Perspectives on Initiation

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001.
320 pages
ISBN: 0-900588-32-2
Price: $21.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-41-1
Price: $20.76
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The present volume is unique in giving a comprehensive account both of the conditions of initiation and of the characteristics of organizations qualified to transmit it. The book presents such central principles as the dangers and barrenness of syncretism, the often dire consequences of fostering ‘psychic powers’, and the superiority of sacerdotal initiation (into the Greater Mysteries) over ‘royal’ initiation (into the Lesser Mysteries), though both are necessary parts of the initiatic path. This last point precisely defines the rift between Guénon and Julius Evola, whose elevation of royal initiation over sacerdotal must be seen, according to Guénon’s criteria, as a modern-day echo of the ancient revolt of the warrior caste against the priestly one. Whoever follows Guénon’s argument will realize that a romantic warrior mysticism held no fascination for him, and is in fact explicitly contrary to his principles. But pre-eminently, Perspectives on Initiation provides indispensable points of reference for anyone attempting to distinguish between ‘initiatic’, ‘pseudo-initiatic’, and ‘countert-initiatic’ spiritualities in these profoundly uncertain times.

Table of Contents

The Initiatic and Mystical Paths—Magic and Mysticism—Various Errors Concerning Initiation—Conditions for Initiation—Initiatic Regularity—Synthesis and Syncretism—Against Mixing Traditional Forms—Initiatic Transmission—Tradition and Transmission—Initiatic Centers—Initiatic Organizations and Religious Sects—Initiatic Organizations and Secret Societies—The Initiatic Secret—Initiatic Qualifications—Initiatic Rites—Rite and Symbol—Myths, Mysteries, and Symbols—Symbolism and Philosophy—Rites and Ceremonies—Ceremonial Magic—Psychic 'Powers'—The Rejection of 'Powers'—Sacraments and Initiatic Rites—Prayer and Incantation—Initiatic Trials—Initiatic Death—Profane and Initiatic Names—The Symbolism of the Theater—'Operative' and 'Speculative'—Effective and Virtual Initiation—Initiatic Teaching—The Limits of the Mental—Initiatic Knowledge and Profane 'Culture'—Academic Mentality and Pseudo-Initiation—Initiation and 'Passivity'—Initiation and 'Service'—The Gift of Tongues—Rose-Cross and Rosicrucians—Greater and Lesser Mysteries—Sacerdotal and Royal Initiation—Some Reflections on Hermeticism—Transmutation and Transformation—The Notion of an Elite—The Initiatic Hierarchy—Traditional Infallibility—Two Initiatic Devices—Verbum, Lux, and Vita—The Birth of the Avatara


In the exercise of the central function of restoring the great principles of traditional metaphysic to Western awareness this true jñanin gave proof of a universality of understanding that for centuries had had no parallel in the Western world.
Frithjof Schuon,Language of the Self

No living writer in modern Europe is more significant than René Guénon, whose task it has been to expound the universal metaphysical tradition that has been the essential foundation of every past culture, and which represents the indispensable basis for any civilization deserving to be so called.
A. K. CoomaraswamyThe Bugbear of Literacy

About the Author

René Guénon (1886–1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for the modern seeker: while pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, they direct the reader also to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the summit of spiritual realization. His greatest contributions are a blindingly lucid exposition of the principles of orthodoxy and traditional metaphysics, an uncompromising critique of the deviation of modernism, and a breath-taking view of the polyvalence of traditional symbols. Implicit in these three genres, as in all Guénon's writing, is the need for personal affiliation with an orthodox tradition as a precondition for a bona fide spiritual practice that might lead, at least in principle, to the intellectual intuition of which he speaks. Little known in the English-speaking world till the recent appearance of his Collected Works in translation, Guénon has nevertheless long been recognized as a veritable criterion of truth by a vanguard of remarkable writers who evince that rare combination: intellectuality and spirituality. Regarded by leading scholars as the first truly authentic interpreter of many Eastern doctrines in the West, Guénon never tired, in face of the seemingly inexorable process of dissolution in the twentieth century, of pointing to the transcendent unity of all religious faiths and the abiding Truth that contains them all.