Rites of passage are those moments when we pass from one way of life into something new. The rites of passage we most commonly honor within the united states and the Heathen/pagan community are a wedding, a memorial or funeral, or a child’s naming (held shortly after the birth of a child, or after an adoption.)
I am writing this post after speaking with my Elder Sister about the importance of the various rites of passage ceremonies she and I have witnessed, performed, and undergone as well as the impact they have had on our lives, and the lives of our frith.
I am a strong advocate who supports the need of more development of ritual for other moments of significance in our lives. Rites of Passage like the coming of age, the recognition of a life changing moments for women and men upon the onset of puberty, Warrior initiation, Parenthood, Healer initiation, Priest/Priestess initiation, Relocation of ones Homeland, [moving], the Loss of a Pet, and other moments of significance in life that one may want to mark or honor with ritual. The performance of any rites of passage is to mark changes in the life cycle and status of the individual.
We find throughout all human history documentation that our ancestors had developed rites for many of these occasions. As it stands now in the 21st Century World for many Pagans, the most significant rites of passage are “Tradition” initiations. When I say “Tradition” I am referring to the various Cultural paths a Pagan may choose to immerse and commit themselves into, thereby learning specific Parthenon’s, cultural Heritage, languages, mystical practices, and so on. The most common Pagan traditions from a Cultural Heritage standpoint are Norse, Celtic, Greek, Shinto, Voodoo, Native American Indian, Aborigine and so on.
Initiations are the most frequently found rites of passage in paganism today for various reasoning.
Most cultural spiritual traditions require members to undergo an initiation of some form in order to become full participants, as the initiates gain status within thier spiritual community while they progress through a hierarchy of initiatory “degrees.” Initiates, by undergoing initiation, are showing outwardly their commitment to the initiating tribe; thereby demonstrating fealty and trust, as well as dedication -or an initiation can signify acceptance into a family-bonded community from an adopted “probie” being brought in from the outside community whom they are now disclaiming ties of service to.
During these initiation rites, it is common that esoteric knowledge is communicated to the initiates by Elders of the hosting tradition, and that the rites are secret in their structure. (along with any esoteric teachings) Commonly, what an initiate undergoes is never permitted to be communicated to outsiders. and the initiates swear some oath of fealty to the path for some sort of time duration.
Many Pagan initiations share common elements. For example, sometimes initiates are required to undergo physical, psychological, or spiritual testing; taking on tasks that are challenging to prove their commitment to a spiritual path. They may be required to learn new religious material, spend a night camping under the stars, swim naked in the cold ocean, or be challenged to overcome a bad habit or face an irrational fear.
Upon initiation, initiates often assume a new ritual name that symbolizes their evolving religious identity. They emerge from these challenges strengthened in their faith, often with profound mystical experiences that affirm the rightness of their religious practice.
I have kenned that four universal components to the symbolic structuring of any rite of passage are evident. These structural components can be found expressed not only in ritual behavior, such as initiation ceremonies, but also in the literary motifs of oral and written literature.
As found on Rites of Passage – University of Idaho we find that firstly, a rite of passage presupposes an orphaned status. The individual is symbolically understood as an “orphan,” somehow incomplete. Upon being accepted and initiated soul into the hosting “Tribe,” the inductee finds comfort and strength in being one of the collective group. In oral literature themes, the individual is represented as alone and often abused and bullied by an adversary, in need of help.
Second: A rite of passage involves a separation, a journey and a sacrifice. The individual may be physically removed by the elders from his or her village and taken to a “bush school” for a period lasting several weeks or even months. The inductee may venture on a vision quest to a far mountain site, the quest lasting up to several days
Third: A rite of passage involves the acquisition of power and knowledge; and a deep need/longing/void is filled. Having been rendered receptive, as warmed wax, the individual can be molded in the imprint of the sacred. The soul is exposed to the spiritual teachings and sacred archetypes.
Fourth: Any rite of passage involves affirmation and rebirth. With the knowledge of the ancestors re-gained or the vision of a spiritual guardian received, the individual returns to the ordinary world, his or her self-redefined, with a new status. He or she returns triumphant, overcoming what had been an “orphaned status.”
Below I share the 12 various “Mile stones” in human devolvement that the members of many of my, and other, Pagan/Heathen Circles, Groves, and Kindred have undergone, as well as acknowledged, through ceremonial rites of passage:
BIRTH The Gift of Immortality And Magic ~The Naming (age 1-9 months)
PUBERTY A Preparation for Life (around the age 12)
SEXUAL INITIATION The Touch Of Passion; how to use your ecstatic self for your highest good and those of your partners (Age 18-21)
HONERING THE ANCESTORS AND ADOPTING A HOMELAND (around the age of 18-21) and/ or Setting Down Roots, and honoring the land upon which you steward. (around 22-32)
FINDING YOUR WAY BACK FROM SEPARATION OF THE FEMININE The First Threshold of the Mother (Age 22-40)
ALLIANCE WITH THE MASCULINE The Father Quest (Age 22 -40)
THE REALIZATION OF THE WARRIOR Exposing the Mythology of Self-Deception, true power, and self-mastery through discipline. (Age 35 – 45)
MID-BIRTH AND THE PATH OF THE PRIEST/ESS A Spiritual Birth into Our Power (Age 30 – 50)
RECONNECTION WITH THE WILDERNESS Rediscovering The Lost Pieces Of Self (44 – 64)
INITIATION INTO THE TRUTH OF THE CRONE (Age 49 – 55) Accepting and Embracing the Wisdom of Times Temperance.
SPIRITUAL ELDERHOOD (Age 55-75) Master And Mistress Of Two Worlds (Age 74)
BEYOND REALITY Death – The Final Passage (?)
I feel If we don’t find the time and begin re-implementing the process for Rites of Passage, part of our “old selves” continues; accompanying us into the next stage which stunts and hinders our process of successful evolution as Humans and spiritual beings.
Undergoing a meaningful Rite of Passage can miraculously change our perspective of ourselves, how we view others, and our interface within the world around us. Sacred acknowledgement of human life events and thier accompanying ceremony is a process for me of marking all the landmarks of our life’s landscapes with a clear point-of-reference to the inevitable changes we undergo while living, and gives these moments significance.
It is also a way of continuing Traditions that were began when our first Ancestors spit mud over thier hands upon then ancient stones; marking the fact they had been there.
It is very Scared soul work indeed.
For more info please see: rites of passage