Re: Rites of Passage

Shannon Adams (
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 10:23:19 -0700

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax wrote:
> These remarks are addressed mostly to Shannon.
> wrote:
> >
> > In article <>, Shannon Adams writes:
> >
> > >I am just finishing a paper dealing with a rite of passage among
> > >the people I studied. But I have a few curiosity questions for all you
> > >theorists and ethnographers.
> > >
> > >What purpose do rites of passage serve beyond the transfer of status?
> What do you mean by transfer of status? Funerals are a rite of passage
> which tend to recognize a change in status rather than transfer status.
> (One exception is ritual murder which causes the change in status.) :)

Actually funerals are rites of passage, albeit they are decidedly more
identifiable as such among people who believe in an afterlife (and especially
peoples who revere ancestors). "Change" "Transfer" I don't see the
difference (even if the transfer is from socially alive to socially dead).

> > >Is there some social-psychological motivation? What are the implications
> > > >for secular (not ritual) peoples?
> Here's a good question for you: are you sure that these "secular" people
> are without rituals? I think we like to believe that we are completely
> free of superstition and bias, but a little self-examination will reveal
> that these things still cling to our psyches. (One of my favorites is
> the person who believes that he/she has completely shed all her/his
> biases and superstitions. This, in itself, is evidence of the superstition
> of completely dispassionate science. But I digress.)

I guess what I was pointing at was persons who cannot identify formal rites
of passage in their lives, although that statment lends the argument a
particularly individual psychological tone. But on the other hand I've heard
rumors (can't think of who I could attribute this to so I'll call it a rumor)
that some theorists are explaining extreme aggression and meloncholy among
American adolescents to a lack of formal rites of passage. In effect they
are existing in a state of liminality (no clearly defined status) for 8 to 12
years. Geez, I'd be upset and depressed too!! I _think_ someone else (can't
remember who) was using this explanation for the increase in body piercing
among American adolescents. Something to the effect of if the society at
large cannot give them identifable rites of passage they will create their
own (the piercing).

> Maybe the way to approach the question, Shannon, is to ask what kinds of
> rituals we so-called secular people have? Anyone else out there want to
> throw in with some examples?

High School graduation. Initiation into frats. Signing of divorce papers.
Funerals, just had to say it again ;) I guess another question is do these
rituals have the same kind of mystical effect (this is coming from Victor
Turner so don't flame me) and personal and religious affirmation of status
(Eliade) that seem to be essential to these events.
Can anyone see my biases yet ;)

> Regards,
> Joel
> > >
> > >Shannon
> > >
> > Consider the phenomenon that things that are easily gotten aren't valued
> > (socially) or appreciated (at an individual level) as much as those things
> > you've got to struggle and sweat for. Rites of passage may in themselves
> > be ordeals, or they may celebrate the fact that one has surmounted an
> > ordeal. Think of fraternity hazing. Think of the Bakatman described by
> > Barth, the Gnau described by Lewis.
> --
> ___ ___
> /\ _|_ /\ Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx
> / /\_|_/\ \
> / / /\|/\ \ \
> ----------o----------------------------------------------------------
> \ \ \/|\/ / / "If we try to flee from our human condition into
> \ \/_|_\/ / the computer, we only meet ourselves there."
> \/__|__\/ William Barrett