Posts Tagged ‘Rites of Passage’

Rites of Passage, Death and Mystery

July 14, 2011

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.