Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Coming of Age: How Ritual Can Celebrate this Passage

Many of us have not taken part in a coming of age ceremony.  The transition from girl to woman, or boy to man, is not often marked within western culture. Yet, is was seen as necessary to traditional cultures around the world as a way of continuing the values of the culture in new adults, and helping the young man or woman to understand their role within their society.

Missionaries and military formed a two-pronged attack on traditional cultures around the world.  The work of the missionary was instrumental in branding the ceremonies of the colonized societies as unnecessary, or evil. It was an effective way to destroy these peoples and cultures, leaving them open to exploitation.

What could a return to marking the transition to adulthood, achieve in present-day western culture?  Could it create a starting point for a more fulfilling experience for the new adult?  I would suggest that it could.  A ceremony, by itself, cannot take away all the trial and error that comes with this stage of life, but it can provide guideposts, a mindset that causes a young woman to consider her options within a specific framework of the experiences of women who have come before her, and whom she knows within her community.   It is the family and community aspect of the ceremony that provide the support and acknowledgement for the role that the woman must consider for her future life.

Although I speak as a woman, specifically about the transition of girl to woman, coming of age rituals are equally important for men to guide their sons, nephews and other young males within their family or community.  All too often, misogyny and rape is seen as acceptable, and women's sexuality viewed through the lens of the pornographer.   Young men, too, need to consider their role and behavior. 

The rite must include frank conversations about the questions that young people have, and the experiences they are likely to face. The rite itself, is only one part of the process.  The conversations must begin before any ritual, and ideally, continue afterwards. 

The young woman has many things to consider: How will she go about building a career? What will it mean to be a mother? What would it mean to delay motherhood?  What would it mean to make the choice not to be a mother at all?  How will she express her sexuality?  How does she see her body? There will be discussions about coercion and consent.

And most of all, a ritual will acknowledge and celebrate a new stage in life.

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