Re: Rites of Passage

Gerold Firl (
21 Aug 1996 20:07:22 GMT

In article <>, Shannon Adams <> writes:
|> 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?

I don't know much about the psychological aspects; can you provide any
insight into how the participants view the process?

It may be that being a man is viewed as a somewhat challanging role,
and having the courage and will to undergo a painful process in the
company of your peers and elders provides a better foundation for
manhood than a lively round of bingo.

|> > >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?

Seems pretty weird to me; I'd like to hear your views.

|> 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.)

Interesting possibility. All forms of body modification would seem to
satisfy this criterion. In addition to separating human from animal,
they also serve to separate man from man: each culture has their own
distinctive badges of belonging.

|> > >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.

Perhaps we could compare the all-male rites of the masons with the
all-female rites of the dionysian orders in greece. I believe that
hamilton commented on the meanings of those curious goings-on; I've
always wondered.

I'm not sure if they can legitimately be considered rites of passage,
but how do they fit within the circumcision/castration hypothesis?

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf