Social Importance of Life Rites and Initiations

We as a modern culture, but men in particular, are suffering a real crisis of conscience these days – not really sure of where we belong, not really sure of what our role is in our daily lives as well as how we fit in the overall “plan” of society, and never really able to take the leap from childhood to adulthood quite as seamlessly or as effectively as past generations seemingly had the ability to do.

homer simpson initiation

And while there are a number of different factors that play a role in this specific challenge society is dealing with today, one of the biggest factors that researchers believe is having a transformative impact on our lives – and not in a great way – is the lack of rites of passage and initiations that “triggered” new steps in our lives on the path from childhood to adulthood.


If we look around the world we live in today, rites of passage and initiations have all but disappeared completely. Sure, professional sports teams, colleges and universities, and a handful of small fraternal organizations continue these kinds of practices.


The overwhelming majority of modern people would tell you that the rites of passages that they are parents and especially their grandparents would have gone through our antiquated, outdated, and “no longer necessary”.


It turns out nothing could be further from the truth.


The disappearance of rites of passage and initiations is eroding away culture


Without sounding too doom and gloom and without making this situation out to be some kind of Chicken Little situation, most would agree that our culture – our distinctly American culture – has eroded away and been replaced over the last few generations by a new, more globalist approach to how we see ourselves as citizens of the world but also how we see ourselves as individuals fitting in the machine that is our society.

greek initiation rite

As highlighted above, men in particular are having a much more challenging time understanding where they fit in the whole grand scheme of things in a way that they didn’t struggle with before. There used to be obvious steppingstones from boyhood to manhood, obvious rites of passage that were passed down from one generation to another, rites of passage that have slipped away into the mist and have left this generation of men (and generations of men to follow) feeling more than a little bit listless.


Men now have a much more challenging time stepping fully into manhood, adulthood, and assuming the responsibilities of those positions. The research demonstrates that men in general are getting married later in life, having children much later in life, and even leaving their parents homes much later in life – holding onto every square inch of their adolescence for as long as humanly possible, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the traditional rites of passage just no longer exist.


EVERY culture – around the world has these critical rites of passage and initiations


While most people are familiar with the “day you get your first real job” initiation, the “day you get your first car” initiation, the “day you become a husband or become a father” rite of passage, or a more culturally specific rite of passage like a bar mitzvah (for example), it’s important not to think that these types of cultural touchstones are specific to the American culture or the Western world culture.


Cultures all over the world, from the Vanuatu Dive in the middle of the South Pacific that takes part in a Land Diving ritual, to even the unthinkable Mardudjara aboriginal subincision process (definitely not recommended), or the Hamar cow jumping ritual, all place an incredible amount of importance on the doorway and the threshold between childhood and adulthood – and all have clearly defined steps that have to be taken in a codified process for children to move through this doorway and emerge on the other side completely changed and transformed.


Because of the way that our modern world works, and because of the fast and almost electric change that we deal with on a day to day basis, our more traditional rites of passage have begun to slip and disappear. It’s important that we do everything we can to bring back the ones that especially work to create a bond between the young adult and the community.  And of course we should be looking at traditional – but safe (read: bloodless) – rites of passage to achieve this.


Breathing new life into rites of passage and the process of initiation


At the end of the day, it falls on us to bring back these rites of passage (or to establish new ones) that allow us to symbolically – and sometimes physically – step through the door that stands between childhood and adulthood and begin to fully embody everything that we want to be.


The time for remaining confused, listless, and nervous has to come to an end. The damage is crippling (as the research bears out) and the impact is far-reaching. Now is the time to embrace rites of passage, create our own rituals, and to become the kind of powerful, focused, and intentional people we are meant to be.

Amazing Coming of Age Rituals

japanese coming of age

Amazing Coming of Age Rituals Around The World


One thing shared by many cultures around the globe: The transition from childhood to adulthood is important for both boys and girls. While different cultures express this remarkable moment differently, there is something nonetheless shared among all of them. The children themselves share a range of emotional responses, from absolute joy, to complete horror at an event they might perceive at the time as embarrassing.


This rite of passage can be expressed in a number of different ways. Then you have to consider that within a single culture, there can be also be differences between the genders. Taken as a whole, it is fascinating to see where these cultures share similarities, and where they divert sharply.


The Jewish Passage to Adulthood: Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Jewish boys celebrate their Bar Mitzvahs at the age of 13. Jewish girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs at the age of 12. This rite of passage establishes the commitment of a Jewish child to their faith. They must acknowledge that they will now be responsible for observing Jewish laws and traditions. Regardless of gender, the child is responsible for a good deal of work, in preparation for the big event. To celebrate their commitment to this work, and to celebrate the transition to adulthood, a large celebration is often held. Family and friends gather in great numbers to give gifts and praise, and to observe the ceremony that moves the child to the next stage of their life.


The Sateré-Mawé Passage To Adulthood: Bullet Ant Initiation

There is an indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon known as the Sateré-Mawé. When young boys in this tribe turn thirteen, they mark this occasion with what is referred to as the Bullet Ant Initiation. The initiation involves taking numerous bullet ants, known for their brutal stings, and combining them with an herbal solution. The ants are then weaved into gloves, with their stingers pointing inwards. At this point, the boys will then wear the gloves for a period of 10 minutes. During this extremely painful period, even something as simple as crying out in pain will be seen as a sign of weakness. The boys are expected to wear the gloves several times, over the course of several months, before the ritual is considered finished.


The Hispanic Passage to Adulthood: Quinceanera

Throughout several parts of South and Central America, as well as in other countries which enjoy a large Hispanic population, young girls participate in a passage known as Quinceanera. This event occurs when the girls are fifteen years old. A Catholic mass is usually the first part of the occasion. During the mass, the young girl will renew the vows spoken at her baptism. The mass is meant to establish a profound foundation of the girl’s commitments to family and their faith. After this moment, the mass becomes a huge fiesta. Food and drink are served, gifts are given, and there is often dancing.

The American Passage to Adulthood: Sweet 16

For both young boys and young girls, turning 16 in the United States is a really big deal. This tradition is less rooted in a specific cultural background. Many different cultures throughout the United States mark a child turning sixteen as a significant occasion. Sometimes, a family’s religion will play a role in the proceedings. In other situations, a family may choose to combine a rite-of-passage from their culture/faith with the marking of the child’s sixteenth birthday. This is why this passage to adulthood is considered to be a little looser than some of the other passages highlighted here. Many children get to mark the occasion with a massive party, as well as gifts that are often considered to be extravagant. The Sweet 16 passage became something of a cultural phenomenon, thanks to the MTV show My Super Sweet 16.

girl's sweet 16

Khatam Al Koran Passage to Adulthood: Malaysia

Some Muslim girls throughout Malaysia mark their eleventh birthday as a very significant occasion. They may celebrate what is known as The Khatam Al Koran. Often held at the local mosque, this celebration indicates that the young girl in question has the ability to demonstrate their growing emotional maturity. This is expressed through a highly sacred ritual. In order to get ready for this ritual, many young girls will spend years getting ready to show what they have learned. They will review the Koran over and over again. On the big day, they will recite the final chapter before their family and other loved ones.


The Ethiopian Passage: Hamar Cow Jumping

Throughout Ethiopia, many young men choose a ceremony that proves they are ready for one of the most important rites of passage of their lives: marriage. In this ritual, a young man will strip off all of their clothes. Next, they will leap across a male cow that has been castrated. This effort must be completed four times in full. Through the efforts of this ritual, the Ethiopian man is indicating to those who attend that he is leaving his childhood behind. If they are successful in their efforts, they will become known as a Maza. This is the word used to describe the men who have passed the test successfully. After the ritual is successfully completed, the Maza may help to supervise other ceremonies along the region of Hamar.


The Japanese Passage: Seijin-no-Hi

For over twelve hundred years, this has been an important rite of passage for young Japanese men and women. Upon turning twenty, many Japanese youth will put on their very best traditional attire. They will then participate in a local ceremony at the city office in their area. With friends and family participating in the fun, the youth will receive gifts, and join a massive party. This is what is also known as the Coming of Age Festival. At this point in their lives, the men and women are now known as responsible, vital adults in their communities. This is also the age in which both men and women are allowed to not only vote, but to drink alcohol, as well.