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Rites of Passage

Traditional vs. Creative.
Rites of passage are community-focussed rituals which involve a transition of an individual, a couple, or a group, from one social status to another. As well as appealing to a divine or spiritual authority, such rites often invoke a sense of history and ancestral lineage.
With so much to communicate, rites of passage are rich in symbolism, often defining both an ideal social order and the transition that is to be made within that order, alongside symbols of the divine, community identity, individual identity, and heritage and history.
In our post-modern, individualistic and experimental age, there is no longer an accepted tradition of what a particular rite of passage does, or should, mean. Everyone has their own idea of what it means to name their baby, come of age, wed and die. Interpretations of other life transitions, such as major birthdays, retirement, emigration, even house moves, also vary widely.
For instance, marriage can be seen as being primarily about raising children and creating a sense of family within which to nurture them. This is the view of Christianity in recent history.
But marriage can also be seen as creating a spiritual bond between people to enable them to grow as individuals and fulfil their creative potential. Such a marriage may involve children, but not as a primary focus.
Another view, common amongst the wealthy of earlier times, is that marriage is a contract: a trade between protection, servitude and wealth.
Yet another view, common amongst royal families, is that marriage is a political statement, a symbolic allegiance between reconciled political factions or nations.
We are lucky to have such a rich variety of traditions from which to draw inspiration. But it's important not to get stuck in the past. To keep rituals relevant, and communities alive, we need to create new rituals for our own lives, in our own era.

Into the Light

The Village

Individual vs. Community.
Various magical schools of thought and spiritual traditions see a rite of passage as being about transforming one or more participants magically from one state to another, with a passive audience of awe-struck witnesses.
This is not the way I see a rite of passage at all. I view a rite of passage as leaving the participants unchanged, but transforming the whole community, and the community’s view of the participants. A couple are married because their community see them as married; a baby is named because her community see her as having a name. This is a much bigger task, requiring considered preparation.
Thus a rite of passage can be seen as a process of communication: telling your community what it is that you’re doing, and how you want your life to change.
It’s vital to get the message right, because a whole community is being divinely empowered to support, sustain, affirm, and even control, your new status.
For instance, if you’ve met the man of your dreams, an eco-warrior with whom you want to build an environmentally sustainable future, then your marriage ceremony needs to reflect this. If your ceremony puts the right message across, that you want to build an eco-village together, then your friends and family will likely greet you with building advice, and make gifts of construction materials.
On the other hand, if you design a ceremony that focusses on family and children, then your friends and family are more likely to greet you with breast-feeding advice, and gifts of baby clothes and soft toys!

Effective Rites of Passage.
Rituals are powerful things. It’s important to get them right: to communicate the right things, and to strengthen a general sense of community. As a ritual facilitator, the following constitute the bare essentials:

  • Work out what this transition means to you in all its aspects. This is harder than it sounds, especially when there’s more than one person involved, as in a marriage or a naming.
  • Create, or borrow, symbolism and symbolic acts that communicate what you’re doing and what you want.
  • Utilise symbolic language that your audience will understand. Plan time, before or during the ceremony, to explain personal or esoteric symbols, and consider whether individual guests might find particular symbols offensive.
  • Structure your ceremony to represent your current state, followed by a liminal phase of transition, and finally a symbolic representation of what you’re becoming and what you want.
  • Invoke divine power, a sense of the sacred, solemn contemplation, or spiritual forces: either personally or communally, using the services of a priest if needed. Remember, you’re transforming a whole community, a few poems and a cheerful song won’t be enough!
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. You're taking the whole of yourself through this transition, including your sense of humour. Be prepared to include humorous moments at your own expense, and light-hearted comments.
  • Include other people, especially children, as much as possible. A ritual forges closer community bonds, and stronger support, when everyone feels involved and important to you.
  • Give your community an opportunity to celebrate your new status: Give your friends and family a chance to cheer you on, formally with an uplifting song or dance, and informally with a party afterwards.

Contact Dreamcraft Click Here to email me for assistance designing a rite of passage or sacred ceremony.

First Dream


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