This is, I believe, a difficult topic for most people. Some believe initiation is an absolute must and are desperate to find an Occult group to get initiated into, while some others dismiss it completely.
First of all, I will mention that I believe both truths are correct. However, I will mostly talk about my own personal experiences, with the hope someone willfind it at least a little bit useful or at the very least, interesting.
Initiation means a new beginning, and it has several effects: first, putting the candidate into the group mind or egregore or the order/coven/etc so the new initiate can tap into that reservoir of energy, second, as a welcome into the group and third (most importantly I believe), making profound changes into the initiate's life.
Now, there are groups offering two types of initiation: physical, within a temple with officers and the whole ceremonial and the so-called astral initiation.
The most controversial one is the astral initiation. I will share with you my own personal opinion.
Astral initiations do not work magically.
While there are forces you can get in touch astrally and receive initiations from in the astral plane, that only happens with extremely advanced practitioners, not beginners.
Groups that offer true astral initiations online are a scam to steal money from well intentioned people.
Let's talk about the biggest magical western tradition since the XIX century, which puts a lot of emphasis on initiation, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Golden Dawn (GD for short)has a series of initiations, the 0=0 Neophyte, 1=10 Zelator, 2=9 Theoricus, 3=8 Practicus and 4=7 Philosophus. Leaving the 0=0 aside, the for grades are related to the four classical elements of Earth, Aire, Water and Fire respectively. Then comes the Portal Grade, which acts as a intermediate grade between the GD and the Rosae Ruboe et Aurea Crucis or Second Order, which are the grades 5=6 Adeptus Minor, 6=5 Adeptus Major and 7=4 Adeptus Exemptus.
All these grades correspond to the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life.
Now, from my experience with initiation into the GD I will tell you this: initiation into the GD is not a pleasant thing. The first (0=0) initiation you will not feel surrounded by love or white light or whatever the hell you think intiation will give you. I felt scared sh**less, I wanted to puke, couldn't speak and it left my bedridden for a couple days. While I can't by my own oath talk about specifics, I can tell you initiation into the 0=0 grade is a day you will not forget, and while it put me through hell, looking back, I think of it as a beautiful day.
And it's not my life began to transform for the better. Yes, indeed some things did get better, while others took a turn for the worse...actually, it turned into a living hell. I guess that's the Judgement of Osiris the Per-Em-Hru (Egyptian Book of the Dead) talks about...
However, since I practised the GD rituals (such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram) before my initiation, I can honestly say being initiated does change a lot. Being into the GD egregore gives the ritual a whole different meaning and power I wasn't able to realise before.
The week following my initiation I said to myself "hey, let's do the LBRP, see if something actually happened"..and it did. So I can honestly say, initiation in an actual temple, with officers and the whole thing does work and it does empower you.
Now, initiation does increase your capacity for magic, I believe because it makes specific changes into the sphere of sensation that unlocks several energies or unconscious complexes (is there really a difference?) while also let's you tap into the group's energy reservoir.
So, to be concise, if an initiation didn't change you even a bit, it didn't work. Initiation means a new beginning, a new life, not keeping the same old life you used to have. In order to become this new person, the old you needs to die.
Now, do I believe initiation is mandatory for practising magic? No. Is it a helpful boost? Unbelieveable so. Is it painful? Yup, it kills you and puts you back together again. Is it for everyone? No, no way, but that's for you to decide.
"The first (0=0) initiation you will not feel surrounded by love or white light or whatever the hell you think intiation will give you. I felt scared sh**less, I wanted to puke, couldn't speak and it left my bedridden for a couple days. While I can't by my own oath talk about specifics, I can tell you initiation into the 0=0 grade is a day you will not forget"
It is not necessary for you to state the specifics, because it is all published online anyway. The ritual involves long verbose recitations, being blindfolded off-and-on, being menaced with a sword, and being threatened with death if you reveal the secrets of the order. Yes, I see why that would be frightening. Though in the ritual, they specificly state: "Fear is failure. Therefore be without fear, for in the heart of the coward virtue abideth not."
"In order to become this new person, the old you needs to die."
That reminds me of the Trefn Gwyddoniaid initiation, in which the initiate is blindfolded and their hands bound, and they are made to drink a very bitter drink, called 'the death cup', while thinking about all of their life prior to that moment, so that they associate all of their prior, non-cult life with repulsive bitterness.
"The ritual involves long verbose recitations, being blindfolded off-and-on, being menaced with a sword, and being threatened with death if you reveal the secrets of the order. Yes, I see why that would be frightening. Though in the ritual, they specificly state: "Fear is failure. Therefore be without fear, for in the heart of the coward virtue abideth not."."
Oh well...I guess why you think that, but let me tell you, there's a lot they don't tell you hahaha
for example, the Initiation into the 0=0 takes 8 hours...only the last 2 are the ritual part. When the Hiereus pokes you with the sword, you're blindfolded, so you really don't know what they are poking you with...
The frightening part is the whole "Preparation of the Candidate" which takes about 6 hours....
and I won't tell you more, not because of some "terrible punishment", since the Oath really is to yourself, but because, in case you or someone wants to be initiated into the Golden Dawn, it'll spoil the surprise, and it wouldn't be fair haha
The Golden Dawn, like many groups, only allows certain information to be publicized, thus when people see information online they think they are getting the whole story when in fact they are not.
Truthfully, what you see from the Golden Dawn is a glimpse of what's actually going on and a lot of their published materials are written specifically so that initiated people can figure it out and uninitiated can walk around thinking they know what's going on - but they don't.
Same with Trad Wicca. Non-oath bound material is allowed to be publicly given and folks walk around thinking they have the whole picture. What they don't know, is they have enough info to get them interested (and apparently create a belief system around that half information).
Any initiated tradition that you find information for online or in a book...never assume it's the full story. And any information that claims it IS the full story, question why the person publicizing it decided to break their oath to do so.
Well...to be honest, Regardie did publish most of the material...at that time the Golden Dawn was dying, and the only active temple was the Whare Ra in New Zealand, and problably one or two temples from the Stella Matutina and the Alpha et Omega...
By publishing most of the material (he didn't publish it all....he was only a 3=8 Practicus grade, so he didn't have access to 4=7, Portal and Second Order materials...while he died being a 5=6 Adeptus Minor, those grades above 3=8 were honorific grades) he saved the whole tradition.
There is, however, another side...there's vast Inner Order material, only available for those who, by crossing the Portal Grade, reach the R.R.et A.C. (Rosae Ruboe et Aurea Crucis). Also, a lot of the Outer Order (Golden Dawn) material, even that given by Crowley and Regardie, is lacking a lot of verbal explanation and is thus, incomplete (I possess some of the material and by attending instruction at the temple, I can seriously tell, there is a lot more there)