On rites of passage…

A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. Various cultures around the world, especially the older ones, have detailed rights of passage for both boys and girls.

Among Native Americans, for example, the Apache in Arizona still practice the “sunrise dance” after a girl’s first period. The initiate is guided by an older woman (a sponsoring godmother chosen by the family for this honor) to build a temporary hut for herself, at some distance from the main campsite. These preparations are the separation phase, and they include bathing, hair washing, and the donning of new clothing, all of which emphasize purification and separation from all traces of childhood.

This is prevalent in Sanatana Dharma as well. Ritu Kala Samskara (or Ritusuddhi), also known as the coming-of-age ceremony, is a Hindu tradition that marks a significant milestone in a young girl’s life. It is a rite of passage that symbolizes her transition from childhood to adolescence and is celebrated after a young girl’s first menstruation.

In fact, Sanatana dharma has sixteen marked Samskaras that mark transitions into various phases of life.

In boys, this was different.

“In many societies, boys are initiated as a group—all the boys around a certain age, who will become tightly bonded to each other by their shared ordeal. In societies that experienced frequent armed conflict with neighboring groups, a warrior ethos usually developed among men, and the transition phase often included a requirement to undergo physical pain, including body piercings or circumcision, to test and then publicly validate one’s manhood.”

The book that I am currently reading – The Anxious Generation – has a segment on the rites of passage, and how Western societies have abandoned these age-old practices resulting in losing important milestones in a child’s transition to adulthood.

“On lists of human universals and on syllabi for introductory anthropology courses, you’ll usually find rites of passage. This is because communities require rituals to signify shifts in people’s status. It’s the community’s responsibility to conduct these rites, which commonly surround life events like birth (to welcome a new member and a new mother), marriage (to publicly declare a new social unit), and death (to acknowledge the departure of a member and the grieving of close kin). Most societies also have formal rites of passage around the time of puberty.”

“Rites of passage are the curated sets of experiences that human societies arrange to help adolescents make the transition to adulthood. Van Gennep noted that these rites usually have a separation phase, a transformation phase, and a reincorporation phase.

Western societies have eliminated many rites of passage, and the digital world that opened up in the 1990s eventually buried most milestones and obscured the path to adulthood. Once children began spending much or most of their time online, the inputs to their developing brains became undifferentiated torrents of stimuli with no age grading or age restrictions.”

This wasn’t always the case. 20th century America had three nationally recognized transitions – At 13, when you were thought to be mature enough to go to the movies without a parent (PG-13 movies), at 16, when you could drive, and at 18, when you became an adult.

In short, there were marked milestones for such transitions. The digital world however, has blurred these rights of passage – on the internet, everyone is of the same age, and all age thresholds (that used to mark the path to adulthood) are removed. This is now seen to be causing a bad mismatch with the needs of adolescents, which has shown to result in a marked increase in psychological disorders among teens.

More to read on this, and much more to think about!