In the days before humans were subject to the iron grip of conventional religions, recognizable rites of passage marked each stage of life. For the female these generally occurred about every seven years; for the male it appears they occurred every eight or nine years. Each was designed to prepare the youth for the next stage of life. Today’s western culture still retains vestiges of those ancient ways. Seven is the general age of entering school for real; and 21 ( 3 x 7 ) is officially the age of legal majority. For more about septennial and Saturn cycles, see our course material or a good book on astrology, perhaps that of D. Kempton-Smith.
Other milestones seem imbedded in our genes or our race memory. In both genders somewhere between 28 and 35 there occurs a re-assessment of relationships, often marked by the rite of passage we call divorce. Especially in males, at about 42 a similar life re-assessment occurs. This is the time when he either settles in to the job he is doing or starts desperately searching for something different–a wrenching change of life path. (Ex-banker Paul Gauguin’s move to Tahiti, and Gavin’s move from aerospace executive to pig farmer come to mind.) People have called this milestone “Is this all there is?”
At a later stage there is the shift that occurs in women after menopause and in men at retirement. In our Wiccan path, these approximate the croning and saging milestones. Since actual physical menopause can occur at any age, we ourselves do not think that croning should be done arbitrarily at physical menopause but rather some time thereafter when the full impact of the transition has taken hold. Thus to us an appropriate age for croning is 56 ( 8 x 7 ); that is, at the completion of two entire Saturn cycles. Of course, as usual, men’s corresponding milestone of saging is later and, in our opinion, should not occur before age 63, presumably after retirement.
If you can find them, very useful books at this stage are “Rites of Passage” by D Van Gunlep / Gennep and “Passages” by Gail Sheehy.
The pagan/Wiccan community is gradually bringing back croning and saging. Regrettably, as with many things in the community, there is little agreement as to when a woman becomes a crone and a man becomes a sage. As we have said, we prefer to use the septennial system; but as always we are certainly open to better ideas. As with all rites, when a person wants or demands from us a specific rite, we automatically refuse to do it, on the grounds that they are not ready. Their very request demonstrates their unpreparedness for the rite. It is up to the elders to decide, not the candidate.
The real question here is: What should we be doing for our children, youth, and adults to acknowledge their changes in status as they mature? In ancient rites of passage, the elders would get together and spend a lot of time with the transitioning candidate, talking about the next stage of their life. Many societies retain some vestigial rites. The Jewish bar mitzvah rite is a typical example, even though in many cases the meaning is overridden by our materialistic society. The Spanish quinceanera is a better example. It gives a girl a day-long puberty rite preceded by weeks of preparation.
The current debate within the community is not productive because it does not start from the basic assumption that we are all equally concerned about having healthy, well-adjusted young people in our society. Giving a young adult the keys to a new car is not a rite of passage. Time and again we have said in our various books, give your children time, not things.
At the 2007 Sirius Rising we met two youngsters who had just had their first moon time. A group of responsible women took the girls aside and spent the whole night with them in discussion. The next day drummers brought them into the Sirius morning council circle, where Yvonne sang them an adapted hymn, “This Is the Lady’s World.”
One high priestess reported to us that as an attendee at another young maiden’s rite she learned more about sex and life in that night’s meeting than she had in seven years of marriage.
Recently there has been more emphasis on female rites of passage than on male. We are happy to see people developing puberty rites for young males such as the Young Lions.
Several years ago the men of a coven in Colorado decided that a young boy who was manifesting delinquent behavior needed a rite of passage. They took him out into the woods, cast a circle about him, and directed him to spend the night in the circle tending the central fire. During the night each male member of the coven visited the boy and sat and talked with him. Between those discussions, occasionally a man costumed as an Archetype came to the edge of the circle, stood silently for five minutes or so, and receded into the forest. The boy changed overnight. His grades shot up, and from that day forth he was a well-adjusted member of society.
We are learning that other groups are doing similar rites, and again we applaud them for it. If you have heard of such renaissances, please do let us hear about them.
Can we not get together and draft guidelines toward rituals for rites of passage? Such scripts could be adapted by various groups into their own traditions, fine-tuned to fit their beliefs and their needs. Surely there are enough crones and sages around to start this ball rolling.
We think that this is a gender-specific task; though again we may be wrong.
Why don’t we set a precedent and come to an agreement as to what we should do for our children? Surely in the pagan/Wiccan community we can find psychologists, gynecologists, lawyers, and whatever else may be appropriate who can get together and draft some guidelines. The community needs draft versions or suggested outlines for all the possible rites of passage we can think of. How about a ritual, for example, to comfort father and mother when a pregnancy ends unhappily? If ever there are times when they need emotional support, this is surely one.