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The word ordeal is derived from Old English ordel, ordal, "judgment, verdict," from Proto-Germanic noun *uz-dailjam "that which is dealt out" (by the gods).

Ordeals are tests and challenges given by the inner Being (Divinity) to the consciousness of the aspirant to the spiritual development. Ordeals are given by the Innermost of the student through the circumstances of life. The tests are given continuously, in varying degrees, in order to reveal the qualities of the consciousness. Without ordeals, one cannot discover weaknesses and change them. Therefore, ordeals are primarily psychological. Ordeals generally correspond to the four elements according to their character and purpose:

  • Fire: the student faces the "fire" of criticism and must respond with love, patience, equanimity, etc. "The candidate is exposed to this ordeal in order to examine his serenity and sweetness. The wrathful and choleric inevitably fail this ordeal. The candidate experiences being persecuted, insulted, wronged etc." —Samael Aun Weor, The Perfect Matrimony
  • Water: tests the disciple’s altruism and philanthropy. "The candidate is thrown into the ocean and believes himself to be drowning. Those who do not know how to adapt themselves to the various social conditions of life, those who do not know how to live among the poor, those who after being shipwrecked in the ocean of life reject the struggle and prefer to die, they, the weak ones, inevitably fail in the ordeal of water." —Samael Aun Weor, The Perfect Matrimony
  • Air: measures the disciple’s capacity for resistance against great adversities, and for detachment from material things. "Those who despair because they lose something or someone, those who fear poverty, those who are not willing to lose what they love the most, fail in the ordeal of air. The candidate is thrown into the depths of a precipice. The weak ones cry out and return terrified to the physical body." —Samael Aun Weor, The Perfect Matrimony
  • Earth: tests the disciples ability to adapt to the inconveniences of life. "We must learn how to take advantage of the worst adversities. The worst adversities bring us the best opportunities. We must learn to smile before all adversities. This is the law. Those who succumb to pain before the adversities of existence cannot victoriously pass the ordeal of earth. In the superior worlds the candidate finds himself between two enormous mountains that menacingly close in upon him. If the candidate screams with horror, he then returns as a failure into his physical body. However, if he is serene, he becomes victorious and is received in the Children’s Chamber with great festivity and immense happiness." —Samael Aun Weor, The Perfect Matrimony

"Candidates aspiring to membership in the religious orders underwent severe tests to prove their worthiness. These ordeals were called initiations. Those who passed them successfully were welcomed as brothers by the priests and were instructed in the secret teachings." —Manly P. Hall

"In the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs, these four ordeals had to be courageously faced in the physical world. Now the candidates have to pass these four ordeals in the supra-sensory worlds." —Samael Aun Weor, The Perfect Matrimony

"The ordeals of fire, air, water and earth always defined the diverse purifications of the neophytes. The neophytes are submitted to the four initiatic ordeals which are verified in the Internal Worlds. The human being still is not a king or queen of nature, but the human being is called to be a king in accordance to Melchizedeck. Disciples must be tested by the four elements in order to examine them. They are submitted to ordeals in the forty-nine regions of thought. These ordeals are for everyone, man and woman. One can help oneself by having pure thoughts, but this is not enough; meditation is necessary." —Samael Aun Weor, Tarot and Kabbalah

"The ordeals of Initiation are extremely severe. The disciple has to follow a perfect, holy and chaste path. Thus, when reaching the Intimate, the human being becomes converted into a Master of Major Mysteries and into a Theurgist." - Samael Aun Weor, The Revolution of Beelzebub

“Many esoteric ordeals exist on the initiatic path. It is necessary to pass through the ordeal of the Guardian of the Threshold in the three planes: astral, mental, and causal; it is necessary to pass through the ordeals of fire, air, water, and earth; it is necessary to pass through the ordeal of justice, etc. However, all of those ordeals, as hard and difficult as they might be, become gentle and swift when we compare them with the frightening and tremendous ordeal of the Ninth Sphere (sex).” - Samael Aun Weor, Aztec Christic Magic

"Goal of life is Service to Guru [inner Being, inner divinity]. Every unpleasant incident in life is a test of your trust in Guru." —Swami Sivananda

"Money, fame and lust are all great tests. A Sanyasin or a householder devotee might imagine himself great and saintly: when these tests come, he will succumb to them like a lamb at the hands of a leopard. Saintliness consists in constant vigilance and jumping over the hurdles of money, fame and lust, when they are set up by Maya. Great South Indian saints were put through strange tests. Maya tried to lead a saint astray: on whatever he set his foot, it would be turned into a diamond. Apsaras girls were sent to attend on him. But the saint was unmoved. Only then could he reach the divine." —Swami Sivananda