1. To mark the separation between boyhood and manhood. The boy-to-men/girl-to-women transition isn’t the only example of a rite of passage. Marriage – marking the leaving behind of all others for one person; certainly two people have a prior relationship and could even have been living together for quite some time, but the ceremony, the rite of passage of marriage guides the transition into a new one-ness. Fraternity/sorority initiation (an area that I work with regularly) marks the transition from prospective member to actual member. These individuals have been associated with the organization, but they need to undergo the change in status that only the initiation can provide. Lastly, the Presidential inauguration provides a public transition. Certainly, the President is the President by election, but the public oath and declaration establish it in the President and all of America’s minds. Just as in each of these examples the rite of passage provides a marked transition to help move beyond a “holding pattern”, so rites of passage for boys and girls allows them to move from the holding pattern of adolescence into their maturity.
2. To help men grasp their masculinity. This is not in an abusive sense; that they need to lay hold of some power granted to them by their maleness. To do so would actually be the antithesis of masculinity. No, rites of passage are needed to help men develop their identity as mature males. Stephenson (2006) notes that “in traditional cultures, identity was not something to be stumbled into but a gift to be given to young people. It was understood that teens need to be guided into their adult identities rather than left to ‘find themselves,’ as the common saying for adults goes” (p. 12). When I look at the struggles men are having with violence, with depression, and with perpetual “Peter Pan-ish-ness”, I see males who are still trying to find themselves. They have not been guided to explore who they are and have been left to figure it out on their own, to their and other’s detriment.
3. To remind us all what is most essential in life. Monica Wilson notes that “rituals reveal values at their deepest level…men express in ritual what moves them most” (in Turner, 2008, p. 6). Stephenson (2006) continues that “rituals remind us of what is most essential and universal in life” (p. 34). All of the virtues taught in liminal space, all of the exploration a male does as he moves through a rite of passage exist to remind him of what is important to him, what he should fight to uphold and protect. The turning inward that happens during a rite of passage, the self-examination, help men when they are faced with trying times. It helps them see the good and bad of their nature and to incorporate the best into their life. And, it is not just the initiate who receives these reminders. Everyone in the community is reminded of this, of the process they went through; everyone in the community can engage in similar self-reflection and remember what the essentials in life are. These rites help the “givers” as much as the “receivers”.
We need rites of passage to mark the transition. They put bounds on adolescence, celebrate the transition, and educate the receiver and the leaders. They aren’t just a ceremony to be completed; they are a hugely transitory experience for all involved, teaching important lessons and establishing a new man. In the future, we will examine these important lessons and their relevance to the process, the mature masculine, and the community.
Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Park Street Press: Rochester, VT.
Turner, V. (2008). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. AldineTransaction: New Brunswick, NJ.