Rites of passage rituals celebrate the transitions in one’s lives. Family and friends gather to bare witness, and impart wisdom, support, love, and strength in these crucial transitions.
Natives of Mentawai islands believe that the soul becomes dissatisfied with its bodily appearance and begins to die. In the pursuit to beautify their body, Mentawai women who have reached puberty sharpen their teeth to a point to make the body more appealing to the soul.
Most of the rites of passages are closely connected to the biological milestones of life, viz., birth, maturity, marriage/reproduction, and finally death. These rites and religious events prepare the person’s transition from one phase of his/her life to another. Rites of passage are ceremonial events that mark the passage from one social status to another.
Rites of Passage Examples in Different Cultures
Rumspringa, meaning running around it, is derived from the word “rumpspringen”, meaning to jump around. However, in the Amish community, it simply means adolescence.
Rumschpringe or Rumshpringa is a term used in the Amish community. The Amish are a subsect of the Anabaptist Christians, who live in segregation away from the rest of the world. Rumshpringa usually begins at the age of 14-16 and ends when the child chooses to be baptized within the Amish church or chooses to leave the community for good. This is also the time when spouses are chosen for the youngsters.
The youth are also allowed to engage in any form of rebellious behavior. Such behavior is seen as a part of the rite of passage and is often overlooked, and the rules and regulations of the Amish are relaxed in the youth. They are also sent out to acquire experience in the non-Amish world. The teenagers of a certain age and maturity are allowed to attend ‘sings’. The main aim of the sings is to focus on courtship amongst themselves. Those who attend these sings may take part into wearing non-traditional clothes or hairstyle, drinking, not attending prayers at home, driving a motor vehicle, etc.
At the end of rumshpringa, they are left with two alternatives―one by which they are allowed to return to the community, are baptized, and have to follow the Ordnung and its laws, or choose to leave. Not many Amish youth diverge from the community during this period.
Buddhists do not require to observe a strict custom. This is because they mainly focus on the internal life. Some choose to take part in the passage ceremonies, while the rest do not. Either way, they are accepted into the community.
Newborn infants are blessed near a temple, and a candle is lit and allowed to melt into a bowl. This symbolizes the union of the basic elements of earth, fire, air, and water.
At the temple, the bride and groom arrive along with their family and friends. A Buddha’s image is wrapped with a cotton thread. This thread encircles those who have come for the wedding. This symbolizes the union of all. During this ceremony, the monks chant their holy prayers, and the principle monk blesses the couple. He also cuts the two threads, one of which he ties around the groom’s wrist, and the groom ties the other around the bride’s wrist.
Some sections of Buddhists do not believe in reincarnation of the soul. It is the person’s deeds and duties that cast the soul to the next step.
Rites of passage are also known as sacraments, which are believed to be “an outward sign of an inward grace.” Most Protestants’ denominations follow the Gospel sacraments.
As per the belief, no one is born a Christian; they become one after being christened as they go through the rites of entering the church. The Church of England practices baptizing infants, while introducing confirmation and holy communion for adults.
This is a practice followed by the Anglican church and is carried out by a Bishop. The candidate renews his baptismal vow and is anointed in oil. This process is still followed if the candidate has not been baptized as an infant.
Marriage is seen as a commitment between the husband and wife in the presence of the Christ, and family and friends who bare witness to their union. The main service is a reminder of the provision made in the Bible, and thus, it begins with the reading of the sermon. The priest leads the vows that are taken of companionship, respect, and love, through thick and thin situations. They are then confirmed with a ring that both the bride and groom place on each other’s ring finger of the left hand. The priest then declares the two to be legally wed.
Initially, burials took place at night, and thus, everyone in the funeral procession wore black. However, the practice of wearing black carried on. Funeral procession is followed by burial and then the funeral feast. Christianity believes that death is not the end, but Jesus is victorious over death.
Rites of passage are not mere formalities for the Hindus, but they are part of soul purification during different aspects of life. They are known as ‘samskara’ or ‘sanskara’, meaning ‘mental impression’. They are initially introduced to the young to teach them what their duties are after the ceremony is complete. As per the holy scriptures, there are 16 samskaras.
Simantoyannayanam (Baby shower)
This ceremony is conducted in the fourth, sixth, or eighth month of a woman’s pregnancy. It is conducted to secure the health of both the mother and child. It is believed that the child sees through the mother’s eyes, and thus, it is to show the child that he/she is welcome in the world. People and a priest are invited, and a small holy ceremony is conducted. The expecting mother is gifted with things she would need for her child.
Naamkaran (Naming ceremony)
After consulting a priest or an astrologer, a suitable letter is chosen for the child to be named with. Traditionally, the name is decided around the 11th day of the child’s birth; however, nowadays, it is done as per the convenience of the parents.
Upanayana/Mundan (Thread ceremony)
This is followed only by the male child in many Hindu subsects. It is a sacred thread tying ceremony called the Yajñopaveetam. The child is taught the Gayatri mantra along with a few other mantras, and he steps into adulthood.
The bride and groom take fire as a witness to their union and walk around the sacred fire 7 times, each round signifying a promise. The groom ties a ‘mangalsutra’, a holy thread, around the girl’s neck and fills her hair partition with red turmeric powder (kumkum/sindoor), which symbolizes that she is wed. Kanyadaanam is another vitally important aspect of any Hindu marriage. This is when the father or legal guardian of the bride hands over the responsibilities of their daughter to the groom.
The body of the diseased is cremated, and the ceremony is performed by the male next to kin.
Islam and Judaism are two of the three Abraham’s religions; thus, many rituals are common between the three.
A prayer is whispered into the newborn’s ears. These are the first words heard by the child. The child also gets a taste of sweetness with honey.
Tasmiyah (Naming ceremony)
The child is named in the presence of the whole family. Traditionally, the child is named on or before the 7th day of his/her birth.
During the seven days after the child’s birth, this ceremony is held. The hair is shaved off, after which the child’s head is weighed. The family donates gold that weighs the same as the hair in charity. They also sacrifice two livestock. A family and community meal is held thereafter.
This is where the foreskin of a boy child’s penis is cut. It is done mainly to show cleanliness and purity. This step is ideally done in infancy and before puberty.
Fasting during the Ramadan starts at the age of 12. Islamic people fast during the day and eat only during the night during the month of Ramadan.
Islamic people believe that they should travel to Hajj once in their lifetime.
The body is wrapped in white and buried directly into the ground. The religion does not believe in coffins or tombstones.
Unlike some religions, a child is considered as a Jew if the mother is a Jew. Judaism sees the two genders under one light, except for two ceremonies.
A Jewish boy is circumcised (Brit Milhah) only as an infant. However, Jewish girls don’t go through circumcision. Naming of the boys happens during circumcision. Like Islam, this too should be done within the first seven days of the child’s birth.
Many Jews prefer to name the baby girl on the first Sabbath of her birth or any of the Torah readings, which is usually on a Monday, Thursday morning, or Sunday. The father is called to the Torah, and the girl child’s name is told to him. A prayer is said for the health of girl child and her mother.
Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah
When a boy turns 13, he celebrates his stepping into manhood by reading the Torah, which is held at a synagogue followed by a small get-together/party at home. This ceremony is called Bar Mitzvah. Bat Mitzvah is held when a girl turns 12. As the two religions do not discriminate between the two genders, the girl too gets to read the Torah at the Temple on a Sabbath.
Chevra Kadisha, a Jewish burial society, helps in the burial. Each member of the immediate family makes a tear in his garment, which is called keriah, indicating how death has torn them apart. Kaddish, a prayer recited in praise of the Lord, is said during the funeral process and up to the next 11 months. Following the burial rituals, a condolence meal is held together.
Different religions and cultures have varied forms of rite of passage. Some celebrate it as a party with near and dear ones, some choose to decorate their bodies with tattoos and piercing, while some like the Native Americans choose to go on a quest in search of enlightenment and growth. They leave as children only to return as men. There are many ways in which different stages of life are celebrated, especially coming of age.
Russ (Russefeiring) in Norway
Traditional jubilation for high school students during their final spring semester, indicating their entry into higher education.
Formal presentation of a girl who has entered adulthood to the polite society.
Quinceañera or Sweet Sixteen in the US
Celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday to mark her transition into womanhood.
Jugendweihe in East Germany
Coming-of-age ceremony in 14-year-olds, the age where he leaves school, to mark their entry into adulthood
Okuyi in Several West African Nations
Elaborated when an infant becomes 4 months old or when a child enters adolescence
In the professional field, one gets to see the white coat ceremony in the medical field, indicating a student’s transition from pre-clinical to clinical sciences. While in the area of sports, we often to get to hear of the black belt, which is the highest level one has to reach in the field of martial arts.