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Rites of Passage

The essence of a Rite-of-Passage is transformation


The term rite of passage, was coined by Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, and defined by him as: “rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age”. His definition implies that rites-of-passage not only apply to major transitions in life, but in relatively small changes too. The term ‘rites of passage’ is now used in a wider cultural context than the symbolic rituals that marked major transitions because it is a useful metaphor for all kinds of transitions in life, especially those that result in psychic growth or increase cognitive complexity.


Most modern societies no longer have these rituals or the understanding of their power has been lost. Although some have been retained, such as birth and marriage ceremonies, funeral rites, etc, in many contemporary cultures they have been watered down so as to be fairly meaningless in terms of serving as true initiation ceremonies. We only have to witness the psychological distress that teenagers often suffer due to the lack of meaningful rites-of-passage for their transition from adolescence to adulthood to understand their value.


What makes a rite of passage ceremony meaningful is its ability to affect psyche of the participants (both the initiate and their community who witness the rite). Led by guides skilled in the symbolic art of ceremony, initiates are led through the rite of passage. There are three phases, each with a number of facets. Each aspect is important in preparing the initiate for crossing the threshold into liminal space, holding the initiate when they cross the threshold into the unknown, and helping the initiate integrate into the new phase of their life.


The three phases of the rite of passage are: Severance, Threshold, and Incorporation.


1. Severance

This phase is where the initiate is prepared by elders for their transition into a new role or state of being. They let go of what must be allowed to die in order for something new to take its place.  


2. Threshold or liminality

In this phase, the initiate traverses a realm that resembles neither the previous or future state, it is unknown, uncertain, and amorphous. It contains all the symbolic elements of death and rebirth.


3. Incorporation or integration:

The initiated one emerges transformed. There is acknowledgement by the community that an initiation has taken place. The initiated one's new state is respected, nurtured and reinforced by the community.


The active presence of the initiate’s community is important, especially in the final phase of Incorporation. Unfortunately, the dearth of rites-of-passage ceremonies in modern societies and a lack of understanding of how significant they can be in helping people to transition means that there is rarely an intact supportive community to witness the initiate’s rite-of-passage or to acknowledge their new state and welcome them home.


We encourage participants to keep in touch with each other if they are moved to do so, or with others who have participated on our programmes. Most struggle to maintain the initial energy and conviction they may have felt by the end of the programme, so it can be very helpful for people to share their struggles and successes with others who have undergone similar experiences. In this way, we attempt to emulate a community to help facilitate incorporation.

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