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  • Writer's pictureRachel Lovie

The Rite-of-Passage as a metaphor for development

The three phases of the rite-of-passage can be very helpful in describing the process of development. The first phase is known as "Severance". In a ritual or ceremony, it describes the initial phase of severing from the role or stage of life previously occupied by a person - e.g. adolescence, being single, married, without children, etc. Identification with this role must be relinquished before a new one can be adopted.

In any developmental cycle a similar thing can be seen. We may look at ourselves and realise that something has to change, that who we used to be isn't who we need to be to move forward. And so begins a process of change. We have to be willing to give up aspects of our identity. That means taking a good look at ourselves and our habits or patterns of thinking and behaving, and having the courage to question them. If we can trace the roots of the thinking and behaviours we've identified as unhelpful, we often find that they stem from difficult of traumatic situations in our past and were once coping strategies that have now become redundant, yet the patterns persist.

We must honour the aspects of ourselves that we now need to let go of because they no longer serve us, because once (often in early childhood) they may have helped us survive. To properly let go, we need to go through a kind of grieving process, remembering the times these aspects served us, and saying goodbye, letting them die an honourable death. This creates space to bring in something new, even if we don't know what that is or how it might change us. We must become ready and willing to step into unknown territory for the sake of expanding our consciousness.


The second phase of the rite-of-passage is known as "Threshold", or the liminal phase. Liminality, in this context, is a space of in between, when the old self has been left behind but the new version is not yet fully formed. The simpler term threshold, refers to stepping from the known into the unknown, and it takes a leap of faith to do. It's not easy to leave who we think we are behind, even if that self feels miserable or stuck. But in order to grow, it must be done. Oddly enough, we find that far from losing our identity, we actually become more ourselves than before. This is because what we are talking about here is the gaining of greater Self-knowledge, of making unconscious knowledge available to the conscious mind.

In ritual and ceremony the threshold space is intentionally disruptive, a place where transformation occurs. Sometimes it's referred to as place in which the initiate metaphorically dies so they can be reborn. In everyday life, this phase can take a while and can sometimes feel interminable, a seemingly fruitless search for direction or inspiration, or where, despite your best efforts nothing seems to land. However, it represents a time in which energies and ideas are swirling around in the unconscious, waiting for the right time to manifest in the world. It can be really helpful for a person in this phase to develop their Intention because a strong Intent helps those energies to coalesce and take shape. On our programmes, we help participants work with Intent and it's an integral aspect of all our courses. I'll speak more about Intent in another post.


The third phase of a rite-of-passage is "Incorporation", which in this sense means to embody the change. The implication is that realisations, instead of being merely transitory emotions or insights, are fully integrated into the psyche, something I have heard people describe as being felt in the body or felt "in the bones". To fully incorporate change, it has to be lived, actioned, and this is the hardest part of the journey. Many stumble on the road of Incorporation because they have glimpsed the change they want to become but lack the support or energy to fully embody it. This is where it can be really helpful to have support, from peers, friends, loved ones, or better still, one's community.


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