initiation, the transition and attendant ceremonies, such as ordeals and rites, involved in passing from one state or status to another, often from childhood to adulthood. It was among the most important social institutions of early humans. The ordeal measures the initiate's worthiness to enter the new status. Initiation may mean the cessation of contact with those who have not been initiated. Seclusion, mutilation, symbolic representation of death and resurrection, the display of sacred objects, special instruction, and restrictions on the initiate are frequent attributes of the ceremonies. Many early societies had puberty initiations. Their purpose was to induct the young person both into the full status of an adult and into the religion of the group.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.