Metaphysics is not for amateurs.
And that's on purpose.
Everything you think you know about Conscious Media, spirituality, or metaphysics is probably wrong, half-wrong, upside-down and/or backwards, out of date, or too advanced to be of any use.
Just think for a moment -- are these truths really true? All the time? Without exception?
"What you think about you bring about."
"The full moon is the most magical time."
"40 days is the optimum time to set a new pattern."
"The Law of Attraction never fails."
"There's a reason behind everything."
"It all works out for the best."
If you've been attracted to the concept of any of these, and tried the practice, you may have noticed a flaw or two in the payoff. Conscious Creativity requires a very complex equation, which is not to say we can't learn it and do it, but contrary to popular opinion, wishing does not necessarily make it so. The really powerful physics of metaphysics are potentially quite dangerous and are not for the unworthy or the untrained.
What's all this mean to you as writers and conscious creators of media that's intended to transform and uplift people's awareness and actions?
The good news is that there are universal patterns we can use as foundations for the structure and to signal the emotional shifts in our stories. There are levels of awareness, levels of engagement, levels of power, and levels of manifestation.
One of the main tenets of good storytelling is to take your protagonist on a journey through personal development. In Part Two of this series, we looked at how you can use the Centers of Motivation [chakras] to affect this journey. In this Part Three, we look at how you can use what's called The Path of Initiation both for character exposure-and-development and for story setting and structure.
There are built-in safeguards to prevent any but the Initiated at any level from misusing the power, although at times it sure looks like plenty of people are misusing plenty of power. But just think how horrid it would be if some of those higher metaphysical principles really played out in the real world at these lower levels. Or worse yet, people at lower levels wielding power in the higher levels of cause-and-effect.
Some versions of the Atlantis legend say it was flagrant hubris and misuse of crystal power that blew up the island continent and sank it beneath the waves. This same principle is behind the stories of the Tower of Babel, Planet of the Apes, Road Warrior, Tank Girl, The Day After Tomorrow, and Waterworld. Some might say a different kind of hubris was behind Waterworld, but you must admit it has one of the best opening sequences, what with that Universal Studios spinning-globe logo showing the results of global warming, with the oceans rising up onto the golden lands.
Other stories of misuse of power focus on the individual, such as the cautionary tale of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in Fantasia, where Mickey Mouse enchants brooms to carry buckets of water and inadvertently causes a flood; or the old myth of King Midas, whose wish for the golden touch creates havoc and grief, culminating in his beloved daughter being turned to gold. Most tales of the medieval alchemists feature some sort of disaster, and modern financial alchemy teaches a hard lesson in the first Wall Street film, as well as in our current real-life financial meltdown. Oh, and watch for the sequel to Wall Street.
Practical Magic, Witches of Eastwick, Death Becomes Her, and Charmed have plenty of examples of people trying to move into a higher level and use those powers without proper training and accomplishment. The results are typically disastrous. For a clever and fun example of crossing Initiation levels too soon (and both ways) see "Once More, With Feeling," the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Initiation Patterns as Story Structure
Most mythic systems have at their inner (usually secret) core a system of Initiation. This is the esoteric version of the story idea of "character arc."
Contrary to what the advocates or adherents of a particular religion or writing style will tell you - or sometimes beat you to bloody heck to enforce - there are no universal hard and fast specific rules. There are however, universal concepts often called archetypes, inherent patterns, or self-evident truths. This is good for writers because it means you can maintain your unique perspective and translate the true abstract universals into distinctly personal presentations that will still be recognized by audiences around the globe.
Here are some examples of the Initiatory steps in different cultures and systems:
- The ancient Persian Mithraic religion favored by the Roman military and inspiring much of Christianity had an initiatory system with 7 levels.
- The Jewish Kabala offers 22 steps, or 10, or 32, or 33, depending on what you're after.
- Masonic Lodges offer three levels patterned on the trade guild system of Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. Many Masonic rites go up to 33 degrees, a code number denoting a number of esoteric truths.
- Theosophical systems, claiming to be following the ancient Hindu, have Probationer, Disciple, and Initiate levels.
- The Hindu socio-political system has 4 levels.
- The American education system has two sets of three: grade school, middle school, high school and the Bachelor's, Masters, and Doctoral degrees.
- Social commentator Philip Slater offers 5 Initiations into American mainstream culture: graduation, job, marriage, home ownership, parenthood.
- The Catholic Church has 7 sacraments: baptism, christening, first Holy Communion, confirmation, marriage, and last rites.
- Shakespeare in "As You Like It" denoted seven ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, judge, the aged, and the 2nd childhood.
You can use any of these systems as a prototype upon which to build your protagonist and plot.
There is however a simpler way to do it and that is the 5-step Initiation system of the Mystery schools. Most of the above systems will fit in with this 5-step system because some levels are variations on one of the 5 steps.
Where it gets easy for us as media content creators is that the distinctions between levels are very clear.
1st Initiation - birth = physical
2nd Initiation - baptism = emotional
3rd Initiation - illumination = mental
4th Initiation - the crucifixion = hell
5th Initiation - ascension = heaven
The terminology seems Christian at first glance but is much older than Christianity and is consistent across cultures: many have among other similar rituals a baptism of sorts (including being cut up and dipped into a cauldron) and a dying-and-resurrecting god.
Examples of story characters going through Initiations and their level challenges include Frodo Baggins and Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings stories; Neo in the first Matrix movie; Spiderman I, at the end when he really takes up his mantle and gives up the girl; Batman in Batman and the Phantasm, when he also gives up the girl because she went over to the dark side.
Following is a breakdown of these basic 5 levels of conscious awareness with the chakra, symbol, positive and negative characteristics, and character and story examples. Depending on the nature of your story you may want to take your protagonist through just one transition, or all five.
The 5 Initiations
1. 1st Initiation - Birth [Self-Awareness]
- INNER DRIVE Center of Motivation [chakra]: Root, Sacral, Lower Solar Plexus.
- SYMBOLS: Earth, the Physical Body
- CHARACTERISTICS: Diets, exercise, new believers.
Positive - Enthusiasm for change. Do-gooders.
Negative - Cults. Self-righteous. Shame. Blaming self and others. Radical fundamentalism.
EXAMPLE: Jack Bauer in 24. Rocky. Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. The Joker in The Dark Knight. Colin Farrell's character in In Bruges. Nicole Kidman's Satin in Moulin Rouge.
2. 2nd Initiation - Baptism [Other Awareness]
- INNER DRIVE Center of Motivation [chakra]: Aspirational Solar Plexus (often mistaken for an opening of the Heart Center, but that requires supreme self-sacrifice with no personal gain; very few humans reach that level).
- SYMBOL: Water , the Emotional Body
- CHARACTERISTICS: Self-help, New Age, muse-inspired, surrender, shamanism, mysticism, ritual magic
Positive - Optimistic, generous, loves beauty, all-is-good
Negative - Ditzy, easily manipulated, emotionally vulnerable, out-of-control esp. Wise teachers admonish students not to become too enamored of this attractive and comfortable phase of the Path but to learn from it then move on to the next stage and leave the woo-woo behind to begin the real work of creativity.
EXAMPLE: The Knights of the Round Table, The Sixth Sense, The Mission, Schindler's List, Field of Dreams, The Secret and What the Bleep (in spite of their purported scientific basis).
3. 3rd Initiation - Illumination [Pattern Awareness]
- INNER DRIVE Centers of Motivation [chakras]: Throat Center, Ajna Center
- SYMBOL: Fire, the Mental Body
- CHARACTERISTICS: Logical, reasoning, curious, skeptical. Balanced, good leadership, Conscious Creativity.
Positive - Critical thinking, visionary, creative magic
Negative - Know-it-all, cynical, detached-cold
EXAMPLE: Gandalf in Fellowship of the Rings, Veronica Franco in Dangerous Beauty, Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond goes from 1st to 2nd to 3rd level. Patton. Spiderman. Ewan McGregor's Christian in Moulin Rouge.
4. 4th Initiation - Crucifixion [Awareness of the Dark Abyss] The Dark Night of the Soul.
- INNER DRIVE Center of Motivation [chakra]: various. Sometimes the fall is all the way down to Survival/Root Center; sometimes it's to one of the other lower Centers like Sacral or Lower Solar Plexus. It always involves hardship, discomfort, and often despair.
- SYMBOL: Air, Cross, Chasm
- CHARACTERISTICS: Troubled. Cynical. Angry. Prone to giving up, to defeat.
Positive - Closer to Soul, to Christ, to higher Light via suffering.
Negative - Alone in world, feels cut off from all, none of the old ways work any more. Depressed.
EXAMPLE: In the movies of Lord of the Rings, we are not privy to Gandalf's experiences after his fall into the fiery chasm, but there's no doubt it was a grim time. In A History of Violence, Viggo Mortensen's character is hurled into the dark abyss of the Root Center. Anakin Skywalker couldn't handle this part of the Path of Initiation and the galaxy paid the price for it in the Star Wars movies as he became Darth Vader.
It doesn't affect the outside world that much, but for the lovers in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind their forgetfulness is a 4th Initiation abandonment.
As the noble but disillusioned and temporarily defeated Ranger Marcus, deep into a 4th Initiation experience, observes in Babylon 5, "I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them. So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe." [*]
5. 5th Initiation - Ascension [Awareness of and Identification with the Divine] No longer tied to physical form.
- INNER DRIVE Center of Motivation [chakra]: Crown
- SYMBOL: Rainbow, 5-pointed Star, Halo
- CHARACTERISTICS: Remote. Performs seeming miracles.
Positive - Complete mastery of the three lower planes: physical-emotional-mental.
Negative - None we'd know of.
EXAMPLE: Gandalf in Two Towers and Return of the King. In the Buffy musical "Once More, With Feeling" Buffy is brought back from this level of heaven down to earth. It's disastrous for her and she has a really hard time coming to terms with being back down at levels 1, 2, and 3. Stories about the Dalai Lama, saints, and gods give us views of this 5th level, but very few humans ever attain it, regardless of those weekend seminars promising to make you an Ascended Master for only $400.
Using the 5 Initiations in your Characters and Stories
There's a song from the hippie era that plays on a spiritual lesson; I've extended it a bit to show you how a character would view the world around them as they shifted initiatory levels.
First there is a mountain. (1st Initiation)
Then there is no mountain. (2nd Initiation)
Then there is. (3rd Initiation)
The mountain just fell on me. (4th Initiation)
We are all the mountain and the mountain is us but everything is an illusion anyway so it doesn't matter. (5th Initiation)
Show us how your character relates to herself, to others, and to the world around her according to one of these five levels of awareness and you will give us a solid sense of who and what they are. Then when you shift them to a different level, be sure their interactions with others and the world shift as well.
Include revelations that your protagonist receives when moving from one level to another. The world looks very black and white in 1st Initiation; it gets rosy, sweet, warm and fuzzy in 2nd; the edges get sharp and the cause-and-effect connections become clear but remain complex in 3rd; it's all dark and lonely in 4th; and as far as we know, in 5th you see it all like a timeless hologram.
These shifts in consciousness constitute the basic stages of the Path of Initiation. There are plenty of shades and phases within each one, as the list of initiatory systems above can illustrate, but with these five as your guideline you should be able to transform your characters - and your audience - as they make the shift from level to level and the world changes within them and around them.
As the ancient myth-makers and Initiates of the Mystery Schools knew when they created those wondrous stories we keep on telling - this is drama, this is Conscious Media.
May you enjoy exploring the Path of Initiation and craft stories to show us new versions of the timeless tales of our progress through this life.
Some parts of this article are excerpts from the "Path of Initiation" section of Pamela Jaye Smith's Beyond the Hero's Journey workbook
*quote from Babylon 5 © Warner Brothers TV