Rites of passage have been around for a very long time. While little is known about our earliest ancestors, based on what we have preserved from indigenous wisdom cultures early humans practiced, performed & engaged in various rituals and rites of passage. It is said that all of the wisdom from the Vedas can be summed to be “the science of ritual”.
The word “ritual” comes from the Sanskrit word ritam, which literally means “cosmic order”.
A ritual is a form of technology, in that it can wielded very much like a hammer or a phone (both forms of technology) to produce a particular result.
What result is that, you might ask?
Well, it depends on what we are trying to do.
Our early humans very likely needed to produce results such as water for their crops, food for their tribes, and peace between tribes. In this day and age, humans are no longer praying to their gods to ask for success in their hunts so that they could survive; instead, they are going to church to repent for their misgivings during the workweek. Our use of spiritual technology as a way to live in alignment with Nature and in harmony with our surroundings has descended to become pleas in our darkest hours.
Effective use of rites and rituals has all but disappeared from modern culture. In specific, what is missing from our contemporary world is the ritual of the “rite of passage”, or the initiatory rites that allow a human to pass from one phase of life into another.
Although they are largely missing from “normal” life, rites of passage and rituals have been preserved in many indigenous settings due to the fact that these humans understand their importance. Initiations seem to be effective at creating integrity in the tribal structures, breeding responsibility amongst the initiated, and imbuing the people with the necessary qualities of a mature human adult. There are particular tribes and cultures which preserve the sacred wisdom of their traditions and pass them on, generation to generation. For example, in some African tribes, boys around the age of puberty (12-13 years old) are removed from their communities and forced to undergo particular initiatory rites which allow them to become “men”. In most cases, these initiations are extremely challenging. The intention of these rites are to prepare the young boys for the responsibility of being a man — a man that has the ability & capacity to create a family and protect the village.
Initiation was (and remains to be) a valuable part of creating a spiritually mature human being. What we would like to propose or at least consider here in this article is the overall purpose of ritual, rite of passage, and initiation. What, how, and why? What are the mechanics of ritual and what are the archetypes present during a ritualistic experience? What function do these ideas serve in the psychological development of a human being?
The theory that we offer is this: ritual, rite of passage and initiation serve an important role in the human being’s development, and the overall development of a healthy community. When intentional initiatory rites or rites of passage are absent in a society, what happens instead is that Life itself will facilitate these events “accidentally”. We are writing here today to offer contemplation for the reader, and also provide an overview of the steps one must go through during an initiatory process. This will help us moving forward, as our Keepers of the Earth trainings facilitate sacred space and ritual leading to the spiritual transformation of the individual. While we do not “initiate” individuals, per se, what we do in our trainings and immersions is instead create an environment which allows the individual to undergo their own “rite of passage” and therefore step forward in a new way back into their life, accompanied by newly discovered insight, clarity, and wisdom. When we complete a training, we return to the world not the way that we left it. When we complete a ritual (if it is effective), the same thing has occurred.
Therefore, we’d like for the reader to reflect on what we are proposing here so that each individual can have more innerstanding around the journey of human spiritual transformation and the role of rituals and rites of passage. Whether or not you’ve attended a training with us, you may find it of benefit to understand the process(es) that we are discussing here, as these are archetypal stages which happening throughout life whether we are aware of it or not.
Below you will see a few examples of “unintentional rites of passage” that can occur in life:
A traumatic event such as the death of someone close, a dramatic break-up, the loss of a job, or a major injury, are all examples of life presenting “accidental” and “involuntary” rites of passage. These experiences initiate the individual by forcing them to undergo a series of emotional, psychological and sometimes physical trials. The trials serve as a grindstone that wears down the ego mechanism which, in many cases, has adapted rigidly held views about Reality. When a crisis hits, this ego is now being asked to let go or at least re-shape its views in some way to maintain the continuity of the individual. Remember that the ego’s job is to preserve the self-identity, which is the continuity of memory, sensory impression, and likes/dislikes. Basically, what these crises do is they completely threaten the ego’s existence, which in some cases leads to a complete ego death. After the initial shock, the wounding, and the “ego death” phase of the accident, there is a restoration of the individual to even more wholeness, with a greater amount of wisdom and insight about life. These events help the individual grow on all levels — emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. And they are often accidental! Life has its way of assisting us to learn what we need to learn…
While these are example of “unintentional” or “involuntary” initiations, we can speculate now about the “voluntary” forms of rite and ritual that have been preserved through tradition. Why have they been preserved? We can only speculate, and surely there are dinosaurs of tradition which have no place in modern life. However, we believe that there are some elements of tradition worth preserving and for good reason. Wisdom sciences that are generational, meaning they are passed down through time, allow us to maintain the integrity and transformative elements of the technologies embedded in them. Remember that a ritual is a form of technology, and the word “ritual” means “order”. When we start to perform our rituals the way our ancestors did, we are repeating their pattern, because we are after the transformative result of a process that has been designed and refined over time. It is a bit like inheriting a family recipe. Instead of trying to “make it up on our own”, we turn to the traditions which have held these processes in a sacred way and preserved them in their integrity. In the case of a ritual, we can then “voluntarily” undergo a process similar to the the “death” that was discussed in the above paragraph. Our ancestors understood that this “death” was literally an alchemical process where the individual’s psychological pattern and identity had to undergo chemical changes in order to see life in a new way. When the ritual is effective, it helps the person cross over a threshold which is the “death of the identity” and, on the other side, step into a new way of being. The attempt of a voluntarily ritual or rite of passage is to confront one’s own self-limitation, BEFORE Life “involuntarily” or “accidentally” confronts it. Thus, the rituals that can be employed voluntarily in one’s life may serve the specific result of allowing us to cross over thresholds with intentionality and purpose.
At this point in the discussion, the reader has been made aware of the technology of ritual, the purpose of ritual, and examples of it in modern development. We turn our attention now to the idea of a “rite of passage” as an archetypal journey that exists within every human being, and appears to be an integral part of the soul’s maturation.
Tradition and perhaps even religion are the remnant of these primal concepts. The innate quest within each human being that inspires them to grow and “become” something. This impulse seems to be tied to the evolutionary throb of the Universe. The search for meaning, for purpose. These are all related. It is the “quest” and the motivation for spirituality.
When it comes to a “rite of passage” and the actual science of this process, there appears to be a methodology behind it. While rites of passage appear to be an archetypal narrative being played out in many ways across many cultures and all diverse backgrounds of human beings… there are common denominators that serve as indicators of the functionality and efficacy of the ritual process.
With Keepers of the Earth, we run immersive style trainings as these give the individual an opportunity to follow this process. To undergo their own sort of “rite of passage”, and to re-enter the world in a new way – reformed, restored, and clear about the next steps.
We would now like to identify the steps of the ritual process as we see them.
The process itself is pretty straightforward. Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey expresses this beautifully; many of the themes that he analyzed and put words to encapsulate the idea of “initiation” beautifully. We will not repeat his words verbatim here, and you are free to research more about the Hero’s Journey in your own time, but his model may resemble what we present here with our archetypal themes.
For the sake of KotE, we will present a four step thematic description of how we are viewing this concept “rite of passage”:
The first step is the separation. In the tribes, the boys were removed from their communities so that they could discover their own authentic voice and stand on their own two feet. If we were raised in a nurturing and loving household, the separation for us might have occurred on our first day of school. Leaving mother behind is a very important step in the child’s psychological development process. Establishing a healthy and functioning sense of individuality is the goal here. This step is replicated at higher and more spiritually advanced levels of the theme of the “rite of passage”. For women, an example may be the first menstruation. There can be a sense of fear, a sense confusion, a sense of loss. All of these play together to bring the human being into themselves and away from the collective family unit.
When we go on a retreat, this happens immediately. We leave our work, our family, our community and our loved ones behind and enter into a space of complete newness. The retreat or immersion functions in this way – to separate us from what we “know” and allow us to enter into the “unknown”. When we are in an unfamiliar space, the neural pathways in our brain are rapidly attempting to calibrate to our new environment and this immediately forces learning, adaptation, and growth. We literally are seeing new things. The brain and nervous system respond.
In a traumatic accident, this separation can occur in a number of ways. We may separated from our ability to walk (if there is an injury to our leg), or we may be separated from our loved one (due to death/illness), or we may be separated from a relationship. When the pandemic hit, the entire civilization as we knew it underwent a massive separation. This was a collective rite of passage.
The Test/ Challenge
As if separating wasn’t challenging enough, we now undergo a challenge. The challenge, in order for it to produce a significant result that will actually change our psychological process permanently (an entire identity shift), must be challenging! It is a test that demands all of the faculties of our awareness and senses to be maximally present and involved. This brings every ounce of available energy into the present moment. Remnant energy or residual material of the past must be alchemized and recycled in order for the individual to make it through this challenge. This is where we bump against all the self-limiting beliefs and the ideas we have about who we are, which are nothing more that conditioned ideas that have imprinted themselves onto our brain and nervous system. If the test is sufficiently challenging, it will create an alchemical affect which alters the chemistry of the individual enough so that, once they get to the other side of the challenge, they have physiologically adapted to a new way of being.
Sometimes, this “testing” period can take days, weeks, or even months. In heartbreak, the challenge is in restoring one’s emotional balance despite the feeling like the heart is being literally crushed. Depression is an example of a longer duration “challenge”. The purpose of the challenge is to put the individual through something that they will never forget, so that they can permanently make better choices moving forward.
Once we recognize the challenge for what it is, it may not make it any easier, but it allows us to embrace it with a greater sense of purpose, meaning and perhaps endurance.
Often what happens at the peak moment of hardship is we are suddenly struck with the “gem”. The insight, the inspiration, the vision, the clarity. In certain tribes, they send individuals on what is called a “vision quest” which is period of fasting in the wilderness and other extreme conditions which bring them to the edge of their comfort, through the phases of “separation” and “challenge” so that they can bring back a vision from the spirits which will help their tribe. The purpose of this third phase in our journey, “the treasure” is to reveal the true reason for our departure from the norm and the reason for our “rite of passage”. This brings maturity, clarity, responsibility, and authenticity.
Once the individual has underwent the most difficult of tasks and is permanently shifted in their attitude towards themselves and the world, it is time for them to return and reintegrate into society. They bring their healing with them. The beauty of this process is that, when it is done effectively, there is the immediate benefit to all relationships of the individual. The individual returns with more gratitude for their life, more appreciation for what’s there, more wisdom, more awareness, and more clarity about what to do.
This four step process is easily replicated and can be adapted to describe everything from the baby taking its first steps, to the most extreme initiations.
At Keepers of the Earth, we create our experiences and curate the environment in such a way that this can be reproduced. We train individuals who want to know how to become more spiritually mature and embodied individuals. Whether they want to lead others or lead themselves, each one is an important community member and our vision is of healthy communities across the globe filled with practitioners who understand this process, understand the mechanics of spiritual transformation, and can walk themselves (and others, should they need it) through this with grace, with courage, and with love.
As you can see, this is a comprehensive model. There is much more that can be said about this. However, the overview is sufficient for now. If you are considering a training with us, you have a better idea of the framework that supports your transformational journey. What has been made clear is that ritual and the ritual process is (or can be) an important part of the spiritual maturation of the individual, and that there are specific steps which produce the result of change within them. When these steps are executed effectively and with intentionality, positive change is the result. The beauty of tradition is that is has preserved for us much of this process. We are now equipped to understand how to cross the “threshold” before life brings us to it involuntarily.
May all seekers find what they are looking for.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu