When looking up the words ‘Rite’ and’ Ritual’, religion is often spoken of. However in today’s time Rites and Rituals are not necessarily based on religious doctrine or one needing to be religious to practice or create rites and rituals that suit the individual and their personal cultural preferences.
Rites are created to mark the pathways and doorways of natural change. Celebrating rites of passage is revering the most important stages of life and these rites often include particular rituals.
A number of indigenous or traditional cultural rites have in my personal opinion barbaric rituals as involving a great deal of physical pain. This is not something that we in these contemporary times need to follow.
The rites and rituals most familiar to the western-minded public are religious ceremonies of christenings, marriages, birth and death. These rites have become steeped in a sense of worth and peer acceptance, which is not unlike the indigenous rites spoken of previously. If you don’t get married (especially as a woman), it is assumed that something is wrong with you and you are not as acceptable as others who are ‘Oh poor Megan she never seemed to find the right man. Or not having a child will imply that you are not really a woman of any worth. Women are targeted a great deal in this regard.
If only few attend your funeral it is assumed that you are not of any worth
‘Oh did you here that hardly anyone attended bob funeral? How sad. ‘
There is great social importance in the rites of passage in todays times as it has been in more traditional cultures. It’s a sense of belonging to the community of ones peers. The pressure to adhere to those rites and rituals in an acceptable way, are ingrained deeply due to the culture one has been brought up in. E.g. a gay Muslim man is just not acceptable socially on any terms. The rite of passage of marriage and having children is what he needs to commit too to be accepted within the community, regardless of his personal preferences. I know of a young man who has strong Jewish lineage and his grandfather wanted to pay him a huge some of money to get him circumcised as his mother refused and being a more modern woman wanted him to have choice. He chose to keep his foreskin. If his parents were far more traditional in their values, he would not have had a choice at all as this is the traditional rite of passage for a Jewish male. It is steeped in traditional practices.
Rites and rituals in some cultures are done to keep women controlled and suppressed e.g. female mutilation that is done brutally to a girl around the age of three. And to make men harder, male mutilation where the male child is close to becoming a man and it is done quite violently with a little care of the pain. Both ceremonies are done with no anesthetic and many especially the young girls have died from it.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that today’s western religions are far superior. Horrific continual abuse and molestation within religious orders have shown themselves to be widespread. The pain from those experiences leave long-term mental, physical, spiritual emotional and physical scars. A so-called rite of passage of sexual abuse into adulthood is horrific and this is often what the abuser has seen as justified, as does the mutilation of children in certain cultures. Abusers within the church have often told children that this ritual that they have with them will bring them closer to god.
However there are also rites and rituals of beauty, connection and honor.
Birth blessings with pregnant women for example, where time is spent honoring and nurturing the belly and blessing the mother and child as they walk into one of the most important rite of passages known to humankind.
Midwives, Doula’s and Spiritual Midwives can assist in making the rite of birth a memorable, deeply moving and honoring experience for both the mother and the father of the child to come. There is a beautiful African tradition that speaks of the ‘song of the child’. When they couple consummate the child they find between them a song to sing that belongs to the spirit of the soul to come and as they make love sing this song to invite the soul to incarnate. They sing this song to the fetus whilst it develops. When being born the child hears their song calling and greeting them, as they grow up during times of sadness or misuse of power the tribe will sing their song to remind the child of their authentic self and through the rest of their lives through all rites of passage through into death. This is a beautiful ritual that honors each soul upon the earth with their own individual song.
I find it quite sad that many of the modern women of today are booking into a hospital deliberately to have a cesarean rather that walk through the most special rite of passage with their child. They are controlling the time the child enters this world rather than the child choosing its own time of passage to enter. As many women share, giving birth is one of the biggest rites of passage she is able to experience. As a woman myself who was unable to carry in the womb I have found that my books are much like my own rite of birthing, but I know I have walked through this rite of passage many times in other lives.
Today more groups are being led for young women to honor their moon blood time. Mothers share their love and guidance and the young women are honored by all around them and specially gifted with direction as they walk the moon path. There is a flourish of ‘Red Tent’ groups in the world now and they are bringing back the sacredness of the bleeding times for women. I hope in time there will be an increase in groups for woman for the rite of walking to the end of the moon bleeding time (maga towards crone) as this rite of passage is very special and profound, but needs great support from others to traverse the emotional challenges. Much like the young woman who is just entering into it.
More too is happening for young men and support groups are being led for them and their fathers or male kin to walk. ‘The Path of Manhood’ and what being a man of authenticity entails. One of the most common rites and rituals of the past era for men was becoming a Freemason. This was a rite of passage into the boys club and the rituals were very secretive but being in that club got you a place in the community where you would be favored and given special concessions. This is not a favored example, but it’s what men have created for themselves.
Also there are the scout groups that would teach skills in survival and they are still relevant today but little acknowledgement of rite of passage is included in those outdoor adventure activities.
Many current rites of passage seem to deal with getting drunk and making a spectacle of yourself. E.g. Schoolies. I like many others feel there should be much more fanfare and honoring for those who finish school. Schools are not meeting the needs of this generation and need to rethink how they honor their students not just scholastically, but by making the ceremony of accomplishment of all those years of endurance a profoundly special one rather than a lame end of year dance which there parents have to pay through the nose for and a week of getting out of it, possibly getting arrested and losing a friend to accidental death due to drug overdose.
One of the American Indian rites of passage is a ‘Vision Quest’. This is often done when the young man is moving into manhood and needs to seek a vision in nature to find his path. The passage was one of self-confrontation, fasting and endurance. A rite of passage to enhance and make the spirit strong. This type of rite and The Healing Quest for women (more one of internal nurturing) would be wonderful for those finishing school to seek and find inner self direction as would the sweat lodge to cleanse that which is no longer needed and connect to the earth and respect of the mother. These rites of passage would be wonderful for both indigenous and non-indigenous people.
There are now changes in the rite of passage of death in the western world. Many do not want to die in hospital, do not want to be buried in a non-degradable box, do not want to live beyond suffering. Many more want to die as consciously as possible and there are people advocating for great change in this regard. If this interests you, you might research Natural Death Centre (Zenith Virago) as this profound rite of passage is changing from the formal funeral tradition with traditional burial and keeping the emotions suppressed and in check to a more eco friendly ceremonies and open eco coffins or shrouds with loved ones bringing their children, openly crying and sharing, planting trees instead of headstones etc.
Many are looking to bring back the understanding of the the nature of death and its connection to life rather than its disconnection from it. One man that is changing the view of death and the meaning of it is Grief Walker, Stephen Jenkins.
Rites of passage are important and we as a global community need to honor these stages of life and find ways to walk through them in a way that feels personally comfortable. Rituals can be done with ease by lighting a candle, brushing your teeth, saying prayers, offering gratitude etc. Rites however have lost meaning in these modern times but they are vitally important to assist in moving from one stage to the next.
During my training many years ago, I shared with my teacher that I did not really feel the power of the rite of passage of my moontime. So with guidance I went on a journey and found myself moving throughout many different cultures and being blessed by the women of different tribes in different ways. From having mud roughly rubbed into my body by Australian aboriginals, to dancing and bleeding on the earth in Africa, to the deserts of the middle eastern red tents and having my feet massaged with oil. It was profoundly moving.
If you are a parent or gardian look to childrens rites of passage and see what you can do to assist in making that jump more meaningful. If you feel inclined contemplate your own rites of passage and what rituals you may like to include. There is still time.