Initiation is a process by which an individual formally changes his role or status in society The accompanying rites, ceremonies, and sometimes ordeals confirm his admission into a sect or secret society and make him a participant in its esoteric teachings. Initiation is also the rite that confers sacerdotal authority upon an individual entering a priesthood. The term has connotations of secrecy, and the group performing the ceremony often maintains an element of mystery about itself.

In anthropology, the word refers to many of the "passage" rites that mark an individual's transition from one age or social role to another. The most important of these turning points occurs when a youth formally becomes a man. At his initiation he is invested with the rights and obligations of manhood and is introduced to a body of lore or information customarily withheld from women and children. In effect, he joins the secret society of adult males.

Examples of initiation rites in civilized cultures are confirmation in Christian churches and the bar mitzvah in the Jewish religion. Initiation is almost universal in primitive societies. The rites frequently take place at puberty, though sometimes the youth is not recognized as an adult until he has performed some brave act such as killing a large animal. Most primitive societies have remarkably similar patterns of initiation procedures. The youths to be initiated are secluded for a time and then must pass through an ordeal of some severity, often including circumcision or another permanent mutilation of the body. They are given a new name and are allowed to join the company of men.

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