Rite of passage

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A rite of passage is a ritual that marks a change in a person's social or sexual status. Rites of passage are often ceremonies surrounding events such as childbirth, menarche or other milestones within puberty, coming of age, weddings, menopause, and death.


[edit] History of Term

The term was popularised by the French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep (1873-1957), in the early part of the twentieth century. Further theories were developed in the 1960s by Mary Douglas and Victor Turner. Joseph Campbell's 1949 text, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his theory of the journey of the hero were also influenced by van Gennep.

According to Van Gennep, rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. In the first phase, people withdraw from the group and begin moving from one place or status to another. In the third phase, they reenter society, having completed the rite. The liminal phase is the period between states, during which people have left one place or state but haven't yet entered or joined the next. It is a state of limbo.

[edit] Types and examples

Rites of passage are diverse, and are often not recognized as such in the culture in which they occur. Some examples are given in the following subsections.

[edit] Coming of age rites

Image:Sepik River initiations 1975, 6.JPG
Sepik River, PNG. Tribal male initiation through excruciating scarification

In varous tribal societies, entry into an age grade -generally gender-separated- (unlike an age set) is marked by an initiation rite, which may be the crowning of a long and complex preparation, sometimes in retreat.

[edit] Modern Coming of Age

The following would be a typical example of the "coming of age" lifetime moments for Modern societies, though the exact sequence may of course vary from person to person, or might not occur at all.

  • First steps
  • First words spoken
  • First day of school/kindergarten
  • First learned to ride a bicycle
  • First girlfriend/boyfriend
  • First obtained driver's license
  • First job
  • Senior prom/high school graduation
  • First day of college/first day in dorm (on your own)
  • First age to purchase alcohol
  • College graduation
  • First time living on own/purchase own apartment or house
  • Marriage
  • First child
  • Job promotion
  • Retirement
  • Voting
Christ underwent the Jewish circumcision, here depicted on a Catholic cathedral; a liturgical feast commemorates this on New Year's Day

[edit] Religious initiation rites

[edit] Other initiation rites

  • Conscription, "making boys into men" (i.e. warriors) through military service is rather a life phase than a mere rite
  • Walkabout
  • Freemasonry rituals
  • Thracian Crastolo: in ancient Thrace, a boy, upon reaching the age of thirteen, was given his first spear. He was then sent out into the hills outside of his village for a week or sometimes more. The boy would create his own shelter and live out in the hills until he was able to fully accept his role in society, after which acceptance he would return to the village. He would be greeted with a large meal prepared by the entire village, consisting mostly of roasted lamb and pancakes flavored with onions and served with a garlic butter made of goats' milk or cheese, similar to the Jewish latke. He would then be danced for by older men. They would perform the "Thracian Fire Dance" or Anastenaria and dance around fires with torches. When the fire died down they would tread upon the ashes of the fire, finally inviting the boy to join in. He was then presented with a newly forged sword, if he was to be a mercenary, or a pickaxe if he was to become a miner.
  • Batizados in Capoeira.

[edit] Armed forces rites

[edit] Academic Groups

Controversial hazing incident involving students from Glenbrook North High School that received wide publicity.
Academic circles such as dorms, fraternities, teams and other clubs practice

Entrance into Medicine and Pharmacy (University) :

  • White Coat Ceremony
  • In Spanish universities of the Modern Age, like Universidad Complutense in Alcalá de Henares, upon completion of his studies, the student was submitted to a public questioning by the faculty, who could ask sympathetic questions that let him excel or tricky points. If the student passed he invited professors and mates to a party. If not, he was publicly processioned with donkey ears.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Ethnographic examples:

Religious examples:

Look up Rite of passage in
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fr:Rite de passage he:טקס מעבר pt:Ritos de passagem

Rite of passage

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