Re: Rites of Passage

Shannon Adams (
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 09:40:10 -0700

Robert Snower wrote:
> (Gerold Firl) wrote:
> >In article <4ut8ln$>, (Robert Snower) writes:
> >|> .................................................... you find the
> >|> central theme of rites of passage to be circumcision, castration, or
> >|> metaphors thereof.
> >That seems like an excessively psycho-analytical view; sometimes a
> >circumcision is just a circumcision. %^)
> >Consider an african age-graded society, where young people go through
> >an initiation ("rite of passage") to enter into the next grade of
> >adulthood/seniority; the boys do get circumcised, which makes them into
> >men, but I don't get the feeling that any psychological metaphors of
> >castration play a major role. The ritual marks their public graduation
> >into a new social role.
> But why didn't they eat ice cream and cake, and then play bingo? That
> would be a splendid way to "mark their public graduation into a new
> social role." No. They got circumcised. Why?
> >Since a major part of the adult role consists of bringing the next
> >generation into existance, the rite should be expected to include overt
> >sexual components.
> The "adult role" consists in a million different activities, including
> of course ones related to sex, of which their are an infinite number
> of symbols. Circumcision? Why on earth that?

I think it was van Gennep (not sure about this) that made reference to teeth
filing (canines specifically) as a rite of passage in SE Asia (?)(maybe
India, oh well, I can't remember). Who ever it was said that this rite was a
symbol for controlling the "animal" and emphasing the human. Could
circumcision be something akin to this? Redefining sexual behavior/maturity
as wholely human by separating a human penis from an animal one? (That's
probably way out there but oh well.)

> >Consider also the initiations of the masonic orders, which have little
> >or no sexual connotations. Here we see more clearly the importance of
> >broader-based social roles as defined by the rite of passage.
> I am not acquainted with the content of these ceremonies. But I would
> see them as degraded or metaphorical versions of the primordial, and
> the emotion which infuses them as of ancestral origin..

Maybe the primary difference between rites of passage involving circumcision
and the rites of the masons is that the masons are (traditionally at least, I
have no idea about the present) a society of only males. Sexually maturity,
and the privileges etc. that go along with that status (legitimate sexually
activity, etc.) are not at issue in a masonic rite.

(big snip about the emergence of society etc.)
> Best wishes. R. Snower rs222@worldnet.att.netShannon