Adolescent Rites of Passage in Paganism

By Daracha

A topic that has become of great interest to me in the past few years, since I have been working within schools and youth groups, is the behaviour of teenagers, particularly boys.  The attitudes of boys today can quiet often disgust the Baby Boomers, and the X generation, who, not so long ago, were teenagers too and probably not the greatest role models from the stories I have heard. Today we see a lot of students disrespecting the elder generation, but we are yet to see how they turn out in the next decade. They say it is about the age of 25 when a human male begins to mature and calm down – and funnily enough – learn about consequences.

But what about our rites of passage today, that our modern, Western, Christo-centric ideals consider proper? We think it’s alright to let a boy turn 18 and call him an adult regardless of whether or not he is worthy of the respect. Some 18 year olds are the rattiest little sh*ts you could ever come across, yet, they can get their driver’s license and drink alcohol legally at the same age (in Victoria). Some of them are no more mature than a bratty 10 year old! And we let them loose into the world!

A lot of them abuse these gifts and get themselves into serious trouble, and often it takes them a while to get out of that trouble, they keep re-offending until they, a close friend, or family member gets hurt. We throw 18th parties, and give them a slab of tinnies, and leave them to it, all the while not really paying all that much attention to who they are and how they behave. We expect the parents to be worrying about that kind of thing, not us attendees of said 18th.

They are countless rites of passages in our lives. Childhood to teen, teen to adult, single to married, etc, just to name a few. But as a Christo-centric world that we live in, I feel we have lost a lot in our culture – most people reading this blog post will realise that. When I say Western and Christo-centric, I mean the modern and usually Caucasian English-speaking world. We have been so far removed from our pagan ways (1,500 – 2,000 years ago), that we have lost a lot in the way of respect for our teenagers, as well as elders. The only way we get to see some teenagers go through rites of passage is to witness and observe the rites that tribal communities’ teenagers have to go through to become a man in their culture. And boy, it can be risky stuff! And as a safe, OH&S culture, we don’t want our kiddies to take those risks.

(I’m going to digress here and say that we’ve lost a lot of respect for our elderly too – dope them up with modern medicine so they don’t die, yet we put them in homes when they have dementia and cannot talk to us anymore. THAT infuriates me. Back onto topic…)

But when I say respect for teenagers, I mean giving them attention – why not create a ceremony/ritual to not only celebrate their physical movement into adulthood, but also their mental and emotional. You don’t have to do this when they are 17 turning 18 either, you could do it anytime. Many teens/young adults may even demand respect because society sees him as an adult, so he does not care if you don’t. That’s when you get your kith and kin involved in talking to the lad. He can be everyone’s responsibility, not just his parents, especially if his parents don’t see what he is really like.

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Make an effort to give more attention to teenagers in a positive way

I remember watching the girls in my class at school preparing for their debutante ball, going to dance rehearsals, getting a puffy white frock, some bloke to partner them, and getting more attention than they already got – a friend of mine in class once asked out loud, rather snidely – ‘I don’t understand, what are doing to it for?’ – and the snob answered ‘to be the centre of attention.’ After that, it always interested me that we should give a single teen attention other than their birthdays. Sure, if they win an award at school, they get recognition, but what about a true rite of passage combined with their birthday or as a single celebration. (I am not sure the girls at school understood what a deb ball really meant, as our modern society has grown out of ‘coming-out’ balls).

I have heard details of great efforts to conduct an individual rite of passage for a youngster. I recall hearing a tale of a boy who turned 18, and the party was celebrating how mature the boy was, rather than how old he was turning. All the matriarchs and patriarchs he had grown up with were there, and all had something to say about his kindness and maturity. It apparently made him more proud to hear about what his elders thought of him, than it being his birthday. It was a tribal ceremony – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – these people were his tribe – family and close friends, so it would have meant more to him.

It would indeed be a wonderful thing to have evidence on various kinds of ceremonies and rites of passage of the ancient pagans of caucasian cultures, and indeed a record of that ritual so we could transfer our own modern-day workings into it. But what is to stop us from writing our own? It does not have to be Pagan too, that I know, but I think it might help our troubled, confused and scared youngsters today, if we taught them a bit more about the world, respect, and trust. Christianity has a lot to answer for. As humans, we have been Christians for so many hundred years that we have forgotten and ignored the environment, our own human urges and how we think of others. Have you noticed Christians are so much more interested in how they are to their God that they don’t care enough for the earth around them? Who’s to say they did not ignore the old ways, the old rites of passage into adulthood too? Remember, anything the Pagans did, the Christians rejected it – it seems they rejected true, respectful rites of passages too. Possibly because some of them were barbaric, but that’s a moot point.  Here, it talks about extinct ceremonies, and what involves a possible ritual…

‘Today, such rites of passage are almost extinct. Boys lack clear markers on their journey to becoming a man. If you ask them when the transition occurs, you will get a variety of answers: “”When you get a car,” “When you graduate from college,” “When you get a real job,” “When you lose your virginity,” “When you get married, “When you have a kid,” and so on. The problem with many of these traditional rites of passage is that they have been put off further and further in a young man’s life. 50 years ago the average age an American man started a family was 22. Today, men (for ill or good) are getting married and having kids later in life. With these traditional rites of passage increasingly being delayed, many men are left feeling stuck between boyhood and manhood. College? Fewer men are graduating. And many that do “boomerang” back home again, spending another few years figuring out what the next step in their life should be. As traditional rites of passage have become fuzzier, young men are plagued with a sense of being adrift.’

We could make more of an effort raising our children with rites of passage. We do our best to raise them as good kids, and if they are, let us recognise that by giving them a ceremony that is not their birthday. Don’t embarrass them. They might not want the village to come a witness you saying, ‘you’re a good kid/teen/adult’ – you’d have to include them in the organisation of the event too, it will make them feel special, and you never know – they might be good kids/teens/adults until their next rite of passage. They might even want a secret ceremony! Of course, they (the boy) has a lot of work to do to prove to himself that he is worthy of manhood too, and he should understand that.

It is NOT when they lose their virginity – that is the biggest falsehood they should realise. Raise your child well – tell him what makes him a man is responsibility, empathy, honesty, loyalty, and maturity.

You know those fathers out there who encourage their sons to ogle at women (it happens, sometime unwittingly!), treat them as an object, respect and idolise misogynistic football players – is there any wonder that the boy may think losing his virginity makes him a man! Some boys out there, surprisingly, have NO idea that it may be WRONG to actually think that! A well-raised lad would know the difference – it’s one thing I think constitutes bad parenting – sorry to parents out there, but I think a lot of people will agree with me.

Often I have often told a youngster to ‘respect your elders’, without realising the fact that they had every right to say, ‘respect your youngsters’ back. And they do have that right. I had not really thought about it until I worked with teenagers – respect has to go both ways. I’d want to respect a youngster by celebrating their behaviour in a ceremony that is all about them. I have no child to do that with, but I could suggest to my readers who are parents that you work something out – Pagan, Christian or not – I think it’s a cultural ceremony we could easily bring back without damaging our social ideals.

Of course, this can easily adapt to girls and women too. It has been easier using boys as an example in this post because we, as a patriarchal society, expect so much more of the poor lads that it’s quite a large concern. Some troubled, angry boys out there probably want a bit of attention – it might be all they need to not feel so neglected.

Any comments or suggestions? I would love to hear what people have to say about this, or indeed hear about rites of passage already conducted in the world, male or female. What is already out there that the world may not know about – what books, ritual suggestions on other blogs or websites, or in religious groups are already available? SHOULD someone publish a book on rites of teens today that should be in every household in the WORLD?????

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