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the rites of passages that they are parents and especially their grandparents would have gone through our antiquated, outdated, and “no longer necessary”.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.