134: Rites of Passage

Photo by Linda Severson via Flickr


Traditional societies had many (often elaborate) rites of passage for boys and girls.

On the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, boys become men after diving off rickety 40 foot platforms — toward the ground. (You may have seen or heard about this tradition on National Geographic.) In the Sioux culture, young boys were raised predominantly by their mothers; as they became men, their fathers took over their training. And in some traditional African tribes, a boy’s passage to manhood is marked by time alone in nature and circumcision.

Here in the United States (and in most developed countries), there aren’t really any well-recognized rites of passage to adulthood. Sure, many Jewish boys still have a Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and many Christians become full adult members in their churches after undergoing Confirmation, but neither ritual is well-recognized in the larger world as a marker of adulthood. Instead, the line between childhood, adolescence and adulthood remains blurry.

According to The Art of Manliness,

“At the heart of the modern crisis of manhood is the extension of adolescence, a boyhood which is stretching on for a longer and longer period of time. Once thought to end in a man’s 20s at the latest, men are extending their adolescence into their 30’s and in some especially sad cases, their 40’s.

But in some ways it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of a culture in which rites of passage have all but disappeared, leaving men adrift and lost, never sure when and if they’ve become men. Today’s men lack a community of males to initiate them into manhood and to recognize their new status.

Across time and place, cultures have inherently understood that without clear markers on the journey to manhood, males have a difficult time making the transition and can drift along indefinitely.”

In this episode, Janet discusses:

  • Why men — not women — must lead rites of passage for boys
  • How rites of passage affirm the value (and role) of men in society
  • Common components of traditional rites of passage
  • The risks (& harms) that can occur when boys initiate themselves into manhood
  • Barriers to rites of passage in the modern world (a culture of individualism, mistrust of religion and ‘strangers’)
  • How (& why) to create your own rites of passage
Links we mentioned (or should have) in Episode 134:

Inner Guide Expeditions