A rite of passage is a ritual activity, which marks the transition from one phase of life to another. We all go through these passages in a natural progression of development from birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood and death, but one of the problems of todays western society is that these events are often not given the understanding or recognition they rightfully deserve, which tends to hinder development rather than support it.
Different times are marked by different qualities. At certain times of our life we are open to certain influences and experiences where it is appropriate to undertake specific steps in our growth. By leaving them unmarked they are sometimes only remembered as a time of difficulty or sadness.
Joseph Campbell, who devoted his entire life to studying archetypes and myth, came to the conclusion that the collective unconscious is a reservoir of unconscious forms that we are born with. These forms are identifiable as archetypes, and mythology is born from these, and speaks directly to our lives metaphorically – or directly to our subconscious. Every culture maps human development through the symbolic representation and patterns of behavior that emerge from the collective unconscious and portray the innate structure of the psyche that underlies all human development. Jung proposes that the ultimate goal of the collective unconscious is self-realization; or to pull us inline with the spiritual aspect of our lives.
Once upon a time, the great rites of passage of a persons life marked the ages and stages of growth in the context of our spiritual development. A rite of passage was usually performed in ritual, to celebrate change. This had two functions; to solemnly tell the person at the center of the celebration that they had changed and to inform the extended community that the transition had occurred. Most importantly, the initiate comes out of the experience with a stronger sense of acceptance, personal responsibility and sense of self. Such intentional rites of passage not only gave the individual a feeling of belonging, it helped the community to transmit its core values and confer the role of responsibilities appropriate to the initiate’s stage of life, thus insuring cultural continuity, a sort of knitting together of the generations.
The major transitions in our lives seem to be connected with a seven-year cycle. We have all heard the saying ‘seven-year-itch,’. Without realizing it we are talking astrology. Amongst other things, this cycle corresponds to the approximate time Saturn takes to orbit the sun, which takes about 28 years. At each seven-year point a square, opposition or conjunction is created to our birth chart and we experience that particular influence. The natal chart provides a map of consciousness or blue-print for the individual. It is a snap-shot of the heavens taken at the time of our first breath, which is imprinted directly on our subconscious at birth, and on which life’s experiences will build.
Astrology is not a belief system; rather, it is another tool for shedding light on life’s journey. We all know that the moon affects the tides of the planet and a woman’s menstrual and emotional cycle. Each planet has its own influence on our psyche in its own way and astrology uses myths to explain the various influences of each planet and to describe archetypes inherent in our human nature. The mythos helps us to better understand and handle the various influences they have on our subconscious. The planet Saturn is associated with discipline, structure, hard work, authority and father figures. The saying for Saturn is “you reap what you sew.”
Age 1 – 7 is about survival, security and approval. Interestingly, the function of breast-feeding an infant provides not only the anti-bodies and essential nurturing and nourishment for the newborn, it also creates an energetic circuit between mother and child which has the imperative effect of activating the child’s base chakra, setting in motion the entire process for the rest of them to come alive as we grow.
Starting school is a huge milestone for a child. (Saturn square). Most children go to school around 6 or 7 and experience separation from their mother and familiar routine. It is a big spur in the emotional maturation of the individual. Until then we are thoroughly dependent on our parents for food and shelter and nurture and it is these crucial years when the hard copy is programmed and the rest of our life’s experiences are built on what we experience in these early years.
Most people still make a bit of a fuss about this passage and these days a lot of children attend pre-school or day care much earlier than age seven where they can experiment with various social skills as they begin to interact with a broader community.
The second major aspect occurs at about fourteen, when Saturn is in opposition to our natal Saturn. This is a time where we question authority. Here we develop certain skills to define ourselves in relationship to the opposite sex as we test and set our boundaries in order to reinforce our sense of self and identity in the community. We learn how to manipulate and control our environment.
This stage is related to the second chakra which is all about our sexuality, creativity, money and ethics. It is not until the age of 20 that the brain is developed sufficiently to be able to consider consequences. We just don’t have the capacity to do it. So fourteen is a dangerous times for young girls, as these days a lot of them have physically developed but don’t have the experience or maturity to handle the sexuality they are experimenting with. Magazines are overflowing with sex because it sells. They also have the added social media of computers, television and face book to increase their exposure to a grown up world of sex and materialism.
In tribal culture, it was said that if boys were not initiated into manhood, if they were not shaped by the skills and love of their elders, then they would destroy the culture. Without authentic mentors to guide teenagers through this critical transitional time, youth will initiate each other and themselves, however haphazardly or self-destructively. From promiscuity to speaking up, to talking back, piercings and provocative adornment, drugs, alcohol is a huge cry for help at the frustration they intuitively feel at being left to do this on their own.
The third seven-year phase is from fourteen to twenty-one when we wonder how our parents learned so much in such a short time. This is also a time when we knock our parents off their godly throne and realize that they are human after all and they are no longer our enemy but – if they have done a good job – a healthy role-model.
The third chakra embraces the whole of human culture, our arts, behavior, beliefs and myths, which form social patterns, a world that spans thought. It is the seat of the human soul. (solar-plexus). Balance here gives us clarity, sincerity and truth. Without these qualities we have a great fear of public humiliation and criticism from our external world and constantly seek approval from others and have a fear of abandonment. Life can appear empty and meaningless.
The fourth aspect, called a conjunction is felt about 28 or 29. When Saturn has completed its cycle around the sun and begins to go back over all that childhood programming which we realize no longer serves us. We begin to ask ourselves what we have done with our lives and what is our next step.
Welcome to maturity!
This passage relates to the heart chakra and is associated with a period in our lives where a lot of us make a family of our own. With this comes the responsibility of providing and protecting and nurturing. It is a period of reconciliation of inner opposites and a personal conquest of bad habits to allow discrimination and discernment.
Jung said we have a sort of “second puberty” between 35-40- where a shift occurs from focusing on materialism and sexuality to having children and we become more concerned with community and spirituality at this time. We seem to move from the love of power to the power of love.
And so the cycle continues until our death. According to Jung, self-realization can be divided into two distinct tier’s. In the first half of our lives we separate from humanity. We attempt to create our own identities (I, myself). This is why there is such a need for young men to be destructive, and can be expressed as animosity from teens directed at their parents and authority.
In the second half of our lives, humans reunite with the human race. They become part of the collective once again. This is when adults start to contribute to humanity rather than act destructively. They are also more likely to pay attention to their unconscious and conscious feelings.
Making time for these transitions is not just about having a party – although I can’t think of a better reason for one – or going through dry, empty rituals. Formal rites of passage truly enrich us by setting clear checkpoints that mark our way through life. Ceremonial Rites of passage serve as a celebration to recognize, honor and support the individual as they move from one phase of life to another and have the added ingredient of helping to knit us together as a community and species.
I believe that acknowledging these passages as a tribe or community once again would go a long way to helping to clean up the mess we find ourselves in as a species. It would help to reduce the violence in the world, the high divorce rate and the increasing number of suicides amongst our teenagers who are left to bring themselves up because their parents (and unfortunately those who have the power to rule) are stuck somewhere between one of these transitional periods.
It is our birthright to awaken that which is to be awakened, and half of our problem is not knowing how to do it. We all have this yearning for something really juicy to feast our souls on but it is some how just out of reach because the sign-posts have been removed.
Yours from the Grove