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Rights of Passage

Rights of Passage

Rites of Passage and the Sacralization of Life


                This evening we will be discussing rites of passage and how they are used to sacralize and give spiritual meaning or expression to life. First, we will not be sidetracked to engage in debates or discussions of the general sacredness of life and of the world. We are looking at the practical functions of these rites in modern spiritual life. So there will be no arguments tonight concerning the theological views that all of the world and all of life is already sacred. The simple fact is that as spiritual leaders we are dealing with the modern human spirit and mind and the need of that mind to contextualize events according to the sacred and identify those life events as sacred.

                When we look at the potential for a person to have a psychological crisis we always ask if they are missing three things 1) the feeling of control 2) the feeling of predictability 3) the feeling of awareness. Well, these three things also concern us when we look at spiritual crisis or spiritual need though we would generally add a fourth and a fifth primarily spiritual concern 4) the need of the individual to feel that there is a meaning to their life 5) the need of the individual to feel spiritually connected. These five things help the individual to sacralize their life and to consider their life in the terms of the sacred.

                Our regular rites certainly help to fill these spiritual needs especially in the area of connection. But rites of passage both regular and irregular help to provide spiritual support to our people in many of these areas. In essence these rites of passage help the person to sacralize their life and feel that there is a sacred meaning and connection to their existence.  Regular rites are expected and everyone knows they are going to have them, for instance; our children know that they will have a rite at the age of nine and then be able to attend the Samhain festival and this gives them connection and predictability in the spiritual sense. An irregular rite of passage could be a house and land blessing, which reproduces the cosmogenic act in small and serves to give the new land and home a sacred structure mirroring that of the cosmos.

                At this Tribe we do a rite of final sacrifice for the dying or the recently deceased and we know that it will be done for each of us and so we gain some predictability and some control over this mysterious process of death. We each know that after we pass, there will be a funeral rite and that our names will be called in the Samhain ceremonies. These are also part of this whole series of rites that we do to help sacralize life.

                When a child is first born, we have a blessing ceremony and the process begins, that child becomes 9 and they then are recognized as old enough to participate in one of our mysteries. They grow to puberty and we mark that and sacralize it. As they enter adulthood we mark that stage. We also mark the point where a person reaches the age of 27 and starts to function in a complete state of maturity. They marry or form life partnerships and we sacralize that event. There are also groups that mark a person becoming and elder. And as they die our Drui performs final sacrifices to the Gods of the Tribe for them and shares the cup with them once more. These things make up our regular rites of passage for an individual.

                So what about irregular rites of passage? These could be home blessings. What if two people end a long term relationship, how do we sacralize that? What if one of our people struggles with sobriety and accomplishes a year without their chemical of choice? Do we sacralize this, and how? There are many very difficult passages in life that happen and by performing a rite to acknowledge these we help our people give some spiritual meaning to a situation that might be highly personal or may seem senseless.

                Groups have rites of passage also. For instance when a new Grove forms and they decide to do a rite to formally establish and name their Tribe, isn’t that a rite of passage?

Or even when a Tribe dissolves and does so with a formal ceremony, this is an eschatological rite of passage to mark the end of this spiritual thing that was shared. Think about the rites that congregations use to recognize new members and formally make them part of the group. All of these are rites of passage.

                One thing that I have personally always advocated is keeping rites of passage contextualized independently and not adding them on to one of the High Days. I think that they should be done at a time and place set aside for only that act. It gives a moment to focus on the individual or group undergoing the rite. Think about how we do our rite for a child, they turn nine and the family invites everyone to the rite and provides a feast to celebrate. It isn’t done as a part of another ceremony. We focus on only the recognition of that child and it shows in how connected our children and young people are to our Tribe. By performing these rites of passage in their own place and time we give them a lot of force and we give the individuals a moment all their own. Yes, it would be easier for us as clergy to just do a small thing recognizing these passages during regular meetings or just before a High Day ceremony, but we get paid for what we invest. If all we invest is a moment during a regularly scheduled event then that is the only return that we are going to see in the spiritual life of our people.

                Our people will have a need to sacralize their lives but they may not know how to go about it, how to ask us or even may not realize that it can be sacralized. I will give you an example: You are getting ready to step off at a High Day celebration and one of the people comes to you and says “I have a drinking problem and I am going to give it up as a sacrifice to the Gods tonight in the ritual” we know that they are searching for a way to sacralize a significant event or realization in their life and this seems to be the only way that they can do it. Now as Drui or Bandrui for the rite we would have to say that this is not appropriate as a sacrifice for this rite but that they definitely have our full support in this personal spiritual act. We first stop this from becoming a part of the High Day and then we go back to them after the rite and prepare a ceremony to do with them in which they can give a proper sacrifice and ask for help from their Gods and ancestors and ask the people to help support this act.  If we just said no you can’t do that in the context of this rite we would be dropping the ball with the spiritual needs of the individual. Then we are able to take the proper road to sacralization of this personal effort and we are able to do it in a context where it becomes the only thing on that day and has an increased significance for the individual and for the other people who may help to support this person through some of the difficulties that follow such a step.

                So we as clergy have to address the need of our people to sacralize life. We have to address the need of our groups to sacralize their group identity. We have to keep these things balanced so that individual events or concerns do not intrude into the life of the group in a way that interferes, but also we do not want the work or life of the group to subsume or minimize these individual concerns. There is also a whole lot to be said for always making it clear that group functions and events are not places for generally processing individual concerns or events.  Identify the spiritual need and help the person to express that need in a venue and manner that is appropriate and gives proper focus to the event. Avoid including one thing with another just for convenience or ease. This can be one of the areas that sets passable clergy and fantastic clergy apart.