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Celebrating Life Through Rites of Passage
Honoring Many Traditions
Many Faiths, Many Traditions
Interfaith Ministers are called upon every day to honor varying life cycle events. Many today practice what I call "Cradle to Grave" ceremonies. There is much beauty in the way that many cultures honor life changing events and so many ways in which to celebrate. Even what may seem like a disheartening event, can be transformed into a celebration of one's life. In part, this is why I became an Interfaith Pagan minister; because I loved the tradition and culture of so many of our world's religions and spiritual paths. Over the next few sections, various Rites of Passage will be over-viewed. Maybe some new traditions can be implemented into the lives of my readers and bring a little more celebration to their lives.
Children's Rite of Passage
Many spiritual paths recognize the birth of children as a blessing. The basis of belief often determines the type of ceremony performed.
In the Catholic belief system, it is a sacrament of the church for the child to be baptized within the first couple of months to remove Original Sin. If the child dies prior to baptism, the child cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The basis for this baptism is upon Scripture found in Luke 18:16, "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God."
In other Christian traditions, baptism varies from denomination to denomination. In the Church of Christ in Christian Union Church and Fundamental Baptists, children may be dedicated to God and blessed, but are not baptized. Baptism does not occur to the child reaches the age of accountability and is performed as an outward expression as accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior. This age of accountability also varies from denomination to denomination, but usually is considered at the time the child can make decisions for his or herself if even under supervision and also has the understanding of right from wrong.
Buddhist traditions have a celebration to welcome and bless the child. Parents may make offerings at the altar for the blessing of the child. Gifts are welcomed to honor the arrival of the child.
In Hindu traditions, a Naming Ceremony is performed on the child's eleventh day and given both a mundane name and a spiritual name and blessed by the priest.
In Pagan traditions, the child has a Wiccaning or Paganing ceremony. In this ceremony the child is blessed and dedicated by a priest or priestess to the divine (however the parents see the divine), and then given a spiritual name. The child is also presented to the four quarters of earth, air, fire, and water as the child is also a creature created and the four elements indwell all human beings. In some traditions, all those present will bless the child. Then the parents chose to dedicate themselves to raise the child either in their tradition or to raise the child to understand varying religions and then allow the child to choose for his or herself when the time is right. At the conclusion, there is sometimes a feast in honor of the child's life and gifts are presented to honor the moment.
As a community, it is our responsibility to raise children in such a manner that they honor life and that they feel loved and cherished.
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." -Proverbs 22:6
Coming of Age Traditions
Coming of Age Celebrations
Coming of Age is a time when children are transitioning into womanhood or manhood. Traditions of celebration come in many forms, from cultural to spiritual.
In many societies, when children transition to the teen years they want their driver's license or to get piercings. They find that they have more personal freedom to spend time with friends going to the mall or the movies or just "hanging out". But this Coming of Age is more than just being able to have more freedoms; with it comes many changes to their physical bodies, their mental state, their spirituality, and more responsibility.
In some cultures, one of the first Coming of Age rituals is recognizing when a girl begins menses. It is celebrated as an initiation into womanhood. The girl is seen in some cultures as now ready for marriage and to have a family. This is the time when older women should be explaining to her what is happening with her body (well, actually this training should have occurred prior to menses.) She should be training to begin taking care of her home and preparing for a future outside of her parent's home. For pagans, this is the opportunity to train our daughters that our bodies are in tune with nature. Women typically have thirteen cycles a year and there are thirteen cycles of the moon. The moon affects everything in nature: from the crops, to tidal waves, to effects on the human body. Women have an effect on everything that they touch as well. We raise children, take care of homes, are caregivers, career holders, cooks, taxicab drivers, etc. We are involved in every aspect of daily living for those around us. This also the time to make bonds between women and girls. Somehow, in our modern world we have lost that connection to train our youth and have somehow dehumanized our society through social media, video games, and television. Older women have the keys to teaching young women how to cope with day to day life and being feminine.
For boys transitioning into men, in some cultures such as American Indian cultures, young men would be sent out on a Vision Quest. During this time, the young man would be spend time secluded from the rest of the community. This time would be such that he would have opportunity to have visions of what he was to do with his life and be given spiritual insight. From this time, once back in his tribe, he would be considered an adult.
In Jewish traditions, at the age of 12, girls would have a Bat Mitzvah and boys would have a Bar Mitzvah. This Coming of Age rite began their transition from childhood to adulthood. Once this ceremony is completed, these individuals have rights to sign religious documents, participate in religious rites, and even marry.
In Latin American traditions, Quinceanera Celebrations, celebrate the fifteenth birthday of a girl. This is the time she transitions into a woman. She would be dressed up in a beautiful evening gown and wear makeup (often for the first time). If the girl is Catholic, there may be a Mass as part of the celebration. There is much dancing, eating, and drinking. In some traditions there is a 15-Candle Rite or Tree of Life Rite. In this rite, the girl would give one candle each to those who had the most influence on her life. These candles also represent her childhood memories that must now be left behind as she journeys now into womanhood.
Most of these traditions have now gone by the way side. It is my belief that today's children have such a difficult time adjusting to adult maturity because we no longer mark the event as a milestone. Yes, at a certain age they obtain a driver's license, have more freedom, are able to drink, but these things do not instill the responsibility placed upon them as an adult. Children raise themselves on social media, video games, and television and have lost the connection with the adults in their life that have the responsibility to educate them on what being an adult is all about.
Grad School Graduation
Graduation ceremonies are one of the most celebrated Rite of Passage ceremonies that we celebrate. We may have graduated from high school, undergraduate school, graduate school, or received a diploma or certification in a field we have been studying. Regardless of where the graduation is from, it marks a life-changing event in our life. It opens doors to careers and opportunities that we may never have had before the hard work of educating and prepping ourselves for a new chapter in our life.
The above picture was from my graduation ceremony from Graduate school. It took sixteen years to reach this goal to receive my MBA. It closed one chapter in my life and opened new opportunities for my future.
These graduations are so important because the honor the work that we have achieved as something important to us and those who are a part of our life.
The Institution of Marriage
The Rite of Marriage
As an Interfaith Minister, I have the opportunity to officiate a multitude of ceremonies from many cultural, religious, and spiritual traditions. Some ceremonies are very simple and some very elaborate. They have been interfaith, interracial, and same-sex. They have been commitment ceremonies of individuals proclaiming love for another and legal marriage ceremonies. Ceremonies have been people from rich and the poor. Love knows no boundaries.
As many who want standard traditional, there are as many who want unique and rich in culture. Over the years I have written many custom ceremonies including many different traditions such as sand ceremonies, cordings, rose ceremonies, ancestral veneration, and jumping the broom.
Handfastings are very popular these days. Handfasting is a traditional ceremony for an engagement or marriage. Its origins are European, although many cultures from around the world use some form of handfasting to acknowledge the marriage between couples.
During old times, prior to the accessibility of religious clergy as we have today, a couple would stand before witnesses and make their declaration. A cord, rope, ceremonial wrap, etc. would be wrapped around the hands and then tied (hence, “tying the knot”) to signify the legal bond/contract of the marriage. In some instances, of Anglo-Saxon origin, a handshake may have even been used.
Commitment ceremonies are also an alternative for many couples for various reasons. For some couples, they are proclaiming their love to all those who know them and that they have committed their life to that individual. It is a bond between them and God. However, they are not interested or do not believe in any legal institution having any say or knowledge of their relationship. It is personal and they are not worried about any legal rights to the other's property. For some couples, a legal marriage is not possible as same-sex unions are not recognized in all states. The true purpose for having any legal implications is so that there is the legal right to make decisions on medical or mental care in the event of a serious situation without the intrusion of family members changing decisions that they do not agree. And also so that the individuals have rights to money and properties in the event that one dies; otherwise, family members can take property owned by the deceased individual.
In the end, the institution of marriage is a commitment that should not be taken likely regardless of whether it is a legally binding ceremony or just an outward declaration of the commitment a couple has made to one another.
While baby showers are very common to welcome the new bundle of joy into families with the primary focus on the babe, there is not much in the way of support to mommy-to-be during those last few months and weeks leading up to the actual delivery. This is where the revival of the blessingway enters.
The blessingway is a rite that helps the mommy-to-be to prepare spiritually, emotionally, and mentally with a support system from the women in her life that closest to her. This is ritual to help her feel safe, pampered, and connection with her community.
Blessingway ceremonies include blessings over mommy-to-be; pampering to include having nails done, foot massage, and gifts to help encourage and raise her energy. Some of the activities include a ceremony called the Web of Life.
During the Web of Life exercise, all the women gather in a circle with mommy-to-be and toss a red ball of yarn back and forth across the circle. Prior to passing the ball of yarn to the next person, each woman wraps the yarn around her wrist. This creates a web. The red ball of yard represents life and our connection to it. When everyone has had a turn to pass the yarn, the group cuts their selves out of the web and ties that yarn to form a bracelet. This is the connection to mommy-to-be until the baby is born as a form of support. Once baby is born, the bracelet is cut away.
The ceremony can be ended by having a feast. As we all know, pregnant women are eating for two (in some cases more.) A traditional baby shower can also be implemented and followed by this ceremony.
Sample Blessingway Ceremony
- Rose Miller Blessingway Ceremony
The ceremony document is the rite that was performed for my daughter during her pregnancy with my granddaughter, Emma.
Blessingway Ceremony Ideas
An Involved Midlife
Some say that "life begins at 40". Many of us are in the middle of our careers; involved in social activities; have just about raised our children or who are now "empty-nesters"; and are very well established within our little corner of the world.
This is the time of greatest transformation for some. Women in their mid-forties begin going through menopause which upturns them emotionally and physically. Men get that "40-year itch" and want to try something that they never have tried before or want the fancy sports car they missed out in their youth. Men go through male menopause too and begin having problems with libido and erectile dysfunction. Not all, but some.
For those who are now "empty-nesters" comes the quiet emptiness from not having a busy household of children and family activities. It can be quite depression for some who no longer no what there is to life now that the kids are gone. Or for some, it is quite liberating. It is the time to explore all those things that we have never been able to do while raising children.
Some begin having other health issues that comes from a busy life. A heart attack, a stroke, arthritis. These little nuances can severely change life as we know it. Now we have to make some changes and choices that we never saw coming. Reduce stress; learn to say no; learn to ask for help with things we used to be able to do in our youth.
For some of us, we are fortunate enough to be able to retire at age 65 or 67, some of us not; now is the time for us to begin thinking about retirement planning. Most of us will not be able to survive on Social Security. I know it is a struggle for my parents. If we have not invested, now we must try to invest something so that we can at least survive on our own until the time when our life has expired in this life.
For many, all these changes when we should be at the prime of our life bring about depression, grief, and turmoil. If this is a matter of releasing some aspect of your life that you have been holding onto, ritual can help. Write on a piece of paper what you want released from your life. Wrap a stone with the piece of paper and then tie a string to it. Lay the stone down on a surface. You hold the other end of the string. Take a pair of scissors, and while thinking about what you want released from your life that is causing you depression, grief, or turmoil, cut the string. When you have completed this, take the stone outside and bury it.
There are many resources for helping us work through our Midlife Passage. You may consult books, a counselor, or even your clergy to assist with creating meaningful ways to walk through Midlife.
For many years I had worked with the Nursing Home ministry. It seemed to me that when people reach an age where they no longer work within society, that they become obsolete and forgotten. Those in the last few years of their life have so much history, wisdom, and advice to still give to our community. They do not deserve to be placed upon a shelf or put in an institution and forgotten about. They deserve honor and respect.
I have had the privilege of officiating two Elderhood Ceremonies: one Croning and one Saging. Most ceremonies occur after 50, when individuals are slowing down and approaching retirement, the children are all grown, and they are now grandparents. This is not an end of life ceremony where individuals have funeral, but a Rite of Passage ceremony honoring wisdom and life experience.
When these types of ceremonies are officiated, individual accomplishments are recognized, awards and gifts presented, and memories shared. The elders are asked to share some of the lessons that they have learned and what advice they can give to all those coming behind them. The most important aspect is that our elders are given an opportunity to present the goals that they still want to achieve in their life. Some may want to go back to school and learn a new field; some may want to be adventurous and jump out of a plane or travel; some may want to just plain give back to the community.
Enjoy your elders why you have them. Glean from them traditions and lore of the culture, of your heritage, and from historical events. Once they are gone, their wisdom is lost forever if we did not take time to ask them to share.
Death is the one thing that is inevitable for all of us and the most difficult for the living to deal with. Funerals and Memorial services are for the living; to bring about closure to the passing of our loved ones. Many believe that our loved ones go to some kind of hereafter. Depending on some beliefs this can be tragic if they feel that their loved is suffering in forever torment. For others, the belief is that we join a universal conscious. Some believe we just return to the ground and that is our end.
Regardless of belief, memorial and funeral services are a method to help us to cope.
Some prefer a traditional funeral with a casket and a burial plot. The traditional Christian ceremony where a minister presides over the funeral, gives the details of our life, shares some memories, all go to the ceremony, the last rites are given, and we are buried. Some prefer to be cremated and our remains scattered to the wind or kept in an urn.
In Irish Traditions a wake was held. After death, the windows were left open for a couple of hours so the spirit would leave the home and then they were closed so the spirit would not re-enter the house. The body is laid out and someone stays with the body. All mirrors are covered and all clocks stopped. Then the keening or wailing would take place for the deceased. There of course is food and drink and stories shared about the deceased.
In Lakota traditions, the person is not cremated as it is believed that the spirit remains in the body. It does not go directly to heaven but hangs around for the next year helping the family. The actual funeral occurs a year later. AT that time, stories of the deceased family member are shared and their personal items are then distributed.
Every culture and every religion have their traditions of coping with the final passage and honoring the life of their beloved dead.
To honor our deceased loved ones, we can plant a tree or a rosebush in remembrance; write about their life to pass down to family members; create a memorial album to honor their life; set up a foundation for a cause in their name; volunteer services to the community for a cause they believed in; etc. There are so many ways that we can honor them so that their memory lives on forever.
Life is Worth Celebrating
Celebrate all aspects of life and bring more meaning to important milestones in your life. Rituals give us the tool to acknowledge something we have accomplished, recognize those important in our life, and bring closure to life's upsets. When we fail to recognize those Life Passages, we fail to see the beauty and life lessons that comes from slowing down and acknowledging what is truly important.