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Rites and symbols of initiation: The mysteries of birth and rebirth (Harper torchbooks) Unknown Binding – 1975

4.9 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Series: Harper torchbooks
  • Unknown Binding: 175 pages
  • Publisher: Harper & Torchbook (1975)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007FOOCI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,353,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This little book is a translation of a series of half a dozen lectures, with endnotes providing documentation. The history and bibliography are a little tricky. "Patterns of Initiation: The Haskell Lectures of 1956" were delivered at the University of Chicago by Mircea Eliade, a Romanian exile who had been recruited from the Sorbonne to help build up the University's Comparative Religion department. The lectures were composed in French, Eliade's main second language, and the English translation by Willard Trask was published in 1958, by Harvill Press, London, and Harper & Brothers, New York, as "Birth and Rebirth." (I have reviewed the Harper edition, used copies of which are sometimes available through Amazon: the full title, as given there, is "Birth and Rebirth: The Religious Meanings of Initiation in Human Culture," in The Library of Religion and Culture series.)

The present title, "Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth," was introduced with the Harper Torchbook paperback edition of 1965. (The publisher had meanwhile become Harper & Row; and today is included in HarperCollins.) There was a Harper College Division reprinting in 1980. The current edition, from Spring Publications, has a new Foreword (by Michael Meade), but seems to be otherwise identical.

Meanwhile, a rather different French edition ("a rehandling of the material") had been published as "Naissances mystiques. Essai sur quelques types d'initiation" (Paris, 1959). (That makes three versions and four titles, if you've lost count. And a variety of textually identical editions of the English-language version.)

Eliade (1907-1986) remained connected to the University of Chicago for pretty much the rest of his life.
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Format: Paperback
Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT
Author of "William Everson: The Shaman's Call"

Mircea Eliade has written a fantastic work on Initiation that will certainly be of interest to anyone concerned with the transitional passage from childhood to full spiritual maturity in any culture. Here is a famous quote that indicates the tremendous significance of what he is writing about:

Initiation represents the most significant spiritual phenomena in the history of humanity. (3)

The emphasis Eliade places on archaic, or so-called "primitive" societies and their preoccupation with "death" or symbolic "annihilation" of the old existence, or the "child's dying to childhood" (x-xiii) suggests that the experience of dissolution of the structures of the personality into preformed chaos is the way re-birth is experienced at the depth-level of human existence. No one explores this subject more thoroughly than Eliade. The abundance of data he provides to support his hypothesis about three initiation-types is something the reader will not want to miss.

Here is a synopsis: rebirth of an initiate into a "higher" mode of being is transmitted to the culture via "supernatural beings" who reveal the rites and symbols of initiation to tribal groups; such rituals are revealed to shamans or medicine men from the beginning of Time (xiv). The changes induced in the initiate's consciousness are always produced by religious experience (1). The history of religions distinguishes three central categories, or types of initiation that mark the transition from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to full adulthood. The first initiation-type is "obligatory" and this is the "puberty rite" or "initiation into an age group." The second type is the "secret society.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This little book is a translation of a series of half a dozen lectures, with endnotes providing documentation. The history and bibliography of the volume are a little tricky; much of the following review is devoted to clearing up possible confusion.

"Patterns of Initiation: The Haskell Lectures of 1956" were delivered at the University of Chicago by Mircea Eliade, a Romanian exile who had been recruited from the Sorbonne to help build up the University's Comparative Religion program in its old Divinity School.

The lectures were composed in French, Eliade's main second language, and the English translation by Willard Trask was published in 1958, by Harvill Press, London, and Harper & Brothers, New York, as "Birth and Rebirth." The full Harper title (I haven't seen a copy of the Harvill version) is "Birth and Rebirth: The Religious Meanings of Initiation in Human Culture," part of "The Library of Religion and Culture" series. (I have reviewed separately the Harper edition, used copies of which are sometimes available through Amazon.)

The present title, "Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth," was introduced with the Harper Torchbook paperback edition of 1965. (The publisher had meanwhile become Harper & Row; and today is included in HarperCollins.) There was a Harper College Division reprinting in 1980.

The most recent distinct edition, from Spring Publications, with a new Foreword by Michael Meade, was published in (I think) 1984, and seems to be otherwise identical. This is the version released in Kindle format in 2012. (I have here adapted my existing review of the Spring paperback.)

Meanwhile, a rather different French edition ("a rehandling of the material") had been published as "Naissances mystiques.
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