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Heathen Rites of Passage
Rites of passage are one of the most important elements of a religious tradition.
Unfortunately, especially in the United States, this practice has been stopped, to the ill luck of many. Today, instead of our children participating in a learning experience about themselves, they are forced into an unguided stumble into adulthood. Instead of the experience of learning to hunt, they learn to smoke pot and binge drink. Instead of forming strong bonds and relationships with family and community, they join gangs. Instead of self-appreciation and confidence, they are forever engulfed in a whirlwind of self doubt and low self-esteem. Instead of loving themselves and seeing opportunity, they walk in an antisocial cloud of hate and depression. There were sociological reasons for these rites of ascension. And our general society is now reaping the consequences of our lost of them. But, we can change this.
There are actually four general rites: Naming, Coming of age,Marriage and Death. There can also be rites added for other events such as graduation from school, first job, etc. These are usually family affairs while the first four should be community affairs.
When a child is born, our ancestors considered that it did not yet have a soul or a place in the family orlog until nine days later when it was named. By naming the newborn and sprinkling it with water, its personal being was tied into the hamingja and luck of the family, clan, and tribe or community. The sprinkling of water was called, “Ausa Vatni” which originated long before the coming of Christianity. One may choose to call forth various gods and goddess and the norns to recognize and bless the child being named. Such ceremonies are expressed in various sagas like Egil’s Saga, Njal’s Saga, and Eyrbyggja Saga to name a few. There were traditions of naming children after dead relatives to help bring about that ancestor’s luck. In modern day, there is a growing trend to bring back some of the older, heathen names into family lines once again. There is one other time that a naming can take place and that is when the child has finished his/her rite of Coming of Age, they are allowed to ask for another naming ceremony to present themselves to the Gods as an adult. The name they choose is usually their Heathen name.
Coming of Age:
Rites of Adulthood among many cultures always seemed to follow a general pattern. The male rites of adulthood seemed to follow tightly with various warrior cults of Northern Europe. Unfortunately we do not have much of an idea of the female rites but do know that most assuredly the women of the tribe or clan saw to her initation into the realm of womanhood.
The same check list can be used for both male and female with small variations:
1. The desire to participate in the ritual, and the participant expecting something
2. Isolation, vigils, fasting or abstinence, and time for reflection.
3. Noise of one sort or another.
4. Real or symbolic drink or potions.
5. Threats or frightening happenings, usually staged and not real danger.
6. A symbolic death and resurrection.
7. New acceptance into the desired group and the giving of an item.
8. All of the events are always kept secret from the participant and any future participants.
An example would be the vision quest of the Native American tribes for their youth, where they were considered a man and a warrior on the completion of the quest. Similar such elements can be created for our youth of today. The key is to be sure that the activity teaches the youth something about themselves and helps to bind them with their community in some way.