, living the false compromise as I described above, always looking for an excuse why now is not the right time to move forward on what David Beth has called the “merciless path,” ignoring the inner fire and calling. I doubt that you could get out of situations like this if you were on a solitary spiritual journey, i.e. completely without a teacher and community that holds up the mirror and tells you the uncomfortable truths. While I also consider it fate, it needed an active choice/commitment (and sometimes more than once) to make my own ‘gnostic transformation’ as well as that of my fellow initiates/students/companions (by taking on the responsibilities of certain roles) the central route of my life. And yet, that is what “follow me” means after all – to go where you have not been. To leave the known, the comfort, actually the world of your loved ones (their norms, morals and understanding) behind. To give up your expectations and surrender to change and constant challenges. You have to “hate your life” as it is, the life that suppresses your soul, and you must ‘bear your own cross’ (Luke 14:27), in order to resurrect to the splendor of truly living Life.