Monday, June 20, 2011

rite de passage


In Norway, as in many other countries, teenagers go through a coming of age ritual to mark the leaving behind of childhood. In the old days, this was a ritual to mark the entrance of adulthood; a 'passage' from childhood to adulthood.
That was before James Dean cemented the teenager into our culture forever; a period of time which seem to expand (in both ends) with each new generation. People don't seem to become grown-ups anymore.


The jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the hindu Upanayanam, the christian Confirmation, the japanese Seijin shiki, even the U.S.' Sweet Sixteen; within different cultural contexts, they all mark the same transition. In Norway, there are two options; the christian and the humanist, which both take place the year the teenager in question turns 15. 
Our soon-to-be 15 year old son chose the humanist ceremony. Once a week for 6 months he met up with other teenagers and a group leader to discuss all kinds of subjects related to ethics, humanism, human rights, alcohol and drugs, immigration and class, sex/abortion/homosexuality etc. 
The whole thing culminated in a solemn ceremony, and a family party. Speeches were required. So I took the opportunity to tell my son how lucky he is to be born here, now, and receiving applaud, gifts, and cake, instead of all the other things he might have had to endure were he born in a different culture or at another time. For instance (and yes, some of them are hard to believe, hence the photos - they were all shot during the speech):

He didn't have to get undressed and cover himself in ash.
He didn't have to spend several days and nights in a cave, deprived of food, sleep and water.
He didn't have to be attached to a pole through hooks penetrating his skin, and he didn't have to drink the blood of the male elders of the family. 
He didn't have to cut his private parts, or otherwise receive the power of manhood through means one would be imprisoned for in our culture.
He didn't have to get tattoos or get tied down in an anthill.
He didn't have to kill a lion or sleep naked in the snow.

We have lost a lot between the blood drinking and the cake. Comfort is not one of them.


Valerianna said...

I wonder if that loss of comfort - of bringing one close to the bone is the very thing that really does bring one into adulthood?

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful, wise and wonderful ritual! I love it that there is a humanist it through the school system, or some other outside entity? Congratulations to your son who is, indeed, very lucky!

Krista said...

I love that there is a choice for religious and humanist. Beautiful pictures. What a great opportunity to explore those important topics with peers.

lise said...

Gratulerer med overstått!

therese said...

Valerianna: I totally agree. 20-something old 'boys' in diapers is not a pretty sight ;). I have a lot og thoughts on the subject, as transition rituals used to be one of my passions, but I find it too bothersome to be writing about it in english, LOL
Rainblissesd: It's an outside organisation, called The Human-Ethic Federation (bad translation...), that works for a humanist world view, the seperation between church and state, and offers non-religious ceremonies for anyone who needs/wants it. You don't have to be a member (we are not, as we do, in fact, have a spiritual world view, but not a christian one).

Francesca said...

I like your point of view, and share it:)

Anonymous said...

I wish there were more minds and hearts like yours to realize the importance of such things. You are obviously an 'aware' person and a great mother!

therese said...

Thank you, anonymous :)


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