The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Part 2): Initiation and rites of passage in the 21st century

“…Thamus feared that writing would erode the oral context of education and learning, allowing knowledge to escape from the teacher-student relationship and pass into the hands of the unprepared. Consumers of books would then ape the wise, presenting a superficial counterfeit of knowledge rather than the real deal” — Techgnosis, Erik Davis

In our modern society we have no adequate replacements for the initiatory practices or rites of passage which are often seen in older cultures and civilisations.

There exists a space for something new.

It could be said that modern society does provide us with weak approximations that signify our entry into various levels of consumerist society. Our first choice of bank. Our first car loan. Our first mortgage. Our first pension…

Each of these linked to our age and thus a perception of developing maturity and the exercising of newfound freedoms.

On closer inspection Orwellian double-thinking is at play.

It is in chains that we join the free society.

Our consumerist choices act as a binding. A formal commitment to a way of being that we share with those around us.

We are blindfolded by choice.

We become agents of individualist consumerism enacting types of lives that the economy and business interests have pre-ordained for us.

We are baptised by debt.

Society and the economy celebrate our becoming.

We could do things differently.

I’m a great believer in transformations and I believe that modern society contains the elements and experiences by which we may find ourselves transformed many times over.

Initiations and rites of passage have traditionally occupied this liminal space.

I’ll let the following video do the talking for me here. Note the importance of myths, stories and ‘our own stories’ in this. The hero of a thousand faces who can be any one of us and not just a representation of our internal hopes and desires.

A collective rite of passage is underway that requires that we truly transform our way of being in the world.

Society has changed so much over the last few centuries

I believe that so many aspects of our lives are now handled and managed by intermediaries and organisations that operate at a distance and that this is reducing our ability to be fully human.

Everything is being done on our presumed behalf.

Yet society’s actual involvement and real needs are being left entirely out of the picture.

We are told what to think. How to behave. What to buy. How we feel. What is good and who is bad. Who to cancel and who to upvote.

It has become continuous, omnipresent, unrelenting, uncaring and increasingly sophisticated.

Politicians. The Media. Uninformed Celebrities. They all have an opinion and none of those opinions are truly yours until these intermediaries are provided with platforms to speak to you. Platforms where they will show that they are on your side so that their message can be transmitted.

In this heavily mediated environment, sense making and discernment become removed from us and everything we come to know or believe could be better understood as second-hand knock offs that belong to someone else.

People are taught to repeat from childhood onwards.

We are not taught to think, feel, empathise or even to relate.

Could it be that this inculcated vacuum of thought, feeling and experience is linked to highly profitable business opportunities? Is this where the advertising industry zeros in to its intended target demographics? Is this where Google and Facebook campaigns train their sights?

In a right thinking world there would be no vacuum. The entire space would be occupied by every one of us as fully functioning, thinking and feeling human beings and active members of society.

You don’t have to do much digging to see the negative effects of the media environment and we are all just as prone to its influence.

People have strong opinions and beliefs about everything. Covid, politics, wars. Fat people, skinny people, average people. Cyclists, environmentalists, vegans. People like us, people not like us, people who were exactly like us until 5 minutes ago.

Very often there is little substance behind any of this.

Scratch at the surface and you may find only anger and defence. There is no solid ground for a person to stand on as the ideas have not been developed through direct experience, empathy or inner reflection.

It is all what someone else said, or what they saw or what they read.

It isn’t that it’s bollocks, dogma or propaganda, although all these are of course problematic.

It’s that it is devoid of any kind of real personal or social meaning or depth. Like many things in modern society it has zero nutritional value or actual benefit.

Not only does it have little use to us or to society. It’s actively harmful.

It demeans people, it deprives them and it pulls society apart.

It prevents us from developing as full human beings.

As Michael Meade points out in his talk — ‘we are not maturing’.

Somehow and for some reason we are not going through the experiences required to become fully active members of our complex modern societies, relationships and lives.

Within his talk he also identifies a way out of the predicament.

That opportunities to take part, to engage, to act and to become something more exist all around us.

I too believe that these opportunities exist all around us. They can be surfaced and expanded upon within our society at the community, civic and local environment level.

It won’t look like a baptism or the crossing of a threshold.

It will look like working alongside a disabled person. It will look like reversing the decline of a local waterway. It will be experiencing a day in a wheelchair and having your understanding of the town you live in irrevocably altered. It will be active engagement in restorative justice.

It will be about being brought into transformative experiences within well facilitated transformative spaces that feature; dialogue, lived experience, arts, reflective practice, and learning and development opportunities.

This isn’t shallow or reflexive or simplistic stuff.

But nor is this is a world to be mediated on our behalf.

It is for us to do the work to understand and transform the world we see and this requires hard work by us, not for us. It is deeply personal, relational and ultimately fulfilling stuff.

We need to apprentice ourselves to each other and to our society’s needs as well as to the difficult challenges and vast potential to change things that our modern times presents us with.

As we act to transform the world.

We may find that it is we who are transformed.