Initiation Rites

Kinda relieved that the Anzac assignment is out of the way now… but I really enjoyed writing it up. I got a lot out of it personally, even if the focus was about political ritual and the collective:) It was cool to go to the ceremony and think about the issues on a deeper level.

Initiation and Rites of Passage: to me this has always been a somewhat foreign idea. I thought that I didn’t have any, was always grateful for not having to go through some of the rites that some cultures have when mentioned in the news etc. Then when reading about the initiation rites among the Portuguese boys and seeing how they developed from a lack of adult-guided initiation I realised we do. In some ways those boys don’t seem unlike NZ boys at that age, my brothers get up to a bit of ‘rampaging’ now and again, though on a less destructive scale!

The reading by Morinis states that the rites of initiation have been argued to:
1. accomplish the transition from youth into adult status
2. express a statement of the importance of the individual to the group
3. release or channel the psychological stress of changing roles
4. ease the social stress of changing roles
5. contribute to the development of prized virtues like courage and forebearance
6. educate youths into the secrets and techniques of adulthood.

Thinking back to high school years I realised that there are heaps of self imposed initiation rites that many of us would experience… things like experimentation with alcohol/drugs/sex or the in-group/out-group drama we see played out. These actions may simultaneously express an individuals importance to their group, release psychological and social stress, show courage (being the ‘first’ to do something seemed to put people at a different level/make them ‘cooler’) and also information would be passed down from the older to the younger members in the group. I think it is really interesting that growing up has certain hurdles and stages that everyone must pass through regardless of where they are born and what their culture defines for them. Even at university, when people are officially classed as an ‘adult’ (we can drink/drive/vote/get married etc) there is a huge amount of juvenile behaviour observed, we go through some of the same initiation rites we have already experienced all over again. Perhaps because we do not have specified rites, there is nothing to specify (aside from age) when we have passed the transition stage?

And even if we did have these rites, who is to say that these children are grown up? It’s almost just a label – in the circumcision of an Arunta boy: “you have done well, you have not cried out (…) you are a proper man”… but is he? Is he mentally, emotionally, physically and socially equipped to be an adult? Or is it one step of many in the period of transition, thus an empty title?

I don’t think I could ever subject my children (or anyone, for that matter) to some of the painful initiation rites described in the readings, or those we have seen in the course so far, but it’s hard to say how I would react if I was raised in a culture for which this was the norm. After all – it’s incredibly easy for some of us to be swayed by the crowd, it is never easy to be the odd one out or to know that you are perceived as being ‘different’ to everyone else. Is the pain of some of these rites worth the positive rewards of the new social life it will bring? For many it appears to be so…

What are people’s thoughts about this?


~ by ritualmand on May 12, 2009.

2 Responses to “Initiation Rites”

  1. I completely agree that there are loads of initiation rites embedded in our highschool experiences, especially in your first year. At our school, the first years (or “niners” as we call them in Candada) were actually put through embarassing endeavours, being ‘initiated’ into highschool. I was fortunately not initiated, as I had older friends who protected me!! Some of the initiations were to push a penny across the hall with your nose, or wear a sticker on your forehead all day, or climb the tree in the back court and yell out embarassing things as people walked by. All of this was done in good fun, but for a first year, it was very intimidating and scary! I’m sure some highschools in New Zealand also have these sorts of things. (Not all schools in Canada do this). Then in final year, those who were initiated got to initiate the new batch of niners, and the cylce continued. Sororities and Frats also have this initiation ritual of forcing pledges to do embarassing or even painful things before they are welcomed and accepted into the group.

  2. […] how historically situated these rites of passage can be. Edo12 and K.Ro have good summaries while RitualMand brings a personal perspective to the discussion. […]

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