Rites of Passage, Death and Mystery

Rituals are symbolic acts, gestures that create a relationship between individuals or communities with the larger reality. There are daily rituals, which indigenous cultures describe as maintenance rituals, and radical rituals which address larger questions and transitions in life.

Then there are Rites of Passage. These are rituals that take one from one stage of life to another and are irrevocable. Birth is an irrevocable rite of passage. You can’t put a baby back in the womb. Penetration in sexual intercourse is irrevocable; once experienced the person has moved beyond virginity. Motherhood is irrevocable. A child delivered, living or dead, turns that woman into a Mother. Death is irrevocable, a rite of passage not only for the soul who transitions but for all who have loved that soul. We are never the same after experiencing death.

Since the recent passing of my Mother, the mystery that death has represented for humans since the beginning of time is highlighted for me not so much “death is a natural part of life” as they say, but as death being a mystery.  I have experienced significant personal deaths before – including that of my first boyfriend, my father, my dog – but this one inches me closer, not to understanding death but to appreciation for mystery.

Mystery surrounds us. Every time a tiny seed becomes a plant, sweet love-making becomes a baby, a cut on the body heals – though science tries to describe it, mystery is never eliminated. Somehow the Western mind, with its addiction to reason, rationality, explanations, control and answers – along with an alarming capacity for numbing denial – robs us too often of the experience of simply reveling in mystery with a sense of wonder, allowing ourselves not to know a thing and be comfortable fools in that.

A Rite of Passage is like a tunnel, a birth canal. Whoosh, you enter another world, one you have never known before. Or, better said, by labor you enter that other world. The Rite generally, in Earth reality so far, involves pain; not that there is anything wrong with pain, but more with our acceptance of or relationship to it. The passage, and the pain, are doorways to a new reality.

Part of this mystery for me personally so far, is the life-review aspect of death. They say that in dying one’s life flashes before their eyes. I think that must be true not just for the one dying, but for those who love the one dying. For a slide-show at the Wake we found ourselves pouring through family albums that have been collecting dust for decades. Clearing out the house, family clothes, portraits, letters and treasures have to be reviewed for their meaning, present value, and where they should go next.

When I went through an extended initiation with a Nigerian shaman he wanted me not just to discover who I am now and where I want to go, but where I came from, who were my ancestors, what are their deep stories. Apparently there is no successful birth to the next life without a sense of continuity with the one left behind.

This look back for me, at the moment, is more mysterious than the look forward into the world beyond. Ahhhh. I can barely say what mystery it holds. That “other” world feels so much less mysterious to me than this.

Indigenous people infallibly teach that we need the dead, we must be in relationship to the dead. Our ancestors carry those keys for us. And the dead need us.

Mom, what can I do for you now? And now that we are birthed through this passage, how can we help each other in the new world? Let us enter together this mystery.

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5 Responses to “Rites of Passage, Death and Mystery”

  1. Joy Parker Says:

    Thank you as always for sharing your thoughts. They are bread to the hungry.

    • Tayria Ward Says:

      Joy, thank you for your earlier comments to me that it took time after the death of your parents before you began to sense them and your connection with them from where they are now. I’ve told your comment to several people since then,. It has helped me to know that Mother is in a process now and things will shift and change through time. That was really helpful and generous of you to take time to share it. Thank you so much. xo

  2. Darita-Rose Alden Says:

    Tayria, I’ve been thinking about you. I think about what you have said about ritual, and I hold it close. I am reading, really for the first time, Denise Linn’s book on altars. I am enchanted. And I finally figured out a ritual to honor the seasons. Creating altar as ritual. And I was thinking, you could set up an altar for your Mom. This way you would have a sense of being connected, and the altar would help to process this important rite. However it relates to your individuation right now. In the last few days I have set up 5 altars. One is for Active Imagination, because I’m afraid of it, but I really want to do it. Campbell said, we have to use our altars. That’s where I’ve been falling down. They feel alive now, and many little sacred objects seem to be in their right place. I have a stone from an important time when I was 14–I put it on my new inner adolescent altar. Shift of energy in my house, but not overwhelming. Hope this is OK. Love DR

  3. Tayria Ward Says:

    Darita, I instinctively set up an altar for Mom immediately after I wrote that piece last night, so your thought was timely, thank you. I usually set up my specific altars right in my living space – that way you have to use them because they are right next to you. They continually call you to reflect and adjust the things on them, add, refresh, etc. Try that, if you’re having a hard time using them. Also 5 at once might be too much to allow for focus. But you’ll know, it may be a perfect constellation of related things for you at the moment.
    I’ve been meaning to write to thank you for your very kind and beautiful sympathy card. That was so thoughtful of you, and touched my heart truly. You’re very sweet, and it meant a lot. Thank you.

  4. cool cab Pune Says:

    I am in fact grateful to the holder of this website who has shared this enormous piece of writing at at this time.

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