RITES OF PASSAGE

Source: Steve Harkless

For millennia humans have been dancing in the wilderness in ritual and in ceremonial rites of passage. In many cultures such as the Bushmen of the Kalahari, we can find techniques of trance dancing, which elevate them into ecstatic, altered states of consciousness. When the Bushmen enter this state, it is reported that such an incredible rush of energy surges through their bodies that they cannot help but fall to the ground. This has been compared to the kundalini rising- the dormant energy at the base of the spine that can be awakened through certain yogic techniques.

The word ecstasy has its roots in Greek, ec stasis- to be outside of oneself. In ancient Greece there were temples in which the rites of attaining ecstasy were performed, often with the help of the Soma. The term Soma is found in the writings of many ancient peoples from Greece to India; the ingredients are mysterious yet it was apparently some kind of psychoactive tea, possibly mushroom tea.

Currently, the most popular rave drug is ‘ecstasy,’ what used to be pharmaceutical MDMA. What is interesting is that ecstasy can urge people to connect through speech or touch, to almost go inside the other person. The ecstasis may be to become a part of somebody else, even a complete stranger. Perhaps the ego is still at play, yet the usual barriers of separation begin to dissolve. A sense of love and acceptance can arise in a large group of people.

The urge to dance and to enter altered states of consciousness is in fact part of a natural process. From the dawning of human culture, there have existed the ‘rites of passage’. These rites of passage represent an important and sacred time, the coming into adulthood of an adolescent boy or girl. The primary and essential pattern is threefold.

The first rite is a separation from the mother and from all childhood associations. It is a symbolic death of the childhood self. Sometimes a child is isolated in a cave for a duration of time, or he is sent to wander alone through the desert. In other instances, all of the boys or girls are taken as a group to one or more sacred sites, accompanied by the elders. It is there that rituals take place that are specific to each gender.

The second rite is an expansion of consciousness into the realm of the cosmos. At this time, special cave paintings and detailed ancestral knowledge might be revealed to the initiate. All night dances may also occur at these sites. And in some cultures, the use of psychoactive substances has a key function- to open the psyche to the greater cosmos and to enter the realm of spirit. Other methods employed include body mutilation, tattooing, scaring, and circumcision. Essentially, the experience leaves its mark on the psyche. For the young adult, it will not be forgotten.

The third and final rite is a return and reintegration into society, a symbolic rebirth. In one African tribe, the death rite is taken so seriously that the men pretend to have forgotten how to walk and must be taught again by the elders. In all cases, the new initiates must return to their village, or tribe, to integrate the special knowledge and experience into their lives. Their new identity now includes the greater cosmos. However it may be carried out, the coming of age rites are necessary to be considered an adult in any traditional culture. With such deep-rooted history, it is the necessary psychological step into adulthood.

Through time and the advent of civilization, these powerful rites of separation/expansion/rebirth have been lost. Still we see bar mitzvahs, or confirmation into the Catholic Church, yet material rewards are often an extra motivating factor. The cosmos is to be learned about in science class and the rite of graduation must propel the adolescent into the world to fend for himself. Upon turning 21, we can look forward to initiation by drinking ourselves into an ill stupor, remembering nothing on the following day. The rites have become secular in nature and do not fulfill the essential pattern that lies in the collective unconscious. The consequence is a form of neurosis, and a selfish, adolescent mentality, which drives much of our world. It is an egoic struggle resulting from a loss of human identity and a sense of disconnection from others and the planetary eco-system. Sadly, this neurosis, combined with the relentless institution of competing religions and racism, indeed characterizes the current human crisis.

One Response

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