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Special Occasion Rituals, Requirement 2

Define "rite of passage" in your own words. (no min. word count)

A "rite of passage" is something that we enact in order to mark a certain passage in our lives, often a change from one status to another. (Grimes, 5) This status change could be simple or profound; it could depend on a course of action you deliberately take (such as ordination) or one that is thrust upon you without choice (such as puberty); and the change could occur at different times of life for different people (retirement age varies greatly, for instance).

Regardless of when or why it occurs, or how deep the impact on the passager is, the "rite of passage" is how we mark the passage, not the passage itself. In many cases, these passages would occur irrespective of the passager's desire for it to come to pass: both birth and death are passages that we go through, regardless of whether rites are enacted (each moves you from or to, respectively, non-life). Many people get to choose, though, about other rites of passage: some people wish to have a ritual that marks marriage (moving from individuals to the creation of a new individual, the couple), while others go to the county courthouse and merely sign papers.

The thing that is marked by a rite is perhaps best described as "movement." It is not necessarily a physical movement, though this happens as well: new brides are physically carried over a threshold when they go to live with their husband in a new house; children are brought into the church for the first time for baptism or christening, intruducing them as part of the "commuity of believers;" and children leave their parents' house and are incorporated into the life of a college student by moving into the dorms. A rite of passage can be a simple spiritual movement, though, as well: next year's Archdruid election and ordination will not involve a physical movement in anything but the most symbolic sense, but the new AD will find himself moved from one place in life and into another.

Van Gennep described rites of passage as involving three basic stages: preliminal (rites of separation), liminal (threshold rites), and post-liminal (ceremonies of incorporation). (Vizedom, 21) I tend to agree that most rites of passage will follow this pattern, as in order to move from one state to another, we must separate ourselves from what we were, cross a threshold (mystical or physical) and be reincorporated into a new state.


  • Grimes, Ronald. Deeply Into the Bone: Reinventing Rite of Passage. Berkley, CA : University of California Press. 2000.
  • Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Aldine Transaction. 1969.
  • Vizedom, Monika and Caffee, Gabrielle. The Rites of Passage. London : Routledge. 2004.


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