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Updated on November 5, 2014

Rites of Adulthood

Many cultures around the would have special ceremonies marking a child's transition into adulthood, these are a type of rites of passage. While some are quite dangerous, they serve a purpose for the culture they are a part of. The rites are used to focus and guide young adults into the roles of their society.

Separation is usually the first stage, the young initiates move from their childhood home into a gender specific lodge or in with a trusted family friend. This helps to reinforce the concept of leaving childhood behind. It also aids in the understanding that change is inevitable and how to face and accept it.

Trials are usually in the second phase. These can range anywhere from experiencing great pain to facing great fears. This is the part mostly seen in documentaries, because of this, most assume these are the only stage to these rites of passage. However, these trials only serve to illustrate that life is hard and can be quite painful. The point is to conquer fears and to live life anyway. Take the good and the bad, because you will be given both.

The final step involves re-entry into family or community. A celebration is held to welcome home those who were gone and to formally recognize the individual or individuals as an adults. Now the former child or children need to be met on even ground. Guidance will still be given but all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood are applied.

Apache Girls Transition in Womanhood


Land Diving

Land diving is a ritual preformed by the males in south Pentecost Island, Vanuatu. After being ritually circumcised boys, some as young as age 5, will dive from the tower with vines tied around their feet. Once their first jump is completed a boy will go to his mother, who has been holding a favorite toy or item and together they will throw it away. This symbolizes putting their childhood behind them.

When the tower is being built the males will seclude themselves from the females. Females in turn are not allowed anywhere near the tower until it is time for the jumps. It is believed it could lead to the death of a diver. The jump is used to bring good luck, a good crop, remedy illness and to demonstrate their courage. The youngest and least experienced jump from the lowest rungs, while the older and more experienced jump from the higher rungs. After the first initial jump no male is required to participate again, but many do. Women are not aloud to jump, they sing and dance at the bottom to show support.

Rites of Marriage

Marriage is another rite of passage that usually involves negotiations, trade and separation. Most cultures require those who are to be married be adults, having reached a certain age or having gone through and completed whatever rites were needed to gain that status. Some, however, do not. Either way the results are the same, a union is formed followed by a feast to mark the occasion.

Negotiations can be as simple as the couple to be married deciding who's coming, where it will be held and how it will take place. Or as complicated as an entire families or communities being involved in the preparation, organization and costs. Negotiations can become quite heated, requiring a third party to moderate.

Trade can come in the form of a dowry, cost of the bride or groom, or the gifts family and close friends are expected to give to the newly married couple and/or give the community. Picking a requested gift off of a registry for the couple amounts to the same thing. This is to insure the new couple will have what they need to set up a new home.

Separation usually involves the couple not seeing each other for a set time before the wedding, or complete isolation from everyone. It can also involve gender specific rituals, lessons and purification. They couple may be required at this time to meet separately or together with a spiritual leader of some kind to discuss rights and responsibilities, as well to determine whether they are ready for marriage.

Marriage Ceremonies

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Rites of Eldership

Every culture is different in how it retires it's people. Some cultures do this with a simple party, others by ritual. The rituals are used as a way to not only retire the older generation but to also bring in the next. Those who take part may be part of an age group or they may have completed the training required to hold this position. In a few cultures marriage is not allowed until one becomes an Elder, a leader of some kind.

These kinds of rituals tend not to be as grueling or as physically demanding as other rites of passage. They can be quite tedious however, as this has more to do with the mind and ability to lead that with physical ability. Some simply earn the right when they have grown old and have gone through many of life's trials and survived, so their advice is sought after. Just being old won't cut it, you have to earn this position.

Western Rites

Do you think the western world adequately preforms rites of passage?

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Times of Change

Every culture deals with change in its own way and in it's own time. In some societies rites of passage are clearly defined. Birth, adolescence, adulthood and death all have rituals and ceremonies to mark the phases of each life. Other cultures seem to meander through these phases, recognizing the transitional times but not celebrating them or marking them in any special way. Birth and death are the only times in which every culture on Earth agree some sort of gathering is necessary, though the means of recognizing these periods varies greatly. The only true constant is we are all human, we all love a reason to come together and celebrate, and we all use times of change to strengthen or break our previous bounds.

© 2014 Katrina


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