Greg Sez: Orlanthi Initiation Rites

by Greg Stafford

The common Orlanthi initiation is simultaneously an initiation into manhood and the religion. Previous to this individuals are boys and restricted in many activities. Initiation is always gender-specific. Female initiation is not addressed in this article.When a number of boys are of age, “come of hair,” as they say, the initiation is scheduled. These boys are anyone who lives nearby, where the thing held in common among them is that the same group of godi and/or priests serves them.On the given day creatures, spirits of “Those ones” show up and take the boys away. The mothers are supposed to show fear and anxiety. Indeed they ought, for sometimes the lads will never return. The creatures are men in masks and costumes who have performed rituals to be the “liminal porters.” In this role their identity is less important that their role, and so there is always variance on how these Those Ones appear. Most groups tend to be traditional, with the uncles of Orlanth being prominent among them, or with other entities of the pantheon who the boys will have seen in public rites but who are unknown. But sometimes the costumes have no known analogue in the worship, and may even seem simply bizarre (the walking haystack of Apple Lane, whose straws are colored yellow on top, green in the central band and black along the bottom is one such unique.)

The lads are taken to a site where they are put under a blanket and told to wait there until a certain time limit (perhaps after “night and a day and another whole night.”

When they come out they are among men. The men are themselves at the camp, without disguises. They all have honorariums to be addressed by, but do not pretend to be other than Uncle Orlmarth or Magrimarth the redsmith. It is likely that some strangers are present, or come and go during the weeks in the bush.

The boys and men participate in the blessing of the ground, the consecration of the time of the Powers of Beginning are invoked, and then work all day under the myth of Umath building Camp. A heavily armed patrol of men keeps watch farther out for intruders of both the physical or immaterial sort. A couple of on-duty guards are in the camp but most of the people are not armed.

Instruction begins by the men. They explain the whats, whys and hows of being a male member of the clan. Behavior, morality and ethics are explained, as well the more concrete facts of farming, plant charms and sex.

Stories are told and shown of mythic events, and as the week progresses the boys take more and more active roles in some of these stories. During this time the world outside of the camp’s borders sporadically reveals the Gods War world(s), at various times so that sometimes the sky is orange or silver. The passage of day and night within the camp’s circle gets unclear too. At times ceremonies are performed to test the boys or give them experiences. These are not judgmental but revelations, and will start to show the natural strengths and weaknesses, and hidden powers of the individuals.

During these times the boys often start to make contact with the deity of their future. Whispers guide them, visual forms gesture to them what to do, and finally the entity itself may become present. The event builds in mythic resonance and energy. At some point the area is revealed to be within the hall of Orlanth, and the boys are taken gawking and uncertain right into the house of their god. This will be a new thing since, as sub-initiates attending the ceremonies, they will have seen only the most superficial representation of this as the godi and his artifacts represented these things. Now they are taken there and shown a glimpse of the reality.

The group returns to camp. The armed perimeter guards are now present in the initiation camp. Last minute instructions are given, last minute blessings made and an emergency chain of command is determined. Outside of the camp the normal world disappears and the time of the Great Darkness is revealed. Slowly the barriers of the camp dissolve, allowing ghosts of winds, fragments of cultures and fractured lumps of passion to hurtle past.

The leader gives a command and the entire group moves off boldly into the tottering world. They sing a song about Second Son, who is also called Harmast. As the group progresses it disintegrates. People, or groups, disappear. Sometimes it is just an abrupt lack of their presence. Sometimes it is an action, such as a bundle of tumbling brain matter knocking a band out of the group, or a pit opening beneath some and dropping them into nothingness.

Eventually, everyone finds himself alone. In this manner the general story is followed, but the individuals enter it in different places. Each also only gets as far as they get. The idea is to get as close to the Great Secret as possible. This is revealed through the myths of the voyage of Heort and Harmast, who walked on the trail of Second Son. Its shallow stages include:

  • Confrontation with Ancestors
  • Confrontation with Ancestral Enemies
  • Confrontation with Mirror Self
  • Confrontation with the Devouring Monster

Almost everyone experiences and learns something at these. These are the external and superficial things that make the men to be members of their bloodline and clan. Then it goes deeper:

  • Meeting with Second Son
  • Meeting with Star Heart
  • Confrontation with the Devil’s Face
  • Confrontation with the Void

These are the things that people experience differently. Most people get to the Second Son, who explains to them the things that lie beyond. Most people are content with that.

But some will have to go farther, and they will see, perhaps touch or (more rarely) even get their own Star Heart and place it into their breasts.

A rare individual sees the place where the Devil’s Face appears and most of them then retreat.

Some confront the Face and survive, emboldened and empowered far beyond normal humanity.

Survivors of the Void are rare, for it dissolves the soul of most who dare to look on it. A survivor of this would have his name added to the list of Second Son, Heort and Harmast.

After going as far as they will upon the Initiatory Path the individual must find his way back to Orlanth’s Hall. They are probably guided by a god or hero to get there, and once there they have a great time. They meet with all their friends who have survived the rite, and then they get the clan marks tattooed upon them. They then typically meet the souls of their ancestors, of their future spiritual helpers and have all the gods and goddesses of the pantheon pointed out to them.

As always, the experience of being in the Godworld is exhausting and the individuals fall asleep or blink too long. They wake to find themselves back in the sacred camp, from whence they had departed.

Each person, no longer a boy but a man, relates his experiences as he remembers them. The elders share what they feel is useful to explain or provide guidelines. During this narrative the individual chooses the deity that he wishes to follow for the next twelve months. After this point the individual is an initiand, essentially initiated into the culture and religion, but not into a specific selected role. They are an unformed initiated being able to have some benefits and obliged to perform most of the requirements of cults, societies and families.

After blessing everyone and thanking the site for its help, the ritual boundaries are taken down and the protective entities sent away to their own worlds. The group then marches back to their homes. Inevitably the most familiar thing or place takes on a new life for the new men. It even looks different. At home the women have prepared a great feast to welcome the men home.

During the next year the new men live their normal lives and receiving tutoring from the spiritual leaders of the deity of their choice. This often entails departing from home for the year if the deity is exotic, such as Humakt or Lhankor Mhy. But many exoteric issues are shared at this time.

At the end of the year the men meet again, and each reports on his experiences over the past year. Afterwards the elders choose a deity with whom the individual will work for the next year. During these two years the young men participate in the normal cycle of rituals and local rites of the religion. They fulfil their adult social obligations as well, often doing even more than expected if they have not selected an aspect of Orlanth, so that they will do some work for the warriors and other for the farmers.

At the end of the second year the group meets again. At this time individuals often choose the specific deity that they wish to worship, and afterwards undergo complete initiation and commitment to that entity. Most remain in Orlanth, often undifferentiated for the time being until more guidance is gained. But after the end of the second year the initiation ceremonies are complete. The group continues to meet at some social functions because they are the same age, but the group itself has no continued existence or wyter.

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