Rites of Passage

Xhosa Rites of PassageTeen Rites provides access to information, courses and ongoing discussion around teenage Rites of Passage.

While the term Rite of Passage was first coined (Rites de Passage) as recently as the 19th century by the French Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, Rites of Passage have been commonplace in society for thousands of years as a ceremony that marks the transition from one stage of life to another. A common example today would be a marriage ceremony marking the transition from single life to being married. Other contemporary examples are Christenings, retirement parties, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies etc.

A teenage Rite of Passage is a ceremony that specifically marks the transition from boy to man or girl to women.

These Rites of Passage were historically far more common around the world than they are in Western society today. Those who practiced them, and those that still do, considered them to be the most important Rite of Passage of all. And yet the teenage Rite of Passage has been largely lost from Western tradition.

In studying Rites of Passage around the world, Arnold van Gennep identified three basic components to teenage Rites of Passage common to societies around the world:

  1. The Separation
  2. The Transition
  3. The Return

In the Separation stage, the boy of girl would be taken away by elders and separated from the rest of society.

The transition stage  included an induction into community beliefs and knowledge, challenges for the boy or girl to overcome and recognition and acknowledgement of the young person’s special gifts or talents.

The return of the young man or woman was then celebrated by the whole community in the return stage.

The purpose of holding the Rites of Passage were to help the boy or girl make the psychological shift from manhood or womanhood. This was important as traditional societies needed their young men and women to behave as adults to ensure the healthy functioning of their society.

If the young are not initiated into the tribe they will burn down the village just to feel its warmth. African Proverb

Our Western society today is no different in our need for young men and women to have been initiated into manhood and womanhood. Some of the negative outcomes of not doing so fill our newspapers everyday, from the child-like behaviour of our leaders to the riotous behaviour of our youth. Young men and women need to be positively included in manhood or womenhood, need to understand what healthy adulthood is like and to be truly valued for what they as individuals bring to the world.

Becoming a man or woman is not something which can be done alone by our young people. Through train surfing, graffiti, drinking, sex and violence, our young people try to attract our attention to show us they ready to join us, but it is upto you, me and the adult community to invite them inside our adult world and show them their place at the table.

It is the work of Teen Rites to help open that door.


Most adults in Australia today are unaware of the nature of Rites of Passage or their importance in society. Teen Rites aims to increase that awareness so that they once more take their place in mainstream society.

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