Rites And Symbols Of Initiation * Mircea Eliade (1975)

birth and rebirth 1958

My 1975 copy doesn’t have an ISBN code, but since the book is still in print, I used the new cover and ISBN. This is another little book by Eliade, this time exploring the subject of initation. Eliade first speaks about puberty rites and later about “specialized initiations, which certain individuals undergo in order to trancend their human condition and become protégés of Supernatural Beings or even their equals.” (p. 129). As third sort of initiation, Eliade recognises the admittance to secret and/or esoteric groups and the becoming of shamans. As “historian of religion” Eliade gives many examples, comparisons, etc., but these are mostly from indiginous Australian groups. Here and there Eliade speaks of African tribes and even more seldomly about other groups, such as the Celtic and Germanic tribes. However the book is only 170 pages thick, Eliade is quite detailed (even though it is only “a bird’s eye view”) and informative. It is nice to hear of similar structures and symbols of initiations all over the world. I would have liked more focus on Northern European tribes, but you can’t have everything. Not as interesting as the other Eliade booklets that I reviewed earlier, but this writer remains one of my (current) favorites. Noticable are the first lines of the epilogue: “As we saw, modern man no longer has any initiations of the traditional type. Certain initiatory themes survive in Christianity, but the various Christian denominations no longer regard them as possessing the values of initiation.” (p. 132) But also here: “The only secret movement that exhibits a certain ideological consistency that already has a history, and that enjoys social and political prestige is Freemasonry. The other self-styled initiatory organizations are for the most part recent and hybrid improvisations.” (p. 133)
1975 Harper, isbn 0882143581 (26/7/06 -3-)
Read quotes of Eliade here.

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