Passage are something that every culture
has. We in our modern Western society have lost much of what was once
standard practice. What used to be celebrated as coming of age is now
looked upon as just another year in the life.
I think much
of this attitude toward Rites of
Passage is due to the advances in medical science that have been made
in the last century or two. It used to be a real achievement for a baby
to be born alive and healthy.
were all the childhood diseases such as
Rubella, Polio, and various fevers that were common place not so long
ago, that contributed to high child mortality rates.
made our world a much safer place. If
someone is attacked by a wild animal while walking in the mountains or
woods, it’s a newsworthy item.
It used to be
that if a child survived to reach
puberty, it was an event worth celebrating. That is no longer the case.
It used to be that few children survived childhood, now it’s the few
It used to be
that childhood itself, was a Rite of
that are rare, seem worth
celebrating, those that become common, not so much. It’s human nature
to take for granted that which is common, no matter how large the
As an example,
Apollo 11 put humans on another
celestial body for the first time in history. Everyone who had access
to a TV, watched as Neil Armstrong landed the Eagle in the Sea of
Tranquility, with less than 30 seconds of fuel left.
technical and cultural achievement! Rites
of Passage that the entire world took part in.
Yet, just two
flights later, no one cared as
astronauts sent a live transmission on their way to the moon. It wasn’t
until there was a question of Apollo 13 making it back safely, that
people paid attention.
When was the
last time you paid attention to what
happened with the space shuttle? The Columbia disaster?
medicine has virtually assured that any
child born today will live to adulthood. Even those with massive
physical defects, such as underdeveloped hearts, or lungs, have a good
chance for survival.
It is now
expected by every parent, that when they
take their baby home, it will live to a ripe old age. This isn’t a bad
thing, but it has caused us as a culture to take for granted the
important milestones in a child’s life, hense, the lack of Rites of
first step, and first words are still
celebrated, but after the first couple of years, the excitement fades.
Even the events that mark the point of reaching adulthood are muddled.
The age at
which a child becomes an adult is no
longer a cultural distinction. It has become a legal definition, but
not a clear one.
still Rites of Passage that all children
go through. Somewhere around the ages of 11 to 13, a child becomes
physically capable of having a child of their own. At age 16, most of
us get our license to drive. At age 18, a person can vote, and defend,
and possibly die for their country. Yet they aren’t supposed to drink
until age 21.
So at what age
does a child become an adult?
of being an adult, and therefore
treated as one, is no longer a single event. It has been spread over a
ten year period. It’s no wonder we as a culture no longer have Rites of
Passage, we don’t know when that age is.
Some would say
that the entire Teen experience is
an Initiation, and Rite of Passage, for the Teen as well as the
parents. Perhaps then, that is what it should be treated as.
When a child
manifests the physical aspects of
adulthood, a girl has her first menstrual cycle, and a boy’s voice
cracks, maybe we should acknowledge that with a celebration of leaving
childhood. Rites of Passage that acknowledge the changes.
yet an adult, but won’t be treated as
children. What if there were a ritual that explained to them what they
could expect in the future, and prepared them for what will come?
At this age,
the young person is still very much
dependant on the parents, and still wants to be. That will change quick
enough. In such a rite, the ages of the Initiates will vary.
would have to display the physical
attributes required, so they might be anywhere from 11 to 13 years of
age. Some might be a little older, others a little younger. The point
is that they all have this one thing in common, their bodies are
For a Rite of
Passage to be effective, it needs to
be acknowledged and reinforced by the community, not just on this
occasion, but from this point forward. That has been one of the things
lacking in the rites I have seen.
Initiate is acknowledged by the
community at the event, but then after, everything goes back to the way
it was. There is no outward sign of change. One thing that could be
done easily, and made part of the Initiation, is robes.
significant to us. We use it in our
rituals and spells. We even sometimes use it as a mark of status. Why
not use it to mark a person as having achieved something important?
White has always been a color of purity and innocence.
(for that is what they are until
after the Rite) come into the Rite dressed all in white. Those who
complete the Rite, are given robes of a different color that they wear
at all rituals thereafter, to signify and remind, that they are no
longer children, they are young adults.
Red could be
used for the females, and green for
the males. The robes would all be the same basic pattern, a simple T
robe like shown in Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft,
is easy to make. As the young person outgrows a set of robes, another
of the same pattern would replace them.
As each new
set of robes is made, the young person
could decorate them as they wish, as a sign of growing individuality
and independence. This too is an outward sign of what is happening
inside the young person. Not to mention teaching them the skill of
fend for themselves is also part of
the Rites of Passage.
As the child
reaches the age of Initiation, the
parents, or community would make two sets of robes for them. One white,
the other based on their gender. Because they are still children, this
is done for them. The day of Initiation comes, and the community
gathers. They feast, and talk, and have fun. The Initiates, in their
white robes play as kids do.
predetermined point, masked men and women
come for the initiates. The masked men gather the boys, the masked
women gather the girls. The number of masked adults is determined by
how many Initiates there are. If there is only one Initiate, there need
be only one masked adult of appropriate gender.
stand with their parent(s) before
they are gathered. Each is asked if they will go of their own free
will, to join the Initiation. It must be their choice, and none should
be treated differently, if they are not ready.
Once a child
has accepted the challenge to take
the Rites of Passage, they are gathered into the group of initiates. At
least one parent goes with their child when gathered, fathers with
sons, and mothers with daughters, if possible.
Once all the
initiates have been gathered, they
are lead off to the Ritual. The remaining children and adults wait for
the outcome however they choose. Most likely, the celebration will
community coming of age rituals, the
children spend the night in the ritual. It’s part of the test they must
pass. This seems to me to be an appropriate part of the initiation.
This may be
the first time a child is away from
the familiar life of home and family. It is a symbolic cutting of the
The first part
of the initiation is attended with
a parent. Here the boys and girls are taken to a secluded place, and
the symbology of ritual is explained to them. The significance of the
chalice and blade, the Maypole, all the other symbols of sexuality and
fertility are explained to the Initiates in as graphic a nature as is
I have never
understood the practice of schools
separating genders for sex education. It leads to misinformation, and
rumor. These are young Witches, and they are about to be thrust into
the most confusing time of their lives.
It is our
responsibility as adults to teach them
the truth about what is happening to them. Besides, as a Spiritual Path
that understands sacred sexuality, I find it hard to believe that at 11
years old, these kids won’t have already been taught something about
The point of
this part of Rites of Passage isn’t
to teach sex education, but to instill the sacred into sex, and teach
the symbology used in ritual, as well as explaining the Sabbats of
Imbolc, Ostara, and Beltane.
It may be that
the parents have already done this,
and that’s a wonderful thing. This is an official teaching that the
initiates return from the Rites of
Passage, everyone knows that they now understand the rituals they are
attending, for what they are.
This is also
why a parent accompanies their child.
It is more comfortable for both parent and child. It should also be
explained that the Initiates are not being encouraged to sexual
activity (and most likely at this age, they still think the
other gender is icky) but that sex and the ability to create
life, are sacred.
A child who
knows about sexuality, and attaches
the sacred to it, is going to be much less likely to just have sex.
It should also
be explained to the initiates that
having gone through the Rites of Passage, that they will be expected to
do more than just attend rituals from that point forward.
They may be
called upon to perform in the rituals.
Part of growing up, is taking more responsibility. The Teen wants it,
and should be given what they can handle.
With this part
of the Initiation finished, the
parents are asked to leave. When they again see their sons and
daughters, they will no longer be children.
This could be
an emotional time for Initiates and
parents alike. This is a physical separation, and both will be changed
It might even
be a good idea for the parents of
Initiates to have their own Rites of Passage, run by those who’ve gone
through the Teen years as parents already. The parents could use
explanations of what is going to happen in the next few years too.
parents leave, the Initiates are
separated by gender and taken off for separate rites. This will be
their first encounter with the Mysteries. There are
differences between genders, and these need to be addressed as well.
I’m not qualified to speak to the
Feminine Mysteries, and it wouldn’t be fair to expose the Masculine
Mysteries. I think it’s fair to say that both genders should be
challenged by the Rites of Passage in ways appropriate to their gender.
Initiation involves a challenge,
seemingly life threatening to the initiate, but always completely
harmless. It can be as simple as telling them to enter a cave where
they must die.
The future is
unknown, and the unknown frightens
us. It is this fear that the initiate must experience in a controlled
To enter the
unknown, and come out the other side,
shows the Initiate that while fear is healthy, it can keep us from
answered the challenge, the Initiate has
shown that they are willing to face the unknown, and take on more
must be challenged individually. In
the cave example, the Initiate must be willing to enter the cave alone
and unaided. This doesn’t have to be a cave, it could be following a
trial into the unknown, or entering a particular room.
The gravity of
the situation must be impressed
upon the Initiate, and the choice must be the Initiate’s alone. It
isn't a Rite of Passage, if the choices are made for them.
Those who are
not ready, can be sent back to the
secluded area, and given another chance later (though they don’t need
to know that).
choice has been made to answer the
challenge, the initiate must easily find their way to the next part of
isn’t to hurt the Initiate, but to give
them a choice of what to do. Someone should be just out of sight of the
entrance to the Challenge, to guide the Initiate on what to do next.
Those who make
it through the challenge are kept
separate from those yet to go. They must also promise never to tell
anyone about the challenge. It is a Mystery.
Challenge, comes the rebirth. The child
who entered the Challenge died, and has been reborn as something else.
This is typically the second half of the Rites of Passage.
got in, now they must get out. The
guide may give some words of wisdom when the initiate reaches them in
the Challenge, and then direct them onward.
There are many
ways to perform a rebirth, but they
all have two things in common; restriction of movement, and a breaking
through to the outside world.
A cave might
have a small passage back outside,
unknown to the Initiates waiting for the challenge, or a barrier might
be made inside someone’s house in the Challenge chamber, with a small
hole the Initiate must crawl through.
Initiate has been reborn, they are given
the colored robes. Red for the women, green for the men. They are told
to wear these robes in ritual from that point forward, as a reminder to
themselves, and everyone else, that they are no longer children.
should be awaiting those who
complete the ordeal. Food and drink, and if outside, a warm fire, will
help to ground the Initiates. Those who complete the test should be
celebrated for the success they have achieved.
Any who are
unable to complete the Rites of
Passage should be taken back to their parents, and told that they are
free to try again next time.
happen, no one should look down upon
these youngsters, they simply are not ready yet. In time, they will be.
Children are ready for different challenges at different times.
It’s all part
of growing up.
At some point,
whether that night, or the next
day, the Initiates who made it through the Rites of Passage should be
taken back to rejoin the community as young adults. If at all possible,
they should not be taken back by the way they came in. They should not
see the place they started.
You can never
go back again.
reach the place where the community has
gathered, they should be announced proudly. Part of the Rites of
Passage may have been to take a Craft Name. If so, this name should be
used, so the Community knows it.
reintroduction into the community is usually
another excuse to celebrate. Any children who were unable to complete
the Rites of Passage should be invited, but it is up to them to attend.
It may be a
traumatic event for them. No one likes
to be singled out. No matter their choice, these children should be
accepted as they are, and it should be understood that they will finish
the Rites of Passage in the future.
from Rites of Passage
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