rites of passage

Rites of Passage — Spiritual Transitions

Significant life events are often benchmarks marking the spiritual transitions of our lives from one state to another.  Memorializing these is a way of rooting our lives and preparing us for the future.  Our modern culture has attempted to remove these from our lives.   It makes you wonder why?

Spiritual Transitions

Any event which significantly changes your life could be a benchmark worth remembering.  A rite of passage is a ritual marking these points. But, our modern culture has attempted to remove these from our lives.   It makes you wonder why?

Some transition points are natural rites of passage and worthy commemoration.  For instance, births, deaths, graduations, and marriages.  Unfortunately, accidents and illnesses that change our lives are also major transitions points.  All of these kinds of events are opportunities to memorialize the transition.  The ritual involved does not have to be elaborate.  A moment of silence is an example.

We should not overlook the importance of doing this.  It reminds us of the different phases in our experience. It also helps us to learn the lesson that may be involved.  It provides us with the courage to heal if necessary.  And, in some cases, it’s a reminder of the actions that led to the event.  These could be either positive or negative.  For example, earning a degree takes a lot of hard work.  So, the degree is a memorial to the hard work it took to obtain it.  In turn, this helps us to accomplish other things.  Similarly, if the event is an accident caused by negligent or bad behavior, then this serves as a reminder of what not to do.

Some people all of these benchmarks are spiritual in nature.  That cultural and modern transition events are subsets of a spiritual transition.  That’s because we are spiritual beings.  In that sense, everything is a spiritual experience.  In general, there are three ways to group benchmarks.

    • Cultural
    • Spiritual
    • Modern

Cultural Rites of Passage

Ancient cultures use these transition points and milestones as glue for the culture. They developed rites for people as they ascended from children through puberty and adolescence to adulthood.  These were opportunities to rally and celebrate.  They also provided both examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  Most importantly, they demonstrate the cohesiveness of society.

For example, when a leader steps down to give authority to another, there is a ceremony to honor his service.   And, in many cases transition his power to the successor.  There were rites for different offices and authority, from warrior to healer. These cultural rites differ depending on the cultural narrative.

When society contains people with different cultures it becomes an issue.  How do you create a unified culture while still celebrating different cultural benchmarking events, styles and types?  It takes conscious work to make a culture inclusive and while also promoting individual expression. So, unfortunately, some societies or groups resort to censorship and groupthink manipulation in an attempt to control conflict.

Spiritual Rites of Passage

There exists a common formula for spiritual transition; separation, cleaning, death, and rebirth. This process is cyclical in nature as with the coming of each season.  And, most interestingly you’ll see this same pattern reflected in many cultures.  Joseph Campbell noted anthropologist coined the term “Hero’s Journey.” We employ this in the same pattern in our blended learning strategy of the Hero’s Journey in three phases, awakening, transforming and inspiring.

It is vitally important for us to recognize the call of the spiritual side.  Many people who are in emotional distress are in fact experiencing many symptoms that are associated with separation or awakening.  It’s the first phase of the spiritual call.  It is a rite of passage that commemorates the first steps on the path.

Separation or Awakening

The separation aspect is important to draw focus on the processes to come. This corresponds with the awakening aspect of the Hero’s Journey.  In ancient cultures, this separation was often a physical one. The initiate was taken away from the family and village. Sometimes blindfolded and taken into the wilderness, or in some cases, the initiate spent time in a cave, hut or sweat lodge. Today, the weekend retreat where we turn off electronic devices works as an effective substitute.  Separation provides space for awakening.

Cleansing Also a Part of the Awakening Stage

Cleansing the body and mind, preparing for change is the next step. In some cultures,  a ritual bath is still used.  Others use special diets for periods of time and even the removal of all body hair. There are a variety of cleansing rituals that again help focus the initiate for learning and preparing the body.

Today, many participants to our weekend retreats begin their own dietary preparations depending upon their health condition in order to maximize their ability to learn and fully participate in experiencing and learning a set of new spiritual technologies.  Cleansing also can be part of the home.  Downsizing or decluttering the home is also a way of cleansing.  You are preparing the mind by giving it space.  Cleansing your physical space is symbolic of this action.

Symbolic Death is Transformation

The symbolic death is one that is reflected in many religious traditions as well as spiritual rites of passages. This corresponds with the transformation aspect of the Hero’s Journey.  Some ancient cultures did not realize the death was only a symbolic act and many initiates thought they would actually be put to death. To emphasize this aspect of the spiritual process initiates underwent scarification, tattoos, and dismemberment or other bodily transformation so that this death would be a sign of their level of initiation. This enables them worthy and certainly committed and focused to learn.

The symbolic death is the death of previous beliefs and barriers.  Because without the ability to leave them behind we are often unable to access or fully utilize the spiritual technologies available. Today we employ a process of examining our paradigm and then making the decision to move beyond their limitations. A necklace with a small trinket as a symbol of their expanding awakening that will come from this process.

Symbolic Rebirth is both Transforming and Inspiring

The final aspect of the spiritual rite of passage is the symbolic rebirth. In the Hero’s Journey, this corresponds to both the aspect of transformation as well as inspiration.  This comes about as a direct result of applying the new spiritual technologies. The perception changes to the extent that the person feels “new,” seeing things in new ways, and understands their life from a different perspective and embraces the new spiritual gifts.

Modern Rites of Passage

If the culture does not recognize important life events and benchmarks,  then people create their own.  That’s because they are important landmarks for our psyche.  So, if there is no “space” for this in the popular culture,  the subculture will develop its own milestones to commemorate major events.

Gangs and religious sects are examples of the creation of rites.  They create new subcultures.  Then develop rites of passage to commemorate entry and levels of elevation, rank, and hierarchy within the culture.  Along with these rites, they develop their own symbols, create objects of power, and memorize rituals.  Many symbols link to the powerful typologies that influnence our thinking and values.  These bond them to the new subculture.

When a culture “fractures” it’s a sign that it does not otherwise support the cultural heritage of all people.  Fracturing causes more division as the subcultures set up boundaries which often create bias and prejudice. The emphasis of modern culture is on creating a homogenized monotone environment where commerce can take place.  It is by in large not interested in supporting individuality, unless it can be packaged and sold.

Creating Your Own Rites of Passage

You don’t need to belong to gang or religion to create your own meaningful rituals to celebrate meaningful life milestones.  As mentioned above the modern culture often does not recognize these personal milestones.  So, you are free to develop your own rites and rituals.  These are often the keys to unlocking your spiritual gifts.  This is probably another reason why modern culture downplays these events.

If you create your own rites, you are not creating a subculture.   You are celebrating your heritage and accomplishments.

In Conclusion

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog.  Also, you may be interested in learning about our blended learning process.  This is our curriculum which we use to teach several mind-expanding tools.  It also aligns the Hero’s Journey.  This is the term Joseph Campbell gave the pattern of consciousness development.  Our learning process is available in two forms.  You can take part in the virtual learning module or in our workshops.

While you are here please also check out our page FAQ for information about our mission.  And, please consider donating to support our mission of providing these ancient spiritual development tools.

Image by Unsplash.

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