What is a Rite of Passage, and Why are Rites of Passage so Important?

What is a Rite of Passage, and Why are Rites of Passage so Important?


What is a Rite of Passage? / A Rite of Passage Defined...

A Rite of Passage is best described as a process whereby a life changing transformation takes place, and the person moves from a former identity and life stage to a new identity and life stage.

A Rite of Passage should include, however not be limited to, a ceremony or moment where a person’s significant change in life stage / season is acknowledged, marked, and celebrated.

It should incorporate an intentionally crafted process, which involves a number of essential elements, including a period of preparation for the next stage of life.


What are some examples of rites of passage?

 A few examples of rites of passage include the following…

 - A person’s birth,
 - A person’s transition from childhood to adulthood,
 - A person leaving their family of origin home,
 - A person’s shift from single life to married life,
 - A person’s shift from not having children to having children,
 - A person moving from full time employment to retirement, and
 - The closing curtain of a person’s life.


What are the 3 Stages of a Rite of Passage?

Sociologists and anthropologists agree that every authentic rite of passage consists of three (3) essential stages, as first highlighted by the late French ethnographer / anthropologist, Arnold van Gennep (1873 – 1957).

Those 3 stages are as follows…

1. The Separation – The wilful choice of leaving behind the known / the former stage of life / place of familiarity and comfort,

2. The Transition – The Transformation of a person having undergone preparation and equipping, training and instruction, testing and challenging, and of course ceremony… and then finally…

3. The Reincorporation – The return of the individual back into his or her life, having forever changed, through his or her passing through the former two (2) stages, having experienced a renewing of his or her mind, having embraced a new identity, and integrating his or her discoveries from their previous transition / transformation stage, and new found wisdom, into their everyday lives moving forward.


Why is a Rite of Passage so Important for our Children to experience in their Transition from Childhood to Adulthood?

It is the calling of great men, not so much to preach new truths, as to rescue from oblivion those old truths which it is our wisdom to remember and our weakness to forget.”  (Sidney Smith)

Prior to the commencement of the Industrial Revolution, 300 years ago, all cultures offered some form of a carefully managed rite of passage, where children were actively and intentionally guided through their transition from childhood to adulthood.

Australian aboriginal tribes, South Pacific Islander tribes e.g. from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, African tribes e.g. the Massai from Kenya and Tanzania, and the Ebo from Ethiopia, Native American tribes e.g. the Sioux, Amazonian tribes, the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Spartans , the Ancient Romans, the Jewish people etc. all once incorporated some form or rite of passage within their cultures, societies, and religions.

Today however, very few people groups anywhere in the world still practice such rite of passage experiences, and families, and our societies as a whole, are suffering because of it.

I recall an invitation I received from an elder in Kenya maybe a decade ago now, asking if I would travel there to help them re-establish rites of passage for them.

Humility caused me to respond by saying that if I was to travel there, I would have expected to have learnt more than I might have been able to impart at the time.

The elder explained that “we the elders have dropped the ball”.

In the advent of the internet, their children were being initiated by American rappers through their music, instead of through their elders, like they had been for generation after generation beforehand.

As Michael Meade states… “In many tribal cultures, it is said that if boys were not initiated into manhood, if they were not shaped by the skills and love of elders, then they would destroy the culture. If the fires that innately burn inside youths are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, they will burn down the structures of culture, just to feel the warmth.”.

And that is precisely what we are witnessing in societies throughout the world today.
One of the ways in which this is manifested is in the area of increased crime amongst youths.
We the elders have dropped the ball, and we must rescue from oblivion the need for appropriate and relevant rites of passage, and we must do so, now.

In order for our children to become the best version of themselves as adults, they must be invited into the process of transition and transformation, and invited to cross the threshold that exists between childhood and adulthood, and be welcomed into that new identity.
Put simply, every child, at the appropriate age of course, should experience a rite of passage.
For if they don’t, then they will more than likely enter into what psychologists refer to as “extended adolescence”, and that is not good for them, and nor is it good for our society.


When is the right age for a child to take part in a Rite of Passage experience?

Firstly, a rite of passage is something that parents should be intentionally working towards… a phrase they should be discussing, adopting, and pointing their child toward, from maybe as early as 7 years of age.

That said, such a process should not be entered into too soon.
Just as not experiencing a rite of passage can limit a person’s development and potential, so too can inviting a child to take part too soon.
Childhood is precious, and should be celebrated, until it’s the right time for that child to start their journey of becoming a young adult of course… a journey that should begin at the onset of a child’s teenage years.

From experience, and from research, the ideal age for a child to take part in a rite of passage experience, is 14 or 15 years of age.
If you wait until your child is 16 years of age, then you run the very real risk of them not wanting to, or be willing to, experience a rite of passage.
That said, no matter how old your child may be, beyond 14 or 15 years of age, it's better for him or her to experience a rite of passage late, than to never experience one at all.


Rites of Passage in Australia today - For boys / teenage sons…

Steve Biddulph is one of the world’s best known parenting educators and psychologists, and the following couple of quotes of his are just a couple of things he has to say on the topic of rites of passage for boys / teenage sons…

For 95 percent of human history, boys… were welcomed into adulthood, into a lifelong support network that would work to ensure their contribution would be a good one.”,

and

“Traditionally, 2 things were done to help young men into adulthood.
First, they were ‘taken on’ and mentored into adulthood by one or more men who cared about them and taught them important skills for living.
And second, at certain stages of this mentoring process, the young men were taken away by the community of older men and “initiated”.
This meant being put through some serious growing up processes, including testing, sacred teaching, & new responsibilities.”.

For parents of boys / teenage sons who desire them to become good, life-giving, world-contributing men, participation in a rite of passage experience should be an essential and central part of their parenting plan.

For a lot more excellent information on rites of passage for boys / teenage sons, and the process and essential elements required during their transition from boyhood to manhood… I recommend you read the following blog post, here.

‘Fathering Adventures’ regularly facilitates their “Rite of Passage” Son and Father Adventure experiences , which prepares and equips both father and son, side-by-side, for young manhood and authentic manhood.

These world class rite of passage experiences are facilitated in the following locations within Australia…

1. The Mission Beach region of Tropical North Queensland each July and September school holiday period,
2. On the Gold Coast, in South-East Queensland each October, and
3. At ‘Mountain Trails’, in the Brindabella Ranges in NSW, North of Canberra each December.

'Fathering Adventures' has also facilitated these rite of passage experiences in both Nepal in partnership with World Vision Australia, and also in China for Chinese families, in the past.


Rites of Passage in Australia today - For girls / teenage daughters…

A couple of other quotes from Steve Biddulph, on the topic of rites of passage for girls / teenage daughters, are as follows…

Some time between fourteen and adulthood, a girl needs some kind of marker event, a growing-up rite… Girls have to be deliberately and proactively launched into healthy womanhood. When this is done well, the results are impressive. A girl takes charge of her life and begins to make her unique way in the world.”,

and

A girl who has had a “rite of passage” isn’t fully a woman yet. She is a beginning woman. But she has crossed the river, her sights are set on the future, and she is not going back. When she makes choices, she does so with a sense of being accountable, but also proud and strong, different from and more stable and considered than when she was a child.”.

For parents of girls / teenage daughters who desire them to become healthy and secure, life-giving, world-contributing women, participation in a rite of passage experience should also be an essential and central part of their parenting plan.

‘Fathering Adventures’ facilitates their “Rite of Passage” 4 Night Daughter and Father Adventure experiences , which prepares and equips daughters for young womanhood and healthy womanhood, with their father by their side, which helps provides their Dads with the understanding of the challenges that women face in our world today, more than ever before throughout all of human history.

These world class rite of passage experiences are currently only facilitated in the Mission Beach region of Tropical North Queensland, Australia, in June and sometimes also September each year.

'Fathering Adventures' has also facilitated these rite of passage experiences in China for Chinese families, in the past.


Other Rite of Passage Programs in Australia

We wholeheartedly believe that ‘Fathering Adventures’ rite of passage experiences are well-priced and world class, offering…

- A vast range of professionally guided and outfitted outdoor adventure activities in a number of different locations in Australia,
- Private indoor accommodation ranging from resort rooms with ensuites, to rustic cabins, and
- Well-catered meals for almost any special dietary requirement, and
- Informative and inspirational presentations that prepare and equip fathers and their children, followed by small group discussions in relation to the relevant topics presented.

If your preference however is bush camping, sleeping in tents, and not engaging in professionally guided and outfitted outdoor adventure activities, then our understanding is that the following few options of rite of passage programs... specifically rite of passage camps in Australia... may be suitable alternatives for you…

- The Rites of Passage Institute "Making of Men Camp",
- The Pathways Foundation "Pathways to Manhood Camp", or
- Powerhouse Programs "Journey to Manhood Camp".