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Rites of Passage: Why Do We Need Them?

Why Do We Need Rites of Passage?

By Jan HolmesFather nurturing baby

A newborn child in the care and nurturing of its parents and other image makers is like a block of stone or wood in the hands of a sculptor. A great sculptor will not impose his will upon the wood or stone nor does he predetermine the form he is going to sculpt. He simply communicates with it, sees the spirit of what truly exists, and then cuts away everything that is hiding that spirit to reveal its aliveness.


Most adults, unfortunately, are not great sculptors. They have preconceived ideas of how a young child, particularly their child, should develop and ultimately turn out to be. Their own insecurities and wounding blind them to the true nature spirit within a child. Therefore, we grow up armoring against the pain of becoming something we are not in order to fit in, belong and conform to family, peer group, and society in general. We lose our connection not only to our own true nature spirit, but also to the greater Spirit from which we came. This is a form of violence.

Violence is usually associated with such things as war, rape, murder, or destruction of property. Violence to the spirit, however, is perhaps the most destructive and insidious kind of violence, for it often goes undetected as it works on our inner self. Like criminal defacing of a beautiful sculpture or work of art, it is spiritual graffiti, vandalism of the soul.

The loss of the rites of passage might be considered a violent disruption of our maturational cycles. Early peoples living close to nature and the earth experienced our cyclical journeys akin to the cycles, rhythms and seasons of the earth and the heavens. In losing the connection with nature, we also lose our connection to our inner self. We become deaf and blind to the spirit of the plants, the animals, the water and wind spirits, and the Earth herself. Perhaps it can be said that we project our rage and pain outward and wage violence against her -- polluting her waters and air, denuding her forest lands, and turning once fertile lands into fallow ground and deserts. Does not our molding, sculpting, and armoring accomplish a similar inner landscape?

Thunder Strikes has shared that in his years of study and work in many fields, including shamanic medicine and psychology, he has seen two primary contributors to violence, particularly its escalation among young people. They are the loss of the rites of passage and the sexual repression perpetrated by religions and religious image makers. Using dogma and blind faith, they seduce people into sacrificing their individual autonomous freedom. One of religion's most potent tools is the guilt, blame, and shame perpetrated around our sexuality. This is a form of violence because our sexual catalyst energy is what sparks all other aspects of ourselves. Our sexuality is a natural expression of who we are; it is our soul force. It gives us our identity as human beings.

A baby, in its seventh month in the womb, starts to pleasure itself in order to rotate so it can move down the birth canal properly. At birth it will play with its genitals to soothe its body. But when its parents slap its hands or remove them from its genitals, the child armors. It is like metal plating, a heaviness brought about as a reaction to pain -- physical and spiritual pain -- that slows it down and makes it dysfunctional.

Tribal Dancers in Rites of Passage (44 Kb)

At puberty our sexual energy reawakens and we enter a new arena of experience. Earth peoples have always had a rite of passage to allow that to take place in a way that honors the sacredness of their life force energy. They learned to respect and honor that within themselves. The rites of passage were critical ceremonies acknowledging the young man and woman for their beauty, talent and uniqueness. They signaled the young person's spiritual and sexual awakening and welcomed them with celebration into young adulthood as responsible members of community. And the rites of passage helped the individual to answer a very important question -- "Who am I?"

Our basic human nature yearns for rites of passage, to be initiated into a group, to be recognized and to be accepted for who we are. Because society fails to preserve and maintain the rites of passage, young people often create their own. The drama, initiation and structure of street gangs, for example, are a form of rites of passage ritual. As destructive as they may be, they provide a way for an individual to transition from childhood into young adulthood. They receive recognition here and feel that they are "somebody". It is a way of announcing themselves to the world in the absence of honoring by the adults in their lives. Violent behavior not only provides an edge; violence often is the proving ground of manhood, and increasingly, womanhood. Other forms of initiation include belly piercing, Sweet 16's, drinking alcohol or sampling a variety of drugs.

Absence of some form of honoring ceremonies and recognition of our transitions often creates pathology that can erupt in so many ways: externally, in the form of criminal activity and violence against others; internally, by the repression of our spirit and soul force - our measure of self-worth plummets. The rage and pain of that often surfaces in disease and sickness.

A number of years ago Thunder Strikes developed a self defense and rape awareness program for women which was the product of his background in the martial arts and other defense systems as well as an extensive study of the psychological profile of the rapist. Upon interviewing over one hundred incarcerated rapists, he discovered that, without exception, the common element in each of their backgrounds was related to their sexuality: either they were raised in very sexually repressed households where they were severely punished for pleasuring themselves, reading anything with sexual content, or were themselves sexually abused.

We watch films that explicitly display sexuality, daytime television steams the screen, and we delude ourselves into thinking that we live in a sexually relaxed and free society. Underneath that facade is a deep fear of sexuality. So we project this fear onto our young people, trying to instill in them a denial of this reawakening aspect of themselves. On the one hand, we tell them it is "dirty", sinful, given to us for procreation, talked about in hushed tones so they can't hear us. On the other hand, sex is exploited to sell everything from cars to copy machines. It is another convoluted and confused message.

Advertising is an image maker that works overtime to answer the question "Who am I?" Unfortunately, it carries the message "You're not okay the way you are." We are measured with external yardsticks and seduced into believing that the images projected at us are really who we should be. What! You don't have a _______? You can "get" okay, if you buy the right kind of car, wear the right kind of designer jeans and the right brand of makeup, live in the right style of house, hang out at the right places. And so it goes. Rape of the psyche. Violation of the spirit.

This is destructive at any age but particularly devastating for a young person trying to discover their own uniqueness and measure of self-worth. These cannot be externally determined for us by others, nor can our magickal mysterious character be carved out of the substance of our being by others. We must become our own sculptor.

The rites of passage provide the means for us to do that. They also help to keep us on course and to navigate through the "white water rapids" that often accompany the critical transition times. They help us to know who we are and to anticipate our becoming. We must be willing to listen to our young people, to see the light of their true spirit shining within. We must be willing to nurture that spirit with respect and allow it to blossom and express itself creatively. And we must reinstate the rites of passage that usher young people through puberty into young adulthood to celebrate and honor them.

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