Initiation is an initiation into something new and sometimes traumatic. It may be a formal admission into one of the many formal aspects or groups of your chosen profession, or it may simply be a spiritual, emotional or personal transformation in which the initiator is 'born' again into a new persona. Sometimes initiation is spiritual but not always. I once had a client who was working as a communications consultant for an international company, yet she referred to herself as a communications consultant because she loved the work she did, despite the fact that she was a poor Communicator (as she always preferred to be referred to rather than called by her name).
This was her very basic form of initiation, but in this case she didn't necessarily require the expensive and time-consuming rituals that go along with orthodoxy. The fact that she needed to do it, though, speaks volumes about what she meant by being a communications consultant! In her case, the symbolic act of Initiation meant much more than just choosing a profession. She chose an avenue that had great meaning for her, and this resonated with her core beliefs and her sense of integrity. In this case her Sacred Liturgy was the ceremony which transformed her, not the belief system which held her back.
What kind of ritual does an initiate need to undertake to attain his or her status? In many cases, an initiate will choose an established tradition to which he will aspire. For example, an initiate might wish to become a priest or pastor. He might even aspire to be a Zen master. In either case, the ritual of initiation will be the same.
Some initiations are less formal than others. Often, in non-traditional societies, initiation can take the form of a cultural exchange involving members of a group who share a common heritage, language and culture. These kinds of ceremonies are referred to as folklore. In other cases, the rite may simply involve gathering together for a short period of time, such as to partake in a festival. A variation on the folkloric idea is the mythic initiation, in which deities (or spirits) come to people to instruct, teach them, guide them or protect them. Again, both these kinds of initiations have something in common.
Both folklore and mythic initiations function as sacred rituals. Just as in a religious service, an initiate must dedicate himself or herself to the work before them. They should be absolutely sure that they want to take on this spiritual challenge, and that the world needs them. Many initiations focus on personal growth, but in many other cases, they are focused on social progress as well. Regardless of the focus, the ritual is always sacred and carries important symbolism.
When it comes to the difference between a religious ceremony and an initiatory ritual, the answer depends largely on what you think of religion itself. Religions often hold initiatory ceremonies that involve the sharing of sacred objects, the exchange of symbolic gestures or the reading of sacred words. This may sound similar to eliade, but trade is actually a slightly different form of ancient Roman magic. Otiades were public initiations that took place before members of a community gathered for a certain activity. At the gathering, the adults would pass around small stones or other objects that would be used in magic. This is similar to how shamans or witches cast spells or use spells of healing.