A rite of passage
is a ritual
that marks a change in a person's social
or sexual status. Rites of passage are often ceremonies
surrounding events such as childbirth
or other milestones within puberty
, coming of age
, and death
. Initiation ceremonies such as baptism, confirmation and bar or bat mitzvahs are considered important rites of passage. In the last centuries Western society has seen a steady decline in the usage of rites of passage.
History of term
Theories were developed in the 1960s by Mary Douglas
and Victor Turner
(The Ritual Process
, 1969). Joseph Campbell
's 1949 text, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
and his theory of the journey of the hero were also influenced by Arnold van Gennep
According to van Gennep, rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. In the first phase, people withdraw from the group and begin moving from one place or status to another. In the third phase, they reenter society, having completed the rite. The liminal phase is the period between states, during which people have left one place or state but haven't yet entered or joined the next.
Types and examples
Rites of passage are diverse, and are often not recognized as such in the culture in which they occur. Many society rituals may look like rites of passage but miss some of the important structural and functional components. Typically the missing piece is the societal recognition and reincorporation phase. Adventure Education programs, such as Outward Bound, have often been described as potential rites of passage. Pamela Cushing researched the rites of passage impact upon adolescent youth at the Canadian Outward Bound School and found the rite of passage impact was lessened by the missing reincorporation phase (Cushing, 1998). Bell (2003) presented more evidence of this lacking third stage and described the "Contemporary Adventure Model of a Rites of Passage" as a modern and weaker version of the rites of passage typically used by outdoor adventure programs.
Several organizations, such as Boys to Men Mentoring Network and Rite of Passage Journeys in Bothell, Washington, provide nature based initiatory experiences that do include the incorporation phase. At the end of Rite of Passage Journeys' Coming-of-Age trips, parents arrive to work with their children for the final weekend of the experience, so that changes that occurred on the trip can be supported when the youth returns to his or her home environment.
Some other examples of rites of passages in contemporary society are given in the following subsections.
Coming of age rites of passage
In various tribal societies, entry into an age grade – generally gender-separated – (unlike an age set) is marked by an initiation rite, which may be the crowning of a long and complex preparation, sometimes in retreat.
Religious initiation rites
Other initiation rites
Armed forces rites
- Baptism by fire
- Battlefield commission, equivalent to ennoblement for valor or knighting on the field in the ancien régime
- Berserker, berserkergang - an initiatory Nordic warrior-rite; the young Scandinavian warrior of old or Viking had to symbolically transform into a bear or wolf before he could become an elite warrior (cf. Cuchulain's transformation)
- Counting coup
- Krypteia - a "robber-baron" or "bandit-warrior" rite of the military youths of ancient Sparta
- Pas d'armes
- Trial by battle, or Judicium Dei (Judgment of God)
- U.S. Marine Crucible
- U.S. Navy: Battle Stations
- Naval (military and civilian) crossing the equator
- In the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy, wetting-down is a ceremony in which a Naval officer is ceremonially thrown into the ocean upon receiving a promotion.
- U.S. Army Victory Forge
- In many military organizations, as in civilian groups, new conscripts are sometimes subjected by "veterans" to practical jokes, ranging from taking advantage of their naïveté to public humiliation and physical attacks; see Hazing.
- Soldiers and sailors may also be hazed again on obtaining a promotion.
- In Greece conscription is mandatory and has been historically linked with maturing of a man. The army was historically perceived as the "natural" way to go and as a final 'school' of socialization and maturing for young men before their comeout to the real world; also it would be the first time a young man would find himself on his own and away from home. Consequently, draft dodgers or men unable to serve encountered prejudice, were often frowned upon and deemed useless by conservative societies
Academic circles such as dorms, fraternities, teams and other clubs practice
Entrance into Medicine and Pharmacy (University) :
- White Coat Ceremony
- In Spanish universities of the Modern Age, like Universidad Complutense in Alcalá de Henares, upon completion of his studies, the student was submitted to a public questioning by the faculty, who could ask sympathetic questions that let him excel or tricky points. If the student passed he invited professors and mates to a party. If not, he was publicly processioned with donkey ears.
- Bell, B. J. (2003). "The rites of passage and outdoor education: Critical concerns for effective programming." The Journal of Experiential Education, 26, 1, pp. 41–50.
- Cushing, P.J. (1998). "Competing the cycle of transformation: Lessons from the rites of passage model." Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Experiential Education, 9,5,7–12.