Initiation is a ceremonial rite of passage marking territorial or spiritual entry into a group, organisation or society. It can also be an official admission into adulthood within a community or one of the more formal elements of a culture. In a broader sense, it can represent a transformation where the initiate is 'born again' to a new purpose and identity. In both cases there will typically be some sort of ritual performance or presentation.
Common in most spiritual traditions and movements, the basic premise underlying initiatory ceremony is that divine power has been restored or awakened by some cosmic force or higher, spiritual being. In my experience, in initiatory ceremonies, it is common for some sort of symbolic ritual to be performed. In other words, the initiation is a sacred act which, though not particularly religious in nature per se, is directed toward something larger than oneself such as a larger purpose or a higher status within a community. This larger purpose can sometimes be referred to as a higher calling or destiny.
Rituals themselves can take many forms. The ritual that occurs during an initiation may be more focused on an individual than on a group. In this way, the initiator plays a role not only as an initiator but as an instrument of the Spirit, directing the initiate's progress through the various stages of the path. The initiation may require a commitment of time, money, thought and energy as well as certain behavioral changes, but these are all necessary investments to complete the path and become what one is destined to be.
Initiation rites themselves vary widely depending on the culture. But in many traditions, the ritual includes a grand ceremony marking the entrance to a circle or network of some kind, the initiation of which is marked by a sign or emblem. Though most circles have symbolic meanings, not all cultures share this understanding. Traditionally, an initiate's symbol was his own hair. But in some circles it is a stone or a ceramic vessel or some other material.
Other materials used in initiate rituals include oils, chants, incense, wine, incense sticks, pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings. Sometimes, an actual human hair is plucked from the initiate's head, sometimes a piece of cloth from the temple or its periphery, and sometimes a lock of hair from the temple itself is used. Sometimes, glass is used. Sometimes, a mirror or a wall painted with a symbolic image is erected in front of the ritual venue. Whatever the symbolic image, it is always seen as representative of the initiatory process and of the sacred bond between initiates.
Many modern organizations have developed their own symbolic language, which is communicated in the form of a seal, a signature or a badge. Similar seal-driven traditions can be found in the United States and Canada. In any case, the most common symbolic object during any Initiation is the sun or the equator crossing. Thus, for the Western initiate, the initiation fee, the symbolic passing on of the torch to the higher power and the meaning of the lodge, all take place at the same place: at the point where two parallel planes intersect.