Spiritual Rites of Passage And Spiritual Transitions

Spiritual Rites of Passage And Spiritual Transitions

Significant life events are benchmarks of change and transition.  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 spiritual 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.  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, sometimes, 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 get 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.

Every benchmark is a spiritual transition because we are spiritual beings.  So, any individual, group, or societal event of significant change are spiritual transitions.  Sometimes these transitions are planned and welcomed.  Other times they come without warning and are not welcomed events.    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 through various phases. They had rites to celebrate every kind of transition from childhood to adulthood.  These were opportunities to rally and celebrate.  They also provided both examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Most importantly, they can demonstrate the cohesiveness of society.  Spiritual transitions that are shared by a culture bring people together.  The event or catalyst for the transition does not be positive.  Any catastrophe such as an earthquake or plague can bring out the best or the worst in people.  When people rally around each other to help others can have lasting positive effects.  Or, it can mark the degrading of society if people fragment and act with greed and selfishness.

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

As culture becomes more diverse there are many different historical narratives. So, there isn’t one cultural narrative that fits everyone. This is an issue when trying to unify the culture.
How do you create a unified culture but still celebrate different cultures? It takes conscious work to balance the different needs. The goal is to create an inclusive culture, while also promoting individual expression.
Unfortunately, some societies are not inclusive. They resort to censorship and groupthink manipulation in an attempt to control conflict. They create scapegoats for any problems. This enables them to marginalize some people while garnering the necessary support to stay in power.

Spiritual Rites of Passage

There is a common formula for spiritual transitions; 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 use this in the same pattern in our blended learning strategy of the Hero’s Journey in three phases, awakening, transforming, and inspiring.

We need to recognize the call of the spiritual side.  Emotional distress is one of the main symptoms 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 the body and mind, preparing for change is the next step. Some cultures use a ritual bath as a symbolic cleansing of the mind and spirit.    Others use special diets for periods 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.
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

Symbolic death 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 be put to death.

To emphasize the importance, some cultures used scarification, tattoos, and even dismemberment. So that this symbolic death would be a sign of their level of initiation. This enables them worthy and certainly committed and focused to learn.

Symbolic death often represents the removal of previous beliefs and barriers.  Because without the ability to leave them behind, we often cannot access or use spiritual technologies that require an open mind.

Today we use 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

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. Perception changes to the extent that one adopts to greater awareness.

Seeing things in new ways also has unintended consequences. Your conscience and your heart grow.  Now see both the good and the bad.  And, so you must act on these new positive motivations.  This is what makes the world better.  We need more people who find a passion for the greater wellbeing of the planet.   

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 influence 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.

Your Own Spiritual Rites of Passage

You don’t need to belong to a 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.

When you create your own spiritual rites of passage, you are celebrating your heritage and accomplishments.  Any significant life event is worthy of this type of celebration.

In Conclusion

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. To find out more about our organization, see our page FAQ.

Interested in spiritual exploration?  Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey.  Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions.  Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their path.


Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia

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