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The Need For Rites Of Passage


              Cultures throughout the world invest a great deal in preparing their children for passage into the world.  Traditions, stories and experiences abound to offer children a picture of the world beyond the family or  village or tribal nest and their relationship to it.  Western culture, however, has a tremendous impotency in imparting to our children and charging them with a deep spiritual commitment and recognition of harmony with the creatures and all habitats of the earth, and the Whole of Creation. 

              Somehow, we have, as a whole, fragmented and isolated our society from our environment, from our Creator, from ourselves and each other, and from any common sense of purpose, Destiny or meaning.  Without these common threads, we do not have the means to pass them on to our children, or to act, as a whole, in a manner in harmony with Creative design or intent.  This has created vast social disorder and environmental chaos, in which we, and now our youth, have been raised.  We have lost and not been shown how to find our true identity, and without this, we can have no true sense of purpose, fulfillment or self-worth.  For many of us, this creates a lifelong pursuit of "finding ourselves", or a relationship to our environ, and to the Divine.  And for too many of us, this is the legacy we are passing on to our children as well.

             Most cultures recognize themselves, in place, as a part of the Whole, to live in a harmonious relationship with all aspects of the Creation about them, of which they are an integral part.  And it is an important part of that understanding to develop a personal as well as tribal (or group) relationship with the Creation.  It is important to the group that the                     

individual "find him/herself", so that each individual recognizes the importance of individual and group inter-relationships with the Whole.  Indeed, the root meaning of individual is "indivisible".  And it is by divining individual meaning and understanding that the group mind and purpose is furthered. 

              Many societies provide some form of ritual which links its youth more directly with the Greater World and the larger group or tribe, as part of that society's recognition of their youths' passage into adulthood, and part of its responsibility of preparing its youth for adulthood, and for the world at large.  These forms of ritual are known as Rites of Passage.

              Most of us are at least slightly aware of the "Vision Quest" of the Plains Indians, in which tribal youth are prepared by spiritual elders in a basic understanding of the Mysteries of the Universe, then participate in a solemn ritual of cleansing and fasting.  The youth are set into the world alone for a period of several days, hopefully to return with direct knowledge from personal experience of the Mysteries.  They return, having persevered these Rites of Passage, welcomed into the tribe as an adult, in a celebration of song and dance in which the youth act out his/her vision, to share it with the "family", that all might know, and learn the youth's new greater identity acquired with the experience, along with a new name, and a new relationship with the tribe and the world.  Some tribes use psychotropic inducement in performing rituals that lead the youth, and participating adults, into "the other world."

              Whatever the motivator, the youth comes back with direct knowledge, from his/her own experience, about the nature of the Cosmos, of Nature, and his/her direct part in and relationship with It.  This is a bonding experience, just as a parent has with a newborn, which awakens the youth to the Cosmos, and prepares a foundation for him/her to build his/her life on, based on Its principles of harmony, love, divine order, respect, and peace.  Indeed, we might call this experience being "born again."

              This deeply personal, newly awakened relationship is further enhanced and supported by the existing social order, creating new awareness and bonding within the group, for its new adult, and its existing members. This furthers trust and respect within the group, for the group and its social order, for its youth and for its elders, for its customs and Sacred Ways, all of which are viewed by the group, both individually and collectively, as within the Whole.  This validates the traditions of the social order, renewing and regenerating the very fabric on which it is built, and insuring its continued existence and strength.  Adolescents are usually not required to participate in such rituals, but are encouraged to if and when they feel ready or compelled.  This too is part of the natural order, recognizing that we each grow and mature at our own rate.  Nor or the rites just for the youth.  Adults often  participate in such rites to re-establish or renew their relationship with Spirit, to further enrich their lives, or to seek particular answers or blessings relevant to their present lives.

              This is an experience sadly lacking in our culture.  Our youth go to great extremes searching for what they do not know, and what we adults have historically not shared.  It creates conflict between generations, and within families, and the larger "groups".  Indeed, because we adults did not have these experiences, we may not know how to lead our youth in them.  And perhaps greater, have not had the experience to identify fully within  ourselves to the Divine, nor base our society on these natural principals of harmony, love, respect, and peace.

               We leave our youth, inherently, to fend for themselves.  So they turn to whatever they can find, knowing intuitively some piece is missing, not being accepted fully into society as young adults (from early adolescence on), not having any avenue of recognition of their new biological or sexual or emotional maturity, not having adults with emotional clarity or          spiritual leadership to guide them into spiritual maturity, and they (the youth) strive to find some avenue of personal expression, their IDENTITY, individual and group, which, as a natural law, should be integrated into their new biology.

              They turn to music, which touches all of our roots, and to drugs, to seek that change in consciousness we adults should be leading them through, (or, for thrills, as they seek to establish some meaning and self-worth in their un-fulfilling lives.)  They turn to sexual relationships, seeking the love and acceptance they may never fully have had, or the natural urge for expression of their new sexual maturing, as well as the bonding experiences, the feelings of unity, self-expression and self-fulfillment which sexual experiences, and relationships, can give all of us at least brief, if not lasting, glimpses of.  And they turn to sports, gangs, and many other avenues open to them to gain some form of group acceptance and

self-identity and self-worth.

              Unfortunately, many of us spend our entire lives on that search.  Realistically, we never grow up, or we expend long, hard years assuming full responsibility for our essentially dysfunctional lives.  Socially, we are neither provided with the avenues for nor the recognition of deep personal growth, or spiritual commitment or attainment.  We lock years of stored memory and pain into our tissue.  And we struggle for meaning, identity, and fulfillment, usually to have it suppressed by social responsibilities and realities; school, college and parental demands, replaced by jobs and economic responsibilities, marriage and parenting  obligations, and social/political demands.  But the urge persists.  And the longer it exists without acknowledgment or fulfillment, the more detrimental it can be to our ego, our self-esteem, and eventually our health, both individually, and collectively.  Indeed, it has led an entire society, our entire culture, to a deprivation of any deep feeling of self-worth, of happiness, of belonging, of fulfillment, of a deeply rooted and  meaningful relationship with our neighbors, Creation, and our Creator, and of life after death.  And we have historically passed these feelings and lackings on to our youth. 

              Many in the sixties and seventies were awakened to the processes of self discovery by the awakening times, by drugs, by the regeneration of spiritual values and social awareness, and/or by the Universal clock calling for it to be time for it to be so.  But many of us were not ready for it.  We were not prepared, nor were the roots of social acceptance and support in place to maintain awareness, or the need for change or growth.

              Many of the grassroots organizations withered and died, the drugs became a nightmare, and many of the "new order" were absorbed back into the common culture.  But through it all, a growing body of people on the planet, transpassing (note to editor: perhaps a new word, please leave it) all boundaries of age, culture, race, sex, or creed, have slowly cultivated the seeds which were planted there.  Slowly, through it all, a strong sense of self and integration with the Whole, a determination to abide by the laws of harmony, love, respect and peace, has awakened in our society and those throughout the earth, and individuals and groups alike have grown and  lifted the banners of hope and peace to the world.  Banners for the hungry and the oppressed, banners for the earth and its air and waters, banners for all of its breathing species, banners against war and violence in the home, in the field, and in the back alleys.  A strong consciousness has arisen.  Obviously, much more remains to be done.

              But along the way, let us not forget our youth.  As we wonder, what is the answer to the breaking of the cycles of violence, disrespect and pollution?  Let  us look at our children as they are turning older.  And not deny their adulthood.  And not refer their needs for self-identity and integration into the group and the whole to their own devises.  Let us look for and commend  ways to teach them what so many of us have struggled to learn.  Tools of meditation, of healing, of personal growth.  Tools of vision to see the beauty of the Whole and tools of empowerment to take their place in Its midst.