Rites of Passage

Here are some very brief outlines of some of the more popular Rites of Passage.


Within the pagan world there are several different rites of passage, as there are in many cultures around the world, I would like to share my view of the main ones with you:


Wiccaning/Naming Ceremony


There are many emotions involved from finding out you are pregnant to giving birth and then a whole heap of new ones whilst children grow up, some good, some wonderful, some not so good. Celebration of life really starts once a person becomes pregnant, the anticipation and excitement, the planning and preparing both physically and mentally. Rituals and spells can be worked during this time to ask for safe labour, and protection during pregnancy and childbirth.


In the druid tradition new babies that are born are giving a Rite of Welcoming, often combined with a Naming Rite at which the child is given a name and where the parents choose guardians or god/goddess parents, this is when they make their vows to honour and care for the child.


A Wiccaning or naming ceremony can be a private small event with just the parents and the child or a grand affair, or anything in between.


Witches and pagans that have wiccanings for their children use this ceremony to formally announce the child’s name to the community to invoke protection for the child and to ask the community to teach the child the values that are important to them. Also, at this time deity can be called upon to bless the child.


The most popular age for a wiccaning seems to be between birth and one year. Although as I understand it a wiccaning can be performed at any age, even adults. Perhaps if they wish to change their name or at a point of re-birth for themselves.


I don’t believe wiccanings are historical because ‘wiccan’ is a fairly modern term, but I do believe our ancestors held naming ceremonies or blessing ceremonies for new babies. Perhaps something simple such as holding the infant up under the stars and asking blessings from deity.


Menarche (female)


This is the point in life when a girl becomes a lady, when she begins menstruation. I have never seen this part of life as ‘a curse’ as some call it.


A girl’s menstruation can start as young as 10, it can be as late as 17 or anywhere in between. Traditionally this was seen as a celebration of life, but in modern times it has become a subject described as a curse or a nuisance.


The menarche rituals I have researched involve gathering all the women within your community to celebrate, a lot have no men though, or girls that have not begun menstruation yet. They are invited to congratulate the new woman at the end of the ritual and give her gifts.


The girl could choose a Moon Mother to attend the ritual with them, to hold her hand and reassure her.

A Moon father could be chosen to ‘crown’ the girl after the ceremony with a circlet of flowers.

The girl would then turn and call out their name symbolising leaving their girl child behind, leave the circle and change into a red dress or perhaps just put a red sash on.

Meanwhile all the other women in the circle could pass round a talking stick; as each one receives it they should speak 2 or 3 words that summarise their own menarche experience.

The Moon Mother would then bless her and perhaps give her a new ‘moon name’.

Then if men have been excluded they could join the group and the celebrations. Maybe some storytelling and drumming too.


Coming of age (male)


I believe the coming of age to be very important. It is a time in a lot of cultures when a child becomes an adult. The magical age for boys seems to be 13.


This age would possibly be a good time to talk to a child about procreation and sexuality. I do believe it is a good idea to be honest and open out such things, rather that a child learns correct details from a parent and be able to ask questions than learn the details in the playground!


Perhaps a gift would be nice, some grooming products?


As for a coming of age ceremony I would suggest a similar ritual to that of a wiccaning.


Handfasting


A handfasting is a pagan ‘wedding’ based on ancient Celtic traditions.


Historically a handfasting was seen as a rite of betrothal, lasing a year and a day.

If the relationship goes well the couple would then hold a second handfasting ceremony that would bind them together as long as their love was shared.


Handfastings today usually go straight to the second ceremony. A handfasting can last forever, as long as the love is still there, even into future lives.


The setting for most handfastings seems to be outside in a natural place, close to the elements. The space is usually decorated with flowers and foliage. The ceremony is presided over by a priest or priestess whom the couple chooses. The space is made sacred and the quarters/elements are called.


The couple are invited into the sacred space to exchange vows with each other. As they give their promises to each other the celebrant binds their wrists together with a cord. This is the actual ‘fasting’ part signifying their love and knots that indicate their bondage of mutual commitment. This is probably where the saying ‘tying the knot’ comes from. Rings can also be exchanged at this point. At a lovely handfasting that I had the honour of being a part of recently we used 13 cords, each one a different colour and each to represent a different quality, we had members of the circle bring each cord in one at a time to tie around the wrists of the happy couple.


When the ceremony is over the couple jump the broomstick. This symbolises the joining together of man with woman, to ensure their future happiness and love.


One custom is that while facing each other, the couple placed their right hands together and then their left hands together to form an infinity symbol while a cord is tied around their hands in a knot. Another custom is that the man and woman place their right hands only together while a cord is used to tie a knot around their wrists.


In days of old, records were not kept who got engaged, married, had children, and died. Today the Sacraments of the church have the responsibility of taking care of these things. Before the church took over these duties, these things were overseen by the whole community and therefore were set in law by their witnessing what happened between the couple making the promise.


Croning


I love the idea of a croning ceremony.


The word crone is derived from the word cronus (time) and it means the wisdom gained through life long experiences. Krone also means crown. To become crowned crone then, acknowledges that you are a wise woman who has gathered up the fruits of her experience into profound and sovereign understanding. The wise crone becomes the resource of wisdom for her community and a source of inspiration for her circle of cronies.


A croning ceremony acknowledges the transition into a crone or wise woman, often when a woman enters menopause. But I don’t think this should be the set time, only YOU as an individual can decide when you become a crone.


This passage celebrates the end of the time that our energies are turned outwards toward physical activities and marks the beginning of the time that we turn our energies inwards, toward more spiritual activities. Our physical growth slows down, and gradually our physical bodies begin to separate from our spiritual bodies.


In some cultures, now and in the past when a woman enters menopause she keeps her wise blood inside her and it increases her wisdom. Elder women were and are still in revered and honoured. A croning ceremony provides acknowledgement and celebration of this.


This can be a personal ceremony or held with a few close friends or a big celebratory party.

A croning ceremony may include, creating sacred space and having all your friends participate. The priest or priestess could say a few words about the person, her qualities and traits. Then each guest could share some memories or mementos.


A presentation of three stones could be made to represent her life – past, present and future.

A candle is lit to represent the light of wisdom, salt is given to represent eternal wisdom & experience. A re-dedication to deity perhaps.


Sagehood


During my research I also discovered a similar ceremony for men that reach ‘elderhood’ or ‘Sagehood’. It was also traditional to gift a man on reaching elderhood his staff. It seems the traditional cloak or cape is presented at croning or elderhood. Sometimes referred to as Sages.


I also found a lovely idea, once you reach cronehood or elderhood. Set aside a certain time each week to sit and mediate. For that meditation you take yourself to the world of spirits. A short journey at first to see where it takes you, then each visit you go further and find yourself a home in the spirit world, each future journey you add to it and make it your own. Each week re-examining the details you have made previously and adding to it. This meditation creates your very own perfect place ready for when you cross over.


Crossing over


A crossing over or passing over ritual is a way of honouring a departed loved one, of giving blessings and thanks for their lives and honouring their memory. It can also signify aiding their spirit to move on. We all have to pass through the veil at the end of each lifetime. It is this final passage that is celebrated.


Our belief in the Old Religion is the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The spirit never dies, but when physical death occurs the spirit moves to another world where it continues to exist until it is reborn again into another physical life.


A few words about the person who has passed over to honour their memory by the priest or priestess and maybe going around the circle and asking each person to add a few words too.

As each person says their words they could sprinkle some flower petals into a cauldron filled with water in the centre of the circle.


The priest or priestess would then ask all the elements to guide the person on their journey. And then deity would be asked to guide and protect the person to the Summerlands.


When the priest or priestess feels the loved one has departed, they would snuff out the candle. Wrap the candle in silk, spoon some of the water and petals from the cauldron into a holder and present both items to the person that requested the ritual for their loved one. Although sometimes it is preferred the candle should be left to burn out on its own.


A memorial rite can also be performed after a ‘mainstream’ funeral. This ritual call upon the deceased in order to complete any unfinished business in the material world, and to bid a final farewell before sending the spirit to Summerland.


Video

To watch my talk about Rites of Passage, click the link



For more information and fuller details see

The Art of Ritual by Rachel Patterson




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